I am Anusha Rao, a doctoral student in Religion at the University of Toronto. My thanks to Elisa and all the other board members for the opportunity to guest post here this month! I’d like to introduce my research in this post, and I would be delighted to receive feedback and comments.
I work on dualist Vedānta (Dvaita) in early modern South India and the links forged in this system between narrative, theology, and philosophy. Dvaita Vedānta, founded by Madhva in the thirteenth century, is one of the three important Vedānta schools of South India, and argues for an unchanging difference between God (who, for Madhva, is the deity Viṣṇu), and individual selves. Dvaita Vedānta is understudied, partly because of the radical and eccentric interpretations of scriptural passages by Madhva, and partly because of the long-held misconception that Advaita is synonymous with all Vedānta.
I am especially interested in the post-Vyāsatīrtha period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lawrence McCrea and Valerie Stoker have done crucial work in demonstrating Vyāsatīrtha’s role in the rising influence of Dvaita Vedānta in early modern South India, both through his political influence in the Vijayanagara polity and his formidable polemical texts that deployed Navya-nyāya and Mīmāṃsā to substantiate Dvaita doctrines that had previously received little attention.
We know very little, however, on the productive period following Vyāsatīrtha, which saw a concerted attempt by thinkers such as Vijayīndratīrtha and Vādirājatīrtha to engage other sectarian groups in debate and extend the influence and appeal of Dvaita Vedānta by popularizing it through other genres of writing, both in Sanskrit and in Kannada. My current research focuses on the doctrinal development in Dvaita Vedānta at this point, with a particular emphasis on the sixteenth-century scholar Vādirājatīrtha’s magnum opus, the Yuktimallikā, an independent work committed to establishing the truth of the core doctrines of Dvaita Vedānta—the difference between God and the self, the ontological reality of the world, the idea of Viṣṇu as the Vedāntic Brahman, etc.
Vādirājatīrtha is known for his writings across genres: philosophical texts such as the Yuktimallikā and the Nyāyaratnāvalī, commentaries on Madhva and Jayatīrtha, devotional hymns in Sanskrit and Kannada, and the epic poem Rukmiṇīśavijaya, based on the marriage of Kṛṣṇa and Rukmiṇī. Vādirājatīrtha’s versatility has been compared to that of Veṅkaṭanātha from the Viśiṣṭādvaita tradition. In addition, Vādirājatīrtha is accepted as equivalent in stature to Madhva by some sections of the Mādhva community, an honour not accorded to any other thinker within the tradition.
The Yuktimallikā or Jasmine Vine of Reasoning presents Vādirājatīrtha’s arguments in favour of core Dvaita doctrines in verse through five sections, entitled saurabhas or fragrances: the Guṇasaurabha, Śuddhisaurabha, Bhedasaurabha, Viśvasaurabha and Phalasaurabha. Each of these sections concerns a specific doctrine that he wishes to defend. Vādirājatīrtha’s characteristic style is light and playful: he takes jibes at his opponents while using technical concepts from Mīmāṃsā against them through an appeal to the commonsensical and the theological rather than the technical and philosophical. In this, his writings differ vastly from Vyāsatīrtha, and I would argue that their intended audiences are markedly different. I am working on the implications of precisely this kind of approach—In what way do the specific social and theological concerns of Vādirājatīrtha shape this “commonsensical” approach to philosophy that is a direct contrast to Vyāsatīrtha’s? How does such an approach find expression across other non-technical, literary genres, and how does it, in turn, bring about doctrinal and institutional changes within Dvaita Vedānta?