Saturday 5 January 2013

The Smartha librarian of Madhwa

He was a Shivalli Brahmn and Tulu by birth. He belonged to the Angirasa Gotra. He was a staunch believer in the tenets of Shankaracharya and like his two brothers, he was a master of Adwaitha.
However, while one his brothers-Trivikrama Panditacharya-lost to Madhwa in a debate on Siddantha and became his ardent disciple, this person neither changed his name nor his creed. He remained a committed Smartha Brahmin till his death.
Yet, this person had a closer and daily interaction with the Acharya everyday. He was privileged to have seen Madhwa from very close quarters and interacted with him and his works more closely than anyone did. Unfortunately, he still remains a shadowy figure, unknown to the rest of the world.
He is Samkamacharya or Shankara Panditacharya, one of the younger brothers of Trivikrama Panditacharya (1258-1320). His father was Subramanya Suri, a scholar of Kasargod.  Trivikrama Panditacharya was one of the foremost disciples of Madhwa and he composed the Vayu Stuti,  one of the most famous stotras.
Trivikrama Panditacharya was the preceptor of the King of Kasargod called Jayasimha. Once when  Madhwacharya visited Kasaragod, he challenged him to a debate, as he believed in the Adwaitha tradition. The debate lasted for several days before Trivikrama gracefully accepted defeat and became his disciple.
By then, Samkamacharya was already in the employment of Madhwa. He was the librarian of Madhwa’s vast and valuable library.
It is Samkamacharya who had given the Brahma Sutra Bhashya by Madhwacharya to his brother to read. The book was a challenge to Adwaithas and the librarian had given the book to Trivikrama as he knew that his brother was a scholar-writer who would not let its author go “scot free”. He knew that there would be a debate.   
Though Madhwa knew that Samkamacharya was a Smartha, he had employed him as the custodian of his “knowledge”. He had never preached to Samkamacharya or asked him to switch over to Madhwa way of life. Nod did Samkamacharya offer to do so.
In fact, each of them went about their work with utmost honesty, dedication and perseverance. If Madhwa went around the country, demolishing the arguments of Adwaitha scholars and recruiting them, as his followers, Samkamacharya went about guarding Madhwa’s library and adding new works.
He also classified and categorised the books in Madhwa’s library and kept a close watch on the works of Madhwa. He ensured that whatever books Madhwa wanted were available on hand and within no time.
He thus became a man that Madhwa implicitly trusted. Even when Madhwa took on Trivikrama in the debate at Vishnu Mangala, Samkamacharya was at hand to hand over books and texts to Madhwa in case he needed to refer to then. This shows that he was in Madhwa’s employment even before the debate took place or Madhwa met Trivikrama.
 It would be grossly unfair to club Samkamacharya as a mere book-keeper. He was himself an eminent scholar like his brother and he was equally well-versed in both the Dwaitha and Adwaita systems.
As the name itself suggests, he was a Smarta Brahmin and he lived the life of a Smartha. Neither did he change his name nor did the Acharya ask him to do so. Yet, the librarian-scholar served the Acharya dutifully and with all sincerity. It shows the catholicity and broadmindedness of  both.
He has written a short commentary on the Anu Vyaka of Mahdwacharya in Devanagiri script. It is called Sambandha Dipika.
Some of the passages in the Sambandha Depika have been quoted by Raghavendra Swamy in his work Parimala and even by Raghunatha Theertha of  Uttaradhi Matha in his work Seshachandrika.
This work is in Sanskrit and it contains 400 verses.
Madhwacharya had great regard and respect to his librarian.  The Acharya went with his books and the librarian whenever and wherever he travelled. The books were not only used by the Acharya but by all his disciples.
 The only time he got angry with Samkamacharya was when all his works were stolen after he defeated Pundarika Puri, an Adwaita ascetic. It was around this time that Padmatheertha, another ascetic envious of Madhwacharya’s growing popularity, arranged to have his works stolen from the custody of  Samkamacharya or Pejattaya Shankara Pandita also known as Panditacharya in Kasargod.
A raging Madhwacharya berated the hapless librarian but he soon calmed down and comprehensively defeated Padma Theertha in a philosophical debate. The essence of this debate is now available in Vada or Tattvoddyota.
By the way, the stolen works were eventually returned to the Acharya at a felicitation arranged by King Jayasimha.

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