The Torchbearer

अविद्यारण्यकान्तारे भ्रमतां प्राणिनां सदा ।
विद्यामार्गोपदेष्टारं विद्यारण्यगुरुं श्रये ॥

To souls that wander in utter dismay in the dense forests of ignorance, He shows the path of true wisdom; In sanctuary of that great Saint Vidyaranya!

Not many people from the past have contributed to the shaping of India as a civilization as it is today, like Saint Vidyaranya did. Saint Vidyaranya was 12th Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharada Peeth mutt and was the chief pontiff for six years, from 1380-86 AD, before attaining Samadhi. He succeeded his younger brother, the 11th Jagadguru of Sringeri mutt Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha, who was the chief pontiff for forty-seven years, from 1333 AD till his Samadhi in 1380 AD. Saint Vidyaranya was probably by far the shortest serving chief pontiff of all the monasteries founded by Adi Shankara. What contribution could Saint Vidyaranya have done in those six years that could have shaped the civilization to such a large extent. Well, it wasn’t what he did in those six years, but what he did before that!

Once Saint Vidyaranya was in deep meditation on the Matanga hill, near Hampi, in present day Karnataka (Oh! You have an idea where this is headed?), when he was approached by two brothers, Hakka (Harihara Raya) and Bukka (Bukka Raya). These two brothers were commanders in the army of the Kakatiya King of Warangal. In the battle with the army of Sultan Mohammed Bin Tughlaq, they were captured and taken to Delhi, where they were forcefully converted to Islam. After having won the confidence of the Sultan, they were sent back south to establish order. Seizing an opportunity, they converted back and declared independence. They had come to Saint Vidyaranya to seek guidance, after one of them had a dream about it. That is how the foundation of Vijayanagara empire was laid.

Legend has it that Saint Vidyaranya chose a site for the capital city, Hampi, for the empire to last for eternity. As per the legend, this was the place where a hare had stared down a tiger while being chased. Apparently, after some studies he came up with the exact date when the foundation was to be laid by the two brothers, and the chosen auspicious time was some time in the night. The legend goes on that he instructed Hakka and Bukka to touch the pick-axe to the ground and there by symbolically lay foundation of the city, at the precise moment when they hear the conch that he would sound from far off. As per the legend, it didn’t go according to the plan. It was pitch dark and both the brothers were waiting for the sound of conch to touch the pick-axe to the ground. And finally, after hearing it, they followed the rituals as instructed. After the rituals were done, they returned back to their horses, and that was when they heard the conch again. Confused, they rode back to Saint Vidyaranya and reported hearing two conchs. That’s when Saint Vidyaranya apparently had an inkling of the empire not lasting forever. Vijayanagara empire lasted for slightly more than three centuries.

The contributions of  Vijayanagara to the civilization, be it in literature, architecture, irrigation, economy, trade, diplomacy or military campaigns and tactics, are immense. For example, when Babur was establishing his foothold in the north, Vijayanagara was being ruled by one of its most prominent rulers – Krishnadevaraya. If not for him, Babur probably wouldn’t have hesitated marching down south, and India as we know today as a civilization would have been completely different. I wrote something on parallel history, where I touched upon this topic and called it “Drawing Parallels”. You can read it here.

As advised by Saint Vidyaranya, Harihara ascended the throne of Vijayanagara empire first, while the work on the new capital in Hampi was still on. He reigned for twenty years. After him, his brother Bukka ascended the throne and reigned for twenty one more years. It is during the reign of Bukka that the capital was shifted from Anegondi to Hampi. Saint Vidyaranya was the spiritual guru and a trusted advisor of the Emperors of Vijayanagara for close to half a century, during which time the boundaries of Vijayanagara as well as its prosperity expanded manifolds. It was during his time that the Sringeri Jagadguru came to be addressed as ‘Karnataka Simhasana Pratishtapanacharya’. It is believed that he also initiated the first three Emperors of Vijayanagara into Atmavidya, the Emperors who ruled Vijayanagara in its formative days for seventy years among themselves.

Legends aside, the new capital of Hampi was designed under the guidance of Saint Vidyaranya as a Sri Chakra. A Sri Chakra has nine triangles of varying sizes with a centre point. The triangles are arranged in five concentric levels, and are circumscribed by two concentric circles, a total of seven levels. Hampi has Virupaksha temple at the center, seven layers of fortified walls, with nine gates around. Well, Connect the dots?

Sun and the hawk
The setting sun over the rugged terrain of Hampi, capital of erstwhile Vijayanagara empire, in Karnataka, India.

Had Saint Vidyaranya not laid the foundation of Vijayanagara empire and had not imbibed his teachings in the early rulers, don’t you think our history would be entirely different? During the course of my research, I have developed an interest for Sringeri, in Karnataka, and have added to the list of places I must visit.

विद्याविद्याविवेकेन पारं संसारवारिधेः ।
प्रापयत्यनिशं भक्तान् तं विद्यारण्यमाश्रये ॥

In the sanctuary of Saint Vidyaranya, who holds aloft the torch of discrimination between the knowledge of the real from unreal, and helps the devoted across the sea of birth!

In frame: The setting sun over the rugged terrain of Hampi, capital of erstwhile Vijayanagara empire, in Karnataka, India. As if the drama unfolding in the horizon to the west was not enough, this hawk while returning to its nest unexpectedly flew into my frame, heightening the drama manifolds. Decisive moment, I say!

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

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