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Life History

01. Antecedents

It is popular belief, based on testimonials from aparoxa gyanis, that Rayaru is the incarnation of a celestial called Shankukarna. The incarnations of this celestial are as follows –

  • 1. Sri Prahlada
  • 2. Sri Bahleeka
  • 3. Sri Vyasa Teertha
  • 4. Sri Raghavendra Teertha.

Let us take a closer look at each person in the lineage.
Sankukarna was a karmaja devata assisting Chaturmukha Brahma in the pooja of the Lord. One day, he was a little late in bringing flowers for the pooja and Brahma cursed him to be born on the earth. Obviously this was a pretense since Brahma is beyond flaws like anger, greed etc. The real intention of Brahma was to pave the way for the incarnation of Lord Narasimha and also to show the world the greatness of Shankukarna.

The story of Prahlada is very well known and needs no further elaboration. But not many people know that he had an Avesha of Vayu in him. Acharya Madhva himself testifies to this in the Mahabharata Tatparya nirnaya (“hiraNyakaShipoh putrah prahlAdo bhagavatpriyah, vAyunA cha samAviShTo mahAbala samanvitah” ..MBTN 11.8*). BahlIka was a very pious king in Dvapara Yuga. He was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, but due to circumstances beyond his control he ended up fighting against the Pandavas. He wanted to die at the hands of Bheema and so challenged him to a fight, but bheema was reluctant to hurt a devotee of the Lord. Bahleeka begged him to kill him so that he could take future births and serve him (Bheema or Acharya Madhva) with devotion. Bheema agreed to do that provided Bahlika hit the first blow. When Bahleeka did as directed, Bheema hit him gently with his formidable mace. Thus Bahleeka got the death he wanted, a heart full of devotion towards Krishna, and the divine sight of Krishna and Bheema at the time of his death.

Bahleeka was reborn as Vyasa Teertha, one of the most revered mAdhva saints. He was an excellent writer with several great works to his credit, the chief ones being tAtparya chandrika, tarka tAnDava and nyAyamruta. He was the revered rAjaguru who helped king krishnadEvarAya through several major crises in his life. He was the jeweler who gave us precious gems like purandara dAsaru and kanakadAsaru, and did invaluable service to the cause of haridAsa sAhitya. Above all, he was a very great devotee of Hari and VAyu, who established over 732 hanumanta icons including the famous yantrodhdhAraka temple in hampi, personally worshipped Lord Venkateshwara in tirupati for over 12 years and composed hundreds of devotional songs.

vyAsa tIrtha was reborn as venkaTanAtha (who later became RAyaru), with the special grace of Lord Hari and vAyu dEvaru.

02. Brief History of Rayara Matha

Sri Padmanabha Tirtha was one of the earliest disciples of Acharya Madhva. After the departure of the Acharya, PadmanAbha Teertha became the head of the main Matha (outside South Kanara / Canara District). He was in turn succeeded by Sri Narahari Teertha, Sri Madhava Teertha, Sri Akshobhya Teertha, Sri Jayateertha (also known as tIkAkrutpAdaru) and Sri Vidyadhiraja Teertha.

After this, due to factors beyond human control, the lineage split into two branches – one headed by Sri Kaveendra Teertha and another by Sri Rajendra Teertha. The latter is also known as Poorvadi Matha (which is more popularly known today as Sri Vyasaraja Matha.) In the former line, Sri Kaveendra Teertha was succeeded by Sri Vageesha Teertha and Sri Ramachandra Teertha. Once again, due to factors beyond human control, the lineage split into two branches – one headed by Sri Vibudhendra Teertha (the lineage known today as Sri Raghavendra Swamy Matha).

Sri Vibudhendra Teertha was a very well regarded scholar and saint who strove very hard to propagate the philosophy of Acharya Madhva. One of his many disciples was Lakshminarayana Muni (more popularly known as Sri SrIpAdarAjA). Sri Vibudhendra Teertha was followed by Sri Jitamitra Teertha, Sri Raghunandana Teertha and Sri Surendra Teertha.

Sri Vyasa Teertha had many illustrious disciples, but he was grooming Sri Vishnu Teertha to become his successor, but destiny willed otherwise. Sri Vishnu Teertha was handed over to Sri Surendra Teertha and renamed as Sri Vijayeendra Teertha. He defeated a leading Shaivite Swamiji and gained a Matha in Kumbhakonam along with a lot of other properties. He wrote many scholarly works, defeated many scholars of rival schools and put dvaita on a solid footing in the south. He was followed by Sri Sudheendra Teertha who was in turn followed by Sri Raghavendra Teertha (Rayaru). After Rayaru, the Matha became known as Raghavendra Matha or Rayara Matha.

03. Birth & Childhood

There were 60 brahmin families under the protection of King Mayuravarma, ruler of Kadamba dynasty. They belonged to 14 gotras, out of which Gautama was the prominent one.

Over a period of time they migrated to the Vijayanagar empire. One of the key scholars in this was Sri Krishna Bhatta. He taught Veena to King Krishnadevaraya and was honored in the court for his erudition as well as mastery over music. His son, Sri Kanakachala Bhatta, followed in the footsteps of his father. His son was Sri Thimanna Bhatta. By this time the vijayanagar empire had fallen affecting many scholars who depended on royal patronage.

Most of them moved south with their families, finding refuge with southern kings and chieftains. Thimmanna Bhatta reached Kumbhakona and sought refuge under Sri Surendra Teertha, where

he was treated with a lot of respect. His wife, Gopikamba was a very virtuous lady, suitable for her husband in all ways. Since the couple did not have any children, they went to Tirupati and performed seva to the Lord with devotion. In due course of time, they were blessed with a boy and a girl. They named them Gururaja and Venkamma.

The family settled down in Kaveripatnam, under the chieftain of Tanjore. After a few years, they again went to Tirupati and performed very rigorous seva to the Lord with utmost devotion. The Lord appeared in their dream and promised them a son who would be a very great soul and reach the pinnacle of fame. The couple was ecstatic. In 1595 a third son was born to this couple. They named him Venkatanatha (some books refer to him as Venkanna bhatta).

04. Education

Thimmana Bhatta performed the usual rituals for his son like Namakarana (naming), Choodakarma (first tonsure for the baby) and Aksharabhyasa (teaching alphabets) at the appropriate times.

When Thimmana Bhatta wrote the Omkara(ॐ) and said that this was a representation of God, Venkatanatha questioned his father as to how a small object like ‘Om’ could capture the infinite greatness of god. Thimmanna bhatta was astounded at the little boy’s brilliance and insight into shastra. He hugged his son with joy and thanked the Lord for blessing him with such a great son.

With the decline of the Tanjore royal court, Thimmana Bhatta lost his wealth and possessions, and over a period of time became poor. He performed the wedding of his daughter to a very good scholar from Madurai called LakshmInarasimhacharya. The first son’s upanayana was also performed and his education progressed nicely.

Thimmana Bhatta did not live long enough to see the greatness of his second son. He passed away when Venkatanatha was still at a very young age. Venkatanatha came under the care of his brother Gururaja. The initial portion of Venkatanatha’s education was under the tutelage of Sri LakshmInarasimhacharya in Madurai. Even he too was amazed at Venkatanatha’s exceptional intelligence and grasping ability.


05. Married Life and Poverty

Upon returning from Madurai, VenkaTanAtha’s marriage was arranged with saraswathi, a very virtuous lady from a good family. Saraswathi proved to be the ideal wife for Venkatanatha, and the couple had a son whom they named lakshmInArAyaNa.

VenkaTanAtha was a skilled musician and a great scholar, but he never demanded any money for his services and accepted whatever was offered to him. Since this happened very rarely, he had little or no means to support his family and had to endure a life of utter, dire poverty. A description of the hardships faced by him will melt anybody’s heart. If other families observed EkAdashi twice a month, VenkaTanAtha’s family did that several times in a week. His poverty was so stark that he could not afford a drop of oil to take an oil-bath on a festival day like dIpAvali. His family did not see new clothes for years. Inspite of all this, he never lost his equanimity or wavered in his faith towards the Lord. He continued his self-study, and free teachings, determined to live by whatever came to him unsought and unasked.

To add insult to injury, thieves raided VenkaTanAtha’s house one day and looted whatever little he had in terms of vessels, clothes. After this, he decided to seek refuge under Sri sudhIndra tIrtha. Even though maintaining his family was the pretext for moving, his main objective was to continue his education under Sri sudhIndra tIrtha.

06. Mahabhashya Venkatanatha

Venkatanatha went to Kumbhakonam, the seat of learning at the time. There he studied dvaita vedanta, advanced works on grammar and other shastras under Sri Sudheendra Teertha.

He used to stay awake past midnight to write his own comments and notes on the lessons that had been done. He developed extraordinary mastery over grammar. He engaged in debate and defeated several scholars of opposing doctrines; one of them was Venkateshvara Deekshita, a famous scholar of the Tanjore court in 1620. Pleased with his knowledge and mastery over grammar SudhIndra Teertha conferred on him the title of “Mahabhashyacharya”.

Venkatanatha also wrote a commentary on Anu-madhva Vijaya(अणुमध्वविजयः) (also known as Prameya navamAlika-प्रमेयनवमालिका), a short by Sri Narayana Panditacharya, the author of Sumadhva Vijaya.

07. Invited to be Peetadhipathi

Sri Sudhendra Teertha gave sanyasa to a person called Sri Yadavendra and handed him some icons from the matha. Sri Yadavendra accepted this and went on tour. Inspite of this, Sri SudhIndra Teertha was on the lookout for a suitable successor to carry on the glorious tradition of his Matha (he did not consider Sri Yadavendra as his successor).

The more he saw of Venkatanatha, the more he liked him and respected his scholarship. One day, Moola Rama came in his dream and informed him that Venkatanatha was the most ideal person to be the next pontiff and instructed him to give sanyasa to Venkatanatha. Sri Sudheendra Teertha was overjoyed at this and on a suitable occasion broached the topic with Venkatanatha. Venkatanatha fell into a predicament since he was torn between 2 powerful forces – his respect for Sudheendra Teertha’s words and his responsibilities as a householder. Finally, after great deliberation, he told Sudheendra Teertha that he could not take up this responsibility as he had a young wife and a son who was yet to undergo upanayanam. Sudheendra Teertha was disappointed but respected Venkatanatha’s feelings. He was also not disheartened as he knew that ultimately Divine will would prevail and that Venkatanatha would accede to his request.

08. Goddess Vidyalakshmi instructs in dream

That night Venkatanatha had a very strange dream. Godess Vidya Lakshmi Herself appeared before him and told him, “After feasting on the intellectual treats provided by Sri Madhvacharya, Jaya Teertha, Vyssa Teertha, Vadiraja and others, I am once again starving.

The light of tattvavada created by your beloved Sri madAcharya will be extinguished by the darkness of other philosophies. To prevent this from happening, noble souls like you should shed their material bondage and dedicate themselves to the cause of Hari and Vayu. This is both your duty and your destiny. You are a great soul, destined to provide solace and succor to millions of needy people. Accept Sudheendra Teertha’s request and take up sanyasa. You are Sri Hari’s beloved devotee and this is what He expects from you”. Venkatanatha woke up with a start. He was astounded at what had happened. He closed his eyes to meditate on God, and immediately saw the forms of Lord Narasimha, Rama, Krishna and Veda Vyasa. When he opened his eyes, he saw the world differently. His dilemmas were resolved and he was sure where his responsibilities lay.

The next day morning he rushed to Sudheendra Teertha and communicated the events of the previous night to him. Sudheendra Teertha was ecstatic at the turn of events and at the fact that he was getting such a great personality as his successor. He immediately ordered Venkatanatha to perform the upanayana of his son at the earliest. This was done with a short span, clearing one major hurdle for Venkatanatha. SudhIndra Teertha was concerned that Saraswathi could prove to be a hurdle in VenkatanAtha accepting sanyasa and so decided to perform the ceremony in Tanjore, in the court of King Raghunatha.

Raghunatha welcomed Sudheendra Teertha and Venkatanatha into the court with utmost devotion and respect. The ordination took place on Durmati Samvatsara Phalguna Shukla dvitiya (the second day of the bright half of Phalguna Masa in the Hindu year Durmati), corresponding to 1621 AD. Sudhindra Teertha initiated Venkatanatha into Sanyasa and gave him the Ashrama nama of Sri Raghavendra Teertha. This name had been indicated to him by Moola Rama devaru in a dream. The assembled group of scholars, courtiers, chieftains, pundits and the King went into raptures seeing this divine ceremony. They were indeed blessed to have personally witnessed the initiation this great saint.

09. The greatness of name Raghavendra

Sri Yadavendra, the senior disciple of Sudheendra teertha, visited Rayaru and expressed great happiness at his ordination. He declined the offer of becoming the Head of the matha and went away on tour.

Sudheendra teertha shed his mortal coils at Anegondi (what we know as navabrindavana) on Rudhira nama samvatsara, Phalguna bahula dvitiya, corresponding to 1623. Rayaru consecrated. his brindavana there and performed all the rituals necessary for a sanyasi with devotion and a heavy heart. Rayaru became the Head of the matha.

The name ‘Raghavendra’ chosen by Moola Rama devaru was a very apt choice for Rayaru. It carries a wealth of meaning. It indicates Lord Rama since he is the indra of the Raghu kula. It indicates Hanumanta (‘raghava yasya indrah sah raghavendra’, Raghavendra is the one whose indra or lord is Raghava. This signifies Anjaneya). It also means ‘one who destroys sins and bestows desired things’. In one song Sri Gopala dasaru describes the name as such – “Ra” destroys mountains of sins, “gha” provides deep rooted devotion, “Ven” gives speedy liberation from the cycle of life and death and “dra” blesses one with vision of the Lord who is celebrated in all shrutis. In the Raghavendra stotra, Sri Appannacharya describes him as

“Sri rAghave.ndraH sakalapradAtA svapAda ka.njadvaya bhaktimadbhyaH aghAdrisa.nbhedanadR^ishhTivajraH xamAsure.ndro avatumAM sadA.ayam.h”

which gives roughly the same meaning as the other statements.

10. Wife liberated

Saraswathi could not bear the pangs of separation from her husband. Every living moment was a torture for her because she could not take a breath without remembering her husband.

Even though she had been taught all the shastras by her husband and knew that suicide was a very great sin, she preferred the torture of hell to the anguish of separation.. She jumped into a well and committed suicide. Because of the grave nature of her sin, she became a ghost. Even as a ghost, her only desire was to see her husband, so she went to the maTha.

With his divine perception, Rayaru sensed Saraswati’s presence, even though she was a ghost not visible to human eyes. His heart full of mercy, he sprinkled water from his kamandala on her. The power of his penance was such that her prarabda karma ended and she became eligible for moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. This was her reward for a lifetime of dedicated and selfless service to a noble soul. A meritorious tradition is practiced in orthodox homes even to this day, i.e., during auspicious functions, married ladies are specially honored. This is basically to honor Saraswathi’s memory and her great sacrifice.

11. Daily routine of Sri Rayaru

When in Kumbhakonam Rayaru followed a set routine, exactly as specified by Shastras and outlined by Acharya Madhva in his sadachara smruti.

He would wake up at brahmi-muhurta, with the thoughts of the Lord in his mind. He would prostrate with devotion before the Tulasi brindavana and an icon of Pranadevaru and then set off in a palanquin to the Kaveri river for bathing. In the palanquin he would recite auspicious strotras like Gajendra Moksha from bhagavata, mangalashtaka and so on. Near the riverbed he would complete all the normal morning activities including bath, exactly as prescribed in the shastras, uttering the appropriate mantras at the appropriate time. He would then perform the japa (chant) of pranava and other mantras prescribed for ascetics. He would then go the tapovana (sacred garden) and listen to discourses on puranas while performing puja to the vyasa-mushti (saligramas). He would then visit the brindAvana of Sri Vijayeendra Teertha and perform pradakshina with utmost devotion. He would then come back to the matha, offering salutations to Kumbheshwara (and the Lord within him). He would then spend time with his disciples, teaching them different aspects of madhva shastra and engaging in a lively discussion with them on aspects of other doctrines.

By then it would be time for the noon bath, which he would perform within the matha itself. He would then perform the pooja of Moola Rama devaru and other important icons of the matha, with all due pomp and glory. This would be witnessed by the hundreds of devotees who would have gathered there for this very purpose. After the pooja, he would partake a nominal meal from the naivedya offered to the Lord. He would then spend some time in individual study or writing of documents while his disciples had their meal. Immediately after this, he would commence the next round of lessons to the disciples. Next, he would engage in a discussion with scholars on different aspects of vedanta, or deliver a discourse on a general topic to the assembled public. He would perform the evening bath in the matha itself and perform the evening / night pooja to the Lord, in a very grand manner.

Here, he would himself utter stotras from different scriptures, or sing devotional songs. Sometimes he would go into a trance while contemplating on the Lord. Finally he would offer phala-mantrakshate to the assembled devotees and bless them. He would remain awake late in the night, working on the latest document that he was authoring. Finally, when it would be impossible to keep awake, he would reluctantly go to sleep. All in all, it may be said that he practised what he preached, totally in accordance with the principles of shastra, as stated by Acharya Madhva.

12. Famine in Tanjore

Around 1642, Vijayaraghava Nayaka the ruler of Tanjavoor faced attacks from neigbhouring kings. He had to negotiate treaties with them in order to survive. A huge portion of his wealth went away to other kings.

In addition, successive monsoons failed and the province came under the grip of famine. Vijayaraghava nayaka spent freely from his treasury to reduce the hardship of his people but this was not enough. He visited Kumbhakona and sought refuge at the feet of Rayaru. He begged Rayaru to visit Tanjavoor and stay there. His hope was that the mere presence of Rayaru would make the gods smile on his kingdom, thus reducing the hardship of his subjects. Rayaru agreed and stayed in Tanjavooor for 12 years.

He spent the resources of the matha freely in feeding thousands of starving people. He also organized special yagyas to reduce the influence of famine. His presence brought back fortune to the kingdom and the king’s treasury became full again. Rains started coming on time and in adequate quantities to fill up the tanks and reservoirs. In due course of time, by Rayaru’s grace the kingdom came back to its original state of prosperity. To celebrate this happy event, the king organized a special yagya under the stewardship of Rayaru. He offered Lord Rama a very costly necklace studded with precious stones and gems. Rayaru took it with a smile and threw it into the agni kunda (sacrificial fire). The king was totally taken aback to see this. Rayaru, who was watching the king’s emotions with a smile, sprinkled water from his kamandala on the fire and prayed to Lord Parashurama. To the great astonishment of everybody present, the necklace rose out of the fire, even more resplendent than before, shining with a diving sparkle. Later, Rayaru explained to the king that a necklace already worn by humans was not fit to adorn Lord Rama’s neck, and thus had to undergo purification through fire.

13. Pilgrimages: Victory at Madhurai

Soon after becoming the Peethadhipati he began a series of pilgrimages that took him to several places. In his initial tour, he started going East and south.

He visited Paripoornadevanagara, Kamalalaya, the place where Kaveri reaches the Bay of Bengal, Champakeshwara, Rameshwara, Alagiri, Anantashayana, Janardhana, Tirunelveli and reached Madurai. Wherever he went, his agenda was simple – visiting local shrines, spreading the message of Sri Madacharya, defeating scholars of opposing doctrines, converting deserving people to dvaita, continuing to write commentaries and notes, teaching shastras to enthusiastic students, and encouraging local scholars.

Victory in Madurai:

Madurai was the seat of learning in those days, ruled by King Tirumala Nayaka. Neelakanta Dikshita was his prime minister. He was the grandson of Appayya Dikshita, the advaiti scholar who had a constant but cordial debate with VijayIndra TIrtha. Neelakanta Dikshita was impressed by the lucid yet powerful style with which Rayaru debated. He then questioned Rayaru on concepts of Bhatta meemamsa to test Rayaru’s knowledge of other doctrines. Rayaru showed him a work called Bhatta Sangraha that he had just finished authoring, which coincidentally happened to be on Bhatta Meemamsa. Neelakanta was very thrilled by the quality of the work and Rayaru’s depth of knowledge in other doctrines. He had the work placed on the royal elephant and taken around the town on a ceremonial procession.

From Madurai Rayaru visited Srirangam, Namakallu, and Vellore and then moved towards Karnataka. He visited Vishnumangala (where Trivikrama PanditAchArya had debated with Acharya Madhva for fifteen days), Subramanya and reached Udupi.

14. Pilgrimages: Extended stay at Udupi

Rayaru went into raptures when viewing the divine icon of Lord Krishna, consecrated by Acharya Madhva. He would sometimes sing in deep devotional ecstasy, or go into a trance when contemplating on the Lord.

He must have probably lapsed back into his previous incarnation as Vyasarayaru! He stayed for a long time in Udupi and completed several important works like Tantra deepika, Nyaya Muktavali, Parimala and Chandrika Prakasha. He offered all these works to Lord Krishna, through bharati-ramana mukhyaprana (who is also present in Udupi to serve the Lord). He stayed there till 1663, completing discourses on Chandrika more than 10 times. The final function in Udupi was Rama Navami, which was celebrated in a very grand manner, befitting the status of the matha and the sanctity of the Moola Rama Icon. It was indeed a magnificent feast for the eyes and minds of the people in Udupi and surrounding areas. As a momento of his stay in Udupi, he had a golden icon of Udupi Krishna made, which remains in the matha to this day. Finally, with a very heavy heart, he moved on.

He next visited Mysore and was requested by the ruler of Mysore to observe Chaturmasya in Srirangapatna, the capital of the kingdom then. He did so, to the great delight of the people in those areas. Next he visited Ramanathapura and took a ceremonial bath in the Kaveri. He then moved northwards, passing through Chitradurga, Gadag. Here, he visited kiritagiri at the invitation of the local chieftain (Desai) and stayed at his house.

15. Power to revive the dead

Hundreds of people had assembled at the Desai’s house to witness Rayaru’s pooja. As part of the food served to the guests, seekarane (a thick form of mango juice) was being prepared in a huge vessel.

Unfortunately, when nobody was watching him, the Desai’s son fell into this vessel and drowned. When the Desai and his wife came to know about it, they were totally devastated. However, they wanted to hide the news because they did not want Rayaru and the assembled guests to starve. Being an aparoxa gyani, Rayaru sensed the tragedy and asked the grief stricken couple to bring the dead boy before him. When this was done, he sprinkled water from his kamandala and revived the boy. The joy of the ecstatic parents knew no bounds.

There are some very important points to note in this episode. Our shastras talk about the concept of “Ayushya”, defined as the total amount of time that a being is allowed to live on earth, in a particular body. Any death that happens before this time is untimely and is called “apamrutyu”. Our shastras say that once “Ayushya” is over death cannot be prevented, since that is Divine Will. However, “apamrutyu” is a different aspect altogether. Life-histories of our saints and other great souls are replete with instances where they warded off untimely death in deserving cases. In this case, since the child had suffered apamrutyu, Rayaru used his divine powers to revive it.

Rayaru performed many such miracles in his life. He revived a disciple who died on the evening of his marriage because of an accident.

From Gadag, Rayaru proceeded towards Hubli. Since it was a hot summer day, he decided to rest in the shade of a tree at Krishnapura (near Hubli). While resting, he saw the Nawab (Muslim king) of Savanur area walking towards him, with a sad demeanor. The Nawab had heard of his powers and had come to him as a last resort. He stated that his young son had died from a poisonous snakebite and been buried in a tomb close by. After hearing this, Rayaru contemplated silently for a few moments and then asked the king to take the body out of the tomb. When the puzzled Nawab did as he was asked, Rayaru sprinkled holy water from his kamandala and prayed to his Aradhya murthy (favorite form of the Lord). Lo behold, the young boy woke up as though he was getting up from sleep. The Nawab was beside himself with joy. He prostrated before Rayaru with deep devotion and offered several villages to the matha.

16. Deadwood sprouts leaves

Rayaru next passed through Shirsingi, which was ruled by a Lingayat headman, who used to harass all brahmins. He did not believe in God, Mantras or Vedas and thought that all brahmins were frauds.

Rayaru decided to bring him on the right track, and so stayed in the local temple and announced a grand pooja. The headman immediately challenged him to a confrontation and asked him to prove the efficacy of the Veda Mantras. He produced a vanake (a dry and hard piece of dead wood, used to pound grain in a pestle) and asked Rayaru to make it sprout leaves. The brahmins present there protested saying that this was impossible and against the laws of nature. Rayaru calmed them down asking them to have faith in Moola Rama. He chanted Veda Mantras and sprinkled water from his kamandala on the vanake. Within a few days of such treatment, the vanake sprouted fresh green leaves, vindicating Rayaru’s words. The headman saw the error of his ways and surrendered at Rayaru’s feet.

From there he went to Pandharapura and had darshan of Lord Panduranga Vittala. Next he went to Kolhapur. Since this was part of the Maratta kingdom and they were linked to the chieftains of Tanjore, he was treated with all the respect due to a Rajaguru and stayed there for a long time. He then went to Nasik and had a bath in the Godavari. Having done this, he started the return journey passing through Bijapur. This was a very big kingdom then, ruled by Ibrahim Adil Shah II. Even though he was a muslim by birth, he had a lot of tolerance and respect towards Hindus, especially brahmin scholars. On learning that a great saint was passing through his kingdom, he personally went and invited Rayaru to the capital. All the scholars in the court were totally swept of their feet by Rayaru’s scholarship and deep knowledge. Quite a few of them converted to dvaita by accepting Mudra-dharana at Rayaru’s hands. The Nawab conferred several villages to Rayaru and gave him the title of ‘Jagadguru’. He also presented Rayaru with shwetha-chathra (a white regal umbrella that only kings and emperors are allowed to have). Those familiar with Sri Vyasa Teertha’s life-history will recall that a similar honor was accorded to Sri Vyasa teertha by a nawab from the same kingdom!

17. Setting up new tradition during Chaturmasya

From there he moved on reached Aluru, on the banks of the river Krishna. He spent some time there and completed his commentary called bhava deepa on Tattva Prakasha, and a commentary called tattva manjari on Acharya Madhva’s Anubhashya.

From there he moved on eastwards and reached Manvi in Raichur district. He was camping in a small Hanuman temple. Since it was chaturmasya, he stayed there for a while. One day when he finished his morning rituals and was working on a commentary, he noticed a low-caste man standing near the Garuda pillar of the temple. Immediately a thrill passed through him and he beckoned to the man to come near him. He asked him “What are you doing here?” The man replied “I have come here as ordered by you. Now, it is up to you to elevate my condition as you did the last time”. Rayaru laughed and told him “All right. Bring something for the naivedya tomorrow and then you can go on your way”. The man happily went away and came back the next day with a handful of mustard seeds (sasuve kalu). He offered this great devotion to Rayaru at a distance and begged Rayaru to bless him. Rayaru ordered the matha cook to take the sesame and use it as part of the naivedya. Normally sesame is avoided during Chaturmasya. However, Rayaru accepted it because it is used in Yagya and it was given by this special person, who was none other than Kanakadasaru! It seems that Sri Vyasa Teertha had ordered Kanakadasaru to take one more birth and meet him during his Raghavendra incarnation. Kanakadasaru agreed and accordingly took birth as a low caste person. After Rayaru and other learned scholars took the naivedya offered to the Lord, Kanakadasaru discarded his body and went to his heavenly abode.

Rayaru continued his Chaturmasya there. Sri Shreenivas Acharya from Bidarahalli met him there and showed him his works. Even though he was a householder he had spent his lifetime writing glosses and commentaries on works of other dvaita scholars. Rayaru examined his works and was filled with admiration for his dedication and the quality of the work produced by him. He blessed ShrInivas Acharya saying “Even though you are a householder, you have worked like a sanyasi and dedicated your life to Ananda teertha”. Such was the power of his blessing that from that day onwards Sri ShrInivas Acharya came to be known as Bidarahalli Sreenivasa teertha.

During lunch that day, Sri Shreenivasa Acharya did not partake the food served to him because it contained mustard, which was against the rules of Chaturmasya in his matha. Rayaru noticed this and ordered a separate dish to be prepared for him. At the end of the day when Sri Sreenivasa Acharya bid goodbye, Rayaru offered him phala-mantrakshate as was the custom. When Sri Shreenivasa Acharya reached home and examined the mantrakshate, it was black like Mustard. He immediately realized that he had committed a great sin by going against the desires of Rayaru. He remembered the dictum that dharma (good deeds) which hurts the feelings of the devotees of the lord becomes adharma ( a heinous sin) of the highest order. He immediately rushed back to Rayaru and begged his forgiveness. The kind hearted Rayaru forgave him and invited him to lunch. This time the scholar took the food without any protest!

Rayaru completed the Chaturmasya and continued on his way. There in kandati, a small village under the sovereignty of the Nawab of Adoni, an orphan brahmin boy named Venkanna came and prostrated before him.

18. Village pumpkin becomes prime minister

Venkanna was an orphan who was not tutored or taught any useful skills. He made a living by tending to cows. He had heard of the greatness of Rayaru and was eager to meet him and seek his blessings.

His prayers were answered when the retinue of Rayaru passed close by. He immediately ran to the palanquin that Rayaru was travelling in and prostrated before it. Rayaru looked at him and inquired about his antecedents. Venkanna explained his plight and stood with utmost devotion and humility. Rayaru took pity on the boy and gave him some mantrakshate (consecrated rice) and told him “When you are in real distress and need my help, put this on your head and think of me”. The palanquin moved on. Venkanna tied the precious rice into a bundle and always carried it with him.

One day, Venkanna was forced into a major life and death predicament. He was handed a scroll by the Nawab of Adoni, Siddi masood Khan and asked to read it. Poor Venkanna was in a dilemma since he was also illiterate. He could not refuse a direct order of the Nawab since that would mean immediate death, nor could he tell the truth that he was illiterate because the Nawab would not believe him and would think that Venkanna was trying to fool him. Caught in this deadly trap, he suddenly remembered the kind guru who had promised to help him in his hour of need. He took the consecrated rice and put it on his head. With this mind full of devotion towards Rayaru and his lips secretly muttering “raghavendra, Raghavendra” he boldly opened the scroll.

Lo behold, the characters on the scroll began to make sense and he could read! It was actually a piece of good news, informing the Nawab that his army had scored a victory in battle. The Nawab was overjoyed to hear the good news and wanted to reward Venkanna. Venkanna asked for a good job in the Nawab’s administration and promised to serve him faithfully and honestly to the best of his ability. The Nawab was pleased with this answer and accordingly gave him a good job. Through hard work and diligence, Venkanna worked his way up the ranks and in a short time became the Nawab’s trusted divan. Thus a chance encounter with Rayaru transformed Venkanna’s entire life into a bed of roses!

19. Decision to move out of Kumbhakonam

After blessing Venkanna, Rayaru continued on his way home. He passed through Srishaila, Tirupati, Kanchi, Arunachala and Srimushna. As was his custom, he offered prayers to the deities in the temples. He finally reached KumbhakoNa.

There he was welcomed with all pomp and glory. The residents of KumbhakoNa celebrated his return like the way the residents of Ayodhya celebrated the return of Lord Rama.

After staying a few years more years there, Rayaru decided to move out of Kumbhakona. This was because he had completed everything that he needed to do there and needed to focus on the other items he needed to complete, which could not be done there. He accordingly informed the residents of Kumbhakona of his decision and consoled them somehow. He handed over the charge of the Kumbheshwara to Kamakoti mutt, and the Chakrapani and sarangapAni temples to ahobala mutt. He made arrangements for the proper worship of Sri Vijayeendra teertha’s brindavana and moved out with his entire matha and administration. This time he went straight to Adoni. Venkanna was overjoyed to hear of Rayaru’s advent and went to meet him with all due respect and devotion. He invited Rayaru to come and stay with him for a while. His request was accepted.

20. Nawab tests Rayaru and loses

The Nawab had heard of Rayaru from Venkanna and had also heard about the honor and acclaim he had received in Bijapur. However, he was still skeptical about Rayaru and did not accept any authority other than Allah and his devotees.

He wanted to test Rayaru and see if he was really as good as he was claimed to be. He secretly had meat prepared and placed on silver plates, but had them totally covered with silken clothes. He took this with him when accompanying Venkanna to the pooja. He offered his covered plates as naivedya for Moola Rama. Rayaru saw through his guile and sprinkled water from his kamandala on the plates. Later, he ordered the clothes to be removed. The Nawab was waiting for this moment with bated breath. When the clothes were removed, they revealed plates full of fresh fruits and flowers! The Nawab was astounded and instantly realized the greatness of Rayaru, and the great sin he had committed by testing this divine personality. He immediately prostrated before Rayaru and with tears in his eyes begged his forgiveness. The kind and ever merciful Rayaru forgave him gladly.

The Nawab went back to his palace but was not satisfied with merely expressing regret. He wanted to make amends for his sin. So he sent Venkanna to Rayaru to offer some villages. Rayaru initially refused saying that he was a sanyasi who had no desire for worldly things, but after Venkanna kept forcing him, he finally asked for the village of manchAle on the banks of the tungabhadra. Venkanna was surprised since that was barren land, yielding no crops or revenue. He tried to talk Rayaru into accepting more fertile land, but Rayaru would not accept anything other than Manchale. Finally, Venkanna went back to the Nawab and made immediate arrangements for ManchAle to be gifted to Rayaru.

On an auspicious day and time, Rayaru entered the village of Manchale. He went to the temple of Manchalamma and sought her blessings. He also had an icon of Lord Venkateshwara consecrated in Manchale.

21. Greatness of Mantralaya

Rayaru summoned his closest disciples and divan Venkanna and told them of his intention to enter a Brindavana live in Manchale. The devotees were devastated but they could not change his decision since it was Divine will.

They wanted to know what was special about Manchale. Rayaru explained the spiritual significance of Manchale as follows:

Prahlada had performed a large yagna in that spot, sanctifying it forever. Mantralayambika or Manchalamma was his kula devata. In Dvapara yuga, when Arjuna was guarding the horse used in the Ashvamedha yaga being conducted by Dharmaraja he had to fight with a king called Anusalva in Manchale. By accident, Anusalva’s chariot was positioned over the yagya kunda used by Prahlada, making him invincible. Perplexed by this, Arjuna prayed to Krishna for guidance. Krishna told him to move his chariot back a little. AnusAlva thought Arjuna was losing and so advanced to chase him. By doing so, he moved his chariot away from the auspicious spot and lost the battle immediately. Such was the power of the spot on which prahlada had performed his yaga.

Venkanna had a beautiful garbha-gudi (sanctum sanctorum) built around the yagya spot, adjacent to Manchalamma’s temple. He also had a Brindavana built for Rayaru. But Rayaru did not want to use that and asked him to reserve it for a future personality. He then took Venkanna to a remote spot and showed a black rock. He wanted his Brindavana to be built using the rock. When Venkanna wanted to know the significance of the rock, Rayaru explained “While searching for Seeta, Lord rama came here. He rested on this rock for a while. Since it has been sanctified by His touch, this rock is the one I want”. The Brindavana built under Venkanna’s guidance was used for Sri Vadeendara Teertha at a later date.

At a suitable time and Muhurta, Rayaru chose a worthy person from his disciples and gave him Sanyasa with the Ashramanama of Yogeendra Teertha. He instructed Venkanna, the Matha administrators, his disciples and the people of Manchale to accord Sri Yogeendra Teertha the same respect that they had accorded him so far.

22. Brundavana Pravesha

On the chosen day chosen (Virodhikruth Samvatsara Shravana krishna paksha dwitiya – 1671 A.D.), thousands of people had congregated in manchAale to see this rare event of a person entering a Brindavana alive. Only person (Sri Vadiraja Teertha) had done this before.

As usual, Rayaru got up before dawn, meditating on Sri Hari and finished his bath during the early hours itself. After his japa and dhyana he gave a discourse on Shreemadacharya’s works to his fortunate disciples for the last time. His disciples were grief stricken at the thought that this was going to be their master’s last discourse. The subject matter was Acharya Madhva’s brahmasootra bhashya and ShrI Jayateertha’s commentary on it. That day’s discourse was the culmination of his life’s mission. For the thousands that had gathered there the realization that they would not see such a treasure house of knowledge hereafter filled them with pain and agony. The discourse came to an end.

After bathing once again he started the pooja of Shree Moolarama and other icons of the samsthana. After going through all the rituals connected with the puja he blessed the entire gathering with teertha, prasada and phalamantrakshata. Later he went to the spot that was already chosen and sat in padmasana. He had his japa mala in his right hand and in front of him were all the moola granthas, sarva moola, tikas and tippanis on the vyasa peetha. For a while he was lost in contemplation; then he gave them his final parting soul-stirring speech.

He revealed to them the essence of dvaita philosophy, a philosophy that he believed in passionately and had preached and lived by all his life. As they listened to his speech they realized once again that he was a true gyani, a yogi, a scholar and a radiant monk possessing a soft and compassionate heart. Fear of displeasing him was the only reason why they held back their tears.

After this Rayaru began reciting the pranava mantra. In a very short time he was lost in meditation. He reached the highest point in mediation.His face was serene. He was shining with a rare brilliance. At one stage the japamala in the master’s hand became still.

Venkanna and other disciples who understood this sign started arranging the slabs around him. They arranged the slabs up to his head and then as per his earlier instructions they placed a copper box containing one thousand two hundred LakshmInarayana shaligramas that had been specially brought from Gandaki river. Then they placed the covering slab over it and filled it with earth. They poured twelve thousand varahas (abhisheka) over the brindavan that they had built. A grand feast was hosted to commemorate this glorious event.

23. Sakshi Hayaso Atrahi

Appanacharya was Rayaru’s beloved disciple. Most of the sanskrit hymns that we chant today in honor of Rayaru – Raghavendra stotra, mangalashtaka, dandaka etc – are his compositions.

On the day Rayaru was entering the vrindavana, he was on the other side of the Tungabhadra river. Since the river was in full spate he could not come back in time. As he ran towards manchAle his mind was filled with thoughts of his beloved guru and he instantaneously composed the famous Raghavendra stotra (“Sri pUrNabOdha guru tIrtha payobdhi pAra …”). When he reached the river it was in full spate but he did not care and rushed headlong. The power of his devotion was so great that the river parted for him and he reached manchale quickly. But even this was too late.

Just as he came in front of the Vrindavana, the last slab had been laid and his beloved guru had vanished from his sight forever. Tears started to gush from his eyes and his voice choked. The stotra had reached its final stanza “ kirtir digvijita vibhutiratula ..” but he could not continue further. Suddenly, a voice rang out from the Brindavana “sAkshi haya syOtra hI” (meaning that Lord Hayagreeva is the witness to the statements made by Appanacharya in his stotra, and that He would make them all come true). Even today, anybody reciting this stotra with full faith and devotion gets all the grace of Rayaru.

24. Major incidents after Brundavana Pravesha

GuruguNa stavana makes brindavana shake:

Somewhere in the middle of the eighteenth century Sri Vadeendra teertha became the pontiff of Rayara Matha. He was the fifth pontiff after Rayaru. He was a very great scholar and devotee of Rayaru. He composed a work of 36 verses in honor of Rayaru. He has included descriptions of all the works done by Rayaru, in the correct chronological order along with the circumstances behind their creation. When he recited this in front of the Moola Vrindavana as part of his submission to Rayaru, the entire Vrindavana shook as if to indicate Rayaru was nodding in approval of what had been written. Incidentally, the Vrindavana that we see next to that of Rayaru in Mantralaya is that of Sri Vadeendra Teertha. This was the Vrindavana that Diwan Venkanna had originally organized for Rayaru.

Rayaru’s influence on haridasas:

Unlike his previous incarnation as Sri Vyasa Teertha, Rayaru did not compose many devaranamas or train Haridasas. But his presence in Mantralaya acted as a catalyst for bhakti and haridasa movement to flourish in the surrounding areas. All the major Haridasas who came after him were mainly from those areas. It is amazing to see such a high incidence of Haridasas coming from one area. This is against the laws of probability and can be explained only by the presence of Rayaru in Mantralaya. It became a tradition for every haridasa who came after Rayaru to visit Mantralaya and render seve to Rayaru. We see compositions of great Haridasas lavishing their respect and affection for Rayaru. Let us examine some key aspects about the major Haridasas.

Sri Vijaya Dasaru:

Sri Vijaya Dasaru is respected and adored as one of the greatest Haridasas this land has seen. He is credited with the revival of the Haridasa movement in the eighteenth century. He not only composed thousands of devaranamas himself, but also personally sought and trained several disciples to ensure that the movement endured for a long time. He was a junior contemporary of Sri Vadeendra Teertha and visited Mantralaya several times. He is supposed to have seen and conversed with Rayaru personally several times. Some of the devaranamas composed by him reveal insights that ordinary people would never get. In one song (“noDide gurugaLa noDide ..”), he talks of seeing Lord Narasimha, Rama, Vedavyasa and Krishna on the four sides of the Vrindavana, all the Gurus from Acharya Madhva down to his own guru present within the Vrindavana, and Lord Lakshminarayana in the form of a discus (chakra) granting the desires of devotees.

Sri Gopala Dasaru:

He was the disciple of Sri Vijaya dAsaru. He is the great soul who gifted 40 years of his life to Sri JagannAtha dAsaru, at the bidding of Sri Vijaya dAsaru. He has also composed several songs in RAyaru’s honor and has revealed some very secret aspects about RAyaru’s previous incarnations. He too was blessed by RAyaru in several ways. As a sample, one incident is being listed here to give an idea of the fondness that RAyaru had for haridAsas.

A poor devotee of RAyaru had taken a vow that if his wife was cured of a deadly illness, he would feed one hundred thousand brahmins. His wife was cured, but he was faced with another problem – how could he feed so many people, when he himself was struggling for existence? RAyaru took pity on him and told him in a dream “Go to the village tank tomorrow morning. You will find 3 brahmins waiting for you. Feed them and your vow will be completed”. The devotee did accordingly and found those people waiting for him. They were none other than Sri gOpAladAsaru and his brothers! The previous night gOpAladAsaru had told his brothers “Don’t worry about tomorrow. RAyaru has arranged a great feast for us!” Such is the divine perception of aparOksha gyAnis and the bond that existed between them and RAyaru.

Sri JagannAtha dAsaru:

He was the disciple of Sri GopAla dAsaru. He is the great soul who gave the gem called HarikathAmrutasAra to humanity. Amongst the major haridAsas, he has composed the maximum number of songs on RAyaru. When he was suffering from a stomach ailment for slighting Sri Vijaya dAsaru, it was RAyaru who guided him on what he needed to do and thus saved his life.

After composing HarikathAmrutasAra he went to Mantralaya to submit this to RAyaru. RAyaru is supposed to have come out from the brindAvana to bless him. He has captured this very eloquently in a song (“yeddu barutAre noDe ..”). He is supposed to have had conversations with RAyaru very frequently. When this fact became public, several people started pestering him with requests to present before RAyaru. After this RAyaru stopped appearing before him totally, devastating him totally. He poured out his anguish in front of RAyaru in another song (“yAke mUkanAdyo guruve ..”), melting RAyaru’s heart. From then on, RAyaru appeared only in his dreams.

Sri Thomas Monroe converses with RAyaru

In the 19th century, when the British were ruling India, they passed a law abolishing all Imam lands. Since manchAle was in this category, the government wanted to take away all the lands belonging to the maTha, but people made representations to the government. Finally, the government appointed a settlement officer, Thomas Monroe, to inquire into the matter and make an appropriate recommendation. Before starting on his task, Monroe met with the revenue officer of manchAle and learnt about the history of the place and the miracles performed by RAyaru. He visited manchAle and went to the brindAvana with reverence, taking care to remove his shoes and his head-dress. His assistants saw that he seemed to be in a trance-like state and was muttering something. Finally, he became normal and went round the brindAvana, after prostrating in front of it. When his surprised assistants queried him, he told them that RAyaru had come out of the brindAvana and had explained to him, in perfect English, the historical sanctity of the place and why the lands should not be taken away. As proof of this astonishing event, he showed them the mantrAkshate (consecrated rice) that RAyaru had given him as a blessing! He went to his tent and ordered that the rice be used in his meal that night, and immediately sent a recommendation to the Governor of Madras that the lands should not be taken away. Next, something very surprising happened. The Governor of Madras had to go back to England because of the sickness of a relative, and through a series of other transfers and moves Monroe ended up becoming the Governor! He took the oath of office, fully convinced that he had got this post that was well beyond his reach only due to the grace of rAyaru. Imagine his surprise when he saw that the first file that he had to deal with in his new post, was his own recommendation made from manchAle. He is supposed to have stood up, saluted the file and passed his orders immediately that the lands not be taken away. In the course of time, he was awarded many prestigious honors and titles and became Sir Thomas Monroe by the time he retired.

Most of this has been recorded in official documents and there is a noting in the Madras District Gazetteer to this effect.

Source: Guru Charite
Kannada : Dr.H.K. Vedavyasacharya
English: Sri Hunsur Sriprasad