The large following of the 8th century Saint and Philosopher Sri Adi Shankaracharya is one of the many Vedic traditions that India is proud of. This pan-Indian community has exerted a mighty, extensive, and a positive influence in the religious landscape of the country. There have been innumerable saints and scholars in the history of the Advaitic tradition whose writings can feed our minds and souls with spiritual truth as effectively as Adi Shankaracharya. The subject of this sketch, Srimad Appayya Dikshitendra, is one among this galaxy of master intellectuals of Shankaracharya’s tradition.
Adi Shankaracharya’s philosophy of Advaita has been the constant of Dikshitendra’s life from its very beginnings, although he proceeded along the ideological and theological foundations of Srikanthacharya, a great Saivacharya and Saiva Vedantin of the past, in writing a majority of his books. He was a scholar who created an epoch in the history of Advaita Vedanta, Sivadvaita Vedanta, and Purva Mimamsa in the 16th century. It’s a deplorable fact that a scholar of giant personal stature in multiple traditions such as Dikshitendra has turned into an unsung hero in the 21st century India. The birth anniversary of Adi Shankaracharya is being celebrated with great pomp in many places annually. The 1000th and 750th birth anniversaries of Ramanujacharya and Swami Vedanta Deshika were celebrated grandly by the followers of the Sri Vaishnava tradition in 2017 and in 2018 respectively. The dates of birth and disappearance of various Acharyas of all the traditions of Sanatana Dharma are celebrated grandly by their respective followers. In stark contrast to this trend, the 500th birth anniversary of Dikshitendra in 2020 is not known to many.
There are many Hindus of the present generations and even followers of Adi Shankaracharya’s tradition who have never read or heard Appayya Dikshitendra. A few might have read about him, or heard about him in a lecture, but may have never ventured to read a detailed biography written by scholars hailing from the tradition. This series of articles is devoted to throwing light on the life and works of this spiritual giant of India who was popularly known by the past generations of Hindus- both scholars and laymen.
It is with feelings of greatest reverence and admiration that I introduce Srimad Appayya Dikshitendra, who is celebrated as a plenary portion of the Supreme Lord Sadasiva, and whose life spanned seven decades of the 16th century in South India. He was born in circa 1520 CE and left the earthly plane in 1592 CE. The word ‘Dikshita’ refers to someone who has performed the Yagnas(Sacrifices) prescribed in the Srauta. While Yagnas have been performed by innumerable men in India since time immemorial, the word Dikshita has been attached to Srimad Appayya Dikshitendra without any further description. He has made contributions as a teacher of giant personal stature, in multiple disciplines such as Sanskrit Sahitya (poetry), Vyakarana (Grammar), different schools of Purva Mimamsa and different traditions of Vedanta. As a devotee of Lord Siva he has written many devotional hymns in Sanskrit that are a source of great strength and comfort to devotees for centuries. Apart from these achievements, he was a practicing agnihotri throughout his life. It is no wonder that posterity celebrates him as ‘Dikshitendra’ or the Chief among Dikshitas.
His craftsmanship with the Sanskrit language amounted to genius. Even today, the students of Sanskrit are taken by hand into the innermost shrines of shastras by his works in Alankara or rhetoric such as Kuvalayananda and Chitramimamsa. His pen was the fountain from which flowed lucidity, suppleness, and expressive range of the greatest Sanskrit works in the history of early modern South India. Sri TK Balasubrahmanya Aiyar, the founder of Sri Vani Vilas Press and Sri Sankaragurukulam makes the following remark on his scholarly versatility and contributions to the sastras as follows: “His Sivarkamanidipika— the Saivavishishtadvaitic commentary of the Brahmasutras, His Parimala— the pure Advaitic commentary on the Kalpataru of Amalananda which is itself a commentary on Bhamati which in its turn expounds the Shankarabhashya of the Brahmasutras, His Siddhantaleshasangrahawherein he explains all the different views of the several writers on Advaita on all controversial points, His Nyayarakshamani which is a splendid exposition of the Advaitic interpretation of the Brahmasutras, His Upakramaparakrama which is an elaborate discussion of the canons of Purva Mimamsa as applied to Vedanta, … His Vyakarana-vadanakshatramala treating of grammar and his Purvottara-mimamsa-vaadanakshatramala treating of both the Mimamsas, form certainly the glorious and ever-enduring monuments of his versatile genius. India can very well feel proud of one who has contributed such classic works on so many different subjects and has thereby by ennobled the already noble literature. She was perfectly justified in counting Appayya Dikshita as one of the illustrious galaxy of her brilliant sons– stars of the first magnitude– who have made her literature what it is– the rich heritage and the proud possession of the present generation of Hindus, and the wonder and envy of the whole civilized world.” 1
We indeed owe a great debt of gratitude to Dikshitendra. This quick sketch serves to whet the appetite for what comes next: a condensation of the author’s work of a full-length treatment of the life of Dikshitendra. The second and third article of this series will introduce the readers to the deeply moving story of his life and exploits. In this fascinating history, we can have a glimpse on the Vedic world in Tamil Nadu five hundred years ago. Section 4 outlines the multi-sided legacy of Dikshitendra, bringing the series to a fitting conclusion.
1. Sri TK Balasubrahmanya Aiyar’s Preface to the Purvottara-mimamsa-vaadanakshatramala of Dikshitendra published by the Sri Vani Vilas Press of Srirangam in 1912.