Saturday, December 3, 2022

Shriharsha: The Philosopher and Poet of the Middle Ages

Nala leaving Damayanti 

while she sleeps

(Raja Ravi Varma’s painting)

Shriharsha, the great Hindu philosopher and poet of the twelfth century, was the author of several works, two of which are extant: Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya and Naishadha Charita. His other works are mentioned by him and referred to by other scholars of the Middle Ages. 

He was a critic of the realist philosophy of the Nyaya school. His Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya (Sugar-candy Pieces of Refutations) is regarded as an important philosophical text of the Advaita Vedanta school. In this text, Shriharsha uses dialectical arguments to refute Nyaya’s realist principles, and establish the idealistic principles of Advaita. He preached that the scriptures prove the existence of Brahman (the Ultimate principle and divinity of the universe). In a passage in Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya, he declares that he had achieved the awareness of Brahman. 

In chapter three of his book, Classical Indian Metaphysics, Stephen H. Phillips has examined the philosophy of Sriharsha. On Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya, Phillips writes: 

“The [Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya] for its part is not only a central work relative to the entire span of classical Indian philosophy—about two thousand years—it is also a masterpiece of prose style, full of wit and humor, employing a vocabulary unusually rich for a philosophical text… The [Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhadya] dismantles the Nyaya realist view detail by minute detail, and the Advaitin shows deep appreciation of Buddhist Mimamsaka, Jaina, Carvaka, and of course Vedantic philosophies.” (Page 77)

Naishadha Charita is a mahakavya (epic poem)—it is a retelling of the love story of King Nala of the Nishadha Kingdom and Princess Damayanti of the Vidarbha Kingdom. This love story originally occurs in the Vana Parva section of the Mahabharata, and it is probably the most famous love story in India. On Naishadha Charita, Phillips writes: 

“The Naishadha Charita is one of the finest accomplishments of world literature: an elegant poem, encyclopedic in its mythological allusions and masterful in its use of poetic figures and rhetorical devices, it brims with the wisdom and sensibility of the classical culture (at a time, moreover, that some have considered its zenith). The long poem also contains many explicit, though unusually playful, recountings of doctrines forged in the full array of classical schools.” (Page 77)

No comments: