Raghavendra Swami (1595 - 1671), also known as Guru Raya and Rayaru, was an influential saint in Hinduism. He advocated Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu as the supreme God) and the Dvaita philosophy advocated by Madhvacharya. He is considered by his devotees to be a reincarnation of Prahlada, the devotee who was saved by Vishnu in his avatar as Narasimha (see Vaishnava Theology). Shri Raghavendra Swami is said to have performed many miracles during his lifetime. The Raghavendra Mutt in the village Mantralaya (previously known as Manchale), established by Raghavendra under charter from the Nawab of Agoni in the sixteenth century, is visited by thousands of devotees every year. Raghavendra was also reknowned as a musician and player of the veena.
Raghavendra wrote numerous commentaries on the works of Madhva, Jayatirtha, and Vyasatirtha, expositions and commentaries on the Brahma-Sutra, Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. Raghavendra promoted the basic precepts of Dvaita: An anthropomorphic, personal, and independent God, Vishnu, who rules over the separate and dependent entities of soul and matter ("Prakriti"); and the bondage of souls to the earthly cycle of life and death because of ignorance of the true nature of God. Liberation could not be achieved through knowledge and performance of ritual duties alone, but required the grace of God, which can only be won through bhakti (pure-hearted devotion). According to Raghavendra, every aspect of life should be offered as an act of worship.
In Hindu philosophy, an avatar (also spelled as avatara) (Sanskrit: अवतार, avatāra), is the incarnation (bodily manifestation) of a higher being (deva), or the Supreme Being (God) onto planet Earth. The higher being deliberately descends into lower realms of existence for a special purpose, usually to re-awaken among human beings an understanding of the eternal truth embodied in the Vedas. The term is used primarily in Hinduism, for incarnations of Vishnu whom many Hindus worship as God. Many great Hindu philosophers and saints, such as Raghavendra Swami, are believed to be avatars.
According to Hindu tradition, Shanku Karna was cursed to be born into the world as Prahlada, son of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada was ardently devoted to Sri Vishnu, who took the form of the Narasimha Avatar to kill Hiranyakashipu. In his next birth, he was Vyasaraja, following the philosophy of Sri Madhwacharya. He was born again as Venkatanatha or Veene Venkanna Bhatta (as he was proficient and unsurpassed in playing the veena, an Indian form of lute). Venkatanatha was named Guru Raghavendra on being initiated into sannyasa (the highest order of Hindu monasticism), and is regarded as one of the greatest of madhwa saints.
Sri Thimmanna Bhatta was the grandson of Krishnabhatta, a veena (Indian form of lute) scholar, who had taught the veena to King Krishnadevaraya. Initially, Sri Thimanna Bhatta and his wife, Smt. Gopikamba, had two children, named Gururaja and Venkatamba. By the grace of Lord Venkateswara, a third child was born in 1595 C.E., at Bhuvanagiri in Tamil Nadu. They named him Venkatanatha (some also say that he was called either Venkanna Bhatta or Venkatacharya).
Venkatanatha proved to be a brilliant scholar at a very young age. Venkatanatha's brother, Sri Gururaja Bhatta, took care of his upbringing after their father's demise. The initial portion of his education was completed under his brother-in-law, Lakshminarasimhacharya's, guidance in Madurai. After his return from Madurai, Venkatanatha married Smt.Saraswathi. After his marriage, Venkatanatha went to Kumbakonam. There, he studied the Dvaita vedantha, grammar, and literary works under his guru, Sri Sudheendra Theertha. He was well-versed in bhashyas and prevailed in debate with various scholars. He was also a skilled musician and played the veena, which he had learned in his childhood from his father, very well. He used to teach children Sanskrit and the ancient Vedic texts. He never demanded any money for his services and endured a life of poverty. Many a times, he, his wife, and child had to go without food several times a week, but this never diminished his faith in the Lord.
Venkatanatha was in the habit of always chanting stotras and mantras in his mind. Once, while he was touring Kumbakonam, Venkatanatha was invited to attend a function with his wife and son. The hosts did not treat him well and wanted him to earn his food by doing a chore, and asked him to make some sandalwood paste, using a grinding slab. The paste was given to all the guests, who smeared it on their bodies. Immediately, the guests complained of a burning sensation all over their bodies. Surprised by this, the hosts questioned Venkatanatha, who replied that he had been chanting the Agni Suktam while grinding the sandalwood, which had resulted in the cool sandalwood creating a burning sensation. Such, it is said, was the power of the mantra when chanted by Venkatanatha. Venkatanatha then recited the Varuna Mantra and succeeded in relieving the guests of their agony.
He was an ardent devotee of Sri Moola Rama and Sri Panchamukha Anjaneya (the five-faced form of Hanuman—Pancha meaning five, mukha meaning faces). He performed penance at a place called Panchamukhi, where he received darshan of Hanuman in the form of Sri Panchamukha Anjaneya. There is also a huge statue of Sri Panchamukha Hanuman at tiruvallur, near Chennai.
His guru, Sri Sudheendra Theertha, was looking for a successor to his math (school). Sri Sudheendra Theertha had a dream in which he saw the Lord indicate that Venkatanatha was the right person to succeed him as the pontiff of the math. So Sri Sudheendra Theertha communicated his desire to Venkatanatha. Venkatanatha was devastated by the request of the guru, because he had a young wife and a son to care for and could not take up this responsibility
But by divine intervention, and after being blessed by the Goddess of Learning herself, Venkatanatha changed his mind. The sannyasa ordination was to take place on the second day of the bright half of Phalguna Masa in 1621, at Tanjore. On the day Venkatanatha was to ascend the peetha (highest position in the school), his wife Saraswathi was required to stay at home. However, at the last minute she was seized by a desire to see her husband's face one more time. She ran towards the matha, throwing caution to the winds. Deeply engrossed in the desire to see her husband, she did not see an old and unused well on the way, and fell into it. She drowned and died. Since her death was an untimely one, she became a ghost. Even as a ghost, her only desire was to see her husband and so she went to the matha. By the time she arrived, the function was over, and Venkatanatha had become a Sannyasi under the name of Sri Raghavendra Theertha. Sri Raghavendra sensed his wife's presence immediately and sprinkled some holy water from His Kamandalu on her, granting her moksha, or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. This was her reward for a lifetime of dedicated and selfless service to Sri Raghavendra.
After ascending the peetha, Sri Raghavendra embarked on a series of pilgrimages. Wherever he went, he spread the message of Shrimadacharya, defeating scholars of opposing doctrines, writing commentaries and notes, teaching the shastras to enthusiastic students, and encouraging local scholars. He continued to bless and cure his devotees of ailments and afflictions wherever he went. It once happened that a prince was bitten by a poisonous snake and died immediately; when Rayaru heard of this, he summoned the same snake which had bitten the prince and revived him by removing the venom of the snake from his body. In another miracle, while his devotees were arranging a special puja (offering ritual) in his house, a child who was playing in the kitchen fell into a huge cauldron of juice and drowned. Guru Raghavendra revived the dead child by sprinkling holy water from the kamandalu on to the child. The Badshah of Bijapur, who had great reverence for Ragahvendra, presented him with a rare gem-studded necklace. Rayaru (familiar name for Sri Raghavendraswami) offered it into the homa-kundam (sacrificial fire), but the King was annoyed by this and asked for his necklace to be returned to him. Raghavendra put his hand in the fire and retrieved the necklace for the King.
Stories of the miraculous healing powers of Sri Raghavendra Swami spread far and wide. Once, some mischievous boys wanted to test Rayaru. On his pilgrimage route, one of them lay down pretending to be dead, fully covered by a white cloth. The understanding was that the boy should not get up when Rayaru sprinkled water and asked him to rise, but would get up when the command was given to him by his friends. When Rayaru passed by the place, the drama was enacted as planned by the boys. One of them asked the Guru to revive the boy who was lying on the ground. But the guru simply replied that the lifespan of the boy was over, and he could not do anything to help the boy. His friends, intending to mock Sri Raghavendra Swami, asked the boy lying on the ground to get up, but to their shock, they realized that he was really dead.
In Sirasangi, another gentleman, intending to test Guru Raghavendra, gave him a dry wooden pestle and asked him to make it sprout new leaves. After Rayaru sprinkled water from his kamandalu, the dead wood started sprouting. In another incident, Sri Guru Rayaru was proceeding to Adoni. Venkanna, a boy cow-herd, prostrated himself before Rayaru and sought his blessing, upon which Rayaru blessed him and advised the cow-herd to pray to him at times of difficulty. After a few days, the Nawab of Adoni, who was passing by, stopped and asked Venkanna to read a written message, as he was not literate himself. The illiterate cowherd could not comply, and the Nawab became infuriated. Venkanna earnestly prayed to Sri Guru Rayaru to save him. Suddenly, the illiterate cow-herd was able to read the entire text, which contained very good news, as a result of which the king made him the Diwan of Adoni. The Nawab decided to test the Guru's powers, and brought a plate of meat (meat was an offensive offering) covered with a cloth and offered it to Rayaru. Rayaru sprinkled some water on the plate and when the cloth was removed, the meat had turned into fresh fruits. The Nawab fell at the Guru's feet begging for pardon, and he requested the Swami to ask for any favor or gift that he wished. Guru Rayaru asked for the village of Manchala, which later came to be known as Manthralaya. It is said that at this holy place Bhakta Prahlada performed a great yaga.
The devotees of Raghavendra believe that he is omnipresent and continue to experience miracles and blessings associated with him. According to an account in the “Madras District Gazetteers, Vol. 1, Capter 15, p. 213, Sir Thomas Munro, then a British officer, was sent to the village of Manthralaya to review the grant issued by the Nawab of Adoni and to undertake the resumption of the village under British government. When he took off his shoes and approached Raghavendra’s tomb, Raghavendra appeared to him spiritually and conversed with him for some time, invisible to everyone else. Sir Munro then ended the British attempt to rescind the grant.
Mantralaya, in present day Andhra Pradesh, close to the Karnataka border is the abode of Raghavendra Swami. The Raghavendra Mutt in Mantralaya (previously known as Manchale) is visited by thousands of devotees every year. Raghavendra Swami attained samadhi at Brindavan (sacred tomb) which is located at Mantralaya. Sri Raghavendra Theertha or Sri Raghavendra Swami is also known as Guru Raya and Rayaru by his devotees.
Before attaining samadhi in 1671, Raghavendra Swami gave a speech to hundreds of devotees who had gathered to watch the event. After this, Sri Raghavendra began reciting the pranava mantra and slipped into deep Samadhi. At one stage the japamala in his hand became still. His disciples, who understood this sign, started arranging the slabs around him. They arranged the slabs up to his head and then, according to his earlier instructions, they placed a copper box containing 1200 Lakshminarayana saligramas (spherical black stones, considered to be natural images of the divine) that had been specially brought from Gandaki river. Then they placed the covering slab over it and filled it with earth. They poured twelve thousand varahas (abhisheka) over the brindavan that they had built.
An annual festival, held every August at the tomb in Mantralaya, attracts large numbers of pilgrims.
Raghavendra advocated Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu as the supreme God) and the Dvaita philosophy advocated by Madhvacharya. He wrote numerous works, including commentaries on six of the ten PrakaraNa-granthas of Madhva, six expositions and commentaries on the Brahma-Sutra; Mantraarthamanjari, a commentary on the first three adhyaayas of the Rig Veda (the same portion as touched upon by Madhva); khandaartha-s (lucid expositions) on nine out of the ten Upanishads commented upon by Madhva; commentaries on Madhva's Gita Bhaashya and Gita Taatparya; an original work on the Bhagavad Gita; two commentaries on Jayatirtha, a commentary on Vyasatirtha, a commentary on the entire miimAmsa suutras of Jaimini, and a number of shorter commentaries and glosses.
Raghavendra promoted the basic precepts of Dvaita: An anthropomorphic, personal and independent God, Vishnu, who rules over the separate and dependent entities of soul and matter ("Prakriti"); and the bondage of souls to the earthly cycle of life and death because of ignorance of the true nature of God. Liberation could not be achieved through knowledge and performance of ritual duties alone, but required the grace of God, which can only be won through bhakti (pure-hearted devotion). The liberated soul does not become one with God but exists separately in bliss.
His final speech before his death incorporated basic principles of bhakti:
All links retrieved June 17, 2019.
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