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Preceptors of Medieval Karnataka

Jyotsna Kamath

First Published in 1971 in:
Studies in Indian History and Culture
(Prof. P.B. Desai Felicitation Volume)
Published on behalf of Prof. P.B. Desai Felicitation Committee,
By the Karnatak Education Board, Dharwar-1

Since Vedic times, the place of guru in Indian society has been unique. Those were the times when other agencies of education were less known and as yet paper was unknown. The usual media of palm leaves, stone and copper material did not lend themselves to easy duplication or mass communication. Hence education was circumscribed to teachers. Many had their own academies or mathas. Most of them enjoyed royal patronage and several held very high positions as royal preceptors. Itsing, the Chinese monk who came to India in the latter half of the 7th century, was very much impressed by these scholars and the austere life they lead. He says: "There are men who, far seen in antique lore and fond of the refinements of learning are content in seclusion leading lives of continence. Though they are not moved by honor or reproach, their fame is far spread.... The rulers treating them with ceremony and respect cannot make them come to court. Now as the state holds men of learning and genius in esteem and the people respect those who have high intelligence the honors and praises of such men are conspicuously abundant and the attentions private and official paid to them are very considerable [1]."

Inscriptions of 10th, 11th and 12th centuries throw light on the versatile genius of such gurus and here four of them are chosen who represent their class in medieval Karnataka and an attempt is made to show their scholarship and attainments and the influence they exercised in contemporary society.

Vadiganghala Bhatta

Munjarya Vadiganghala Bhatta belonged to a distinguished family of gurus, in the 10th century, patronized both by the Gangas of Talakad and the Rashtrakutas of Malkhed. The Kudlur copper plates describe him as a rare genius to whom with very little effort and labour all learning came in a very short time as though it had been made ready in previous birth. His instruction in politics induced the learned men of Rashtrakuta Vallabharaja's capital to show him great honor. His counsel helped the king to conquer all regions [2]. This Vadiganghala Bhatta was a fervent devotee of Jinesvara, author of a grammatical system free from doubt and controversy and looked upon as a great authority by the grammarians. He is described as a 'Sruta Guru'.


He enjoyed the patronage of Chalukya Vikramaditya VI and proved worthy of Itsing's description. To quote: "Before him the king raised his palms in an anjali of devotion to him; all the ladies of the royal harem revered him as guru. The princes hailed him as a saint to whom they were dear; indeed the holy Somesavrabhatta was a new Sakalya of his time, a spring for the Lakshmi of the garden of eminent poets [3]."

He was not only a preceptor, but also a dandanayaka and a mahamatya in charge of the Dharmadhikaras or charities. Noting his extraordinary ability in the development of the fiscal resources of the empire, Vikramaditya VI placed all his material resources (samasta sampada) at his disposal. From these resources, he built halls of instruction in every city where discourses were held on Veda, Sastra and the lore of the Sun and the Moon (surya and soma siddhanta). From his own resources, he established a school at Lokkigundi for the teachings of Prabhakara mimamsa. The most erudite scholars came to consult him before reaching a decision on points of law or on the pada and krama (word and order) of the texts of Rigveda. He was a master of all branches of learning, sacred and secular.

Vamasakti II

This preceptor of the Kalamukha sect, the head of Kodiya-matha, is quite well known. His pontificate as Rajaguru lasted for not less than 46 years (1156-1192 A.D.) and under him Kodiya-matha brimmed with activity. He had specialized in many branches of learning, viz., Grammar, Philosophy, Bharatasastra, Siddhanta, logic, law and other sciences. He was always surrounded by a troop of Brahmacharins [4].

His accomplishments are summed up like this: "One man first makes or discovers a science; another gives shape to it by clothing the thoughts in appropriate words while another develops science; marvelous to relate, the guru Vamasakti himself does all the above things and even occupies himself in teaching the science to those who are ignorant of it. He was further on object in which centered all the thoughts and aspirations of his pupils [5]."


This is a lesser known but highly honored preceptor of the Hoysala king Ballala II. He is described as well-versed in all the branches of learning then prevalent, including a study of the Vedas, Upanishads, smritis, nyaya, mimamsa, smriti, puranas, poetry, drama, Vatsyayana, P\prosody, figures of speech, fine arts, mantra, tantra, mathematics, music, architecture etc. However, he seems to have been highly skilled in all Yogas and Yogasanas; he had mastered exercises and asanas like Padma and Svastika and was called further a great master of Yogis [6].

Having thus seen the specialised fields of these four erudite gurus, we can say that the common triat of them all, which was the forte of the foremost scholars of those times, was oratory. Thus, Vamasakti was a walking kalpataru causing pleasure to poets, orators, conversationalists etc. He is described as Vadi-vagmi-pramukha [7].

Achalaprakasa's speeches in the great assemblies were highly famed. He would be engaged every day in discourses of Sruti, Smriti and the Puranas, quoting the authorities from the Sastras impromptu, with fine gestures of hands and keeping the audience in rapture. Vadhiganghala Bhatta, as his title itself suggests, surpassed as a debator and a dialectician.

Thus, dialects seemed to have been the basic qualification of a preceptor. The guru in general had his own disciples, with personal service and personal talks on the subject to be taught. This led to the development of the gift of the gab, because the teachers and the taught had to express themselves before others to make known their ideas. Shankaracharya and Hiuen-tsang, to quote only two great figures, won their laurels by public speaking. This tradition continued in the middle ages as well and the scholars held titles as Vadikolahala, Vadibhayankara, Vadiraja and Vadiganghala (debater with resounding speech). Discussions were the way of arriving at the truth and the kings encouraged them and attended personally these exhibitions of skill in poetry, logic, philosophy, and religion. Titles were bestowed and huge grants made to the winners. There were advantages and disadvantages in this practice. While this led to the development of the alround personality of the academicians, it led to a functional disease as well i.e., the argumentative tendency. In course of time this created different schools of thought in different faiths. But these teachers developed synthetic personalities. Though they used to analyse the different aspects of a single problem, they belonged to different faiths. Vadiganghala Bhatta was a Jaina; Vamasakti and a Kalamukha Saiva; Achalaprakasa was a worshipper of Vishnu, Somesvara Bhattopadhyaya was a Vedic scholar and a follower of Smritis. All their streams of teaching met in a single river of knowledge nourishing thought and speech of those times.

References and Notes

1. J. Takakasu, A record of the Buddhist religion as practiced in India and the Malayan Archipelago, by Itsing, (Oxford 1896), p. 161
2. Mysore Archaelogoical Report, 1921, pp. 23-24
3. Epigraphica Indica., Vol. XV, pp. 352-54.
4. Epigraphica Carnatica., Vol, VII, Sk, 92, 105
5. Ibid., The text says: tad-vidyarthi-manorathaika-nikara
6. M. A. R., 1940. p. 98-99
7. Ep. Carn., Sk. 105

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