Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Singing to God, Educating the People: Appayya Diksita and the Function of Stotras

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Singing to God, Educating the People: Appayya Diksita and the Function of Stotras

Article excerpt

APPAYYA 100, APPAYYA 500

The writing on the walls of Kalakanthesvarar Temple in Adayapalam, a village near Vellore in the northern Tamil country, celebrates Appayya Diksita (1520-1592), the village's main claim to fame, as a man of outstanding achievements. The inscription begins with a Sanskrit verse, highlighting Appayya's association with the Vellore-based king Cinnaboma ("whose glory he spread"), his resurrection of Srikantha's commentary on the Brahmasutra ("in order to fortify the Siva school"), and his construction of the very temple on which the verse is inscribed. A prose passage in Tamil further elaborates his deeds, mentioning, among other details, two impressive figures. Appayya is said to be the author of no less than one hundred books (nuru prabandham pannina) and to have taught Srikantha's commentary on the Brahmasutra and his own subcommentary on it, the Sivarkamanidipika, to a crowd of five hundred scholars. (1)

One hundred, a neatly round figure, is a well-known count for Appayya's many works, and a testimony to his fecundity. (2) But the other number of a five-hundred-strong body of students may be related to an equally important yet less appreciated dimension of Appayya's career: his pedagogical vocation. Indeed, the two dimensions of Appayya's scholarly life are tightly connected. A closer inspection of his rich written legacy reveals that many of his compositions were textbooks, summaries, and commentaries, intended for students and employing innovative pedagogical methods. (3) Indeed, there are several traditions concerning Appayya's self-established "Sanskrit college" or pathasala, located in Adayapalam and hosting, at any given time, five hundred students. (4)

This paper examines the relationship between Appayya's scholarly identity and his role as an educator, the "Appayya 100" and Appayya 500" eulogized in the Adayapalam cpigraph, by looking at the subgroup of his literary corpus that may initially seem least relevant for such a study--his poetry. Appayya is mostly known for his erudite works in vedanta, mimamsa, saiva philosophy, and alamkarasastra. Yet a significant portion of his books--at least a quarter of his one hundred works--is comprised of hymns to various divinities. The titles and colophons of many of these compositions include the word stotra, or its synonyms stuti and stava, often translated as 'praise' or 'eulogy'. Such labels supposedly place these works within a reasonably well-defined genre of devotional poetry, thus setting them aside from Appayya's scholastic output.

We must note, however, that the stotra genre--dubbed "the most prolific and popular among the branches of Sanskrit literature" (5)--is virtually uncharted. Sanskrit poetic theorists have not addressed it as a topic of discussion, and only a handful of modern scholars have turned their attention to this immense corpus of hymns. The scant literature on stotras consists mostly of cursory surveys, wherein frustration at the impossibility of defining the very category is occasionally made explicit. (6) For instance Gonda, in what is perhaps the most detailed study, acknowledges the difficulty in classifying stotras "because the eulogistic element often alternates, not only with prayers, litanies and strings of names but also with philosophical--especially Vedantic--passages. Moreover, some hymns and passages are argumentative rather than eulogistic in character." Diversity in form further complicates the category, for whereas some stotras are "poetry in a very simple style," others are "complicated compositions of the kavya genre, in a variety of difficult meters and overladen with stylistic ornament" (Gonda, 236).

Given this fluidity, neither Gonda nor his colleagues have even supplied a clear definition of the genre. We can say that stotras are relatively short works in verse, whose stanzas directly and repeatedly address a divinity in the vocative case. (7) Furthermore, stotras are typically not divided into chapters or sections and tend to consist of a round or auspicious number of verses (e. …

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