Acharya Madhwa and Significance of Madhwa Navami

The nineth day (Navami) of the Shukla Paksha of Maagha, is observed as Madhwa Navami, all over India especially in the muths owing allegiance to the Tattva Vada of the great saint and philosopher Sri Madhwacharya, who strode India like a collusus between 1238 A.D. and 1317 A.D.  In 1317 AD, in his 79th year he started from Udupi on his third pilgrimage to Badrikashram, never to return,on this very day viz., Maagha Shukla Navami.  This day of his disappearance is observed as his Punya Thithi or sacred remembrance day.

Born to devout parents in Paja village near Udupi in the year 1238, the child was named Vasudeva.  He was initiated into sanyas at the age of 11, in the year 1249, by Achyuta Preksha, his Guru and was renamed as Purna Prajna.  Barely 40 days after his initiation, Purna Prajna defeatd in Tarka (theological debate), well known Pandits who had come to visit Achyuta Preksha and the new disciple Purna Prajna.  This extraordinary event electrified the whole place and Purna Prajna was coronated by his Guru and renamed as Ananda Teertha.

In a series of subsequent debates with pandits, Ananda Teertha astonished one and all by his extraordinary intelligence and grip on the philosophical and theological tenets.  He then adopted his non de plume, Madhwa, which is a vedic name.  He became famous as Madhwacharya.

He traveled extensively throughout India from Rameshwaram, Ananth Shayan, Kanyakumari, Sri Rangam etc., to the North upto Uttara Badari.  Madhwa has authored more than 40 major monographs.  Among the major works are his Gita Bhaasya, Gita Taaparya, Bhaashya (or commentary) on all the ten Upanishads, Brahma Sutra Bhaashya, Anu Bhaashya, Anuvyaakhyaana, Bhaagavatha Taatparya Nirnaya etc.  Brahma Sutra is a complex work of Sri Bhagavan Vedavyasa to explain the Vedas. When Madhwa wrote his Bhaashya or commentary on the Brahma Sutra, there were already 21 existing Bhaashyas or commentaries on Brahma Sutra by others.  In his Bhasshya, Madhwa threw light on a very complex subject and showed where the earlier commentators had gone wrong.  He was the first to categorically postulate that the Vedas show Sri Hari as the Supreme Lord and the many devataas or godheads such as Indra, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Ganapati, etc., are only partial aspects of the Supreme Lord Sri Hari or Vishnu, also called Naaryana or Krishna.

It is a pity that Madhwa’s commentary did not receive the attention of later commentators such as Sayana and also Western commentators, and this led to wrong interpretation of the Vedas in the subsequent  period.  Not until the period of Kapali Shastry and Sri Aurobindo in the 20th century, did the commentary receive due attention.  It is a matter of some gratification and consolation that Sri Kapali Shastry and Sri Aurobindo recognized the merit of Madhwa’s commentary on the Vedas.

Kannadigas could be proud of the fact that one of theirs wrote such path breaking commentary on the Vedas, Gita and Upanishads and that these commentaries are available in Kannada translation, apart from the original Sanskrit.  Even to this day, Madhwa’s collossal and monumental works are not available completely in English, although here and there some portions may be there.

Madhwa also initiated a number of renowned disciples notable among them being Vishnu Teertha, Padmanabha Teertha, Trivikrama Panditacharya, Narayana Panditacharya, Jayatheertha, Vijayeendra Teertha, Raghavendra Swami (of Mantralayam fame) etc., As is well known, Madhwa also installed the Krishna diety at Udupi and where subsequently 8 maths were established to administer the temple by turns.

Today, in all there are 24 maths, owing allegiance to Madhwa’s tattvavada, including the Gokarna Partagali Math and Kashi Math of Gowda Saraswat Brahmins, as well as the Bengal Maadhwa Gaudiya Math and ISKCON.

It will thus be seen that there is a wide appreciation and acceptance of the Tattvavada as propounded by Madhwa.

What are these tenets ?  In brief we may summarise as below:

  1. Hari is Sarvothama or Supreme and the only sovereign independent entity, who is Paripurna.
  2. All others, Brahma down-wards are souls or Jeevas, dependent on Hari.
  3. The Jeevas are unequal and have various differentiations or gradations in their yogyata or merit.  All the Jeevas are completely depended on Hari and are His servants.
  4. The phenomenal world, which is a matter of experience to all, is real and not an illusion.
  5. Liberation or mukthi for the Jeevas is to be in constant communion and experiencing of their inherent blissful character of Sat, Chit and Ananda, which is theirs, being a tiny fragment in reflection of the Supreme Lord.  There is gradation in intensity of such experience for the Jeevas even in liberation.
  6. Unalloyed Bhakti or devotion to the Lord is the only means to attain Mukti or liberation and none other.
  7. Bhakti or devotion to the Lord is the unshakable attachment and regard to Hari, which transcends attachments to all else (other than Hari); which can come only by realizing the greatness of Hari and His infinite attributes.

It is to be noted that Madhwa regards the Buddha also as an incarnation of the Supreme Lord.

Apart from the above, Madhwa was also a musicologist and several of his stotras, particularly Dwadasha Stotras are set to melodious music.  He was responsible for developing an illustrious lineage of eminent musicologists, in the Dasa tradition, such as Sripada Raja, Sri Vyaasa Tirtha, Sri Vadiraja, Purandara Dasa, Kanakadasa, Vijaydasa, etc.  It is a matter of great satisfaction that thanks to this tradition, Madhwa’s teachings were made available to the common people of Karnataka through melodious bhajans which are sung to this day by a number of talented singers.

Madhwa emphasized the importance of a physically fit body as a vehicle for sadhana or spiritual practice.  Service to the people at large according to their needs, as per one’s own ability and stature in life to do so, is recognizing the divinity in them and mandatory like a tax that we as citizens pay to the government.  Do your duty as prescribed for your stature in life and enjoy the fruits thereof, as your humble offering to Sri Hari.  Hari is the Guru.  He is the father and mother.

In an age where nihilism or shunya vada had started sapping the vitality of a people, Madhwas vibrant Tattva vada with its positive emphasis on right action as on offering to the Lord, gave hope to the people at large.  His most significant contribution perhaps was to correct the wrong interpretation of the Vedas, as a mere manual of rituals to obtain favours from a multiplicity of Gods.  His numerous works on different subjects offers a mine of opportunities for the serious scholars.  We admire the sheer brilliance of his intellect.  On this day, let us hail the great saint philosopher Acharya Madhwa in gratitude and pray that His teachings continue to guide us in our lives.

(Madhwa Navami was celebrated at Bangalore Sri Kashi Math on Saturday, 27th January).

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