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Śrī Vyāsa Tīrtha
Tenure : 1467 – 1539
Ārādhana : Phālguṇa kṛṣṇa caturthī
Location : Navabṛndavana, Ānegundi
Charama Shloka :
ಅರ್ಥಿಕಲ್ಪಿತಕಲ್ಪೋಽಯಂ ಪ್ರತ್ಯರ್ಥಿಗಜಕೇಸರೀ | ವ್ಯಾಸತೀರ್ಥಗುರುರ್ಭೂಯಾದಸ್ಮದಿಷ್ಟಾರ್ಥ ಸಿದ್ಧಯೇ ||
अर्थिकल्पितकल्पोऽयं प्रत्यर्थिगजकेसरी | व्यासतीर्थगुरुर्भूयादस्मदिष्टार्थ सिद्धये ||
arthikalpitakalpo’yaṃ pratyarthigajakesarī | vyāsatīrthagururbhūyādasmadiṣṭārtha siddhaye ||
About Śrī Vyāsa Tīrtha
Śrī Vyāsatīrtha was ordained the 12th Pīṭhadhipati (1467) by Śrī Brahmaṇyatīrtha. He was born as Yatirāja to Ballaṇṇa Sumati and Akkamma at Bannur near Mysore by the blessings of Śrī Brahmaṇya Tīrtha. His ancestors belonged to the Śāṣṭika Vaṁśa, Kāṣyapa Gotra. As with Ācārya Madhva, his life is documented in the form of a contemporaneous biography by Somanātha Kavī that goes by the name Śrī Vyāsa Yogī Caritraṁ and a short Śloka by Śrī Vijayīndra Tīrtha on his guru. Further, there are a few Devaranāmas composed by his Guru Śrīpādarāja and his disciples Śrī Vādirāja Tīrtha, Śrī Vijayīndra Tīrtha, as well as a Sul̤ādi by Śrī Purandara Dāsa, Karnataka Sangīta Pitāmaha. A couple of other interesting corroborating evidence on the saint are obtainable from mentions available in the travelogues of Portuguese travellers Fernao Nunes and Domingos Paes present in the Vijayanagar kingdom during its heyday.
There are less contemporaneous traditional sources such as compositions of the later dasas – Vijaya Dāsa, Gopāla Dāsa, Jagannāta Dāsa and a few others – and a famous composition of Śrī Vidyāratnākara Tīrtha – that occupied the Pīṭha – by name Śrī Vyāsarāja Citra Caritaṁ that records all major happenings during his life span in a time-specific – Saṁvatsara Para – manner.
We understand that Yatirāja was brought-up by Śrī Brahmaṇya Tirtha at the Śrīmaṭha, had his upanayana by five years of age and his early education as well. He seems to have been initiated shortly afterward into fourth order as a Bāla Brahmacāri by Śrī Brahmaṇya Tīrtha with the appellation ‘Śrī Vyāsatīrtha’ at the banks of Kaṇva river in Ābbūru that sent the young sanyasin to Śrī Lakṣmī Nārāyaṇa Tīrtha – Śrīpādarājaru – at Mul̤abagal for advanced studies. Śrī Vyāsatīrtha spent twelve years with Śrīpādarājaru learning the intricacies of Madhva Śāstra as can be seen from his respectful salute to his guru at different places in his works – Padavākya Pramāṇabdi Vikṛdana Viśaradān Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa Munīn Vande Vidyā Gurun Mama.
Shortly afterwards, Śrī Vyāsatīrtha seems to have been deputed by Saint Śrīpādarāja to perform worship of Lord Śrīnivāsa at the request of Sāl̤uvaA Narasimha of Chandragiri. He is supposed to have spent the next twelve years performing the Lord’s worship at Tirumala and serving as the Kulaguru for both the king and his son – Tammaraya. It is at this time Śrī Vyāsatīrtha is requested by Narasa Nāyaka to come to Vijayanagara – after Tammaraya and Narasa Nāyaka come to an agreement that the move is perhaps required in the bigger interest of strong Hindu Rājya. Accepting this request, Śrī Vyāsatīrtha obtained the blessings of Saint Śrīpādarāja and proceeded to Vijayanagara. He was offered a very grand welcome by the king and ordained as the Spiritual advisor of the kingdom and the Guardian Angel of the State. He then continued to be the Kulaguru for his successors as well: Vīra Narasimha, Kṛṣṇadevarāya and Acyutarāya for the rest of his life. The perspective that each of them had on Śrī Vyāsatīrtha is thrillingly documented by Śrī Somanātha Kavī.
The first thing Śrī Vyāsatīrtha accomplished after entering Vijayanagara is the mammoth task of installing seven hundred and thirty two vigrahas of Hanumān in different parts of the empire – Dvāthriṁśatsaptaśataka Mūrti Hanūmanta Prabho – out of which the first one seems to have been Yantroddhāraka, right at the capital. While it may look like a way to unify and consolidate the empire for an outsider, the spiritually oriented may note the aint’s vision in seeking the protection of none other than Mukhyaprāna for the empire! Tradition records this was performed within one year – Raudri Nāma Saṁvatsara.
A couple of observations made by the Portuguese travellers are quoted below:
‘‘The King of Bisnaga, every day, hears the preaching of a learned Brāhmin, who never married nor ever touched a woman’: Fernao Nunes
‘Rāya being washed by a Brāhmin whom he held sacred and who was a great favorite of his’: Domingos Paes
The great privilege commanded by the saint from different quarters of the society was not only a respect to his knowledge but also to his personality. Tradition records that the saint was constantly challenged by scholars belonging to different facets of Indian Philosophical perspectives from religious teachings that came from different parts of the country. We are given to understand that he emerged victorious in each one of them. A couple of the famous names are: Basava Bhaṭṭa – Kal̤inga – and Pakśadara Miśra – Mithila. However, not even once did the one that debated him went back humbled! Instead, their knowledge was recognized and rewarded even in defeat! This speaks of the saint’s catholicity in outlook and his respect for knowledge irrespective of an affiliation, despite being at the highest pedestal
Another face of Śrī Vyāsatīrtha that is not well known besides being a composer of mellifluous and sublime Devaranāmas in chaste Kannaḍa, is the fact that he was also an authority in Classical music. We all know that his time was the formative phase of what we call Carnatic music today. Scholars of Carnatic music of his time had a very high opinion on Śrī Vyāsatīrtha. We know from contemporaneous sources that the Saint was referred to by the following titles: Abhinava Bharata Munī, Saṅgīta Gama, A veritable Tumburu, Narada and Dattilla. King Tulajajendra Bhupala of Tanjore of Sangita Saramrutha fame has praised the Saint as ‘Saṅgīta Vidyā Sampradāya Pravartaka’, ‘Vidyāsimhāsanādhyakṣa’, ‘Kalpana Caruranana’, ‘Vyāsappācāryosmāt Pūrvācāryotiviśrutaḥ’ that shows the high respect authorities of his time as well as later had on his musical acumen.
One of the exceptional remarks made about the saint’s compositions was that they were developed with the intention of kindling bhakti in common people and not mere intellectual exercises directed for the elite. His other achievement is the development of exceptional disciples that’s for all of us to see: the likes of Karnataka Saṅgīta Pitāmaha – Purandara Dāsa, Dāsaśreśṭha – Kanaka Dāsa – and saints Vādirāja Tīrtha and Vijayīndra Tīrtha. His disciples carried the Lord to each nook and corner of the country and ensured that the common man is elevated from the mundane by developing devotion to the Almighty.
One of the great achievements of this saint is his extremely affable humane face besides being steadfast in his duties to his Āśrama. Epigraphical records galore recording grants made by the Kings of Vijayanagara empire to the ascetic for purposes of vanquishing many an opponent that came to challenge or on special occasions prescribed in scriptures as appropriate times for making donations. The saint being a real ascetic would distribute all of that to the knowledgeable and the needy, knowing that it would be put to right use.
Further, there are innumerable instances when the saint would employ royal patronage to ensure that the common man’s needs are met. The construction of tanks at several places throughout the empire to ensure availability of the basic need – e.g. Vyāsasamudra, Chatras – resting places – for travellers in each town, bringing together the different classes of people and providing responsibility to ensure everyone is involved, contributing to the society and feeling proud about being a follower of Sanātana Dharma.
The Saint and the King: Sri Vyasa Tirtha and Sri Krishnadeva Raya
Śrī Vyāsatīrtha and Śrī Kṛṣṇadeva Rāya
Based on available epigraphical records and traditional accounts, we see that there was a very healthy relationship between the saint and the emperor who was a terror to the foes. The emperor had facilitated a university – Visvapavana Mata of which the saint was the Chancellor. Traditional education was imparted to Vidyārthis on various branches of the Śāstra and students from all over the country were admitted. We understand that Śrī Viṣṇu Tīrtha – to be Śrī Vijayīndra Tīrtha and Śrī Vādirāja Tīrtha had their education in this institution.
The king never seems to have ventured out without seeking the saint’s blessings and used to do ‘Śāstra Śravaṇa’ at the saint’s feet. It is recorded that the saint seated the king on the throne and performed the Paṭṭabhiṣĕka ceremony. One special occasion recounted in tradition is that the saint occupied the king’s throne for a momentary period that was malafide time because of the confluence of planets that ruled his zodiac sign sure to harm his life and gave it back to him once this time passed. This is referred to as ‘Kuhu Yoga Parihāra’ in traditional accounts. On another occasion, the king seemed to have seated the saint on his throne and bathed him with diamonds and precious jewels – Ratnasiṁhāsanarudam Camarairabhivijitam – which the Saint donated to all those deserving right on the spot.
One Epigraphical Record made in 1527 CE on the Saint by the King is presented below:
नृपेन्द्र मुकुटीरत्न नीराजितनिजान्घ्रये
शेषाय नरवेषाय शिक्षितान्तरवैरिणे।
मध्वाचार्य मताम्भोज मार्तण्डायिततेजसे।
ब्रह्मण्यतीर्थशिष्याय ब्रह्मनिर्माल मूर्तये।
Nṛpendra Mukuṭīratna Nīrājitanijānghraye
Śeṣāya Naraveṣāya Śikṣitāntaravairiṇe|
Madhvācārya Matāmbhoja Mārtaṇḍāyitatejase|
Brahmaṇyatīrthaśiṣyāya Brahmanirmāla Mūrtaye|
Even a cursory reading of the above inscription is thrillingly brilliant, and every word has been wonderfully selected by the emperor to glorify his guru. Tradition records that the saint was an avatara of Prahlāda and – prahladasyavatorasavindrasyanupraveshavan.
Granthas composed by Śrī Vyāsatīrtha
A little bit of historical background is necessary to understand correctly the advent of Śrī Vyāsatīrtha and his contribution to furthering philosophical inquiry. Ācarya Madhva built the necessary foundation for Tattvavāda with his contributions referred to as Sarvamūla Granthās. Śrī Jayatīrtha came a century later and made stellar contributions to Ācārya’s primary works that not only went on to strengthen the fundamental concepts of the school but also demonstrate the depth of thought in them by his expatiation on those. Śrī Vyāsatīrtha came one century later to Śrī Jayatīrtha at which time scholars of other faiths started bringing different types of objections to Tattvavāda. He took it upon himself to answer them in the most befitting manner and put a strong citadel to Tattvavāda, as we will see below.
The saint is supposed to have composed nearly twelve works on different Śāstrāic aspects. Out of these, three works collectively referred to as ‘Vyāsa Traya’ are held in high esteem. Next is a collection of four works that go by the general name ‘Mandara Mañjarī’. There is an independent composition by the name ‘Bhedojjivana’ and a few interesting shlokas as well.
Vyāsa Traya’s are Nyāyāmṛta, Tātparya Candrika and Tarka Tāṇḍava.
Nyāyāmṛta is the magnum-opus of the saint in which he has collected all thoughts of rival schools – primarily Advaita – in one place for a discussion as well as comparison to his own school. In other words, it is the most comprehensive comparative study of Advaita-Dvaita polemics from the time of Ācārya Madhva. The Viśiṣṭadvaitic understanding is also brought in at appropriate places for a discussion. Śrī Vyāsatīrtha has clearly established the various shortcoming noticed in the other schools and their untenability hence as the right understanding of their Vedānta. This is supposed to have been the first of his compositions and was to become the starting point for intellectuals from across the board to defend their side’s view of Vedānta for the next few centuries
Tātparya Candrika is a commentary on Tattva Prākaṣika of Śrī Jayatīrtha which itself is an exposition – Ṭīka – of Ācārya’s Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya. We understand that the saint in the process of commenting has brought forth the Bhāśya and Ṭīka’s of both the Advaitic – Śankara’s Sūtrabhāṣya and its many commentaries – and Viśiṣṭadvaitic – Śrībhāṣya of Rāmanuja and its commentaries – schools and shown that Ācārya’s Bhāṣya is in perfect harmony to the Sūtrakāra’s thoughts while others’ thoughts are not so well attuned. We also understand that he started applying the rules of the Mīmāṁsa and Vyākaraṇa Śāstras as well. In this work, he attained the dual purpose of strengthening his school’s interpretation and exposing shortcomings in the rival’s interpretation. We understand that he had completed the commentary for only the first two Adhikaraṇas, while his successor Śrī Raghunatha Tīrtha that came two hundred years later completed the remaining two. Tradition ascribes this work was completed at Śrīraṅgam and the saint submitted it to none other than Rangaśāyī! – Namo Namo Bhakta Mukti Dāyine Śeṣaśāyine!
Tarka Tāṇḍava is the last of the Vyāsatraya’s and is an effort by the saint to critically examine the Nyāya-Vaiśĕṣika school’s tenability vis-à-vis Dvaita. Critical aspects of Nyāya school’s classical works are taken up for discussion, compared to how those are seen in the works of Ācārya MAdhva and Jayatīrtha – Anuvyākhyāna and Nyāyasudhā – and their inappropriateness is demonstrated. Traditional understanding is this work was composed at the Aprameya Svami temple at Mal̤ūr – of the famous Purandara Dāsara Devaranāma Jagadoddharana.
Mandāra Mañjarī’s are commentaries to Śrī Jayatīrtha’s Ṭīka for four of Ācārya’s ten fundamental works of His school known as Daśa Prakaraṇas. Śrī Vyāsatīrtha chose to comment on the Ṭika to the Khaṇḍana Traya – Upādhi Khaṇḍana , Māyavāda Khaṇḍana, and Prapañca Mithyatvanumāna Khaṇḍana – and the fourth is Tattva Viveka Ṭīka.
Bhedojjivana is the last and shortest of the polemical works of the saint and as the title suggests indicates the resurgence of Tattvavāda at the expense of Māyavāda. This seems to have been composed more as an elementary text keeping the beginner in mind to prepare him toward more complex and real-time polemics in the intellectual world.
The rest of the compositions are Śolkās: Śrī Kṛṣṇa Maṅgālaṣāaka, Śrīnīvāsa Śloka, Yantroddhāraka Śloka, Śiva Stuti, Prameya Navamālika Śloka, Granthamālika Śloka, Pancaratna Śloka on Śrīpādarāja and Śrī Brahmaṇya Tīrtha, Śāṣṭika Vaṁśa Maṅgalāṣṭaka. One more composition Sattarkavilāsa is attributed to him but not traceable.
PS: Scholars of the Caitanya school revere the saint’s compositions as ‘Viṣṇu Saṁhita’
We have in Śrī Vyāsatīrtha a wonderful and exceptional personality that was a confluence of several qualities worthy of emulation. Every piece of information available on the saint from different sources is greatly elevating. The saint happened to the spiritual advisor for six kings and was treated as guardian angel for the last recognized Hindu empire. Whatever little aspect of Sanātana Dharma that is being practised in this part of the country today was possible because of the availability of conducive environment for its practice and encouragement for its practitioners; the saint’s unseen hand was behind to ensure that support and patronage would be offered by the rulers. He was responsible for the resurgence of a powerful and unified Hindu state.
The contributions of the saint to his philosophical cause are exemplary and served as the citadel of his faith for generations to come. His three compositions are indeed unique and should be a part of any course in philosophy for their intellectual depth. A serious student of philosophy that doesn’t study his words would be a loser as he forfeits a wonderful opportunity to understand the thinking process of one of the best brains to have been ever born.
His compositions ooze with devotional fervor and are highly attractive to even the layman. At the same time, they are appealing to the intellectuals as well and encompass in-depth philosophical details. Looked at from the perspective of classical music, we do see that the poet has a wide variety of compositions conforming to the time. The greatest tribute on this front is that he was the guru of the Karnataka Sangīta Pitāmaha.
The saint used to lead from the front: He was intelligent, poetic, a wonderful orator, powerful debater, composer, singer, organizer, advisor, teacher, student, friend and what not! He was a magnetic personality; we understand that everyone used to wait to get his glance and nod at least once in their lifetime and none of them went back disappointed. He was catholic and liberal in anything he did!
The saint completed a worthy tenure on this earth by ordaining Śrī Śrīnivāsa Tīrtha to the Pīṭha. He attained Haripāda while performing Hari Dhyāna as outlined by Purandara Dāsaru. His Vṛndāvana was consecrated at the central Vṛndāvana in the Navavṛndavana Gadde.