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Sri Madhvacharya - Founder of the Ashta Mathas
Dr Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle/Dombivli

Jan 11, 2008

The temple town of Udupi is all set to witness the eagerly awaited bi-annual ‘Paryaya’ ceremony from 18th  to 22nd January 2008. On 18th January, the pontiff of the Putthige Math, His Holiness Sri Sri  Sugunendra Teertha Swamiji will inherit for two years, the right to worship Sri Krishna, the chief deity of the temple, installed  during the thirteenth century by one of the prominent exponents of Hinduism, Sri Madhvacharya (1238-1317). The tradition that was started by the great Acharya has come down to this day wherein the Mathadhipatis (pontiffs) of Eight Mathas (Ashta Mathas) established by Sri Madhvacharya take up the responsibility of not only worshipping in but also administering the temple complex at Udupi for two years in rotation, each acquiring the right after sixteen years.

On this solemn occasion of ‘Paryaya’ it would be interesting to know briefly the life and teachings of  Sri Madhvacharya, who along with  Shankaracharya (seventh century) and Ramanujacharya (twelfth century) formed the triumvirate of Acharyas, who were the forerunners of the Bhakti Movement that initiated religious and social reform movement during the medieval period in India.

Shankaracharya  preached the doctrine of Monism or non-dualism (advaita) and Ramanujacharya  propounded  the doctrine of a mixture of dualism and monism (dvaitadvaita). However, Sri Madhvacharya’s philosophy was quite distinct from those of the other two Acharyas. He emphasized on the doctrine of dualism (dvaita). 

Sri Madhvacharya’s  original name was Vasudeva. He was born in 1238 AD on the Vijyadashami day in the village of Padubelle (Pajaka Kshetra), fourteen kilometers from Udupi. He was born after twelve years of austerity and prayers. His parents were  Madhyageha Bhatta and Vedavati, whose family deity was Sri Anantha Padmanabha. They also worshipped Durga Parameshwari in the temple situated on op of Kunjarugiri hill.


Portion of the old house where Sri Madhvacharya was born

The exact place where Sri Madhvacharya was born, now being renovated

Right from childhood, Vasudeva manifested a keen intellect and assimilation of spiritual teachings. He was also good in sports and games of his time like swimming, trekking, wrestling and earned the nickname  ‘Bhima’.

The stone-slab on which Sri  Madhvacharya learnt to write in his childhood

Sri Anantha Padmanabha Temple close to  the birth-place of Sri Madhvacharya also known as ‘Kakra Matha’

Vasudeva was keen to take up the life of an ascetic(sanyasi) and devote his entire life in the study and interpretation of the Vedas and Vedangas. As he was the only son of his parents, Vasudeva waited till the birth of a brother, Vishnuchitta. Vsudeva was initiated to sanyasa by  Achyutaprakashacharya at the age of sixteen with a new name ‘Poornaprajna’. Later, he was made the head of the Math (monastery)and received the name of Ananda Teertha. He assumed the name ‘Madhwa’ as the author of the commentaries on the Vedas and Vedangas and became well-known as Sri Madhvacharya.

Sri Madhvacharya’s rigorous training, deep study of the Vedic and later Vedic texts created doubts in his mind regarding interpretation of earlier scholars such as Shankaracharya regarding the nature of God. He evolved his own theory of dualism (dvaita), which is also known as  ‘Tattvavada’. The doctrine preached by Sri Madhvacharya was distinct from the principle of  non-dualism (Advaita) propounded by Shankaracharya.

Sri Madhvacharya presented a very simple vision of God and the world through his philosophy of  dualism (dvaita) also known as the doctrine of ‘Panchabeda’ or five differences. According to this doctrine there is an absolute distinction between God and the soul, God and matter, souls and matter, each individual soul and another, and each material thing and another. There is an unbridgeable gulf between God and all other beings because God is the only independent Reality.

Like other Bhakti saints, Sri Madhvacharya preached the existence of One God known by many names as Narayana, Ishwara, Brahma, Vishnu and other names. He also claimed that the world is God’s reflection. He also gave a new interpretation to cast system. According to him caste was related more to one’s nature than his or her birth. Further he maintained that a spiritually enlightened chandala (outcaste) was better than an ignorant Brahmin.

Sri Madhvacharya came on the religious scene when the Muslim rule under the Delhi Sultanate was gradually spreading in north India. Islam posed a challenge to Hinduism. Moreover, the different Hindu religious sects with opposing doctrines and beliefs were creating confusion and disillusionment among the common people. Under these circumstances, Sri Madhvacharya, through his simple and effective preaching enabled the people to realize the path of devotion and salvation.

Sri Madhvacharya made extensive tour of  South and North India from Kanyakumari in the south to Badrinarayan in the north, where he said to have met Veda Vyasa and presented his commentary on Gita to him. His clear thinking, oratory and debating skills won him a large number of disciples and admirers in different parts of India.

During Sri Madhvacharya’s second visit to the north, the soldiers of the Sultan of Delhi, Jalauddin Firuz Khilji (1290-96), founder of the Khilji dynasty, brought him before the Sultan for  swimming across the river Ganges along with his disciples and thereby  defying the prohibitory  orders. Sri Madhvacharya spoke to the Sultan in his own language Persian and convinced him that his Allah and his own Narayana were one and the same and claimed that all are the citizens of His kingdom. Being impressed with Sri Madhvacharya’s sound reasoning,  the Sultan offered gifts including a jagir to the Acharya which he politely refused to accept and extracted a promise from the Sultan that no harm would be done to him or his disciples on their way to Badrinarayan.

Sri Madhvacharya wrote about forty books including commentaries on Upanishads, Gita, analysis of Mahabharata and Purnanas, and Rigveda. His musical composition Dwadasa Stotra is quite popular among Vaishnava devotees.
After his return from North India following his first tour, Sri Madhvacharya installed the image of Lord Krishna in the Udupi temple. According to a legend, following a storm there was a ship-wreck off the coast  near Malpe. Sri Madhvacharya had a dream that there was an image of Lord Krishna in the ship. With the help of the fishermen, he got the image salvaged and installed in the temple.

According to another version, Sri Madhvacharya calmed the ocean and saved a ship from sinking. In gratitude, the captain of the ship offered him the entire contents of the ship. However, the Acharya declined to accept anything except  lumps of ‘gopichandana’. With his divine vision, he saw in one of the lumps a beautiful and precious image of Lord  Krishna that had originally been worshipped by Rukmini herself. He carried the lumps on his shoulders and walked towards Udupi. He duly consecrated the image of Lord Krishna in Udupi and personally worshipped it for 20 years.


Sri Krishna Temple Udupi

Sri Madhvacharya initiated his own brother into the monastic order, who came to be known as Vishnutheertha. He became the first pontiff of the Sode (Sonde) Matha. Sri Madhvacharya also initiated eight young boys into sanyasa and appointed them as pontiffs of eight mathas (monasteries), popularly known as Ashta Mathas. These Ashta Mathas were: Palimar, Admar, Sirur, Kaniyur, Pejawar, Krishnapur, Puttige and Sode.

Sri Madhvacharya set up a unique system in which the eight pontiffs would worship the image of Lord Krishna  for two months each in turn. This system, called ‘Paryaya’, was modified in 1532 by Sri Vadiraja Teertha, extending the term to two years per pontiff. Thus, Sri Madhvacharya evolved his own democratic way of managing the administration of  his vast religious establishment.

According to legend, Madhvacharya disappeared from human sight in his 79th year while delivering a discourse on Aitareya, his favourite Upanishad at a particular spot at Pajaka Kshetra. According to another version, after establishing himself as a renowned preacher, and organizer, Sri Madhvacharya at a ripe age of 79 took leave from his disciples and proceeded to the  Himalayas. As per the belief of the followers of Madhvacharya, the Acharya is not dead, but still lives  in Upper Badrinarayan.

The teachings of Madhvacharya were carried forward by great Bhakti saints and preachers of Karnataka such as Purnadaradasa and Kanakadasa.

There are various legends about Sri Madhvacharya such as killing a demon serpent with his toe. The foot impression found on the rock close to Kunjarugiri is believed to be that of Sri Madhvacharya.


Durga Parameshwari Temple on Kunjarugiri Hill

View from the top of Kunjarugiri-Parashurama Bette in the foreground

Pajaka Kshetra, which is easily approachable from Udupi via Katapadi and Subhashnagar,  is also famous for the temple of Durga Parameshwari on the high granite hill of Kunjarugiri believed to be 2,500 years old  and the Parashurama Betta, which has a temple dedicated to Parashurama.

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Comments on this article
Dr. P Lakshminarayana, Padubidri/BangaloreMonday, January 18, 2010
Knowledgeable,simple information on Shri Madhwacharya which every one should read to understand the great Hindutwa Philosopher of 13 century.
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stalin d souza, Bajpe / DubaiWednesday, February 20, 2008
I appreicate n thanks to Dr Eugene nice articles and old history .
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siva, usaMonday, January 14, 2008
Excellent article. Kudos to Dr. Eugene D'Souza. Even most Madhwas could not have written it better. While I understand that not all legends can be verified or even mentioned in such short articles, I would have loved to see story about 'Bheemana Bande'. Any way thankyou, thank you again
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Prakash Lewis, Baikady / KuwaitSunday, January 13, 2008
Excellent article. Short but covers all the details. Now only learnt the right background! Thank you Dr. Eugene.
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B.G.MOHANDAS, DUBAISaturday, January 12, 2008

A well researched article in reader friendly language will surely help my 'gulf educated' children to understand history of Udupi & Sri Krishna Temple far better than what I could explain.

I appreicate and Thank Dr.Eugene D`Souza and Daijiworld for the timely publication of this educative article. May I sincerly appeal Dr.Eugene to write about 'Kanakana Kindi' in the coming days as it has a great social significance.

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