Great Madhva Acarya
also known as Vasudeva, Ananda Tirtha and Purnaprajna,
is one of Indias greatest theologians. He is the founder
of dvaita philosophy, and along with Sankaracarya,
is one of the most important commentators on the Upanisads,
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 Madhvas 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, Madhvas boyhood name, expressed a desire
to become an ascetic as early as age 8.
Madhvas 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 Tirthas 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.
Madhvas childhood, like most great saints in this world, is filled
with much hagiographic information including miracles and wondrous events.
On one such occasion Madhvas 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 Madhvas 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 Sankaracaryas advaita-vedanta dominated
Hindu education during the days of Madhva. We are told how Sankaras advaita-vedanta produced
a profound dissatisfaction in the mind of the young Madhva, which often
brought him into conflict with his teachers. In fact Madhvas objection
to advaita-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 Sankaras 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 Sankaracaryas
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 Madhvas 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
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 ships captain offered him a gift. Madhva
chose the clay (gopi-candana) that was used for the ships 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. Madhvas 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
The force of Madhvas 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 the Upanisads, 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 Madhvacaryas
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.
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.
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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
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 ships captain offered
him a gift. Madhva chose the clay (gopi-candana)
that was used for the ships 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
Copyright © SRI
All rights reserved.
Great Madhva Acarya
2-Writings and Theology
Page 4- Institutions