Vyasatirtha (Kannada:ವ್ಯಾಸತೀರ್ಥ) (1460 – 1539), also called Vyasaraja or Vyasaraayaru, is considered one of the three founders of Dvaita Vedanta, along with Madhvacharya, and Jayatirtha. His writings include commentaries on the works of Jayatirtha and Madhva; along with Jayatirtha, helped systematize Dvaita into an established school of Vedic thought. Vyasatirtha's genius lay in his clear understanding and exposition of all the opposing schools of thought, for which even his opponents admired him. He was one of the foremost dialecticians in the history of Indian philosophy, and was famed for his defense of the Dvaita Vedanta against all rival schools of thought. He is credited in writing nine works, the most important of which is his Nyayamrta.
Vyasatirtha was extremely influential in the Vijayanagar Empire. He headed the Tirupati temple from 1486-1498 C.E., before moving, at the behest of the king and ministers, to Vijayanagara, where he spent the rest of his life. Vyasatirtha reached the height of his influence as the Rajguru of King Krishnadevaraya. Under his tutelage, the great king took the empire to its zenith. Vyasatirtha also brought the Haridasa cult of itinerant singers, historically believed to be propagated by Sri Narahari Tirtha, into the limelight. During his life Vyasatirtha established 732 temples of Hanuman all over South India and composed poems and songs based on the Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata and Ramayana. It was under his guidance that Carnatic music revolution started in southern India. Both Purandaradasa, the father of Carnatic music, and Kanakadasa, a musician-saint belonging to the non-Brahmin Kuruba caste, were his students.
Vyasatirtha was born in 1460 at Bannur in the Mysore District in what is now the modern Karnataka state. His father's name was Rallanna Sumati and his mother was Kasyapa. Vyasatirtha's parents had three children, a girl and two boys. Before Vyasatirtha's birth, his father promised his second son as a disciple to Brahmanya Tirtha. When Vyasatirtha was born, he gave the boy the name Yatiraja to indicate his future as a renunciate. At the age of five he began his formal education, starting with writing the alphabet, and at seven took upanayana (the sacred thread) and remained at the temple for four years. At the age of eleven he returned to his home and continued his studies of poetry, drama and grammar for about five years.
Eventually, his father gave him to Brahmanya Tirtha as an assistant. After some time, however, Yatiraja, being unsure of Brahmanya Tirtha's intentions, slipped away and ran away into the forest, intending to return to his family home. One night while he was sleeping in the forest under a tree, Lord Visnu appeared to him and told him what to do. The teenager returned to the hermitage that very same day, and shortly after this, young Yatiraja was formally initiated and given the name Vyasatirtha.
Some time shortly after the two year famine of 1475 and 1476, Brahmanya Tirtha, his guru (teacher), passed away. Vyasatirtha became his successor to the Vedanta Pitha in about 1478, while he was in his late teens. Due to his youth and the short time he had spent with his guru, he didn't really know the conclusions of the Madhva sastras very well, so he went to Kancipuram to study. He soon became a renowned pandit. While in that area he was entrusted with the worship of Srinivasa (Lord Visnu) at Tirupati. Vyasatirtha's Mutt is still at Tirupati on the hill (Tirumala). After twelve years, he left Kancipuram, putting his disciples in charge. The local history corresponding to that time, mentions that the King of Bisnaga used to listen daily to a great Madhva Vaisnava sannyasi who had never married or touched a woman in his life. Though his name is not directly mentioned, history infers that this was Vyasatirtha.
From Kancipuram, Vyasatirtha went to Vijayanagar and became known there for his radical statements regarding Brahmanism, Vaisnavism, varnasrama, and who was worthy to worship the Lord. He was challenged to a debate by brahmana pandits from all over India, led by the learned Brahmana Basava Bhatta of Kalinga (Orissa). They all pinned their challenges to the pillars of the palace. After a thirty day discussion, Vyasatirtha emerged triumphant, and his reputation earned him the respect of King Krishnadevaraya (1509) who took him as guru and awarded him the order of the camel on a green flag, and a drum on the back of a camel, as a mark of respect. This flag is still kept by the Vyasaraya Mutt at Gosale.
There are many legends about the association between the great King Krishnadevaraya, who ruled the Vijayanagar kingdom on the Tungabhadra River in Karnataka, and Vyasatirtha. Vyasatirtha gave the King formal initiation, and then out of gratitude and love for his guru, Krishnadevaraya ordered beautiful Deities of Vitthala (Krsna) and Rukmini to be made, and established the fine Vitthala Rukmini temple which still stands there today. On the temple wall are inscriptions giving the date 1513 C.E. and referring to Vyasatirtha as the guru of Krsnadevaraya. There is also mention of Vyasatirtha ceremonially bathing Krishnadevaraya at his initiation, following the method of Madhvacharya's puja manual entitled "Tantrasara" (Chapter 2.10-11), in which the Tantrasara points out that the ceremonial bathing (abhiseka) of a disciple by the guru adds to the glory of the disciple.
Once a Gajapati King of Orissa tried to humiliate Krishnadevaraya by sending a list of Advaita Mayavadi philosophical precepts to challenge him. Following the instruction of Vyasatirtha, Krsnadevaraya was able to defeat the king’s arguments. Out of gratitude, Krishnadevaraya gave the village of Bettakonda to Vyasatirtha in 1526, and a huge lake was dug for his pleasure, called Vyasa samudra. The dates vary from 1523 to 1524 and 1526 by various records, but all the points are substantiated by the writings of devotees of the time, including Purandara dasa. It is also recorded that Krishnadevaraya performed "Ratnabhiseka" (bathing him in jewels) for Vyasatirtha, using literal jewels for a rite usually performed with ghee, milk, yogurt, gaur, honey, sugar-water and tender coconuts.
After the death of Krishnadevaraya in 1530, Acyutaraya continued to honor Vyasatirtha for a few years until his death. Krishnadevaraya is regarded as probably the most spiritually enlightened of the Vijayanagar dynasty. He established many fine temples and Deities in this area under the guidance of Vyasatirtha. A Deity of Laksmi Nrsimha, twenty-five feet tall and carved from one stone under Krishnadevaraya's instructions, still stands in the banana fields. After Vyasatirtha’s death, the invading Muslims smashed many temples. Many Deities like Vitthala Rukmini and Krsnaswami were moved further south, but although the Muslims tried to smash the Deity of Lord Nrsimha, it still stands, wit its temple in rubble around it. This old and sacred place is the old Kiskinda mentioned in the Ramayana where Hanuman was born and where Rama killed Vali and put Sugriva on the throne.
His Brindavana is near Anegondi.
Vyasatirtha was extremely influential in the Vijayanagar Empire. He initially came to limelight in the court of Saluva Narasimha in Chandragiri where he defeated many scholars with his masterly debates. He headed the Tirupati temple during the time 1486-1498 C.E., before moving to Vijayanagara at the behest of the king and ministers, where he spent the rest of his life. He is famous for winning the thirty-day debate with Basava Bhatta of Kalinga. Vyasatirtha reached the height of his influence over the Vijayanagara empire as the Rajguru of Krishnadevaraya. Under his tutelage the great king took the empire to its zenith. The king's admiration for the saint was so high that he regarded Vyasatirtha as his Kuladevata or family god, as evidenced by many writings attributed to the great king.
Vyasatirtha also brought the Haridasa cult of itinerant singers, historically believed to be propagated by Sri Narahari Tirtha, into limelight. During his life Vyasatirtha established 732 temples of Hanuman all over South India and composed poems and songs based on the Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata and Ramayana.
It was under his guidance that Carnatic music revolution started in southern India. Both Purandaradasa, the father of Carnatic music, and Kanakadasa, a musician-saint belonging to the non-brahmin Kuruba caste, were his students. He went against the established social norms of the day by accepting Kanakadasa into his fold indicating he did not lay emphasis in the caste system. Krishna Nee Begane Baaro is one of his famous Kannada compositions.
Vyasatirtha is credited with writing nine works, the most important of which is his Nyayamrta. His writing includes polemics on Sankara’s advaita, and an exhaustive refutation of the Nyaya-vaisesika school of logic in his Tarka-tandava.
His famous works in Kannada and Sanskrit include:
- Nyayamritam (The nectar of Logic)
- Tarkatandava (The Dance of Logic)
- Tatparya Chandrika (The Moonbeams of commentary)
- devaranama or devotional songs in Kannada
- Mayavada Khandana Mandaramanjari
- Upadhi Khandana Mandaramanjari
- Prapancha Mithyatvanumana Khandana Mandaramanjari
- Tattvaviveka Mandaramanjari
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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- Sharma, B. N. Krishnamurti. 1960. A history of the Dvaita school of Vedānta and its literature. Bombay: Booksellar's Pub. Co.
- Sharma, B. N. K. 1961. History of Dvaita school of Vedanta and its Literature. Bombay: Motilal Banarasidass. ISBN 81-208-1575-0
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