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 teachers and writers of the madhva school: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth part in the series called the “madhva and his school”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 4 - Teachers and Writers of the Madhva School

Historical enquiry about the Madhvas was probably first started by Kṛṣṇasvāmī Ayer, with a paper in which he tried to solve the question of the age of Madhva[1]: but he was not in a position to utilize the archaeological data as was done by H. Kṛṣṇa Śāstrī[2]. The conclusions at which he arrived were in some cases against the records of the Madhva maṭhas, and the Madhva-Siddhānta Unnāhinī Sabhā, which is annually held at a place near Tirupati, took serious objections to his statements; Subba Rao, in the introduction to his translation of the Gītā-bhāṣya of Madhva, severely criticized Kṛṣṇa Śāstrī for his orthodox bias, stating that he was not posted in all the facts of the question[3]. Later on C. M. Padmanābhācārya also tried to deal with the subject, utilizing the epigraphical data, but only partially[4]; his book deals with all the central facts of Madhva’s life according to the traditional accounts.

We have already dealt with the outline of Madhva’s life. Madhva, on his way from Badarikāśram to South India, had met Satya-tīrtha and had journeyed together with him through the Vaṅga and Kaliṅga countries. In the Telugu country Madhva was challenged by Śobhana bhaṭṭa, a famous monist, who was defeated and converted to Madhva faith. This Śobhana bhaṭṭa was then styled Padmanābha-tīrtha. Madhva had dispute with another scholar who was a prime minister in the Kaliṅga country; he too was converted by Madhva, and was called Narahari-tīrtha. In the meantime the Kaliṅga king had died, leaving an infant son, and Narahari-tīrtha was asked to take charge of the child and administer the state on his behalf. At the instance of Madhva Narahari carried on the regency for twelve years and brought out for him the images of Rāma and Sltā which were in the treasury of the Kaliṅga kingdom. Madhva at one time had a hot discussion leading to a dispute with Padma-tīrtha, a prominent monist of the locality, who, upon being defeated, fled, carrying with him the library of Madhva; at the intercession, however, of a local chieftain, Jayasimha, the books were restored. Later on Madhva defeated another monist, Trivikrama Paṇḍita, who became converted to the Madhva faith, and wrote the Madhva-vijaya. After the death of Madhva Padmanābha-tīrtha became pontiff and was succeeded by Narahari-tīrtha; we have already given the list of the pontiffs in succession, with their approximate dates as far as they are available from the list of the Madhva gurus in the Madhva maṭhas of the South.

In an article on the outline history of the Madhvācāryas G. Venkoba Rao gives the following chronology of the principal facts of Madhva’s life:

  • birth of Madhva, śaka 1118;
  • assumption of holy orders, śaka 1128;
  • tour to the South;
  • pilgrimage to Badari;
  • conversion of Śobhana bhaṭṭa, Śyāmaśāstrī and Govinda bhaṭṭa;
  • second tour to Badari;
  • beginning of Narahari’s regency, śaka 1186;
  • end of Narahari’s regency, śaka 1197;
  • death of Madhvācārya and accession of Padmanābha, śaka 1197:
  • death of Padmanābha-tīrtha, śaka 1204;
  • Narahari’s pontificate, śaka 1204-5.

Grierson, in his article on the Madva-charita in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (vol. VIII), thinks that the influence of Christianity on Madhvism is very apparent; he says that Madhva’s birth-place was either in the ancient city of Kalyānapura or close to it. Kalyānapura has always been reputed one of the earliest Christian settlements in India; these Christians were Nestorians. Again, among the legends described in Nārāyaṇa’s Madhva-vijaya there is one which holds that the spirit of the deity Ananteśvara appeared to a Brahman and made him a messenger of good news to proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. The child, Madhva, was being led through a forest by his parents when their passage was obstructed by evil spirits, who, being rebuked by Madhva, fled away. The child Madhva was at one time missed by his parents at the age of five and he was found teaching the way to worship Viṣṇu according to the śāstras. In his tour in the Southern districts Madhva is said to have increased the store of food to meet the needs of his followers. In his Northern tour he walked over water without wetting his feet, and on another occasion he pacified the angry sea by his stern look. From these miracles attributed to him, and from the facts that there is great similarity between the bhakti doctrine of Madhva and the devotionalism of the Christians, and that Madhva flourished in a place where there were Christians, Grierson thinks that Madhvaism had an element of Christian influence. The fact also that according to Madhva salvation can be secured only through the intermediary of the wind god Vāyu has been interpreted in favour of the above thesis. I think, however, that there is not sufficient ground in these arguments for tracing a Christian influence on Madhva.

The doctrine of bhakti is very old, and can be traced in a fairly developed form even in some of the Vedic and Upaniṣadic verses, the Gītā, the Mahābhārata and the earlier Purāṇas. There may have been some Christians in Kalyānapura, but there is no evidence that they were of such importance as to influence the orthodox faith of Madhva. He, like all other teachers, urges again and again that his doctrines are based on the Vedas, the Gītā, the Pañcarātras and the Mahābhārata ; nor do we find any account of discussion between Madhva and the Christians; and he is never reported to have been a polyglot or to have had access to Christian literature. Though occasionally vāyu is accepted as an intermediary, yet the main emphasis is on the grace of God, depending upon the knowledge of God; there is not the slightest trace of any Trinity doctrine in Madhva’s school of thought. Thus the suggestion of a probable Christian influence seems to be very far-fetched. Burnell, however, supports the idea in his paper in The Indian Antiquary, 1873-4; but Garbe considers it probable that Kalyānapura might have been another Kalyāna, in the north of Bombay, while Grierson thinks that it must have been the Kalyāna in Udipi, which is close to Malabar.

Burnell again points out that before the beginning of the ninth century some Persians had settled at Manigrama, and he further suggests that these Persians were Manicheans. But Burnell’s view was successfully controverted by Collins, though he could not deny the possibility that “Manigrama” was derived from the name Manes (warn). Grierson supports the idea of Burnell, and co-relates it with the peculiar story of Maṇimat, the demon supposed to have been born as Śaṅkara, a fabulous account of whom is given in the Maṇimañjarī of Nārāyaṇa. It cannot be denied that the introduction of the story of Maṇimat is rather peculiar, as Maṇimat plays a very unimportant part as the opponent of Bhīma in the Mahābhārata; but there is practically nothing in the philosophy or theology of Śaṅkara, which is a form of dualism wherein two principles are acknowledged, one light (God) and the other darkness.

Padmanābha-tīrtha succeeded Madhva in the pontificate in a.d. 1197 and died in 1204; he wrote a commentary on the Anuvyāk-hāna, the Ṣaṇnyāya-ratnāvalī. Narahari-tīrtha, who is said to have been a personal disciple of Madhva, held the pontificate from 1204 to 1213[5]; he wrote a ṭippaṇī on the Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya of Madhva. We do not know of any work by Mādhava-tīrtha, the next pontiff (1213-30).

Akṣobhya-tīrtha held the pontificate from 1230 to 1247, and then Jaya-tīrtha from 1247 to 1268. It is held by some that he was a pupil not only of Akṣobhya-tīrtha, but also of Padmanābha-tīrtha[6]; he was the most distinguished writer of the Madhva school, and composed many commentaries of a very recondite character, e.g.,

His most learned and incisive work, however, is his Nyāya-sudhā, which is a commentary on the Anuvyākhyāna of Madhva; it is a big work. He begins by referring to Akṣobhya-tīrtha as his teacher. The work forms the principal source-book of most of the writers of the Madhva school; it was commented upon by Rāghavendra Yati in a work called Nyāya-sudhā-parimala. C. M. Padmanābhacārya says of the Nyāya-sudhā that in the whole range of Sanskrit literature a more masterly commentary is unknown.

Footnotes and references:


Madhvācārya, a Short Historical Sketch, by C. N. Kṛṣṇasvāmī Ayer, M.A.


See his article, Epigraphica Indica, vol. vi, pp. 260-8.


See The Bhagavadgītā, by Subba Rao, M.A., printed at the Minerva Press, Madras.


The Life of Madhvācārya, by C. M. Padmanābhācārya, printed at the Progressive Press, Madras.


For a discussion on Narahari’s career and date see Epigraphica Indica, vol. VI, p. 206, etc.


Helmuth von Glasenapp, Madhva’s Philosopḥie des Vishṇu-Glaubens, 1923, P. 52.

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