Conquest of the four quarters : traditional accounts of the life of Śaṅkara




Bader, Jonathan

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Some seven hundred years after Sankara wrote the learned commentaries that established his reputation as one of the foremost interpreters of Vedanta, a series of hagiographies began to emerge which glorified him as an incarnation of Siva. Although they were composed exclusively in Sanskrit, these works eventually secured him a place in popular culture. One text in particular stands out from the rest, the Sankaradigvijaya of Madhava. This work, composed between 1650 and 1800, skilfully brought together materials from several earlier hagiographies. Its popularity grew to such an extent that it came to eclipse the other works, which have languished in relative obscurity ever since. These hagiographies, along with the Saiikaradigvijaya, have been virtually ignored by critical scholars because they are of little historical value. Yet, the authors of these works had no intention of writing history. They sought to deify Sruikara and, to this end, mythography was a far more potent medium than biography. In this study historiographical concerns are largely left aside in focusing on the hagiographies composed prior to and including the Saiikaradigvijaya, i.e., eight texts in all. My primary aim is to consider how Sruikara has been received in India, and in particular to examine the conceptual models upon which his life story is constructed. The thesis is organized along the lines of the features that stand out most prominently in the hagiographies. Firstly, there are the mythic structures which provide not only the peaks but also the foundation of the narrative. The Sankara story is cast firmly within the framework of Saiva mythology: the protagonist is, above all, an avatara of Siva. Secondly, I have attached considerable importance to the sense of place. Sankara's grand tour of the sacred sites lends cohesion and continuity to the narrative. Ultimately his journey proves to be a quest for the throne of omniscience. Thirdly, there are the great debates which culminate in a digvijaya. Saiikara's conquest of the four quarters, along with his ascension to the throne of omniscience, highlights the complementarity of royal and ascetic values in traditional India. It is through the digvijaya that Sankara fulfills his mission of restoring harmony to a divided land, and so becomes a national hero. Finally, I have paid much attention to the legacy of Sankara as well as the continuity of the Advaita sampradaya, in order to emphasize that theirs is a living tradition.






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