DID SANKARA WRITE A COMMENTARY ON THE SVETASVATARA UPANISHAD?
One noticeable feature in some recent discussions about South Indian chronology is the attempt made either to bring down Sankara to a very recent date, to put some of the South Indian Saints before him, both it seems to me on very insufficient grounds. The former attempt had always seemed to me the more untenable of the two; and as it was mainly based on the fact that numerous quotations were to be found from some of the Purana (presumably modern according to Western scholars) in Sankara's Bhashya on the Svetasvatara Upanishad, I was led to examine the Bhashya itself. My first glance was enough to disclose to me a remarkable feature, the extraordinary length and number of the quotations, the prasthavana alone, sixteen pages in length, containing about thirteen pages in all of quotations, from such books as the Vishnudharma, the Linga, Brahma and Vishnu Puranas, and the Parasara Smriti. This by itself is such an unusual thing with Sankara, that I was led to doubt whether the Bhashya was really his. I was forced to leave this in abeyance, since Prof. Max Muller seems to have no doubt that it was really Sankara's work, from the way in which he refers to it in the preface to his translation of the Upanishad.1 [1
Sacred Books of the East – Upanishads, Vol. II pp. xxxii, xi and 266] But recently, while turning over the pages of the Anandasrama edition of the Upanishad, I lighted upon the Sanskrit preface which usually contains nothing but a bare list of manuscripts consulted, and to my surprise I saw that the Anandasrama pandits also had come to the conclusion that the Bhashya was a forgery. As the facts upon which they base this opinion are scarcely known and as they are expressed in Sanskrit, I shall here give them together with a few more facts I was able to gather myself.
The first reason as I said before is the length and numbers of the quotations from the Puranas. Sankara, as may be seen from his commentaries on the other Upanishads and on the Brahma Sutras, never quotes at any length from the Vedas even, and with the exception of the Gita and the Sanatsujatiya, very rarely indeed from the Puranas. But the more important fact is that he never quotes more than two lines or three at the most, whereas in the Bhashya in question, we have nearly three quarters of the prasthavana consisting only of quotations, and these mainly from the Puranas, which Sankara is always very chary of quoting.
The Second point is (though it may not have very much weight by itself) that Anandagiri who from his habit of always following up Sankara with a commentary has been called as incarnation of Nandikeswara, while Sankara was made an incarnation of Siva, has not written a gloss upon this.
Third. Dhanapatisuri, the author of the commentary called Dindima on Vidyaranya's Sankaradivijaya, when commenting upon the words enumerates only the commentaries on the ten Upanishads, beginning from the Isa and ending with the Brihadaranyaka, as Sankara's work, (Chap. VI, Sl. 61). And in the next Sloka Vidyaranya mentions only the commentaries on the Gita, Sanatsujatiya and the Nrisimha Tapini Upanishad. If Sankara did write a commentary on the Svetasvatara, it would be strange indeed if such a warm admirer and follower of his as Vidyaranya were to omit all mention of it.
Fourth. Narayana who seems to have written Dipikas on a large number of the Upanishads, always quotes from Sankara, wherever a commentary written by him is available on the text he is commenting upon. This may be readily seen from his dipikas on the ten principal Upanishads. But in his Dipika on this Upanishad alone are there no quotations from the Bhashya as we have it.
Fifth. Moreover Naryana is in the habit of styling himself "Sankaroktyupajivina," 'one who lives by Sankara's words,' in the concluding sloka of his dipikas, whenever there is already a commentary by Sankara on his text. But in his dipikas on the Hamsa and other Upanishads, wherever there is no commentary by Sankara, he simply styles himself "srutimatropajivina," 'one who lives by the sruti alone.' And in the dipika to this Upanishad he only styles himself the latter way. There would be no reason for his departing from his usual course, if there were a commentary by Sankara.
Sixth. Still more cogent is the proof we get in another part of Narayana's Dipika. When commenting upon Rik. 20 of the sixth Adhyaya, to support his interpretation that the verse inculcates the worship of God as superior to everything, he quotes Sankara's comment on Gita 18-66, where the present verse itself is cited by the latter.2 [2
Narayana's Dipika, p. 27. Anandasrama edition of the Svetasvatara. Bhagavad Gita, Anandasrama edition, p.524] Narayana need not have gone so far to find an authority for his opinion, it he had another at hand in the shape of a Bhashya by Sankara on the Svetasvatara.3 [3
Here is a point which I may bring to the notice of our Saivite friends. There is an alternative reading "Sivam" for "Devan" which appears in the text. This reading is given by Vignanabhikshu also as an alternative. Prof. Max Muller is mistaken in saying that Sankarananda accepts only the latter reading. As a matter of fact he reads only "Devan."]
Seventh. The compact and vigorous style of Sankara is nowhere to be seen in the Bhashya. There is not in this the unity and closeness of thought which makes his style at once recognizable; it is a loose, incoherent mass, eked out into seeming fullness by its numerous quotations. There is no greater evidence of poverty of thought than this weaving in of quotations, and in this species of literary parasitism our Bhashya seems to be a masterpiece.
If we also take into consideration that in many places, views are advanced which are radically opposed to Sankara's,4 [4
I have not the time nor the space to work out this point fully. I shall try and take it up a some future time. It would be better if any of our readers were to attempt it. The Upanishad itself is a pretty stiff thing to make out the relations of.] we have, I think, a fine piece of cumulative evidence, if not indeed to disprove that Sankara was the author of the Bhashya, yet enough to throw a considerable amount of doubt on the accepted view. If what we have said is true, then a good deal of speculation lately indulged in, that many of the Puranas hitherto considered very modern are in reality much anterior to Sankara, must fall to the ground, since only in this Bhashya are any such quotations found.5 [5
I do not mean to say that many of the Puranas are later than Sankara, and that the matter here set forth can in any way settle the vexed question of the age of the Puranas. The only service which the point mooted in this paper can do, will be to save inferences being drawn from the quotations in the supposed Sankara Bhashya on the Svetasvatara, which would only envelop the main question as to the dates of the Puranas in more confusion and darkness. For instance there is a distinct account of Sankara in the Padma Purana, where he is said to be an incarnation of Siva, who appeared in this form to mislead people. But it could not on that account alone be contended that the whole Padma Purana is later than him. As is quite common in Sanskrit literature, the perhaps very small kernel, out of which has developed the huge super structure of the Padma Purana in its present form, might reach back even to Vedic times. A rich harvest awaits anyone who can verify the Puranic quotations in writes of ascertained date, by reference to the books now existing.]
M. NARAYANASWAMI AIYAR.