Vyasa Raja (1447-1539) was the preceptor or Raja Guru of six Emperors of Vijayanagar. A disciple of Sripadaraja of Mulabagal, he was sent to the court of Vijayanagar by Sripadaraja himself.
All the Vijayanagar Emperors and noblemen regarded Vyasa Raja as the guardian saint of Vijayanagar. They had a deep and abiding respect for the seer’s scholarship, his impeccable conduct and his unquenched and continued quest for knowledge.
One incident illustrates how much importance Vyasa Raja gave to knowledge. One day, the Vijayanagar Emperor, Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530), invited the sage to came to Hampi or Vijayanagar, the City of victory. He sent a pallaki or palanquin to the seer.
Vyasa Raja was seated on the decorated palanquin and brought into the city with much fanfare. People lined both sides of the streets through which the palanquin with the royal standard and royal insignia passed by.
Drummers and heralds announced the arrival of the seer and music was being played. The town criers were shouting themselves hoarse about the Madhwa seer and his achievements.
Amid the cacophony of sound and noise, Emperor Krishna Deva Raya moved forward towards the palanquin and reverentially pulled aside the silk curtain on one side of the palanquin.
By then, it was almost dark and the torches on the roads and those held by the soldiers were giving out a bright play of light. Even in the fading light, the Emperor was astonished when he saw Vyasa Raja oblivious to the sound and music. He was reading intently from a book and he even did not notice the Emperor peering at him.
Emperor Krishna Deva Raya’s respect to Vyasa Raja increased manifold when he saw this spectacle. He welcomed the Madhwa seer with all graciousness and seated him with royal honours in his darbar hall.
As far as Vyasa Raja as concerned, he accepted the honors with grace but he did not hanker after honors and the Emperor’s friendship. He continued to advise the Emperor till Krishna Deva Raya died in 1529. He was also the royal preceptor of Krishna Deva Raya’s successor, Achuta Deva Raya till 1539.
Krishna Deva Raya held public darbars every day whenever he was in the royal capital. A seat on an elevated platform was always kept for his beloved Raja Guru. However, Vyasa Raja rarely attended the durbar and he did so only is his presence was wanted.
He never took advantage of his close and deep friendship with Krishna Deva Raya and other five Vijayanagar Emperors to either force Madhwa religion and philosophy or denigrate other streams of religion and philosophies.
He was happy to enter into debates with other philosophers and win over them. He never compelled people to follow him or his philosophy. He respected seers and saints from other streams of religion and philosophy.
He held a parallel durbar and this was religious and philosophical in nature which even the Emperors attended. Even foreign travelers such as Domingo Paes and Nuniz came to the durbar and paid their respects to the royal perceptor. Even the Ambassador of the Adil Shah of Bijapur attended this durbar.
If Krishna Deva Raya had the eight gems in his court such as Tenali Ramakrishna, Allasani Pedanna and others, Vyasa Raja’s court had such magnificent personalities such as Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Belur Vaikunta Dasa of the Das Koota and Vadiraja Theertha, Srinivasa Theertha, Rama Theertha (both Srinivasa Theertha and Rama Theertha followed Vyasa Raja as the royal preceptors of the Vijayanagar Kings after Vyasa Raja entered Brindavan. These two saints to entered Brindavan in Nava Brindavana), Sudheendra Theertha, Vijendra Theertha and many others.
If the Royal court and durbar was known for its riches, pomp and pageantry, Vyasa Raja’s court was known for its knowledge, its holiness, nearness to Hari, music and philosophy.
These two parallel courts enhanced the power and prestige of the Vijayanagar dynasty. If one came to be widely regarded as the richest and most ornamental durbar halls of all times, the other-Vyasa Raja darbar-was known for its simplicity, holiness, honesty, sincerity and straightforwardness and its nearness to the real God.
If Purandara Dasa was the chief ornament of the Dasa Sahitya, the incomparable Vadiraja was the glittering star among philosophers. That Vadiraja was an accomplished composer was unquestionable.
This court-which we can term as the court of knowledge and philosophy- often adjourned regularly to the VijayanagarUniversity of which Vyasa Raja was the Chancellor. This University had more than 10,000 students and they were fortunate in learning the nuances of Dasa and Vyasa Koota and the leading lights of both these schools were their teachers.
Anyone who came into contact with Vyasa Raja could not but help heap praises on him. Even the enemies of Vijayanagar such as the Adil Shahi Emperors paid their respects to the seer and honored hi with an umbrella. Even Empires that were situated far off from south India such as the Mughal Empire in the north honoured Vyasa Raja with an umbrella. The Mughal Emperor then-Babur who had just then set up his empire with Delhi as his capital.
A Smartha poet from Kanchi-Somanath Kavi-has written about the life and times of Vyasa Raja and his immediate disciple on the Sri Matha-Srinivasa Theertha- has also written about his guru. Both these accounts give us a close and clear picture of Vyasa Raja and his period.
Moreover, there are several compositions of Purandara Dasa and even Purandara’s son Madhwapathi Dasa where they mention Vyasa Raja and his contributions. These records and contemporary accounts give us adequate information on this great Madhwa sage.
Vyasa Raja continues to be the Raja Guru of Vijayanagar even after the death of Krishna Deva Raya in 1529. He continues to advise Achuta Deva Raya (1529-1542).
It was during the reign of Achuta Deva Raya that Vyasa Raja entered brindavana at Nava Brindavana near Hampi. He had selected the spot to enter Brindavana earlier and Achuta Deva Raya took personal interest in getting the Brindavana ready.
Vyasa Raja had foreseen his demise and he had asked Emperor Achuta Deva Raya to construct the Brindavana in a specific manner. The Emperor had strictly adhered to these instructions.
Just before he entered Brindavana, Vyasa Raja had warned Achuta Deva Raya about the impending end of the Vijayanagar Empire. He had clearly realised that the days of the Hindu Empire was numbered and he wanted the Emperor to take remedial measures.
Alas, the advice went in vain. Either the Emperor was powerless to effect any change or he did not pay adequate heed. The period after 1539, the year when Vyasa Raja entered Brindavana, speaks of the epicurean lifestyle of the people of Vijayanagar and the extravagant and often unholy life of the Emperors and noblemen.
Among the thousands of people who witnessed Vyasa Raja entering Brindavana was Purandara Dasa, the great Haridasa and poet-composer, Emperor Achuta Deva Raya himself and all his noblemen.
Purandara Dasa has written a song on the last day of Vyasa Raja and he mentions the day and date on which the ser entered Brindavana.
Thus we see that Vyasa Raja enters Brindavana in Nava Brindavana after breathing his last at his beloved ashrama in Hampi. He had chosen his spot for his final resting place and this was in the midst of several other Madhwa saints on the banks of the Tungabhadra.