MADHVA (1238–1317), also known as Anandatīrtha or Pūrnaprajñā; founder of the Dvaita Vedānta school of Indian philosophy. Born in Pajakakṣetra near Udipi in the Tulu country of the Indian state of Karnataka, Madhva attracted attention as a young renunciate by his prodigious abilities in reciting, interpreting, and criticizing scriptural and exegetical texts. Gathering pupils at his classes in Udipi, he made numerous trips throughout India accompanied by his disciples, including at least two visits to Badrinath in the Himalayas. It is believed that he debated a number of prominent scholars during his lifetime.
Madhva established his main temple, consecrated to the god Kṛṣṇa, at Udipi, and installed in it the idol of Bāla Kṛṣṇa secured from Dwarka. The temple has flourished to this day in the charge of a steady line of successors stemming from Madhva and his disciples. Tradition holds that in the year 1317, in the middle of delivering a lecture, Madhva vanished and retired permanently to Badrinath.
Madhva is credited with some thirty-seven works, including commentaries on the Bhagavadgītā, the Brahma Sūtras, and ten of the older Upaniṣads; ten independent treatises on Dvaita philosophy; short commentaries on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the Mahābhārata, and part of the Ṛgveda; and a number of other brief works of a varied nature. Many of these treatises were subsequently commented upon by Jayatīrtha, Vyāsatīrtha, and other famous Dvaitins; the resulting large body of literature forms the basis of Dvaita Vedānta.
Dvaita stands in strong contrast to Śaṅkara's Advaita system in its conception of brahman as a personal God, independent of all other things and different from them. Madhva's God, who is Viṣṇu, possesses transcendent attributes of creation, preservation, dissolution, control, enlightenment, obscuration, bondage, and release, and God himself is considered the cause of all causes productive of these results. Each individual self is by nature a reflection of God; however, no one is aware of this until, through study of the scriptures, he comes to understand his real nature, upon which he undertakes fervent devotion to the Lord, who responds by bestowing his grace upon the devotee according to the latter's capacity. The devotee then abides in a state of servitude to God forever, and this state constitutes his liberation.
Dvaita Vedānta is also known for its sophisticated analyses of matters pertaining to logic, epistemology, and metaphysics; many of these investigations were first raised in Madhva's writings.
The influence of Dvaita Vedānta has been felt throughout India, but most profoundly in the South. It has been claimed by some scholars that the direct influence of Madhva's thought played a part in the later development of Bengali Vaiṣṇavism. Certainly, later Dvaita writers were among the most formidable opponents of Advaita Vedānta, and these doctrinal differences led to the famous controversy between Vyāsatīrtha (1478–1539), the Dvaitin author of the Nyāyāmṛta, and Madhusūdana Sarasvatī (c. 1540–1600), author of the Advaitasiddhi, an extensive response to the Nyāyāmṛta and the most celebrated later work of Advaita polemics.
A good overall introduction to the thought of Madhva is B. N. K. Sharma's A History of the Dvaita School of Vedānta and Its Literature, 2d rev. ed., 2 vols. (Bombay, 1981).
Karl H. Potter (1987)
BORN: c. 1199 • Pajakaksetra, Karnataka, India
DIED: c. 1276
Indian religious leader
Sri Madhvacharya was born with the name Vasudeva. He eventually took the name Madhva and later became known as Madhvacharya, one of the great acharyas, or revered teachers, of Hinduism. During the thirteenth century he founded a sect (religious division) of Hinduism called Madhvism, whose followers are known as Sad-Vaisnavas. This sect was still in existence in the early twenty-first century, centered at a monastery at Udupi, India, as well as at two other Indian monasteries in Madhyatala and Subrahmanya, near Mangalore.
"There is one God, the embodiment of positive Divinity…. You can address Him by any name."
Birth and early life
Scholars disagree about the date of Vasudeva's birth, with some placing it as early as 1197 or 1199, and others claiming it was as late as 1238. He was born in a village called Pajakaksetra, near the town of Udupi, in the Karnataka region of southwest India. His father was named Madhyageha Bhatta, and his mother was named Vedavati.
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As a child Vasudeva had many talents. He had a good memory and was able to learn his lessons quickly. He was also a powerful athlete and spent much of his time swimming, weight lifting, running, hiking, and wrestling. He had a pleasing voice, and many people enjoyed listening to him give religious discourses at the local temple. Some legends also attribute miraculous powers to him. One account claims he quieted the waves of the ocean so that he could bathe in peace.
Vasudeva showed interest in spiritual matters from a young age. When he told his parents that he wanted to become a monk, they were disappointed because he was then their only surviving son, and they had hoped that he would take care of them in their old age. He respected their wishes and waited until another son was born before turning his focus to spiritual matters and taking the name Madhva. The younger brother, Vishnuchitta, cared for their parents and later became a monk himself. He went on to become one of the most important teachers of his older brother's religious views.
At the time of Madhva's birth, a community of Christians lived in the nearby town of Kalyanpur. This group represented the first followers of Christianity in India. In his youth Madhva may have absorbed some of the teachings and traditions of these Christians. Many scholars note a number of significant similarities between the early life of Madhva and the story of Jesus Christ (c. 6 bce–c. 30 ce; see entry) as recorded in the Bible, the sacred text of Christianity. For example legend holds that Madhva's birth was foretold by a messenger, just as the archangel Michael visited Jesus's mother, Mary, to inform her of the coming birth of her child. Another tale claims that as a child, Madhva disappeared for three days before his parents found him preaching to his elders in the temple, a story similar to one told about Jesus. Other stories with parallels in the Christian Bible include Madhva's ability to walk on water and to multiply food for his followers, as Jesus did when he multiplied fish and loaves of bread to feed a crowd that had gathered to hear him speak. Madhva also shared the Christian beliefs in eternal damnation and in the concept of heaven. Most importantly Madhva was regarded as an incarnation, or living form, of Vayu, the son of the Hindu god Krishna, just as Jesus was regarded as the son of the Christian God.
Madhva studied under a famous guru, Achyutapreksha. During his religious training he began to question the accepted ideas about the nature of God. After formulating his own set of beliefs, he went on a tour of India to share them with the people. He attracted many listeners and converts because of the clarity of his views and his skill as a public speaker.
Holy Men of Hinduism
The various titles of respect given to prominent practitioners of Hinduism can be confusing to those who are unfamiliar with them. The meanings of some of these terms overlap.
- shri: Taken from a Sanskrit word meaning "beauty," or "majesty," shri can be both a general term of respect, similar to "mister," or a title with deeper religious meaning, similar to "saint." It is sometimes used before the names of objects, books, and places.
- sadhu: A sadhu is an ascetic, meaning a person, such as a monk, who gives up earthly pleasures and leads a life of self-denial and solitude.
- sage: Among Hindus, a sage is a scholar and philosopher who is believed to be blessed with divine knowledge. Historically, sages were the authors of epic poems, and they were regarded as the bearers of ancient Hindu values and beliefs. Sage is in fact an English word; in India, sages are called rishis.
- guru: Guru is a Sanskrit word that literally means "venerable" but can also mean "heavy." In Hinduism, a guru is a personal teacher or spiritual guide under whom others study the texts and principles of Hinduism.
- acharya: Acharya literally means "teacher." The word was added to proper names as a suffix, so that, for example, Madhva became known as Madhvacharya.
- swami: The term swami which comes from a Sanskrit word meaning "lord" or "owner." Swamis are scholars and philosophers, and the term is usually reserved for the heads of sects or schools of thought. Many swamis run educational or social institutions.
Madhva's listeners found his views comforting, particularly those regarding caste. The caste system in India ranks people by social class according to the family they are born into. At the top are the Brahmins, who are mostly priests, teachers, and intellectuals. These are followed by Kshatriyas, or warriors and rulers; Vaishyas, or merchants and landowners; and Sudras, or laborers and farmers. In addition, a fifth caste, the "Untouchables," includes outcasts who perform "unclean" work such as the removal of waste and of dead animals. Madhva believed that caste should be decided not by the status of one's family but of one's own nature or behavior. He believed that a spiritually enlightened Untouchable was better than an ignorant Brahmin, a view with which his followers agreed.
His ideas were considered somewhat radical, and Madhva made enemies on his journey. He often took part in debates with local religious leaders, and because his views were opposed to theirs, they became angry with him and some even threatened his life. At one point the contents of his library were stolen, although the texts were later returned after a local prince intervened.
Return to Udupi
After several years of preaching throughout India, Madhva returned to Udupi. There, he established eight mathas, or monasteries. A monastery is a religious place of solitude and learning, where monks and nuns may go to live. Each monastery was led by one of Madhva's disciples, or followers. Madhva also installed the image of Krishna at the temple in Udupi. (Krishna is regarded either as a god or as a godlike hero in Hinduism and is worshipped as an incarnation, or form, of Vishnu, the preserver god. All gods in Hinduism are considered to be representations of the one God, Brahma.) According to legend a shipwreck took place off the coast near the town of Malpe. Madhva had a dream in which he saw an image of Krishna aboard the ship that he felt had to be retrieved. He enlisted the help of local fishermen, dove into the sea, and rescued the image of Krishna for the temple.
Madhva's religious views became popular throughout India, particularly in the south and west. Many of the region's Hindu saints followed his teachings, and some of his disciples became highly respected themselves. Madhva wrote some thirty-seven books on palm leaves. Most were commentaries on Hindu sacred texts, such as the Upanishads, the Rig-Veda, the Bhagavad Gita, and others. He also wrote a book on iconography, or the study of images and symbols associated with certain subjects, especially religious ones, as well as a book on mathematics.
Late in life Madhva set out on a pilgrimage from Udupi to the city of Badari. One legend holds that he walked out in the middle of a sermon to start this pilgrimage. During his journey he disappeared and was never heard from again. The date of his death is traditionally given as 1276.
One of the chief religious debates taking place in India during Madhva's life concerned the nature of God and the relationship between God and the material world. Hindu teachers tended to fall into one of two camps. One camp preached a "monist" view of God. Monism refers to belief in the basic unity, or oneness, of God with the human soul, and indeed with all of existence, including matter. Monism was preached by another well-known acharya, Sankara (788–820), and was the most common view among Indian Hindus at the time of Madhva's birth. Monism was also the doctrine taught by the guru under which Madhva studied as a youth. This school of thought is called Advaita Vedanta. The word Vedanta means "end of the Vedas," referring to the Upanishads, which are the concluding portions of Hinduism's chief sacred text, the Vedas. The Upanishads contain the essence of the teachings of the Vedas. "Vedanta," then, is used in the name of various Hindu schools of thought in reference to their interpretation of the Upanishads.
The other camp consisted of those who held a "dualist" view of the world. This dualist view, which was taught by Madhva, was referred to as Dvaita, and the school of thought he founded is called Dvaita Vedanta. That term is more general than the name of his specific sect, Madhvism. Madhva based his beliefs on his interpretations of the Upanishads and other Hindu texts. He and his disciples taught five main points: that God was separate from the human soul; that God was separate from the physical universe; that the human soul and physical matter were different; that individual human souls were different; and that various types of matter were different. Although these distinctions may not seem surprising to modern-day readers, they were startling in the thirteenth century. Until this time Hinduism had only taught a basic unity among God, the human soul, and physical matter.
Madhva also taught a view of creation that was in opposition to Hindu tradition. He did not believe that creation was ordered by the god Vishnu, as was the common theory. Rather, he believed that matter existed before Vishnu and evolved in response to his will. He believed that no one could prove the existence of Vishnu, but that he could be understood through the study of the Hindu sacred texts. By studying these texts, people could ready their minds to obtain divine grace and increase their chances of achieving salvation.
Madhva shared with his followers many thoughts on the nature of God and humanity's relationship with him. As quoted on Kamat's Potpourri Web site, he is said to have stated, "There is one God, the embodiment of positive Divinity. He is 'Narayana.' He is also Ishwara Brahma, Vishnu, and has many other names. You can address Him by any name." He also stated "The entire nature extols God. His existence is evident in the sounds of the sea, in the wind, in singing of birds and howls of beasts. These all pay homage to God. His existence should be recognized, which is possible after self-training."
For More Information
Potter, Karl. "Madhva." In Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 8. 2nd ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, 5550–1.
Sarma, Deepak. An Introduction to Madhva Vedanta. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2003.
Kamat, Jyotsna. "Path of Devotion: Bhakti Cult IX; Saint Madhvacharya (1238–1317)." Kamat's Potpourri. http://www.kamat.com/indica/faiths/bhakti/madhwacharya.htm (accessed on June 2, 2006).
"The Great Madhva Archya." Dharmakshetra.com. http://www.dharmakshetra.com/sages/Saints/madvacharya.html (accessed on June 2, 2006).
The founder of the Madhvism sect of Hinduism, Madhva (c. 1197-c. 1276) stressed the importance of bhakti, or devotion, in the worship of his Dvaita, or dualist, interpretation of the Vedanta, the philosophy of Hinduism as expressed in the Hindu scriptures, the Veda.
Believed to be the incarnation of the Hindu god Vayu, Madhva is believed by his followers to have performed many miracles. Regarding the Samkara branch of Hinduism to be a facsimile of Buddhism, Madhva developed his own theology based on his interpretations of the Upanishads, the last section of the Veda, in which he stressed his pluralistic view of the separate realms of the world, the human soul, and Vishnu (God). Madhva developed his theology from the Vedanta, a philosophy that stresses the search for ultimate meaning. Madhva's theories differ, however, from other such Vedantic faiths as Samkara. Similar to the Christian and Muslim faiths, Madhva preached predestination and the existence of an eternal heaven and hell. He believed as well that eternal salvation is possible through the continuous practice of bhakti, but is not guaranteed. Some religious scholars note the many similarities between the stories of Madhva and Biblical New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus Christ.
Developed New Hindu Sect
Experts disagree on the approximate date of Madhva's birth; some believe it was 1197 while others place the date as late as 1238. As an infant, Madhva was named Vasudeva. His father, Madhyageha Bhatta—also called Madhya Geha—and mother, Vedavati, were Tulu Brahmins who lived in the Indian city of Rajatapitha, located near the modern city of Udipi. Credited with tremendous physical power, Madhva earned the nicknamed Bhima, after the Hindu deity who also dedicated himself to refuting the tenets of Samkara. Stories of Madhva performing miraculous feats are numerous, including stilling ocean waves so that he might bathe undisturbed; diving to the ocean floor to retrieve an image of Krishna from a capsized boat; and unconsciously building a dam in a single day while in a meditative trance. As an adult, he received Samkara religious instruction from Achyutapreksa, also known as Achyutaprakashacharya, and was initiated under the name Purnabodha, or Purnaprajna. He continued his Vendantic studies at the Anantesvara monastery in Udipi, where he adopted his penname Ananda Tirtha, also transliterated Anandatirtha.
Madhva traveled through southern India, developing a contrary view of the monism—a belief that all existence consists of one element—expressed by the Samkara. His preaching of dualism led him to several debates with religious leaders in the area, and he ultimately raised the anger of the head monk of the Samkara-based Sringeri monastery in Anantapura, in modern-day Trivandrum. Fearing for his life, Madhva removed himself to Ramesvara for four months before returning to Udipi. The result of the heated debate, however, was a lasting enmity between Madhva's followers and the Sringeri monks. After several years spent researching and writing on the Vedanta Sutras, Madhva embarked on a tour of northern India. Upon reaching Hardwar, he disappeared into the Himalayan mountains, where his followers believe he encountered Vyasa, the supernatural being credited with convincing Madhva to publish his Vedantic interpretation. When he returned to Hardwar, he declared the invalidity of the Samkara monistic system of belief and initiated the conversion of his teacher Achyutapreksa. The Sringeri monks vehemently opposed the new sect and confiscated Madhva's library. A local prince intervened, however, and the library was returned. He traveled again to northern India; there, his followers believe, he resides with Vyasa and awaits his return to the human world. He composed many commentaries before his death, many of them interpretations of the Vedanta Sutras, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Mahabharata.
Among the principal teachings of Madhva was that Vishnu is the brahman of the Upanishads. Vishnu always is accompanied by his son, Vayu, who is considered the savior of humankind. Followers of Madhva call themselves Sad-Vaisnavas; they harbor the dualistic belief that the spirit of Vishnu is independent from human life and further believe in five separate distinctions. The first is a difference between the Godhead and the human soul; the second a difference between the Godhead and physical matter; the third a difference between the human soul and physical matter; the fourth a difference between individual souls; and the fifth a difference between various types of matter. Existence came into being, wrote Madhva, not as an order of creation from Vishnu, but as a gradual evolution from preexisting matter that responds to the will of Vishnu. In addition, the existence of Vishnu cannot be proven, but only learned through the study of the Hindu sacred texts. He acknowledged that reality was not grounded in appearance but only through objective experience, foreshadowing the theories of 19th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Bhakti, the dedicated display of devotion to Vishnu, is the only hope of humans for eternal salvation, according to Madhva. Study of the sacred texts is one step toward this salvation, because it readies the mind to receive divine grace.
Many scholars note that Madhva's theology owes much to Christian beliefs. In fact, a group of Nestorian Christians resided in Kalyanpur, near Madhva's childhood home, and their presence generally is regarded as the earliest encroachment of Christianity upon the Indian continent. Many of the stories told about Madhva, for example, closely resemble the stories of the Christian Son of God, Jesus Christ. For example, Madhva's birth was foretold by a messenger who declared that a kingdom of heaven was imminent, resembling the Christian story of the visitation of Jesus' mother Mary by the Archangel Michael, who informed her of her pregnancy. Another story relates how a five-year-old Madhva disappeared for three days before his parents found him teaching religious scholars, a story that is often told about a 12-year-old Jesus. Like Jesus, Madhva is said to have also performed such miracles as walking on water and multiplying food for his disciples. Madhva's stay in the Himalayas is similar to the story of Jesus' 40-day fast in the desert. The greatest similarity to Christianity, however, is the concept of bhakti as imperative for eternal salvation. Salvation itself is only possible through the acceptance of Vayu as the son of Vishnu, resembling the central precept of Christianity of salvation granted through the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Devotion to Vayu is displayed by Madhva's followers by the branding of symbols representing Vishnu on the shoulders and chests and expressed by naming one's sons after one of the many names of Vishnu. Followers are also expected to perform bhakti in words, thoughts, and deeds. The sect also encourages frequent fasting and sacrifices of symbolic lambs made from rice meal. The sect is centered in Udipi in a monastery believed to be built by Madhva. Two other monasteries exist in Madhyatala and Subrahmanya in the Mangalor district of India.
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Hastings, James, editor, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.
Nidamboor, Rajgopal, "Meditations on Madhva," Mythos and Logos,http://www.mythosandlogos.com/Madhva.html (February 7, 2002).
Sivandanda, Sri Swami, "Madhva," http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/saints/madhva.htm (February 7, 2002). □
Madhva: see Vedanta.