Śankarācārya was not a ‘vaiṣṇava’
At the end of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad Bhāṣya vārtika, Sri Sureśwarācārya pays obeisance to Shakara, His Guru:
पीत्वा जन्ममृतिप्रवाहविधुरा मोक्षं ययुर्मोक्षिणः
तं वन्देऽत्रिकुलप्रसूतममलं वेधोऽभिधं मद्गुरुम् ॥
The translation of the last line, which alone is relevant for the present purpose is:
//I bow to my Guru who is pure, born in the Atri lineage bearing the name of Vedha (the Lord).//
Ānandagiri says on the word ‘vedho’bhidam’: विदधाति इति वेधः तस्याभिधा शंकराख्या यस्य तं वेधोऽभिधं मद्गुरुम्….
[He who creates is ‘vedhaḥ’, his name ‘Śankara’ whose name my Guru bears….]
That name appears in the Śivasahasranāma of the Śivapurāṇa:
वेधा विधाता धाता च स्रष्टा हर्ता चतुर्मुखः ।
कैलासशिखरावासी सर्वावासी सदागतिः ॥
The name occurs in the Viśṇu sahasra nāma too and Śankara comments it as ‘vidhātā’: The one who creates.
There also occurs the name ‘vidhātā’ both in the Shiva as well as the VS. In any case the name has the meaning denoting one or the other function related to creation, sustenance, etc.
At the end of the Taittiriya Upaniṣad Bhāṣya vārtika, Sri Sureśwarācārya pays obeisance to Shakara, His Guru:
…..मस्करीन्द्रप्रणीतस्य भाश्यस्यैतद्विवेचनम् ।
मुमुक्षुसार्थवाहस्य भवनामभृतो यतेः । शिष्यश्चकारतद्भक्त्या सुरेशाख्यो महार्थवित् ॥ ४८,४९ ॥
//This exposition, of the Bhāṣya composed by the foremost among ascetics who takes upon Himself the responsibility of the aspirants, who bears the name of Bhava, is accomplished by his disciple, out of devotion, by name Sureśa, who is a knower of the entire meaning. //
Ānandagiri, commenting on these lines says:
..भगवन्भाष्यकारः तस्य यतीनामग्रेसरस्य भवस्य भगवतो महादेवस्य नाम शंकराख्यं बिभ्रतः तेनैव नाम्ना सर्वत्र प्रख्यातस्य सुरेश्वरसज्ञया लोके विख्यातोऽभूत् ।
[Bhagavān Bhāṣyakāraḥ, who is the foremost among sannyāsins, who bears the name of Bhava, Bhagavān Mahādeva, which is ‘Śankara’, who is well-known everywhere by that name (Śankara), (this disciple) by name Sureśvara, became famous.
From the above two references by Śrī Sureśwarācārya and the gloss of Ānandagiri thereon it is clear that:
- The name Śankara’ that the Advaita Bhāṣyakāra bears is decidedly the name of Lord Śiva alone and none else’s. By resorting to etymology one cannot conclude that this is a common name to mean: the one who confers good/auspiciousness/happiness is shankara: śam karoti iti śankaraḥ.
- For Sureśwara, the world-creator is Śiva.
- Both the names ‘Vedhāḥ (vedhas)’ and ‘Bhava’ occur in the Śivasahasranāma (of the Śivapurāṇa and the Mahābhārata respectively)
In the following blog is an article:
//Thus, it is established that Narasimha is the primary form of BhagavAn glorified by the vedas. His names in the veda include (and not limited to) – Narasimha, Manyu, Rudra, Soma, Nilalohita, PinAkI, Sarva, Umapati/Ambikapati, HiranyabAhu, Shankara, Shiva, Shambhu , Ishana, Tryambaka, Kapardin, Pashupati, Ugra and Bhima.
One might wonder that most of these are the names of pArvati pati. Such a doubt need not be entertained. Because pArvati pati has a birth (eko ha vai nArAyaNa asIt, na brahma, nEshana). And he is mentioned to be constantly meditating in the third stage of bhakti yoga, presided by Sankarshana. Since Narasimha avatara is an amsam of Sankarshana and Narasimha perumAl has the balam and jnAna gunams seen in this vyUha mUrthy, it follows that Shiva is always meditating on Narasimha, as evidenced in the case of Ahirbudhnya. And hence, Shiva, being a parama bhakta, bears some of the names of Narasimha only and not vice versa. In the vedas, these names belong to bhagavAn only.//
Even though all names are denoting Vishnu for the vaiṣṇavas, they themselves do not bear the names related to Lord Śiva (there is a very specific, explicit, strong prohibition among the followers of Sri Rāmānuja that the masculine and feminine names should not be related to devatāntara, deities other than Viṣṇu and Lakṣmī). Among vaiṣṇavas one cannot see names such as Umāpati, Rudran, Mahādevan, Somasundaram, Nīlakanṭhan, Śambhu, Sāmbaśivan, Subrahmanya, Murugan, Kumaran, Ganapati, Ganesha, Vinayaka, Pārvati, etc. that are immediately recognizable as that of / related to Lord Śiva. They are strongly against the thought of Shiva being invoked by the name they keep to their children and call them. They vehemently claim Shiva’s names to be of Lord Vishnu/Narasimha but abhor those names like an untouchable. Such is their bigotry.
Their avowed aim is to be reminded of the Lord Viṣṇu alone and none else when a name is invoked. நாரணன் தம் அன்னை நரகம் புகாள்! [The mother who names her child after Nārāyaṇa and calls him by that name several times during their life, will never go to hell!) When such is their commitment, how indeed will an ancient, vaidika, vaiṣṇava bear the name ‘Śankara’? They might accept Lord Śiva to be a great vaiṣṇava. But to bear and utter that name is taboo. It is another matter that the Srimadbhāgavatam, Dakṣayajna section, extols the name of the two-letter name: śiva. That section, since is a Śiva stuti, ought not to be a part of the bhāgavatam and therefore has to be banished as an interpolation, just like these people’s futile attempts to do so with the Mahabhārata contents of Shiva stuti and sahasranāma.
Thus, going by this reasoning, the person Bhāṣyakāra, not the Lord Śiva, who bears the name ‘Śankara’ can by no means be a vaiṣṇava. Both the Āzhwars and Sri Vedānta Deśika have written on this very topic: of not taking/keeping names other than Viṣṇu/Lakṣmi. A well-known scholar of the Ramanuja tradition told me this. He cited one exceptional name ‘Iśvara Bhattar’ which too does not amount to the Lord Śiva’s name. Paradoxically this very Sri Vedanta Deśika included Śankara among many others as a vaiṣṇava when he himself has tabooed that name to a vaiṣṇava.
The case of Madhvas is different. Among them one can see names like ‘Manjunatha’, ‘Śiva’, etc. since they hold Śiva to be manaḥkāraka and worship Him for pure devotion to Lord Viṣṇu.
In any case, it is beyond debate and doubt that since Śankara, the Advaita Bhāṣyakāra, bears the name of Lord Śiva, by no means can one conclude that he was a Vaiṣṇava, in the sense the bloggers are making it out. For these bloggers, all ancient vaidikas were vaiṣṇavas by default and subscribed to vaiṣṇavism. They have roped in Shankaracharya into this group to bolster their ill-conceived idea that vaiṣṇavism is the supreme vedic position. That such a proposition is baseless and crumbles in the face of the above facts is what is brought out by this article.
Om Tat Sat