Research Paper by London Swaminathan
Age of Adi Shankara is shrouded in mystery. Most of the scholars have already concluded that he lived in the eighth century CE (788-820). There is no positive proof to support this date. The confusion in dating happened because of another Shankara who was a copy of Adi Shankara in all aspects. Abhinava Shankara, whose name roughly translated sounds like “Once Again A New Shankara”.
There have been lot of discussions on this topic and a lot have been written. Kanchi Paramacharya (1894—1994) had given a long explanation for dating him in fifth century BCE. I am not going to repeat his argument or the counter argument of people attached to Sringeri Mutt, who believes that Shankara lived around 788 CE.
My argument is based on Sangam Tamil literature and Sundara Pandya. I have written about it in Tamil and posted it in this blog on 21st March 2012.
1.Adi Shankara’s favourite simile is rope mistaken for a snake. He used this allusion umpteen times in all his works. No one has used this like him. Greek Philosopher and founder of scepticism Pyrroh 360-270 BCE used this simile. Famous historian K A Neelakanta Sastri has commented on it saying that it was unusual for a Greek philosopher to use it. I think that he copied it from Adi Shankara. The reason for my conclusion is that he accompanied Alexander the Great. All of us knew Alexander’s unquenchable thirst for Hindu Philosophy. Swami Vivekananda, Paramahamsa Yogananda and many scholars have dealt with this subject.
More over this simile is used by Uuttiyaar, a Sangam Age poet. He used this simile in Akananuru (verse 68).: “A thunderbolt struck the Asoka Tree mistaking the swing rope for a snake”. Another poet Kutavaayir Keerathanaar used a similar comparison in verse Akam.119. This is to show that it is a typical Indian analogy.
2. One of the great four Saivite saints is Appar alias Tirunavukkarasu, who lived in the middle of seventh century. He used the famous slogan “Jaya Jaya Sankara” in his Tamil Thevaram hymn followed by the word ADI. Though this Adi has nothing to do with Shankara, I honestly believe that the thought of Adi Shankara made him to say “Jaya Jaya Shankara”. In one another hymn he says that “Stotras sung by your devotees” (of Shiva). The very word “Stotras (Thoththirangal)” in a pure Tamil hymn came through his mouth because he knew the contribution of Shankara very well. Appar lived during the reign of Mahendra Pallava.
3. Another common belief is that Shankara rejuvenated Hinduism by eliminating 72 conflicting sects and establishing Shanmatha (Six Forms of Worship). He fought against Jainism and Buddhism is another popular belief. If he had lived in eighth century there was need for it because both the religions had very little following at that time. In the South, Saivite Nayanmars and Vaishnavite Alwars have already re-established Shaivam and Vsihnavam.
4. Maya (illusion) was used by Shankara umpteen times in his hymns. Ancient Sangam poets went to the extent of using this Sanskrit word boldly in their verses due to the impact of Adi Shankara. They used the word in the context of impermanence (instability) of the world like Adi Shankara (363, 366 Purananuru). Strangely names of the poets are in Sanskrit Gothamanar (Gauthama) and Siruventheraiayar (Manduka Rishi).
Sanskrit word Maya occurs in Puram 243, 363,366; Akam 226,256; Kali.2-3, 88-7, 90-1, 93-15, Narr.294; Pari. 3-70; Pathi.60-6.
Saivite saints Appar, Sambandhar, Manikkavasagar also mentioned Mayavatha. It may be due to Shankara’s propaganda.
5. Last but not the least is Sundara Pandya, who was a great Sanskrit scholar who wrote about Advaita even before Adi Shankara. This is the strongest proof to show that Shankara lived long before the accepted date of 788 CE. The name sounds like a king of the Pandyan Kingdom. All the Sundara Pandyas known to history lived in 12th century CE of after. They had no connection to Shankara. The other Sundara Pandya was the husband of presiding deity of Madurai , Goddess Meenakshi. This queen was referred to by the Greek Ambassador Megasthenes as ‘Pandya queen’. Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary used Sundara Pandya’s verses.
PT Srinivasa Iyengar in his History of the Tamils gives the following information quoting various authorities:
a)Sundara Pandya was the person whose ‘varttika’ was quoted by Sankaracharya in his commentaries on Vedanta Sutra.
b) A book on ethics, called ‘Niti dvi sastika’, attributed to Sundaya pandya was discovered and printed.
c)As quotations from it occur in the Panchatantra and Janasrayi, it appears Acharya Sundara Pandya must have lived before sixth century.
d) Sundara Pandya being a well known name of several kings, there is a temptation to identify this Acharya with a king of Madurai. I cannot think of any Pandya king capable of writing such works. I think Sundara Pandya merely means Sundara of Pandya country.
PTS Iyengar is wrong in assuming that Pandya kings were not capable of writing Sanskrit works. Mukundamala was written by a Chera king/Alvar in Sanskrit. A North Indian King by name Bramadutt learnt Tamil from Sangam poet Kapila and wrote verses in Tamil 2000 years ago! Because it was a rare achievement we still talk about them. Mudukudumi Peruvazuthi, the mighty Pandya King, installed Yupa Pillars through his kingdom. He was a performer of great Yajnas including Asvamedha. Iyengar was ignorant of Pandya Copper Plates.