Today is the first day of the three-day Aradhana of Raghavendra Swamy (1595-1671).
Raghavendra Swamy is one of the foremost Madhwa saints and his one of the most widely worshipped saint in the world. Though he entered Brindavana 343 years ago, he continues to inspire devotion, faith and fervour. A man of the masses, Raghavendra Swamy was an unparalleled scholar, mystic, philosopher and religious icon.
He strode across India and revived Hindu thought, religion and philosophy when Hinduism was in peril. The Deccan or South India during the time of Raghavendra Swamy was in political turmoil. The Vijayanagar Empire, which was founded in 1336 had led to a revival of Hindu religion and it had stood as a bulwark against the expansion by Muslim states. Though the continuing battle between the Vijayanagar and Bahamani forces weakened both the kingdoms, Hindus never felt more safer and secure than when they were under the shelter of Vijayanagar emperors.
Vyasa Raja or Vyasa Theertha (1460-1539), as the previous avatar of Raghavendra Swamy, had presided over the Vijayanagar Empire at its peak. He was the Raja Guru of six Vijayanagar Emperors, including Krishna Deva Raya. Vyasa Raja entered Brindavana at Nava Brindavana in Anegundi on the banks of the Tungabhadra in 1539, a decade after Krishna Deva Raya died. Vyasa Raja had founded the Vyasa Koota and Dasa Koota schools. If Dasa Koota celebrated the glory of Vittala or Hari by means of songs and poems, Vyasa Koota was its philosophical counterpart. Vyasa Raja contributed to both and nurtured them.
Once the Vijayanagar Empire was ravaged by the Muslim states of the Deccan in 1565 (The Vijayanagar Emperor, Rama Raya, who was the son-in-law of Krishna Deva Raya, was beheaded in the battle of Talikota or Rakasa Tangadi in 1565 after which Hampi or Vijayanagar was sacked, burnt and totally destroyed), the innumerable dasas and men of literature and learning were forced to flee. Among those who escaped were Madhwapati Dasa, the son of Purandara Dasa and his brothers. Some of the Dasas went to Pune where they were patronised while the others sought refuge in smaller kingdoms. During the age of Raghavendra Swamy, the Adilshahis of Bijapur were the most powerful force in south India. Though the Adil Shahis were generally tolerant of other religions, they were essentially Shia Muslims.
The Adil Shahis, after sacking Vijayanagar, were at war with other Hindu states. They even conquered Mysore for a short time before they were repulsed. Their generals under Shahaji, the father of Shivaji, had captured Bangalore and exiled Kempe Gowda to Magadi.
By the middle of the 17th century, the South had become a vast battleground where the Mughals under Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707), the Adil shahis under Mohammad Adil Shah (1627-1657)-the builder of Gol Gumbaz, Ali Adil Shah (1657-1672) and Sikander Adil Shah (1672-1686), the Qutb Shahi Kings of Golconda, Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah (1612–1626),
Abdullah Qutb Shah (1626–1672) and Abul Hasan Qutb Shah (1672–1689) and the Marathas under Shivaji waged wars against each other.
The repeated incursions of the Mughals into the Deccan and the weakening of Hindu kingdoms, with the exception of the Mysore Kingdom of Wodeyars, dealt a severe blow to Hindu art, culture and philosophy. Of course, religion too was affected. It was at this time that Raghavendra Swamy strode across India.
Rayaru, as Raghavendra Swamy is popularly known, sparked the revival of the Dasa Sahitya. Raichur and the areas surrounding Mantralaya became the hub of the Dasa Sahitya movement and the first among them was Vijaya Dasa (1682-1755). Several generations of Haridasas such as Gopala Dasa, Jaganatha Dasa of Manvi, Guru Jagannatha Dasa, Abhinava Janardhana Dasa and others were inspired by Rayaru to compose poems in praise of Hari.
Rayaru also contributed to the robust revival of Madhwa thought and philosophy when he composed several outstanding works. His Bhatasangraha is an outstanding piece of philosophical work. It is an insightful commentary on the entire Mimamsa Sutra of Jaimini. His commentaries on the works of Jayatheertha or Teekacharya such as Nyayasudha Parimala, which is a commentary on the Nyaya sudha, commentary on pramana paddhati of Jayatheertha and Bhavadeepa, a commentary on Vaadavalii (a book by Jayattheertha) led to renewed interest in the works of Jayatheertha.
Rayaru also interpreted several works of Madhwacharya and gave a new and meaningful insight into them. His Mantraarthamanjari is an exquisite commentary on the first three adhyaayas of the Rig Veda. Incidentally, Rayaru has touched upon the same portions which four centuries earlier had been dealt with by Madhwacharya.
Rayaru also interpreted two works of Vyasa Theertha or Vyasaraja, his earlier avatar. The Prakasha is a commentary on the Tatparya Chandrika of Vyasa Theertha and the Nyayadeepa, a commentary on Tarkatandava of Vyasa Theertha.
More than anything else, Rayaru by his humanitarian nature, piety, devotion to God, deep and everlasting concern for the poor and needy and simplicity inspired one and all who came in contact with him.
Rayaru came down to earth only to guide, help mankind. Even on the day he entered Brindavana, he showed his concern for the poor and the needy and performed several miracles. Though he entered Brindavana more than three centuries ago, he continues to inspire and guide us.
The aradhane of Rayaru is not only celebrated in Mantralaya but in mathas all over the world and in lakhs of houses. Rayaru will continue leading us from gloom to light, from bondage to freedom and from ignorance to bliss and knowledge. Here it is apt to remember Henry Newman’s poem, Lead Kindly Light.
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene–one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.
So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!