Veṅkaṭanātha as a way for reconstructing the history of Sanskrit philosophy in South India: The Bṛhaṭṭīkā

Veṅkaṭanātha is an important milestone for the reconstruction of the history of Indian philosophy. In fact, he is a historical figure and the reconstruction of his thought is also facilitated by the contextual knowledge already available about the times, the cultural and geographical milieu, and the religious tradition related to him. Thus, the study of Veṅkaṭanātha and of his sources allows one to undertake a study of Indian philosophy as known to him and of the changes he implemented in its interpretation. An interesting instance is that of Kumārila’s lost Bṛhaṭṭīkā (henceforth BṬ). This was presumably (see Kataoka 2011, pp. 25–60) an enlarged and revised version of Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika (henceforth ŚV) and has not survived in full. Outside Mīmāṃsā, it was last quoted by the Buddhist author Ratnakīrti (fl. 1070) and by the Jains Vidyānanda (fl. 940), Anantakīrti (fl. 950) and Prabhācandra (fl. 1040 or later).*
After them, some other Mīmāṃsā authors seem to have known at least some excerpts of the BṬ: Pārthasārathi Miśra (11th c.?, see Freschi 2008 and Kataoka 2011, p. 112), commenting on the ŚV, refers to examples found in the BṬ, as does Someśvara (fl. 1200, according to Kataoka 2011, p. 112), and, as late as in the 16th c., Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa quotes a verse on arthāpatti attributing it to the BṬ (Mānameyodaya, arthāpatti section, see this post).
In his Seśvaramīmāṃsā (henceforth SM) on Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra 1.1.4, Veṅkaṭanātha dealt with a controversial issue (the possibility of yogipratyakṣa, or intellectual intuition) treated in both the ŚV and the BṬ, but he only elaborated on the ŚV arguments, neglecting altogether their improved version in the BṬ. This improved version has reached us thanks to extensive quotes embedded in a Buddhist text, Śāntarakṣita’s Tattvasaṃgraha, but Veṅkaṭanātha might not have had the chance (nor felt the need) to read that Buddhist text. Thus, if the dates suggested above are correct, the BṬ was possibly lost —at least in the Eastern part of South India and at least outside Pūrva Mīmāṃsā— before the year 1300.

*These dates are based on Potter’s online bibliography, previously printed as Potter 1995.

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2 thoughts on “Veṅkaṭanātha as a way for reconstructing the history of Sanskrit philosophy in South India: The Bṛhaṭṭīkā

  1. As in the case of political history so in the history of philosophy, South India is willy nilly neglected by historians, whether Indian or foreign. I wish there were a map of philosophies in India; Saivism has its Kashmiri roots as well as its southern variety; Navya-nyaya flourished in Mithila and Bengal. And so on and so forth. Above all, there was ‘the eternal city,’ Varanasi, the place of confluence of all philosophical systems in India, northern, southern, eastern and western. The importance of south India is best illustrated by the Tamil epic, Manimekalai. We learn from this work that there were more than one materialist schools in the south. It also provides the first instance of shat-tarki. Like the purloined letter in Edgar Allan Poe’s famous tale, the evidence in this epic had been present before the eyes of scholars since the nineteenth century; at least three translations in English (complete or partial) are available (one on the net even), but very little research has been done on the two schools, bhutavada and Lokayata, mentioned in this work. This neglect is perhaps due to the fact that the Manimekalai is written in an Indian vernacular, not in Sanskrit or even Prakrit or Pali!

    • Dear Prof. Bhattacharya,

      thanks for this interesting remark. I am often inclined to think that South India in general tends to be less central in the Indological concerns than Northern India (be it Kaśmīr, Varaṇāsi or Bengal). This might have also to do with the earlier disapperance of Buddhism from South India, which makes it less accessible to people interested in Dharmakīrtian controversies…
      (By the way, I discovered the Manimekalai only a short time ago, exactly while looking for hints of Buddhism in South India…)