About Sri Vyasatirtha  E-mail
  Brief Sketch of the Life, Personality, Career and Achievements of Sri Vyasatirtha 
- Dr. B.N.K.Sharma

The period of Vyasatirtha was the age of the Renaissance in the West.
The renaissance in Indian thought brought about by him in the XVI
century was chiefly responsible for putting the system of Madhva on
the philosophical map of India, as one to be reckoned with. His treatise
on the assessment of the relative merits of the Dvaita and Advaita
systems of philosophy in his Nyayamruta was directly responsible for
the birth of Neo-Advaita as it came to be formulated by Madhusudana
Sarasvati in his Advaitasiddhi, who found it necessary and expedient
to modify or depart from many of the rigid positions of the Sankara
school of Vedanta would have suffered an irrecoverable set-back, if
not total collapse, but for the timely defence put up by Madhusadana.
The various shades of Nyaya-Vaisheshika thought ending with the period
of Udayana had been meticulously studied and reviewed in the writings
of Madhva and Jayatirtha. The PramanaLakshana of Madhva to all intents
and purposes was an implied corrective to some of the theories adumbrated
by Gangesa in logic and epistemology. However, it was left to Vyasatirtha
to undertake an exhaustive study, analysis and assessment of Gangesha's
work, along with the commentaries of Pakshadhara, Ruchidatta and others
in the light of the corresponsing positions of his own school as set
forth in the works of Madhva and Jayatirtha, to which he makes it a
point to align his exposition and criticism. While his Nyayamruta
provoked a counterattack within a reasonable time, the custodians of
Navyanyaya school form Mithila and Navadvipa have observed silence
over the strictures of the Tarkatandava on their logical system. They
contended themselves with hailing the publication of Vyasatirtha's
Nyaymruta and expressing their stern disapproval and displeasure at
his assailing them by proclaiming :

Nyayamrtaraja kirtih Tandavena Vinashita

Indeed, Vyasatirtha's work was meant to be a friendly criticism,
unlike in the case of the Nym. from the point of view of a realistic
metaphysics (as the common ground) to shake off its fascination for
the theory of Paratahpramanya in the interest of meaningful Realism
and improve the status of their Ishvara and accept the Apaursheyatva
of the Vedas as the ultimate source of the saving knowledge.

Prof. Bagchi (inductive Reasoning. 1953) has presumed that the absence
of any positive reacton to Vyasatirtha's Tarkatandava from the Navya-
Naiyayikas of Mithila and NAvadvipa upto date, is (or was probably due
to absence publicity of the Dvaita works in those parts. This is 'not'
well founded. The contemporary biography of Vyasatirtha shows that he
had, very clearly in his Pontifical career, travelled in the North.
Logic being his 'forte', he would not have failed to visit the great
centres of Navya-nyaya, which he had already mastered under Sripadaraja
and exchange thoughts with the stalwarts there. The tradition about the
ecomium paid to him by Pakshadhara himself in the following terms :

Yad adhitam tad adhitam yad anadhitam tad apyadhitam
Pakshadharavipaksho nAvekshi vina Navina Vyasena

probably dates from the period of their first meeting, before he had
written his major works.

In the Introduction to his edition of the Tattvachintamani (1973)
with two commentaries Pandita Ramanuja tatacharya, retired V.C. of the
Kendriya Vidyapitha, Tirupati, quotingthe verse interprets it as a
compliment paid by Vyasatirtha 'himself' to his adverasry Pakshadhara
Mitra, in appreciation of his unparalled learning, instead of the
other way about, as accepted in the tradition of the Dvaita School.

A little reflection will show that the natural trend of the verse is
much more consistent with the other view. If Vyasatirtha had been the
speaker of the verse, he would have wirded the second line more
appropriately as :

Pakshadharasamo vipakshio nAvekshi hi Vyasena

Suffice it to say that it would be the impropriety and stigma on the
saintliness of a Paramhamsa and a true devotee of the Lord such as
Vyasatirtha, who has been descrbed in the inscriptions relating to
him as absolutely free from self-conceit (nirahankArachitta) absorbed
in the meditiation of the glory of the Lord (Puranapurushadhyanapushyat-
pushkalamurti) and so on, to think of him, as ever venturing to call
'himself' as Navina-Vyasa (a new "Veda Vyasa"). It would be tantamount
to an act of Bhagvat-apchara to think of Vyasatirtha as susceptible to
such odious self-conceit. One wonders what made Pandita RamanujAcharya
to think offering such a preposterous interpretation of a Verse preserved
only in the Dvaita tradition.

Madhva philosophy and its texts had been propogated in the north and in
Bengal from as early as the days of Rajendra Tirtha and his pupil Jayadhvaja,
who have been reckoned as the precursors of the Caitanya Sampradaya. Vanamali
Misra who participated in the Nym-Advaitasiddhi controversy was a Madhva
from the North. The biography of Somanatha records at least two spectacular
disputations in Navyanyaya to which Vyasatirtha was challended by Visiting
team of scholars. It is specifically stated by Somanatha that in the great
debate in the court of Narasa in Vijayanagar which lasted thirty days the
rival team consisted of Veterans from Anga, Vanga and Kalinga besides
Chola and Kerala was led by Basavabhatta of Kalinga.

We learn from Somanatha that Vyasatirtha 'commenced' writing his three
great works in the reign of Vira Narasimha (1504 - 09). The first was the
Nym, the Chandrika the second and the Tarkatanda was the third. All these
were probably compledted by 1520 in the reign of Krishnadevaraya. Now
Pakshadhara's date has been given as 1450-1510. As a typical Tarakika,
Vyasatirtha would certainly have arranged to send copies of his Tarkatandava
to the famous centres of Mithila and Navadvipa for comments, as the very
purpose of his writing was to compel the attention of those scholars to
it. In the circumstances, the theory of absence of publicity of his work
in the north cannot be accepted. In fact, subsequent to Vyasatirtha, another
intrepid Dvaita Logician Satyanatha Tirtha (1648-74) has challendged the views
of the famous Raghunatha Siromani. If the Navya-Naiyayikas are still maintaining
their silence, the reason can only be that they feel unequal to the task
of confrontation on the issue. It is to be earnestly wished that modern
research scholars will come forward to profit by the discussions initiated
by the 'Tarkatandava in the interest of further advancement of Logical studies'.

Till the days of Vyasatirtha, the thinkers of the Advaita school too had taken
very little notice of the deeper layers of vitality of Dvaita system. They had
neglected the great works of Jayatirtha too, probably under the impression that
they were only routine commentatries on the works of Madhva with his own thoughts
intertwined with the words of the originals which were addressed to the followers
of the school. Apart from their self-complacency, they might have been put off
the scent by this circumstance and missed a great deal. Vyasatirtha, therefore,
chose 'the direct line of attack' and wrote 'independent works to compel the
attention of his contemporaries'. In this he succeeded remarkably, as the
results have borne out.


LIFE

Born in 1460 in affluent Kannada-speaking Vaishnava Brahmin family of Bannur in
the Mysore district of Karnataka, Yatiraja as he was named had his Upanayana and
early Vedic studies followed by a course liberal education in Kavya, NAtaka,
AlamkAra, Grammar and Logic. After spending some years with his parents on return
from the Gurukula, he was taken to the seat of the family Guru, Brahmanya Tirtha
at Abbur (near Channapatna), in fulfilment of a promise made his parents before
the birth of the child and was left with him. A year or so later, Yatiraja was
inducted into the Sannyasa order under the name of Vyasatirtha and later succeeded
Brahmanya Tirtha, as pontiff of his ancient Mutt(for Pedigree See Apendix II).

We are fortunate in having an 'authentic historical'[italics] biography of Vyasatirtha
in an ornate Campukavya in six Ullasas, VyAsayogicarita, written by an accomplished
Poet(published in 1926 Reprint Edn. 1993 D.V.S.R.F. Bangalore). The author Somanatha
was a younger contemporary and came from an orthodox Smartha Brahmin family of Kanchimandala.
It was a family of Somayajjis and belonged to the Vatsa Gotra.

This full-length biography gives us an absorbing account of the early and latter
life of Vyasatirtha, his progressive rise to fame and name and the venerable position he
attained in the estimation of the people and the successive Rulers of Vijaynagar as the Royal
Preceptor, to his last days. Somanatha makes a specific reference to the Portugese ambassadors
to the court of Vijayanagar calling on Vyasatirtha with valuable presents and seeking audience
with him : DvipAntarabhupala sampreshita pradhAnapurushair asakrtsamarpyamAnAni
bahuvidhopahArapujanAni cha vikshavishesha ... (Text p.65). The Portugese travellers Paes and
Nuniz knew him well. The report of Nuniz that Krishnadevaraya was "every day washed by a learned
Brahmin whom he held in highest esteem and "Who never married or had touched a woman" (which can
only refer to an ascetic) which Sewell finds it difficult to believe, is not really so. It refers
to a ceremonial bath with water from consecrated vessels, administered to an idol or to one's
shishya, as provided for by Acharya Madhva in his TantrasAra (For details see my HDSV p. 291).

The biography has vividly portrayed Vyasatirtha's winsome personality, his even temper, his
amazing erudition in all the branches of learning studied in his days, his courtesy and good
humor and generous patronage of scholarship wherever found.

His literary style is graceful without being ostentatious. He has the ability to compress a vast
quantity of factual material and ramifications of thought in a few telling phrases which stood him
in good stead in his debates with rival scholars. The biography refers to two major polemical
contests he had to face from jealous rival scholars. The first took place in the early days of
his stay at Chandragiri and the second, the more acrimonious, which took place in the reign of
King Narasa in Vijaynagar itself.

The latter has been described in great detail by Somanatha. An irate team of doughty scholars
from Anga-Vanga-Kalinga-Malava-Chola and Kerala led by Bhasvabhatta of Kalinga, Somanatha says,
the team of irate scholars burst into the Assembly Hall of the King's palace shouting slogans and
pinning their Birudas(titles and certificates of scholarship) to the Pillars there and
challenging Vyasatirtha to a debate and that King Narasa himself, tho' knowing the calibre of
Vyasatirtha, was shaken for a moment. The debate lasted fpr thirty days according Somanatha and
ended in a stunning victory to Vyasatirtha. The team of abashed scholars was richly and
generously rewarded by the victor.

The Biographer has thrown new light on the beneficent role played by Vyasatirtha in the social,
political and cultural life of the Vijaynagar Empire, especially during the period of the second
and third dynastyies. So far, this remained unknown to our modern historians 'who were inclined
to dismiss the traditional accounts of his eminent role as a pious fabrication'[italics]. But
with the publication of the Vyasayogacarita in 1926, there is no more any justification to
'plead want of historical materials'. The indifference and apathy of accounts given in the 'Madras
University Historical Series XI and History and Culture of Indian People Vol. VI of Bharatiya
Vidya Bhavan, Bombay are for this reason most dissappointing. The Vyasayogacharita deserves to be
treated not only as the major source of authentic information about his life and achievements but
as a 'major source of Vijaynagar history as well, of the period'. Not even Vidyaranya, who is
accounted to have played a leading role in the foundation of the Hindu state, has had the
advantage of an 'authentic contemporary historical biography of such merit'.

The sixth UllAsa describes the spectacular Ratnabhisheka(bathing in gems) performed by
Krishnadevaraya to Vyasatirtha, seating him on his own golden throne, as his Saviour and the
Protector of the Kingdom during the dreaded period of Kuhayoga in the king's life.

cf. DeshAdhipage banda kleshangala kaledu
SimhAsanavaneri meredi jagavariya
(Purandaradasa)


As early as in 1515 A.D. the King had hailed Vyasatirtha as his Guru in the
stone inscription in the Vitthala temple. His own work KrishnadevarAyakrti in
Sanskrit of which a fragment is preserved in the Madras Government O. Library,
refers to Vyasatirtha by name as "My Guru"(See Appendix I Verse 12). The accounts
of the Portugese travellers Paes and Nuniz also confirm this. Nuniz has referred
to the King listening everyday to the preaching of a learned Brahmin whom he
reverences and who "never married nor had touched a woman". This can only refer
to ascetic and there is no other personage of that eminence associated with the
life of KrishnadevarAya, as we known from the history of the times and
the evidence of the King's own inscriptions. (See also the phrase :
NrpendramukutiratnanirAjitanijAnghraye).

Among the public benefactions of Vyasatirtha mention must be made of the building of
the great irrigation lake in the township of VyAsa-samudra in the drought-stricken area of
RAyalsimA, which still irrigates hundreds of acres. SomanathA gives a thrilling penpicture
of the discourses given by VyAsatirtha, of his great works, to his numerous ascetic disciples
during his stay in the sylvan retreats of the lake, around 1524 A.D.

According to somanatha, soon after his succession to the Piitha, Vyasatirtha
went on a piligrimage to the South and made a long stay of some years at
Kanchipuram, to study the top-ranking works of Mimamsa and other Shastras with
the most eminent experts there. This must have stood him in good stead in writing
his great treatises later on. He then moved on to MulbAgal, the seat of the great
scholar-Saint of Madhva Philosophy of the time, LakshminArAyana Tirtha, under whom
he studies the great classics of MAdhva Shastra, as he himself tells us in his
MandAramanjari : LakshminArAyanAkhyAd Dvaitikulatilakad adhita-MadhvashastrAmrtena
VyAsayatina.

Later, at the instance of the Vidyaguru, he goes to the seat of Saluva Narsimha at
Chandragiri and stays there for some years, highly honoured by the Ruler. Somanatha
tells us of the great debates to which Vyasatirtha was challenged at this period
by veteran scholars of NyayaShastra trained in Navya-Nyaya of the Tattavachintamani
of Gangesha of Mithila.

Later, Vyasatirtha migrates to Vijaynagar at the invitation of the Ministers of
Narasa and thence onwards made it the headquarters of his "VishvapAvana-Matha" for the
rest of his life. The ruins of this Matha ca still be seen near the Vijay-Vithala temple.
During this period, he again went on an extensive tour of the North and the South of India.
He must have met there many Veternas scholars of Navyanyaya. Advaita and other Darshanas
on his tours and exchanged views with them. His north Indian disciple Lakshmipati was
probably initiated into the Sudhha-Vaishnava line, then.

Most buildings of the Vyasaraja Matha especially in the South are to be found either
in fron of the premier Vishnu temples there or flanking them, as at Kanchipuram,
Kumbhakonam, Srirangam, Tirumalai and Triplicane(Madras). Tradition associates his name
with the worship of Sri Venkateshwara at Tirmalai-Tirupati during a period of the crisis
caused by an act of high sacrilege by the Archaka families there. Some special honors to
his Mutt have been accorded for this reason.

Somanatha reports that Vyasatirtha had a 'very large number' of ascetics, as his disciples:
(AparimitashishyayatikulairupAsyamAnah - Text p. 75). Tradition puts it at twentyfour such
as LakshmikAnta, Vijayindra, Vadiraja, Govind Tapasa, Narayana Yati. The last two are mentioned
by the name in Somanatha's work.

Vyasatirtha was an intellectual and a Mystic of the highest order at the same time. He poured
out his heart to the Lord of the Universe in many a soulful Pada, in chaste Kannada, his mother
tongue. His devotion to the Lord springs from both the head and heart. After his Guru SripAdaraja
he took up the leadership of the Haridasa Order of Karnataka and inducted such great
Saint-composers as Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa and Vadiraja. The influence of the Haridasas of
Karnataka on the rise of Bhakti Pantha in other states liek MAharashtra and Rajasthan, in the
subsequent centuries is indicated by many facts (See my HDSV, Chap. XXV p.296)

The Biographer informs us that Vyasatirtha began writing his monumental works like the
Chandrika, the Nyayamruta and Tarkantandava in the reign of Vira Narasimha(1504-1509) : Tena
VasudhAdhipena pratyahamupasevyamAnah bhagvan sa taponidhih sakaladharmajivatve
tattvamatasthApanAya Tatparyachandrika - Tarkatandava - Nyayamruta
pramukhanialikavAdimatabhanjanAni mahiyamsi bhuyamsi kramena vyarirachat
(Text pp. 64-65)

This is enough to disprove the story derived from some later-day accounts of the Uttaradi Mutt,
quoted by M.R.Gopalacharya in his introduction to C.R.Rao's work Srimad Uttaradi Mutt 1984 p. 28)
that "after Vyasaraya had written his Candrika and Nyayamrita, he was taken by his Vidyaguru
Sripadarajaru to the presence of Raghunatha Tirtha and that he presented them to him for his
esteemed persual". In the first place, it is very doubtful if Sripadaraja was still living when
Vyasatirtha had written his major works. That apart, according to the records of the the Uttaradi
Mutt itself, Raghunatha Tirtha had died in Dundubhi 1502 A.D. As Vyasatirtha, according to his
authentic biography, had only begun to write his works in the reign of Viranarsimha (1504-09) and
as it would have tkaen several years to finish such monumental treatises amidst the numerous
other engagements and commitments of Vyasatirtha such as we have seen, these works would in all
probabilty have been completed in the early years of Krishnadevarayas reign between 1511 - 1520.
The story of their submission to Raghunatha Tirtha is this entirely anachronistic and has to be
dismissed as a pious concoction of unscrupulous zealots.


Internal evidence of the works of Vyasatirtha shows that he had authored two other works in
addition to the eight current in his name. The names of these have been given by him in his
MandarAmanjari as Sattarka-Vilasa and Bhedasanjivni. One of them probably was te one in reply to
an Advaita work forwarded to him by the Kalinga King Vidhyadhara Patra, as mentioned by Somanatha
(See my HDSV pp 291 - 92 for details). No Mss. of these have so far come to light.

To ensure the stability and prosperity of the great Hindu Empire for the resuscitation of
MAnavadharma and promote a sense of unity, cohesion adn cultural integration among people all
over the country, Vyasatirtha conceived the project of installing 732 images of Vira-Hanuman all
over the land, to infuse the sense of values embodied in the life of Hanumanji. The first of the
kind was the Yantroddhara-Mukhyaprana installed by him in Hampi in 1532. The beautiful figure of
Hanuman in dimunitive form is seated in Dhyana posture, with two traingles places onee across the
other on upside down and bothe encircles by a legend (mantra) in a script which has not so far
been deciphered. The Yantroddhara Hanuman is evidently an iconograpic representation of Mukhya
Prana in Sishu-Brahmana of the Brahadarnyaka Upanishad; as interpreted by Acharya madhva. The
other images of Hanuman including many Vira-Anjaneyas are still to be found worshipped in many
towns and villages in South India. Those in the north could not now be easily located, for
obvious reasons of political upheavals in the North in the succeeding centuries. One such Vigraha
of Hanuman appears to have been consecrated and installed by Vyasatirtha in the course of his
North Indian tour, within the precincts of the Badrinath temple. A communication about the event
is to be found in a letter of 11 October, 1979 by the Chief Executive Office of the Badrinath
Kedarnath Temple Committee, to the visiting Head of the Vyasaraja Mutt.


Somanatha's biography of Vyasatirtha has not come down to us in its entirety. It terminates with
the account of its public recital in the presence of Vyasatirtha, by two gifted experts of
recitation in an open assembly in the immediate presence of Vyasatirtha himself, who is described
as quite old and wearing spectacles. Somanatha says he was introduced to Vyasatirtha by one of
his favourite disciple, Narayan tirtha (of the Kudli Akshobhya Tirtha Matha) in the reign of
Achutadevaraya. If Somanatha's biography of Vyasatirtha included an account of his last days also,
it has not come down to us. The only Palm leaf Manuscript of the work had been found in
the family of the priest worshipping the Brindavana (tomb) of the tenth successor of Vyasatirtha
at Tirumukudlu. The last ullasa ends rather abruptly, the concluding pages of the incomplete part
being 'repeated'. There are no Mangalacharanaslokas to indicate the conclusion, corresponding to
the large number of 'introductory' and benedictory verses numbering twentysix in all. The editor
has valiantly grappled with numerous lacunae in the Mss. It is high time this unique historical
biography of one of the greatest luminaries of the Vijaynagar period and no less a personage than
the Guru of its greatest Emperor Krishnadevaraya is 'thoroughly revised by a team of expert
Sanskrit Scholars and republished. The Introduction provided by B. Venkobarao is a mine of
historical research. The Head of the Vysaraja Mutt should lose no time to republish this work.

After a long time of seventy-nine years of manysided activities and achievements of which
sixtyone years had been spent on the Pontifical seat of the Madhva-Sampradaya, the venerable
Vyasatirtha passed away at Vijaynagar in the cyclic year of Vilambi (1539 A.D.) The date is
recorded in the song of Purandara Dasa (Cittaisida Vyasaraya ...). His mortal remains were
laid to rest in teh island on the Tungabhadra river near Anegondi (the ancient capital) alongside
the Brindavan (tomb) of Padmanabha Tirtha (the first disciple of Acharya Madhva from the land of
Godaari). As befitting the resting place of the mortal remains of the great Rajaguru of the
greatest of the Kinds of Vijaynagar, his Brindavana stands majestically adorned, with royal
honours in the form of artistic sculptural decorations and the royal elephant engraved on the
front side, at the orders of the King Achyutadeva Raya himself.