Current local: Feb. 24, 2017, 3:46 p.m.

Parvata, potiyil, and zrI-parvata

Some remarks by S. Palaniappan

Feb 1999

In an [Indology message dated 1/24/99 10:47:21 AM Central Standard Time], mmdesh@UMICH.EDU writes:

> The reference to 'parvata' combined with the reference to '
> granthamaatre ...' makes the zriiparvata the best candidate. The question
> is are there other contemporary references to zriiparvata by the term
> parvata. 

The factors for deciding the "parvata" to be zrIparvata have been described well by Aklujkar already in his paper, "Interpreting vAkyapadIya 2.486 Historically (Part 3)". Here I shall follow the same methodology as Aklujkar but consider those factors and data not considered by Aklujkar and show that the parvata is more probably the potiyil (Skt. malaya) mountain in ancient Tamil region. I shall address the following aspects on our way to resolving the location of parvata.

 1. [General and specific nature of zrI-parvata]

 2. [Reference to zrI-parvata in Sanskrit sources from 5th century onwards]

 3. [zrI-parvata as a scholarly place from a Brahmanic perspective]

 4. [zrI-parvata as a scholarly place from a Buddhist perspective]

 1. General and specific nature of zrI-parvata

In his paper Aklujkar states, "The other prominent mountains are quite freely referred to with compound names that contain one of the synonyms of parvata such as adri, giri, zaila, or acala. ZrI-parvata, on the other hand does not commonly attract designations like zrI-giri (see note 20c.)" In the note, he says, "zrI-parvata would seem to be the older of the two names and has a general as well as a specific reference. In its former role, it seems to stand for the mountain range toward the southwestern extremity of which the Brahmanical site of zrI-zaila took shape. In the latter role, zrI-parvata appears to be a predominantly Buddhist site near Nagarjunakonda in the northeastern part of the same Nallamala (alternative spellings "Nallamalur" and "Nallamalai") mountain range."

This is not correct. We have clear evidence that the name zrI-parvata was used to refer to the specific zaivite site zrI-zaila from several Sanskrit sources such as subandhu's vAsavadatta which associates zrI-parvata with mallikArjuna. bhavabhuti's mAlatImAdhava, bANa's harSacarita, harSa's ratnAvaLI and somezvara's kathAsarit sAgara also associate zrI-parvata with zaivite/tantric practices. Also Tamil tEvAram of the 7th century identifies zrIparvata as a zaivite site as shown below.

cintai Ay nin2Ra civan2E pORRi cIparppatam cintaiceytAy pORRi--- (tEvAram

Praise to you ziva who became the thought! Praise to you who thought of cIparppatam (zrI-parvata)!

Similarly, in the following verse cuntarar (9th century) uses the term

civan2 cIparppata malai

cellal uRa ariya civan2 cIparppata malaiyai --- (tEvAram

Here ziva's zrI-parvata mountain is said to be difficult to go to.

When zaivite hymnists sing of a location, they address a deity localized at a specific place. They do not cover a whole mountain range. This means that in terms of the Sanskrit reference, zrI-parvata did refer to zrI-sailam. Moreover, it was no different from other mountains in having different compound names such as zrI-parvata and zrI-giri.

Moreover, the Pushpagiri inscription of Yadava Singhana of early 13th century (EI, vol.30, no. 8, p.32-37) uses both terms, zrI-giri and zrI-parvata to refer to zri-parvata. The editor of this Kannada inscription, Venkataramayya, says, "Of the places and localities mentioned,'Pushpagiri, retains its name to the present day. The inscription describes it as a hill lying at the foot of zrIgiri and as situated in the vicinity of the southern gateway of zrIparvata. zrIgiri and zrIparvata are evidently identical or, as the context suggests, the composer means by zrIgiri the entire range of the present Nallamalai hills at the apex of which stands the holy kshetra now called zrIzailam which the writer perhaps specifies in a slightly different way as zrIparvata." This inscription "is engraved on a slab now lying near the trikUTezvara shrine in the compound of the vaidyanAthasvAmin temple situated on the southern bank of the river PennAr at Pushpagiri, a hamlet of kOTluru, Cuddapah taluk, Andhra state." The Srisailam Plates of Virupaksha of 15th century uses both names zrIgiri and zrIparvata interchangeably in the Sanskrit portion. (EI, vol. 15, No.3, p.25)

Even Tamil periyapurANam of early 12th century in two consecutive verses describing Appar's visit to zrI-zailam uses two different terms tirupparuppatam (zrI-parvata) and tiruccilampu to refer to zrI-parvata.

cem kaN mAl viTai aNNal mEvum tirupparuppatameytin2Ar--- (Per. 1613.4)

tAn2am An2a tiruccilampaivaNagki vaN tamiz cARRin2Ar--- (Per. 1614.4)

[Back to table of contents]

 2. Reference to zrI-parvata in the 5th century

For the people living near the zrI-parvata mountain, parvata might have been a very specific local referential term. In fact this type of usage is quite common. When the local people simply refer to "the mountain", it is the local mountain whatever its name is. But the situation is very different when it comes to reference by a person at a location far from the mountain. He/she will have to refer to the mountain by the full name. The available evidence indeed shows just that. There is no indication that zrI-parvata was referred to simply as parvata in the fifth century by Sanskritists even locally let alone by Sanskritists far away.

Even if the Tamil and Kannada zaivites might have used it after the advent of the bhakti cult, at the time of bhartRhari (5th century AD), there is no evidence that for any Sanskritist outside the zrI-parvata region, parvata meant zrI-parvata. Even in the Kannada region, in the fifth century, there is no evidence for the use of parvata to refer to zrI-parvata. Also one should note that one of the later Kadamba capitals was called "triparvata" and a term "parvata" could not have been specific enough to avoid confusion. If this was the situation in Karnataka, there is no possibility of anybody living near Nasik using "parvata" to refer to zrIparvata. On the other hand we have clear epigraphical evidence showing that the Andhra mountain was called zrI-parvata in the time period we are interested in.

Indeed zrI in zrI-parvatasvAmi mentioned in the viSNUkuNDin inscriptions was not due to the deity as has been suggested by some. It was because the deity was in the location called zrI-parvata. This will become obvious when we consider the famous tALaguNDa inscription of the Kadamba king Kakustha varman of 5th century AD studied by F. Kielhorn of mahAbhASya fame in EI, vol. 8, no. 5, p.24-36. The inscription was found in tALaguNDa in Shikarpur taluka of the Shimoga district of Karnataka not far from Banavasi, the capital of the Kadambas.

The inscription opens with "(Be it) accomplished! Obeisance to ziva!" Then it gives the geneology of Kadambas whose family is described as one "Where the interiors of the houses loudly resounded with the sixfold subjects of study preceded by the word OM." Later it says, "In the Kadamba family thus arisen there was an illustrious chief of the twice-born named mayUrazarman, adorned with sacred knowledge, good disposition, purity and the rest. With his preceptor vIrazarman he went to the city of the Pallava lords [i.e., kAJchIpura], and eager to study the whole sacred lore, quickly entered the ghaTikA as a mendicant. There, enraged by a fierce quarrel with a Pallava horseman (he reflected): 'Alas, that in this Kali-age the brAhmaNs should be so much feebler than the kSatriyas! For, if to one, who has duly served his preceptor's family and earnestly studied his branch of the Veda, the perfection in holiness depends on a king, what can be more painful than this?' And so, with the hand dexterous in grasping the kuza-grass, the fuel, the stones, the ladle, the melted butter and the oblation-vessel, he unsheathed a flaming sword, eager to conquer the earth. Having swiftly defeated in battle the fronier-guards of the Pallava lords, he occupied the inaccessible forest stretching to the gates of zrIparvata." Thus the inscription clearly establishes that in the 5th century Kannada zaivites used the name zrI-parvata and not parvata.

So, when we find the Sanskrit charters such as the Ipur Plates or Chikkulla Plates of the Vishnukundin kings of 5th and 6th centuries A.D. use the term zrIparvatasvAmi, we know that even in the Sanskrit usage in the local area, the term used was zrIparvata and not parvata.

[Back to table of contents]

 3. zrI-parvata as a scholarly place from Brahmanic perspective

In eliminating Chittore as a candidate location for parvata, Aklujkar rightly criticizes Peterson in the following words. "He did not even attempt to answer preliminary questions such as: Is it known that Chittore specialized in the study of grammar or of PataJjali's mahA-bhASya (MB in abbreviation) in the early centuries of the Christian era?" Now, the same question has been asked with reference to zrIparvata, and there has been no affirmative evidence offered.

Even as a place of general Vedic studies, zrI-parvata was not as outstanding as kAJcI. According to C. Minakshi, "One can easily form an idea of the standard of learning that prevailed in the ghaTikA of kAJcI from the information provided by the tALaguNDa pillar inscription. Firstly, it represents Mayurazarman, the seeker of knowledge, as no ordinary student. It describes him thus: "In the family thus arisen there was an illustrious chief of the twice-born named mayUrazarman, adorned with sacred knowledge, good disposition, purity and the rest." Later on it says that mayUrazarman had already served his preceptor and earnestly studied his branch of the Vedas and that he came to the Pallava capital only to complete his studies. Secondly, mayUrazarman entered the ghaTikA not alone but with his teacher vIrazarman. These points clearly go to prove that the standard of learning was so high that advanced students like mayUrazarman and his teacher who had completed their studies had to get themselves trained in the ghaTikA of kAJcI in order that their education might be considered complete." (Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas, p. 193) S. V. Sohoni cites more recent inscriptional evidence that suggests mayUrazarman's teacher, vIrazarman, was in fact his own grandfather. Based on that Sohoni differs from Minakshi in saying that the grandfather went to the ghaTikA to give confidence and counsel to his grandson before his examination. (ABORI, Vol. 60, p.8) In any case, the fact of mayUrazarman going there to complete his vedic studies is sufficient to indicate the high standard of learning at kAJci.

Minakshi notes, "mayUrazarman was evidently not a native of toNDaimaNDalam. He seems to have come from the Deccan". Considering the fact that he used the forests outside zrIparvata as his base for guerilla warfare, we can assume that his original home was closer to zrIparvata than kAJcI. Given the "transportation economics" and "geography" arguments of Sarma, if zrI-parvata had a high calibre Vedic studies institution in the first part of the 4th century, mayUrazarman would have gone there instead of kAJcI where the ghaTikA seems to have existed at least from 3rd century until the 8th century AD. Thus the brahmanic zrIparvata had no outstanding center of vedic or grammatical studies in the 5th century comparable to kAJci.

Now, one may say that, in any case, mayUrazarman did not visit potiyil either. This is where "transportation economics" and "geography" come into play. kAJcI is far closer to Deccan than potiyil. Moreover, potiyil was better known for grammar than vedic studies.

[Back to table of contents]

 4. zrI-parvata as a scholarly place from a Buddhist perspective

If the brahmanic zrI-parvata was not a center of Sanskrit or grammatical studies, how about the Buddhist zrI-parvata? Even there, possible support for the case of zrI-parvata is lacking. Deshpande has mentioned that nAgArjuna (2nd century AD) had used Paninian terminology in his madhyamakazAstra. Still, it does not mean zrI-parvata specialized in grammar. For one thing, there is no early evidence that nAgArjuna was at zrI-parvata. In "Early History of Andhra Country", K. Gopalachari notes in p. 131, "While there is thus evidence, literary and epigraphic, for connecting the second nAgArjuna with zrIparvata, there is at present no evidence which allows us to associate the first nAgArjuna with nAgArjunikoNDa." This second nAgArjuna (7th century AD), according to the account of the 84 mahAsiddhas, was born at kahora, a part of kAJcI, and educated at nAlandA. Tibetan tArAnAtha's account of the first nAgArjuna staying at zrIparvata is not supported by Hieun Tsang or gaNDavyUha. Talking about Hieun Tsang, Gopalachari says, "While speaking of T'o-na-kie-tse-kia (dhAnyakaTaka where the nAgArjunikoNDa plateau would have lain) he speaks of neither nAgArjuna nor his monastery." He also says, "N. Dutt has pointed out (IHQ, Vol. VII, p. 639) that the gaNDavyUha, a work of about the third century A.D., speaks of dhAnyakara as a great city of dakSiNApatha and a seat of manjuzri, who lived in an extensive forest and converted a number of nAgas and inhabitants of the place, but refers neither to nAgArjuna nor to zrIparvata."

What gaNDavyUha actually says is very interesting. Sudhana who starts from dhAnyakara (zrIparvata) is told, "Go south, son, to the Dravidian city Vajrapura. There lives a grammarian named Megha. Go to him and ask him how an enlightening being is to learn and practice the conduct of enlightening beings." When Sudhana meets him, Megha expounds and conveys the teaching of the manifestation of the turning of the wheel of letters and says, "I have attained the light of the spell of eloquence; I know the speech of all kinds of beings in a billion-world universe; I know the variety of speech of each kind of being; I know the unity of speech of each kind of being ; I know the terms, speech, and concepts of all creatures'As in this billion-world universe in each moment of thoughts I enter into the oceans of all terms, expressions, speech, and concepts of sentient beings'" Clearly, he is portrayed as a specialist in the study of all kinds of languages!

In his paper, Aklujkar states, "If parvata is taken to be expressive of location, then the author has been unexpectedly imprecise; he has not specified anything beyond a mountain in the South'If CandrAcArya and others recovered in the eyes of the author of 486, the Agama from a siddha-like ascetic on a Southern mountain (most probably zrI-parvata, which was famous for such ascetics), then, while the first-level or initial interpretation of parvata would differ as 'a mountain ascetic' and 'a mountain', the ultimate import will be the same." I think relying on a commentary (which came at least 500 years after VP 2.486) has led to the acceptance of an anachronistic usage of "parvata" as a proper noun for zrI-parvata. If the answer for the search for a mountain in the South is taken as "the Southern mountain", i.e., dakSiNAcala or malaya or potiyil mountain, it will provide a far more robust solution than zrI-parvata.

In summary, there is no evidence for use of "parvata" as a proper noun to refer to zrIparvata by Sanskritists in the 5th - 7th century. Even the much later kathA sarit sAgara uses the form "zrI-parvata". There is no evidence for any center of grammatical specialization in the zrI-parvata region either. On the other hand, in the case of potiyil, it was "the" Southern mountain. It was a kulaparvata. The potiyil region had well known grammarians like ataGkOTTu AcAn2 and tolkAppiyar. It had the textually attested presence of dakSiNAmUrti cult. It also had a long established mythical tradition of transmission of grammar either from ziva to agastya or avalokita to agastya.

In his Tamil work "tiruviLaiyATal purANam", ParaJcOti mun2ivar of late 16th - early 17th century says, "Is it not the land of the vazuti (Pandya) where the one who rides the bull (ziva), in the same way he taught the grammar of the northern language (Sanskrit) to pANini in days gone by, also taught to the ascetic of malaya (agastya) the southern language (Tamil), the youthful lady, in opposition to that (Sanskrit) and made it her arena/stage?" However, the legend of ziva as a Tamil scholar is found even earlier in the tEvAram of 7th century. It is interesting that Monier-Williams explains the word "dramiDa" as a name "of a school of grammarians (opposed to the Aryas)".

In short, we have a single source for both the Tamil myth of ziva teaching agastya and the Sanskrit myth of ziva teaching pANini arising out of the historical presence of a grammatical tradition and the dakSiNAmUrti/avalokitezvara cult in the potiyil mountain of Tamilnadu. This was most probably the place from where the pANinian tradition was re-transmitted to north India.

[Back to table of contents]

Last modified: Sat Mar 12 02:31:26 2016

[Publisher & contact for INDOLOGY site: Dominik Wujastyk]   Dominik Wujastyk email address

Valid [XHTML | CSS] · [Site Standards]

RSS Feed icon