In the first of a 3-part series, Vani Rao writes about Sri Madhvacharya’s childhood and his philosophy.
Sri Madhvacharya is believed to be the incarnation of Mukhya Praana and was born in 1238 AD as Vaasudeva to Madhyageha Bhatta (father) and Vedavati (mother) at Pajaka in Udupi District in Karnataka.
He was a brilliant child endowed with prodigious memory and could grasp lessons at one sitting. Most of the time he used to spend time in sports and games of the period like trekking, wrestling, weight lifting and swimming. He out beat his contemporaries in all and was known to be fearless. He had a resonant, pleasant voice and people flocked to listen to his chanting shlokas and discourses in the temple.
He had spiritual leaning from a young age and sought his father’s permission to become a monk. The parents were very sad because Vasudeva was their only surviving child and they had nobody to look after them in their old age. Hence Vasudeva waited till a brother was born.
Vasudeva underwent rigorous training under a great guru named Achyutapreksha. But he had doubts about interpretation of earlier scholars on the nature of God. He evolved his own theory of dualism (dwaita). He undertook countrywide tour of India, from Kanyakumari in the South to Badari in the Himalayas to propagate his teachings. As was the tradition, every new exponent had to give new interpretation to the sacred texts and establish its superiority in the assemblies of the learned. Vasudeva who by now had assumed the name Madhvacharya succeeded wherever he went due to his clear thinking, oratory, debating skills and earned not only fame, but distinguished disciples as well.
Madhva distinguished himself in physical exercises and field games. He had a wonderful physique. He could wrestle, run, jump and swim. So people gave him the nickname Bhima.
Madhvacharya Propounded the Dwaita School of thought.
Dvaita (also known as Tattvavada and Bheda-vada), a school of Vedanta , stresses a strict distinction between God (Vishnu) and the individual living beings (Jivas). According to Madhvacharya, souls are not ‘created’ by God but do, nonetheless depend on him for their existence.
Madhvacharya states that Vishnu is not just any other deity, but is rather the singular, all-important and supreme one. Vishnu is always the primary object of worship, and all others are regarded as subordinate to Him. The deities and other sentient beings are graded among themselves, with Vayu, the god of life, being the highest, and Vishnu is eternally above them.
Dvaita asserts that the difference between the individual soul or Jiva, and God, (Ishwara or Vishnu), is eternal and real. Actually, this is just one of the five differences that are so stated — all five differences that constitute the universe are eternal.
Madhvacharya’s interpretation of the Caste System
Madhva interprets the concept of Varna mentioned in the Vedas (Purusha Sooktha) as not being defined by birth, but by the nature of a Soul. For example a Soul having the nature of a Brahmin could have been born as a Shudra and vice versa. The caste system decided by birth is actually Jaati and not Varna. The Varnas simply define the disposition of the Soul, for example a Soul classified as Brahmana Varna is disposed towards learning, a Kshatriya Soul is disposed towards administration and a Shudra Soul is disposed towards performing Service.
He gave new interpretation to caste system prevailing during his times. (Actually he was nearer to Vedic seers in this aspect.) The caste was related more to one’s nature than his/her birth. Birth was not important to determine caste. It signified one’s behavior or nature. A spiritually enlightened chandala (outcaste) was better than an ignorant Brahmin.”
(To be contd.)