This biography is from the book “Lives of Saints”.
There had ris’n the Moghul Empire
From the glowing ashes and fire
Of the Battle of Panipat,
When in a southern Brahmin’s hut
Was born a lad that blew again
The Vedantic bugle amain,
And stirred from slumber and from sloth
With the urge of righteous wrath
The guardians of the Vedas,
Heirs of the Upanishads,
And made them stand alert intent
To hear the tune of sad lament
Break forth from India’s anguished soul.
No longer may they sprawl and loll
On downy beds of idleness,
Complacent with their past greatness
When loud the manly bugle blared,
And the need for action declared.
The great Appayya Dikshitar
Was a saint, a sage and scholar.
He it was the clarion sounded,
Our hearts then with éclat bounded;
He it was that called in that age
To us to guard our heritage.
Versed was he in philosophy,
And e’er did he win the trophy
In duels and combats of learning,
Leaving, savants with shame burning.
In rhetoric peerless was he,
And his fame Pundits did envy
And on him much mud they slung;
The aspirants to him they clung.
Sweet in praise, of Siva he sang
Hymns that with rich melody rang,
And devotees still love to sing
Hymns by him, among poets a king.
For aspirants and learned men,
With learned skill and acumen,
The four schools of thought he surveyed,
And their tenets to all conveyed
In learned treatises and books,
Unblemished by jaundiced looks,
And in commentaries bejewelled,
With Vedic wisdom unexcelled.
Like a golden ring on the spire
Of the Vedantic shell of fire,
Appayya Dikshitar did glisten
Among the wheel of lesser men.
Once to Tirupathi the sage
Went on a lonely pilgrimage,
And there the Mahant to him told:
“Enter not the fane; it can’t hold
Within its precinct a Saivite;
To enter here you have no right.”
Wrath was the saint and quietly he
By occult power did o’ernight change
The fane’s image of Lord Vishnu
To Siva. The Mahant turned blue
When in the morn he, aghast, saw
Vishnu’s image changed to Siva.
To the great sage he now did run
And of him humbly beg pardon,
And asked the image be restored
To the shape he loved and adored.
Such was the great saint Appayya,
An incarnation of Siva,
Whom men still love and have reverence
For his wisdom and intelligence.
Appayya Dikshitar was born in Adayapalam, near Ami in the North Arcot district, in 1554 A.D., in the Krishna Paksha of the Kanya month of Pramateecha Varsha under the Uttara Proushthapada constellation. His father’s name was Rangarajudhwari. Appaya had the name Vinayaka Subramanya when Namakarana ceremony or christening took place. Acharya Dikshitar or Acchan Dikshitar was the younger brother of Appayya. Appayya studied the holy scriptures under Guru Rama Kavi. He completed the fourteen Vidyas while he was quite young. What a great marvel!
Chinnabomma, Raja of Vellore, invited Appayya and Acchan Dikshitar to his capital after the death of Rangaraja, who was the Chief Pundit of the State. Srinivasa Thathachari, the Dewan, had great dislike for the worshippers of Lord Siva. He censured the devotees of Lord Siva. Appayya praised the Siva Lilas and the glory of Lord Siva.
Appayya was very intelligent. He was a master logician. He was well-versed in grammar, metaphysics and other sciences. He was a master in all branches of learning. His exposition of Vedanta was unique. He cleared the doubts of all. His name and fame spread far and wide. The Rajas of Thanjavur, Kalahasti and Tirupathi invited him.
Ratna Kheta Srinivasa Dikshitar, an erudite scholar in Sanskrit, a devotee of Kamakshi Devi, Kancheepuram, was the Chief Pundit of the Court in the Chola kingdom. The Chola king asked the Pundit, “O Pundit, what is the day today?” The Pundit replied, “Today is Full Moon day”. But, really, it was New Moon day. Everybody laughed. Srinivasa Dikshitar felt greatly mortified. He was a true devotee of Kamakshi Devi. Her grace was fully upon him. Srinivasa prayed to Her. The Devi appeared before Srinivasa, gave him one of Her earrings and asked him to throw it in the sky. Srinivasa acted accordingly. The earring attained the form of a full moon and shone brilliantly. The king, the ministers and other people witnessed this marvellous scene and were struck with amazement. The king made Srinivasa sit on the golden throne, adorned him with jewels and honoured him highly.
Srinivasa came to know that Appayya was a great scholar. He wanted to defeat him. He proceeded to Kancheepuram to propitiate Kamakshi Devi in order to get Her blessings. He did severe Tapas. The Devi appeared before him and said, “O Bhakta, choose your boons from Me”. Thereupon Srinivasa said, “Let all the Kalas be seated on my tongue. I have to conquer Appayya, who is a great scholar and orator, through Thy grace and help only. The whole world knows my name and fame. Please help me to keep up the same”.
The Devi replied, “O Bhakta, Appayya is not an ordinary human being. He is verily the incarnation of Lord Siva. I am verily your form. Do not enter into a controversy with him. Give your daughter Mangalambika in marriage to Appayya and become the revered father-in-law to him. Then only your desire will be fulfilled”.
At the same time, Lord Siva appeared in Appayya’s dream and said, “O child, go to Kancheepuram. Srinivasa will give his daughter in marriage to you”.
Appayya went to Kancheepuram immediately and lived there. Srinivasa took his daughter and reached Appayya’s residence. Appayya honoured Srinivasa duly with Arghya (offering of special hospitality by way of respectful libations and glorification), Padya (washing of the feet), Asana (offering of an elevated seat), etc. Srinivasa said, “The Devi has ordered me to give my daughter in marriage to you. O Appayya, please marry her and attain fame, prosperity and tranquillity”.
Appayya married Mangalambika. He led the life of a householder. He gave education to all the students who came to him from different parts of the land. He disseminated Siva Bhakti and sang the praise of Lord Siva. The king learnt Dharma from Appayya. Appayya spread Sanskrit learning far and wide.
Appayya had two daughters. Mangalamba, the younger daughter, was a great devotee of Lord Siva. Neelakanta was Appayya’s grandson.
Appayya, known also as Dikshitendra, performed Soma Yajna to propitiate Chandramauleswara. He performed the Vajapeya sacrifice in Kancheepuram. Seventeen horses were sacrificed. Some scholars alleged that the sacrifice was an act of violence. But Appayya showed to the audience that the chanting of Vedic hymns and Mantras purified everything and gave salvation to the horses. The spectators saw the horses leaving the gross bodies and ascending to heaven amidst praises by Siddhas, Charanas and Gandharvas. From the sky they praised Appayya and said, “On account of thy grace, we have been fortunate to enter heaven”. The doubts of the scholars were removed now.
Several kings came to pay homage to Appayya and to receive his blessings, but Chinnabomma, Raja of Vellore, who was deluded by the evil counsel of his minister Thathacharya, did not come. He later on repented very much for not attending the grand Vajapeya Yajna. Chinnabomma came to know of the extraordinary merits and remarkable spiritual glory of Appayya. He wanted to bring Appayya to his State. He sent several scholars to invite Appayya. Appayya accepted the invitation and went to Vellore. Chinnabomma honoured Appayya. He constructed a hermitage called “Sarvato Bhadram” for Appayya. Appayya became the Premier. Thathacharya became very, very jealous of Appayya.
The Ranis fell ill on account of witchcraft done by some persons through the instigation of Thathacharya. Appayya cured them. Thathacharya troubled Appayya in various ways. He bribed the priest of the Vishnu temple to poison Appayya. The priest mixed the poison in the Charanamrit and gave it to Appayya. Appayya prayed to Lord Hari. The poison was converted into nectar.
Thathacharya planned to kill Appayya. He wrote a letter to Appayya and forged the signature of Chinnabomma. In that letter Chinnabomma requested Appayya to see him at dead of night. Thathacharya ordered the commander to send the soldiers with swords in their hands to kill Appayya. Appayya proceeded to meet the Raja. The soldiers were ready to kill Appayya. As soon as they saw Appayya, they stood rooted to the spot unable to move. They became like pillars, with swords in their hands.
Once Appayya was proceeding to Virinchipuram with his disciples to attend the Margasahaya festival. On the way he was encircled by dacoits set up by Thathacharya. Thathacharya also was in the company of the dacoits. Appayya wanted to teach them a lesson. Sparks of fire came from his eyes and burnt them up. All were reduced to ashes. Then the compassionate Appayya touched the ashes with his hands. All were brought back to life. Thathacharya addressed Appayya thus: “O Lord! I am a great sinner. I have done you great harm. I prostrate at your holy feet. You are my sole refuge. Pardon me and protect me”. As Thathacharya surrendered himself at the feet of Appayya, all his sins were wiped away. He became a great friend of Appayya. All his inimical thoughts vanished. Appayya asked Thathacharya to go to Pakshi Tirtha and worship the God there for forty-eight days. Thathacharya acted accordingly. He reconstructed the temple also.
Appayya constructed a temple in Adayapalam and installed Kalakanteswara for his daily worship. He went on a pilgrimage and visited Nandi Hills, Madhyarjuna, Panchanadam (Thiruvaiyaru), Madurai, Rameswaram, Sivagangai, Jambukeswaram, Srirangam, Swetharanyam, Kancheepuram, Kashi, Vedaranyam, Mathrubhuteswaram, Chidambaram, Viruddhachalam, Tiruvannamalai, Virinchipuram and other places.
Once Appayya’s wife, admirers and pupils requested him to show his real Svarupa. Appayya agreed. He sat on Siddhasana and entered into Samadhi suddenly. A lustrous Purusha, Lord Siva Himself, rose from the body of Appayya. He was adorned with Rudraksha and Vibhuti and bore various divine weapons.
Once Appayya was suffering from high fever. The king Chinnabomma came to see Appayya. Appayya transferred his disease to a deer-skin. The deer-skin commenced to shiver with fever. The Raja was struck with intense amazement.
A miracle happened in Kancheepuram. Appayya performed the Pasubandha sacrifice in Kancheepuram. All the Pitambaras (yellow garments) and other ornaments which were sacrificed in the sacred fire were seen on the Murti of Varadaraja. The fire in the sacrificial Kund rose up in the sky and proclaimed the glory of Appayya. It presented to Appayya all the Pitambaras which had been sacrificed by him. Narasimha, the King of Thanjavur, and several others witnessed this scene.
Sri Ratnaketa Dikshitar, Sarva Bhauma Kavi, Thathacharya, Samarapungava Dikshitar, Narasimhaswami, Doddayacharya, Vijayeendra, Vyasa Bhatta, Parasara Bhatta, Varanandi, Bhattoji, Nilakanta Dikshitar (grandson of Appayya’s brother), Guru Rama Kavi, Govinda Dikshitar, Narayana Adhwari, Rajachudamani Dikshitar, Atiratra Yajva, Veeraraghava or Balakavi, Girvana Yogindra (Mantra Guru of Nilakanta Dikshitar), Venkateswara Makhi, etc., were all contemporaries of Appayya.
Appayya went to Chidambaram and stayed there for some~ time. He said that his grandson Nilakanta would become minister to the Pandyan king at Madurai and establish Sivadvaita.
On the Chaitra Purnima day of the Margasirsha month, in his seventy-second year, Appayya attained oneness with Nataraja of Chidambaram.
Sri Sankaracharya, himself an incarnation of Lord Siva, entered the fourth order of life, viz., Sannyasa, in his early years and taught the people the glory and importance of that order. So also, Srimad Appayya Dikshitar, an Amsavatara of Lord Siva, entered the second order, viz., Grihasthashrama, and taught the people of the world the method of salvation in and through that Grihasthashrama. Sri Sankaracharya, though he followed the Nivritti Marga, did not ignore the Pravritti Marga (the path of action). He says in his Sadhana Panchaka: “Vedo Nityamadheeyataam Taduditam Karma Swanushteeyataam. Learn and teach the Vedas and perform Karma in accordance with their injunctions”. Even so, Srimad Appayya also did not ignore Nivritti or Sannyasa. He is the famous author of many Vedantic texts which contain the essence of all the Upanishads. He also initiated a number of deserving people in the path of Nivritti, though by example and precept, he favoured more the progressive method of entering the fourth order of life after passing through the second and the third orders.
We find the following quotation in Sivarahasya in support of the statement that Sri Sankaracharya was an incarnation of Lord Siva: “Chaturbhi Saha Sishyaisthu Sankarovatarishyati. With four disciples Sri Sankara will incarnate”. Even so, in the case of Dikshitar also, we find in the same scriptural text: “Dikshitopi Bhavet Kashchitch Chaivaschandogyavamsaja”.
Various were the reasons and purposes for which Appayya incarnated. The first was the establishment of the Sanatana Dharma as proclaimed in the scriptures through an active following of the four orders beginning with Brahmacharya and through making others follow this righteous course. Spreading the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta was the second. Re-establishment of the supremacy of Advaita philosophy as propounded by Sri Sankara in his Bhashya on the Brahma Sutras of Vyasa, through a critical examination of the Dvaita and the Visishtadvaita schools, was another. Appayya Dikshitar gave a new life and orientation to Saivism in South India. He made people tread the path of devotion. By his own exemplary life he converted atheists, created a strong faith in them in the Vedic injunctions and in devotion to Lord Siva. He did not stop there. He went a step further and proclaimed in his work Sivarkamani Dipika that through the grace of the personal God alone could men get a taste for the study of the Vedanta philosophy.
No one has expounded Sri Sankara’s philosophy so correctly and with the same force and emphasis as Sri Appayya has done. Sri Appayya has fully conveyed to the readers the thoughts of Sri Sankara in his inexhaustible commentaries on the Brahma Sutras and other Advaitic texts. Those who study Appayya Dikshitar’s works in their original Sanskrit version will agree with this statement.
Appayya Dikshitar held an impartial view on other religions and philosophies. A study of his book Chaturmata Sara Samgraha shows clearly that he was free from all prejudice towards the other schools of thought, viz., the Dvaita, the Visishtadvaita and the Suddha Advaita schools. Appayya Dikshitar had no prejudice against any Devata either.
The honorific term Dikshitendra, without any adjective, connoted Sri Appayya Dikshitar only and none else.
Appayya Dikshitar is the reputed author of more than a hundred and four works, representative of all branches of knowledge in the Sanskrit language and literature. He attained his great fame mainly by his works on Vedanta. All the schools of Vedanta have drawn unique and unrivalled authority and support from his pen. Of his Vedanta works, the Chaturmata Sara Samgraha is justly famous for the even-handed justice with which it has expounded the tenets of the four great schools–Dvaita, Visishtadvaita, Sivadvaita and Advaita. In almost all branches of Sanskrit learning and literature–poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, etc.,–Appayya Dikshitar’s name was peerless among his contemporaries. For that matter, it was so for decades after him and it is so even today. Kuvalayananda of Appayya Dikshitar is generally the first work of rhetoric that is put in the hands of students, although Pundit Jagannatha, his contemporary and rival, levelled some shafts on it in his Rasagangadhara. Appayya Dikshitar’s poems in praise of Siva are great favourites among the worshippers of Siva. Dikshitar has also written a learned commentary entitled Parimala on Vedanta; it is a standing monument of his philosophic erudition.
Appayya Dikshitar was well known as a great controversialist in all domains of knowledge. The distinguishing mark of his greatness was his supreme and unassailable presentation of his opponent’s view in the clearest manner possible. And this was achieved in a pre-eminently high degree in Chaturmata Sara Samgraha. It contains, in epitome, in four sections, the four schools of Vedanta–the Dvaita, the Visishtadvaita, the Sivadvaita and Advaita. The work is in the form of a running commentary, in prose and in verse, on the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana, treated topically under the several Adhikaranas. In this work, Appayya Dikshitar interprets each school of Vedanta according to the most ardent expounder of that school without in the least disclosing his own personal inclination.
Appayya Dikshitar composed this famous work when he was the court poet of King Chinnabomma.
Each section of the Chaturmata Sara is known by an individualistic name also. The section on Dvaita is termed Nayamuktavali. The second section on Ramanuja’s Visishtadvaita is called Nayamayukhamalika. The third section is on Srikanta’s system and is called Nayamanimala. The fourth section is an exposition of Sri Sankara’s Advaita system and is called Nayamanjari.
Appayya Dikshitar’s masterly works, Sivarkamani Dipika and Parimala, dealing with Sivadvaita and Advaita, speak of Appayya’s distinguished ability in expounding both the philosophies. Here he opposes strongly both the Dvaita and the Visishtadvaita schools in unmistakable terms. His Madhavatantramukha Mardana is a highly provocative work criticising the tenets of the Dvaita schools; and in his Ramanujasringabhanga, he controverts the doctrines of Ramanuja with a masterly thoroughness which is all his own. At the same time, Appayya has written works like Nayamuktavali and Nayamayukhamalika which portray the respective systems even better than their own adherents have ever done. This is sufficient proof of Sri Appayya’s genius. Appayya could hold his own, and at the same time, expound his opponent’s point of view in the most unprejudiced and authoritative manner.
The Nayamanjari is fully composed in verse, each Adhikarana of the Brahma Sutras being represented by at least two Slokas, one putting forth the Purva Paksha and the other the Siddhanta. Appayya Dikshitar has followed Sri Sankara closely in his commentary. The distinguishing feature and merit of the Nayamanjari lies in the 386 stanzas of the work being composed in more than 182 different metres, many of which are rare and not easily met with in standard works.
Appayya Dikshitar was a mighty intellect. Great is the reverence paid to him even now. In his own time he was equally revered. Once he went to the village which was the birthplace of his wife. A grand reception was accorded to him by the villagers who were proud of calling him as one of themselves. There was great excitement. “The great Dikshitar is coming amongst us.” There was no other talk among the villagers for many days before Dikshitar’s expected arrival. At last the great day came and the distinguished guest–Dikshitar–was greeted by crowds of people who flocked to have a sight of the grand lion. An old dame, curious to a degree, came out staff in hand, to see the phenomenon; with the freedom that is conceded to one of her age, she made her way easily through the crowd and looked at him steadily for some minutes. Dim recollections of a face floated in her mind. Definitely recalling the face she said: “I have seen this face somewhere. Wait. Oh yes, are you not the husband of Achha?” The great scholar confirmed her surmise with a smile. The good old lady was disappointed; with her face and spirits fallen, she retraced her steps homeward remarking, “What ado to make! Just Achha’s husband!” Appayya summarised a world of wisdom when he perpetuated the incident in a half-verse–“Asmin Grame Achha Prasiddha. In this village, the name and precedence are Achha’s”.
Appayya Dikshitar is considered as an Avatar of Lord Siva. When he went to the Tirupathi temple in South India, the Vaishnavas refused him admission. The next morning they found the Vishnu Murti in the temple changed into Siva Murti. The Mahant was much astonished and startled, and he asked pardon of Appayya Dikshitar and prayed to him to change the idol again into Vishnu Murti.
Dikshitar was a great rival of Panditaraja Jagannatha in the field of poetry. Appayya had no independent views on the doctrinal side of Sankara-Vedanta, but carried on fierce controversies with the followers of Vallabha at Jaipur and other places. Siddhantalesha, written by Appayya Dikshitar, is a most admirable digest of the doctrinal differences among the followers of Sankara. No doubt, Appayya Dikshitar is among the greatest spiritual luminaries India has ever produced. Though a detailed account of his life history is not available, his works are sufficient testimony to his greatness.
After Sri Sankara, the world has not seen a genius–a Yogi, Bhakta and scholar–like Sri Appayya.
Glory to Appayya Dikshitar, the incarnation of Lord Siva! May His blessings be upon you all!