Much Ado About Religion

Bhatta Jayanta

translated from the Sanskrit by Csaba Dezso
The Clay Sanskrit Library 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006
Written around 900 CE by Bhatta Jayanta, an advisor to king Shankaravarman of Kashmir, the Agamadambara or Much Ado About Religion is a religio-philosophical drama intended for students. It depicts the adventures of the graduate Sankarshana, an orthodox follower of the Veda from the Mimamsa school, as he takes on proponents of other religions.

In Act One Sankarshana debates and defeats a Buddhist monk, refuting his ideas about suffering, momentariness and emptiness. In Act Two he lets a Jain monk escape debate but, shocked by the licentiousness of a sect of "black-blanket" adepts, has them banned by the king. In Act Three he joins forces with a Shaivist abbot to refute a materialist skeptic. And in the final act he is an onlooker while the scholar Dhairya-Rashi delivers a monologue explaining when non-Vedic religions are acceptable.

There's not much drama in Much Ado About Religion, which has rather a lot of abstract philosophy and just a little student humour. The philosophy is in some cases still topical — some arguments for intelligent design seem familiar, for example — but much of it is esoteric. Jayanta has everything stage-managed for his hero, of course, and gives some weak lines of argument to both the Buddhist and the skeptic. Surely, for example, there were, even in 10th century India, stronger responses to

"It's not that I assert that the Veda is authoritative because it is eternal; rather, I claim that it is authoritative since it creates awareness."
"Surely in some cases, even though the verbal expression is contradicted, it still creates awareness, like when somebody says: 'There is an elephant on my finger.'"
Bhatta Jayanta was involved in the events he describes and the Agamadambara was as much a partisan manifesto as a philosophical treatise. It is revealing of the politics of the period, and in particular of the compromises between religious orthodoxy and political reality.

This Clay Sanskrit Library edition is an attractive dual-language volume, with the Sanskrit transliterated in Roman script facing the English translation, and includes a useful introduction as well as editorial notes.

February 2006

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%T Much Ado About Religion
%A Jayanta, Bhatta
%M Sanskrit
%F Dezso, Csaba
%I The Clay Sanskrit Library
%D 2005
%O hardcover, dual language
%G ISBN 0814719791
%P 320pp