Philosophy from the Bottom Up: Eknāth’s Vernacular Advaita

  • Anand VenkatkrishnanEmail author


The sixteenth-century Marathi poet-saint Eknāth is better known for his devotional songs (abhaṅg) and allegorical drama-poems (bhārūḍ) than his “philosophical” writings. These writings include commentaries on and distillations of Sanskrit texts that feature a highly localized form of Advaita, or non-dualist Vedānta. Rather than consider them vernacular translations of the classical traditions of Advaita, I propose to read Eknāth’s philosophical works as embedded in a local context of non-dualist thought that filtered into the elite world of Sanskrit knowledge-systems. I provide examples from his Marathi commentary on the Sanskrit Hastāmalaka Stotra, a brief versified teaching on Advaita Vedānta. I also look at the para-textual material bracketing the content and some of the accompanying manuscript record, in order to understand the context for circulation and transmission of this material among Eknāth’s various readers over generations. My general attempt is to understand how ideas and practices belonging to local, vernacular networks filter into elite Sanskrit systems of knowledge—that is, not just into flexible genres like purāṇa but into disciplines, like Vedānta, that are generally viewed as impervious to the world around them. From my perspective, all knowledge is local, even that articulated in such cosmopolitan languages as Sanskrit. In Eknāth’s vernacular Advaita, we find evidence for a much wider scope for the movement of ideas, one that moves not from top-down but bottom-up.


Advaita Vedānta Eknāth Stotra Vernacular Vedānta Marathi 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



I would like to thank Jon Keune and Hemant Rajopadhye for patiently reading Ekn?th with me. Many of the insights here came through discussion with them. Any and all errors are my own.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Abbott, J. E. (1922). The Maratha poet-Saint Dāsopant Digambar. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 42, 251–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen, M. (2017). Greater Advaita Vedānta: The case of Niścaldās. International Journal of Hindu Studies, 21(3), 275–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bader, J. (1991). Conquest of the four quarters: Traditional accounts of the life of Śaṅkara. PhD dissertation, Australian National University.Google Scholar
  4. Bhave, V. L. (1906). Gītārṇava. Bombay: Maharashtra Granthamala.Google Scholar
  5. Clark, M. (2006). The Daśanāmī-Saṃnyāsīs: The integration of ascetic lineages into an order. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  6. Deak, D. (2005). Maharashtra saints and the sufi tradition: Eknath, Chand Bodhle and the Datta Sampradaya. Deccan Studies, 3(2), 22–47.Google Scholar
  7. Flood, G. (2006). The tantric body: The secret tradition of Hindu religion. London: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  8. Freeman, J. R. (2009). Untouchable bodies of knowledge in the spirit possession of Malabar. Paragrana, 18, 135–164. Reprinted in Axel Michaels and Christoph Wulf (Eds.), Images of the body in India: South Asian and European perspectives on rituals and performativity. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Freeman, J. R. (2016). Śāktism, polity and society in medieval Malabar. In B. W. Olesen (Ed.), Goddess traditions in tantric Hinduism: History, practice, doctrine. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Ilaiah, K. (1996). Why i am not a Hindu: A Sudra critique of Hindutva philosophy, culture, and political economy. Calcutta: Samya.Google Scholar
  11. Keune, J. (2015). Eknāth in context: The literary, social, and political milieus of an early modern saint-poet. South Asian History and Culture, 6(1), 70–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kiehnle, C. (1992). Authorship and redactorship of the Jñāndev Gāthā. In R. S. McGregor (Ed.), Devotional literature in South Asia: Current research (pp. 1985–1988). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Novetzke, C. (2016). The quotidian revolution: Vernacularization, religion, and the premodern public sphere in India. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Pansikar, V. N. (1986). Eknāth Kṛta Āṭha Grantha. Pune: Yeshwant Prakashan.Google Scholar
  15. Raghavan, V. (1966). The great integrators: The singer-Saints of India. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.Google Scholar
  16. Skaria, A. (2014). ‘Can the Dalit articulate a universal position?’ The intellectual, the social, and the writing of history. Social History, 39(3), 340–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Stainton, H. (forthcoming). Poetry as prayer in the sanskrit hymns of Kashmir. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Velankar, H. D. (1928). A descriptive catalogue of Sanskṛta and Prākṛta manuscripts in the library of the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (Vol. 2). Bombay: B.B.R.A. Society.Google Scholar
  19. Venkatkrishnan, A. (2015). Ritual, reflection, and religion: The Devas of Banaras. South Asian History and Culture, 6(1), 147–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Windisch, E., & Eggeling, J. (1894). A catalogue of Sanskrit manuscripts in the library of the India Office: Part IV. London: Secretary of State for India in Council.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Divinity SchoolUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations