Maṇḍana Miśra

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Mithila, Bihar, India
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Maṇḍana Miśra was a Hindu philosopher, who wrote on the Mīmāmsā and Advaita systems of thought, and was a student and follower of Ādi Śankara. Mandana Mishra, also known as Suresvaracharya, was a follower of the Karma Mimamsa school of philosophy and a staunch defender of the holistic sphota doctrine of language. Later, he became a disciple of Adi Sankara.

Mandana Mishra lived in the ancient Indian town of Mithila (Bihar) during the time of Adi Sankara. He is known to be a student of a mimansa scholar Kumarila Bhatta. Being a follower of the Karma Mimamsa school, he was a ritualist and performed all of the ritualistic duties prescribed by the Vedas. In certain Hindu traditions, Mandana Mishra is considered to be an incarnation of Brahma.


Mandana Mishra is best known as the author of the Brahmasiddhi. He has often been identified with Sureśvara, a strong tradition in Hinduism being that he started life as a Mīmāmsaka, but changed his name and became a sannyāsin and an Advaitin after being defeated in debate by Śankara. This is controversial, however, as it is said that the two men's works are too different for them to have been the same person. According to Kuppuswami Sastri, it is not likely that Mandana Mishra, the author of Brahmasiddhi, is identical with Sureśvara, but the tradition is correct in describing Mandana Mishra and Śankara as contemporaries. His critical edition of the Brahmasiddhi also points out that the name Mandana Mishra is both a title and a first name, which is a possible cause for a confusion of personalities. Mandana Mishra's brand of Advaita differs in certain critical details from that of Śankara, whereas Sureśvara's thought is very faithful to that of Śankara.

Meeting with Adi Sankara

A legend describes how Mandana Mishra is said to have first met Adi Sankara. It was customary in the time of Sankara and Mandana for learned people to debate the relative merits and demerits of the different systems of Hindu philosophy. Sankara, an exponent of Advaita philosophy sought out Kumarila Bhatta, who was the leading exponent of the Purva Mimansa Philosophy. However, at that time, Kumarila Bhatta was slowly immolating himself as a penance for his sins. After reading some of Sankara's work and realizing the depth of his knowledge, he directed Sankara to his greatest disciple, Mandana Mishra, who was leading a householder's life (Grihastha), to debate the merits of their respective schools of thought. While trying to find the house of Mandana, Sankara asked for directions and was told the following:

"You will find a home at whose gates there are a number of caged parrots discussing abstract topics like — 'Do the Vedas have self-validity or do they depend on some external authority for their validity? Are karmas capable of yielding their fruits directly, or do they require the intervention of God to do so? Is the world eternal, or is it a mere appearance?' Where you find the caged parrots discussing such abstruse philosophical problems, you will know that you have reached Mandana's place."
Sankara found Mandana, but the first meeting between them was not pleasant. According to Vedic ritualistic rules it is inauspicious to see an ascetic on certain days and Mandana was angered to see an ascetic on the death anniversary of his father, which was such a day. Mandana initially hurled insults at Sankara, who calmly replied to every insult with wordplay. The people in Mandana's house soon realized Sankara's brilliance and advise Mandana to offer his respect. Finally, after a verbal duel, Mandana agreed to debate with Sankara.

Debate on the Vedas

Mandana and Sankara agreed that Mandana's wife Ubhaya Bharathi, who in is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Saraswati in the folklore of Mithila, would be the arbiter for the debate, and that the vanquished would become a disciple of the victor and accept his school of thought. The debate spanned many days and ranged across many different subjects within the Vedas, and the arguments of both competitors were compelling and forceful. Sankara finally emerged victorious. But Mandana's wife, who was the judge, would not accept an ascetic as having complete knowledge since he did not have any knowledge about kama sastras (rules about marital life). Sankara was then given a month to research certain aspects of sex-love sciences and then resume the debate. According to legend, he entered into the body of a king who had just died in order to learn these sciences. Later, after obtaining the necessary knowledge, the debate resumed. After a long debate, Mandana accepted defeat.

Mandana becomes Sankara's disciple

As agreed, Mandana becomes a disciple of Sankara and assumed the name Suresvaracharya. Along with Hastamalaka, Padmapāda, and Totakacharya, he was one of the four main disciples of Sankara and was the first head of Sringeri Mutt, one of the four mathas that Sankara later established.




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