Saturday, July 30, 2016


(A brief study)

Dr. Chilakamartthi Durga Prasada Rao

There are three Prasthanams - Upanishatprasthanam, Sutraprasthanam and Gitaprasthanam. Of the three, Upanishatprasthanam is not only the first to evolve but also enjoys the highest philosophical status as it happens to be the essence of the Vedas.

The first part of the Vedas, the Brahmanas, asserts the importance of Karma while the second part, the Upanishads, stresses the need for Jnana for the purpose of emancipation. Also, the realization of Atman becomes possible through listening to the Upanishads, argumentation and contemplation.

आत्मा वा Sरे द्रष्टव्य: श्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्य:
( बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् २//)

The word Upanishad is derived form the root 'shad' and the two prefixes 'Upa' and 'Ni' which together mean the Guru's proximity.

It is a curious fact that 'Upanishad' is also derived from the root 'shad' meaning gati, the movement, as it leads the listener to the highest goal which is realization of Almighty. उपनिषीदति ब्रह्मविज्ञानम् अनया इत्युपनिषद् There is still another meaning for the same root 'shad' - destruction - destruction of the innate ignorance of man and leading him to enlightenment and the Upanishadic alvation. उपनिषीदति गर्भजन्मजरामरणादिकं शिथिलीकरोतीत्युपनिषद्

Contrary to popular thinking that the study of the Vedanta is unnecessary as it deals with metaphysical matters which are of no day-to-day use, and that the Upanishadic teachings are highly esoteric and they are beyond the pale of the common man, Upanishads are not for the work-a-day world but they formulate a firm ground for the evolution of humanity into divinity.

Upanishads are also intended to convey high morals and supreme self-restraint for the purpose of achieving the highest human goal, i.e., self-realization. In our tradition, that exercise which ordains man to do good and to be kind is consiered to be the real sastra. The Upanishads are the very reflection of the human mind - elevated ethically, morally, socially and spiritually. In short, they embody practical wisdom. It is said that man, if he assimilates the Upanishads and puts them into practice faithfully, becomes almost a divine being.
Though there are over a hundred Upanishads, only ten are considered highly significant as only these ten were exhaustively discussed by Sankara who drew upon the Upan6ishads including Kaushitaki and Swetaswatara.

Scholars differ on the chronology of the Upanishads and hence, without going into the controversies, the traditional order is followed here. The usual order is Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka.
ऐतरेयं च छान्दोग्यं बृहदारण्यकं दश  In doing so, specific reference to Andhras' contribution to Advaita Vedanta is attempted in what follows.


This Upanishad, belonging to the Yajurveda, has 18 verses and has the distinction of being the oldest. In this Upanishad, we find a wonderful synthesis of Karma and Jnana leading to emancipation. However, Sankara differed from this idea. According to him, the different parts of the verses are for different personalities - some for seekers of Atmajnana, while the rest are for the others. As for Karma and Jnana, Sankara stresses that the two paths for emancipation are mutually contradictory and hence cannot be practised simultaneously. Karma is superficial and extensive, while Jnana is an in-depth aid to Moksha.

While Sankara's idealistic thinking about the Upanishad deserves reverence, it is not sacrilegious to look into what some modern thinkers say about the Upanishad. For example, Mahatma Gandhi says "I have now come to a final
conclusion that if all the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes and if only the first verse of the Upanishad were left intact in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would be forever". The substance of the first verse of Isavasya is as follows - "All this world consists of animate and inanimate and is encompassed by the Lord. Enjoyment comes to you through renunciation of what you possess. Don't covet others' riches".

The purport of this mantra is that all our resources, whether physical or intellectual, are given by God and they are His property. Therefore, we must enjoy whatever we have for our survival and leave the rest for others' enjoyment. The idea of "live and let live" is highlighted in this mantra. Isavasya further says that man should live for his allotted span of life performing good deeds. This is the only way for man to achieve detachment and extricate himself from the purely mundane attachments.

In addition to those ideas of Sankara, there are inspiring commentaries on Sankara's ideas.
. Isavasya has five commentaries Deepika, Bhashya, Vivarana, Rahasya and Tika and the commentaries of them are also named Chintamani, Deepika, Viveka, Vivriti, and Vyakhya.

Let us now have a look at a few scholars from Andhra who have remarkable works to their credit.

ANANDAGIRI (A.D.1260-1320) :

Anandagiri (also known as Janardana), who became the head of the Dwaraka mutt after embracing sanyasa, wrote an exhaustive commentary on Isavasyopanishad following in the lines of Sankara.

VIDYARANYA (A.D.1296-1386) :
Son of Mayana and Sumathi and the maternal uncle of Lakshmidhara, author of Advitamakaranda, Vidyaranya wrote many famous works such as Vivaranaprameyasangraha and Panchadasi. The original name of Vidyaranya was Madhavacharya and, due to the acquisition of sanyasasrama, he came to be known as Vidyaranya. He was the eighth head of Sringeri [ from A.D.1380-1386]
According to Guruvamsakavya of Kasi Lakshmana Sastry [court pundit of Sri Satchidananda Bharati], a Brahmin, native of Orugallu [the present Warangal ] had. two sons. The younger of the two having deserted the world embraced sanyasa through Vidyatirtha and came to be known as Bharati Krishnatirtha, and settled at Sringeri. After three years, his older brother who, in search of him, came across Vidyatirtha and in a fortuitous situation took sanyasaasrama himself and hence came to be known as Vidyaranya. This Vidyaranya wrote a wonderful commentary on the Isavasyawhich is considered to be the best among the commentaries on that Upanishad.


Sadasivabrahmendrayati was an eminent Advaitin and a yogi of Andhradesa. He studied Vedanta under Ramabhadra Sastry and gained profound knowledge in the Prasthanatraya and the six systems of Indian philosophy. He wrote a very good commentary on Isavasya Upanishad.


Upanishadbrahmendrayogi wrote commentaries on as many as 108 Upanishads. His Isavasyavivaranam, a commentary on Isavasya, is on Sankara's lines, and gives a comprehensive gist of Advaita philosophy.


Advaitanandatirtha, a disciple of Sadanandatirtha and son of Madhavasuri and Mahalakshmi, was Kurunganti Subrahmanya Sastry before his accepting the ascetic life. He wrote three works among which Panchopanishattatparya deepika is of a special genre . He wrote commentaries on Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna and Mundaka Upanishads. This work was published by Bramhavidya press,. and is also known as Advaitanandalahari.


Among the post-Sankara Advatins, Bellamkonda Ramarayakavi's contribution to Advaita Vedanta is most remarkable. He was the son of Mohanaraya and Hanumayamma who were the residents of Pamidipadu Agrahara near Narsaraopeta of Guntur district.

Ramarayakavi was also called Apara Sankara by his contemporaries. He produced more than 100 works within his short life time of 38 years. His works on Advaita Vedanta outnumbered those on other branches which constitute an important contribution to Indian philosophy. He wrote Vedantamukthavali in which he gave the essence of all Upanishads in Sardula metre of composition. While commenting on the Upanishads he followed the Advaita approach of Sankara. A sloka from the Isavasya written by Ramarayakavi is given here.

ईशावास्यमिदं समस्तभुवनं त्यक्त्वार्थगेहादिकं
ब्रह्मण्येन मुमुक्षुणाSनवरतं निष्ठा विधॆयाSSत्मनि |
अर्हत्वाय च तत्र कर्म विहितं कार्यं पुरा निष्फलं
विद्वानित्थमुपाचरन् हि भजते निर्लेप आत्माSश्वरम् ||
(This universe can be imagined as a personification of the Almighty and hence it is His property. We have no business to trespass this sacred empire. The minimum we should do to preserve the sanctity is not to covet others' possessions. Further, we should carry out the duties allotted to us by the Almighty without expecting any reward for it. That, in essence, is the path to salvation.)

Having had a glance of original Sanskrit works, let us now turn to the great works in Telugu.

Atmanandayogi, who lived in the last quarter of the 19th century, translated Isavasya into Telugu. He brought out all the Advaitic tenets contained in the Upanishads in lucid verses and songs and simple language without attempting at their literal translation [which would probably have marred the beauty of the original].

Pantula Lakshminarayana Sastry, translated Isavasya along as well as Kena, Katha and Prasna into beautiful Telugu verses. His work is considered to be one of the outstanding works in Telugu on Advaita.

Charla Ganapathi sastry, who lived in the 20th century, has translated Isavasya and other three Upanishads, Kena, Katha and Prasna. He closely followed the original text. His work is known as Upanishat Sudha.

Pisupati Narayana Sastry (A.D.1900-1967) has translated Isavasya along as also eleven other Upanishads into Telugu. His work is called Andhradwadasopanishattulu.

V.Sundara Rama Sarma of the 20th century wrote word-to-word meaning and paraphrase of Isavasya and two other Upanishads, Katha and Aitareya.

Nori Srinatha Venkata Somayajulu of the 20th century translated Isavasya and nine other Upanishads in chaste Telugu in prose form. He also translated Swetaswatara and Kaivalya with explanatory notes strictly following Advaita interpretation.

Kanuparthi Markandeya Sastry, who lived in the 20th century, translated Isavasya into beautiful Telugu in verse format. His work, Srimadandhropanishadjnanadipika, unfolds the very heart of Sri Sankaracharya's conception and stands out as one of the best works in Telugu on Advaita.

Isavasyopanishad was also translated by Kompella Dakshinamurthy Sastry and it was published by Sri Sita Rama Adi Sankara Trust in Hyderabad.

Another notable commentary of Vithaladevuni Sundara Sarma was published by Surabharathi Samithi of Hyderabad.

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