Veṅkaṭanātha’s śāstric style in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā

Veṅkaṭanātha follows the standard śāstric style when it comes to the
general way of asking questions, discussing answers, and of providing
rationales for each claim.

To that, he adds his command, evident in his non-śāstric works, of figurative language, so that the dry style of śāstric reasoning gets populated by powerful metaphors, like that of scholars clinging to a Rahu or to a Kabandha kind of Veda only.1 Other metaphors are even more difficult to decipher (e.g., “butt by the horns of the Prābhākaras’ head” (SM 1971, end of p. 86)), since we lack their original context and perhaps also the pragmatic context of an actual debate.

Similarly, Veṅkaṭanātha’s style, though often similar to Rāmānuja’s one, is terser. There are more compounds, often built of more members, possibly because Veṅkaṭanātha presupposes some familiarity with basic tenets of Rāmānuja and other authors, and summarises them in a handy compound, like a contemporary scholar would do by just referring to, e.g., “Hume’s view on religion” or “the liar paradox”. Finally, Veṅkaṭanātha’s poetical inclination makes him at times choose to use uncommon words (e.g., dārḍhya, present both in the SM and in the ŚD 3) in what seems like a conscious choice to be expressive and to have his readers pause and consider what he is saying.

Veṅkaṭanātha comes back to the same topics in several of his śāstric works and at times repeats the same metaphors (e.g., comparing in SM and ŚD 3 the unitary teaching of Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā to a building done by more than one person, but still unitary). Nonetheless, in most cases the focus of the argument varies, possibly in accordance with the target readership and the general agenda of the work. Metaphors can therefore become less cryptic by looking at cross-references in Veṅkaṭanātha’s works. Arguments, however, are neither verbatim repeated, nor conceptually reproduced, but rather adapted to a new context and
reshaped in it. Consequently, the parallel passages from other works by Veṅkaṭanātha are interesting, but not really significant to reconstruct the actual reading of a given passage in the SM.

Any comment on 14th c. philosophical Sanskrit is welcome!

  1. Rahu is a demon who has only a head without a body, whereas Kabandha is a demon consisting of only a body, without a head. Thus, a Rahu-like Mīmāṃsā is a Mīmāṃsā focusing only on the “head” of the Vedas, i.e., the Upaniṣads, whereas a Kabandha-like Mīmāṃsā is a Mīmāṃsā focusing only on the “body” of the Vedas, i.e., the Brāhmaṇas. Neither can be complete and Veṅkaṭanātha suggests, by contrast, an
    ekaśāstra approach.↩︎

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

3 Replies to “Veṅkaṭanātha’s śāstric style in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā”

  1. elisa,
    The poetic style runs very strong in Urdu, which was by then the language of the Mughal court, with a Hindu echo developing in Hindi. So that was a new context for the Mīmāṃsā discourse.

    The Puranas are rich with mythic language, and the source, I think, of many of those images: like Rahu as a demon devouring the sun in an eclipse.

    What puzzles me now is the image of Vedas comprising Upaniṣads and Brāhmaṇas: does that signify the discourse of Vedānta, the texts read by Veṅkaṭanātha and his contemporaries? Along with the digests of philosophy and theologians like Rāmānuja? Was he.engaging Rāmānuja’s style to reach a less educated audience reading Puranas?

    • Hi Orwin! Yes, sure, the Purāṇas are a very rich source for this kind of metaphors. I am not sure I get your point about Vedānta. You are right that Veṅkaṭanātha, Rāmānuja… engaged mostly with Upaniṣads. Veṅkaṭanātha’s engagement with Mīmāṃsā, however, meant that he also needed to address the unity of the Vedas in general. And, before him, Rāmānuja had claimed (contra Śaṅkara) that the Brāhmaṇas should not be given up by the mumukṣu (the one who desires to achieve liberation), who should rather continue sacrificing.
      Does this answer your question?

  2. Thanks, elisa! I didn’t know that about Rāmānuja, and I now see the sense of Vedānta as the literal “end of the Vedas.” That usage is consistent with the focus on literary theory, from a bit later, in early modern times.

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