Madhva-tantra-mukha-mardana vs Appayya-kapola-chapetika

Madhva-tantra-mukha-mardana vs Appayya-kapola-chapetika

Sans the Sacred

Anusha S Rao Is a doctoral student in Religion and oscillates between scholarly pursuits and abject laziness@AnushaSRao2

What do you think of when you think of a philosopher writing in Sanskrit? Well, maybe that’s the wrong question. After all, one doesn’t usually think of philosophers, let alone of those writing in Sanskrit. But if it somehow happened, you would probably imagine an old man mouthing platitudes like vasudhaiva kutumbakam or atithi devo bhava. I only wish they had been so boringly civil. War constantly brews on the pages of Indian philosophy.

Are atman and god same or different? Is the world real or unreal, or both or neither? Most importantly (or not), if you see a rope and mistake it for a snake, did the snake exist at all? If it did, where did it vanish? If it did not, how did you see it in the first place? Debates among Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita Vedanta traditions flourished in early modern South India, and they were not always pleasant. Now, some people will disagree and claim that all the great intellectuals of India got along perfectly, and all our traditions preach the same universal truths. To them, I offer the titles of some rather interesting texts from the 16th century.

Appayya Dikshita, the brilliant Advaita thinker from the 16th century, had several problems with the Dvaita Vedanta of Madhvacharya. So, of course, he wrote a book on it. He titled it Madhva-tantra-mukha-mardana — translated, Clobbering the Face of Madhva’s Philosophy.

If you thought Dvaita Vedanta thinkers would suffer this insult in silence, you would have been very mistaken. Vijayendra Tirtha came along and wrote a scathing critique of Appayya Dikshita’s work, titled Appayya-kapola-chapetika, or A Slap on the Cheek for Appayya.

Nor was this rich imagination restricted to the titles alone. Trivikrama Pandita, an Advaita scholar who lost to Madhvacharya in debate and became a Dvaita scholar, wrote a long treatise claiming that Shankaracharya was actually the reincarnation of a demon from the Mahabharata. You may think these fights were from centuries ago, but funnily enough, they are far from over. A modern Advaita scholar who was cut to the quick recently amassed scriptural evidence to establish that, in fact, it was Madhvacharya who was the demon, not Shankaracharya. Needless to say, a contemporary Dvaita scholar wrote another book refuting the previous one.

When doyens argue, will their disciples not follow suit? We have a genre of texts aimed at one-upmanship, claiming one guru was better than the other, and even tallying the number of metaphors each scholar used, to establish that one of them wrote superior poetry as compared to another, or had memorized grammatical rules better. And Vedanta thinkers are only a tiny subset of the larger debates among grammarians, logicians, philosophers, and ritualists. I have not even mentioned the Buddhists yet!

Why should I care about the quarrels of these old fogies, you ask? For one, it is good material to augment one’s own arsenal with. My favourite insults from some Indian philosophy debates are: “delicate-minded”, “the triumph of ineptitude,” “juvenile squabbling,” and “childish prattle does not merit a response.” Some also exclaim with great effect, “Gosh! How dreadfully deluded.” Here is a great parting shot for social media fights: “There is no point arguing with someone who is clearly drunk.”

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