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Nlakaha Caturdhara's Mantrakkhaa

Author(s): Christopher Minkowski

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 2, Indic and Iranian Studies in
Honor of Stanley Insler on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Apr. - Jun., 2002), pp. 329-344
Published by: American Oriental Society
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Nilakantha Caturdhara, the seventeenth-century author of the well-known Bhdratabhivadipa
commentary on the Mahibhdrata, wrote at least three, and possibly more, works in a genre that he
called mantrarahasyaprakiL'a,the illumination of the hidden meaning of (Vedic) verses. The Mantrakdiiskhandais a work in this genre that has not been previously published or studied. The purpose
the most widely
of the text is to read Vedic verses so as to reveal the Skandapurdna'sKagiLkhanda,
circulated mdhdtmyaof K591or Banaras. In the following study I examine the contents of the text
and its commentarial rationale, and compare it with Nilakantha's two published mantrarahasya
works. I argue that in the latter part of the text Nilakantha departs from the format of the genre that
he had earlier created, and I consider some reasons why he might have done so. The topics raised
in the work occasion some more general questions about how to place Nilakantha in his historical

on the banks of the Godavari; that Nilakantha moved

to Banaras, where he undertook the study of Veda and
Vedanga,, Srauta, Yoga, Saiva texts, Tarka,
and especially Advaita Vedanta,with a variety of teachers.3 In Banaras Nilakantha found many long-established families of eminent s'astrisfrom the Deccan, and
it was in this Banaras in the era of Aurangzeb that Nilakantha pursued his literary career.
In addition to his commentary on the Mahiibhiirata,
Nilakantha wrote about fifteen other works, mostly in
the form of commentarieson Puranicand Vedantic texts.
Nilakantha specified the date in two of these works, one
in 1680, and one in 1693.4 The work of 1680 was a


WE' ALL USE NILAKANTHA CATURDHARA'S commentary on the Mahibhdrata, but what do we know about
him? Who was he and when did he live, and where?
What was going on in the intellectual world he inhabited, and in the larger world?
We know that he was a Marathi-speaking Brahmin
who flourished in the second half of the seventeenth
century;2that his family had been established in a town

What paper would be a fitting tribute to Stanley Insler, the

doyen of the AOS, the mainstay of its South and Southeast
Asia section, noted for his contributions, and notorious for his
conversation? Probably not this one. And yet he did enjoy this
paper when it was presented as a talk at the AOS meeting in
Portland in 2000. I am not sure that Stanley will consider this
paper, with its implied comparison to Nilakantha, a tribute,
even given Nilakantha's wide-ranging scope of literary activity, his penchant for the ingenious, even perhaps for the
shocking. I suspect Nilakantha had, in his own time and in his
own world, an excellent sense of humor. But at a certain point
the comparison must stop. Intellectual bravura is one thing,
brinksmanship another. Nevertheless, in a spirit of friendship
and with an admiration for the genuine joy that our felictand
obviously takes in the play of the ingenious mind, I dedicate
this paper to him.
2 This section assumes, and in some places amplifies,
previous discussions found in two previous studies, C. Z.

Minkowski, "Nilakantha Caturdharaand the Genre of Mantrarahasyaprakas'ika,'in Proceedings of the Second International Vedic Workshop,ed. Y. Ikari (Kyoto, forthcoming), and
Minkowski, "Nilakantha's Cosmographical Comments in the
Bhismaparvan," Purdna, forthcoming. More bibliography is
given there, in addition to what is found in the following notes.
3 See the passages from Nilakantha's work cited in P. K.
Gode, "The Exact Date of the Advaitasudhaof LaksmanaPandita (A.D. 1663) and his Possible Identity with Laksmanarya,
the Vedanta Teacher of Nilakantha Caturdhara,the Commentator of the Mahabhdrata,"Poona Orientalist 10, 1-7. Repr.
in Studies in Indian Literary History, vol. 3 (Poona, 1956),
4 See P. K. Gode, "The Exact Date of the Advaitasudha,"'

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

commentary on the Sivatandavatantra, books 12-14,

written at the request of AnUpasimrha,
Maharajaof Bikaner from 1669-1698, a noted bibliophile and sometime general in the service of Aurangzeb.5

No study has yet been made of Nilakantha's placement in the cultural, much less political, historical moment in which he lived. For that matter it is only
recently that the placement of Sanskrit literati of the
seventeenth century in their historical context has been
posed as a problem at all.6 In what senses can we say
that Nilakantha was a man of his time and place? The
question is theoretically far from a simple one to ask,
but that does not prevent us from assembling some
materials for consideration.
Aside from Nilakantha's composing a work commissioned by a temporal ruler, Anupasimha, there is also
a range of bhasa languages he resorted to as part of
his commentarial method. Printz has demonstratedthat,
in commenting on the Mahibhdrata, Nflakantha made
regular use in his glosses of Mardthi and Hindavi I
Hindustani, some loanwords of Dravidian, Persian, and
Arabic, and possibly some Bhojpuri.8 Nilakantha ex-

5 On Anupasimha, see David Pingree, "Astronomy at the

Court of AnFlpasimrha,"
in From Astral Omens to Astrology,
from Babylon to Bikaner, Serie Orientale Roma, vol. 78 (Rome:
Istituto Italiano per l'Africa et l'Oriente, 1997), 91-103. The
mention of AnUpdramais found on p. 159 in HaraprasadShastri, Descriptive Catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscripts in the
Collections of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. 8 (1939)
Cat. No. 5968, Accn. No. 3323. iti. .. .rimahdrdjddhirdjakarnamahasaya-sununa grimad-aniipasimhena prerita-, etc.
These chapters of the Sivatin~davatantraare devoted to the
tantric use of magic squares, or ahkayantras. Nilakantha's
commentary became a central document for the entire subfield
of magic squares. More on this in a forthcoming study.
6 See now, Sheldon Pollock, "New Intellectuals in Seventeenth-Century India," Indian Economic and Social History
Review 38 (2001).
7 On the theoretical problem, see Pollock, "New Intellectuals"; Pollock, "The Death of Sanskrit,"ComparativeStudies in
Society and History 43 (2001); and Minkowski, "The Pandit
as Public Intellectual: The Controversy over virodha or Inconsistency in the Astronomical Sciences," in The Pandit: Traditional Sanskrit Scholarship in India (Festschrift P. Aithal), ed.
Axel Michaels (New Delhi: Manohar, 2001), 83-85, 98-100.
8 W. Printz, "Bhas5-Worterin Nilakantha'sBhdratabhdvadipa
usw.," Zeitschriftfur vergleichende Sprachforschung (KZ) 44
(1911): 69-109. The phenomenon was already noted in Adolf

plicated using Kannada in at least one place in the


This reliance on bhasa languages reflects a development that is perhaps characteristic of intellectuals of
his day. Some philosophers in Sanskrit of the seventeenth century proposed to redefine the status of vernacular languages as communicative systems by proposing
that vernacular languages had the independent capacity
to express meaning, a capacity regularly denied them by
earlier philosophers in Sanskrit. Pollock has recently
argued that these proposals constituted an innovation
of the early modem period.'0Nilakanthaendorsed a version of this position when discussing vernacularmantras
(bhiisdmantra)in the introductionto his commentaryon
the Sivatandavatantra."
Another way in which we might speak of Nilakantha
as a man of his day can be found in the glosses that we
now judge to be anachronistic. For example, it is well
known that in the BhBhD Nilakanithasometimes glosses
terms like yantra in military passages of the epic as referring to guns or cannons.'2 In fact anachronism has
come to be a criticism of Nilakantha generally, who in
this sense is judged too much a man of his own day.'3
In this study I would like to consider an unknownwork
that Nilakantha wrote in an innovative genre, because,
as I shall argue, this work could afford us an insight into
how Nilakantha might have thought of himself as participating in the larger cultural, and possibly even the
political, work of his moment.

Holtzmann, Das Mahbhfarata und seine Theile, 4 vols. (Kiel:

Haeseler, 1892-95), 3: 88-89.
9 Mantrabhdgavata11.6(35) ... karnatabhsaiprasiddhesca
nuvatir atra pi~drthah.
10 Pollock, "New Intellectuals." Not all accepted this argument, which emanated primarily from Vaiyakaranas. Kamalakara among others rejected it.
11 The full discussion is found on ff. 2r-3r of G 3323 (listed
above in n. 5): evam bhdsdmantrdndmaksardnupirvyd avaidikatve 'pi tadarthandmvaidikatvad eva viryavattvam.It forms
part of NC's argument as to why commenting on a tantric text,
and a text on magic squares at that, is worthwhile for scholars
of vaidika literature.
12 ndla and bandikha, see Printz, 77-80, with furtherbibliography. Holtzmann, Das Mahabhdrata, 3: 89. As both Printz
and Holtzmann notice, Nilakantha is aware of these as foreign
terms (mlecchabhdsayi), with the implication that he is aware
that the technology is also foreign; perhaps another feature of
his 'early modernity'.
13 Elsewhere I review this judgment, which in our day might
have become an obstacle to understanding. See Minkowski,
"The Success of Nflakantha'sCommentary,"forthcoming.

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Nilakantha Caturdhara'sMantraks'ikhanda


Nilakantha wrote at least three, and possibly more,

works in a genre of his own creation. He subtitled all of
these works mantrarahasyaprakdsiik 'the illumination
of the hidden meaning of (Vedic) mantras'.The two better known of these texts, each published twice in the last
century, are the Mantrardmiyana and the Mantrabhigavata, in which verses drawn from the Rgveda are arranged and read in such a way that they reveal the story
and theology of the Rdmiyana in one case, and of the
Bhdgavata in the other. I recently contributeda study on
the subject of those two texts, and will not discuss them
furtherhere, except to say that they were well known in
their day and after, and that each survives in at least a
dozen manuscripts.'4
Nilakantha had already been experimenting with the
style when he wrote his commentary on the Harivams'a.
About sixty verses from the RV are introduced into Nilakantha'scommentarythere and read in such a way that
they reveal the episodes of the Harivamsra.l5Some features of this commentarial approach, which became so
distinctive of Nilakantha, are already found in the commentary on the Mahibhdrata proper.16

Nilakantha's Mantrakdfikhanda (MKKh) is another

text in this genre. It has never been published. The title
suggests that the purpose of the text is to read Vedic
verses so as to reveal the Skandapurdna'sKdsiikhanda,
the most widely known tirthamahatmyaof the sacred
city of Kas'?,Nllakantha'sadopted home.

See Minkowski, "The Genre of Mantrarahasyapraka?ika."In that work I referred to the MR and MBh as relatively
obscure, which they are, relatively. However there are many
more MSS that are not listed in NCC, but available in the
Sarasvati Bhavan, RORI, and elsewhere. Additional MSS of
the MR not taken note of in my previous count: Poleman 4378
(= Harvard 1999) (Samvat 1883); Sarasvati Bhavan 14383;
15218 (Samvat 1895-96); 16230; RORI Jodhpur (IIA) 186
(Accn. No. 9987). Additional MSS of MBhg: Poleman 3332
(= Harvard 2000) (Samvat 1883, Saka 1745); Poleman 3333
(= UP 751) (Sam.vat 1842); Sarasvati Bhavan 3956; Sarasvati
Bhavan 15078 (Saka 1796, Sam.vat 1932); Sarasvati Bhavan
15512 (Samvat 1753); 14374; Bikaner 1250 (Samvat 1594);
Jodhpur 36309.
15 P. L. Vaidya, ed., The Harivamra (Poona: Bhandarkar
Oriental Research Institute, 1969). L. Vaidya dismisses these
efforts by Nilakantha as displays of his pedantry.
See Minkowski,"TheSuccess of Nilakantha'sCommentary."


There are five known manuscripts, of which I have

been able to examine three.17 All three manuscripts
share certain features which suggest that they are all
descendants of a manuscriptthat presented the first half
of the work in a tripithi style, i.e., with Vedic verses
andpadapitha in the center, and the commentarywritten
above and below.18 The source manuscriptmust have also
provided a numberingscheme and an index of verses, as
the extant manuscriptsreproducethe same flawed numbering system and the same index of Vedic verses. More
on this index, with its ratherarbitrarychoices, below.

Before discussing the contents of the MKKh a few

comments should be made about the Kasikhanda itself.
This is the "most popular section" of the Skandapurdna,
and is the "most famous and extensive" of the mahatmyas of Banaras.19It is a predominantly Saiva text. In
its published form it consists of 100 chapters and
roughly 10,000 verses, and is probably datable to the
mid-fourteenth century.20It had a life of its own as a
text independentof the Skandapurdna,and has long been
in circulation in independent manuscripts, with several
learned commentaries available, and several old translations, including one in Telugu and one in Tamil.21 There
ASB G5768 ff. 1-26; Poleman 394 (= Harvard2001) ff. 128; NGMPP Reel E593 / 20 ff. 2, 6, 8-20, listed as belonging
to the Vijayasaptoka private collection in Kathmandu. The
other two known MSS are Sarasvati Bhavan 3957 ff. 1-39,
dated Samvat 1892; and Sarasvati Bhavan 15079 ff. 1-27, inc.
Thanks to Professor Anil Sarkar of the Asiatic Society, and
Dipu Sudan at Cornell, I was able to obtain a copy of the ASB
MS. Thanks to Leslie Morris and Thomas Ford at the Houghton Library, I was able to obtain a copy of the Harvard MS.
Thanks to Klaus Dieter Mathes, Albrecht Weber, and Anne
Macdonald, I was able to obtain a copy of the KathmanduMS.
18 In fact, the ASB and HarvardMSS observe the same pagination for the first half of the text, even though the Harvard
MSS must resort to writing in the margins to accomplish it.
19 Ludo Rocher, The Puranas (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz,
1986), 232-33; Diana Eck, Banaras, City of Light (Princeton:
Knopf, 1982); Eck, "A Survey of Sanskrit Sources for the
Study of Varanasi" Purdna 22 (1980): 81-101.
20 Kuber Nath Sukul, Virinasi Vaibhava (Patna: Bihar Rastrabhasa Parisad, 1977), 278-79, cited by Eck, "Survey of
Sanskrit Sources',"83-84. Eck proposes an earlier date for
much of the text. See also H. Bakker et al., Skanda Purina,
vol. 1 (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1998), 15-16.
21 The edition of an early complete version of the Skandapurana by Bakker et al. shows that the KKh was a later

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

have been Sanskrit summaries, abstracts, indices, and

even a campUbased on the Kds'ikhanda.22
To date there
is neither a critical edition of the text nor a study of its
literary merits, which are considerably higher than what
one expects to find in a Puranic work.
In the Skandapurlna the Kdsiikhandais mechanically
divided into two halves of fifty adhyayas each, but a
more organic division would be into the framing narrative (1-6), the opening story of Sivas'arma(7-24), and
then the account of the tirthas (25-100).
The Kastkhanda is something of an unusual text as a
mahatmya, in that it begins with the story of Agastya's
departurefrom Kas'!for the south, and includes lengthy
descriptions of pilgrimage sites other than Kd?l.23The
main body of the text (25-100) is narratedto Agastya by
Skanda while they are sitting at Srigaila, a major Saiva
temple site in the Andhra country. Among the myths included in the text is an extended one about Siva's period
of exile from the city during the reign of the king Divodasa (39-63).24 Thus, in addition to the careful accounts
of the temples and bathing places in the city, and in addition to recommendations of routes to take through the
city's sacred spaces, the text embeds a strong sentiment
of separation from Kas'i and longing for it from a distance.25Indeed the frame of the story and the opening

insertion in the text. On the KKh there are comms. by Jayarama and Vefikatanardyana,but the commentaryof Rdmananda,
who is also known as Caitanya Vana (date uncertain but not
the same as the eponymous founder of the Rdmanandiorder),
is the most widespread in MSS and the most frequently published. There is a fifteenth-century translation in Telugu by
Srindtha, a sixteenth-century translation in Tamil by Ativirarama Pandya, an early nineteenth-centurytranslation in Kannada by Mummadi Krsnardja, and no doubt many others in
other languages. The interest in the text in Bengal is shown
simply by the publication history as found in Rocher. See
Rocher, Puranas, 232 n. 424, and NCC 4: 121-24.
22 For a listing of titles see NCC 4: 124, where selections /
summariessuch as the KaiLkhandakathdkeli
and the Kgs'ikhandakathasamgraha, as well as the index, Kds'ikhandinukramanikd,
and the KaiLkhandacampisare listed.
23 Agastya's departure for the south is in the foreground in
the opening six adhydyas. The attention to other sites begins
with Agastya's visit to Kolhapurin adhydya 5, and continues in
Agastya's survey of tirthas in adhydya 6, and throughout the
Sivagarma story in adhydyas 7-24.
24 In fact,
Agastya's exile is explicitly compared with Siva's
exile in 5.94.
Agastya begins to long for his lost K59i in adhydya 5
even before he has left, but since Agastya is the narratorof the
Sivagarma story (7-24) and is the principal audience for the

sections suggest a special relation of this text with the

south, when taken together with the early success of the
text there.26In any case, the Kaiikhanida is not only
about Kds`!,and not only about Kas-?as the best of all
tirthas, but about Kds'!'scentrality to, and dominating interconnection with what one might call the "cosmological imaginary"of Hinduism.27
The argument for the primacy of KMs'is based in
the Kds'ikhandaon the doctrine of kdsiimaranamukti,
doctrine that death in Banaras confers liberation on the
soul of the dying person, regardless of the person's behavior in life.28 This doctrine had already been articulated in earlier Puranic texts, but the vision of the great
god Siva himself whispering the liberative teaching, the
taraka brahma, into the ear of any person dying in K59!
is found frequently in the Kffikhanda.29

The Mantrakagikhandarefers to the Mantras'aririka,

yet unpublished and unstudied, and to the Mantrabhagavata, which was probably written after the Mantrardmdyana.30

It also refers to Nilakantha's commentary on

reminderof the text, his absence from and longing for Kas' are
reverted to everywhere.
26 The Agastya myth cycle is usually identified as the vehicle for mythologizing the spread of Brahminical culture to
the south. The KdSikhandabegins with the migration to the
south by Agastya, who remains the framing characterthroughout. Furthermore,the Brahmin Sivagarma,after his many travels through all the worlds, is given the boon that he will be
reborn as a king in Vidarbha (Nandivardhana) where he will
develop the merit to go to K591to die.
27 Nearly every description of a tirtha elsewhere is completed by an explanation of the analogue of that tirthain Kail,
and nearly every tirthain K59i is explained in terms of the coming of a deity into the city from elsewhere. In this the Divodasa myth is only the largest and most sustained example.
There is an extensive literature that takes up the KafiLkhanda's
theme of Banaras' place in Hindu cosmology. See, e.g., Eck,
"Banaras: Cosmos and Paradise in the Hindu Imagination,"
Contributors to Indian Sociology (CIS) (n.s.) 19 (1985): 4155; and J. P. Parry, "Death and Cosmogony in Kashi," CIS
(n.s.) 15 (1981): 337-65.
28 This claim is made in many passages throughout the text.
For example 35:13: vindpi tapasa skanda vind yogena sanmukha Ivind vratair vind ddnaih kaSydinmoksas tvayeritah ||
3.105; 7.79; 32.115-16; 42.57-58; 61.118; 64.99, etc.
The Mantraidriraka is mentioned on folio 9v, line 1, of
the Calcutta MS. The Mantrabhdgavata is mentioned on folio
13v, line 1.

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Nilakantha Caturdhara'sMantrakaslkhanda

the Mahdbhdrata.31 Thus the relative chronology of the

genre would seem to run from the first essays in the
BhBhD, especially its last section on the Harivamsa, to
the independenttexts in the orderMantrirdmnayana,
Mantrabhagavata, and Mantrasariiraka.The MKKh appears
to have been the last text of the genre that Nilakanitha
wrote. An absolute terminus ante quem for the Mantrabhagavata is provided by the dating of the Bikaner
manuscriptto Samvat 1594 or A.D. 1672.32

It is difficult to say exactly how many Vedic verses

should be counted as making up the MKKh. This is because neither Nilakantha nor the manuscriptsare consistent in their presentation of the verses. All three MSS
number thirty-seven sections of the text, with three additional verses listed in the mantroddharasection at the
end. All three MSS, on the other hand, furnish the same
index at the end, which enumerates forty-seven Vedic
verses. However only some of these verses are presented
in the body of the text in full tripikthiform; only some
have a padapdtha furnished; only some are given a
separate number; and only some have a complete glossing of the sort that NC has given for previous works in
the genre. By my count the text has thirty verses in its
main part, with three added in the mantroddhdra section. Then there are fourteen additional verses that have
some elements of the textual and scribal treatments
mentioned above.33
Of these verses four are also found in the Mantraramaiyanaor Mantrabhdgavata.34The overlappings are
clearly by intention, and in one case explicitly so, where
the verse is brought in from the Mantrabhagavata.35As
31 The Bhdratatika is mentioned on the last line of folio 13v
of the Calcutta MS.
32 See above, n. 14. Here samvat must refer to Saka era dating.
33 This brings us to the number forty-seven listed in the indices of the MSS. See appendix A for fuller description.
34 MKKh 20 (RV 1.122.1) = MR 145; MKKh 21 (QV
1.122.14) = MR 146; MKKh 24 (QV 5.52.17) = MBhg 96; and
MKKh 30 (QV 1.164.16) = MBhg 66. All my numbering of
MKKh verses follows the scheme listed in Appendix A. There
are some additional overlaps in the ancillary verses: MKKh
30D (QV 1.122.14d) = MR 146, see above; and MKKh30E (QV
10.55.7d) = MR 32.

35 RV 5.52.17 is introduced as MKKh 24 by reference to the

Mantrabhdgavata: tathd kevalayamundya bhagavaddarianahetutvam varnyate mantrabhagavate I sapta me iti I (N lIv
1.1). See also below, where the treatment of verses revealing
Manikarni is reproduced from the MR, nn. 49-53.


have shown elsewhere, in the earlier works of the

genre Nilakantha had carefully avoided repetition of


The text is divided into four sections: an introductory

section that describes its rationale, a first and second
half, and an appendix devoted to the mantroddhira,
or extraction from three Rgvedic verses, of the nine-,
thirteen- and fifteen-syllabled mantrasof Manikarnika.37

The rationale follows the ideas developed in the previous works of the mantrarahasyaprakdsikagenre about
what makes it legitimate for Nilakantha to read Vedic
texts in his novel way, as I have discussed elsewhere.38
The rationale section of this text is different from the
earlier ones in that it is mostly devoted to solving an
inherited problem concerning RV 10.102. This is the
Mudgala hymn, the difficult-to-interpret hymn about
Mudgala yoking a bull and a mallet to rhis chariot, and
having his wife drive in a chariot race.39Nllakantha has
chosen to begin the Mantrakaskhanda with all twelve
verses from this peculiar hymn. As a way of subordinating the verses to the mantrarahasyaproject, Nilakantha
turns, ratherunexpectedly, to a problem discussed in the
old ancillary literature,concerning which there is no uniform received opinion: who is the deity of this hymn?
The Brhaddevatd states three possibilities: Sakatayana
says it is a narrativehymn; Yaska says the mallet is the
deity; Saunakasays the Visve Devas are.40The Sarvanukramaniproposes an option, either the mallet (drughana)
is the deity, or Indra is.41Nilakantha enumerates these
inherited solutions as six possibilities, and then interprets them in a way that he can turn to his own use. The


See Minkowski, "The Genre of MantrarahasyaprakaSika,"

37 Compare KKh 61.85-105, where these mantras are listed.
NC also refers to the Manikarnikamantrain Mahidhara'sMantramahodadhi (written in Banaras a century earlier).
38 See Minkowski, "The Genre of MantrarahasyaprakdSiki."
39 For a masterly study of the hymn with bibliography see
Joel P. Brereton, "The Race of Mudgala and Mudgaldn!,"this
40 NC cites BD 8.10-11 with variants. See M. Tokunaga,
The Brhaddevata (Kyoto/Tokyo: Rinsen, 1997), 139, 283-84.
41 Sarvanukramani on RV 10.102. NC also cites Nirukta
9.23: mudgalo bhdrmyasva rsir drughanam ca v~rsabhamca
yuktva samgrdme vyavahtrtydjim

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

indeterminacy is itself revelatory. The hymn is really

about a pair of narrative events: on the one hand an
episode in the Virdtaparvanof the Mahibhdrata when
Aruna fights the Kauravasalongside Virata'sson, Uttara;
on the other, the opening sections of the KasJkhan~da,in
which Agastya departs from Kadsfor the south.42It is in
this double mode that he proceeds to read the twelve
verses of RV 10.102 as the first twelve verses in the
MKKh.43Even though the commentators on the Vedas
do not read the Vedic verses this way, that will not prevent Nilakantha from explaining them in their "true"

The first half of the text is "business as usual" for

Nilakantha, with verses from the Rgveda assembled
and explicated to reveal a mahatmya of Saiva Banaras.
As before, the verses are selected for the appearancein
them of distinctive terms. Thus all three Rgvedic instances of the term kdsLiappear.45Nilakantha explains at
length why this term, which the Vedic commentators
take to mean 'handful',or 'fist', really refers to a place.46
A verse that includes one of the two Rgvedic instances
of the term dfjdtasatruis read to reveal the presence in
mudgalapadabhidheyah kada cid indraputro arjuna ity
ucyate kadacin mitrdvarunaputro agastya iti vocyate I tasydtra vijaya ucyate 'to draughanam evaitat suktam indratvam
tasya bhatavijaya eva svdmino vijaya iti krtvd bodhyam IASB
lv 11.7-9, and further: tatra strivesadhdrindrjunena virdtputrasya sdrathyampratijfidtamyuddhakale ca tam eva sdrathim
krtva satrun abhibhdvyabhdvo nirjitCah(sic) I tesam muirchitanam
visamsi ca hrtvi virdtputryai samarpitlni j te ca sarve
jivanto mocita iti mahabhdrate virditparvanyuttaragograhane
upakhyiyate IASB lv 11. 10-12.
43 In fact, the first three verses are read as the Arjuna-Virata
episode, while the last nine verses are read as the AgastyaKKh episode.
44 bhdsyakdriyam tu vyikhydnam viniyogarthavidamfilakam aindryd garhapatyam upatisthata <MS 3.2.4 etc.> ity
adav aindryd rco garhapatyopasthinaparatvavat gaunam
tarkaprakaranabhyam ananugrhitam ca tadanugrahavata
upabrrmhandnusarino'smadiyasya tittvikdrthaprakiisanaparasya vydkhyinasya na badhakam IASB 2v 11.3-6.
45 MKKh 14, 15, and 16 are RV 8.78.10; 7.104.8; and 3.30.5
resp. See appendix B.
46 Sayana on 8.78.10, for example, glosses kaiLndas mu~stind.
Nirukta 6.1 on RV 3.30.5 explains kafi- as musti-, which presents
NC with some trouble,since he relies so implicitly on Yaska. See
Minkowski, "The Genre of Mantrarahasyapra-kaiika."

the RV of the name of the king Ajatas'atru,known from

the BrhaddranyakaUpanisad as king of Banaras.47
The most ingenious passage is the eliciting of the
term manikarmifrom a Rgvedic verse in which it does
not appear.MKKh21 is RV 1.22.14:
hfranyakarnam manigrivadmdrnas tkn no visve varivasyantu devdah
ary6 gfrah sadyd d jagmnisir6sraiscdkantabhdyesvasmi48

Nilakanthatakes drmasto refer to the water of the Gafiga

and by extension a specific place along the Gafiga. The
two terms htranyakarmamand manigrivdm specify this
place-where liberative knowledge falls into the ear,49
and where the truth about the Self is obtained by the
soul as it is leaving the body.50At this place, concludes
Nilakantha, the hearing of liberative teaching invariably
confers emancipatory wisdom."
Furthermore,the term manikarmican be obtained by
resegmenting and reordering the phrase hUranyakarmam
manigrivam. And hence this verse is really about taking
refuge at Manikarni.52ManikarnI or Manikarnika, not
the ghat but the kunda, was at one time the site of all
sites in Kas'i,and is depicted as such in the Kdsikhanda.
Nilakantha had already come up with this ingenious,

47 MKKh 18 is RV 5.34.1, where djataiatru is to all appear-

ances not a proper name but rather a bahuvrihi used as an

epithet. NC glosses as kdairaja, and cites BAU 2.1.1: sa hovacajatas'atrumkagyam ... (N. 9v 1.1).
48 Geldner: "Die wogende Masse, die Gold an den Ohren
und Juwelen am Hals tragt, die sollen uns alle Gotter gonnen.
Die Morgenroten sollen alsbald zu dem Lobe des hohen Herrn
erscheinend an beiden Teilen von uns ihre Freude haben."
49 yat hiranyakarnam samsdraharanat tarakam brahma
hiranyakarnepatati yena tat tatha I(N. lOr 1.10).
50 manigrivam manir atmatattvamgrivayam grivasthena utkramamanenayatra labhyatetan manigrivamI(N. lOr11.10-11).
51 tenatra s'ravanam niyamena vidyapradam iti labhyate |
(N. lOrl. 11).
Just as the word for the unit of time hora can be obtained
from the larger word for the larger unit of time ahorata by
dropping its beginning and ending parts: atrdhoratrapadayor
iva hira~nyakarnamanigrivapadayoh
kalavdcihoripadam iva manikarnipadamijalavici nispannam I lingam tu laukikam iti manikarnipadapravrttinimittam
dar~itam |
etena ?ighram manikarnim agraye ity uktam I (n. lOr 11. 1314). Nilakantha has to explain away the problem of the gender
of the term. But he does correctly note that the two words have
only a single accent: aikasvaryat samanuccitam idam padadvayam arnaso vieesanam I (N. 1Or1. 11).

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Nilakantha Caturdhara'sMantraks'lkhanda

perhaps you will think overingenious, reading of the

verse, in the Mantrarmiyaana.53

The Mantrakdslkhandais different from the earlier

texts in the mantrarahasya genre. There is not much in
the way of a sustained attempt to reproduce the narbeyond the opening frame
ratives of the KasiLkhanida
of Agastya's departure from Banaras. More striking is
that there is hardly any attempt to discuss the different
tirthas, images, and deities in Banaras and describe their
value and effects, which is what the KasiLkhanda
itself to at such length. Instead the MKKh generally
treats Banaras as a whole, with Manikarniikastanding in
for the whole city, and Siva as primary and encompassing deity.
While this difference is already true for the first half
of the text, the level of abstractionbecomes much more
pronounced in the second half. Nilakantha explains that
while the first half is about the value of Banaras for
common people, the second half is about Banarasfor the
learned (vidvat).54Indeed it is difficult even to count the
verses correctly in this section because the text operates
more as a s'astraicdiscourse in which s'rutipassages are
adduced to demonstratepoints and reject opposing positions, ratherthan as a narrativeaccount.55
The bulk of this section emerges from the interpretation of a single R1gvedicverse dedicated to Rudra, RV
1.114.1 (= MKKh28):
ima rudraya tavdse kapardine ksayddvirdya prd bharimahe mad/h
ydthi Sdm dsad dvipdde cdtu~vpadeviSvampus!dqmgrame
asminn andturdm56
53 RV 1.122.14 also appears as MR 146. See above for discussion of the overlapping verses, and also appendix B. The
commentary here follows the MR commentary very closely,
but not in the same detail. The MR version spends more time
on the accentuation of hiranyakarnammanigrivdqmand its implications. The verses that elicit Manikarni are not at all integral to disclosing the Rdma story. NC was perhaps especially
proud of this discovery and hence reused it; or perhaps this
discovery was the inspiration for the MKKh.
54 atra puirvdrdheprthakjandpeksitamphalam uktam Iuttardrdhe tu vidvajjandpeksitamiti vivekahll (N 12r 1. 6).
55 See appendix A.
56 Geldner: "Diese (frommen) Gedanken tragen wir dem
starken Rudra vor, dem Miinnerbeherrscher mit aufgewundenem Haar, auf dass es Zweifusslern und VierfUsslern wohl
ergehe und alle Aufzucht in diesem Dorfe gesund sei."


In this famous verse, which reappears in the Rudraprasna of the Yajurveda, Nilakantha takes the term
grame to refer to Kas'.7 Hence, Nilakantha concludes,
the Rgveda itself specifies Kds'ias the center of Saiva
worship. In order to argue that the term grame refers to
K5s'i,Nilakantha constructs a series of textual homologies: this verse is equivalent to the first and second chapters of the Jabdlopanisad, where Avimukta or Vardnasi
is explicitly discussed.58In turn the Jabalopanisad, in
referring to Avimukta, is equivalent to the entire Rudraprasna of the Yajurveda,the great Vedic hymn that became a central feature of Saiva worship in Banaras and
elsewhere.59Going beyond the specific passage at hand,
Nilakanithaargues that the Rgveda as a whole constitutes
a mahatmya of Avimukta.60

In fact the second half of the Mantrakasikhandaconsists of a discussion of two interrelated doctrines, the
doctrine of liberation by death in Kadi,61and the unique
properties of Kadi by comparison to any other place.
More than any other, this section of the work might
provide us with an insight into what was at stake for
Nilakanitha in writing the MKKh. Before discussing
Nilakantha's contribution, it will be useful to review
the intellectual context in which he wrote about these
two doctrines.

57 NC: grdme vdrdnasyikhye. (N. 13r 1. 8).

58 JU 1-2. On the JU see J. F. Sprockhoff,Samnyisa: Quellen-

studien zur Askese im Hinduismus, Abhandlungen fjr 4ie

Kunde des Morgenlandes 42.1 (1976). NC cites the passage
and discusses as follows: ity asya briihmanasyapraguddhrtatena tayor aikdrtanmantradvayasyaca tulydrthatvamd~r~yate
thyit dvayam apy avimuktaparamity arthah I(N 15r 11. 1-2).
59 ata esa sakalo 'dhydyas tanagocara iti I esa namas te
'dhydyo'vimuktdrudra manyava ity idir ekdda~dnuvdkdtmako
parandmarudratanilprakdiakahtanui ca grdmaruipetidarhitam
grdma~abdena vardnasigrahe minam I (N 16r 11. 10-11). The
Rudrapra~na is found in TS 4.5.1-11; MS 2.9.2-10; KS
17.11-16; and VS 16. NC's reference to it as consisting of
eleven anuvakas shows that the YVSarmhitahe knew was that
of the Taittriyas.
60 agnim ile purohitam ityddih tac cham yor av~rnimahaityantah anvayor anvaye krte ?rimatyim ddiatayyim apy avimuktamahimd ?ruto 'stity anvayah I(N 16r 1. 12).
61 1 term this the (kdii)marandn mukti or maranamuktidoctrine. In the case of the Nepal MS, nearly three folios of
twenty-one-17r to 20v-are devoted to this topic.

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

As I mentioned above, the maranamukti doctrine is

developed at some length in the Kdiikhanda, where the
mechanism of liberation is described in broadly Vedantist terms-Siva is always present in Kas'i,teaching liberative knowledge (taraka brahma) in the ear of the
dying, and through this knowledge the soul is freed.62
That death in Banaras confers salvation is perhaps the
best known belief about the sacred city.63In itself, the
claim is nothing new to the Kasikhanda. It is a feature of
the descriptions and mahatmyas of Banaras as they are
found in earlier Puranas.64A Vedantist form of the claim
is already made in the Jabalopanisad, in the version of
the text that was known to Sainkaracarya.65
But in the
earlier texts this is not a claim that is wholly unique to


See above, n. 28. See also KKh 33.105, 108.

For an elegant presentation of the textual and living dimensions of this belief and its relation to practices, see Eck,
"City of Death and Liberation,"Chap. 9 of Banaras: City of
Light, 324-44. What is missing from Eck's authoritative study
of the subject, ranging as it does from the opinions of medieval texts to those of living pandits and pilgrims, is a treatment
of the historical dimension of this belief. ChristopherJustice,
Dying the Good Death: The Pilgrimage to Die in India's Holy
City (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1997), is devoted to contemporary practices. C. A. Bayly, "From Ritual to
Ceremony: Death Ritual and Society in Hindi North India
since 1600," in Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, ed. Joachim Whaley (New York: St. Martin's,
1981), 154-86, attempts to write a historical description for
the seventeenth century and afterwards, but without much reference to Sanskrit texts. In the following paragraphsI intend to
complement these works by proposing some historical development in the concerns as they are reflected in Sanskrittexts.
64 MatsyaP 180.71-74; 79; 184.3; 38; 185.60; KarmaP
1.31.77; viditva bhahguram lokam ye 'smin vatsyanti me
pure I antakile 'pi vatsyanti tesrm bhavati moksadam ||
LirigaP as cited in Tirthavivecanakanda of Laksmidhara,
though not found in the modern text. (See Eck, "Sources,"
92-93.) See also Tirthacintdmani of Vacaspati Micra, ed.
Kamalakrishna Smrtitirtha (Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 1912),
65 On the Jabidopanisad see above, n. 58. Safikararefers to
the relevant passage of the JU in his Brahmasuitrabhuisyaon
BS 1.2.32. On his adhyatmika interpretation, see below, n. 77.
See also Rim(ottar)atipini Upanisad 4, though this text is
later than most of the purdnic passages cited. See Christian
Bouy, "Materiaux pour servir aux etudes upanisadiques (II):
La Rdmatdpanlyopanisad,'' Journal Asiatique 277 (1990):

Banaras. Prayaga seems to have once had an equal, if

not stronger basis in textual authority for making the
same claim, as did Kuruksetra.66
What seems to have happened in the textual discussions of the nature of Kas'i,rather, is that the claim of
Kds'i'suniqueness in its ability to grant liberation in this
way became increasingly emphasized. In the TDrthavivecanakiinda of Laksmidhara'sK~rtyakalpataru
of the
twelfth century, statements of the maranamuktidoctrine
appear here and there in the opening, general section of
the Varanasi chapter of the text.67In Vacaspati Mis'ra's
of the fifteenth century, there is a brief
survey of some features of the doctrine, but the largest
single section is devoted to the method of worshipping
the Sivalifigas in the city.68
In the early modern period, however, discussions of
the philosophical dimensions of the maranamuktidoctrine engaged much more attention from eminent s'astris
living in Banaras. The philosophical problems arise
from the subversive implications of the claim that death
in Banaras guarantees spiritual liberation, for this possibility would seem to undercut the whole point of ethical conduct as well as spiritual and religious practice.69
Matters are made worse by the strong versions of the
claim, in which death in Banaras guarantees liberation
not just for humans whether they have been good or

On Kuruksetra,see P. V. Kane, History of Dharmagdstra,
vol. 4: 680-86; on Prayaga, vol. 4: 596-617. There is a
Jgveda Khila verse about death at Praydga, appended to RV
10.75.5, which is cited by NC as MKKh 27. See also Scheftelowitz, Die Apokryphen des Rgveda (Breslau: Marcus, 1906),
171. But NC goes to some length in his explication of this
verse to show that death in K591is more conducive to spiritual
liberation than death in Prayaga.
67 No more than five pages of the text of 123 pages devoted
to Vdrdnaslin the Gaekwad Oriental Series edition collect passages about the maranaphalam. This despite the fact that
Vdrdnasltakes pride of place in the text, which fills 264 pages
as a whole. Ed. K. V. Rangaswami Aiyangar, GOS 111 (Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1942).
68 See n. 64. Three of the 33 pages of the K591chapter are
devoted to the maranaphala. The ligigarcana section fills 18
pages. Vdcaspati, who was from Mithila, devoted significantly
more space in the text to Purosottama(Purn)and related tirthas
in Orissa (135 pages), and to Gayd (60 pages).
69 See KKh 60.55, 57, 58, translated by Eck, City of Light,
331. See also S. Vijaya Kumar, "Kdgl: Its Meaning and
Significance in the Light of Advaita Vedanta and the Purdnas,"
Purdna 25 (1983): 114.

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Nilakantha Caturdhara'sMantrakdsikhanda

evil, but also for animals, even insects, and in some versions, even plants.70
In Nilakantha's period, texts devoted to the philosophical problems of the maranamuktidoctrine grew so
important as to tend to displace general discussions of
Kais''svarious sites and legends. Ndrdyana Bhatta devoted significant space to the question in his Tristhalisetu, written in the mid-sixteenth century.71Nardyana
Bhatta summarized a wide range of views already current in his day on the question of whether sinners really
gain liberation by dying in Banaras;of what becomes of
animals who die there; of whether there are gradations
of salvation for the variously deserving people and animals who die there; of comparisons to other tirthas; of
the possibility of reconciling the claims of maranamukti
with the non-localized Veddntic teachings about liberation; and so on.
Narayana Bhatta mentions in particular an independent work called the Muktiprakiisikaor Mrtimuktiprakasa.72This text is now attributedto Sures'varacarya,the
disciple of Safikara(eighth century), though internalevidence shows that the work must have been written much
closer to Ndrdyania'sday.73The work is wholly devoted

70 MatsyaP 181.19-21; PadmaP 3.33.18-20; KirmaP 31.3 133. Also Rdm(ottar)atapini Upanisad 4.
71 Twenty-seven densely argued pages of the 244 pages devoted to K591in the Anandagramaedition (ed. Ganega gastrl
Gokhale) (Poona, 1915) are taken up with this discussion.
72 Cited as MuktiprakdSikaon p. 295 and Mrtimuktipraka~a
on p. 305.
73 The text, as edited by Pt. Sflrya NdrdyanaSukla (Banaras:
Sampurianand, 1997), includes references to the Samksepa?ariraka (eleventh cent.), the Kdgikhanda (fourteenth cent.),
and the Wisisthardmdyana (probably thirteenth-fourteenth
cent.) among other later works. The Sitasamhita and Sanatkumarasamhitdare also cited. The date of these texts is arguable, since the same name is applied to texts of widely ranging
date. It is possible that the versions cited in KMMP are as late
as the fourteenth century (Bakker, Skanda Purdna, 19). I would
suggest that it dates to the period just preceding Ndrdyana
Bhatta's. NB never identifies Suresvara as the author of the
Mrtimoksaprakdga.Suresvara is variously referredto as Suregvaracarya and V rttikacarya,but the passage attributedto him
is prtha-dakddauyan maranam tad apy atyantaguddhik~rt
305), a passage not found in the KMMP.In fact it is a variant
of a verse from the Brhadiiranyakopanisadviirttika-4.4.1061:
tathi ca maranam smrtau / Sruiyatemukp!rthuidakdditirthesu
taye saksan na bhayam sydd ato mrteh || In vs. 1058d appears

NB treats this statement as though it

tad apy atyantaguddhik~rt.


to the theoretical problems associated with the maranamukticlaim. Bhattoji Diksita returnedto the same problem in his synopsis of Ndrdyana'swork, the Tristhalisetusirasamgraha in the early seventeenth century.The
section of Mitramis'ra's
written in the early seventeenth century, is a contemporary general work that devotes space to the maranamukti
problem.74Ngoji Bhatta took up the topic in his Tirthendusekhara, written in the early eighteenth century.
And there is a great deal more literatureon the topic from
this period, in both compendia on pilgrimage and in independent works, that is as yet unpublished.75
The authors of these works discuss a variety of approaches to resolving the implicit problem. On the one
hand there is the desire to maintain the legitimacy of
the claims of dharma and of all the rigorous philosophical, spiritual, and ethical requirementsfor the pursuit of enlightenment. On the other hand there is the
desire to claim for Kds'ian extraordinarystatus as a liberative zone where Siva himself teaches salvific knowledge to the dying. How can sinners who die in Banaras,
or insects for that matter, deserve liberation more than
well-behaved, learned ascetics who die elsewhere? Most
authors allow for the possibility of bhairavi yAtand, a

were effectively gruti in terms of the level of authority it carries. On the other hand NB does not entirely accept the position
of the KMMP concerning the fourfold nature of salvation for
those who die in Banaras-paramamukti, sdmipya, sriirpya,
and salokya. In fact the attribution to Suresvara might be an
artifact of its citation in the Tristhalisetu, for NB cites both
Suresvaraand the MMP in the same passage (295) of his highly
influential work.
74 Ed. Vishnu Prasad Sharma, Chokhamba Sanskrit Series
30, vol. 7 (Banaras, 1913). Seventeen of the 184 pages in the
Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series edition of the text: the Kdgimaranamihdtmya (166-74), the Kdfimuktitdratamya(179-81),
and the Maranamuktivicira (313-18). The discussions found
here in fact comprise the only 95straic passages in the whole
K59! section of the work, the rest comprising excerpts of purniic passages.
75 Tirthakamalikara or Sarvatirthavidhi by Kamalkara
Bhatta (grandson of Nirdyana Bhatta) mid seventeenth century; Kdgimuktiprakdganaby Laksmipati; Kdgimoksa by Vigvesvaracarya;Kii'imoksanirnaya by Visvanathacarya;Kdgimimamsi by RaghundthaNavdthe. The last of these authors, for
example, Raghundtha Navdthe (1650-1713), served at the
Mardthacourt in Tanjore.Not a few of the works listed above
were written in response to royal request. Compare Bayly,
"Death Rituals," 164-67.

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

period of punishment allotted to sinners and other less

deserving creaturesat the moment of death by Siva, experienced either in a series of existences or purely as a
Pis'dca. For some authors this ydtand, though subjectively very lengthy for the sinner, is compressed by Siva
into an instant, i.e., the instant of death. But then many
authors also allow for the perfect grace of the city of
Kds'!,and for the liberation even of animals and insects
by virtue of Siva's boundless power.

A furtherproblem is the question of how an Advaitan

(which all of these authors are) can concede a special
liberative power to any particularplace in the geography
of the gross physical world.
In fact the early Advaitans made no such concession,
nor would one expect them to do so. The Vedantic view
was already articulatedin the Jabalopanisad, that terms
like avimuktaand vWranasi-names of Banarasin shortare to be understood as referring to psychological and
spiritual realities localized within the person.76Safikaracarya used this passage of the JU as a textual authority
without according to the terms avimukta and virdnasi
any earthly geographical dimension. None of his
commentators were concerned to show that avimukta
and/or vardnasi might also refer to places in the world
where liberation was especially available.78Ramadvaya,
an Advaitan author in the fourteenth century, rejected
the maranamuktidoctrine explicitly when he included a


See nn. 58, 65 above. The JU passage etymologizes

avimukta as the unliberated soul, the seat of the dtman, and
virdnasi as the internal functions that ward off and destroy the
evil done by the senses. These functions are located within the
person at the junction of the eyebrows and the nose. In short
the geographical referentiality of the terms is replaced by
7 Sanfkaraused the passage to support the doctrine of the
(provisional) measurability of the Highest Lord within the human person: Brahmasiutrabhasyaon 1.2.32. Rdmanuja avoids
the JU throughout his Sribhasya, and so adduces a different
gruti passage here.
78 Namely, Govindananda, Vacaspati (see above), Anandagiri, Nardyana Sarasvati. The commentators on the JU, Narayana and Safikardnanda,do mention that there are such places
as Kuruksetra and Avimukta known in the world from the
Purdnas,but that is merely an abhibhautikaunderstanding,and
not of interest in the JU's discussion, which is to reveal the

version of it as a pfirvapaksain his independent work,

.79 For Ramddvaya enlightenment
the Vedantakaumud
cannot take place as a result of simply dying in any
particularplace on earth.80The passage from the JMbMlopanisad and supporting Purdnic passages about liberative death in Avimuktaare to be read as referringnot to
any earthly place, but ratherto interior zones and faculties within the properly preparedaspirant.81
And yet, although they are Advaitans, the gdstris of
the early modern period listed above endorse the claim
for the liberative power of dying at the earthly site. It is
not just that they are writing dharma / tirthamdhatmya
works and therefore are conforming to the philosophically dualistic viewpoint that is implicit in works of this
genre, a viewpoint that as Advaitans they consider nonultimate. For they explicitly raise the possibility of the
Advaitan'sinteriorizing or adhydtmikareading of the JU
and other relevant passages, and explicitly reject it or
decenter it.
NarayaiiaBhatta,for example, acknowledgesthat some
people interpret the JU passage in interiorized terms'here' (atra) refers to the body and not to Banaras, 'creature' (]antu) refers to the individual soul (jiva), and so
forth, so that there is still a need for the full set of
practices necessary to engage in the Vedantic quest for
enlightenment.82But after reviewing this possibility of
interpretation,Narayaniadiscards it, arguing that there is
no call for replacing the primarymeanings of the words

79 Ed. RddhegyamCaturvedi, Banaras Hindu Univ. Sanskrit

Series, vol. 9 (Banaras: Banaras Hindu Univ., 1973), 248ff.
The objector points out that liberation by death in Banaras is
an alternative to all the hardship of renunciatorylife: nanu kim
anena kleiasamkulakalatradityaganusthanena, yathakamam
varttamdndnaimapi varanasimaranasevanustheyam? tatra hi
s(i)ambhiipadeiabhaktya jnanan muktyupapattih.The discussion comes as part of the Adhikara section of the work, where
the role of sannyasa in achieving liberation, and the purpose of
following dharmic injunctions is discussed.
80 Vedantakaumudi,252-55. Enlightenment is, rather, the
knowledge that is revealed to an appropriatelydedicated and
prepared (Brahmin male) renunciant who has been living and
studying in accordance with vedintic precepts.
81 Indeed this position is still very much alive, as can be
seen in a recent article which treats the problem as a live issue
and solves it again in terms of an adhyatmic interpretationof
kaii and varanasi. S. Vijaya Kumar, "K59i: Its Meaning and
Significance, 114-28.
82 atra dehe vartamanasya jantoh vivekardhityena visayamdtrikrstintahkaranavrtterjivasya ... etc. I anena sadhanacatustayasampattir upaksiptd I(p. 313).

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in a scriptural passage when the primary meaning is in

conformity with a consensus of other passages.83
Nagoji Bhatta, similarly, presents the adhyatmika
meaning of the JU passage and then turns it back to the
more concrete meaning. For him the term avimuktarefers
among other things to Banaras, the earthly site, where
death is a means of gaining the knowledge that gives
moksa.84 Both Nagoji and Nardyana rely on passages
from the Pards'ara (Upa)purdna that elaborate the JU
passage in this externalized, geographical sense.85

It is in this discussion that Nilakantha is participating

which in its second
in writing the MantrakfiLkhan~da,
half enters fully into the philosophical considerations of
the nature of his adoptive home, KMil.Indeed, this text
is much more a part of the sastraic discussions than it
As far as
is a Vedic transposition of the KdLz1khanida.
doctrinal points are concerned, Nilakanithasays nothing
startlingly new. His text remains in keeping with the
views of his contemporaries, though inevitably with
some differences, given the variety of views promulgated in his day. Thus Nilakantha accepts that even animals do gain liberation upon death in Kai,86 but that
there is some distinction maintained in how liberation
unfolds for souls who would elsewhere be variously deserving. Therefore there is the possibility of punishment
(yatand) meted out by Siva.87Nilakantha accepts what

kirmiadityapurdnavakyabhyamanyais' ca piirvoddhirtavdkyaih ?ivasyaivopadesakatvasravandn mukhyarthe badhakabhavac srutarthaparityagasrutarthakalpanayorasambhavit

(p. 313).
29-31. evam ca bhuisthamksetramitara84 Tirthendusekhara,
nirapeksam moksajanakajidnasadhanam itarad upaisandsaipeksam iti bodhyam |
85 P~risaropapurana, ed. Kapila Deva Tripathi, Sarasvati
1990), 70ff.
Bhavana Studies, vol. 40 (Vardnasl:Sampuirnanand,
Curiously this Upapurana was not published until 1990, and
was only minimally noticed by R. C. Hazra and by L. Rocher.
There is only a sketch by N. Gangadharan,"A Brief Note on the
Purina 25 (1983): 44-47. Yet its fifteenthchapParagarapurana,"
ter is a sourceon KdaI,cited by many Sanskrittexts on the subject,
especially as it paraphrasesand elaboratesthe Jabalopanisad.
86 evam kii'yum tanutyajo jantumitrasya ?rutismrtinyayaih
paramanandapraptir dhruveti siddham I(N 20v 11. 13-14).
87 vidyddimdms tadrahito va punyah papo vd sthavaro
jahgamo va jantuh bhogena sivasiirapyakalabhairaviyayatananubhavena itare kdAydm krte punyapdpe ksapayitvd
vindsya sampadyate mucyate (N 20v 11.7-9).


Nardyana Bhatta does not, that the punishment experiences can be brought about in an instantaneous,illusory
way.88In none of these views does Nilakanthastate viewpoints that others of his period do not also assert.
What Nilakantha adds that is new is the Vedicizing
of the discussion. That is, Nilakantha'sclaim is that it is
not simply Purdnic texts and the Jabalopanisad and
other (late) Upanisads that assert Kai's special status.
Nilakantha wishes to show that this special status is announced in the more canonically authoritative literature, i.e., in the Rudrapras'naof the Yajurveda,in the
?gveda'sverses, indeed by the RV as a whole.89 Going
furtherhe generalizes his argumentto include Vedic literatureas a whole.90
As for the Vedantic problem, Nilakantha follows the
position of some other Advaitan fastris of his day in arguing that the referent of terms such as Kds'i,Avimukta,
and Vdrdnasiis the earthly place.91When he argues that
this holds true for such terms as they appearin the Yajurveda and Rgveda Samhitis, he is innovating.
If this is what is at stake for Nilakantha, it means that
the Vedas are coming in for a very different sort of treatment. As I have argued elsewhere the principle of vedopab~rmhana,or amplification of the Veda, has been
subjected to an inversion, or perhaps subversion. It is no
longer for Nilakanthathat the Purdnassupportthe Vedas
by supplementing an understandingof them as primary
texts, but rather the reverse.92For while in the Jdbdlopanisad the secret truth of a tirtha, Avimukta or Banaras, is really to be found in a Vedantic understanding,in
a location within the self, in Nilakantha'stext the secret
truth of the Rgveda is really to be found in a paurdnika
understanding, in the glorification of a tirtha, Kail. In
saying this, Nflakanthais conscious that he departsfrom

88 narakam apraptasya svapnavad ayonijani prdtibhasikany

eva tdni janmdniti siddham I (N 20v 11.3-4).
89 See above, nn. 57-60.
90 tad evam upakramopasainhirayor ekavAkyataydinkrtsnasya vedasya karmards'esca prayojanam tdrakapradasya rudrasya tosanam tatah kdiipraiptis tasydin ante upisakasya
jfvato va tirakaprdiptiriti siddham I (N 17r 11.6-7).
91 See, for example, among his six reasons why gradmerefers
to Varanasi, argumentsthat the meaning of avimuktain the JU
passage refers primarily to the earthly place: iti desa eviitriivimuktapaddrthahI (N 13v 1. 9). ity asakrc chruter desa
evdvimuktapaddrthahI (N 13v 11. 10-11). tasmad desa evatravimuktapaddrthah (N. 13v 11. 13). ldyam eva mukhyam
avimuktamanyad gaunam ity arthah (N 14r 11.4-5).
92 See Minkowski, "The Genre of MantrarahasyaprakaiLika."

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Journal of the American-Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

the approach to Vedic utterances found in the commentarial tradition.93


It is a complaint often heard about Nilakantha'scommentaries that "he veddnticizes everything."94Yet it is

rarely asked what sort of Vedanta it is that Nilakantha
vedanticizes with. In light of the discussion above, this
is a question that merits more consideration, for it is
a Vedanta of an unexpected sort that would use an
argument relying primarily on non-Upanisadic Vedic
passages, or that would make the soteriological claims
about Kas' of the sort that Nflakantha makes.
At this point in our knowledge we may be prevented
from giving a reliable account of Nilakantha'svedantic
position, since the comprehensive statementof that position is found in a work of Nilakantha's that is as yet
unedited, unpublished, and unstudied, his Veddntakataka.95To that deficiency we must add the problem that
there is as yet no comprehensive historical account of
Advaita Veddntain Nilakantha'speriod.96
And yet even without a definitive knowledge, what
might be most interesting to note about Nilakantha's
Vedanta is simply the place in which he chooses to expound it, that is, in commentaries on a series of texts of
the Itihasa and Purdnagenre. One detects in this choice

93 See for example his reply to the objection that he follows

pauranic and not 9astraicinterpretation:nanu ayam mantrdnrm
artha upabqrmhaninusaryapi na nyayanusari bhisyakiraih
kasmirn?cid api siUre etesaimanyatamasydpy anuddharandtiti
cet (N 18v 1. 13).
94 See Minkowski, "The Success of Nilakantha's Commentary;"for the history of this complaint, which appeared already
in Franz Bopp's work.
95 NCC lists Baroda 12935. BORI 348 of 1899-1915. 10
2401, 2402. Other MSS: Poleman 3916 (= Harvard);NGMPP
E 1821 20; Sarasvati Bhavan 27519; 27520; 28506. Presumably Nilakantha's Mantrasiriraka would be another source,
but again, the text is as yet unedited, unpublished, and unstudied. The only attempt to assess NC's Vedanta that I have found
is in the work of K. Yoroi, Ganeiagita (The Hague: Mouton,
1968), 9-14. Yoroi notices an unusual emphasis on the value
of compassion in NC's commentary.
96 The usual accounts of Advaita divide its history into three
periods: pre-Safikaran,Sankaran,and post-Safikaran.This last
period then lasts for a thousand years, with a minimum of dynamism implied. For the seventeenth century there are studies
of individual authors and individual problems, but no exposition of the principal thematics or crucial developments, much
less the relationship to a larger social cultural history.

a greater concern with the embodied and localized than

is evident in the works of Advaitins of earlier periods.
One also detects here the Advaita of the time, reacting
to the pressure of the theistic movements and of the
growing importanceof Purdnictexts such as the Bhagavatapurana or the Kdskhanda. Nilakantha is not alone
among Vedantins of his day in assessing Purdnic literature from an Advaitan standpoint,but what appearsto be
distinctively his is the way he goes about it, by vedicizing the question more generally, and by minimizing the
divide between Veda and Vedanta, with intellectual side
effects that run in both directions, in the conceptualization of both Veda and Veddntaand their relationship.

I began by saying that the Mantrakasikhandawould

be a fruitful text to consider in attemptingto understand
Nilakantha as an author of his time and place. What are
the terms, though, in which to situate a Sanskrit author
in his historical context? Surely we would wish to avoid
a crude historicism that takes as given what the relationship of any authorto his time and place must be, especially an author in Sanskrit. Let me close with three
points about Nflakantha and the era in which I would
like to position him.
It is clear, first of all, that in writing the MKKh,something perhaps unprecedentedtook place for Nilakantha.
This text, which purports to be another example of his
mantrarahasyagenre, became instead a text that is centrally about "placedness" of various kinds. Indeed in
its latter half it falls out of the format of Nilakantha's
own literary genre of mantrarahasyain order to interact
closely with a different genre of literature,the maranamukti literature. As I have tried to show in the preceding pages, this is a literaturethat came into being largely
in the "early modern" period. In writing the Mantrakdiikhanda, Nilakantha was thus actively participating
in a religious and intellectual discussion of his day,
about his adopted city.
Second, it usually goes without saying that the literary
program implied by the mantrarahasyaprakasikagenre
strikes us today as Indologists as something outlandish,
and yet at the same time as something not wholly surprising as an intellectual project for a learned sastri. I
have commented on the experience of strangeness in
reading Nilakantha's work before, and will have occasion to discuss it again in forthcoming work.97The point
that is pertinent here is that the strangeness is not just an
97 "The Genre of Mantrarahasyaprakisika,"and "The Success of Nilakantha'sCommentary."

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MINKOWSKI:Nilakantha Caturdhara'sMantrakaiIkhanda

experience for us now. Judging from the defense of his

work that Nilakantha makes in his various rationale sections, the strangeness would have also been there for his
literary contemporariesand predecessors.
These vedicizing works of Nilakantha's,though drawing on elements of interpretationand conceptualization
that are found in earlier literature,are a distinctive product of Nilakantha'sown imagination. If in reading them
we experience a strangeness coupled with a recognition
that this is something with which we are familiar in
Sanskrit literature, I would suggest that this is not because what we are encountering are generic intellectual
moves available to any pan.dita,but because what we are
encountering are intellectual moves that took shape in
Nilakantha'sera, that Nflakanthahad a hand in creating,
and that we encounter more widely in the centuries that
follow. In this sense Nflakanthawas not simply acted on
by his times, but he in turn acted upon them.
Third, the problem of historicizing Nilakantha'swork
forms part of what one might call the "Banaras quandary" for historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. On the one hand, histories of Banaras in this
period must account for the explosion of literarycreativity in Sanskrit that arose in Banaras in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries.98This is also the period in which
there was a sizable migration of learned Brahminical
families into Banaras, accompanied by a growth of networks and associations that served to establish the preeminence of K'I! in many, if not all, of the intellectual
disciplines in Sanskrit.99On the other hand, the historiography to date, with little exception, characterizes this
as a dark period for Banaras, with Aurangzeb and others
bearing down on the city and destroying its sacred sites
repeatedly and relentlessly.100In the standard accounts

98 A. S. Altekar, History of Benares (Benares: Culture Pub-

lication House, 1937), 39-43; Baldev Upddhydy,KaiWki Panditya-ParaMpard(Vdrdnasi:Vi~vavidyalaya Prakdsana, 1983),

25-88; Eck, Banaras, 84-86; Pollock, "New Intellectuals in
Seventeenth-Century India."
99 C. A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen,and Bazaars (Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983), 126-27, 136-37, 177-83; Rana
P. B. Singh, "Vdrdnasi:Demographic Profile in 1820's and Its
Linkage to the Past and Present,"in Baniras (Vardnasi): Cosmic Order, Sacred City, Hindu Traditions,ed. Rana P. B. Singh
(Varanasi: Tara Book Agency, 1993), 279-88; Pollock, "New
Intellectuals," n. 32.
100 See, e.g., Altekar, History of Benares, 31-38. Only
Richard Eaton's approach creates difficulties in this historiography, "Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States," in
Beyond Turk and Hindu, ed. David Gilmartin and Bruce
Lawrence (Gainesville: Univ. of Florida, 2000), 246-81.


these two histories are juxtaposed, but left disjoined.

Can Nilakantha have participatedin one of these histories and not in the other?
Perhaps we have always thought so. As we have understood the matter, authors in Sanskritparticipatedin a
universe of discourse that claimed a certain kind of universality of vision in which changing times and regional
locations were of little concern.10'Yet it has recently
been argued that in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries,
Sanskrit literati developed a sense of the new, that is, a
sense of historical depth as a distinctive component of
literary activity.102 Could it be that a corresponding
consciousness of place might also have emerged? In
Pollock's formulation of the types of literateurs / intellectuals in pre-modern India, the literary voice that
speaks of matters of local concern, matters that "do not
travel," is that of the "deW' intellectual, the one who
opts to write in a vernacular language and not Sanskrit.103Yet in the Sanskritletters of this "early modern"
period, would it be trying to hard if we detected some
filtering through, some interpenetration into Sanskrit
works of this sense of the local?
There is precedent in the work of Nilakantha'scontemporaries and immediate predecessors. Ndrdyania
Bhatta, the author of the Tristhalisetu,who lived a century earlier, is credited with being both scholar and man
of action. It is said that he brought about the restoration of the Vi'vanatha temple through his persuasion of
the political powers in the city, most notably Raja Todar
Mal, and that he officiated at the reconsecrationof the
temple.104Ndrdyana'sconcern with the condition of the
temple found its way into the Tristhalisetu,even though
this constituted a transgressionof the expectations of the
literary genre of smrti literature.A well-known passage
considers the dharma of pilgrims when visiting the
Vi'vanatha temple. Ndrdyaniadiscusses the problem of
what observances are incumbent upon pilgrims if the
real lifiga has been removed to protect it from the depredations of mlecchas or other wicked rulers.105The same

See S. Pollock, "Sanskrit Cosmopolis," in Ideology and
Status of Sanskrit, ed. Jan E. M. Houben (Leiden: Brill, 1996),
Pollock, "Sanskrit Intellectuals."
S. Pollock, "The Cosmopolitan Vernacular,"Journal of
Asian Studies 57 (1998): 16-37; "Sanskrit Intellectuals."
Altekar, History of Benares, 45-49.
105 Cited by P. V. Kane, History of Dharmas'dstra, vol. 4:
633 n. 1448. TS p. 208. atra yadyapi visve~varalingam kim cid
apaniyate 'nyad dniyate ca kalavakatpurusais tathapi tatsthanasthite yasmin kasmim cit pijijdi karyam I... yadapi mlecchadidustarajavas'at tasmin sthane kim cid api lingam kada

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)

writdiscussion is echoed in Mitrami'ra'sTirthaprakasia,

ten in Nilakantha'sday.106
I must admit that as far as I can see, one does not find
in the MKKhany clear reference to the life of the city in
which Nilakantha was living that is conditioned by an
awareness of its contemporaryvicissitudes. It is always
possible that these were matters that somehow did not
exist for him. I will leave the problem with only this
suggestion. Perhaps the early modem literature about
Banaras, and especially the fastraic literaturethat came
into being in this period about the maranamukti doc-

trine, was a "site" for Banarsi fastris to work out an understandingof their own involvement in the life of their
city, a city which was a point of intersection for many
different religious, spiritual, and secular cartographies,
at a time when the political control of the city changed
hands repeatedly, and the demolished Vis'vanathatemple in the city was rebuilt and demolished again. Further reading of Nilakantha's Mantrakafikhanda in its
context could reveal to us how we might understand
Nilakantha and what he was trying to accomplish in
writing his idiosyncratic works.


Below is a list of the verses in the MKKhin the order

in which they appear in the text. Two of the three MSS
of the text that I have consulted represent the same index of verses at the end.107 But this index differs from
the internal numbering of the text, which all three MSS
share. Neither the internal numbering nor the index's
numbering accounts for differences in the textual treatment of verse cited in an ornate fashion-verses cited in
full with padapdtha, tripathi format, glossing of all
terms-and verses cited without all of these features.
Especially in the latter half of the text, some verses are
simply adduced as part of the s'dstraicargument. The
internal numbering of the MSS has a separate number-

cin na sydt taddpi pradaksindnamaskdradydhsthanadharmd

bhavanty eva I
106 TirthaprakLia, 218. atra ca svayambhitasya lifgasydlabhe tatsthdne sthapitalingantarapijanadindpi sarvanirvihah
|... durdiintamlecchddivaidt tatra lihgabhdve sthanapradaksinenaiva nityayitrd siddhyati snapanddikam tu tada niradhisthanatvin nivarttata iti Sistdh |
See above, n. 17. The Nepal MS is missing its final folia.

ing for an excursus in the latter half of the text, and only
some of the verses discussed in the excursus are picked
up in the index. Again the internal numbering has separate numberingfor the mantroddharasection at the end,
while the index treats these last verses integrally, and
adds an additional one. Other verses in the latter part of
the text are not numberedby either counting.
In what follows I provide my own numbering along
the left-hand side, followed by the citation (from Rgveda
unless otherwise specified), and then the pratika provided in the index. I have distinguished the verses that
have the full treatmentfrom those that are presented in
some lesser way. The latter are not independently numbered. Those among the latter that are without padapatha or tripathi format but otherwise fully handled are
marked with an asterisk. Those that are given much
more rudimentary treatment have no asterisk. On the
right-hand side I have provided the internal numbering
of the text, as reflected in all three MSS. I have only
included in this list the forty-seven verses that appearin
the index. There are others that are not noticed in the
index or in the internal numbering, but none of these is
fully treated in the text in the fashion described above.

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Nilakantha Caturdhara'sMantrakdilkhanda



pra te ratham mithikdrtam0



ut sma vdto asyd






antar yaccha jighamsato 0

udno hradam apibaj jarh~rsdna0
nyakrandayannupayanta enam ?0




kakardave vyrsabho yukta dli






13) 8.78.9
14) 8.78.10
15) 7.104.8
16) 3.30.5
17) 3.30.14
18) 5.34.1
19) 5.34.2
20) 1.122.1
21) 1.122.14
22) 7.18.18
23) 7.18.19


uta pradhim ud ahann asya vidvan 0

?unam astrdvy acarat kapardi ? ||
imam tam


are agha ko nv i ? ||

parivrktevapatividyam anat 0
tvam visvasya jagatah ? ||
tvam id yavayur mama ?|
taved indrdhamasasa 0
yo ma plkena manasa carantam ? ||
utdbhayepuruhiuya? ||
*16A) 3.30.4 tvam hi sma cya-vaya0
mahijyotir nihitam vaksandsu ? II
ajdtasatrumajara svarvat?0
d yah somena jatharam apiprata 0 II
pra vah pdnta ragha[u]manyavo'[n]dhah 0
hiranyakarna[m]manigrivam arnah 0 II
?asvanto hi ?atravo rdradhus te 0 ||
avad indra yamund trtsava.' ca 0 ||
asti saptatim bharato dauhsantir 0
*23A) AiB 8.23 / 39.9 = SB
sapta me sapta S'dkina ||
idam udakampibatety abravitana 0 II
tad asya priyam abhi pdtho asydm ?0I




#?VKhila 10.75.5





imd rudrdya tavilse kapardine 0 11

ya te rudra ?ivi tanui
TS 4.5.1 vs. 3
TS 4.5.10 vs. 2
ya te rudra ?ivd tanu ?i ?
asau yas tdmro aruna
TS 4.5.2 vs. 7
stuhi ?rutamgartasadam 0 ||
TS 4.5.10 vs. 8
agnim dlepurohitam 0
RV Khila 5.1.5
ta[c] chamyor avmrnimahe
namo brahmane namo
kumara?cit pitaram ?||
striyah satis tam u me 0 ||
ayam ndbha vadati 0
priyd tastdni me kapi 0
devd 0
bhadram karnebhih ?0rnzuyama
usras cakantibhaye





sarite yatra samgathe

0 11108



rte karmam udajayanta devil





abhi tva sindho?ll

imam me gange yamune 0
upahvare girilndm?0



This vs. is found in only some RV MSS. See I. Scheftelowitz, Apokryphen des Rgveda (Breslau, 1906), 171.

109 HarvardMS-31,

ASB MS-29.

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 122.2 (2002)


Verses in RV order, followed by their numberin my enumerationabove. An asterisk notes the verses that also appear
in the Mantrardmdyanaand Mantrabhdgavata.



(MR 145)
(MR 146)

(MBhg 66)

(MBhg 96)

(#VKhila 5.1.5)
RVKhila 10.75.5
(TS 4.5.10 vs. 2)
(TS 4.5.1 vs. 3)
(TS 4.5.2 vs. 7)
(TS 4.5.2 vs. 7)
(TA2. 12 .1)


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