Knowing Kamasastra in the Biblical Sense: Sankara's Possession of King Amaruka


In one of the most remarkable narratives recounted in Frederick Smith's The Self Possessed, the protagonist is none other than the eighth-century philosopher Śaṅkara. His most influential hagiography is the Śaṅkaradigvijaya, written by one Mādhava, probably in the late 17th or 18th century. Here, to prepare for a debate over erotics, the renouncer occupies the body of a just-dead king, Amaruka, to learn the art of love from his wives. This suggests complex notions of the self, of the kind analysed in The Self Possessed. Ostensibly Śaṅkara's true nature is separable from his body, such that the sex that he has in the body of the revived king does not constitute a violation of his renouncer's celibacy. Yet this is an explanation treated somewhat inconsistently in the Śaṅkaradigvijaya. And, as this article points out, it is an explanation that seems to fit poorly with the claim that text also advances that Śaṅkara was merely a human incarnation of the all-knowing and all-powerful God Śiva.


Religious Studies

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The Journal of Hindu Studies