The Paramaguru of Rayaru

He was born to rule the spiritual world and he did so with his customary elan and finesse. A renowned scholar, author and the head of a powerful matha, he put several other scholars ad pandits on the backfoot with his deep knowledge of philosophy and extensive literary talent.

A man who had mastered all the arts, he was one of the favourite disciples of one of India’s best known philosopher-logician-composer and rajaguru-the indomitable Vyasa Raja or Vyasa Theertha (1447-1539).

Vyasa Theertha had two disciples who excelled in all the arts and whose knowledge of religion and philosophy astounded every one. The two disciples were Vadiraja (1480-1600) and Vijendra Theertha (1517-1614). Both studied at Vijayanagar University and both of them have left their mark on Madhwa thought and philosophy.

Each of them were indebted to Vyasa Theertha who was the Raja Guru of six Vijayanagar Emperors, including Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530), Achuta Deva Raya (1530-1542), who taught them everything he knew and readied them for taking on the future.

Since Vyasa Thertha was also the chancellor of the magnificent Vijayanagar University where he also taught, he ensured that both Vadiraja and Vijendra were taught everything or rather all the arts, including logic, theology, philosophy, fine arts, magic, painting, sculpting, composing and even dance.

If Vadiraja moved towards the coast (Udupi-Sode region) to spread Madhwa philosophy and made Udupi his base, Vijendra Theertha moved deep south towards Kumbakonam where he was once again schooled in the Sri Matha by its reigning pontiff, Surendra Theertha.

This post is about Vijendra Theertha whose aradhane is being celebrated. One of the most illustrious saints of the Madhwa fold, he has unfortunately not been given the due he deserves. One reason could be because he choose to enter Brindavana at Kumbakonam. Perhaps the distance of Kumbakonam from Mysore region where Madhwa religion and literature flourished contributed to vest an air of obscurity on the seer and his works.

Whatever the reason for not giving Vijendra Theertha his due, none can dispute his mastery over the arts, his superb works and his contribution in steering Madhwa faith and religion through troublesome times. So, here goes a small tribute to this great sage……..

Vyasa Theertha had decided to make Vijendra Theertha the mathadipathi after him but this could not be as Surendra Theertha asked for him during one of his visit to Hampi. Vijendra Theertha was born as Vittalacharya and he was named Vishnu Theertha by Vyasa Theertha.

When Vyasa Theertha reluctantly handed him over to Surendra Theertha, the later renamed him as Vijendra Theertha. When Vijendra Theertha ascended the peetha of the Sri matha, it was sometime in 1575. By then, the Vijayanagar Kingdom had been defeated by the combined Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan (1565) and Hampi was a ruined city.

The complete sack of Hampi and its ruins must have come as a shock to Vijendra Theertha as he had left it at the height of its prosperity. The Vijayanagar Emperor, Ramaraya (son-in-law of Krishna Deva Raya) had placed Vijendra Theertha on the throne and conducted Ratnabhisheka.

Vijendra Theertha had stayed on in Vijayanagar (Hampi) for a few months before leaving for sanchara (pilgrimage). He had foreseen the defeat of Vijayanagar and even warned Rama Raya about it.

As Vishnu Theertha, he had interacted regularly with Vyasa Theertha and his other disciples, including Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Vaikunta Dasa. While Purandara Dasa died in 1564, Kanaka Dasa in 1609 and Vaikunta Dasa in 1550, Vadiraja Thertha had moved to Sode as the head of the Sode Matha. As Vijendra Theertha, he interacted with Sudhindra Teertha, who later became his disciple and two other direct disciples of his Vyasa Theertha-Srinivasa Theertha and Rama Theertha. He also interacted with Madhwapathi Dasa, the son of Purandara Dasa who had fled Hampi after its sacking.

A prolific author, he has to his credit more than one hundred and eight works and they cover a range of topics from religion to literature, grammar to logic, philosophy to fine arts.

Unfortunately, his contribution to Dasa Sahitya and Dasara Padagalu remains unrecognised. He has several beautiful compositions in Kannada. Vyasarajavijaya

and Subhadra Dhananjaya are two beautiful dramatised poetic works. Two other works, Narasimhastuti and Papavimochanastotra are grantha stotras.

He was perhaps the first person to immediately recognise Venkatanatha as the avatar of Vyasa Theertha, his teacher. When Venkatanatha and his wife, Saraswathi, along with their young son, Lakshminarayana, came to the Sri Matha in Kumbakonam, both Vijendra Theertha and his disciple Sudheendra Theertha were seated in the matha.

On seeing Venkatanatha among a crowd of people, Vijendra Theertha recognised him as Vyasa Theertha. He pointed out Venkatanatha to Sudheendra Theertha and asked him to hand over the pontificate of the matha to him after him (Sudheendra Theertha).

Thus, Vijendra Theertha becomes the only seer to see both the avatars of Vyasa Theertha and Raghavendra Swamy. He is the disciple of one and the paramaguru of the other. As Vishnu Theertha, he was a devoted student of Vyasa Theertha and he lived for several years at Vijayanagar. As Vijendra Theertha, he recognises Venkatanatha as Vyasa Theertha and directs Sudheendra Theertha to handover the pontificate to Venkatanatha.

It is sometime in 1614 that Vijendra Theertha decided to enter Brindavana. He chooses Kumbakonam itself for Brindavana pravesha. However, it shpould be understood that there is still no unanimity on the time line of Vijendra Theertha. Different scholars assign different times for this seer. If BNK Sharma, the scholar, assigns him the period between 1517 and 1595, Dr. Vedavyasachar in his Gurucharitre, puts the period of Vijendra Theertha between 1575 and 1614. However, it is best that we go by the dates assigned by the Sri Raghavendra Swamy Matha.

Whatever his timeline, Madhwas and, indeed, all people should never forget the contribution of this saint.

Raghavendra Swamy himself has referred to the works of Vijendra Theertha on several occasions.  

This seer’s aradhana falls in June-July.

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