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Shri Madhvacharya
Shri Madhvacharya.jpg
Born Vāsudeva
Pājaka, Tulu Nadu[1]
(Near modern Udupi, Karnataka, India)
Died Disappeared from full sight of his followers in 1317 according to tradition.
Titles/honours Purna Prajna
Founder of Udupi Sri Krishna Matha
Guru Achyutapreksha Teertha
Philosophy Tatva-vada also known as Dvaita Vedanta

Madhva Acharya (Sanskrit pronunciation: [məd̪ʱʋɑːˈtʃɑːrjə]; born Vasudeva 1238–1317 CE), also known as Purna Prajña and Ananda Tīrtha, was a Hindu philosopher and the chief proponent of the Dvaita school of Vedanta. Madhva himself called his philosophy as "Tattvavada" meaning realism.It is one of the three most influential Vedānta philosophies. Madhvācārya was one of the important philosophers during the Bhakti movement. He was a pioneer in many ways, going against standard conventions and norms. While in his teenage years he was initiated as a Sanyasin by Acyutapreksha, an ascetic of the Ekadandi order. Later he toured India several times engaging in philosophical debates and winning converts to his school of thought. Madhva composed thirty seven works in Sanskrit. His greatest work is considered to be the Anu-vyakhyana, a critical exposition of the philosophy of the Brahma Sutras.[1]

Madhva established the Krishna temple at Udupi and entrusted the worship at the temple to eight ascetic disciples each of whom were first heads of the eight monasteries called Ashta Mathas of Udupi[1]

According to tradition, Madhvācārya is believed to be the third incarnation of Vāyu (Mukhyaprāna) after Hanuman and Bhīma and is believed to have disappeared when he was 79.[1]


Temple of Madhvacharya at his birthplace in Pajaka

Madhvācārya (or Madhva) was born on the day of Vijayadashami in Pajaka near Udupi, a town in the south-west India which lies in the modern State of Karnataka. Nārāyana Panditācārya later wrote Madhvācārya's biography known as Madhvavijaya. Traditionally it is believed that Nadillaya (Tulu word for middle house) Bhatta was name of his father and Vedavati was Madhvācārya's mother. Madhva's parents named him Vāsudeva at birth. Later he became famous by the names Pūrna-prajña, Ānanda-tīrtha and Madhvācārya.

Before the birth of Madhva, when his parents had to the market, a disabled person climbed a dhvaja stambha (flag-post in front of a temple) and announced: "Bhagavān (Lord) Vāyu deva is going to take birth for the revival of Vedic dharma in Pājaka kṣetra to a couple." The prediction made by the disabled person was discussed by the parents of Madhva till they reached home.

Even as a child, at the age of 3, his father initiated his leasons. One day the lesson of practicing the alphabet was over and next day it was repeated. Vasudeva asked his father: "Why are you repeating the same thing that was taught yesterday? Teach me something new."

The father felt both surprised and happy. What a talented child we have he wondered. He was struck by this child's grasping power. He was concerned that the child may be affected by somebody's evil eye. His mother would wave before him some pepper and other things (to ward off evil) and pray for his welfare.

The father continued to teach the child at home. Before long, Vasudeva was able to read all the books and would try to understand them. It was a pleasure to hear his readings from the texts. He had a fine voice and purity of expression.

When Vasudeva was five, his mother took him on a visit to a nearby place called Neyampalli. It was evening and the puranik (raconteur adept at delivering religious discourses) discourse was in progress. People were listening with keen interest to the discourse by Madithaya Shivabhatta, a well-known puranik. At one stage, Vasudeva, sitting beside his mother, got up and said: "Respected puranik, the meaning in the purana text says one thing and you are saying another."

Shivabhatta became annoyed at the boy's insolence. But Vasudeva narrated the meaning of the concerned verse in a lucid manner. People were pleased and agreed with him.

On another occasion, Nadillaya himself was corrected by his son. He was also a well-known ‘puranik'. Once, during a discourse, he could not remember the meaning of a word instantly. He avoided that word and continued. Vasudeva stood up and said "Father, you have named all the tree, but did not mention ‘likucha' and its meaning. It means ‘hebbalasu(in Kannada)' doesn't it?"

Nadillaya did not feel insulted. He felt happy that he had learnt the meaning of the word from his son. He felt proud to be the father of such an intelligent boy.

When Vasudeva was seven, his father performed his Upanayana (sacred thread-wearing ceremony) according to the custom and then on to a guru for studying Vedas and classics as a disciple of Totantillaya, a respected Vedic scholar of that period.

Totantillaya felt the boy's manner a bit strange. The boy would appear only at the time of the lessons and would spend the rest of the time in the playfield.

In the field, Vasudeva, with his strong physique beyond his age, would be surrounded by his playmates. Each day it was a different game. One day it was running, Vasudeva would came first. Another time it is swimming and he would be the first to reach the goal. It was wrestling the other day and though the entire band of his playmates attacked him, he would humble them with terrific blows. His mates were astonished at the prowess of Vasudeva whom they considered ‘Hanuman in swimming and Bhimasena in weightlifting'.

Guru Totantillaya would not approve the boy's behavior. He felt he was not studying properly and once called him: "Oh, you are a master of knowledge! You learn things without reading. Let us see, recite the 'Suktas' (hymns) you have been taught so far."

Vasudeva sat cross-legged and recited in a ringing, clear voice all the hymns in the correct pattern and without a single mistake. The Guru gave up testing him. Vasudeva's studies and sports both continued.

Vāsudeva exhibited precocious talent for grasping all things spiritual. As an incarnation of Mukhyaprana this was not new for him. He was drawn to the path of renunciation and even as a boy of eleven years, he chose initiation into the monastic order from Acyuta-Prajña (also called Acyuta Preksha), a reputed ascetic of the time, near Udupi, in the year Saumya. The preceptor Acyuta Prajna gave the boy Vāsudeva the name of Pūrna Prajña at the time of his initiation into sannyāsa (renounced order).

A little over a month later, little Pūrnaprajña is said to have defeated a group of expert scholars of Tarka (logic) headed by Vasudeva-pandita. Overjoyed at his precocious talent, Acyuta Prajna consecrated him as the head of the empire of Vedānta and conferred upon him the title of Ānanda Tīrtha (saint of immaculate bliss).

Thus Pūrna-prajña is Madhva's name given to him at the time of sannyāsa (renunciation). The name conferred on him at the time of consecration as the Master of Vedanta is "Ānanda Tīrtha". Madhva, a name traceable to the Vedas (Balittha sūktam), was the nom de plume assumed by the Ācārya to author all his works. Madhvācārya showed that Vedas talk about him as "Madhva" and used that name for himself. However, he used Ānanda Tīrtha or Sukha Tīrtha also to author his works. Madhvācārya was the name by which he was to later be revered as the founder of Tattvavāda.

Tour of South India

The Acharya set out on a tour of South India in his teens. He visited prominent places of pilgrimage like Anantashayana, Kanyakumari, Rameshvara and Shriranga. Wherever he went, he delivered discourses and preached the message of Tattvavada to the people. This initiated a new discussion among scholars all over India. The Acharya refuted in clear terms a few age-old beliefs. He stated that spirituality should not be mixed up with superstitions. As a result, there was hot opposition to him from some orthodox extremists. But the Acharya braved it all with courage, without yielding to any mean threats.[2]

The urge which was deeply surging in the heart of the Acharya for long turned into a firm resolve as a result of this tour. "The superstitions in the way of this path of philosophical truth should be wiped out! My whole life should be dedicated to the spread of ultimate truth."[2]

The first task accomplished by the Acharya as soon as he returned to Udupi, after adopting this firm resolve, was the writing of a commentary (bhashya) on the Bhagavadgita.

Visit to Badri

In course of time, the Acharya desired to tour North India and to spread the message of vedic religion far and wide. The holy center of Badri beckoned him irresistibly. Fired by the wish to visit holy places like Vyasa's hermitage, the penance-grove of Nara-Narayana etc., and to present his commentary on the Gita as a tribute to sage Vyasa, the Acharya moved straight to Badri. There he observed a vow of strict silence for 48 days, bathing in the holy Ganga. And then he set out alone towards Vyasa-Badri, his cherished destination.

After his return from there, the task of writing a commentary on the Brahma Sutras came to be undertaken by the Acharya. The Acharya never wrote any work of his by hand. It was his practice to dictate continuously to his disciples who would take them down. His composition of works was as immaculate as his discourse. A disciple of the Acharya, Satya-tirtha, was given the honour of writing in palm leaves, whatever was dictated by the Acharya.

In the meantime, the Acharya's influence had spread far and wide throughout the country. Scholars all over India were stunned by his extraordinary genius, never seen or heard of before. The circle of his disciples grew bigger and bigger. Some ascetics got initiation from him and were admitted into the order of samnyasa.

Once, while returning from Badri, the Acharya was camping en route in a holy place on the banks of the Godavari. Here he was accosted by an eminent pundit, Sobhana-bhatta. This person was well known in that region as a peerless scholar. This visit changed the entire career of the man. Seeing the extraordinary personality of the Acharya and listening to his wonderful discourses, he was so much overwhelmed that he became the Acharya's disciple and joined his retinue.

Achyuta Prajna's cup of happiness was full on seeing Acharya Madhva back home after his resounding victory in all parts of the country and on his rich retinue of disciples hailing from different places. Though in the beginning he too had his own doubts about the Acharya's view of ultimate reality (Tattvavada), he later became a whole-hearted adherent of the Acharya's new philosophy.

Installation of Krishna and second visit to Badri

The temple of Krishna at Udupi

The Acharya who stayed in the environs of Udupi for some more time wrote his bhashyas or authoritative commentaries on all the ten Upanisads. He composed glosses on forty hymns of the Rigveda, opening up for the first time its vista of spiritual significance. He also wrote the treatise Bhagavata-tatparya highlighting the essential teachings of the Puranas. Many topical handbooks were also authored by him to suit different occasions. A large number of devotional songs too were composed by him which could be sung by his disciples, while moving with him in groups.

It was during this period that the Acharya installed the image of Krishna which he found in the western ocean near the Udupi sea-coast. After sometime, he left some disciples behind for performing Krishna's worship and undertook his second tour to Badri.

Once the Acharya had to cross river Ganga. The other bank was under Muslim rule. Although stopped by the Muslim soldiers on the other side, the Acharya boldly crossed the river and reached the other bank. He was taken before the Muslim ruler who was filled with wonder by the boldness of the ascetic. The Acharya said, "I worship that Father who illumines the entire universe; and so do you. Why should I fear then either your soldiers or you?".

Hearing such words for the first time from the mouth of a Hindu monk, the Muslim king was astounded. He was filled with reverence for this unique monk. He begged the Acharya to stay permanently in his kingdom and offered gifts of several jagirs. But the Acharya, who was free from wordily cravings, rejected the offer and walked on to Badri, with the monk's staff in his hand.

Once, when his party was attacked by a band of robbers on the difficult road to the Himalayas, the Acharya made his pupil Upendra-tirtha silence them after a fierce fight. He used to say: "One should cultivate strength of body even like strength of mind; it is impossible for a weak body to house a strong mind". Accordingly he had made his disciples achieve strength in their body as well as in their Vedantic pursuits.

To the people of that time, the Acharya’s physical strength itself was something miraculous, because his body was strong and adamant. Even to this day, the huge rock-boulder lifted up and placed in the river Bhadra by the Acharya, near Kalasa bears witness to his herculean strength. This incident is confirmed by the sentence inscribed on that stone.

The Acharya had darshan once again of Lord Narayana and of sage Vyasa. On his return home thereafter, he wrote the treatise Mahabharata-tatparya-nirnaya. On his way home, he visited Kashi. There he held a philosophical debate with an elderly Advaita ascetic, Amarendra Puri. Sri Puri had to go away silently, humbled by the dazzling genius of the Acharya.

Then came Kurukshetra. Here occurred a strange episode. The Acharya got a mound there excavated and demonstrated to his disciples the buried mace of (the epic hero) Bhima therein; and once again had it buried under the ground.

Later on, the Acharya arrived in Goa on his way back to Udupi. With his sweet music there he enthralled the audience. The Acharya's musical genius also was as unique as his perfect physique and brilliant intellect. Writers contemporaneous with the Acharya have acclaimed rapturously the Acharya's musical expertise as well as his rich melody of voice.

Last days

After returning home from his second tour, the Acharya took to initiating social reforms in and around Udupi. A section of orthodoxy, however, was still active and opposed to his views. Pundarika-Puri, an advaita ascetic, was also humbled by the Acharya in a debate. It was around this time that Padmatirtha, a monk envious of Madhvacharya's erudition and popularity, arranged to have his works stolen from the custody of Pejattaya Shankara Pandita in Kasaragod. Madhvacharya now traveled to Kasargod and defeated Padma-tirtha in a philosophical debate. The essence of this debate was reduced to writing by his disciples and published as the Vada or Tattvoddyota. The stolen works were eventually returned to Madhvacharya in a felicitation ceremony arranged by Jayasimha of Kumbla, the king of southern Tulu Nadu.

The Acharya also had an intense debate for about 15 days with Pejattaya Trivikrama Panditacharya, the royal preceptor, and emerged victorious. Trivikrama Panditacharya eventually became a disciple himself and went on to write a commentary called Tattva-dipika on the Acharya's Brahma-sutra-bhashya and thus paid his tribute to the guru.

The Acharya too was equally fond of Trivikrama pandita. In deference to the request of the devoted pupil, he wrote an extensive commentary in verse: Anu-vyakhyana on the Brahma-sutras. The Acharya was dictating this work to four disciples simultaneously, on each of the four chapters, without any break. At the same time, the composition of the work Nyayavivarana was also completed.

Nearing his seventies now, Madhvacharya initiated his brother into the monastic order. He was to be known as Sri Vishnutirtha, (Rao) the first pontiff of the present day Sodhe Matha and Subramanya Matha. About the same time, Sobhana-bhatta received initiation into sannyasa from the Acharya. He later came to be known as Padmanabha Tirtha.

Both before and after the initiation of these two, several disciples from various regions of the country got their initiation into sannyasa from the Acharya. Among them, the names of eight disciples who chose to stay on in Udupi as pontiffs of different mathas are, in order of their initiation:

  1. Hrisikesa-tirtha (Palimaru matha)
  2. Narasimha-tirtha (Adamaru-matha)
  3. Janardana-tirtha (Krsnapura-matha)
  4. Upendra-tirtha (Puttige-matha)
  5. Vamana-tirtha (Sirur-matha)
  6. Vishnu-tirtha (Sode-matha)
  7. Srirama-tirtha (Kaniyuru-matha)
  8. Adhoksaja-tirtha (Pejavara-matha)

The other two celebrated sannyasin-disciples of the Acharya are Padmanabha-tirtha and Narahari-tirtha.

After initiating several into the monastic order and installing pontiffs to the mathas, he toured the district and engaged himself in educating the general public. He also composed the literary work "krishnamratamaharnava". His discourse to Brahmins at Ujire, where he delved upon the spiritual aspect of ritualism, came to be published under the title of Khandartha-nimaya (Karmanimaya). Next he visited Panchalingesvara temple at Paranti, which he found in a dilapidated condition, without any worship or festivity. He made arrangements for the resumption of proper worship there according to the rituals prescribed by the ancient scriptures (agamas).

In the 79th year of his life, he decided to take leave of his disciples and assigned to them the responsibility of carrying on the tradition of his Tattvavada. Having done that, on the ninth day of the bright half of the month of Magha in the Kali year 4418 (1278 CE), he betook himself alone to Badri. It is said, he disappeared amidst a mountain of flowers that was showered on him from heavens while he was giving a discourse of Aitareya Upanishat. That is the last record of Madhvacharya's sighting. The day on which he proceeded to Badri is celebrated as Madhvanavami to this day.


The disciples of the Acharya, both pontifical and lay, continued his tradition with zealous devotion. Hundreds of dialectical treatises came to be written. Among the writers belonging to this school we may roughly classify some outstanding ones in the following chronological order: Vishnu-tirtha, Padmanabha-tirtha, Narahari-tirtha, Trivikrama-panditacharya, Narayana-panditacharya, Vamana-panditacharya (Traivikramaryadasa), Jayatirtha (Tikacharya), Vijayadhvaja-tirtha, Vishnudasacharya,Sri Padarajaru, Vyasatirtha, Vadiraja, Vijayindra-tirtha, Raghavendra Swami, Yadupati-acharya, etc.

The Acharya did not earn any huge establishment or property for his matha. All the property that he left as legacy to his disciple-pontiffs was just a casket for keeping the gods of daily worship, a staff and a piece of cloth tied on the sides like a bag to receive alms (jolige). Later, the mathas took better shape as the number of their devout adherents became more and more.

His philosophy Tattva-vada eventually inspired the Haridasas who heralded the Bhakti movement for centuries to come. Seminal contributions were made by the Haridasas in fields of music and literature. Narahari Tirtha, one of the direct disciples, is responsible for the resurgence of Yakshagana (Gonsalves) and other forms such as Kuchipudi. Raghavendra Swami of Mantralayam was a saint in this tradition who lived in the 16th CE and is revered and worshiped to this day. Several Dvaita mathas and Raghavendra mathas in particular, continue to be established all over India and in some places in the US, UK and other countries.( All these Madhva mathas continue to further the propagation of Vedic studies and are also involved in social and charitable activities.

Madhva, commenting on the Vedānta-sūtra (2.1.6), quotes the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa as follows:

The Ṛg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, Atharva Veda, Mahābhārata [which includes the Bhagavad-gītā], Pañcarātra, and the original Rāmāyaṇa are all considered Vedic literature.... The Vaiṣṇava supplements, the Purāṇas, are also Vedic literature.[lower-alpha 1]

We may also include corollary literatures like the Saṁhitās, as well as the commentaries of the great teachers who have guided the course of Vedic thought for centuries. (Goswami 1976)

Dharmic establishments

The Acharya did not earn any huge establishment or property for his matha (monastery). All the property that he left as legacy to his disciple-pontiffs was just a casket for keeping the deities of daily worship, a staff and a piece of cloth hanging from shoulders like a bag to receive alms (jolige). Later, the mathas took better shape as the number of their devout adherents became more and more. Below is a broad sketch of the Madhva-mathas now existing. The main icon of Lord Krishna at Udupi was established by Madhvacharya. The number of mathas (monasteries) which came into being in Udupi itself, yoked to the responsibility of Krishna-worship is eight (Ashta Mathas). They are Krishnapura, Pejavara, Puttige, Sodhe (Sondhe), Kaniyooru, Adamaru, Shirur and Palimaru. He also gave icons of deities to all his disciples for daily worship. The ones in Ashta Mathas are in brackets. Other Mathas too have idols worshipped by Acharya himself.

1. Palimaru matha (Sri Rama)
2. Adamaru matha (Sri Krishna)
3. Krishnapura matha (Sri Krishna)
4. Puttige matha (Sri Vitthala)
5. Shirur matha (Sri Vitthala)
6. Sodhe matha (Sri Varaha)
7. Kaniyooru matha (Sri Narasimha)
8. Pejavara matha (Sri Vitthala)

It is a local custom to call the mathas after the names of villages where the original gifted properties of the matha are situated. Thus the matha which had its property in the village Palimaru is now called Palimaru-matha. The older name of the Sode-matha was Kumbhasi-matha. Later on, in the time of Vadiraja, when the matha was established at Sode in North Kanara, it became famous as Sode- matha.

The mathas in Karnataka which were developed by Sri Padmanabha-tirtha, Narahari-tirtha, Madhav- tirtha and Aksobhya-tirtha are eight:

09. Uttaradi Matha
10. Sosale Vyasaraya-matha
11. Kundapura-Vyasaraya-matha
12. Raghavendra-matha
13. Sripadaraja -matha
14. Madhava theertha -matha
15. Kudli-matha
16. Balegaru (Banagara)-matha

For the first four mathas (9 to 12) the founder-pontiffs are common, viz from Padmanabha-tirtha to Aksobhya-tirtha. A traditional branch of Vyasaraya-matha itself came to be established at Kundapura in the district of South kanara and came to be termed Kundapura-Vyasaraya- matha.

A branch of the matha founded by Padmanabha-tirtha became Mulubagilu-matha. Sripadaraja (alias Srilakshminarayana-tirtha) who was one of the pioneers of dasa-literature and the preceptor of Vyasa-tirtha was one of the illustrious pontiffs who illumined the tradition of this matha.

Madhava-tirtha established a matha at Majjige-halli which developed into an independent branch. In the same way, two branches of Akshobhya-tirtha grew into independent mathas at Kudli and Balegaru.

Apart from these, there are four more mathas in the Tulu region:

17. Subramanya-matha
18. Bhandarkeri-matha
19. Bhimana-katte-matha
20. Chitrapura-matha

The Subramanya-matha has grown out of Vishnu-tirtha's line itself. It is said that the line of disciples under the pontiff Acyuta-prajna, who in turn was the guru to initiate the Acharya into samnyasa, branched into two lines, one at Bhandarkeri and the other at Bhimanakatte. Bhandarkeri is located some 20 km north of Udupi in Barakuru. Though Bhimana-katte (Bhima-setumunivranda) is also a matha of Tulu region, its original sourcehead is a place called Bhimanakatte on the Tirthahalli-Shimoga road. According to folk-tradition, the Chitrapura-matha is only a branch of the Pejavara-matha. This matha is situated at Citrapura, some 35 km away from Udupi on the Udupi-Mangalore highway.

Two more mathas of Gauda Sarasvata Brahmanas who illuminated the Madhva school are quite famous:

21. Gokarna - Partagali - Jivottama Math
22. Kashi Math

The original locale of Gokarna-matha is Gokarna. Later, pontiffs of this line started a matha in Partagali (Madagaum - Mathagrama). After one of its celebrated pontiffs, Jivottama-tirtha, the matha also came to be called Jivottama-matha. According to the traditional list of pontiffs in this matha, its founder pontiff is reckoned as Sri Narayana-tirtha who had his initiation into samnyasa from Sri Ramachandra-tirtha, the tenth pontiff of palimaru-matha at Udupi.

Though there is a branch-centre of Kashi-matha in Kashi, it is essentially a matha of the South. A stalwart champion of Madhva's lineage Shri Vijayindra Tirtha is known to have accepted Gauda Sarasvata Brahmins as his disciples, thus establishing Kashi Matha. Gauda Sarasvata Brahmins of the north coastal region stretching from Udupi up to Bombay are disciples of Gokarnamatha. The Gauda Sarasvatas from Udupi up to Kanyakumari in the south are disciples of Kashi-matha.

Increasingly in the recent past the Gauda Saraswath mathas have shown alignment and affiliations with Maddhwa Mathas but the original Madhwa tradition belongs to Shivalli / Madhwa (Shivalli Tulu /Kannada speaking Brahmin sects who are strictly shakaharis). In fact, the GSB are predominantly shaivas and their swamijis wore vibhutis until recent decades. Konkani speakers migrated from Goa region and were not natives of Canara.

Works of Madhvacharya

The Works of Madhvacharya are many in number and include commentaries on the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma Sutras. Sri Madhvacharya also composed many works on the philosophy of Tatva-vada.

The Acharya has written four works on the Sutra-prasthana (the Vedantic school of Brahma Sutra)

  • 1. Brahmasutra-bhashya
  • 2. Sarva-shastrartha-sangraha (Anubhashya)
  • 3. Brahmasutra-anuvyakhyana
  • 4. Brahmasutra-anuvyakhyana-vivarana (Nyaya-vivarana)

Two works are on the Gita-prasthana (the Vedantic school of Bhagavadgita)

  • 5. Bhagavadgita-bhashya
  • 6. Bhagavadgita-tatparya-nirnaya

In the Upanishad-prasthana (the Vedantic school of Upanisads), the Acharya has written bhashyas or authoritative commentaries on all the Principal Upanishads. But there is notable uniqueness in respect of these also. While all the others have commented only on three chapters of the Aitareya Upanishad, the Acharya's bhashya covers the entire Upanishad-kanda (of 9 chapters) of the Aitareya Aranyaka.

  • 7. Mahaitareyopanishad-bhashya
  • 8. Brhadaranyakopanishad-bhashya
  • 9. Chandogyopanishad-bhashya
  • 10. Taittiriyopanishad-bhashya
  • 11. Talavakaropanishad-bhashya (Kenopanishad-bhashya)
  • 12. Kathakopanishad-bhashya
  • 13. Atharvanopanishad-bhashya (Mundakopanishad-bhashya)
  • 14. Shatprashnopanishad-bhashya
  • 15. Yajniya-mantropanishad-bhashya (Ishavasyaopanishad-bhashya)
  • 16. Mandukyopanishad-bhashya

The verses occurring in the middle of the Mandukyopanishat are mistakenly held to be Gaudapada's karikas. But Acharya Ramanuja has accepted that these form original portions of the Upanisat itself. But Madhva has rejected the old wrong notion once for all by writing bhashya on these verses also. In this connection it is noteworthy how senior Advaita scholars too like Brahmananda accept that these are original Upanisadic verses.

The Acharya not only blazed a new pathway of spiritual interpretation of the Veda, by writing a commentary on 40 hymns of the Rig veda, but also showed the way leading to a synthesis of Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka texts by commenting upon some chapters of the Aitreya Brahmana and the Mahanamni-khanda of the same Aranyaka. These works are,

  • 17. Rig-bhashya
  • 18. Khandartha-nirnaya (Karma-nirnaya)

So also, there are three works of his that lay bare the heart of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata in a bid to synthesize the teachings of Itihasas and Puranas:

  • 19. Mahabharata-tatparya-nirnaya
  • 20. Mahabharata-tatparya (Yamaka-bharata)
  • 21. Bhagavata-tatparya-nirnaya

Nine topical treatises are concerned with determining epistemology and ontology:

  • 22. Vishnu-tattva-nirnaya
  • 23. Vada (tattvoddyota)
  • 24. Mayavada-dushana (Mayavada-khandana)
  • 25. Upadhi-dushana (Upadhi-khandana Tattva-prakasika)
  • 26. Mithyatvanumana-dushana (Mithyatvanumana-khandana)
  • 27. Tattva-samkhyana
  • 28. Tattva-viveka
  • 29. Pramana-lakhsana
  • 30. Vada-laksana (Katha-lakshana)

Seven works offer guidance regarding performance of ceremonials and rituals as laid down in law-books, regarding building architecture, mantra and tantra and duties and practices of householders and mendicants:

  • 31. Krisnamrta-maharnava
  • 32. Tantra-sara-sangraha
  • 33. Sadacara-smrti
  • 34. Jayanti-nirnaya
  • 35. Om-Tat-Sat-Pranava-kalpa (Yati-pranavakalpa)
  • 36. Nyasa-paddhati
  • 37. Tithi-nirnaya

In the field of devotional literature, there are two works of his; one is a stotra or hymn of praise; the other is an anthology of compositions set to music and meant to be sung:

  • 38. Narasimha-nakhastuti
  • 39. Dvadasha-stotras (12 in number)

Further, there is a work which the Acharya is said to have composed in his boyhood while playing with a ball (and so it is called The Ball Hymn), it is a small work of 2 verses in a unique meter:

  • 40. Kanduka-stuti

Of these, 38 had been published formerly. Two, viz. Nyasapaddhati, that explains the daily routine duties of mendicants, and Tithinirnaya, that is a unique work on mathematics indicating precise formulae for the determination of each date's extent, are works which were first noticed by Shri Bannanje Govindacharya in the course of his research in Palm-leaf Manuscripts some years ago.

The Essence of Madhva's philosophy

Madhva introduced a new line of thought to Indian philosophy. His position was originally called tatva vāda ("philosophy of reality") in early Sanskrit literature, and later came to be known as the Dvaita-mata ("dualistic school") after the relationship between Īśvara ("God") and jīva ("soul") became the main point of conflict within the Vedantic tradition. Madhva's work is classically placed in opposition to Śaṅkara's Advaita and Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita. (Sharma 1994, p. 372)


Madhva accepts three sources of knowledge: Pratyaksha or perception, Anumāna or inference and Aagama or Vedic literature, and holds that Īśvara can only be known through the proper samanvaya or corroboration of Vedic scritptural teachings. (Sharma 1994, pp. 372–3)

Interpretation of the Vedas

For Madhva, like for the Mīmāṃsakas, the Vedas are apauruṣeya or unauthored. Their truth is both eternal and uncontradictory, and encompasses all of its parts (i.e. the saṃhitas, brāhmaņas, āraņyakās and upanișads). However, his interpretation of the Veda is such as to discover within the corpus statements of the fivefold difference.


According to Madhva there are primarily two tatvas or categories of reality—svatantra tatva (independent reality) and asvantantra tatva (dependent reality). Broadly, Īśvara as cause of the universe is the independent reality, and the created universe is the dependent reality. The created universe consists of jīva and matter. Jīvas are sentient and matter is non-sentient.

Madhva further enumerates the difference between dependent and independent reality as a fivefold division between Īśvara, jīva and matter. These differences are: (1) Between matter and matter; (2) Between matter and jīva; (3) Between matter and Īśvara; (4) Between jīva and jīva; and (5) Between jīva and Īśvara. This difference is neither temporary nor merely practical; it is an invariable and natural property of everything. For such is the law of nature: One is not two; two is not one. There is no object like another.

There is no jīva like another. No man's nature is like that of another. Underlying everything and every individual person, there is a unique individuality or speciality. The sea is full; the tank is full; even water-pots may be full (of water). But that fullness is not identical in all these. The volume varies according to the variation in size. Everything is full, yet each fullness is different. In fact, even in liberated jīvas, the difference prevails such that the degree of knowledge and enjoyment of bliss of each soul varies. (Sharma 1994, p. 372)

Nature of the World

Madhva sees the world as five-faceted: five elements, five elemental essences, five sheaths, five sense-organs etc. That is why it is designated as pra-pañca or a 'perfect pentad' in Sanskrit. In this pentad, the principle of Prana there is the fivefold division of prāņa, apāna, vyāna, udāna and samāna. Moreover, it is being controlled all the time by God who also assumes five forms, viz. Aniruddha, Pradyumna, Saṇkaraṣaṇa, Vāsudeva and Nārāyaṇa. The world is permanent and is a fallen state for the jīva, which is away from its place of true happiness, namely in the presence of Īśvara. The world is the līla or sport of Īśvara, and so creation isn't to be shunned. Rather it should be enjoyed in a detached way.

Nature of the Soul

There are an infinite number of atomic, eternally existing jīvas. Madhva compares the relationship of the jīva to Īśvara with the analogy of a thing (bimba) and its reflection (pratibimba): if Īśvara be the statue, the jīvas are his reflection. The reflection is always dependent on the original; it can never become identical with it. Like jīvas, the inanimate substances too that go into the creative apparatus of the universe are innumerable. Each jīva is numerically and qualitatively non-identical to every other and the variety of qualitative differentiation is infinite. The nature of the jīva is to be further liable to be caught up in the world. The jīva, which is at the center in the triple categories of Īśvarajīva–matter, becomes involved in the meshes of [[samsara]], or bondage when it leans toward matter; it becomes liberated if it leans toward Īśvara, the essence of whom is reflected in its capacity for knowledge and consciousness.


Nature of God

Madhva's theology is Vaishnavism. According to Madhva, Nārāyaṇa alone is the supreme independent godhead. The entire Vedic corpus hymns only his praise; the names of deities invoked therein, such as Agni, Indra and Varuṇa are but various spulinga (parts and parcels of)[3] Viṣṇu. Monotheism alone is thus the quintessence of Vedic literature and not polytheism.

Though Īśvara is one, the divine beings are many. These divine beings are not God. They are only jīvas that have realized God and risen to a high state by acquiring [[siddhi]] or divine power. These siddhas or realized adepts can serve as gurus to guide the soul who is still a religious seeker.

Īśvara is the cause of the world, an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, just and wholly transcendent being. Madhva has Īśvara straddle various contradictions in the description of Brahman by semantic interpretation. For example, for the notion that "Īśvara both has forms and is formless, and is both qualified and unqualified," Madhva explains it in the following way. Īśvara is endowed with forms because he has a body of knowledge and bliss, but is formless because he has no body that can be circumscribed by a finite mind. Īśvara is qualified because he possesses the six qualities of omniscience (Jñāna), sovereignty (Aiśvarya), omnipotence (Śakti), endurance, or the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue (Bala), vigour, or the power to retain immateriality as the supreme being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations (Vīrya) and splendour, or self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by his spiritual effulgence (Tejas) (Tapasyananda 1991), but unqualified because he is entirely free of material adjuncts.

Viṣṇu has Lakṣmī for his consort and she is co-extensive and eternal like him, but is slightly inferior to him. Lakṣmī is ever-liberated and has a divine body and is the Power of God. (Sharma 1994, p. 373)

Nature of Liberation

Mukti, or liberation, does not mean the cessation of an illusory world. Rather, the world is real, and liberation is the lack of attachment to the world. In samsāra, the jīva, being unaware of its power of self-consciousness, is ignorant of its true nature as a reflection of Īśvara, becomes a tool in the hands of matter, searching in vain for truth. In the state of liberation, material nature is conquered, and consciousness of Īśvara fills the soul. The world is realized as a dependent reality and therefore as 'untrue' in the sense of being the lesser reality.

Means to Liberation

The only way for the jīva to escape the world is divine grace, which can only be gained through selfless devotional service to God, or bhakti. (Sharma 1994, p. 373)


Perfection of the jīva

The all-round and complete development of one's special personality is the goal of human life. Human life is a practical workshop that helps the individual soul to attain the perfect development of his personality and strive toward liberation.

The development of an individual takes place strictly in accordance with his inner nature. The environmental factors only help manifest what is already rooted in one's inner nature. Inner nature rooted firmly in the jiva from time immemorial. No amount of effort can alter its course. Madhva uses the theory of the three guṇas to explain the varying degrees of perfection in individual souls. A sāttvika jīva cannot become a tāmasa. Nor can a tāmasa turn into a sāttvika. One's attainment of perfection is nothing but a complete manifestation of one's unique individual nature.

The Four Varnas

The idea of cāturvarņya or the classification system expounded by Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad Gīta forms the social corollary to the view of human perfection, according to Madhva. The Gīta's idea of "four colours" is quite distinct from the idea of "four castes" prevalent today. It is an idea that relates only to the soul's inmost nature or personality-trait. The true colour of the jīva needs to be discovered.

In such a social order, the son of a labourer (śūdra) may be a priest (brāhmaņa); on the contrary, a brāhmaņa's son may also be a śūdra.[citation needed] This is because varṇa is not something which is transmitted hereditarily—it is something quite personal, determined by the individual's own personality traits.

Knowledge through perception, inference and scriptures

Only one who knows God can know the secret of the universe. It is impossible to know the universe completely by scientific research into matter. Hence one should know God Himself. It is only by knowing the root that one can tackle a tree. This indeed is the pathway of knowledge (Jnanayoga).

The principle that unites the soul to God like a thread is called prana-tattva or the "vital principle". It is the one principle that embodies all souls and is also termed "jivottama-tattva" or the "principle of perfect jiva-hood". Acharya says about himself that it is an aspect of this supreme principle that incarnated itself in human form as Madhva in order to lay bare the Supreme Truth.

The pathway of Jnana-yoga or knowledge supreme is not opposed to Karma or action. The very dichotomy that the pathway of action is for the ignorant, while that of knowledge is for the adept, is absurd.

Knowledge without action is an impractical intellectual exercise. Action without knowledge is but blind orthodoxy. Knowledge is necessary; knowledge-full action too is necessary. At the same time, an understanding of God's infinite glory is equally necessary.

Having understood God's greatness, it is necessary to love him devotedly. The world also deserves to be lived, since the wonderful universe is just His creation in sport (lila)".

Denying the world is as good as denying God's own infinite greatness. We should all dedicate ourselves to our duty in the following spirit: "We are all subjects in the kingdom of God; rendering assistance to those who are in distress is the tax we owe to God Himself, our king".

Such an integral synthesis of the pathways of knowledge, action and devotion becomes a perfect pathway for one's life.

The physical eye is not enough for the development of knowledge. The inner eye has to be opened; one has to turn inward.

There are only two ways in which that goal can be realized; one is direct personal experience; and the other is the word of wisdom bequeathed to us by sages who were "seers" of the Veda. Their word is a torch to illumine our way. In the light of that torch and along that way alone we should walk on and discover Truth.

Thus when both the word of scripture and our own immediate experience coincide, it becomes the highest criterion confirming our conviction.

In order to achieve it, a continuous process of hearing, cogitating and realization of the scriptures is called for. Not even scriptural statement is to be accepted if it is against one's own conscience.

An awakened conscience can discover the integral unity underlying all Vedic statements. It is in order to demonstrate this synthetic essence of the Vedas that the Brahmasutras, Bharata, Pancharatra and Puranas have been written. These alone are primary authorities.

Texts of smrti (moral code), written by sages like Manu, are acceptable as authorities only when they are in conformity with the essential message of the Veda. They are not ultimate authorities.

Another means of valid knowledge besides perception and scripture is inference or reasoning. Although it is an instrument of valid knowledge, it is not an independent instrument. Hence it is spoken of only as "anu-mana" (anusaari pramana) or 'ancillary instrument of knowledge'; it can be developed only as a supplementary instrument to the other two, i.e., perception and scripture.

It is important to note that in supra-sensory matters, nothing can be established by inference or reasoning independently. For, anything one desires can be established by reasoning. Those who do not possess this awareness can establish nothing by the strength of their reasoning. Therefore in regard to supra-sensory facts and especially, in regard to God, there is no use in one's surrendering oneself to reasoning.

One should surrender oneself only to God. One should surrender oneself to the voice of hoary sages and wise men who realized God; that is to say, to the Vedic words. One should know through word of sages, and having known, one should experience it; having experienced, one should see; having seen, one should succeed; having succeeded, one should gain.

And for that, one should surrender oneself to God; one should know through surrender; and knowing, one should again surrender.

This awareness is the key to bliss.

Madhvacharya in other sects

A subsect of Gaudiya Vaishnavas from Orissa and West Bengal claim to be followers of Madhvacharya. One of the medieval saints from there is Sri Chaitanya, whose devotees consider him to be a dual incarnation of Radha & Sri Krishna who appeared in Mayapur, India in 1486 AD. The ISKCON movement, a branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, regards Sri Madhvacarya as an integral part of the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya established by Sri Krishna. Their claim to descent from Madhva sect is evidenced by similarities in philosophy and worship. Madhva established in Udupi Krishna Matha a deity of Gopala Krishna, who is in the mode

of Vrindavana, who is the son of Nanda Maharaj and Yashoda,[4] beloved of the gopis.[5] Gaudiya Vaishnavas also worship Krishna, who is in the mode of Vrindavana.

Kanva Shakaa

Some major Achrayas who belong to Kanva Shakha are Sureshvaracharya(Mandana Mishra) who was disciple of Shankaracharya & 1st swamiji of Shrungeri Math. Sri Madwacharya, Sri Chidambar mahaswamy, Muragod & great Dattareya avatar of Akkalkot Swami Samarth was born in Kanva Shakha.


  1. Template:Rig-yajuḥ-sāmārtharvāś ca bhārataṁ pañcarātrakam/ mūla-rāmāyaṇaṁ caiva veda ity eva śabditaḥ/ purāṇāni ca yānīha vaiṣṇavāni vido viduḥ


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sharma, B. N. Krishnamurti (1962). Philosophy of Śrī Madhvācārya (reprint ed.). Motilal Banarsidass Publ 1986. p. XI-XXV. ISBN 9788120800687. Retrieved 16 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Madhvacharya Life and Teachings".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The living entities, not only human beings and the cats and dogs, but even the greater controllers of the material world – Brahmā, Lord Śiva and even Viṣṇu – are all parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord. They are all eternal, not temporary manifestations. Purport Bhagavat Gita As It Is 15.7
  4. He has a beautiful smile on His face, and a grace and beauty that are most pleasing; His form cannot be grasped by the senses. He is extolled by the gods from Brahma onwards; the presence of the Son of Nanda-gopa (Krishna) was established by Sri Madhvacharya by the proper procedures of worship.[1]
  5. He then got the stone icon of the Beloved of the Gopis, the Lord of Shrii (Krishna) washed in the lake (Madhva-sarovara) by three or four disciples, and had it immersed in the lake.[2]


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External links

  1. "Madhva" article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. The Life And Teachings of Sri Madhvacharyar by C.M. Padmanabha Char - at
  3. Philosophy of Sri Madhvacharya by Dr. B.N.K. Sharma - at
  4. S. Srikanta Sastri - "Logical system of Madvacharya", published in Poona Oriental Series - No. 75, "A Volume of Studies in Indology", presented to Prof P. V. Kane on his 60th birthday.
  5. Brahmasutra Bhasya of Sri Madhvacharya with Glosses in Sanskrit - at
  6. Tattva-Sankhyan of Madhvacharya with the Tika of Jayatirtha (Sanskrit-English) - at