Madhvacharya was born around 1238 A.D. eight miles south-east of
the modern town of Udupi, in the Karnataka State. He is reputed
to be the incarnation of Bhima, taking birth in Kali-yuga to
destroy the daityas. Others refer to him as Vayu himself and it
w as his life's mission to defeat the followers of Sankaracharya.
He was born in the family of very elevated brahmanas and from
his early childhood performed many amazing pastimes, such as the
killing of a huge serpentine demon named Maniman, simply with
the big toe of his left foot.
Madhva was only eight years old when he received spiritual
initiation and at the age of twelve he accepted the sannyasa
order and began to travel the length and breadth of India.
He enjoyed a long life of robust health. He engaged in
various forms of sport and physical exercise in his youth, such
as wrestling, swimming and even mountaineering, which he kept up
to the very end. He had very handsome features with a strong
muscular frame, tall and strong-limbed with graceful carriage
and dignified bearing. Endowed with a magnetic personality and
traditional thirty-two lakshanas, he had a deep sonorous voice
and good musical talent, which he used to advantage in Vedic
recitation and i n singing the soulful strains of his own
devotional compositions and in giving open air discources on the
Bhagavata Purana, with its rolling melody of verses.
His life, as described in the Madhvavijaya, is the narrative
of a born leader of men. Madhva recognized the soul of man to be
potenially divine; but man, in the ignorance of his true status,
has lost his soul to his body and its cravings, and needs to be
awakened by God himself or His devotees.
He became a student under Acyutapreksa, who came in the order
of Ekanti-Vaisnavas of the Ekadandi order. Madhva entered the
sannyasa order and was given the name Purnaprajna.
During his study of the sastras he became convinced about the
inherent weakness in the Advaita philosophy and developed a keen
desire to revive the theistic science of Vedas with his own
thorough reinterpretation of the texts.
After only a short time in his studies, frequent
disagreements of views arose between himself and his teacher.
Acyutaprajna could see that Purnaprajna was destined to make
history for himself and made him head of the Math. On that
memorable occasion Purnaprajna was given another name
"Anandatirtha" and later adopted the name Madhva.
Madhvacharya spent some time teaching and engaging
outstanding scholars belonging to Buddhist, Jain and Advaita
Sampradayas, in logical and philosophical discussions and
vanquishing them in debates. He set out to propagate his
teachings and travelled exte nsively throughout South India. He
visited Kanyakumari, Ramesvaram and Srirangam holding discources
on the Brahmasutras and openly criticizing Sankaracharya's
Bhasyas on the Sutras. Giving his own interpretations he soundly
defeated all he encountered and naturally roused a good deal of
opposition from the leaders of the old schools of thought. At
Kanyakumari he met with stiff opposition from an Advaitic monk
of great learning who challenged him to write a fresh commentary
on the Brahmasutras before he ven tured to criticize the time
honored one of Sankaracharya. Madhva assured him that he would
be doing so, in good time. At Srirangam he came in contact with
the followers of the Ramanuja school and after exchanging veiws
with them, noted his own points of ag reement and difference
with them. This South Indian tour gave him great resolve to set
out on his first tour of the north.
Madhvacharya was anxious to go to Badarikasrama and receive
personal inspiration from a visit to the asrama of Vyasadeva.
After staying forty-eight days at Badarinath, fasting, praying,
meditating and dedicating his Gita-Bhasya to the Lord,
Madhvacharya wa s inspired to go to the hermitage of Vyasa. He
went there all alone and after gaining the personal darshan of
Vyasadeva himself and learning from him, returned after some
months, glowing with divine inspiration and wrote his Bhasya on
Journeying through Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, Andhrapradesa,
Maharashtra and Karnataka, he returned to Udupi. On his way back
from Badarikasrama, Madhvacharya challenged many eminent
scholars of the day. Prominent among these were two outstanding
scholars, Swa mi Sastrin and Sobhana Bhatta, known as masters of
the six systems of philosophy. Madhvacharya soundly defeated
these two who subsequently became his disciples known as
Narahari Tirtha and Padmanabha Tirtha respectively.
Madhvacharya's fame and prestige had grown considerably and
his commentaries on the Gita and Brahmasutras had made their
mark and were widely recognized and respected. In his Math in
Udipi he introduced strict codes of conduct for his followers,
introduce d the system of Pistapasuyagas (offerings made from
flowers), in place of actual animal sacrifices in yajnas and
imposed the rigorous observance of fasts on Ekadasi. To foster a
sense of fellowship among his disciples he installed a beautiful
deity of Lord Krishna.
"Once, as Madhva was travelling in the association of his
disciples he arrived in Sri Navadwipa and decided to spend some
days within the forests of Modradumadvipa.
One night, as Madhva lay sleeping, Lord Gauranga appeared to
him in a dream. The Lord told Madhava, "It is well known to
everyone that you are My eternal servitor. When I appear here in
Navadwipa, I will accept your sampradaya. Travel everywhere and
carefully uproot all the false scriptures of the mayavadis and
reveal the glories of worshipping the personal form of the
Supreme Personality of Godhead. Later, when I appear, I will
personally broadcast your pure teachings." The Lord then
When Madhva awoke, he was astonished and as he remembered the
Lord he began to cry in separation, saying, "Will I ever see
that beautiful golden form again?" A celestial voice from the
sky replied, "Worship Me secretly and you will come to Me."
Carrying these instructions within his heart, Madhva
continued his travels more determined than ever to defeat the
(Source: Sri Navadwipa-dham Mahatmya)
During a meeting between King Jayasimha, the Ruler of Kumbla
and Madhvacharya, a historic disputation developed with the
Ruler's Court Pandit, Trivikrama Pandit, who was the foremost
authority on Advaita-vedanta. Trivikrama engaged Madhvacharya in
a vigoro us debate for fifteen days, at the temple of Kudil and
was defeated by the Acharya. He sought to become a disciple of
Madhvacharya and was readily admitted. He was then commissioned
to write a commentary on the Brahma-Sutra Bhasya, and named it
An interesting incident took place during his second trip to
North India. With the country under tight control of the Persian
invaders, travelling became very hazardous. With Madhvacharya's
knowledge of Persian, his courage and tact in handling difficult
situations and his ability to rise to equal occasions with
dignity and complete self-possession, he was able to escape from
potentially dangerous encounters. One such episode took place
with his meeting with Sultan Jalal-uddin-Khilji. Political
hostilities were on at the time. Madhvacharya and his party were
forced to swim across the Ganges to the other side. They were
halted on reaching the shore and were taken to the Ruler who
called upon Madhva to explain his conduct in disobeying orders
and crossing th e river when hostilities were on. Madhvacharya
spoke to the Ruler in his own language, convincing him on the
importance of his mission in the cause of Theism.
After completing many commentaries and original erudite
works, establishing prominant Maths and sending out well-chosen
veterans to preach and propagate his siddhanta all over the
country, while seated during a shower of flowers, Madhvacharya
disappeared from vision and transferred himself to
Badarikasrama. There he still remains.
His philosophy is dvaita. Brahman is Hari or Vishnu definable
to an extent by the Vedas. He has a transcendental form, Vyuhas,
Incarnations are His parts and Lakshmi is distinct. The
qualities of Brahman are it is fully independent, the cause of
all causes , supreme bliss, devoid of false attributes but
possesses all qualities. The soul is atomic, it pervades the
body by intelligence, infinite in number, Karta and Bhokta.
Creation is the actuation of what is in the womb of matter and
soul by the action of Brahman. The cause of bondage is the
divine will of the Supreme and ignorace of the soul (svarupa).
The process of release is through whole hearted devotion, study
of the Vedas and detached karma. The goal is to gain release
from samsara and restoration of one's own individual form.