Intellectuals in Thanjavur Mahratta Kingdom – the effect of Vijayanagara Kingdom

Swami Vidyaranya is a venerable figure India’s history. He saw right through the politics of Muslim invaders after eunuch Malik Kafur’s brutal invasion of the South India. 2 years later, after Malik Kaffur left for Delhi, Southern lndian Subcontinent was left with deep scars and a burning desire among Hindu kings to revolt and take back control of the land. Swami Vidyaranya sowed the seeds of the change that was sought. What started with re-conversion of two hapless commanders taken as prisoners only to be converted by force into Islam ultimately led to the rise of a great empire called Vijayanagara Empire.

What Vijayanagara empire did to the South Indian collective consciousness was profound. During Vijayanagara rule, many South Indian Kings revolted against tyranny of Islamic rulers. Examples like that of Musunuri Nayakas show the impact of the seeds sown by Swami Vidyaranya.

Culturally too Vijayanagara empire sowed seeds that united the southern peoples. Purandara Dasa’s work on codifying shAstrIya sangIta has had such a deep impact on South India that from his time till today, the unifying effect of his work is there for everybody to see.

Though it was Venkoji who took control of Thanjavur back from Thanjavur Nayakas, the line of intellectuals that Thanjavur saw should be called a direct result of the seeds sown by Swami Vidyaranya. In his paper submitted at 7th All India Oriental Studies Conference in Baroda in 1933, a scholar from Rajahmundry in today’s AP, N K Venkatesam Pantulu describes the line of intellectuals who also held responsibilities as mantri or amartya in the court of Thanjavur Maratha kings.

Govinda Dikshita

It all started with Achyuta Raya (who succeeded Krishna Deva Raya) making an alliance with Chavappa Nayaka by offering his sister-in-law Murtimamba and stewardship of Thanjavur. Chavappa Nayaka took his guru Govinda Dikshita (gOvinda dIkshita) with him to his court. Govinda Dikshita was also made a minister in Chavappa’s court. Govinda Dikshita held this responsibilty under three Nayaka kings – Chavappa, Achyutappa, Raghunatha. Govinda Dikshita is a well known figure in Tamil Nadu. He is remembered for his work as a great administrator. He built Ramaswamy temple in Kumbakonam. He wrote a commentary on kumarIla darshana. He also wrote a commentary on sAstrIya sangIta called sangItasudhAnidhi. He got the purana Thiruvayyar translated from samskritam to Tamil.

Tryamabakaraya Makhin and Dundiraja

Tryambakaraya Makhin (tryambakarAya mAkhin) was a contemporary of Govinda Dikshita. He served as a mantri under Sarabhoji I (British records call him Serfoji I). Tryambakaraya Makhin (also known as Tryamabaka) is known to have dharmAkUtam, stIdharmapaddhati, gArhastyadIpika. Tryambaka was also known as tryambaka yajvan. While dharmAkUtam is a commentary on rAmAyaNastrIdharmapaddhati and gArhastyadIpika are treatises on sAstras describing life of an ideal grihasta. There is contention on Tryamabaka but there is no reason to believe there were more than one pundits by the name Tryamabaka in Thanjavur court during the reign on Sarabhoji I.

Dundiraja (dunDiraja) also known as dunDivyAsa, vyAsayajvan wrote mudrArAkshasavyAkhya, sAhavilasagIta and rAjakoshanighaNtu. There is contention on whether Rajakoshanighantu was written by Dundiraja or Raghunatha Nayaka.

Yajnanarayana Dikshita, Venkateswara Dikshita and Venkateswararaya

Govinda Dikshita’s son Yajnanarayana (yajnanArAyaNa) held responsibility of the court poet in Raghunatha’s court. Yajnanarayana did a lot of work on natya, sangIta and alankara. His brother Venkateswara Dikshita (veinkateswara dIkshita), also known as Venkata Makhin (veinkata mAkhin), held various responsibilities under last Nayaka – Vijayaraghava Nayaka’s court. He wrote commentaries on bodhayana sulba sutra, sulbamimAmsa (commentary on Trigonometry). Venkateswararaya, son of Yajnanarayana Dikshita also is known to have written a treatise on jyotisha. Three of Yajnanarayana Dikshita most important works are sAhityaratnAkara, raghunAthavilAsa, alan’kAraratnAkara.

Vijayaraghava Nayaka indulged in art, music and women thereby weakening his concentration on border defenses. Chokkanatha attacked Thanjavur and placed his brother Alagiri Nayaka as the king. However, Alagiri Nayaka usurped the throne and declared his independence. Vijayaraghava Nayaka’s son made an alliance with Mohammad Adil Shah to help get his kingdom back. By this time, Bhonsle dynasty was gathering strength. Adil Shah sent Shahaji’s younger wife Tukabai’s younger son Venkoji (also known as Ekoji I) as the commander of Adil Shah’s forces in the conquest of Thanjavur. Venkoji took the opportunity to declare his independent kingdom at Thanjavur. However, the coming of a new King didnt change the dynamics of the choice of intellectuals in Thanjavur court.

Vancheshwara and Rama Sastri

Vancheswara (vAnCheshwara) was Govinda Dikshita’s great grandson. He had a very cordial relationship with Venkoji and he held responsibilities as a minister under Venkoji, Shah. Vancheshwara is known to have been alive and still entrusted with duties of his ministry when in 1739 Pratapa Simha took to the throne of Thanjavur. Pratapa Simha in early period of his reign was a very arrogant ruler with little respect to the people and court pundits. Vancheshwara who was probably in his late 60s left Pratapa Simha’s court and wrote mahisha satakam in which he uses sleshartha (double meaning) and extols the qualities of mahisha (buffalo) in comparison with the king and his immoral subedArs. This caused Pratapa Simha to realize his mistakes and mend his ways. Vancheshwara is also known to have written AsirvadAshtaka and Dhati ashtaka (also known as turgAshtaka). His work mahisha shatakam gave him the name slesha sArvabhauma. This work was translated and published in Telugu by Maddulapalli Venkata Subrahmanya Sastri in 1952 and by Sri Ramachandrudu in 2005 again.

Vancheshwara’s elder brother Rama Sastri (rAma sAstri) composed sri rAmAshtapadi which was later published by Kanchi Kamakot Peetham under the guidance of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati.

Vancheshwara Yajvan

It is not known who was Vancheshwara’s son and whether or not he held any responsibilities in Thanjavur court during Sarabhoji II (British records call him Serfoji II). However, it is known that Vancheshwara’s grandson Vancheshwara Yajvan (vAnCheshwara yajvan)was very close to Thanjavur court. Sarabhoji II was an enthusiast of veda, sAstra and kAvya sampradaya. He established a veda paThashAla in Orattunadu where Vancheshwara Yajvan was appointed as Acharya. During this time, he wrote a commentary on his grand father Vancheshwara’s mahisha shatakam called sleshArtha chandrika.

Vancheshwara Yajvan left for a pilgrimage after sometime at vedaPATashAla. He was detained by Haider Ali in Mysore and later felicitated by Tipu Sultan, who asked him to convert to Islam. Tipu Sultan’s request made Yajvan to leave Mysore to continue his pilgrimage to North India. He later reached Poona where he was felicitated by Bhaji Rao Peshva. He served as a pandit in Peshva’s court for sometime. During his service there, he trained many students in veda, and sAstra. One of his students Sri Nrisimha Bharati later became peethadhipati of Sringeri Peetham.

In Poona, he wrote a commentary on hiraNyakeshIya srauta and sAmAnya sutras. When he reached vAraNAsi, Yajvan wrote kAkatALIyavardhata, dhUrganachanachandrika, tarkasangraha. He is also known to have written brahmasUtrachintAmaNi. By the time, he returned south from his pilgrimage, Mysore came under the control of Wodeyars. He was felicitated by Wodeyars as well as Sringeri pITAdhipati Sri Nrusimha Bharati. Woderyas appointed him as dharmAdhikari of the palace and he performed jyotishToma yajna at Mysore. He later went to Thanjavur where he was received warm welcome from Sarabhoji II. After some time, he went to Rameswaram. After his return from Rameswaram, he lived in madhyArjuna kshetram. He wrote mahAlingA shatakamp in his final days. He is supposed to have died in 1849. By 1832, Shivaji II, the last Thanjavur Mahratta ruler took to the throne. By 1855, Thanjavur fell into the hands of British through the infamous Doctrine of Lapse and nation was preparing for the first war of independence.

Vancheshwara Yajvan was a great pundit on nyAya and mImAmsa. He was known by the names kutti sUri, maNi kutti, kutti sAstri, chintAmaNi kutti. He also wrote datta chintAmaNi, shrAddha chintAmaNi and bhatta chintAmaNi.

Conclusion

What stands out in the series of great intellectuals that Thanjavur was fortunate to see is that they were not affected by the constant political turmoil that South India especially Thanjavur saw. While Vijayanagara empire produced some great works in literature and commentaries on sAstras, the offshoots of Vijayanagara empire like the Thanjavur Nayaka kingdom and Thanjavur Maharatta kingdom too continued the process. This again proves like in many other cases in Indian history that whenever there was a chance through the protection of a powerful and dhArmic establishment, Hindus tried to settle down and concentrated on kaLa, kAvya, sangIta, sAstra, veda, tattva which sometimes like in the case of Vijayaraghava Nayaka, led to the fall of the empire itself.

Questions like

  1. Why Hindus often lost vigil and sight of the enemy after brief periods of shAnti and dharma samsthApana?
  2. Did Hindu kings under-estimate the battering nature of Islamic invasions?

would answer many explain if the hypothesis mentioned above is true. This would also throw light on the role of dharmika chintana in stability of Hindu kingdoms. This is something thats best answered through thorough research.

References
  • “The Contribution of Karnataka Families to Sanksrit Literature in the Tamil Country” by N K Venkatesam Panthulu. Published in Transactions and Proceedings of the VII All Indian Oriental Studies Conference, Baroda. You may download a copy here.
  • “Mahisha Satakam by Vancheshwara Kavi with the commentary Slesharthachandrika of Sri Vancheshwara Yajvan”. Published by Sri Sankara Gurukulam, Sri Rangam. You may download a copy here and here.
  • “Tryambaka Yajvan’s The Perfect Wife (Stridharmapaddhati)” translation of the original by Julia Leslie. Published by Penguin books. A preview of the book is available on Google Books here. The book is also available on Flipkart.
  • “The Nayakas of Tanjore” by V. Vriddhagirisan. Published by Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. A preview of the book is available on Google Books here. The book is also available on Flipkart.
  • “మంత్రి – మహిషం” (Mantri-Mahisham) by Indraganti Srikantarao. Published on eemata.com. Thanks are in order for eemata.com to have published the essay, which prompted for further research into the details of intellectuals in Thanjavur Mahratta kingdom.
  • http://www.vepachedu.org/manasanskriti/vijayaraghava.pdf

Note to the interested reader:

Search is on for books by Dundiraja, especially mudrArAkshasavyAkhya. The book and its details will be posted on this blog as and when it is found. Any help in this search is highly appreciated.

Further ahead, this blog will also host an article on sleshArtha sArvabhauma’s mahisha shatakam and how it is relevant to the current UPA’s immoral rule.

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2 comments

  1. Vidyasankar Sundaresan · · Reply

    Between Govinda Dikshita, the mantri of the Nayaka kings, and Sarabhoji I, there is a time gap of almost a hundred years. How could Tryambakaraya Makhin, a mantri of the latter, have been a contemporary of the former?

  2. Sir, I did mention

    “There is contention on Tryamabaka but there is no reason to believe there were more than one pundits by the name Tryamabaka in Thanjavur court during the reign on Sarabhoji I”

    In my study on this topic so far, I didn’t find any established evidence of multiple Tryamabakaraya-s in Sarabhoji’s court. It could be that Tryambakaraya was in his youth when he became part of Sarabhoji’s court. This is quite a common feature across Thanjavur court. For example, Vancheshwara was known to have been a mantri during his youth under Venkoji’s rule but also continued as a mantri later under Pratapa Simha.

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