The shrIvidyArNava is an excellent tAntric manual that was used as textbook for mantra shAstra instruction amongst certain brahminical schools. It contains 2 halves called pUrva and uttara ardha-s of 18 chapters called shvAsas each. It runs into 1459 devanagari print pages to give an idea of its size. It is a digest for a wide range of material from ancient tantras that appear to be lost. One of these is the kukkuTeshvara tantra, whose prayogas are still remembered by several practioners even if only in fragments. The other archaic tantras cited by it include : 1) kulArNava 2) vAmakeshvara 3) yoginI hR^idya 4) tantra-rAja 5) pheTkAriNi 6) the yAmalas 7) bR^ihadnIlA 8) siddha-sarasvatI 9) pi~Ngala mata 10) pA~nchrAtra saMhitAs 11) kulaprakAsha 12) dakshiNAmurti saMhitA 13) bhairava tantras 14) kAlimata. Interestingly it also cites digests of vaiShNava tantric material outside of the classical pA~ncharAtra. These include 1) shrikrama nArAyaNIya and 2) bR^ihat nArAyaNIya. It also cites secondary tantric encyclopedia such as the shAradA-tilakaM. In its general form the shrividyArNava is a relatively late digest coming at the end of a long line of such texts including prapa~nchasAra, shAradA tilakaM, mantramahodadhi, bR^ihat-tantrasAra, mantrArNava and tantrasArasaMgraha.
It is attributed to shrI vidyAraNaya yati, a sannyAsi. We had a discussion on this text and the author. A few upAsakas from South India believe that this is the same as the guru of harihara and bukka the revivers of the Hindu struggle against the army of Islam. However, R believes that he was a northerner from the Himalayas. Another southern smArta settled in vArAnasi also believes that he was seen near prayAg and vArANsi where he initiated many into the fold. I suspect we know very little about this vidyAraNaya and it is quite possible that he was indeed distinct from the South Indian vidyAraNya. There are several identical sections between mantra mahodadhi and shrIvidyArNava, tenuously supporting an origin in the vArAnasi region, although we cannot be sure if they were necessarily close in time. Of course I ignore the Indological consensus on this matter, for it hot air and conceit passing as scholarship.
The argument by the northerners regarding his origins go thus: He himself records in the section on guru-shishya choice that he was a student of pragalbhAcharya himself the student of the great brAhmin viShNusharman. Thus we have:
Clearly, this is not the nyAya savant pragalbhAchArya of the later nyAya tradition in Navadvipa. Further, R informs me that in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir tradition has it that vidyAraNya yati completed his work in 1070 AD after the death of the great tantric kShemarAja of the trika school. vidyAraNya yatI’s extensive knowledge of vaiShNava material of an archaic type is believed to connect him to the Himalayan tantric vaiShNavas whose famed AchArya was shrI mahAbala paNdita from shrInagara in Kashmir with followers in both Jambupura (Jammu) and Kashmir. One lineage from him was:
mahAbala->AchArya pANdita->shrI kR^iShNa paNDita-> lakShmaNa deshikendra (the illustrious tantric who compiled the prayogas of the shAradA tilakaM).
As an aside in another direction lakShmaNa deshikendra was also seen as the successor for the syncretic trika-kaula schools of tantricism:
vasugupta (of shiva sUtra fame)->somAnanda-> utpaladeva -> (rAmakaNTha?)-> lakShmaNa deshikendra->abhinavagupta (0f tantrAloka fame).
Some dispute this lineage as being a created by rAghavabhaTTa the commentator on deshikendra’s works. deshikendra put together the prayogas of the shArada tilakaM by 1010 AD ( Note that Kashmir had scored a spectacular victory against Mahmud Ghaznavi under the rajan saMgrAma deva at that time and was safe from Mohammedan pestilence for a while). vidyAraNya yati cites the work of lakShmaNa deshikendra extensively, so he must be after him. Hence, it is believed that there was a distinct lineage from deshikendra that included viShNu sharman and lead to vidyAraNya yati. At least this is not inconsistent with the traditional date for the shrIvidyArNava amongst the northerners. Its emphasis on Kashi is another point to note- it is believed that this may have a link to utpaladeva’s ancestors hailing from Kashi in the days of rajan lalitAditya.
The muni provided me with a South Indian story for the shrIvidyArNava: vidyAraNya was meditating in central India (near a bagalAmukhi sthala) when a brahmarAkshasa attacked him. He pacified it with food and water and it lead him to sage kR^ishNa dvaipAyana who was making an unseen journey to the city of kAlabhairava. vidyAraNaya apparently asked vyAsa for the tantra and was revealed the shrIvidyArNava. Another more earthy explanation by the southerners is that vidyAraNya went to Kashi to learn from the stated pragalbhAcharya. We find this a little strange, given that the Matha at Shringeri is believed to have anyhow traditionally followed the prapa~nchasAra, the tantric manual edited by shankara bhagavatpAda. So he would have anyhow been initiated by his local teachers into this rather than go to Kashi for his tantric lessons. We find no evidence for a pragalbhAchArya. But it is pointed out that it is not uncommon to have two tantric teachers the same time.
What ever the case- the evidence is somewhat in favor of the northern origins of this vidyAraNya yati, though I am not sure that a directional connection with lakShmaNa deshikendra can be made without further investigation. What ever the tradition which is accepted it is the mantra mahodadhi that borrows from shrIvidyArNava and not the other way around.