SRI VYASARAJA


THE BRIILIANT, MULTIFACETED ASCETIC CROWN JEWEL OF TATVAVADA (also known as Dvaita, Madhva school)


Sri Vyasaraja Moola Brundavana, Navabrindavana, Anegondi

Introduction:
It would not be considered as an exaggeration if it is stated that Vyasaraja (1447-1539 AD) has made the strongest imprint of his towering personality on the Madhva School in comparison to others. One is reminded of the famous Saint- Composer-Musician Purandaradasa's statement in Kannada - "Eesu munigaliddenu maadidaru, (relative comparison, rather than a negative opinion is intended in the Kannada language here) Vyasamuni Madhvamathavannuddharisida" - What could so many of the ascetics really do - it was Vyasa Muni who raised the Madhva (Tatvavada) Sampradaya into hitherto unknown heights. All the scholars accept without question his inclusion in the Munithraya (Three great Munis) of Tatvavada, in the exalted company of Acharya Madhva and Sri Jayatirtha (also known by his synonym Teekacharya)

There are two authentic sources of his life history - Vyasayogicharitha of Somanatha Kavi and the biography by Srinivasa Tirtha, his disciple, both of whom were his younger contemporaries. Somanatha saw Sri Vyasaraja, when he was already old (perhaps past 70-75 years), while the latter would be a generational age less - say 25 years. There are also corroborating statements made by Purandaradasa, his famous beloved contemporary disciple, Vijayindra, the renowned ascetic (who established the Matha, since well known as Raghavendra Matha) who has composed a Stotra which contains many hints about Sri Vyasaraja's achievements, and specific entries in the diaries of foreign visitors like Nuniz and Paes, who have commented on the state of the Vijayanagara Empire in its Heyday under Krishnadevaraya. There are some discrepancies in the names of the parents and accounts of the early childhood in the Life histories - which are not very important to the assessment of the great contribution of Sri Vyasaraja to Tatvavada. Samantha's accounts appear to be based on Hearsay of events in the remote past, while the more traditional beliefs are well recorded else where. Hence, the following account may be considered as the one generally accepted. This account is also given in Kannada language by Sri Belur Keshavadasa, who composed the very popular Karnataka Bhakta Vijaya in 1932, which is reprinted several times since. We also have the Srimadvyasayatheeshacharitha stotra composed by Sri Vidyaratnakara Tirtha of the Sosale Vyasaraja Matha lineage (1903 - 1915 AD), who has painstakingly fixed the sequence and time schedule of most important events of Sri Vyasaraja's life.

Vyasaraja, known as Yathiraja before his ordination as an ascetic, was born to an elderly couple - Ramacharya and Seethamma of Bannur village in South of Mysore, with the blessings of Shri Brahmanyatirtha, a great scholar ascetic in the lineage of Shri Rajendra Tirtha, the first ordained ascetic disciple of Shri Vidyadhiraja, and the direct disciple of Shri Jayatirtha. Shri Brahmanya Tirtha is reported to have taken upon himself, the complete responsibility of bringing up and educating the child genius in Shastras. He was given his ordination as a Dvija (Upanayana) at the age of 5 and was ordained as an ascetic at an early age of 7 and given the appropriate name Vyasaraja. His Guru sent him to Shri Sripadaraja at Mulbagal for the traditional detailed study of the scriptures for a full twelve years. He defeated a well known visiting scholar Pakshadhara Misra, who was an erudite disciple of the famous Gangesha Upadhyaya, the great Tharkika scholar. He had to take full charge of the Peetha of his Guru at an early age of 20 years (1467 AD). Almost immediately he proceeded on a Pilgrimage tour to all important centers of learning, where he vanquished various scholars who challenged him in debates. He is also reported to have spent many years in Kanci, where he acquired his deep erudition in the rival schools of Advaita and Vishishtadvaita, which he has put into masterly use in his classic compositions Tatparya Chandrika, Nyayaamrutha and Tharkathandava. During his stay in Kanci, there was an attempt by his jealous opponents to poison him. With the grace of God, this attempt failed, though Sri Vyasaraja partook of the poisoned food, which had already been offered by him as Naivedya to God. Vyasaraja had a very long innings of control of his Matha from 1467, (when his Guru - Brahmanya tirtha had departed from this world) - for a period of 72 years. He lived in Chandragiri during the period starting from 1486, to worship Lord Srinivasa at Tirupati, till 1498, for 12 years, at the request of the King Narasimha, Sri Vyasaraja was Rajguru to the following emperors of Vijayanagar - Sangama dynasty ruling from Chandragiri - Narasimha, Thammaraya, and from Hampi - Saluva Narasimha I and II, Narasa Nayaka, Thuluva Narasimha, Krishnadevaraya, Achyuthadevaraya - for 54 years (1485 - 1539), out of which Krishnadevaraya, the most powerful, famous and successful ruler ruled for 20 years - 1509-1529. Except for brief visits for specific purposes, like construction of Vyasa samudra tank, installation of Mukhya Prana Idols etc., he lived in Hampi/Vijayanagara most of this time.

Before Vyasaraja's first visit to Chandragiri, Virupaksha, the king in Vijayanagar was a devotee of the Srivaishnava School who had abandoned the original leanings to Shaiva traditions of the founders of the empire. The Srivaishnava priests of Tirupati temple were all powerful in consequence. Narasimha, the King of Chandragiri, which was earlier a vassal state of Vijayanagara empire proclaimed his independence and eventually took over the empire itself, ruling it from his own capital at Chandragiri. As Narasimha was an ardent devotee of Lord Venkatesha, he did not tolerate the misdeeds of the priests who were using the Lord's jewels, ornaments and possessions for their personal ends and in a fit of anger got all of them put to death. He requested Sripadaraja of Mulabagilu to come to his aid and arrange for the proper worship at the Temple. Sripadaraja, who was of advanced years at the time, sent Sri Vyasatirtha to Chandragiri instead? Not only did Sri Vyasatirtha adorn the position of Rajaguru of Chandragiri, but accepted the responsibility of regular worship of Lord Venkatesha in Tirupathi personally amongst his other arduous duties. It is believed that at this time that he used to climb the Tirupathi hills on his knees to avoid touching the sacred hills with his feet - leaving every Thursday from Chandragiri and returning on Sunday. The Puja system was changed from Vaikhanasa to the Pancharathra system and completely systematized in such a manner, as endures today. The place which he used to sit for Ahnika on the north of Swami Pushkarini is still known as Vyasaraja Mantapa, while his own Matha was housed adjacent. He also got installed an Idol of Srinivasa, called Vimana Srinivasa on the Gopuram, which is gilt and is to be seen in lieu of the main Idol - due to rush of people. Eventually, after 12 years, he convinced the king that the duties should be handed over to a scion of the original priest's family, who was still a boy at that time, whose Upanayana had been performed, thus demonstrating not only his own broad vision and tolerance to rival schools, but also his own personal renunciation from a position of wealth and influence.. Later when the empire was again administered by Narasa Nayaka from Vijayanagara, he shifted his residence to Hampi at the latter's request.

There are many incidents in his eventful life, which show this extraordinary personality, which can not be compressed in this brief essay. But some are mentioned below:


1. He settled the dispute between the Vaishnavas and Shaivas of Srirangam about the land to be owned by each around their temples of Sri Ranganatha and Jambukeswara, by defining the boundaries of the former, by the distance he could cover with his breath held from the premises of the Vaishnava temple. He covered 6 kms in this manner.
2. He established the famous Yanthroddharaka Maruthi Icon at Chakratirtha in Hampi. He is also reported to have established 732 temples where a typical Maruthi Idol carved in stone were consecrated by him.
3. He was the famous Ascetic adviser to Krishnadevaraya, the most famous emperor of Vijayanagara Empire, who finds mention in diaries of Nuniz and others. He is also reported to have received offerings of honour by foreign kings of Bijapur, Delhi and the Portuguese.
4. Vallabhacharya from Gujarath also visited him in Vijayanagara and was honoured by him.
5. He destroyed by the brilliance of his intellect and unsurpassed knowledge learned scholars like Basavabhatta, Vidyadhara etc. in debates. But none of these scholars were dishonored or physically harmed in any way. Instead, he encouraged learned men from rival schools with total impartiality with gifta and annuities.
6. He adorned the throne of Vijayanagara for a few minutes to take upon himself an adverse combination of planets, called Kuhuyoga and gave back the empire to Krishnadevaraya.
7. He encouraged and provided institutional support to the famous Dasakoota headed by Purandaradasa, whose contribution to Karnataka Music is acknowledged even today. He himself composed delightful poetry and music in Kannada.
8. There are other stories of his bringing back to life of a young child at the request of his parents, his giving as a gift, his favourite disciple Vishnu Tirtha to another Matha at the request of Sri Surendra Tirtha - who became the famous Vijayeendra, his destroying evil spirits etc.

Sri Vyasatirtha composed nine works in all, one of them Sattharkavilasa is known only by its name. The most important are the three dialectical works Nyayamrutha, ThathparyaChandrika and Tharkathandava. An appreciation of his literary personality of total objectivity and fairness to rivals in debate, avoidance of personalities, enormous scope of his scholarship, clear and incisive thinking , logic and expression, total command on all facts being presented in a systematic and orderly manner, original explanations and accurate and insightful analysis of both the source texts and commentaries there on, and full discussion on all aspects of the issues, leaving no escape to the opponent shows that it has no parallel in contemporary literature. His language is extremely terse, though appropriate and exact, needing considerable thought to appreciate the thoughts contained there in. Ably supported by subcommentaries of Sri Raghavendra Tirtha and others, they have not only answered all possible doubts and questions on Tatvavada itself, but made a formidable attack on rival schools, chiefly Advaita. Thus was born Neo-Advaita due to the efforts of Madhusudana Saraswathi and others to offer some defence against the mortal blows received from Sri Vyasatirtha to their doctrines. Truly Vyasa Tirtha was a complex personality who was a scholar par excellance, a Statesman, under whose able guidance Vijayanagara empire achieved unprecedented prosperity and glory, a social reformer who encouraged the Dasakoota and the Bhakthi movement in Karnataka to reach the mass of the people of all subcastes and sects, a benefactor to the poor and needy and a great devotee of the Lord. His qualities are described very well in the Shloka: "Arthikalpitha kalpoyam Prathyarthigajakesari vyasatritha gururbhuyath asmadishtarthasiddhaye" Fort those who come to him as supplicants, he is the Desire-tree granting all desires, he is like the lion who destroys elephants for his dialectical opponents. May the great teacher, Vyasa Tirtha be our guide and protector, to grant all of our desires!