A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of madhva’s life: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “madhva and his school”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - Madhva’s Life

Bhandarkar in Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivaism and Minor Religious Systems says that in the Mahābhārata-tātparya-nirṇaya, Madhva has given the date of his birth as Kali 4300. The Kali age, according to Bhāskarācārya, begins with the year 3101 B.C. The date of Madhva’s birth would thus be A.D. 1199 or 1121 śaka. Bhandarkar says that, as some use the current year of an era and some the past, the Śaka era 1121 may be regarded as equivalent to 1119. But the present writer has not been able to discover it in the only printed edition of the text of Mahābhārata-tātparya-nirṇaya (1833 śaka, published by T. R. Kṛṣṇācārya). Bhandarkar, however, approaches the problem by another path also. He says that the list preserved in several of the Maṭhas gives the date of Madhva as śaka 1119, and, as Madhva lived for 79 years, the date of his birth was 1040 śaka. Bhandarkar, however, regards śaka 1119 as the date of his birth, and not of his death as given in the Maṭha list. He says that the inscription in the Kūrmeśvara temple at Śrīkūrma is in a Tāluka of the Ganjam district in which Narahari-tīrtha is represented to have constructed a temple and placed in it an idol of Narasiṃha dated śaka 1203 (Epigraphica Indica, Vol. vi, p. 260). The first person therein mentioned is Puruṣottama-tīrtha, who is the same as Acyutaprekṣa, then his pupil Ānanda-tīrtha, then Narahari-tīrtha, the pupil of Ānanda-tīrtha. Narahari-tīrtha was probably the same as Narasiṃha, the ruler of the Tāluk mentioned above, from Śaka 1191 to 1225. He is mentioned in inscriptions at Śrīkūrman bearing the date śaka 1215, which is represented as the eighteenth year of the king’s reign. He was Narasiṃha II, who was panegyrized in the Ekāvali. From other inscriptions we get Narahari’s date as between 1186 and 1212 śaka. These records confirm the tradition that Narahari-tīrtha was sent to Orissa by Ānanda-tīrtha. Now Narahari-tīrtha’s active period ranged between 1186 to 1215. His teacher Madhva could not have died in śakai 119, i.e. sixty-seven years before him. Bhandarkar therefore takes 1119 (as mentioned in the Maṭha list) as the date of the birth of Madhva, not as the date of his death. This date of Madhva’s birth, śaka 1119 or A.D. 1197, has been accepted by Grierson and Krisnasvami Aiyar, and has not so far been challenged.

We have no authentic information about the life of Madhva. All that we can know of him has to be culled from the legendary and semi-mythical lives of Madhva, called the Madhva-vijaya, and the Maṇi-mañjarī of Nārāyaṇa bhaṭṭa, son of Trivikrama, who was an actual disciple of Madhva. Some information can also be gathered from the adoration hymn of Trivikrama Paṇḍita. Madhva seems to have been a born enemy of Śaṅkara. In the Maṇi-mañjarī, Nārāyaṇa bhaṭṭa gives a fanciful story of a demon, Maṇimat, who interpreted the Vedānta. Maṇimat was born as a widow’s bastard, and therefore he was called Śaṅkara; with the blessing of Śiva he mastered the śāṣṭras at Saurāṣṭra, invented the doctrine of sūrya-mārga, and was welcomed by persons of demoralized temperament. He really taught Buddhism under the cloak of Vedānta. He regarded Brahman as identified with Sūrya. He seduced the wife of his Brahmin host, and used to make converts by his magic arts. When he died, he asked his disciples to kill Satyaprajña, the true teacher of the Vedānta; the followers of Śaṅkara were tyrannical people who burnt down monasteries, destroyed cattle and killed women and children. They converted Prajñā-tīrtha, their chief opponent, by force. The disciples of Prajñā-tīrtha, however, were secretly attached to the true Vedāntic doctrine, and they made one of their disciples thoroughly learned in the Vedic scriptures. Acyutaprekṣa, the teacher of Madhva, was a disciple of this true type of teachers, who originated from Satyaprajña, the true Vedic teacher, contemporary with Śaṅkara.

Madhva was an incarnation of Vāyu for the purpose of destroying the false doctrines of Śaṅkara, which were more like the doctrines of the Lokāyatas, Jainas and Pāśupatas, but were more obnoxious and injurious.

Madhva was the son of Madhyageha bhaṭṭa, who lived in the city of Rajatapītha, near Udipi, which is about 40 miles west of Śṛṅgeri, where there was a celebrated maṭha of Śaṃkara. Udipi is even now the chief centre of Madhvism in South Kanara. The ancient name of the country, which now comprises Dharwar, the North and the South Kanara, and the western part of the State of Mysore, was Tuluva (modern Tulu), which is mostly inhabited by the Madhvas. Grierson, writing in 1915, says that there are about 70,000 Madhvas in the locality. Elsewhere they are more distributed. It must, however, be noted that from the South of Hyderabad to Mangalore, that is, the whole of the North and the South Kanara, may also be regarded as the most important centre of Vīra-Śaivism, which will be dealt with in the fifth volume of the present work. The village of Rajatapītha, where Madhva was born, may probably be identified with the modern Kalyāṇapura. He was a disciple of Acyutaprekṣa, and received the name of Pūrṇaprajña at the time of initiation and later on another name, Ānanda-tīrtha; he is known by both these names. He at first studied the views of Śaṅkara, but soon developed his own system of thought, which was directly opposed to that of Śaṅkara. He refuted twenty-one Bhāṣyas which were written by other teachers who preceded him; and Śeṣa, the disciple of Chalāri-nṛsiṃhācārya, the commentator on the Madhva-vijaya of Nārāyaṇa bhaṭṭa, enumerates the designations of these commentators on the Brahma-sūtra as follows;

Even in Rajatapīthapura he once defeated a great scholar of the Śaṅkara school who came to visit Madhva’s teacher Acyutaprekṣa. He then went to the South with Acyutaprekṣa and arrived at the city of Viṣṇumaṅgala[1]. From here he went southwards and arrived at Anantapura (modern Trivandrum). Here he had a long fight with the Śaṅkarites of the Śṛṅgeri monastery. Thence he proceeded to Dhanuṣkoti and Rāmeśvaram, and offered his adoration to Viṣṇu. He defeated on the way there many opponents and stayed in Rāmeśvaram for four months, after which he came back to Udipi. Having thus established himself in the South as a leader of a new faith, Madhva started on a tour to North India, and, crossing the Ganges, went to Hardwar, and thence to Badarikā, where he met Vyāsa. He was here asked by Vyāsa to write a commentary on the Brahma-sūtra repudiating the false Bhāṣya of Śaṅkara. He then returned to Udipi, converting many Śaṅkarites on the way, such as Śobhana bhaṭṭa and others residing near the banks of the Godāvarī[2]. He at last converted Acyutaprekṣa to his own doctrines. In the eleventh and the thirteenth chapters of the Madhva-vijaya we read the story of the persecution of Madhva by Padma-tīrtha, the head of the Śṛṅgeri monastery, who tried his best to obstruct the progress of the new faith initiated by Madhva and even stole away Madhva’s books, which were, however, returned to him through the intercession of the local Prince Jayasimha of Viṣṇumaṅgala; the faith continued to grow, and Trivirama Paṇḍita, the father of Nārāyaṇa bhaṭṭa, the author of Maṇi-mañjarī and Madhva-vijaya, and many other important persons were converted to the Madhva faith. In his last years Madhva again made a pilgrimage to the North and is said to have rejoined Vyāsa, and to be still staying with him. He is said to have lived for seventy-nine years and probably died in 1198 śaka or A.D. 1276. He was known by various names, such as Pūrṇaprajña, Ānanda-tīrtha, Nandī-tīrtha and Vāsudeva[3].

The treatment of the philosophy of Madhva which is to follow was written in 1930; and so the present writer had no opportunity of diving into Mr Śarmā’s excellent work which appeared some time ago, when the manuscript of the present work was ready for the Press. Padmanābhasura’s Madhva-siddhānta-sāra contains a treatment of Madhva’s doctrines in an epitomized form. Madhva wrote thirty-seven works.

These are enumerated below[4];

  1. The Ṛg-bhāṣya a commentary to the Ṛg-Veda, 1. 1-40;
  2. The Krama-nirṇaya, a discussion on the proper reading and order of the Aitareya-Brāhmaṇa, IV. 1-4, Aitareya-Araṇyaka, IV. 1, and the Vedic hymns cited therein;
  3. The Aitareya-upaniṣad-bhāṣya;
  4. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad-bhāṣya ;
  5. Chāndogya-upaniṣad-bhāṣya;
  6. Taittirīya-upaniṣad-bhāṣya;
  7. Īśāvāsya-upaniṣad-bhāṣya;
  8. Kāthaka-upaniṣad-bhāṣya ;
  9. Muṇḍaka-upaniṣad-bhāṣya;
  10. Māṇḍūkya-upaniṣad-bhāṣya;
  11. Praśno-paniṣad-bhāṣya;
  12. Kenopaniṣad-bhāṣya ;
  13. Mahābhārata-tātparya-nirṇaya ;
  14. Bhagavad-gītā-bhāṣya;
  15. Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya-nirṇaya ;
  16. Bhāgavata-tātparya-nirṇaya;
  17. Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya ;
  18. Brahma-sūtrānubhāṣya ;
  19. Brahma-sūtrānuvyākhyāna;
  20. Brahma-sūtrānuvyākhyāna-nirṇaya;
  21. Pramāṇa-lakṣaṇa ;
  22. Kathā-lakṣaṇa ;
  23. Upādhi-khaṇḍana ;
  24. Māyāvāda-khaṇḍana ;
  25. Prapañca-mithyātānumāna-khaṇḍana ;
  26. Tattvoddyota;
  27. Tattva-viveka;
  28. Tattva-saṃkhyāna;
  29. Viṣṇu-tattva-nirṇaya;
  30. Tantra-sāra-saṃgraha;
  31. Kṛṣṇā-mṛta-mahārṇava;
  32. Yati-praṇava-kalpa;
  33. Sadacāra-smṛti;
  34. Jayanti-nirṇaya or the Jayantī-kalpa;
  35. Yamaka-bhārata;
  36. Nṛsiṃha-nakha-stotra;
  37. Dvādaśa-stotra.

In the list given in the Grantha-mālikā-stotra of Jaya-tīrtha we have Sannyāsa-paddhati instead of Brahma-sūtrānuvyākhyānyāya-nirṇaya. The Catalogus Catalogorum of Aufrecht refers to the report on the search for Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Bombay Presidency during the year 1882-3 by R. G. Bhandarkar, and enumerates a number of other books which are not mentioned in the Grantha-mālikā-stotra.

These are as follows:

  • Ātmajñāna-pradeśa-ṭīkā,
  • Ātmopadeśa-ṭīkā,
  • Ārya-stotra,
  • Upadeśasahasra-ṭīkā,
  • Upaniṣat-prasthāna,
  • Aitareyopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Kāthakopaniṣad-bhāṣya-tippani,
  • Kenopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Kauṣītakyupaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Khapuṣpa-ṭīkā,
  • Guru-stuti,
  • Govinda-bhāṣya-pīthaka,
  • Govindāṣṭaka-ṭīkā,
  • Gauḍapādīya-bhāṣya-ṭīkā,
  • Chāndogyopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Taittirīyopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Taittirīya-śruti-vārttika-ṭīkā,
  • Tripuṭīprakaraṇa-ṭīkā,
  • Nārāyaṇopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Nyāya-vivaraṇa,
  • Pañcīkaraṇa-prakriyā-vivaraṇa,
  • Praśnopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Bṛhajjābālopaniṣad-bhāṣya,
  • Bṛhadāraṇyaka-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Bṛhadāraṇyaka-vārttika-tikā,
  • Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya-ṭīkā,
  • Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya-nirṇaya,
  • Brahmānanda,
  • Bhakti-rasāyana,
  • Bhagavad-gītā-prasthāna,
  • Bhagavad-gītā-bhāṣya-vivecana,
  • Māndūkyopaniṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Mitabhāṣiṇī,
  • Rāmottara-tāpanīya-bhāṣya,
  • Vākyasudhā-ṭīkā,
  • Viṣṇusahasranāma-bhāṣya,
  • Vedānta-vārttika,
  • Śaṅkara-vijaya,
  • Śaṅkarācārya-avatāra-kathā,
  • Śataśloka-ṭīkā,
  • Saṃhitopaniṣad-bhāṣya,
  • Saṃhito-pamṣad-bhāṣya-ṭippaṇī,
  • Sattattva,
  • Sadācāra-stuti-stotra,
  • Smṛti-vivaraṇa,
  • Smṛti-sāra-samuccaya,
  • Svarūpa-nirṇaya-ṭīkā,
  • Harimīḍe-stotra-ṭīkā.

Footnotes and references:


Madhva-viyaya, V. 30.


Ibid. IX. 17.


A few works in English have appeared on Madhva. The earliest accounts are contained in

  • “Account of the Madhva Gooroos” collected by Major MacKenzie, 24 August 1800, printed on pp. 33 ff. of the “Characters” in the Asiatic Annual Register, 1804 (London, 1806);
  • H. H. Wilson’s “Sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus,” reprinted from Vols, XVI and XVII of Asiatic Researches, London, 1861, 1, pp. 139 ff.;
  • Krishnaswami Aiyar’s Śrī Madhva and Madhvaism, Madras;
  • R. G. Bhandarkar’s Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivaism and Minor Religious Systems; Bombay Gazetteer, Vol. XXII, “Dharwar,” Bombay, 1884;
  • G. Venkoba Rao’s “A sketch of the History of the Maddhva Achāryas,” beginning in Indian Antiquary, XLIII (1914),
  • and C. M. Padmanābhacārya’s Life of Madhvācārya.

S. Subba Rao has a complete translation of the commentary of Śrī Madhvācārya on the Brahma-sūtra and a translation in English of the Bhagavad-gītā with the commentary according to Śrī Madhvācārya’s Bhāṣya. The preface of this Bhagavad-gītā contains an account of Madhva’s life from an orthodox point of view. There is also P. Ramchandra Roo’s The Brahma Sutras, translated literally according to the commentary of Śrī Madhvācārya (Sanskrit, Kumbakonam, 1902); G. A. Grierson has a very interesting article on Madhva in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. vm; Mr Nāgarāja Śarmā has recently published a recondite monograph on the philosophy of Madhva.


See Helmuth von Glasenapp’s Madhvas Philosophic des Vishṇu-Glaubens, P. 13.

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