Sāyaṇa

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Sayana, SAyaNa, Saayana


Sāyaṇa lived in 14th century A. D.; d.A. D. 1387. If it was left to Śaṅkara[1] to unravel the mysteries of the Vedāntic scriptures, especially the prasthānatraya, destiny chose Sāyaṇa to expound the other three aspects of the Vedas. These three aspects are the following:

  1. The Samhitās
  2. The Brāhmaṇas
  3. The Āraṇyakas

But for his monumental work, much of the original Vedic literature would have remained inscrutable. Though quite far from the times of the Vedas chronologically, being brought up in the orthodox tradition and also with his vast knowledge of the Sanskrit language and ancient literature, he was ideally suited to this stupendous task. He was the second son of Māyaṇa and Śrīmatī. His elder brother was Mādhava and younger brother was Bhoganātha.

Physically he was strong and handsome and even well-versed in the martial arts. As regards to his education in the traditional scriptures, arts and sciences, he seems to have been trained by his own father first and later by Sarvajña Viṣṇubhatta[2] and Śrīkaṇṭha Upādhyāya. He was deeply involved in the training of the princes of the Vijayanagara empire and was also the prime minister for four kings from A. D. 1340 to 1387.

Works of Sāyaṇa

Eight works have been ascribed to his authorship. They are:

  1. Subhāsita-sudhānidhi
  2. Yajñatantrasudhānidhi
  3. Prāyaścittasudhānidhi
  4. Āyurvedasudhānidhi / Alañkārasudhānidhv
  5. Dhātuvrtti
  6. Purusārthasudhānidhi
  7. Vedārthaprakāśa

Content of Sāyaṇa's work

It is the general opinion of Vedic scholars that the last work, detailed commentary on the Vedas, must have been undertaken by a group of scholars under the overall supervision of Sāyaṇa and Vidyāraṇya. Even Sāyaṇa would have contributed to it substantially.

  • The Subhāsitasudhānidhi is a compendium of pithy sayings on morality, ethics and general knowledge.
  • As the very name indicates, the Yajñatantrasudhānidhi deals with the performance of Vedic sacrifices.
  • The third work, also known as Karmavipāka, deals with prāyaścittas or expiatory rites.
  • The fourth work on the Ayurveda was probably written by Ekāmranātha Paṇḍita at the instance of Sāyaṇa. It is not available now.
  • The next work on alaṅkāra or figures of speech was probably authored by his younger brother Bhoganātha. The full text has not been secured so far.
  • Dhātuvrtti, the sixth in the series, is an authoritative work on Sanskrit grammar, concentrating on the dhātus.[3] The full text has been edited and printed.
  • The next work, the Purusārthasudhānidhi deals in detail with the four puruṣārthas dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa and is similar to the treatises on the dharmaśāstras and the āgamas.
  • However, it is the Vedārthaprakāśa, his magnum opus, that has made him immortal in the annals of Vedic literature. It might have been composed during the period A. D. 1360 to 1385.

Epilogue

It is noteworthy that he has dealt with only the Karmakāṇḍa part of the Vedas and has not touched the Jñānakāṇḍa part.[4] It was the encouragement and generous patronage of the king Bukka that ruled in A. D. 1354 to 1376. He helped Sāyaṇa to successfully complete this astounding work. Many contemporary scholars of repute like Pañcāgni Mādhava, Naraharibhaṭṭa, Nārāyaṇa Vājapeyī, Paṇḍari Dīkṣita and Vāmanabhaṭṭa were also involved in this work. Though the Sāyaṇa’s contribution was the greatest.

Sāyaṇa is very particular to mention the names of the earlier teachers and commentators like:

  1. Yāska
  2. Āpastamba
  3. Āśvalāyana
  4. Pāṇini
  5. Kātyāyana
  6. Patañjali
  7. Bhattabhāskara Miśra
  8. Skandasvāmin
  9. Others

Though his interpretations have sometimes been criticized by modern scholars, both European and Indian, none in his position could have accomplished such a gigantic task in such a perfect manner. Scholars of religion and philosophy in general and Hindus in particular, should ever remain deeply indebted to him.


References

  1. He lived in A. D. 788-820.
  2. He is the Vidyā-tīrtha.
  3. Dhātus means basic roots of verbs.
  4. It is the path of the Upaniṣads or the Vedānta.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore