Vyasaraja and Raghavendra Swamy, the two avatars after Shankukarna, Prahalada and Balmiki lived and preached just a few decades apart. If Vyasaraja attained Samadhi in 1539, Rayaru or Raghavendra Swamy was born less than 50 years after this event.
If Vyasaraja strode like a colossus in the 16th Century, Raghavendra did so in his next avatar and this was in the 17th century. Though only a few decades of difference existed between them, the political, economic and social conditions in the periods in which they lived was as varied as they could be.
Vyasaraja lived in the period when Vijayanagar Empire was at the height of its glory. He was the Vidya Guru of no less than six Vijayanagar Emperors and perhaps the most illustrious among them was Krishna Deva Raya.
While Krishna Deva Raya died in 1529, Vyasaraja entered Brindavana in Nava Brindavana in 1539 during the reign of Achuta Deva Raya.
Though the Vijayanagar Kings were constantly at war against the Deccan Muslim states of Bijapur (Adil Shahis), Golconda (Nizam Shahs), Bidar (Barid Shahs), Ahmednagar and Berar, people were by and large prosperous. The empire included parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Pondicherry.
The economy was booming: art and literature flourished: religious activities abounded and people were fairly well to do.
Vyasaraja exerted immense influence on the Vijayanagar Emperors. Yet, he did not misuse it and he gave equal importance to all religions and taught tolerance. A rare Madhwa, he never denigrated other religions or condemned other faiths. No wonder, he was honored by a white umbrella by the Adil Shah Sultan of Bijapur, the Nizam Shah of Golkonda and even by Babur, the Mughal Emperor.
By the time Vyasaraja entered Brindavana in Nava Brindavana near Hampi, practically the whole of south India was under Vijayanagar rule and there was political stability booming economy and a vibrant religious life. Vyasa Raja had given life to Vyasa Koota-a philosophical school of thought that propagated Madhwa Siddantha and Dasa Koota-Haridasas or singer composers who sang the glory of Hari.
Vyasa Raja has sparked off a new thread of Madhwa siddantha revival and it was being carried forward by the Vyasa Koota luminaries such as Vadiraja of Sonde (1480-1600), Srinivasa Theertha (1564), his immediate disciple and Peetadhipathi of the Vyasaraja Matha and his successor Rama Theertha (1584), Vijayendra Theertha (1571-1614) and Sudheendra Theertha (1623) of Kumbakonam Sri Matha which later transformed into Raghavendra Swamy Matha and the Haridasa lineage which was represented by Purandara (1480-1564), Kanaka (1509-1609) and Vaikunta Dasas (1480-1550).
However, by the time Raghavendra Swamy was born, the Vijayanagar Empire had met its waterloo. It was defeated by the combined Muslim armies of Golconda and Bijapur in the Battle of Rakasa Tangadi or Talikota in 1565. Rakasa and Tangadi are two small villages in Talikota taluk of Bjapur district and the Mulsim armies had routed the Vijayanagar Army under Aliya Rama Raya there.
The rout of the Vijayanagar Army not only signaled the destruction of Vijayanagar or Hampi but it also led to the mass destruction of Hindu temples and desecration of Hindu way of life. The Haridasas of Vijayanagar fled when the Muslim armies reached the gates of Hampi.
The Haridasa movement was impacted greatly by the defeat and the Dasa tradition almost disappeared. Purandara Dasa’s son, Madhwapati Dasa, who was living in Hampi moved to Pune and took with him some of the lyrics and compositions of his father. Kanaka Left Hampi and the Dasa movement almost sputtered to a halt.
The whole of south India became a free for all after the Vijayanagar Empire fell. Small principalities ruled by Palegars and Nayaks came into being but they were no match against the might of the Bijapur Adil Shahis.
From 1565 till it was conquered by Aurangzeb in 1686, Bijapur became the centre of art and architecture in south India and it was also the biggest city in the peninsula. The Adil Shahis overran all Hindu Kingdoms and even conquered Mysore. The Hindus suffered at the hands of the Mughals and other religiously inclined Muslim states.
It was during this dark period that Raghavendra Swamy was born. He quickly assumed the mantle of the Sri Matha from Sudheendra Theertha and went about reviving the Madhwa way of life. Kings and Emperors, Muslims and Hindus, and people of all castes and communities discovered the greatness of Raghavendra and sought his blessings.
Raghavendra feared none and he spread his message of love and affection even in the predominantly Muslim Kingdom of Bijapur and Golconda.
Raghavendra Swamy did visit Hampi and Anegundi. He also spent time at Nava Brindavana but he did not speak about his previous avatar as Vyasaraja. He went about his work, singing the praise of Hari and giving discourses and performing miracles. People were attracted to him like iron to a magnet.
Raghavendra set about reviving the fallings spirits of Hindu religion. When he entered Brindavana at Mantralaya in 1671, the temple town quickly became the centre of Haridasa renaissance. Scores of dasas sought refuse in Mantralaya and poured out hundreds of composition and lyrics.
Thus Raghavendra sparked the second revival of the Hari Dasa movement. If Vyasa Raja led the outpouring of Haridasa movement in Hampi, Raghavendra oversaw a similar revival from Mantralaya.
If Kings and Emperors sought out Vyasaraja at Hampi, Raghavendra too was similarly sought out and this even after he entered Brindavana. However, there is only one dissimilarity between the tow avatars: Vyasaraja wrote several compositions and songs under the pen name of Srikrishna. Raghavendra wrote less but preached more. Soon, Raghavendra became a man of the masses, while Vyasaraja remained a man of scholars and a man of mighty scholastic abilities and the founder of the Dasa and Vyasa Koota.
Vyasa Raja installed 732 idols of Hanuman, while Raghavendra consecrated just three idols of Hanuman.
To this day, the differences in the two avatars persist. Lakhs of people flock to Raghavendra Swamy and consider him to the Kaliyuga Kamadhenu. Only a handful among them visit Anegundi and pray to Vyasa Raja. Moreover, there are only a handful of instances of Vyasa Raja coming in the dreams of people or performing miracles, while this is all the more associated with Raghavendra Swamy.