Panchadasi – 1 | Who was Swami Vidyaranya?

Panchadasi notes – Part 1

~ (Understandings from the Webinar series of Chinmaya International Foundation on Panchadasi)

Swami Vidyaranya is one of the key persons in Indian history who had a big role in shaping the country both politically and spiritually during the Mughal invasion. He was the one who helped establish the Vijayanagara empire in the 14th century when the Mughals were plundering Karnataka.

There was an Islamic ruler Malik Kafur who was so atrocious that the King of Pampa (the place where Hampi stands today in Karnataka), gave up his life by jumping into the fire. His ministers Harihara and Bukka escaped and went into hiding. It is at this time that they met Swami Vidyaranya who promised them to help set up an empire at a place called Kishkinta. This was the birth of Vijayanagar empire.

Swami Vidyaranya served the kingdom by being the beacon light when Harihara became the King, followed by Bukka and then the son of Bukka who became the King. He lived a hundred long good years.

Swami Vidyaranya’s earlier name was Madhava. He is also known by the names Narada Bhakta, Madhavabhatta, Madhavaryam. He was a great scholar in Vedic literature and had written commentaries on the Vedas along with his brother. He was a polymath. After he took up Sanyasa, he was appointed as the 12th pointiff of Sringeri Shankaracharya Ashram. His teachers were Bharati Teertha (11th pointiff) and Vidya Teertha (10th pointiff). He was an utter Vairagi (detached soul) and was given the name Swami Vidyaranya by Veda Vyaasa when the latter saw the commentary on the Vedas written by Madhava. He said, “You are truly Vidya Aaranya (thick forest of knowledge)”. Another important texts that he had written was Jeevan Mukti Viveka and Panchadasi.

It is said that he had performed a Yagna, after which it is believed that Gayatri Devi would appear to the person who does the ritual. But for some reason the Devi didn’t appear. However, at a later point in his life, Gayatri Devi appeared and requested him to ask for a boon. He declined saying that he didn’t have any wish. On persistence by Gayatri Devi he said, ‘In that case, let there be no poverty in this Vijayanagar’. It is recorded that it rained gold coins for a height of 42-43 cms in the entire empire. But still the Devi wasn’t satisfied because he didn’t ask anything for himself. So she blessed him by saying that of all his works, his last work would make him famous. And his last text was Panchadasi.

Panchadasi is a text which is a compilation of 15 prakarana granthas. The first 10 are independent of each other. The last five are interconnected. Panchadasi is considered as a very important Prakarana grantha. In Vedic literature, there are two types of texts – Shastra Grantham and Prakarana Grantham. Shastra Granthams are meant for the scholars because it is vast and covers a lot of topics without going into much explanation on a topic because it is meant for a learned person. Prakarana Granthas are preparatory texts which cover lesser topics but in greater depths so that the beginner level student can progress slowly. Panchadasi is considered the biggest and most important among the Prakarana Granthas.

Actually, Swami Vidyaranya had written only the first 6 chapters. When he went to show the work to his Guru Swami Bharati Teertha, the Guru became so impressed that he completed the work. What is surprising is that from the style of the work, it is very difficult to differentiate between the work of the two. So similar was the teacher and the taught in their thinking. We come to know about all this from the commentaries written later on. One of the commentators Ramakrishna, mentions this in his commentary on Panchadasi.

What makes Swami Vidyaranya special is that he was not just a great saint, but also a great scholar and King-maker. It is indeed very important that we teach our next generation the story of such great people who lived in our country.

CIF Swami Advayananda Satsang (Webinar) TUE-FRI @ Weekly from 7pm to 8pm (IST) on Tuesday, Friday from Fri Oct 23 to Tue Nov 15, 2016. For registration and queries, please contact or


3 thoughts on “Panchadasi – 1 | Who was Swami Vidyaranya?

    1. Hari Om Shankar ji!
      The sessions have just started. Tomorrow is the second session. I would urge you also to join the webinar. You can contact on the email ids given at the end of my post.

  1. Shankar alias Prakash Parashtekar

    Thanks, Vinay for sharing the valuable info about Swami Vidyaranya of Panchdashi. Looking forward for the talks by swami Advayanandaji on “Panchdashi” with love & Om !

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