Niscaldas and his Vrttiprabhakar: Advaita Vedanta in the Vernacular
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation is a study of Swami Niscaldas (1791-1863 CE), a highly regarded Advaita Vedantin and Dadupanthi, who lived in what is now the state of Haryana in Northern India. Niscaldas is best known for his Vicarsagar and Vrttiprabhakar, both written in Hindi. The dissertation examines Niscaldas's motivations for writing in the vernacular, as opposed to Sanskrit, with which he was also well-versed, by presenting his life and works, particularly the Vrttiprabhakar. In the process, the influence on Niscaldas's stance on caste and religion of Dadu Dayal and his sect and possibly also of Niscaldas's patron, Raja Ramsimha of Bundi, as well as that of classical Vedanta as presented in the works of Samkaracarya and others in the Advaita tradition, is explored. The latter half of this dissertation then presents an in-depth reading of his Vrttiprabhakar in order to thoroughly understand Niscaldas's standpoint on the inter-related issues of caste, soteriology, philosophy, scripture, tradition and theology. There, Niscaldas uses the key Advaita concept of vrtti or "mental modification by which cognition occurs" as a novel structuring device to present a wide-ranging survey of prevailing Vedanta thought. In the process of answering three questions, namely, 1) "what is a vrtti ," 2) "what is the cause of a vrtti ," and 3) "what is the purpose of a vrtti," he presents his perspectives on the central issues of Advaita pertaining to the means of cognition (pramana), the nature of valid (prama) and indirect, erroneous cognitions (aprama), superimposition (adhyasa) as the means of erroneous cognition, the nature of ignorance (avidya), reality (satta) vs. illusoriness (mithyatva), and the means for, and the nature of, the cessation of ignorance (kalpita-nivrtti). Niscaldas's presentation of differences in the standpoints of past Advaitins and his proposed reconciliations, his stance on the diversity of doctrinal interpretations, his relation to the Vedanta literature and tradition, his acceptance of the theory that perception is creation (drsti-srsti-vada), and his position on reason versus revelation are explored. These issues provide us with a deeper insight into Niscaldas's understanding of Advaita Vedanta and the influence it had on his radical choice to compose his works in the vernacular instead of Sanskrit.