Vedic Language and Vaiava Theology:Madhva’s Use of Nirukta in his gbhāya

Author: Stoker, Valerie

Source: Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 35, Number 2, April 2007 , pp. 169-199(31)

Publisher: Springer

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Abstract:

This article explores the way in which Madhva (1238–1317), the founder of the Dvaita Vedānta system of Hindu thought, reformulates the traditional exegetic practice of Nirukta or “word derivation” to validate his pluralistic, hierarchical, and Vaiava reading of the gvedic hymns. Madhva’s gbhāya (RB) is conspicuous for its heavy reliance on and unique deployment of this exegetical tactic to validate several key features of his distinctive theology. These features include his belief in Viu’s unique possession of all perfect attributes (guaparipūratva) and His related conveyability by all Vedic words (sarvaśabdavācyatva). Such an understanding of Vedic language invokes the basic nirukta presupposition that words are eternally affiliated with the meanings they convey. But it is also based onMadhva’s access to a lexicon entitled Vyāsa’s Nirukti with which his critics and perhaps even his commentators seem to be unfamiliar.While the precise status of this text is the subject of ongoing debate, Madhva’s possession of special insight into the sacred canon is established in part by his unique claim to be an avatāra of the wind god Vāyu and a direct disciple of Viu Himself in the form of Vyāsa1. Thus, Madhva’s use of nirukta invokes his personal charisma to challenge not only conventional understandings of the hymns but traditional exegetic norms. Madhva’s provision of an alternative tradition of nirukta provoked sectarian debate throughout the Vijayanagara period over the extent to which one could innovate in established practices of reading the Veda. Articulating the Veda’s precise authority was a key feature of Brahmin debates during this period and reflects both the empire’s concern with promoting a shared religious ideology and the competition among rival Brahman sects for imperial patronage that this concern elicited. By looking at how two of Madhva’s most important commentators (the 14th-century Jayatīrtha and the 17th-century Rāghavendra) sought to defend his niruktis, this article will explore how notions of normative nirukta were articulated in response to Madhva’s deviations. At the same time, however, examining Madhva’s commentators’ defense of his niruktis also demonstrates the extent to which Madhva actually adhered to selected exegetic norms. This reveals that discomfort with Madhva’s particular methods for deriving words stemmed, in part, from a more general ambivalence towards this exegetical tactic whose inherent open-endedness threatened to undermine the fixity of the canon’s very substance: its language.

Keywords: ajñarūhi; avāntaratātparya; guaparipūratva; mahātātparya; rūhi; sarvaśabdavācyatva; vidvadrūhi; yogārtha

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10781-006-9003-3

Affiliations: Email: Valerie.stoker@wright.edu

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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