Abhinavagupta - The Encyclopaedic Scholar

by R. K. Jalali

The present generation of Kashmiris is largely ignorant of the great luminaries - sages, saints and mystics - who from time immemorial not only gave new dimensions to the development of Kashmiri culture but also developed the cultural heritage of our homeland. One such luminary was Abhinavagupta Acharya. An outstanding Indian philosopher, a great intellectual and a writer on aesthetic theory, Abhinavagupta was a spiritual descendant of Somananda, founder of the Pratyabijnya metaphysics, the "recognition" school of Kashmiri Shaivist monism.


 As it is beyond the scope of this article to set out or elucidate the tenets of Kashmir monistic Shaivism and its great exponents, here only a brief introduction to the life and works of Abhinavagupta is given. Kashmir Shaivism was developed in the light of monism by great thinkers such as Somananda, Kallata, Utpala, Abhinavagupta and Khsemraja. Somananda, the author of Sivadristi who flourished towards the close of the 9th Century A.D., has been described as the founder of the Pratyabhijnya system; Utpaladeva, the author of Isvara Pratyabhijnya Sutras or Karikas, who lived about 900-950 A.D., is regarded as the organiser of this system; and Abhinavagupta, the author of the two commentaries, Laghvi-Vimarsini and Brahati- Vimarsini and also Tantraloka, is known as the expounder and commentator of Kashmir Shaivaism. The later teachers who flourished between A.D. 1200 and 1800 included Kshemaraja, Yogaraja, Jayaratha, Sivopadyaya and Bhaskaracharya.


 We get an authentic, though brief, account of Abhinavagupta's ancestors, parents, relatives, his several gurus and his distinguished works from his own commentaries. In the concluding lines of his commentary on the Paratrinshika which is a dialogue between Bhairava (Shiva) and Bhairavi (Shakti) in 35 Slokas and at the end of Ishwar Pratyabijnya Vimarsini, Abhinavagupta writes that his remote ancestor, Attrigupta, lived in Autarvedi and migrated to Kashmir at the instance of King Lalitaditya. In the family of Attrigupta was born Varahagupta. His son was Narsimhagupta, known as Chukhala (a devotee of Shiva), and father of Abhinavagupta. His mother's name was Vimla or Vimalkala. Dr. K.C. Pandey states that being born of such spiritually high personages, Abhinavagupta was peculiarly qualified to compose a work containing a summary of all the Agama works on Trika- Shastra. He was a born Yogin, a devotee of Lord Shiva and led a celibate life. Among his great relatives Abhinavagupta makes a special mention of his father's maternal grandfather, Yasoraja, a man of great learning. One significant statement that he makes is that Yasoraja wrote a commentary on Paratrinshika for the benefit of his younger brother Monorathgupta, a Brahmin named Karna, son of Vallabha, a Minister of King Yashaskara of Kashmir, and one Ramadeva, who was proficient in grammar, Tarka and Mimansa.

 On the basis of the facts we gather from his works it is believed that Abhinavagupta was probably born about 950 A.D. After having worked indefatigably for more than 40 years, and having fulfilled the great mission for which he was born, the tradition has it that "Abhinavagupta entered the Bhairava cave in village (Bhiruva), along with his 1200 disciples, and thus departed from this world never to be seen again."

 Voluminous Writer

 In his distinguished book Abhinavagupta, Dr. Pandey writes that Abhinavagupta, being a voluminous writer, has to his credit as many as 41 works. Among his works the most notable are his two famous commentaries on IPK, namely Isvara Pratyabhijnya Vimarsini and Isvara Pratyabhijnya Vivrti Vimarsini, Malini Vijayvartika Parmarthsara, Tantrasara, Tantraloka, Paratrimshika Vivrti, Bhairavastava, Kramastotra, Bodhpanchdashika and Bhagavadgitartha-Sangraha.

 Broadly speaking, Abhinavagupta's works fall into four groups. The first group deals with his work on Tantras. The most voluminous work in this group is Tantraloka that enumerates the Tantrik Agamas and dwells upon the Elevated way to freedom and the three methods of realizing the Ultimate Reality, known as Sambhavopaya, Saktopaya and Anovapaya. The other important work belonging to this group is Malini-Vijaya Vivrti which is supposed to have been written by him at Pravarpura in the eastern part of the valley.

 The second group consists of his Strotras such as Bhairvastava and Kramastotra as well as a few small treatises like Bodh-Punch Dashika. A third group includes his works on dramaturgy, poetics, aesthetics an the rhetoric. He learnt dramaturgy under the guidance of a great master called Tota and poetics under Induraja. Prof. P.V. Kane maintains that in these two branches of learning, "his two works, i.e. Lochan and Abhinav Bharati are monuments of learning, critical insight, literary grace and style."

 The last group constitutes his work on the Pratya bhijnyasastra, the monistic philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. In this group we have his matchless contributions to this system, the profound and subtle commentaries on IPK.

 Great Contribution

 A word about Abhinavagupta's great contribution to Pratybhijnya system. Together with Somananda's disciple, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta is the most important representative of the school. He conceived Shiva, the I or Consciousness, and the All as synonymous and multiplicity or objectivity as an expression of the freedom and strength of the 'I' which it affirms and realizes itself precisely as I, consciousness or freedom. This concept of freedom (Swatrantya) is one of the principal achievements of Kashmiri Shaivist thought. As Abhinavagupta in his introduction to IPK holds:


 Pratyabbijnya, i.e. the recognition of the supreme nature of self. is prescribed in the system for the service of man, as a means of attaining all that is of the highest value. In its essence it unfolds the glorious possibilities and potentialities of man. It upholds the sovereignty of the individual and lays emphasis on recognising (Pratabhijnya) of self (Atman). The profounder faculty is the really Real within us. Man is not merely a speck of dust but an immense force, comprising a comprehensive consciousness and capable of manifesting through his mind and body limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti). This system of thought alone is the most modern of all, inasmuch as it is based on sound rational and scientific principles.

 Dr. R.K. Kaw analyses it thus: "It recognises the democratic idea of sovereignty of human individual i.e. superiority and dignity of man, and lays emphasis on equality and universal brotherhood of mankind, irrespective of diversity of caste, creed, colour and nationality."

 Pratyabhijnya has thus shown to mankind a new way (Nava Marga) to human peace and freedom. This is what Abhinavagupta taught us 800 years ago. But for his expositions, this great philosophy of Kashmir could not have been evaluated in its true perspective. In fact, it was he who made this system intelligible, "although his ideas are mostly embedded in a mass of polemics." This encyclopaedic scholar is not only regarded as one of the noblest sons of Kashmir but also one of the most remarkable personalities of medieval India.

Source: Koshur Samachar

Acharya Abhinavagupta
Acharya Abhinavagupta