Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Biographies, Madhva Acarya | 0 comments

The Great Madhva Acarya
(1238-1317 A.D.)

Page 1 – Biography

Sri Madhvacarya, also known as Vasudeva, Ananda Tirtha and Purnaprajna, is one of India’s greatest theologians. He is the founder of dvaita philosophy, and along with Sankaracarya, is one of the most important commentators on theUpanisads, Bhagavad-gita and the Brahma-sutras. His doctrine asserts that this world is real and that there is an eternal and immutable difference between the individual soul and God.

What is known of Madhva’s personal life is largely taken from the Madhva-vijaya, a work by Narayana Bhatta, who was the son of a direct disciple of Madhva. Madhvacarya was born of Tulu speaking parents in the Karnataka region of South-west India near present day Udupi. (See accompanying map.) The Madhva-vijaya mentions how the young Vasudeva, Madhva’s boyhood name, expressed a desire to become an ascetic as early as age 8.

Madhva’s parents naturally objected and so it was not until he was about 16 years of age that Madhva was able to leave home and become a sannyasi. From then on the young Vasudeva became known as Ananda Tirtha, the name given to him by his sannyasa guru. Ananda Tirtha later assumed the name Madhva by which he is most commonly known today. In many of his writings Madhva openly identifies himself as the third incarnation of mukhya-prana(Primal Breath) alluded to in the Rg Veda. It is said that mukhya-prana takes the form of the wind-god (Vayudeva) and descends into this mortal world in three successive incarnations: as Hanuman, the follower of Rama, as Bhimasena, one of the Pandava, and finally as Madhva, who in Kali-yuga appears in the guise of a sannyasi. Ananda Tirtha’s followers readily accept and worship him as Madhva, the incarnation of Vayudeva. Sometimes Ananda Tirtha is also known as Purnaprajna due to his display of vast learning.

Madhva’s childhood, like most great saints in this world, is filled with much hagiographic information including miracles and wondrous events. On one such occasion Madhva’s father safely carried him as an infant through a jungle infested with man-eating tigers in order to dedicate him at the temple of Anantesvara in Udupi. It is said that Madhva, as a child, often went missing from home only to by found worshipping God and discussing philosophy with the priests in the nearby temples. Madhva once saved his father from a debt collector by miraculously satisfying the man with a handful of seeds instead of coins. It is said that Madhva had no need to learn the alphabet. Instead he spent his time wrestling and swimming. When the examinations came the young Madhva easily passed, much to the consternations of his teachers.

There is some controversy over the date of Madhva’s birth. However all sides agree that he lived for 79 years. B. N. K. Sharma gives the date of his birth as 1238. Older estimates suggest the date of 1199. For a detailed account of the dates of Madhva’s birth see B. N. K. Sharma’s History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and its Literature (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), p. 79.

As Aristotelian logic dominated education during the medieval days of Europe, so Sankaracarya’s advaita-vedanta dominated Hindu education during the days of Madhva. We are told how Sankara’s advaita-vedanta produced a profound dissatisfaction in the mind of the young Madhva, which often brought him into conflict with his teachers. In fact Madhva’s objection toadvaita-vedanta became the most compelling force in this life and he spent much of his adult life arguing against this view of the world.

After studying in Udupi, Madhva traveled east to Tamil Nadu where he continued to meet and debate with advaita scholars. Throughout his life, wherever Madhva traveled, he vigorously engaged in debate, not only with advaitins, but also Jains, Buddhists and nyayayikas. This first tour was most important for Madhva because it allowed him to see firsthand that the followers of Ramanuja also objected to Sankara’s advaita-vedanta. He witnessed how they had attacked Sankara, and he realized that the monolithic walls of advaita were not impervious after all. As a result Madhvacarya became determined to establish his own school of Vedic thought, free of what he considered the blunder of Sankaracarya’s interpretation of the Vedas.

Madhva soon returned to Udupi, but after a short time he again found himself yearning for more travel. This time he desired to make a pilgrimage to North India. In particular, he wanted to visit Veda Vyasa at Badari in the northern Himalayas. In those days it was thought that Vyasa still resided on earth in a remote place in these mountains. Not much is known about the route Madhva took or what occurred along the way, but after arriving in Badari he mysteriously disappeared one night. We are told that he had ascended alone to the mythical abode of Vyasa at Mahabadari. Many months passed and Madhva’s followers thought that he had perished in the desolate mountains. When he finally appeared he was resplendent and joyful. He had received the blessings of Vyasa. Upon his return to Udupi, he immediately began to write his famous Brahma-sutra commentary.

With the emergence of this important commentary, Madhva had something positive to add to his otherwise destructive debates with his opponents. With the zeal of Hanuman he began his missionary work. As his youth Madhva was a superb athlete in wrestling and water-sports. As an adult he now used his physical stamina and sonorous voice to travel and preach. Madhva was so effective in his teaching that he soon won the conversion of his former teachers and many other learned men to his new school of Vedic thought.

The Madhva-vijaya describes the effect Madhva had on his audience: “People came in large numbers to see that Madhvacarya, who shone like the moon with his gentle smile, lotus-eyes, golden complexion and words of blessing. He had the gait of a young lion, feet and hands like sprouts, nails like rubies; thighs like the trunk of an elephant, a broad chest and long muscular arms. Indeed, those who made sacred images considered him the model for their art.”

Soon Madhva started his own temple in Udupi by installing a beautiful image of Bala Krsna, the child form of God. It is said that he obtained this image by rescuing a ship in distress near the coast of Udupi. Madhvacarya signaled the ship to shore by waving lamps and flags. Convinced that it was through the grace of Madhva that the ship was saved, the ship’s captain offered him a gift. Madhva chose the clay (gopi-candana) that was used for the ship’s ballast. Upon washing the clay, Madhvacarya discovered a beautiful image of Sri Krsna, which He personally carried to Udupi and began to worship. This image of Krsna is still worshipped today in the central temple of Udupi, The Krishna Mutt. Madhva’s Udupi temple is one of the most important Krsna temples in all of India. It is said that the lamp beside this image of Krishna was lit by Madhvacarya himself and has never been extinguished.

The force of Madhva’s personality, the clarity of his thought and the appeal of his vast learning brought many followers. But his rising success also brought great resistance and even hostile attacks from his opponents. We read of a raid on his huge collection of manuscripts. He was also attacked for instituting religious and social reforms in the Udupi region that included an end to animal sacrifice and the prohibition of liquors during religious ceremonies.

Madhvacarya later made another tour to Badari and the modern-day cities of Delhi and Benares. He also made numerous tours throughout his own region of south India. Along the way he continued to spread this new faith and increase the number of his followers.

During his lifetime, Madhvacarya wrote many important commentaries on theUpanisads, Bhagavad-gita, Brahma-sutras, Mahabharata and the Bhagavata-purana. In addition, he wrote many original works that dealt with important aspects of his new doctrine. In all, he wrote 37 works. Not only did Madhvacarya’s powerful literary output help to establish his teachings during his own lifetime, it has inspired a vast literary tradition that continues to the present day.

The final years of Madhva were spent in teaching and worship. In the end he instructed his followers not to sit still, but to go forth and preach. His biographers tell how Madhvacarya disappeared one evening while reciting his favorite text, the Aitareya Upanisad. Gandharvas and other heavenly beings gathered in the sky above him and showered flowers. They describe how he suddenly disappeared from underneath this mass of flowers and now he now resides, beyond ordinary vision, with Veda Vyasa at the high mountain hermitage of Badari.

Shukavak N. Dasa

Bibliography
Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. 4 Vols. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975.
Tapasyananda, Svami. Sri Madhvacarya, His Life, Religion and Philosophy. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1981.
Sharma, B. N. K. History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and its Literature.Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981.

 

—-

 

 

Copyright © SRI Publications 2002
All rights reserved.

 

Madhva Acarya

Madhva Acarya

 

the wind-god, Vayudeva.
This illustration shows the triple descent of Mukhya-prana as the wind-god, Vayudeva. The first descent is as Hanuman, the follower of Rama; second as Bhimasena, one of the Pandava; and finally as Madhva Acarya who appears as a sannyasi and great philosopher. 
 
Map of India

Map of India

 

Bala Krsna

Image of Bala Krsna, the child form of God. It is said that Madhva obtained this image by rescuing a ship in distress near the coast of Udupi. Madhvacarya signaled the ship to shore by waving lamps and flags. Convinced that it was through the grace of Madhva that the ship was saved, the ship’s captain offered him a gift. Madhva chose the clay (gopi-candana) that was used for the ship’s ballast. Upon washing the clay, Madhvacarya discovered a beautiful image of Sri Krsna, which He personally carried to Udupi and began to worship. This image of Krsna is still worshipped today in the central temple of Udupi, The Krishna Mutt.

Copyright © SRI Publications 2002
All rights reserved.