When, where and how did bhakti become acceptable within the Indian intellectual élites?
A Sanskritist-historian, Anand Venkatkrishnan, opened his research on the family of Āpadeva in 16th–17th c. Banaras to this wider issue in a recent article published on South Asian History and Culture*. The backbone of the article is Anand’s research on the production of the intellectuals belonging to the “Deva” family, several of which have been intensely prolific and have even played an important role in the Sanskrit intellectual history. Anand seems to read Sanskrit well and with pleasure, given that he freely travels through genres in order to reconstruct an intellectual flair rather than splitting hairs on specific doctrinal problems. Even more valuable is the fact that he broadens the scope of his research to also Marathi texts —the Deva family moved to Banaras from Mahārāṣṭra. Of particular interest in this connection is a genealogical reconstruction by Anantadeva II (“fl. 1650 CE”), where he speaks of the glory of his family starting with
[…] vedavedīsamanvitaḥ |
śrīkṛṣṇabhaktimān eka ekanāthābhidho dvijaḥ ||
A brahmin, fully endowed with Vedic knowledge,
A devotee of Krishna: Ekanātha by name. (p. 150)
This Ekanātha should be identified, maintains Anand (against Keune and Edgerton and with Pollock, O’Hanlon and Kane) with the Marathi poet-saint Eknāth (latter halfth of the 16th c.) and this throws light on the interesting mix of bhakti and scholarship in the Deva family. The article was perhaps too short to allow Anand to dwell deeper in the issue and discuss, e.g., the frequence of the name Ekanātha in Mahārāṣṭra —one might imagine that many people might have been named after the saint Eknāth— or the reasons for a short mention of such an illustrious predecessor in Anantadeva II’s genealogical reconstruction, as if he were nothing more than a normal devotee. Nonetheless, it remains clear that the family linked an intellectual profile with a bhakti commitment. This mixture is prominent in Anantadeva, who wrote a drama, the Kriṣṇabhakticandrikānāṭaka, in which a Mīmāṃsaka and a Vedāntin discuss and are last converted by a devotee of Kṛṣna. Of particular interest to me is the fact that at times the Mīmāṃsaka seems to be an ally of the devotee:
buddhiṃ parasya bhettuṃ kevalam etad hi pāṇḍityam || 93 ||
Which I would translate plainly as an attack of the Vedāntin as if he were no more than an eristic Buddhist:
In fact, [your] scholarship only consists in this: You destroy the ideas of your opponent [without establishing anything on your own]!
Anand’s translation is slightly different in its first part (honestly, I can not understand the English form of his first clause, that’s why I offered a different translation):
Some scholarship that is: you only deconstruct the ideas of others. (p. 152)
The alliance of Mīmāṃsā and devotion against the Advaita Vedānta approach might be a direction worth exploring further. Anand also hints at the prehistory of this alliance, mentioning a verse of Kumārila’s Bṛhaṭṭīkā quoted by Anantadeva II:
nanu niḥśreyasaṃ jñānād bandhahetor na karmanaḥ |
naikasmād api tat kiṃ tu jñānakarmasamuccayāt ||
‘Surely the highest good arises from knowledge, not from action, that cause of bondage.’**
‘No: It arises nor from one [of these two], but from a synthesis of knowledge and action.’ (p. 158)
According to Sheldon Pollock (which is very present in the theorethical framework of the article), the rise of theistic Mīmāṃsā “produced no systemwide change”. Is this judgement accurate although it necessarily oversimplifies things?
*I am grateful to Anand for having sent me a copy of his article.
**The verse had already been translated, among others, by Roque Mesquita, who interpreted bandhahetor as the content of jñāna: “The knowledge of the reason of the fetter” (die Erkenntnis von der Ursache der Bindung, 1994). Anand explains that this translation is “erroneous” and that “bandhahetor should construe as a tatpuruṣa compound modifying karmaṇaḥ, both in the ablative, rather than as the genitive object of jñāna” (p. 165), which is only a description of his translation, not of why it should be better than Mesquita’s. The interpretation of bandhahetor as a karmadhāraya makes in fact good sense, although perhaps the text was ambiguous on purport. Anyway, I would recommend the author in the future to explain in more detail why he dissents, according to the rules of a proper vāda
(Full disclosure: I am myself very interested in the issue of the links between Mīmāṃsā and theism. After my 2012 book (on a theist Mīmāṃsaka), I have recently published a discussion of the link of Mīmāṃsā and devotion in South India in Puṣpikā 3 (ed. by Robert Leach and Jessie Pons). You can read an early draft of it for free here).