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Why it was imperative to restore the sacred structure of Sri Vyasa Tirtha of Brindavana that was vandalized recently

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On 18 July, the Brindavana of Sri Vyasaraja, a revered guru from the Madhva (Dvaita Vedanta) tradition was desecrated and razed to the ground – reminiscent of an uncomfortable past of the Hampi area that all Hindus are familiar with. For Madhwas near and far familiar with the height of this great muni, this was nothing short of devastating. However, his legacy is not limited to a particular strain of Vedantic thought, and I wanted to take some time to introduce him to the broader Hindu community and his contribution to Sanatana Dharma in a few words and with that, hope to strengthen the greater cultural bond that unites us all, one that we seem to forget now and then. Maybe this essay will reach the hands (and more importantly the hearts) of the miscreants behind this heinous crime one day – and maybe the weight of this act will hit home like a ton of bricks.

He was born around the year 1460 in Bannur, in the Mysore District of present-day Karnataka and was named Yatiraja during his Upanayana. He was brought up by Sri Brahmaya Tirtha, a guru of the Madhva order and was ordained to Sannyasa by him. The name he bestowed on the young sannyasin speaks of how impressed he was with his attainment – Vyasaraja. Soon after his succession as the head of the mutt owing to the death of his guru, Sri Vyasa Tirtha went to Kanchi to study and there he acquired deep learning in Vedanta and the Shastras. After this, he went to learn under the great Sripadaraja at Mulbagal. He soon became a renowned pandit and around this time, he was entrusted with the worship of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala – and was the Rajaguru to the King of Chandragiri.

Sri Vyasaraja is undoubtedly one of the greatest contributors to philosophical thought that our country has produced, and I do not use those words loosely. Surendranath Dasgupta (an eminent historian of Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit Scholar) in the History of Indian Philosophy – Vol. 4 writes in the preface: “In my opinion Jaya Tirtha and Vyasa Tirtha present the highest dialectical skill in Indian thought…… particularly of Vyasa Tirtha will realize the strength and uncompromising impressiveness of the dualistic position.  The logical skill and the depth of acute dialectical thinking shown by Vyasa Tirtha stand almost unrivaled in the whole field of Indian thought.”

His works like Nyayamruta, Tatparya Chandrika, Tarka Tandava and Mandara Majiri are gems in the world of Sanskrit literature and pillars of Madhva philosophy. In terms of the importance of philosophers in Madhva thought, he’s among the foremost next only to Madhwacharya himself, and Sri Jayatirtha – part of the Munitraya. Dr. BNK Sharma, an esteemed Madhva scholar writes – “We find in his works a profoundly wide knowledge of ancient and contemporary systems of thought and an astonishingly brilliant intellect coupled with rare clarity and incisiveness of thought and expression.” His depth of knowledge and dazzling intellect were recognized by all his contemporaries and every student of Indian Philosophy after him.

Perhaps the legacy of his most well known to people is his influence in the great Vijayanagar empire and is the Guru to the mighty Krishna Deva Raya – this was noted even by foreign visitors to Hampi. It was his brilliant performance and scintillating victories over his opponents in the court of Saluva Narasimha in Chandragiri – the most famous one being a thirty-day long debate with Basava Bhatta of Kalinga (present-day Orissa). Under his guidance, the Vijayanagar empire reached its zenith, and the glory of Hampi was recorded by foreigners and Indian travelers alike as is well known. Krishna Deva Raya’s reverence for Sri Vyasa Tirtha was so great, that the king considered the guru his Kula Devata. For a long time, Vijayanagar withstood the onslaught from Muslim sultanates but eventually succumbed after Sri Vyasa Tirtha’s death, when Hampi is said to have burned for days. It is a matter of deep irony that even at that time, the attackers spared Anegundi, the location of the Navabrindavana of which his is one.

Sri Vyasa Tirtha’s role as a social reformer is also monumental, as the visionary who kick-started and provided institutional support to the Haridasa movement in Karnataka and adding a new dimension to the Bhakti movement of India. He was the guru that gave Deeksha to both Purandara Dasa, the Pitamaha of Carnatic music and perhaps the greatest singer-saint that graced Bharatakhanda, and Kanaka Dasa. Their songs in  Kannada spread the message of Bhakti and the complex tenets of Madhva philosophy to every household in Karnataka irrespective of caste or creed, and through Carnatic music practically to millions around the world. He himself composed some beautiful songs in Kannada under the pen name Siri Krishna – like Krishna Nee Begane Baro, and Gajamukhane Siddhidayakane.

Sri Vyasa Tirtha also established a university of eminence that became dizzyingly famous around the country and scholars came here from all directions to learn under the great guru producing giants like Vijayeendra Tirtha, Vadiraja Tirtha Narayana Yati and others. His was perhaps the first example of a composite university anywhere in the world. Also, he appointed scholars at prestigious institutions around the country, including Udupi, Gaya, Kashi, and Haridwar.

During his lifetime, he established over 732 Hanuman (Mukhyaprana) temples around the country. He is said to have provided food to over one lakh Brahmanas every day and set up countless Agraharas. He was a statesman of the highest order, an intellectual and scholar par excellence, a social reformer whose heart was with the poor and needy, a glorious son of India and above all a great devotee of Sri Hari and a beacon light of Dvaita Vedanta till today. This most unpardonable and detestable act that we have witnessed in Anegundi should now pierce at our hearts even more and should be a haunting reminder that unless we protect and nurture our cultural treasures, they will slip away in front of our very eyes.

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः


  4. History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 4 – Surendranath Dasgupta

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