Dvaita, Advaita and Vishishtadvaita are the principal schools of Vedanta, each with its own community of followers, religious institutions and extensive philosophical literature in Sanskrut, and regional languages such as Kannada and Tamil.
Sri Madhvacharya, (1238—1317) also known as Ananda Tirtha and Poorn Pragnya, is the founder of the Dvaita school of philosophy. His doctrine (Tattvavada) asserts that this world is real and there is no need to deny the existence of the world to realize God. Propagating the Bhakti marga or the path of devotion for God realization, Sri Madhvacharya preached dualism—the infinitely perfect God is independent and the world of matter and spirit is dependent on God.
Madhvacharya’s Vaishnavism is called Sad Vaishnavism or Brahm Sampradaya as opposed to Sri Ramanujacharya’s Sri Vaishnavism. He is regarded as the third incarnation of Vayu deva (the wind God) having descended into the mortal world in three successive incarnations—as Hanuman, the follower of Lord Rama in Treta Yug, as Bhim, one of the Pandavas in Dwapar Yug and as Madhvacharya in Kali Yug.
While Sri Sankaracharya preached Monism (Advaita), and Sri Ramanujacharya advocated a blend of Monism and Dualism, (Vishishtadvaita) Madhvacharya preached Dualism or Dvaita. He constantly emphasized that Sri Hari or Lord Vishnu is supreme and worship of Krushn as taught in the Bhagavat Puran was the centre of his religious precepts.
He laid much stress on constant practice of the remembrance of God (smaran). He says, “Form a strong habit of remembering God. Then only it will be easy for you to remember Him at the moment of death.’’
He believed that God was the continuing cause of all activities of man and prescribed Bhakti as the supreme means to attain God. He advocated that one should study the Vedas, learn to control senses, be dispassionate and completely surrender to the Lord.
Childhood and Early life
Madhvacharya was born in 1238 of Tulu speaking Brahmins—Narayana Bhat(also called Madhyageha Bhat) and Vedavati in the village of Pajaka, about 20 kms from Udupi, in South Kanara district of Karnataka. His birth itself was anecdotal.
The parents had worshipped Lord Ananteshvar (Lord Narayan) for 12 long years to beget a worthy son and the Lord pleased with their prayers, took the form of a man and climbing the flag post in the village announced that Vayudev (Hanuman) would soon be born to revive Vedic dharma. There was an auspicious sound of the Dundhubi when Sri Madhva was born and the ecstatic parents named the child as Vasudev.
Even as a child, he was extraordinary in every respect, and repeatedly astounded his teachers, and performed several miracles. As a small child he had digested a basketful of cooked horse gram which his innocent sister had given him, unable to console him in the absence of their mother. While later the parents were worried about an infant being fed these grains, he was all cheerful and playing normally.
On yet another occasion he freed his father from the clutches of a loan shark, by giving him a handful of tamarind seeds which turned into gold when the creditor accepted the seeds.
He also killed the demon Mannimanta, who attacked him in the form of a snake, by crushing the snake’s head under his toe.
Even as a young boy of four years, Vasudev demonstrated his knowledge when he politely interrupted a Puranic discourse by correcting the narrator and offering his version which stunned listeners. His father discovered that anything taught to him was easily grasped and he had to teach him new concepts every day.
Soon it was time for Vasudev to begin his formal education. He was initiated into the sacred thread ceremony (upanayan) and sent to the gurukul of Totantillaya.
He was not only good at Vedic studies but also excelled in sports like swimming, wrestling, running race, and other physical activities. Although he was playful and not concentrating, he would flawlessly recite the hymns and lessons, including portions that the guru had not covered until then.
Towards the end of his stay in the Gurukul, Vasudev felt that he should become an ascetic and study the scriptures in search of their true meaning. After graduating from the gurukul, Vasudev’s thoughts centered around how he could give the innocent people a sound philosophy which glorified the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Narayan-Vishnu.
Early years of Sanyas
At the age of eight or so, he announced to his parents his intention to take up sanyâs, and on noting their distress at this pronouncement, promised to wait until another son was born to them. Finally, at the age of eleven, upon the birth of a younger brother (who many years later joined his order as Vishnu Tîrtha) he was ordained into sanyâs, and was given the name Poorna Pragnya by his guru Achyutapreksha Tîrtha.
Soon afterwards, when his guru attempted to educate him, young Poorna Pragnya astounded the former by his knowledge and erudition. It is said that when his guru tried to teach him the noted Advaita text Ishhta-Siddhi, he pointed out, to Achyutapreksha Tîrtha’s amazement, that there were 30 errors in the very first line of that work. He reasoned out the errors with such sharp logic that there was no resistance from the guru or other followers.
Once he was asked to repeat the prose-passages of the Fifth Skandha of Bhagavat—a crucial test to find out the depth of his knowledge—and to everyone’s surprise, Poorna Pragnya repeated the text, page after page with perfect accuracy. Achyutapreksha Tîrtha soon gave up trying to educate Poorna Pragnya, and himself became a disciple, under the name Purushottama Tîrtha. Poorna Pragnya was then made the head of the institution of Achyutapreksha and he continued his teachings. Well-trained pundits and laymen alike gathered in large numbers to listen to his interpretations of the scriptures.
According to his teachings, the world is real, the individual souls are different from Brahman, and Vishnu is the Highest Entity in the universe. Many scholars of other schools came to him for debate and went back defeated by his keen and irrefutable logic.
During one such occasion, he debated Pandit Vasudev, a famous Advaita scholar for 40 days and won the debate. That is when he got the name Ananda Tirtha. He later assumed the name Madhva by which he is most commonly known today. It is said the words Ananda Tirtha and Madhva are synonymous. Both mean, “one who creates shastras that bring happiness.”
Tour to South India
To spread his teachings and debate with scholars, Madhva toured South India covering many places such as Vishnumangalam (near Kasargod), Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Rameshwaram, Srirangam and a few other sacred places. Everywhere he went, he humbled scholars from other schools of thought with his powerful logic and oratory.
Once in the assembly of scholars, a discussion on the topic “Ithareya Sooktartha” was being held in the Sriranga temple. Madhvacharya propounded that the Vedas had three meanings, Mahabharat, ten and Vishnu Sahasranam, 100. There were differing opinions about it and to quell doubts, he began narrating hundred meanings in his interpretation for the word ‘Vishwa’ (the first word of the famed Vishnu Sahasranam) backed by grammatical illustrations. Even the scholars in the audience found it impossible to refute and accepted his deep knowledge.
It was also during his tour of South India that he performed yet another miracle—he is supposed to have gone to a place called Srimushna and created a water pond with his wand, to quench the thirst of a pregnant woman.
He started propagating dualism, the essence of Dvaita philosophy. His teachings emphasized that Hari (Sri Vishnu) is sarvottam and jagat (the universe) is satya and not maya (illusion).
He stressed that Hari (Vishnu) is the only entity praised in the Shrutis and their adjuncts. He always identified the Brahman of the Upanishads with Vishnu and forcefully argued against the dichotomy of Shrutis as claimed by Sri Shankaracharya.
In simple terms, he espoused fivefold differences among God, living things and non-living things. These are the Panch Bhedas in Dvaita philosophy. He used three methods to prove his philosophy, namely personal experience (pratyaksha), scriptures (agamas) and inference (anumana).
· Between God and living things
· Between God and non-living things
· Between living and non-living things
· Amongst living things themselves
· Amongst non-living things
Basic tenets of Dvaita Philosophy
The basic tenets of Dvaita philosophy can be enumerated as below:
a. God (Brahman or Lord Vishnu) is the only independent and supreme being
b. The Universe which we inhabit is real and not a myth
c. Neither is there a beginning nor an end for God and the living beings—both are eternal
d. The Universe (Jada), living beings (jeeva) and God (Brahman) are real but are mutually different
e. There exists no two identical objects (Jada) in this universe—all objects are mutually different.
f. Two living beings (jeevas) are fundamentally different
g. There is a hierarchy among different living beings
h. Moksha or salvation is the realization of one’s own true nature and a state of permanent happiness.
i. It is only through Bhakti or devotion to God can one attain Moksha
His southern tour lasted for about two to three years and he returned to Udupi. Soon after, he began his career as an author and started writing a commentary on the Bhagvad Gita. The Gita Bhashya is the first work of Madhvacharya. He made a dispassionate study of the prevailing conditions and came to the conclusion that it was his duty to redeem the Vedic scriptures from being misinterpreted. For which he needed the blessings from Lord Vedvyas (an incarnation of Vishnu). It was believed that Vedvyas resided in the Himalayan regions in a remote place, unreachable by normal human beings. Madhva decided to undertake a pilgrimage to Badrinath. Seven years after he took to holy orders Poorna Pragnya commenced a pilgrimage to the North where he touched Benares, Allahabad, Dwaraka, Delhi and other places and reached the famous Badrikshetra. After worshipping Lord Badri Narayan in the temple, Madhvacharya nursed a deep desire to go to Upper Badri, the abode of Lord Vedvyas and learn Vedanta from him. To achieve this mission, he undertook severe penance for 48 days without food and water and observed speechless meditation. One night Sri Vedvyas appeared before Madhva and invited him to visit his ashram in the upper reaches of Badri which is unapproachable to humans. Jumping from peak to peak like an expert mountaineer, Madhva reached the abode of Sri Vedvyas. That sacred place impenetrable to humans was splendid like Vaikunta. Madhvacharya prostrated before Lord Vedvyas and heartily extolled him. Vedvyas hugged him in great affection. Madhvacharya blissfully spent sometime enjoying the divine presence of the Lord.
Later with the permission of Lord Vedvyas he came to the shrine of Badrinarayan. Acharya had the orders of Vyasa to write a commentary on Brahma Sutras which would reflect their real views. He returned from Badri carrying their orders in all humility. Acharya, denouncing the earlier 21 commentaries on Brahma Sutras, wrote his own commentary. On his return, Acharya journeying through North and East India sowed the seeds of Vaishanava philosophy in Bengal. In the coming days it is that seed which sprouted, and grew into a tree nursed by Krushnchaitanya, popularly referred to as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534). Even today it is being widely practiced by the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) worldwide.
Later, in about A.D.1262, Madhvacharya came to Kalinga (present Orissa). During the reign of Rudrambe (A.D. 1261), daughter of Gajapathideva at Rajamahendri, the two great Advaita scholars Shobhana Bhatta and Shambu Shastri being humbled in debate by Madhvacharya became his disciples and took sanyasa. It is they who were the first to continue the tradition of Acharya and were renamed as Padmanabha Tirtha and Narahari Tirtha.
Sri Krushn Temple, Udupi
The famous Sri Krushn Temple in Udupi was established by Madhvacharya by a quirk of fate. He had installed a beautiful image of Bala Krushn (the child form of God) which is still being worshipped even to this day in this temple town. He had obtained this deity by rescuing a ship in distress near the coast of Malpe, South Kanara district. While he had sat by the sea, a ship towards the shore was on the brink of sinking due to a snag. By waving his upper cloth he was able to guide the ship safely to the shore. In overwhelming gratitude, the captain of the ship offered gold and diamonds, but Madhvacharya refused and instead chose a mound of clay (or Gopichandan) that was used for the ship’s ballast.
He carried it to Udupi, all the while praising Lord Vishnu’s varied incarnations (this shloka later came to be known as Dwadasha stotra) and had it washed in Madhva Sarovara. Upon washing the clay, Madhvacharya discovered a beautiful idol of Krushn, which he personally installed with great devotion near Ananteshwara temple.
Udupi has emerged as one of the most famous Krushn temples in India. It is said that the lamp burning besides the deity of Krushn in the sanctum sanctorum till date was lit by Madhvacharya himself and has never been extinguished all these years.
Sri Madhvacharya established eight mutts (ashta mutts) in Udupi and nearby
villages to collectively manage the Sri Krushn Temple. He also appointed a disciple to head each mutt. The eight mutts and the disciples are:
Palimar Mutt: – Sri Hrishikesha Tirtha
Adamar Mutt: Sri Narasimha Tirtha
Krushnpur Mutt: Sri Janardhana Tirtha
Puthige Mutt: Sri Upendra Tirtha
Shiruru Mutt: Sri Vamana Tirtha
Sodhe Mutt: – Sri Vishnu Tirtha
Kaniyoor Mutt: Sri Rama Tirtha
Pejavar Mutt: Sri Adhokshaja Tirtha
Each mutt is named after the village where it was originally located. The mutts have now relocated to Udupi in and around the main temple, but each mutt also maintains its original location. Many of these mutts have branches outside Udupi. Some even have branches outside India.
The force of Madhvacharya’s personality, the clarity of his thought, his sonorous voice and attractive physique and the depth of his knowledge earned him many followers. As it was natural, he also had to face a lot of opposition due to his teachings which was quite the opposite of established norms and beliefs.
It is said that his commentaries on palm leaf books were stolen and destroyed. His religious and social reforms in the Udupi region, to avoid animal sacrifice and consumption of liquor, were criticized by people and won him many enemies. However, he was undeterred and continued his teachings with zeal.
There are several references to his supernatural abilities. Crossing the flooded Ganges river without his clothes getting wet, eating 1000 bananas and drinking 30 liters of milk at one go, lifting a huge boulder with his little finger, staving off the attacks of a Muslim army single handedly, appearing like stone images when attacked by thieves, challenging 15 wrestlers at one stroke, producing flowers and fruits on the non-flower bearing areca nut and other plants…are some of the incidents that have been documented by historians and biographers.
The most authoritative book which enunciates Acharya’s life is ‘Sumadhva Vijaya’ authored by Narayanapandithacharya, the son of Trivikramapandithacharya who on being humbled in debate by Madhvacharya became his disciple. Therefore he must have written it from what he had seen.
To this day, historians and all those who wish to document Sri Madhvacharya’s life and times refer to this book, a scholarly treatise and a trend setter in its language and poetic meter. Set in 32 chapters (sargas), it is regarded as the most authentic work composed during Acharya’s own lifetime.
Works of Madhvacharya
Sri Madhvacharya was a prolific speaker and a skilled writer. He authored 37 works (called Sarvamoola Granthas) on various diverse topics of Vedanta. Every one of his works carries an opening verse that encapsulates the content of that work—in an original text or commentary. Displaying tremendous economy of words, he uses simple logic with perfect consistency across all his writings.
No proponent of any other religion has written commentaries on original works as he has done. He has written books in the form of commentaries on all the original books of the Vedas, their parts including Karmakanda, Jnanakanda, Upanishads, Brahma Sutras determining their meanings, Gita, Puranas and history, Agamashastra, Dharmashastra etc.
Acharya’s versatility in writing books is inimitable. He got his magnum opus ‘Anuvyakhyana’ written by four of his disciples through an extraordinary act of dictating its four chapters simultaneously. All these books churn out in effect the grand manifestation of Lord Narayan, as envisioned by Acharya.
All of them are in Sanskrut and are not easily accessible to the general public. They have to be studied under the guidance of a guru.
The 37 Granthas composed by him include:
Commentaries on Brahma Sutras
1. Brahmasutra Bhashya
4. Nyaya Vivarana
Commentaries on Bhagavad Gita
5. Gita Bhashya
6. Gita Tatparyanirnaya
7. Vishnutattva Nirnaya
8. Tattva Sankhyana
10. Tattva Viveka
11. Pramana Lakshana
12. Katha Lakshana
13. Karma Nirnaya
14. Upadhi Khandana
15. Prapancha-Mithyatva Anumana Khandana
16. Mayavada Khandana
Commentary on Rig Veda
17. Rig Bhashya
Commentaries on Upanishads
18. Ishavasya Upanishad Bhashya
19. Kena Upanishad Bhashya
20. Kathopanishad Upanishad Bhashya
21. Mundaka Upanishad Bhashya
22. Satprashna Upanishad Bhashya
23. Mandukya Upanishad Bhashya
24. Aitareya Upanishad Bhashya
25. Taittireya Upanishad Bhashya
26. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya
27. Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya
28. Dvadasha Stotra
29. Narasimha Nakha Stuti
30. Yamaka Bharatha
31. Mahabharata Tatparyanirnaya
32. Bhagavata Tatparyanirnaya
33. Krushnmruta Maharnava
34. Krushn Jayanti Nirnaya
35. Sadachara Smriti
36. Yati Pranava Kalpa
37. Tantra Saara Sangraha
The final years of Madhvacharya were spent in teaching and worship. His biographies reveal that he disappeared one evening, while reciting his favourite text, Aitareyopanishad. While the disciples were listening to his mellifluous narration, it is said that it rained flowers—piles of flowers of grand variety and extraordinary aroma like Parijatha, Sougandhika, Mandara, Sarasiruha completely covered the Guru. The blissful audience was unaware of what had happened for a long time.
Since they could did not hear him anymore, the frightened disciples carefully
removed the flowers and to their surprise, they noticed that Madhvacharya was not to be seen. He had disappeared!
Then they heard a voice – “I shall continue to be here in invisible form, while being present in visible form at Badri studying Shastras, relishing the nectar of infinite qualities of Lord Narayan.”
This was in the year 1317.
Sri Madhvacharya lived for 79 years and left this world on the 9th day of the the bright fortnight (shukla paksha navami) in the lunar month of Magha Maasa (February as per the Western calendar).
Sri Madhvacharya is strongly believed to be present even today in the Northern Himalyan regions called Greater Badri continuing his spiritual pursuit with Sri Vedvyas but beyond ordinary vision.
1. The History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta by Dr. BN K Sharma
2. Sri Madhva Vijaya –(A gist in English) by 16 eminent scholars. Edited by Srimushnam Nagarajachar.
3. Life and Works of Sri Madhvacharya by Dr. Vyasanakere Prabhanjanacharya
4. Extracts from the workshop on Madvacharya for youth by Sri Vyasamadhva Samshodhana Pratishthana