By Swami Harshananda
Significance of Madhvācārya
Madhvācārya lived in A. D. 1238-1317. ‘Too much is too bad!’ It is a popular saying. Excessive intellectualism can lead to a dryness of the heart. On the contrary, exuberant emotionalism can generate superstition and fanaticism. It was given to Madhvācārya who is also known as Purnaprajña and Ānandatīrtha to strike a delicate balance between these two extreme positions in philosophy and the society of his times.
Authentic Source for Madhvācārya
The most authentic source of his life is the famous work Madhvavijaya in Sanskrit by Nārāyaṇa Paṇdita (A. D. 1287- 1350). He was a junior contemporary of the ācārya himself. He was the son of Trivikrama Paṇḍita who was an advaitin first but was converted to dvaitism by the ācārya.
Incarnations of Madhvācārya
According to the dvaita tradition, Madhvācārya was an incarnation of Mukhyaprāṇa same as Hiraṇyagarbha. He was also known as Vāyu and Sutrātman, an emanation of Lord Viṣṇu. Earlier he was incarnated as Māruti (Hanumān) and Bhīma (the middle one among the Pāṇdava brothers).
Birth of Madhvācārya
He was born in A. D. 1238 as the son of Madhyageha Bhaṭṭa at the village Pājaka or Pājakakṣetra in the State of Karnataka near the city of Mangalore. He was given the name ‘Vāsudeva’ during the nāmakaraṇa ceremony.
Maneuvers of Child Madhvācārya
Even as a child he exhibited many miraculous powers like:
- Clinging to the tail of a bull which was grazing in bushy fields for several hours
- Converting tamarind seeds into gold and giving them to the person to whom his own father was indebted thus discharging him from his debt
- Spending several days in the Nārāyaṇa temple in the forest of Kaḍuvur alone
- Correcting a brāhmaṇa pundit who was reciting the purāṇas wrongly
Education of Madhvācārya
After his upanayāna, he was put under the care of a preceptor. However, Vāsudeva spent most of the time in manly sports like running, wrestling and swimming rather than attending the classes. When the teacher objected, he showed him that he knew all that was taught and also where the teacher was wrong.
Charisma of Madhvācārya
As regards to the personality of Madhvācārya, the Madhvavijaya describes him as very strong with handsome features. He was endowed with a photographic memory, astounding scholarship and a powerful oratory. His voice was sonorous and suited the Vedic chants and other mantras.
Madhvācārya as an Ascetic
At the age of sixteen Vāsudeva took sanyāsa dīkṣā from Acyutaprekṣa, the pontiff of a monastery at Kāre near the modern town of Uḍupi. He was given the new name ‘Purṇaprajña’.
The new ascetic began to receive instructions in the doctrines of Advaita Vedānta according to the famous work Istasiddhi of Vimuktātman (10th century A. D.). However, serious differences cropped up between the teacher and the disciple very soon. Being astounded by the sharp memory and remarkable scholarship of the disciple, Acyutaprekṣa gave him another name ‘Ānandatīrtha’. He also made him the pontiff of his monastery. ‘Madhva or Madhvācārya’ seems to be a synonym of his real name. This name became more common and popular.
During the next few years, Madhvācārya battled with many scholars most of whom were arrogant due to their learning and defeated them. He converted them to his own views. He then undertook a pilgrimage of South India. Along with visiting the holy places he also utilized this opportunity for spreading his views on the basic texts of Vedānta. At one of the meetings during this tour, he was challenged by some scholars to explain the scriptures. Madhvācārya, by the dint of his scholarship and eloquence, showed that each Vedic sukta had three meanings, the Mahābhārata had ten meanings, and each name of the Viṣṇusahasranāma had hundred meanings.
Disciples of Madhvācārya
The confrontation with the scholars of various schools like those of Śaṅkara (A. D. 788-820) and Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017- 1137) now convinced him of the need to found a new school of thought of Vedānta. During his next trip to North India, he is said to have visited the famous place of pilgrimage named Badarī. There he proceeded to the inaccessible regions of upper Badarī and met Vedavyāsa who lived there with his disciples, invisible to the ordinary run of humanity. He received his instructions about the true meaning of the Brahmasutras, the Mahābhārata and the Pāñcarātra Āgamas. All these scriptures were composed by Vedavyāsa to establish the glory of Nārāyaṇa. He then wrote his commentary on the Brahmasutras and traveled back to South India.
During this second sojourn in this part of the country, he won over two great scholars named Sobhana Bhaṭṭa of the Godāvarī region and Svāmi Sāstri from Kaliṅga. He gave them sanyāsa. They were renamed as Padmanābha Tīrtha and Narahari Tīrtha. Later on they wrote commentaries on Madhvācārya’s works. It was at this time that Acyutaprekṣa (his guru) became the disciple of this illustrious disciple.
Dvādaśastotra of Madhvācārya
During the period of his stay at Uḍupi, he discovered the image of Śrī Kṛṣṇa which was imbibed in a huge lump of mud. He called the image as gopīcandana. He got it washed in a nearby lake and himself carried it to his monastery. It was during this procession that he composed well-known Dvādaśastotra. twelve stanzas on Lord Vāsudeva (or Srī Kṛṣṇa). As per this hymn, this image had been prepared by the divine architect and sculptor Viśvakarma and that it had been worshipped by the gopīs of Vṛndāvana as also the queen Rukmiṇī.
He then got a temple built and installed this image there. During this period of stay at Uḍupi, he reformed the ways of sacrificial rites, introduced the use of animal forms made of a paste of black gram powder and ghee instead of real animals and included them in devotional disciplines.
Maneuvers of Sanyāsin Madhvācārya
He went on a second pilgrimage to Badarī during which he performed many more miracles like:
- Casting a spell on a Turkish Muslim chieftain
- Routing bands of thieves and robbers
- Walking effortlessly on the water of the river Gaṅgā
- Throwing away a huge tiger that tried to attack his party
- Display of gadā (mace) which he had used in his previous incarnation as Bhīma
The various miracles attributed to him in the traditional biography (the Madhvavijayd) may be taken to show that the ācārya was a giant both physically, intellectually as well as in yogic powers also. When he was staying at Uḍupi, the manuscripts of his works were stolen by rival scholars but were recovered in a miraculous way.
During this period, he also won over a great scholar Trivikrama Paṇḍita after defeating him in a long fought battle of wit and scholarship. At his command, Trivikrama later wrote an elaborate explanatory commentary on the Brahmasutrabhāsya of his guru.
Madhvācārya's Maṭhas & their Pontiffs
Since he was very particular that the worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa in the temple he had established at Udupi should go on smoothly and unhindered, he gave that responsibility to his eight sanyāsi disciples. They established their maṭhas or monasteries around the temple and took turns to shoulder that responsibility, each of the pontiffs getting a two-year term.
These eight maṭhas are known as ‘Aṣṭamaṭhas’. They are:
- Adamāru Maṭha - Narasiriihatirtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Kāṇiyuru Maṭha - Vāmanatīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Kṛṣṇāpura Maṭha - Janārdanatīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Palimāru Maṭha - Hṛṣīkeśatīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Pejāvara Maṭha - Akṣobhyatīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Puttige Maṭha - Upendratīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Śīrṅru Maṭha - Rāmatīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
- Sode Maṭha - Viṣṇutīrtha was the first pontiff of this maṭha.
Descent of Madhvācārya
Having intuitively felt that he had finished his work, Madhvācārya is said to have mysteriously disappeared from his seat while teaching the Aitareya Upaniṣad to his disciples, leaving a big heap of flowers on it.
Works by Madhvācārya
A vast body of 37 works is attributed to him. Only a few of the more important ones may be mentioned here:
- Bhāṣyas on all the ten well-known Upaniṣads
- Bhagavadgitā tātparyanirṇaya'
- Anubhāsya on the Brahmasutras'
- Anu-vyākhyāna on the Brahmasutras
- Rgvedabhāsya (first maṇdala’s forty suktas only)
Philosophy by Madhvācārya
Madhvācārya advocated dualism and realism. His philosophy accepts pañcabhedas or five kinds of bhedas (differences) which are real and permanent. They are:
- Īśvara or God is different from the jīvas or souls
- He is also different from the jaḍa (insentient nature, prakṛti)
- Various jīvas are different from one another
- Jīvas are different from the jaḍa
- Various objects which are jaḍa are also different from one another
He accepts Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu or Śrīhari God as the Supreme Reality and the others as dependent realities. Mukti or liberation, which is regaining one’s blissful nature can be got only through bhakti or devotion towards God.
The illustrious successors of Madhvācārya like Jayatīrtha (circa A. D. 1250) and Vyāsarāya (A. D. 1478-1539) and Rāghavendratīrtha (A. D. 1595-1671) have kept up the Dvaita Vedānta philosophy alive. The saints of the Dāsakuṭa have nourished the tradition of bhakti or devotion to God as Kṛṣṇa (Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu). The contribution of Madhvācārya to Hindu philosophy and to the bhakti sect is remarkable.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore