An Indian writer named K.S. Bhagavan published in 1982 a book entitled

Shankaracharya and Reactionary Philosophy = ಶಂಕರಾಚಾರ್ಯ ಮತ್ತು ಪ್ರತಿಗಾಮಿತನ.

I heard that Bhagavan criticized Adi Shankara in his book.

Because I cannot get this book via Amazon, can you tell me

  • what Bhagavan criticized in detail
  • what his arguments are, and
  • whether his critique is well-founded?
  • 6
    Swami Vivekananda, although a follower of Sankara's Advaita, criticized heavily Sankara's views on caste, going so far as to say that he skewed his commentary sometimes to uphold it. As a follower of Sankara's interpretations and commentaries, I agree with Vivekananda assessment. Oct 27, 2015 at 5:10
  • Could you please indicate a reference, in English? - Thank you.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 27, 2015 at 5:12
  • 2
    I gave a reference in another answer. Let me find it and I will link to it. There are references to some saints in the vedas who had uncertain parentage; Sankara would say that they must have been brahmins in their previous life. We must remember it is always easy to criticize with 20/20 vision some of Sankara's views; people will do the same with us in 500 years! Remember that Sankara had written all of his commentaries by the age of 12. Oct 27, 2015 at 5:18
  • 1
    Here is one of Vivekananda's criticisms. I remember there are 1-2 more similar one in his Complete Works. Complete Works, volume 7, subtitle 'Conversations and Dialogues', sub-sub-title 'I-XXIX, (From the dairy of a disciple)', sub-sub-sub-title 'II' paragraphs beginning with "Swamiji: 'Shankara's intellect was sharp like a razor.'" available here - cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_7/vol_7_frame.htm Oct 27, 2015 at 5:33
  • 3
    Most of the modern Advaita commentators criticize Sankara's view on this. K.S. Bhagavan's criticism is not unique. Oct 27, 2015 at 5:47

3 Answers 3


In brief, the situation is:
A rationalist has analyzed a text written in C++ into English because both look similar. He has critisized C++ for "bad grammar". Certain extremists are behind his life just because they think C++ grammar is cool!

what Bhagavan criticized in detail
what his arguments are

K. S. Bhagawan is an Indian rationalist, Kannada writer, translator and a retired professor. In 1982, his work "Shankaracharya and Reactionary Philosophy" (original title: ಶಂಕರಾಚಾರ್ಯ ಮತ್ತು ಪ್ರತಿಗಾಮಿತನ), a collection of essays, on how Adi Shankara, an 8th-century Hindu theologian, advocated caste system strongly, destroyed Buddhist viharas and was against education for women, shudras and dalits, was published. (Note: Education and Literacy are different).

Upon criticism of Bhagavad Gita this is what he told in interview:

In the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 9, shloka 32, Krishna says everyone is a sinner, other than Brahmins and Kshatriyas. All women including Brahmin ones, non-Brahmins and all Vaishyas are sinners. How can we agree to this? The Shwetashvada Upanishad, which came earlier, says everyone is the child of nectar. Vivekananda interpreted this and said it is a sin to call anyone a sinner. So such thoughts in the Gita should be criticised, rejected and taken out. I stand by this. There are certainly some good things in the Gita. But there are very dangerous elements. Krishna says he created the chatur varna, the caste system. So that means he created upper castes and lower castes. How can we call the Bhagavad Gita a great book in this context?

Unfortunately, there are certain self proclaimed saviors of Hinduism (an oxymoron word itself!). Without knowing anything about, they have threatened to kill Bhagawan.
Such stance has closed many doors to even rationally oppose Bhagawan's claims, because no one would want to get compared with those extremists.

whether his critique is well-founded?

Yes & No.

The thoughts from Adi Shankaracharya about caste-system and Krishna about lower birth people were not presented with relevant arguments by themselve. They din't find a need of discussing many "why"s prevalent today, which should pass the test of time. Because certain things were so trivial that they were understood during old times. Incidentally Bhagawan analyzed in his own taste and passed the judgement.

e.g. Imagine in a country rule book, there is a quote:
"Murderers must be hanged till death."

After many centuries, due to demographic changes, English is limited up to such "rule books" only. A community evolves somewhere in Mongolia named as "Murderer" in their Mongol language. Ignorant people of those times start killing them by hanging because "Murderers" appearing in those English rule books. Of course sane people should oppose such acts.

Bhagawan is also doing that, but condemning those scriptures as well. Had he tried to pull out the real meaning, it would have avoided this criticism. His main point of opposition is for caste-based and gender based inequality.

To explain what he has got wrong, let's draw an analogy with open mindset:

The nuclear science can be used for creating atomic energy as well atom bombs. First it got evolved in US & quickly followed by Russia during 1940s. Then it got into the hands of China & even North Korea. Today many countries want it.
Until it was in hands of (then) US, it was fine because the US was self sustained, democratic/republic and responsible country. They din't use them post WW2. But as soon as it went to Russia, a nexus was created within world. When it went to China, it created even more evil nexus and now North Korea rants about using those weapons every now and then.
A country is not evil by itself, but certain kind of powers if goes unwarranted to its hand, it becomes evil.
Would we like to give away this nuclear science to all countries?

For a moment hypothetically transfer people of Russia to North Korea, North Korea to US, US to China and China to Russia. Now we can't say that weapons with US is safe and North Korea is unsafe. So differentiation doesn't happen based on country name but the psychology of people.

Similarly, certain knowledge if remained with certain level of people is good for healthy society. During old times the Varna Vyavastha (Divisions, Not Castes) & Grihasthashram (marriage) were quite well-defined. They were in sync with Swa-Dharma (self duties) for all. Since people used to follow it properly, births after births a soul will tend to remain in the same division.
Due to which the divisions started getting typecasted with certain communities, known as "Castes". Later "Castes" became the synonyms of "Divisions" like how "Countries" became synonyms of "Responsibility" in above example.
Today only castes have remained and divisions have disappeared. However Bhagawan is still relating today's "castes" with the "divisions" they were typecasted.

In today's time these divisions can be decided based on the "spiritual level" (not caste). A person by so called caste might be recognized as Brahmin, but at spiritual level he is just a Shudra. A person physically looks like a "Man" but at spiritual level he is more of a "Woman". There is nothing right or wrong in above cases. It's just a situation.

Look below at the bold part, where the divisions are differentiated based on "quality" and not "castes". This was highly missed by Bhagawan in same Bhagavad Gita.

BG 18.41-44

— Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.

— Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness – these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.

— Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.

— Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there are labor and service to others.

Based on above qualities, there are still 4 divisions in today's world:

  1. Brahmin: priests, scientists, intellectuals, philosophers, teachers
  2. Kshatriya: army, sportsmen, politicians, lawyers, spies
  3. Vaishya: businessmen, investors, farmers, economists, artists
  4. Shudras: do jobs in above fields

Above list is just to give a rough idea.

  • A nice comment found in the linked article. Citing that here: "Ranjeet Kumar Agarwal (kolkata) 15 Sep, 2015 02:43 PM The honourable professor has grossly miss interpreted the Geeta. I would request very humbly to read "Yatharth Geeta" by Swami Adgadanandji available on line in all major languages. The mention of Sudra, Baisya, Khastriya and Brahmin are all about the different stages of Soul. Geeta is nothing to do with castism. It is about purification of soul. We people miss interpreted it as casts. Kindly read Yatharth Geeta. All confusion will get cleared."
    – iammilind
    Oct 26, 2015 at 10:54
  • 1
    "The quotes from Adi Shankaracharya about caste-system and Krishna about lower birth people were not presented with arguments." If you would like statements of Adi Shankaracharya about the caste system presented with detailed arguments, please read his commentary on Adhyaya 1 Pada 3 of the Brahma Sutras starting with this section: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe34/sbe34103.htm See also my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/8682/36 Oct 26, 2015 at 11:33
  • @KeshavSrinivasan, there is no denying that Adi Shankara's arguments could be quite relevant in his time. But again that's based on certain assumptions. e.g. He says that Shudras are not allowed for certain rituals due to lack of vedic knowledge. Then why can't they have vedic knowledge, what's the harm if they have it? Such things would have been understood during then. Due to its trivialness they are not cited in your link. I think by default all are born Shudra (temporary) and after mastering respective field, they become Dvija. Important to define Shudra from language perspective.
    – iammilind
    Oct 26, 2015 at 11:51
  • The reason they're not allowed to study the Vedas is because they're not eligible to perform the sacred thread ceremony as a child. As Adi Shankaracharya says "a Sûdra does not study the Veda, for such study demands as its antecedent the upanayana-ceremony, and that ceremony belongs to the three (higher) castes only". Oct 26, 2015 at 11:58
  • 4
    Good answer. Caste is a social institution, not religious. A person's 'spiritual' caste is determined by their inborn traits and propensities, not who their father or mother was. Oct 27, 2015 at 5:13

K.S. Bhagavan's book is only available in Kannada. But apparently it's not about Advaita, but rather about Adi Shankaracharya's views on the caste system. Here is K.S. Bhagavan's summary of his book:

I was first threatened in 1985 when I released my book 'Shankaracharya and Reactionary Philosophy'. My research showed that far from being a social reformer, the Shankaracharya was a strong advocate of the caste system. By going through the text of his teachings in Sanskrit, I could prove that he was vehemently opposed to Dalits and women getting educated.

In any case, for information about Adi Shankaracharya's views on the caste system (which are the same as the views of all the other commentators on the Brahma Sutras), I would refer you to his commentary on Adyaya 1 Pada 3 of the Brahma Sutras, starting with this section. See also my question here.

  • Could you please give me the translation of the term "paapayonaha" in Bhagavadgita 9,32? Thanks.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 25, 2015 at 20:04
  • 1
    @JoWehler It means "those who are born out of sin", i.e. those who, due to the bad actions of their previous birth, are born in a lower station in life. Krishna is saying that those who take refuge in him, even if they were born in the lowest station, can attain the supreme destination. Oct 25, 2015 at 21:19
  • @sv. No, I haven't. That's why I said "apparently it's not about...". Oct 26, 2015 at 20:47
  • Sir you said all others have same view of Shankaracharya. Ramanujacharya doesnt quote Pour lac in ear of Sudra. He says they can study and aquire knowledge from Epics and Purans and we know how holy he was-willing to sacrifice himself for liberation of all! Madhavacharya says women can Study Vedas. Baladev Ji also doesnt quote that lac and says chanting Lord name will give all merits. My Pranams _/|_ Dec 5, 2020 at 13:00

From this interview (March, 2018), here's the summary of Bhagavan's criticism of Shankara:

  1. In Shankara's commentary on the Brahma Sutras, there is a section dealing with the Shudras and women. He advocates that the lower castes are slaves to the upper castes; he was against the education of women and Shudras. How can we accept this? According to our Constitution, all humans, all Hindus are equal. How then can you accept Shankara as a great thinker? Therefore, I condemned him in the book.

  2. Shankara went to Nagarjunakonda (Andhra Pradesh) and destroyed Buddhist viharas, and even got Buddhists killed. This is recorded in a research paper published by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1938 called The Buddhist Antiquities of Nagarjunakonda by AH Longhurst, the director-general of ASI. In the last 35 years, no one has been able to question the veracity of my theory.

Bhagavan's criticism of Bhagavad-gītā, Rāma and Kṛṣṇa:

  1. I have also said that a portion of the Gita must be burnt to ashes because it says women, Shudras and Vaishyas are born sinners. I said we are not sinners. We work hard, by the sweat of our brow, we earn our food. The wealth of the country is produced by us.

  2. Krishna is a sinner, because he took 16,000 women as his wives.

  3. Rama is a sinner because he kills Shambuka, a Shudra man, who was doing penance in order to gain knowledge and go to heaven – simply because he is a Shudra.

Is his critique well-founded?

Yes, at least some of his arguments are, as this site has its own version of the same:

  1. Does Geeta have gender and caste discrimination verses?

  2. Why did Shree Krishna have 16108 wives if Kshatriyas are only eligible to take a maximum of three wives?

  3. Why did Rāma kill Śambūka? And is Rāma justified in killing him without a second chance?

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