Nilakantha’s Mahābhārata


back to issue

READERS of the Mahābhārata today might find in its stories and lessons something more than the welcome diversion that reading them provides.1 This is what the authors intended, and they tell us so.2 In composing the Mahābhārata, the authors created an account of those events of the past that had given their present its shape. The authors considered their present to be removed from the time of the Mahābhārata. They saw that as a different age, one that had come to an end by and with those epic events. Nevertheless, it was an age not wholly disconnected from their own. For them, the behaviour of the epic’s characters in the face of the changes that overtook the world was still relevant to thought and conduct.

In turn, the authors’ present is removed from our own. For us it appears to be a different age, one that has come to an end, but perhaps not wholly disconnected. How, then, might a reader today set about finding in the Mahābhārata something more than diversion? The ancient Sanskrit text is vast and sprawling; indeed, it is proud that it covers everything. It describes a form of society and a way of life very different from our own, and in places gives advice that does not appear to be relevant now. Can the Mahābhārata be as universal as its opening passages claim? Or is its destiny today only to serve as a vehicle for antiquarianism or atavism, exoticism or nostalgia?

Here it would be useful to remember that readers looking into the Mahābhārata for its cultural resources would not be the first to do so. In their search they could perhaps take guidance from the example of earlier readers, even if they might not make the same use of the text as their predecessors. Such earlier readings are most accessible to us in the form of the commentaries on the Mahābhārata. From the 11th century on, Sanskrit authors produced commentaries on the epic, as a whole or in part, and produced shorter essays on the text’s significance. Those authors lived and wrote in particular times and places, and their readings of the epic reflect their situation. What they made of the Mahābhārata has been preserved for us in their commentaries, mostly in unpublished manuscripts.

Here I wish to discuss the work of Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara, a Sanskrit intellectual who wrote a commentary during the second half of the 17th century. This commentary, the Bhārata-bhāva-dīpa, or ‘Light on the Inner Significance of the (Mahā)bhārata,’ became an influential one among readers in Nīlakaṇṭha’s day, and has remained so ever since. In it Nīlakaṇṭha consciously sought to make the text relevant to his own world. For that he later received criticism from modern scholars, who found his approach anachronistic, in the parlance of modern historicist-philological research. It is some features of this anachronism, or here let us instead call it presentism, that I wish to discuss, as they seem to be relevant to the ambitions of the collection in which this essay appears.


Nilakaṇṭha was a deśastha Brahmin from Karpūragrāma, or Kopargaon, a temple town on the banks of the Godavari river in what is now the Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra.3 He moved to Banaras, as many hundreds of other learned Deccanī Brahmins had done in that period, for his further education and career. Banaras was then at the height of an efflorescence of Sanskrit learning, and, after a period of dormancy, had once again become the central node in the subcontinent-wide network of communication for the Sanskritic knowledge systems.

Intellectuals based in Banaras at this time attracted patronage and support from all over India. There were even nobles at the Mughal court who supported the intellectual flowering, as did some of the Mughals themselves, and we know that Nīlakaṇṭha composed one of his works at the request of the Mahārāja of Bikaner, Anūpasiha, who served the Mughal emperor, and was a celebrated bibliophile. The śāstrīs in Banaras were sought after especially for their expertise in the knowledge systems of dharmaśāstra, mīmāsā, vedānta, jyotia, literary theory, and for their contributions to literature.4 In addition to their individual opinions, they were called on for collective ones. The śāstrīs would on certain occasions assemble at the Mukti Maṇḍapa, a pavilion in the Viśvanātha temple, the principal temple in the city to Śiva as Lord of All, to make collective decisions about difficult points of dharma that had been referred to them by local and regional paṇḍit assemblies.5


Nilakaṇṭha wrote a dozen or so other works, but he is best remembered for his commentary on the Mahābhārata, including its long ‘appendix’ (khila), the Harivasa. His commentary was well-received in its own day, and circulated to many parts of India fairly rapidly. There are extant manuscripts, both of Nīlakaṇṭha’s commentary, and of Nīlakaṇṭha’s edition of the epic text, that date from Nīlakaṇṭha’s lifetime and from the decades that follow. These extant manuscripts are now held in collections in many parts of India.6 The entire commentary has been in print since the mid-19th century, and it remains the only Sanskrit commentary on the whole of the Mahābhārata that is available in its entirety in published form.7 For this reason it is still widely used by readers of the Sanskrit text, much more so than any other commentary.


Nilakaṇṭha often relied on earlier commentaries, especially the commentaries of Devabodha, the earliest known (11th century North India or Kashmir), and Arjunamiśra (16th century Bengal). Commentaries before Nīlakaṇṭha’s usually took the form of localised glosses of difficult words as well as of annotations of particularly thorny verses, known collectively as the kūaślokas. The commentators also had to concern themselves with establishing just what the text of the Bhārata was, as there had come to be different versions in different parts of the subcontinent. The commentators knew this from consulting the manuscripts available in their day.

Among his other contributions, Nīlakaṇṭha created a fresh ‘cosmopolitan’ edition, based on collecting manuscripts from different parts of India.8 Even more important, however, was that Nīlakaṇṭha proposed an interpretation of the significance of the Mahābhārata as a whole, which he then attempted to elucidate both in his explanations of the arrangement of the epic’s hundred sections (parvan), and in his localised comments on particular stories and verses.

While this was something no previous commentator had done, the Mahābhārata had already attracted synthetic interpretations of its significance and value. The Mahābhārata was, after all, a principal work in the Sanskrit literary and intellectual tradition, and served as the basis for many poetic and dramatic versions, both of particular episodes and of its main story.


The intellectuals were just as interested as the poets. Śāstrīs in the Vedic tradition, especially the mīmāsaka theorists of interpretation beginning with Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (early 8th century), considered the Mahābhārata to be a dharmaśāstra, and had devoted some consideration to how it was to be read as such.9 This was the general approach of the commentators who preceded Nīlakaṇṭha: to read the Mahābhārata as an instruction in the four ends of man (puruartha).

Meanwhile, literary theorists in medieval Kashmir, especially Ānandavardhana (9th century) and Kuntaka (late 10th century), considered the Mahābhārata a model of literary expression, an example of a poem that successfully produced the aesthetic sentiment of tranquility (śāntarasa) in an experienced reader, largely because of the way in which it heaped up in the reader’s mind the impact of life’s tribulations, losses, and disappointments, even in the lives of exemplary people.10

Just as significant for understanding the intellectual and cultural context of Nīlakaṇṭha’s commentary, however, are the ‘sectarian’ readings of the Mahābhārata that had been advanced in independent essays by promoters of distinct forms of Vedāntic theology. An early and prominent example was the Mahābhārata-tātparya-niraya, the ‘Determination of the Meaning of the Mahābhārata’, of Madhvācarya (13th century Karaaka). This essay of nearly five thousand verses proposed a Vaiṣṇavite reading for both the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaa, and in effect made both of the epics into treatises in Madhva’s version of dualist theology.

Closer to Nīlakaṇṭha’s own day was the work of Appayya Dīkita (16th century Vellore), whose Bhārata-tātparya-sagraha-stotra ‘Song of Praise that Gathers the Meanings of the (Mahā)bhārata’, proposed an ingenious reading of the Mahābhārata that made it into a text of Śivādvaita, that is, of a soft or qualified version of non-dualism, in which Śiva was the ultimate, abstract Being (brahman).11

It was probably in response to these works and other similar ones that Nīlakaṇṭha designed his commentary as a properly non-dualist or Advaitin reading of the text, but a reading in which the ultimate, abstract Being was embodied as Viṣṇu in the form of Kṛṣṇa, as an aid to the understanding of the spiritually undeveloped.


What could be ‘presentist’ in this sort of metaphysics? Modern philological scholars, who have been principally concerned with attempting to reconstruct the meaning of the Mahābhārata ‘as it was’ for the period in which it was composed, considered all of the sectarian essayists to be anachronistic in their approach, in that the sectarian works attempted to read back into the text an overall meaning for the work that modern scholars determined it not to have had originally. The views of Nīlakaṇṭha, whose commentary was in print, and on the same page as the epic text consulted by the moderns, came in for special notice, and for special disapproval.12


It can certainly be shown that Nīlakaṇṭha was a presentist in his approach to the Mahābhārata, that is, that he thought of the epic in terms of the cultural setting of his own day. In his commentary he famously identified some of the weapons of the epic warriors with the military technology that was rather new in his time. For him the katriyas in the Mahābhārata were fighting with muskets and cannons, and building fortresses that were designed both to use and to defend against those weapons. Nīlakaṇṭha, furthermore, used words from the spoken languages of 17th century India, including vocabulary from Arabic and Persian, to explain the epic’s weaponry and other elements of its material culture.13

Other new things were brought into the commentary as well: in one of his philosophical passages he updated the old Advaitin analogy of the snake and the rope, which was used to explain the workings of māyā, by introducing the example of eyeglasses (upanetra), which make letters that are illegibly small large enough to read.14 Furthermore, Nīlakaṇṭha signalled his adherence to a view generally held by the śāstrīs in Banaras in his time, though not by all others elsewhere, when he indicated that the long chapter of the Śāntiparvan about the dharma of kings applied to all those who were in power, whether they were katriyas by birth or not.15

For anything other than historicist scholarship, there is nothing terribly reprehensible in these contemporary touches. Something like it is probably the norm rather than the exception for the way readers make use of classics. I think of Nīlakaṇṭha’s use of new things as being something like the details in the work of Italian painters in the Mannerist school during the Renaissance. Painters like Veronese draped the figures in their depictions of Biblical stories in the rich fabrics that were newly available from merchants in Venice (some shipped there from India, of course).


It is, however, Nīlakaṇṭha’s concern with the present in his philosophizing about the ultimate that is more significant, and to which I turn for the remainder of this essay. Elsewhere I have argued that, although it might now strike us as ‘business as usual’ in a Sanskrit commentary to advocate a philosophical reading of the epic as a whole, and to be more specific, a non-dualist one, complete with Vedāntic allegories and invocations of support from rarely cited Vedic texts, nevertheless this was something unusual and fresh in the period in which Nīlakaṇṭha produced it, and the reason for its success.16 His sustained discussions of fine points of philosophy were about something that mattered to his contemporary readers.

Nīlakaṇṭha’s discussions, which can seem to the casual reader to be well off the point of the epic verse to which they are appended, are better understood against the intellectual-cultural background of the period, in which a fierce contest was being waged by authors writing from within various movements, and by non-allied authors as well. Some of them were aligned with Madhva’s movement of Vaiṣṇava theistic dualism, and its numerous intellectual descendants; others with Rāmānuja’s movement of theistic ‘qualified’ or soft non-dualism. There were also realist logicians (naiyāyikas) and arch-conservative Vedists (generally mīmāsakas) who had views on these matters, mostly hostile to Vedānta, and especially non-dualist forms of it. The opinions of these authors, writing from the cultural centre, had a bearing on the daily religious and spiritual practice of many people, and on their views of how society was to be arranged.


Nilakaṇṭha brought the terms of this debate into his Bhārata commentary. It is always clear what his own affiliation was. He was a partisan of the strict version of non-dualism that derived from the writings of Śakarācārya. He cited the works of Śakara, Sureśvara, Vācaspatimiśra, Vidyāraya, Sadānanda, Sarvajñātman, and other figures in the Advaita school as sources of authority.

In the 17th century, the Advaita version of Vedānta ruled in Banaras. Advaita had become the establishment position, as it were, but there were challenger movements and sampradāyas, as mentioned. The challengers had exerted pressure: intellectual, institutional, and social, on the centre in Banaras, and there had been developments in response, even in the thinking of the Advaitins, and new attempts at hybrid solutions. Appayya Dīkita, mentioned above, an influential figure in this period, wrote treatises advocating both the strong form of Śakara’s Advaita, (in works like the Siddhāntaleśasagraha,) and also his own version of a qualified Śaiva non-dualism, Śivādvaita (in the Śivārkamaidīpikā).17


Even more influential in Banaras was the work of Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, who had lived in the city a century earlier and had written works of two kinds, some that argued with great philosophical sophistication for the most exacting form of Advaita (in his Advaitasiddhi) and others, intellectually formidable as well, in which emotional devotion (bhakti) to a personal deity, viz. Kṛṣṇa, was explored as an alternative path, one as valid as the Vedāntic one (in his Bhaktirasāyana). In some places Madhusūdana argued that the goal of this path, union with the personal God, was several steps above and beyond ordinary Vedāntic enlightenment (jīvanmukta). Madhusūdana’s Advaitin works were circulated, cited, and given commentaries by the mainstream Advaitins. His philosophical formulation of the emotional devotional turn was followed by some of them.

Nīlakaṇṭha was clearly influenced by Madhusūdana’s writings on Advaita, and he too engaged himself with developing a form of theology of a personal deity that could be accommodated to the non-dualist position. However, he seems not to have accepted the superiority or independence of the bhakti path, and to have sought to shift the balance back in favor of abstract non-dualism and away from emotional devotionalism.

What was the bearing of all of this rather abstruse theologising on life in the real world? The meaning and significance of Nīlakaṇṭha’s reading can be seen in his attempts at a sort of pluralism, or advocacy of religious ecumenism. I end with discussion of two passages from Nīlakaṇṭha’s Mahābhārata commentary that show his attention to the social and cultural practices of his day, and that reflect an interest in influencing them.


The first is found in the introductory essay (ādivākya) that precedes his comments on the first verse of the Ādiparvan. Here Nīlakaṇṭha got onto the subject of the varieties of marks worn on the forehead, the tripuṇḍra, ūrdhvapuṇḍra and so on. The forehead mark was a way of displaying one’s affiliation to one or other tradition of worshipping one or other supreme deity. The proper conduct associated with wearing a forehead mark had became a topic of some concern in this period, as a result of rivalries between movements.18

Nīlakaṇṭha brought the subject up in the course of his discussion of the value of reading the Mahābhārata. In response to the possible objection that the Mahābhārata was not, after all, one of the revealed Vedic texts (śruti), and therefore not reliable as a source of knowing about dharma, Nīlakaṇṭha argued that the entire genre of literature to which the Mahābhārata belonged, the smti, should be understood to be based on some passage of the Vedas, whether that basis is evident or not. This was a position that the theorists of interpretation, the mīmāsakas had worked out long ago.19 Nīlakaṇṭha here followed the line of argument of the mīmāsakas, and mentioned two of their canonical examples of behavioural commands from the smti literature and their śruti basis.


But then Nīlakaṇṭha introduced something new, another behavioural command from the smti, i.e. ‘One should make one’s forehead mark from earth.’20 He then set about finding the basis for this command in the extant Veda, and claimed to find it in two verses in the gveda about the triad of artisanal deities, the bhus.21 This might strike the unbiased reader of the gveda as an unlikely source, as the two verses appear to be about how the bhus fashioned four Soma cups out of one, and how they drove a lame cow to the water and carved up its flesh and carried away its dung.22

Nevertheless Nīlakaṇṭha applied his commentarial arts to the words of these verses, and found in them something extraordinary. The verses turned out, in Nīlakaṇṭha’s reading, to describe three different ways in which people might become the divinity: by pilgrimage, by fire-rituals, and by showing mercy. Furthermore, the verses taught the substances to use for making forehead marks, in order to indicate the form of the deity with which one might choose to unite.23

As the verses of the gveda were not complete in themselves in these instructions, Nīlakaṇṭha showed that they also taught how we are to complete them by appealing to other texts. Which texts depended on one’s choice of deity: either Vaiṣṇava texts, or Śaiva texts, or tantric texts associated with Gaeśa, Devi, or Sūrya. He also found in the verse provision of a sort of non-aligned, Vedas-only (kevala-vaidika), option.24

The reason that Nīlakaṇṭha had begun this discussion was to show that the Mahābhārata was a reliable source of instruction for readers. That point, however, had already been made in works of the past, using arguments that Nīlakaṇṭha knew and referred to. The introduction of this additional, learned, and lengthy discussion was for the purpose of making a larger claim about the Mahābhārata and its allied tradition: that the received tradition of the classics provided instructions for how it was to be read in his own time, and that those instructions allowed for a variety of movements and practices, supported in different ways and by different textual sources.


Nīlakaṇṭha turned to a related point a little later in his commentary on the Ādiparvan, as part of an extensive discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of the nondualist theology that he thought the Mahābhārata disclosed.25 Given that the deity was one, a lesser mode of the ultimate, and not different from the worshipper in any deep way, he asserted, the partisan quarrelling about the hierarchy of particular forms of the deity was misguided and harmful. I cite some of the passage here as a way to conclude, as it gives a sense both of the content and of the tenor of the theological debates of the day, and of Nīlakaṇṭha’s awareness and view of them.26


Some people, unaware of the tradition that has been passed down, as described above, of a practice of meditation that brings the mind to the unmanifest (undifferentiated Being), think that liberation means attaining the heavenly world of some high deity, and that there is no other, more abstract essence of the deity. In doing so they reject the view established by all of the śāstras, that there is no experience of duality of any kind in the state of liberation.27

The (mutual) criticism of the (Vaiṣṇava) Bhāgavata purāa or the [Śaiva] Sutasahitā as being demonic forgeries is based on setting out a hierarchy of Viṣṇu and other deities, using the obstinate claims of worshippers that Viṣṇu is the ultimate while Śiva is a mere unliberated soul or vice versa. This criticism results from not understanding the parameters of śāstric interpretation.28 According to the principle of contingent utility, one simply relies on whatever form is expedient to enable the divine to descend into the mind.

As for the mutual defamation that one finds in passages of the Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava purāas of the texts and followers of the other sort, that is not really there to serve as defamation of something that deserves to be defamed. It is there, rather, to praise what it is that ought positively to be done (vidheya), just in the same way that one finds in the Vedas passages that encourage one positively to do the yajñas correctly, by pointing out the negative consequences of erroneous practice. The point cannot be criticism per se, as then worship of both gods would have to be abandoned. We could rather think that, as in the case of comparable Vedic passages, the passages we see in the Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava purāas are there to indicate an optional choice of one or the other, or perhaps a combination of both, for specified results.


In fact, though, passages of this sort should be understood as being about two forms of brahman, the causal and the caused, in which certain terms of praise and rebuke, respectively, are used according to an especially created convention. As an example, we might consider the inquisitive man who, in order to find out what will provoke his new, innocent young wife, shouts abuse at the family dog, while calling it by the name of her brother, his brother in law. She then (mistakenly) thinks that he means to insult her brother and becomes angry.29

In this way, in the Śaiva texts, the word Viṣṇu is used as a convention to express the caused (kārya) brahman, and worship of him is taken for this purpose to lead merely to the highest good that the caused brahman can afford, that is the heavenly world of Brahmā. Brahmaloka is designated hell in the Śaiva texts, because it is, relatively speaking, a form of suffering, designed for men who have achieved an attainment that is inferior, (by comparison to the ultimate liberation brought about through a higher form of meditation on the causal brahman). And mutatis mutandi, the same thing goes for the Vaiṣṇava texts.30


Those base, low-class Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva partisans do not understand the language of variety used in the purāas. They are unaware of the Vedic statements about non-difference which point out the fault that lies in seeing difference between Śiva and Viṣṇu and that are described in the Smti literature as follows, ‘Those who have been misled by religious imposters are bewildered by the impression of difference when they see Brahmā, Kṛṣṇa and Rudra, and do not see them as one.’ They do not know the truth of the Śāstra that the one root cause is to be distinguished from the final effects it produces, just as an actor only appears to be different characters. And accepting only one or other of the forms of God they criticize each other, making a great mutual ruckus, and hence as a result of the injury they do to the masters they are readying themselves only for hell. That is all I will say about that.31


There are elements here of a claim that one still encounters today, usually in a blander and less philosophically precise form, about the one god who may legitimately be worshipped in many forms. It used to be asserted that this sort of claim was paradigmatic of the Hindu tradition in all eras. Versions of that claim supported experiments with a variety of secularism in the Gandhian and Nehruvian era. On the other hand, it has been asserted more recently that this sort of claim is a modern development, one that emerged in the 19th century as part of the transformation of Hinduism into neo-Hinduism. I tend to think of it as a modern development, but in a modernity that started much earlier than is usually thought, one that was already under way in the 17th century. Modern readers of the Mahābhārata may not wish to do with the text what Nīlakaṇṭha did. Nevertheless, one can glimpse in his encounter with the epic some possibilities for modern multicultural India.



1. The following essay is intended to discuss only the Mahābhārata textual tradition in Sanskrit, but it should be remarked that there are Mahābhārata literatures in other languages.

2. There is scholarly discussion about how many authors, enunciators, compilers, and editors the Sanskrit Mahābhārata has had. That is not an argument I seek to provoke here. I have used the plural, since that is what I think is correct. If any reader is convinced, however, that the Mahābhārata had only one author, e.g. Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana, then that reader should consider the use of the plural to be a Sanskritic form of respect.

3. Gode 1942, Printz 1911. His father, Govindasūri, was probably the adhyaka of either the Śukreśvara or Kaceśvara temples on the island in the Godavari at its sangam in Kopargaon. The family name, Caturdhara is a Sanskritisation of Chauduri.

4. See Pollock 2001.

5. See O’Hanlon 2010. We see the names of several of Nīlakaṇṭha’s teachers recorded in the documents produced by these assemblies in the 1650s and ’60s. The Viśvanātha temple had been rebuilt in 1585 during the reign of Akbar, and was torn down again in 1669 during the reign of Aurangzeb. Nīlakaṇṭha was probably in the city during the period both before and after this demolition.

6. On balance the evidence suggests, furthermore, that for many of these manuscripts the regions where they are now held are the same regions where they had been copied and read. See Gode 1951, Minkowski 2005.

7. There is still no text-critical edition of the commentary, and the published versions leave something to be desired.

8. Cf. the sixth verse in his opening of the commentary on the Ādiparvan. bahūn samāhtya vibhinnadeśyān kośān viniścitya ca pāham agryam | prācā gurūām anustya vācam ārabhyate bhāratabhāvadīpa ||

9. Fitzgerald 1991.

10. Tubb 1991.

11. The Bhāratatātparyasagrahaśloka is much shorter, consisting of only twenty ornate verses accompanied by Appayya’s own commentary. For an analysis of how Appayya made a similar argument about the Rāmāyaa in a companion work, see Bronner forthcoming.

12. On Nīlakaṇṭha’s reception see Minkowski 2005.

13. Minkowski 2004.

14. …yathā vā sūkmam api pustakākaram upanetramahimnā sthūlam iva bhāti, tadvat kūasthe dṛṅmātre sūkme pratīci… cañcalatvadśyatvasthūlatvādyāropo yujyate. Bhāratabhāvadīpa (henceforth BhBhD) on Mokadharmaparvan, Śāntiparvan, verse 1.

15. rājaśabdārthaś cātra prakaraāt rājā rañjanakāmyayā iti… ya prajārañjana karoti sa eva bodhya. sa ca katriyo ‘katriyo vā… vakyamānān utthānādīn dharmān anutiṣṭhet. BhBhD on Rājadharmaparvan, vs. 1. For more on the reasons why this view was of great relevance at the time, i.e. when the Marātha leader Śivāji was consecrated as a katriya king, see O’Hanlon, 2010, Deshpande, forthcoming.

16. Minkowski 2005.

17. Appayya organises his work around the writings of a predecessor, Śrīkaṇṭha, but is nevertheless innovative in his approach. See McCrea, forthcoming.

18. See Horstmann 2009, 325, where she cites a passage of the Vaidika-vaiṣṇava-sadācāra, a work of the early eighteenth century, by Harekṛṣṇa Miśra, which lays down the rules for one sectarian group. See also Clementin-Ojha 2000.

19. In the smtyadhikaraa of the Mīmāsāsūtra (1.3.1-2). See Minkowski 2005 240-41, where I cite some of Nīlakaṇṭha’s remarks.

20. ūrdhvapuṇḍram mdā kuryāt etc. Brahmāṇḍapurāa as cited in the Ahnikaprakāśa, a dharmaśāstric text Kane 1968-77, 2.1: 673.

21. V 1.161.9-10.

22. What Nīlakaṇṭha bases himself on in this passage seems to be that it records a difference of opinion among the three bhus, and describes the separate activities of each one.

23. As Nīlakaṇṭha reads it, the gvedic verses are recommending gopīcandana, i.e. white clay from pilgrimage places, ashes from cowdung that has been burnt as the fuel for a fire in a yajña, or a mixture of red clay and yellow orpiment.

24. eva satyavādinā tīrthāni, yajñādayas, tantramārgea sūryādyanyatamopāsti, kevalavaidikatā ceti devatābhāvaprāptisādhanānīti mantradvayatātparya siddham. BhBhD on Ādiparvan 1.1.

25. BhBhD on Ādiparvan 1.23, asac ca sadasac caiva… This is the most complete discussion of the topic to be found in the commentary.

26. In some of what follows I provide a full translation; in other places I condense. I indicate where it is the former by citing the Sanskrit in the footnotes. The whole passage can be found in Kijavaekara 1929, 1:7.

27. ke cit tu pūrvoktamanapraidhānātmaka-dhyānasampradāyānabhijñā etallokaprāptir eva muktir ayam eveśvaro na samaṣṭyākho ‘nya īśvaro ‘stīti vadanti. te sarvaśāstra-prasiddha muktau dvaitādarśanam bādhamānā

28. tena "viṣṇu sarvottama śivo jīva. śiva sarvottamo viṣṇur jīva" ity upāsakānām āgraho viṣṇvādy-utkramapratipādaka-śrībhāgavata-sutasahitādīnām anāratvāsuratvādivacanair dūaa ca śāstramaryādānavabodhamūlam eva. A slightly different rendering of this passage also appears in Minkowski 2010, 132.

29. śivaviṣṇugocare nindāstutisaketabhe-dam āśritya kāryakāraabrahmagocaratayā vyākhyeye. yathā hi kaś cit kutukī mugdhā bhāryā kopayitu ghaśunaka syālanāmnā saketya gālayati, sā ca ‘madbhrātaram aya gālayatī’ti kupyati.

30. tadvac chaive viṣṇuśabdena kāryabrahma-vivakitatvāt tadbhajanād bhāvanā-tāratamyenaiśrarya-tāratamyavattayā hīnasapadā pu dukhakaratvāt narakaśaboditasya brahmalokasya prāptir iyate. evam pakāntare ‘pi.

31. tam ima paurāa bhāābhedam ajānanta pāmarā śaivavaiṣṇavāpasadā ‘brahmāa keśava rudra bhedabhā-vena mohitā | paśyanty eka na jānanti pākhaṇḍopahatā janā’ iti tatraiva smarya-māa śivaviṣṇvor bhedadarśane doam udāhtyābhedaśrutīś cāpaśyanto mūlakāraam evāntyāt kāryān naa iva tattadrūpea bhāsata iti śāstratattvam ajānanto ‘nyatararūpaparigraheetara nindanta parasparakalahāyamāā svāmidrohān narakāyaiva sajjante ity ala. This a revised version of a translation that appears in Minkowski 2010, 132.



Yigal Bronner, ‘A Text with a Thesis’, in Yigal Bronner (ed.), Language, Culture and Power: New Directions in South Asian Studies, Whitney Cox, and Lawrence McCrea, (Forthcoming).

M.C. Clémentin-Ojha, ‘Être un Brahmane smārta aujourd’hui’, Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 87, 2000, 317-339.

Madhav Deshpande, ‘Katriyas in the Kali Age: Gāgābhaṭṭa and His Opponents’, (Forthcoming).

James Fitzgerald, ‘India’s Fifth Veda: the Mahābhārata’s Presentation of Itself’, in Arvind Sharma and E.J. Brill (eds.), Essays on the Mahābhārata, Leiden, 1991.

P.K. Gode, ‘Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara, the Commentator of the Mahābhārata – His Geneaology and Descendants’, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 23, 1942, 146-61.

P.K. Gode, ‘Some Contemporary Manuscripts of the Works of Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara, the Commentator of the Mahābhārata – Between A.D. 1687 and 1695’, Journal of the S.M. Library, Tanjore 4.1, 1951. Reprinted in Studies in Indian Literary History, vol. 2 (Bombay, 1954), 491-98.

Adolf Holtzmann, Das Mahābhārata und seine Theile. 4 vols. Kiel. Haeseler, 1892-95.

Monika Horstmann, Der Zusammenhalt der Welt, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2009.

P.V. Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra. 5 vols. 2d ed. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1968-1977.

Ramachandrashastri Kijavaekara, Mahābhāratam with the Commentary of Nīlakaṇṭha, Citrashala Press, Poona, 1929-36.

Lawrence McCrea, ‘Coloring Tradition: Appayyadīkita’s Invention of Śrīkaṇṭha’s Vedānta’, (Forthcoming).

Christopher Minkowski, ‘Nīlakaṇṭha’s Instruments of War: Modern, Vernacular, Barbarous’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 41, 2004, 365-85.

Christopher Minkowski, ‘On the Success of Nīlakaṇṭha’s Mahābhārata Commentary’, in F. Squarcini (ed.), Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia. Firenze University Press, Florence, 2005.

Christopher Minkowski, ‘A Guide to Philological Argument in Early Modern Banaras’, in Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Epic and Argument in Sanskrit Literary History: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Goldman. Manohar, Delhi, 2010.

Rosalind O’Hanlon, ‘Letters Home: Banaras Pandits and the Maratha Regions in Early Modern India’, Modern Asian Studies 44.2, 2010, 201-40.

Sheldon Pollock, ‘New Intellectuals in Seventeenth-Century India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 38, 2001, 3-31.

W. Printz, ‘Bhāā-Wörter in Nīlakaṇṭha’s Bhāratabhāvadīpa und in Anderen Sanskrit-Kommentaren’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 44, 1911, 69-109.

Gary Tubb, ‘Śāntarasa in the Mahābhārata’, in Arvind Sharma (ed.), Essays on the Mahābhārata. E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1991.