Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Life of Sri Raghavendra Tirtha (1595-1671)

By: Sri Yasodanandan Dasa(Los Angeles, USA) 
Sri Raghavendra Swami was one of the great proponents of the Madhva philosophy. For nearly 50 years, he was the head of one of the great pithas. His predecessors include such scholars like Vijayindhra Tirtha and Sudhindhra Tirtha He excelled in many fields such as logic, mimamsa, music, yoga, dharmashastra and all the 64 arts. As an avatara of Prahlada, he chose as his Brindavan, Manchale (Mantralaya) on the bank of the Tungabhadra, where Prahlada had performed his yajna in treta yuga. It is said that the stone used for the Brindavan was sanctified by the touch of Sri Rama and Sita in the treta yuga. His nephew, Narayanacharya, wrote Raghavendra Vijaya, which gives a full account of the life of this great saint.
Srila Prabhupada mentions Sri Raghavendra Tirtha in his Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita purport:   After the sixteenth acharya (Vidyadhiraja Tirtha), there was another disciplic succession, including Rajendra Tirtha, 1254; Vijayadhvaja; Purushottama; Subrahmanya; and Vyasa Raya, 1470-1520. The nineteenth acharya, Ramachandra Tirtha, had another disciplic succession, including Vibudhendra, 1218; Jitamitra, 1348; Raghunandana; Surendra; Vijendra; Sudhindra; and Raghavendra Tirtha, 1545. Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita - 1975 Edition : Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila : Madhya 9: Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's Travels to the Holy Places : Madhya 9.245


Sri Raghavendra Swami was born in 1595 in Kaveripattana, Tamil Nadu to Thimmanna Bhatta  and Gopikamba. His ancestors were of the Gautama Gotra. He was named Venkatanatha as he was born by the grace of Lord Venkateshwara. When his father was performing aksharabhyasa, Venkatanatha asked how a small letter like Om can explain the great God. The father was overjoyed that his son understood that the God cannot be fully explained by one small letter. Venkatanatha's Upanayanam was performed in chaitra masa, when he was 8 years old. Although his father passed away by then, Venkatanatha did not consider himself an orphan, as he considered Sri Narayana as his father and Gayathri, who reveals Him, as every twice-born's real mother.

Education of Venkatanatha 

Venkatanatha studied yajur veda, manimanjari, and anumadhvavijaya at Madurai. His powers of meditation were shown when his water from doing sandyavandan happened to fall on a dry seed, which sprouted. He also developed an expertise in playing the Veena, so he became known as Veena Venkata Bhatta. This is not surprising, since Venkatanatha came from a family skilled in music. His great-grandfather, Krishnabhatta, tutored the King of the Vijayanagar kingdom, Krishnadevaraya, in veena, and his father was skilled in music as well.

Marriage of Venkatanatha    

Upon returning from Madurai, he was married to Saraswati, who was from a noble family. His marriage, just like his Upanayanam and schooling, was arranged by his brother Gururajacharya.
The Shastras say that for one who has control of his senses, wedded life does not hamper learning. For Venkatanatha, most of his learning occurred after marrying Saraswati, through the blessings of Goddess Saraswati.  

Studies under his guru, Sudhindra Tirtha

So Venkatanatha went to Kumbhakonam, the seat of learning at the time. There, he studied under Sri Sudhindra Tirtha. He used to stay awake past midnight to write his own comments and notes on the lessons that had been done. Once, he engaged in a debate and defeated a mayavadi at Rajamannar temple. Though his victory was not unexpected Sri Sudhindra Tirtha was surprised at his scholarship in grammar, profound knowledge and rare debating skill, and called him "Mahabhashya Venkatanathacharya" Similarly he explained the significance of taptamudra dharana quoting several smritis that the opponents had to accept his arguments were irrefutable. He had a son, Lakshminarayana. Although he and his family were in stark poverty, he was unaffected by it, being immersed in the sweet nectar of the Madhva philosophy. Not even once did he give up his teachings and learning; he was steadfast in his determination to live by whatever came to him unsought and unasked.  

Venkatanatha takes sannyasa in 1621 

Still, when his master asked him to take sannyasa, he found himself in a grave dilemma. For one thing, he knew that if he took sannyasa, he would eventually have to take control of the matha. While trying to find a solution to this problem, Vidya Lakshmi herself appeared before him. She told him that if such great people like him did not spread the right philosophy, that of Sri Madhvacharya, the mathas would fall into ruin. The light of Tattvavada would be extinguished by the darkness of Mayavada. Understanding where his true duty lay, Venkatanatha obeyed Vidya Lakshmi and took sannyasa. Sri Sudhindra initiated Venkatanatha on the second day of the bright half of Phalguna masa in the year durmati corresponding to the year 1621. He was given the holy name "Raghavendra Tirtha”.


Sri Raghavendra Tirtha started his services by teaching all the works of Srimadhavacharya to his disciples. He propagated the right knowledge and vanquished several opponents. Apart from imparting knowledge and guiding his disciples, he composed works for the benefit of future generations  

Sri Raghavendra Tirtha writes commentaries on Madhavacharya’s works

Soon after becoming the pithadipati, he began a series of pilgrimages that took him to several places. After visiting Dyupuri and Paripurnadevanagara (Paripurnadevanagara in Sanskrit means "place where God, who is complete in every way, resides"). At Manishrunga, he taught works such as pramana paddhati and realized that it would benefit the public, if sub-commentaries were written on these major works, to make it easier to understand them. So it was here, that Raghavendra Swami wrote glosses on pramana paddhati, vadavali, pramana lakshana and many other works, many of which are known as bhava dipas.

Debate with Nilakanta Diksita

He visited Rameshvaram and Madurai. Madurai was the seat of learning in those days, and one of the experts there was Nilakanta Dikshit. After seeing the lucid yet powerful style with which Raghavendra Swami debated, he was convinced that Raghavendra Swami's master was really purnaprajna. When Nilakanta tried testing Raghavendra Swami on various sutras, Raghavendra Swami showed him the work he had just finished - Bhatta Sangraha. Nilakanta was so thrilled by the depth of this work and how well it propounded Sri Madhavacharya’s philosophy that he had it placed on an elephant and taken on a ceremonial procession.
At Srirangam, he gave extensive discourses on upanishads, especially the Ishavasya upanishad. His disciples requested him to write a book, explaining the meanings of all the mantras, as well as their commentaries and glosses, of all the Upanishads. He wrote glosses on the Ishavasya, thalavakara, kataka, shatprashna, mundaka, mandukya, taittariya, brihadarunyaka, and chandogya Upanishads. He was about to write one for the aitareya, as well, but he wanted to give the honor to his disciple, Smrtimuktavali Krishnacharya, who had already completed the work. Raghavendra Swami wanted to keep his oath of writing a gloss on all the Upanishads, so he wrote a gloss on only the mantra part of the Upanishad-aitareya mantrartha sangraha

Sri Raghavendra Tirtha visits Vishnu-mangala, Subrahmanya and Udupi

He visited Vishnumangala, where Trivikrama Panditacharya had debated Madhvacharya for fifteen days, and finally had become an ardent worshipper and follower of Madhvacharya. Sri Raghavendra then visited Subrahmanya and then Udupi, where he started giving discourse on Sarvamula Grantha. He wrote a gloss for the Vyasaraya Tattparya Chandrika, called Chandrika Prakasha. Seeing his students struggle to understand this tough text, he wrote the meanings of the Sutras, called Tantradipika and the meanings of adhikaranas, known as Nyayamukthavali. At Udupi, he sang his famous "Indu Enage Govinda" song upon seeing Udupi Sri Krishna.
At Bidarahalli he met Srinivasacharya who was a unique householder. The glosses that he had written were already well known. Sri Raghavendra examined his works and was filled with admiration for Srinivasacharya, who, though being a householder, dedicated himself completely to the spreading of knowledge and learning. Raghavendra Swami bestowed upon him the name Srinivasa Tirtha, as a mark of his high learning.
After leaving Bidarahalli, he went to Pandarapur, Kolhapur and Bijapur defeating Mayavadins, spreading Tattvavada philosophy, and giving Taptamudhradaran, thus initiating them into Vaishnavism. While residing on the banks of river Krishna, he wrote a tippani for Tattva Prakashika called Bhavadipa. He wrote a direct commentary on Anubhashya, called Tattva Manjari.

Sri Raghavendra Swami visits the Samadhi [Brindabana] of Jayatirtha at Malkhed 

At Malkhed he celebrated the Suddha Mangala of his teachings and discourses. Malkhed is situated on the Kabini River and is the place of Sri Jayatirtha's Brindavan. Raghavendra Swami explained that, just the way Kabini River joins Bhima river, then Krishna River, and finally the ocean, Sri Jayatirtha’s work explains Bhashya of Sri Madhvacharya, who in turn tells us of Lord Krishna, who is an ocean of auspicious qualities.

Sri Raghavendra Swami writes a commentary on Rig-veda

Raghavendra Swami undertook extensive tours, under so many odds, visiting Tirupati, Srisailam, Kumbhakonam, and Kanchi. He neither stopped teaching his devotees nor did he stop writing books. He took a vow to write Tippanis for all the Tikas of Sri Jayathirtha. When he had completed tippanis for 17 of the 18 Tikas of Sri Jayatirtha, Lakshminarayanacharya, his son, shows him his work on Rig Bhashya, written along Raghavendra Swami's line of teaching. This great saint felt that his disciple's teaching should be shown to the rest of the world, so instead of writing a Tippani, he wrote a Rigartha Manjari, a vivritti, which gives the meaning of the first 40 suktas. He wrote Mantroddhara, which gives details of all mantras according to Tantrasara. By understanding the mantras according to Tantrasara, it is possible to perform many impossible tasks, through the grace of Sri Hari, by leading an austere life.
During his pilgrimages, Raghavendra Swami not only covered a vast area geographically in the days when road conditions were poor and travel was arduous, but also wrote several works covering a vast area of the Tattvavada philosophy. He convincingly defeated many Advaitin pandits, through the grace of Bharati Ramana Mukhyapranantargata Srilaxminarayana.


Although Raghavendra Swami performed various miracles, the most significant miracle lies in the vast literature he left behind and his contribution to the philosophy of Sri Madhvacharya. He wrote extensive commentaries on the upanishads, Bhagavad gita, vedas, as well as several granthas that Madhvacharya wrote.

Believed to be Raghavendra Swami's Real Painting
Sri Raghavendra Tirtha retrieves the necklace from the fire

The Tanjavore district was under a great drought at that time. Raghavendra Swami made the ruler perform appropriate rituals and ceremonies. Soon afterwards, rain once again fell upon the lands. The king, to show his gratitude offered Raghavendra Swami a priceless necklace, which Raghavendra Swami in turn put into the Yajna as an offering to Lord Vishnu, who had really brought the region out of the drought. The king grew angry at what he thought was an insult. Raghavendra Swami immediately brought back the necklace from the fire. The king, realizing that for one who renounced the world a necklace meant nothing, asked for Raghavendra Swami's forgiveness.
Raghavendra Swami visited Bijapur, where the scorching heat was unbearable. One brahmin was overcome by the heat and fell down, unable to get up. Raghavendra Swami recited a mantra, and water sprung up from the scorching sands, which saved the Brahmin's life. In another instance, a child was traveling with an entourage, through a desert. The heat was so unbearable that the child started to cry. Raghavendra Swami threw his upper cloth towards the child. Flying through the air, it gave shade to the child for the rest of the journey.

Sri Raghavendra Swami shows the power of Vedic mantras

At that time there was a Desai who had no faith in God or the Vedas. He would challenge scholars to make a twig sprout, using Vedic mantras. No one was able to do this. So then the people called Raghavendra Swami to prove to the Desai the power of the Vedas. He sprinkled some water on the twig while reciting a Vedic mantra, right before the Desai's eyes, the twig began to sprout. This incident instilled deep faith in the hearts of many scholars who were present. They had heard that Raghavendra Swami, in his earlier days, had made the cool sandalwood paste burn, by reciting the Agni Sukta, and then made it cool again by reciting Varuna Sukta. After witnessing the twig sprout with their own eyes, they believed that such miracles were possible through the grace of the Lord. The Desai, himself, who used to scoff the Vedas, became a true believer in God and upheld the Vedas, with Raghavendra Swami as his guiding light.
Raghavendra Swami, while performing miracles clearly stated that what he did was not magic or sorcery or witchcraft. It was not Patanjali's yoga, but the yoga of the Bhagavad Gita. The aim of his miracles was to remove the suffering of those who seek refuge in him and thus draw them towards God and religion.

Dasha prakaranas (6): Commentaries on six of the ten Prakarana-granthas of Madhva sutra-prasthana -- works on the Brahma-sutra
Nyayamukthavali (Brief exposition of the adhikaranashariras of the Brahma-sutra) Tantradipika (A vritti on the sutras)
Bhavadipa (Exposition upon the commentary of Sri Jayatirtha upon the vishnu-tattva-vinirnaya)
Prakasha (Commentary on the tatparya chandrika of Vyasa Tirtha)
Tattvamanjari (Exposition of the anubhashya) (*)
Nyayasudha-parimala (Commentary on nyayasudha of Jayatirtha) (*)
(*) -- These may have been written before he was given sanyasa-diksha.

Rig and upanishad prasthanas
Mantrarthamanjari (Commentary on the first three adhyayas of the Rig Veda (the same portion as touched upon by Madhva) Khandarthas (lucid expositions) on nine out of the ten upanishads commented upon by Madhva -- all except aitareya upanishad.)

Gita prasthana
Commentary on the prameyadipika (itself a commentary on Madhva's gita-bhashhya) Commentary on the nyayadipika (itself a commentary on Madhva's gita-tatparya nirnaya) gitarthasangraha or gita-vivritti (Original work on the Gita) Gitarthamanjari (Not widely extant, but attributed)

Other works
Commentary on pramana paddhati of Jayatirtha
Bhavadipa (Commentary on vadavali of Jayathirtha)
Nyayadipa (Commentary on tarkatandava of Vyasa Tirtha)
Bhattasangraha (Commentary on the entire mimamsa sutras of Jaimini) Shri Ramacharitramanjari, Shri Krishnacharitramanjari
Pratah sankalpa gadya
Tarkatandava tippani
Dhyanapadhdhhati guddhabhavaprakashika (vyakhyana to 'anumadhvavijaya')

Miscellaneous works
Detailed commentary on the Rig Veda (not widely extant, but attributed)
Commentary on the yajur veda
Commentary on the sama veda
Short gloss on the purusha-sukta
Short gloss on the ambhrani-sukta
Short gloss on gharma
Short gloss on the balittha-sukta
Short gloss on hiranyagarbha-sukta

Sri Raghavendra Swami Moola Brindavan [Samadhi]

The time of Sri Raghavendra's entering the Samadhi at the Brindavan, approached. The devotees became aware of it. Hundreds of people came to see the swami and were blessed by him. The swami sent for Dewan Venkanna and asked him to build a beautiful Brindavan. He laid out the beautiful Brindavan. The devotees were filled with grief because the swami's end was nearing. Venkanna informed the swami of the completion of the Brindavan. At once the swami said to him, "Venkanna! This Brindavan will be useful to another great saint. There is a big rock in the village of Madhavaram. Make a Brindavan with its help." Venkanna could not understand the reason for such an order. So he said to the swami, "O swami! You have asked me to make a Brindavan by using the rock in the village of Madhavaram. Kindly tell me if there is any special reason for it "The swami replied, "Venkanna! Sri Ramachandra, while traversing the forest, sat on that stone for seven 'ghadias' the stone is sanctified by the contact of his holy feet and has to be worshipped for seven hundred years. That is why I asked you to use it for making the Brindavan." So saying, he cleared the doubts that had troubled Venkanna's mind. Venkanna made the Brindavan as ordered by the swami. Various scholars, poets and musicians came to see the sight of the swami entering the Brindavan alive. On Thursday, the second day of the bright fortnight, in the month of sravan, in the year of Virodhikritha, the great saint, Sri Raghavendra Tirtha, entered the Samadhi in the Brindavan, alive. The event was marked by great festivity. As ordered by the swami, they kept 700 saligrams (natural manifestations of god) in the Brindavanam and covered it with a large stone and consecrated a place in front of the Brindavan. Even to this day, worship is offered, with vedic rites, to the Brindavan as well as to the image of Sri Anjaneya.
Among the disciples of Sri Raghavendra Swami, Appalacharya was the most notable. The swami had sent him to another village on some business. He was, therefore, not present at the event of the swami's entry into the Brindavan. On his return journey, he heard the news of Sri Raghavendra's entry into the Brindavan. Regretting that he could not have the last glimpse of his guru, he ran to the place, praising Sri Raghavendra swami. As he neared the Brindavan, the sloka in praise of the swami was incomplete with the words, "Vibhutiratula". Instantly, Sri Raghavendra Swami, who is well known for his affection for his disciples, completed the verse with the words "sakshihayasyotrahi." Even to this day, this priase of Sri Raghavendra Swami, written by Appalacharya, is recited by scholars and lay men. This verse, beginning with the words "Sripurnabodha guruthirtha payobdhipara” if recited 108 times, will help a person to get his desire fulfilled. All baneful conditions will disappear. All sins will be recompensed. This need not be mentioned separately, these effects of worshipping at the Brindavan, are known to the devotees by their own experience. It is mentioned that Sri Raghavendra had himself announced to the devotees, from the Brindavan, that Lord Hayagriva will himself be witness to the efficiency of this sloka in his praise. Sri Appalacharya has written the Sri Raghavendra Mangalastakam in addition to the Sri Raghavendra Stothram for which people are much indebted to him.
The original Raghavendra Swami Brindavan is located in Mantralaya, which is in Western Andhra Pradesh, in the district of Kurnool. The colloquial name for the place, Maanchale, has been sanskritized into Mantralaya. Under the grace of Sri Raghavendra, Mantralaya has become a pilgrimage center, where devotees flock to have a glimpse of the Brindavan of this great saint.

Sir Thomas Munroe’s encounter with Raghavendra Swami

When Sir Thomas Munroe was the Collector of Bellary in 1800, the Madras Government ordered him to procure the entire income from the Math and Manthralaya village. When the Revenue officials were unable to comply with this order, Sir Thomas Munroe visited the Math for investigation. It appeared as if he spoke with someone near the Samadhi and later Munroe cancelled the order and Mantralaya remained exempt from any collections.
This notification was published in the Madras Government Gazette in Chapter XI on page 213, with the caption ``Manchali Adoni Taluka. This order is still preserved in Fort St. George and Manthralaya.

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