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The past decade has witnessed a growing scholarly interest in the Veda's status as a canon for precolonial, Brahminical Hinduism. In an effort to refute the notion that Hinduism is a purely Orientalist construct, several scholars have attempted to locate an indigenous set of shared religious beliefs in Brahmins' consistent reference to the Veda as the standard for religious orthodoxy. Yet even as such arguments posit the Veda as a unifying feature for the diverse Hindu tradition, their very emphasis on the Veda's role as a canon reveals a plurality of understandings of the Veda's nature and message. Heeding J.Z. Smith's (1982) assessment of the role of canon in religious traditions, scholars interested in the Veda's significance for Hinduism have analyzed how specific Brahmin communities innovatively reinterpret the Veda to preserve its relevance in the face of changing circumstances. Because these circumstances are often beyond the pale of Brahminical society, scholarly emphasis on the Veda's canonicity historicizes the Brahminical tradition, highlights that tradition's links to other communities, and breaks down the Orientalist monolith.

This article contributes to this ongoing academic discussion by considering the historically significant, highly controversial, and yet insufficiently understood construction of the Vedic canon on the part of Tau.lava philosopher and saint, Śrī Madhvācārya (1238-1317). Focusing on Madhva's doctrine of sarvavidyājāta or "the collection of all sacred lore" presented in his R.gvedic commentary, this article examines how Madhva challenges common conceptions of the Vedic canon's external parameters, internal structure, and core truths in ways that still invoke established exegetical norms.

I argue that both the success and the controversy surrounding Madhva's version of the canon indicate that the category of Vedic orthodoxy was central to medieval South Indian Brahminical identity. At the same time, however, notions of normative and non-normative Vedic exegesis were being reconsidered in light of changing religious needs.


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