CONTRIBUTION OF ANDHRA WOMEN TO ADVAITA VEDANTA
Dr. Chilakamarthi . Durga Prasada Rao
Vedantadarsana, also known as UTTARA - MIMAMSA DARSANA is said to be the best of all Darsanas because it explains admirably the nature of soul and serves as the beacon light of human life. Moreover, it satisfies the human aspiration of getting rid of worldly entanglements and attaining salvation.
The edifice of the entire Vedanta system is built mainly upon the literary tripod of the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras of Badarayana and the Bhagavadgita which are also known as prasthanatraya. On the basis of the above works, Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva established their own theories –Advaita, Visistadvaita and Dvaita respectively.
The commentary written by Sankaracharya is known as Sarirakamimamsabhashya. Sarira, being impure has therefore come to be known as sariraka, while the Jiva which dwells in the Sarira is sariraka. A discussion whether this saariraka is the same as Brahman or not is known as Sarirakamimsabhashya.
After Sankara’s departure, his philosophy got divided in to three branches; Bhamati, Vivarana and Vartika. The first two have survived and even enjoy critical examination, while latter one, Vartika has suffered extinction. The differences between Bhamati and Vivarana schools of thought are very few and they do not affect the Spirit of Advaita I.e., the oneness of Jiva and Brahman.
Most of the Acharyas who existed in the Post - Sankara Period, composed commentaries and treatises independently, following either of the two schools, without contradicting the other. However, there are a few who followed one school contradicting the other.
Apart from the works based on these two Prasthanas, many independent works, both major and minor, as well as commentaries were written on Advaita Vedanta It is interesting to note that a few women scholars also contributed their might for the development of Advita - Vedanta.
Despite the unconscionable ban of women, quite a number of women not only studied the sastras but also participated in scholarly discussions with emerging success. Andhradesa can justly be proud that it also produced reputed scholars of the fair sex.
Contrary to popular notion, women were never treated as inferior to men. They were given equal status and privileges as men and were never subjected to gender discrimination. There is evidence to show that women, just like men, also got initiated in Gayatri and chanted the Vedas with equal alacrity. And, like men, they too participated in philosophical discourses. A shining example is found in the lively discussion on Vedanta between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi.
To some, it may come as a revelation that women even chaired
philosophical discussion and debates. Thus, Ubhayabharathi, wife
of Mandana Misra, had the privilege of presiding over the marathon
debating session where a furious debate took place between Sankara and
MandanaMisra on highly esoteric philosophical issues. What is more
stunning is that she, as judge, declared Sankara, not her husband,
MandanaMisra - the winner!
We have in recent times the shining example of a great scholar, Kamakshi.
Kamakshi [A.D.1852 -1920], daughter of Ramaswami, is from Andhradesa.
She was a great scholar in Nyaya and Vedanta. After her husband Ramalingarya's
premature death, she proceeded to her mother's house and, rather than drowning i
n grief, steeped herself in the study of Nyaya and Vedanta with unswerving
concentration and determination. Kamakshi wrote the following scintillating works.
1) Advaitadipika : - This work substantiates the doctrines of Advaita advocated by Madhusudanasaraswathi in Advaitasiddhi.
2) Sritiratnaprakasatippini : - This is a commentary on the Sritiratnaprakasa of Tryambakabhatta.
3) Sritimatodyotatippani : - This is also a commentary on the Sritimatodyota of Tryambakabhatta.
All these works were published by Sri Vani Vilas press.
While on this discussion of Vedanta Philosophy, one needs to record that
a large number of contributors some contributed famous Telugu works while the
other wrote original works in Telugu still others wrote commentaries of some
Vedanta works in Telugu. Here are a few notable examples.
Kanakamba of Kanchanapalli family belongs to the 20th century. She wrote
the great work Amrutasaramu, comprising 550 verses. She was a student of
Amrutanandaswami and she incorporated the teachings of a guru in her works.
The importance of a guru in attaining Moksha, the greatness of pranava, the
concept of jivanmukthi and the means of attaining Atmasakshatkara are some
of the important issues discussed in this treatise..
Another work of the same author is Ananadasaramu which consists of about
500 verses. In this monumental work the importance of Bhakti, Jnana, Vairagya and
Self experience are beautifully advanced.
Still another production of the same author, Jivayatra is also available.
This was written in 1800 poems. The title Jivayatra is suggestive of the empirical
journey of the jiva to the goal of Liberation.
Tarigonda Venkamamba of the 19th century translated Vasistaramayana also known as
Yogavasista in chaste Telugu. She used the Dwipada as metre using a simple but
elegant language. Subhadramba of Mamidanna family lived in the first half of
20th century. She authored Adhyatmaramayanamu where she discussed many
philosophical points such as the transitoriness of the world, the nature of
Supreme Being and the identity of Jiva and Brahaman.
Still there are many women authors of Advaita. Besides, we find that there were
women ascetics also in Andhradesa who attained the state of Jivanmukthi
[Liberation while living] and whose presence inspired their devotees in attaining
or experiencing the state of liberation. Here is a list of the lady luminaries.
1) Tarigonda Venkamma [A.D. 1730 - 1817] of Chittur District.
2) Dontulamma [A.D. 1807 - 1932] of Machilipatnam of Krishna district.
3) Tikkalakshmamma [A.D. 1815 -1933] of Adoni.
4) Avadhuta Picchamma of [A.D. 1870 - 1951] of Kurumaddali.
5) Sukshamamurtemma [A.D.1807-1928] of Gangayapalli.
6) Venkamma [A.D.1808- 1862] of Manikyanagaram.
7) Chinnamma [A.D.1887 - 1956] of Repelle.
8) Eswaramma [A.D.1703 - 1803] of Kandimallaipalli.
9) Anasuya [A.D.1923 -1985] of Jillellamudi.