Sri Sri Vadiraja teertharu
Life history of Saint Sri vAdirAja teertharu
Shri Vadiraja tIrtha occupies a very exalted place in the galaxy of saints in Madhva parampare. Some accord to him a lofty status along with Sri Jaya tIrtha, Sri VyAsa tIrtha and Sri Raghavendra tIrtha, whereas others consider him second only to AchArya Madhva.
In any case, he is universally acknowledged as a great saint with immense spiritual powers in addition to being an outstanding poet, philosopher, social organizer, reformer, debater and prolific writer.
There are many aspects about him that are truly outstanding. He lived for 120 years, (1480-1600 AD) out of which 112 years as a sanyAsi, and entered brindAvana alive ! No other saint, irrespective of doctrinal affiliations, can claim this distinction. He saw 5 paryAyas and entered his Brindavana alive in 1600. He went around India twice and captured his experience in a travelogue.
He has left his unique imprint on many institutions. The present paryAya system in Udupi, the mini Udupi he has created in Sode, the Manjunatha temple in Dharmasthala, the multitude of devaranAmas and stotras that he has left behind are some aspects that come to mind immediately.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the yati most likely to have touched some aspect of the common mAdhva’s life, one way or another.
Some consider him to be an incarnation of LAtavya, a Riju-gaNa deity, destined for the post of Vayu in the next kalpa (creation cycle). In his previous birth, he is believed to be the messenger who conveyed RukmiNI’s message to Lord Krishna.
Biographies on Sri Vadiraja tirtha include the Vadiraja-guruvara-charitAmRuta, Vadiraja vRuttasangraha and the autobiographical work Svapna-vRundAvana-AkhyAna. But as is the case with many other saints, a detailed account of his childhood seems to be unavailable.
In the Hindu year shArvarI (1480 AD) Sri VAgIsha tIrtha visited a village called Huvvinakere 25 miles North of Udupi. He met a pious but poor and childless couple, Ramabhatta and Gowri devi. They begged him to bless them so that they could have children. He did so, but imposed one condition, the first male child would have to be handed over to the maTha for upbringing.
When the couple hesitated to accept this offer, he made it easy for them by imposing a seemingly easy condition – if the child were to be born inside the house, they could keep it, but if birth happened outside the house then they would have to hand it over. They agreed to it wholeheartedly.
In due course, by the grace of God, Gowri devi became pregnant and the couple was ecstatic. They remembered their agreement and took exta care. Gowri was not allowed to leave the house. Since their house was nothing but a small hut surrounded by a small paddy field, Ramabhatta could easily tend to his work in the field while being available for any requirement in the house. Nine months passed and childbirth was imminent.
On sAdhana dvAdashi day, Ramabhatta was having his food and Gowri was performing tulasi-pooja in the backyard. She suddenly saw some cows entering the field and destroying the crops. Since this was their only source of livelihood she was very perturbed; she immediately took up a stick and entered the fields with the intention of chasing the cows away, totally forgetting the agreement.
In her excitement she moved quite a distance from the house and suddenly developed labor pains. She could not return home and had to deliver the child in the field itself. Thus divine will prevailed inspite of all human efforts to the contrary !!
Shri vAgIsha tIrtha was informed about the birth of the child. He sent a golden plate and asked the parents to bring the child in that plate to the maTha. It is said that the baby never touched the ground until it reached the maTha.
Sri VAgIsha tIrtha pointed out to the happy parents several auspicious attributes in the baby and predicted that it would one day become a very great sanyAsi. He fed the baby milk that had been offered to the deity and asked the parents to name the boy as BhUvara (some say VarahAchArya). He sent them home with the baby and asked them to bring it back after a few years.
The paddy field where Gowri gave birth to Sri VAdirAja is called as “Gowri Gadde”. Now there is a small temple in that spot.
Ascension and education
VAdirAja studied under Sri VAgIsha tIrtha until the latter’s demise. After this, he performed his guru’s Aradhane in a grand way and moved with his retinue to Hampe to study under Sri vyAsa tIrtha.
His stay in Hampe was very eventful and remarkable because it was a union of several divine individuals – Sri vyAsa tIrtha, VAdirAja, VishNu tIrtha (later Vijayendra tIrtha), Purandara dAsa and Kanaka dAsa.
King Krishnadevaraya was impressed by VAdirAja’s personality and gave him the title of ‘prasangAbharaNa tIrtha’ ( Jewel of a Speaker). VAdirAja returned back to Udupi after a few years. As a parting gift, Sri VyAsa tIrtha gave him the vyAsa muShTi that had been gifted to him during a trip to Udupi.
VAdirAja gets HayagrIva icon
There were thousands of goldsmiths living in the coastal regions of Karnataka. One issue dogging them was lack of social status and acceptance in religious circles.
Once, a goldsmith melted an alloy of 5 metals and put it into the mould, with the intention of making a Ganapati icon. When he opened the mould he was surprised to see a Hayagriva icon with a horse’s head and four arms. Another surprising aspect was that the icon was still red hot and radiant. He decided to destroy it and reuse the metal the next day.
That night he was instructed in his dream to hand over the icon to VadirAja. VAdirAja too had a dream in which he was told that he would receive a special HayagrIva icon. Since HayagrIva was the IshTa devata (favorite deity) of VAdirAja he was overjoyed.
The next day a delegation of goldsmiths met VAdirAja and handed over the icon to him. They also shared their sorrow at being social outcasts. VAdirAja took pity on them and decided to uplift them.
Accordingly, on a suitable occasion, the entire community of goldsmiths was provided with chakrAnkana and brought into the fold of bhAgavata (dvaita) dharma. From then, members of that community (daivajna brahmans) have regarded VAdirAja as their guru, and Sode maTha as their maTha.
VAdirAja also admitted kOTeshwara brahmins into the dvaita fold, bringing them status and respect in society.
Travels and tIrtha prabhanda
After completing his first paryAya VAdirAja undertook his first tour of the country. He has documented the pilgrimage centers visited by him and their greatness in a travelogue called ‘tIrtha prabhanda’.
This is a unique work without a parallel and provides an authentic description of several pilgrimage centers. At every major location he visited, he conducted Vidwat Sabhas (Conference of scholars) encompassing religious debates and discussions, establishing beyond doubt the supremacy and greatness of tattvavAda or dvaita philosophy.
It is said that when he visited Tirumala, the entire hill looked like a sAligrAma to him. He then climbed it on his knees, not wishing to put his feet on the sacred hill. He offered a garland of sAligrAmas as an offering to Lord Srinivasa.
VAdirAja toured the entire country at least 2 times. He recovered the statue of Sri MukhyaprANa from Ayodhya and established it in Udupi.
He also established a statue of AchArya Madhva at Pajaka, his birth place.
The genesis of RukminIsha vijaya
While on tour, VAdirAja decided to observe chAturmAsya in Pune. He learnt that a Vidwat sabha was underway to determine the greatest mahA-kAvya (poetic epic) ever written, and that people were leaning towards selecting “ShishupAla-vadha” by mAgha as the winner.
He sent word to the organizers that there was a work by him with the same background, which covered the subject in accordance with shAstra, and requested them to include it in their evaluation. He also pointed out that “ShishupAla-vadha” (Killing of ShishupAla) was inauspiciously named and did not highlight Krishna’s greatness. He requested them to give him about 3 weeks to have the manuscript fetched from Udupi.
The organizers agreed, not knowing that there was no such manuscript and that VAdirAja was only buying time to compose that work from scratch. He then wrote RukmiNIsha-Vijaya within the next 19 days, harnessing every free moment available to him.
When this work was presented at the conference the scholars were swept away by its poetic brilliance and had no hesitation in declaring it as the greatest mahAkAvya in sanskrit literature. In accordance with their decision, the manuscript was taken in a procession around the city on a well-decorated elephant, with a lot of fanfare and glory.
There are several aspects that makes this feat so unique and remarkable:
*The extremely short duration within such a magnificient work was composed.
*The complete conformance to all the tenets of tattvavAda without compromising on poetic flourishes; it is both a poem as well as a treatise on shAstra.
*The poetic brilliance that swept the judges off their feet; one needs to remember that the evaluation was done by a group of impartial experts, who owed no allegiance to VAdirAja and who would not have accepted anything but the best.
Lord Hayagriva blesses the devotee
Lord Hayagriva blesses devotee – Dashavatara stuti is born
From Pune, VAdirAja continued on his tour and reached PandarApura. He stayed in a temple and spent a few weeks serving Lord Vittala. One day, an angry man accosted him and started verbally abusing him as follows “You are not restraining your horse. Every day I see a white horse coming to my corn field and grazing on my crop. I have chased it several times, each time it comes up to the temple where you are staying and disappears. I am convinced that the horse belongs to you. My crop is totally ruined. You have to compensate me adequately”.
VAdirAja told the complainant that he was mistaken and that the maTha did not have any horse whatsoever. The complainant however was not satisfied and insisted on doing a full search of the premises.
When he did not find any horse, he was totally surprised. By then VAdirAja had realized what was happening. He smiled and politely asked the complainant to take him to the corn field which the horse was supposed to have destroyed.
When they arrived at the field and examined the crop, the owner was flabbergasted to see golden corn at all the places where the horse had eaten his crop. VAdirAja then explained to him that that the horse was Lord Hayavadana Himself, and that he was very lucky to have seen Him.
The crop owner surrendered at the feet of VAdirAja, and offered his land to the maTha. On the way back, VAdirAja composed the dashAvatAra stuti. This is set to AshvadhATi (literally ‘horse gait or trot’) and when sung melodiously sounds like a horse dancing.
VAdirAja’s special naivEdya
VAdirAja had a special process for offering naivEdya to his favorite deity Lord HayagrIva (also known as Hayavadana). Amongst pictures depicting VAdirAja, the one showing him offering Naivedya to the Lord is the most popular.
This is how it was done: A sweet dish called HayagrIva (a preparation consisting of jaggery, almonds, ghee and cooked bengal gram) would be prepared in the maTha. After regular worship, VAdirAja would close himself in a room and meditate on the Lord with utmost devotion, holding a plate full of HayagrIva held over his head.
Hayavadana would emanate from the icon in the form of a pure white horse, put His forelegs on VAdirAja’s shoulders and eat the Naivedya, leaving a small portion as prasAda. It is said that VAdirAja would sing the ‘dashAvatAra-stuti’, to please the Lord and the latter would dance to show His appreciation.
Hayagriva eats poison to protect VAdirAja
Some evil people contended that VAdirAja was only pretending to offer naivedya to the Lord while eating the food himself. To prove their theory they added mild poison to the naivedya so that VAdirAja would be affected by it and would then be forced to admit the truth.
Not knowing this, VAdirAja offered that food to HayagrIva with utmost devotion. That day, however, the Lord ate everything that was offered, without leaving anything behind as prasAda. When VAdirAja saw the empty plate, he was very disturbed and realized that something was amiss. When he meditated on the Lord, the Lord appeared before him told him what had happened, and why He had to eat all the food to protect VAdirAja.
The Lord also told him that the icon would develop a bluish-green tinge all over its body as proof . VAdirAja would have to offer ‘VAdirAja Gulla’ (MATTU GULLA) as naivEdya for a period, when the tinge would gradually diminish, leaving just a streak of green at the neck to remind posterity of this incident.
Changes in Paryaya system in Udupi
The disciples of AchArya Madhva originally stayed together in the Sri Krishna maTha, sharing the daily worship amongst themselves, with each disciple getting a period of two months. Even though this worked smoothly, there were several problems lurking beneath the surface. They were:
*festivals come around at a certain time of the year; for example, Deepavali comes in kArtIka, which is usually late October or early November. So a disciple who had his recent turn between Mar and April would have to wait a very long time before Deepavali came during his turn. This led to a lot of heartburn .
*administration suffered because it constantly changed hands every two months; major changes could not be initiated because of the 2 month limit; so, everybody continued with the status quo leading to stagnation and decay
*each disciple would get a period of just 16 months between turns, leaving little or no time for pilgrimage, institution building and other activities that required long travel outside Udupi
Even though these problems were well known, nobody had the stature or the courage to change a system that had been formulated by AchArya Madhva himself. It took a saint of the eminence of VAdirAja to do this.
In 1532, Sri Vadiraja created the paryAya system of rotation. Buildings for the eight maThas were established in the vicinity of the Krishna maTha. Each of the maThas was given a period of 2 years to manage the Krishna temple, effectively addressing all of the problems outlined above.
Every maTha gota chance to manage the temple during all the festivals happening in the calendar year for two years. Additionally, two years is sufficient time for a maTha to take up major administrative projects. Finally, each maTha gets a period of 14 years to tour the country to spread Dvaita philosophy and get ready for the next paryAya.
Dharmasthala, on the banks of the river Netravati in Dakhina Kannada, was an inauspicious place where people used to practice witchcraft and worship devils and demons.
Once, when Vadiraja was on tour, he happened to pass by that place. The leaders of that community who came to know of his presence invited him to come and perform pooja in their village.
Vadiraja declined their invitation stating that the environment was full of evil spirits and hence very inappropriate for any auspicious activities. The people did not give up. They begged him with folded hands to somehow lift them from the morass they had fallen into and purify their environment.
Vadiraja was moved by their plight and decided to help them. He had one of his aides fetch an icon of ManjunAtheshwara (Shiva) from the Kadiri temple. He then consecrated that in accordance with shAstra and installed in Dharmasthala.
From that day on, Dharmasthala lost its bad reputation and became renowned as an important pilgrimage center in South India. Millions of devotees visit that shrine every year and get their wishes fulfilled.
It is a unique temple where the worship of Lord Shiva is done by priests of Shivalli Madhva community, and the administration of the temple is in the hands of the Jain (Hegade) family.
There is a pilgrimage center in Dakshina Kannada called kaTi-shivAlaya near the place where netrAvati and kumAradhAra rivers meet. It is a location with a lot of scenic beauty and hundreds of naturally occuring rock formations shaped like Shiva lingas. VAdirAja once came to that place with his retinue.
Thousands of people from nearby villages assembled to see him and experience his greatness. Most of them had an overpowering desire to perform abhisheka to the naturally occuring Shiva Lingas, but there was no water in the rivers to support such a large-scale operation.
When word of this reached VAdirAja he drew a line in the sand with his staff (danDa) and prayed to the Lord. Immediately, water sprung forth from the line and formed a large stream. The people who had assembled there were overjoyed to see this and praised their luck in being witness to the greatness of VAdirAja.
This stream can be seen even today and goes by the name of danDa tIrtha
VAdirAja had a disciple called nArAyanAchArya, who was very intelligent but ill-mannered. He had the bad habit of maligning everybody including his own guru. VAdirAja was very patient with him but one day when he crossed all limits, VAdirAja cursed him to be a brahma-pishAchi (a type of ghost).
nArAyanAchArya became a ghost and started haunting a forest near Hampi. He would stop all wayfarers and ask them a cryptic question “A kA mA vy ko na snAta ha?” (meaning ‘who does not bathe in A kA mA vy?’). Nobody could answer this. He would then harass them and cause a lot of pain and suffering.
To understand the question one needs a little bit of background. The months of AshADha, kArtIka, mArghashira and vyshAkha in the Hindu calendar are considered holy. People usually perform special poojas to God during this time, and since bathing is a pre-requisite for any pooja, almost everybody bathes in these months. So the ghost was really asking “who are the evil people who do not bathe in the holy months of AshADa, kArtIka, mArghashira and vyshyAkha?”
Once when VAdirAja himself was passing by that forest he was confronted by the ghost. He then put a question to the ghost “What are you willing to wager?” The ghost replied “If you answer this, I will be your slave for life. If you don’t, I will eat you and your retinue”.
VAdirAja agreed to the ghost’s condition and gave the following reply to the question: “RanDa-putrah tvam na snAta ha!” (son of a prostitute, you don’t bathe in these holy months). Since this answer was correct, the ghost lost and hence had to serve VAdirAja for life. From that day onwards, he faithfully served VAdirAja and is fondly called as nArAyaNa bhUta or BhUta-rAjaru.
Sode or Svadi is a small town in North Kannada district of modern Karnataka, and about a few miles from Sirsi. In the sixteenth century it was the capital of a small province governed by a chieftain called Arasappa Nayaka, owing allegiance to the Vijayanagar empire. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire Sode became an independent province with Nayaka as the king.
He was under the influence of a vile sorcerer who poisoned his mind against Brahmins. They were ill treated and subjected to all kinds of harassment like not being allowed to draw water from community wells and subjected to insults in every possible manner. Nayaka also alienated other sections of the population leading to total chaos in the province. Enemies saw a golden opportunity to attack the province and did so. With enemy soldiers ringing his fort, and his own ministers rebelling against him, Nayaka had no choice but to flee from the palace. As he was fleeing he came across the retinue of VAdirAja who was passing by.
The radiance emanating from VAdirAja’s face and his glorious personality wrought a major change in Nayaka’s thinking. He immediately surrendered at VAdirAja’s feet and sought his protection. He felt genuine remorse at all the sins committed by him and begged VAdirAja to forgive him. VAdirAja was moved by his repentance and decided to help him. He blessed him with mantrAkshate and asked him to go back and fight his enemies. Nayaka did so and by the blessing of VAdirAja prevailed over his enemies.
The overjoyed Nayaka invited VAdirAja into the town of Sode with all due pomp and glory. The sorcerer guru, who had fled from Sode, returned and challenged VAdirAja to a debate. When his witchcraft and arguments did not prevail against VAdirAja, he had to leave the province as a traitor. As a symbol of this liberation of Sode, VAdirAja decided to use Arasappa NAyaka’s ganTe (bell used during pooja) as the main one in the maTha.
Even today one finds that the bell used in Sode maTha has a Basava (bull) icon on the top of its stem instead of Sri Hanuman, as is the practice with other MAdhva temples and maThas.
From that onwards, Nayaka shed his wicked ways and became an ardent devotee of VAdirAja, serving him with utmost devotion. He begged VAdirAja to stay in Sode itself, to bless him and his subjects.
Sri Trivikrama Temple
It is said that during his visit to Badari, VAdirAja had met with AchArya Madhva and Vedavyasa. He had expressed his desire to establish a grand temple to Lord Trivikrama and had requested them to provide him with a suitable icon.
Arasappa Nayaka had one long standing desire – to set up a major temple in Sode. When he expressed his desire to VadirAja, VAdirAja told him that this was his desire too and asked him to make the necessary arrangements for the construction of the temple.
As the temple started approaching its final shape people were wondering where the icon was. VAdirAja assured them “This is not a regular icon that needs to go through the normal process of consecration. It is already being personally worshipped by AchArya Madhva. So the only consecration needed is to perform the maha pooja in SvAdi. Our Lord Trivikrama will come in his own special chariot”.
He then sent BhUta rAja to Badari to fetch the icon. When BhUta rAja was on his way back with the icon in a chariot he was attacked by some demons. He used one of the wheels of the chariot to fight and defeat them. He reached Sode in time for the maha pooja with everything intact except for one missing wheel on the chariot. Even today one can see just 3 wheels on the chariot in Sri Trivikrama temple’s garbhagudi.It is said that when the temple was being constructed there was a small mishap and one of the stone pillars was about to fall down.
The mason who was working on it was very scared and instinctively uttered an oath invoking the name of VAdirAja and asked the pillar to stop falling. The pillar stopped in midair, thus revealing the power of VAdirAja’s name. Later VAdirAja came there and moved the pillar to its proper location.
Vadiraja decides to move out of Udupi
VAdirAja had other reasons for moving out of Udupi. When he had introduced the paryAya system and changed the administration period from 2 months to 2 years, some critics had accused him of ulterior motives.
Saddened by this, VAdirAja had wanted to move out of Udupi and stay away from all petty politics. He also wanted to give his disciple, Sri VedavEdhya tIrtha, more prominence in Udupi. So, with the above considerations in mind, he readily agreed to Nayaka’s request.
Nayaka was overjoyed and had a large maTha constructed in Sode on the banks of the river ShAlmali. VAdirAja settled down in Sode completely. When his next paryAya opportunity came, he did not ascend the peetha, giving Sri VedavEdhya tIrtha a chance to worship the beloved Lord Sri Krishna;
Some of the main highlights in and around Sode (also called Sonda by the local community) are:
* DhavaLa GangA (on the lines of the Madhva Sarovara in Udupi)
* GopAlakrishna temple (like the Krishna temple in Udupi)
* DhavaLa GangAdhara (like the ChandramoulIshwara in Udupi)
* Sri MukhayaprANa temple (like the Mukhya-prAna temple in Udupi)
* Tapovana, where VAdirAja used to meditate
The big jackfruit tree under which VAdirAja used to teach his disciples. When a bolt of lightning struck this tree, VAdirAja revived it back to life. It is still alive and its fruits are offered as naivEdya to Lord HayagrIva.
Towards the end, VAdirAja’s health started deteriorating. It is remarkable that even though he had enormous mystical powers, and had performed many miracles including even reviving the dead, he refused to use his powers for his own benefit.
He chose to suffer whatever ill-health came his way as God’s prasAda and never complained about it. VAdirAja decided to visit Udupi one last time and have darshana of Krishna before departing from the earth. He was then suffering from poor eyesight and was worried if he would be able to see the Lord properly.
On the way he composed several songs expressing his anguish and anxiety. Finally, when he arrived at Udupi and stood before the icon, his eyesight cleared and he had Vishwa-roopa darshana of the Lord in all His glory.
He then called Arasappa Nayaka and asked him to make arrangements for 5 brindavanas – one for VAdirAja, and the other four equipped with the special presence of Vishnu, Brahma, Vayu and Rudra. Arasappa Nayaka was heartbroken to hear of his guru’s impending departure, but had to obey the order given to him.
Accordingly, in the year 1600 (Hindu year of Sarvari) VAdirAja performed the utsava of Lord Trivikrama as usual in Phalguna, with the final rathotsava on Poornima. Then, a few divine attendants sent by Lord Indra appeared before VAdirAja and conveyed the request of the Gods to return back to heaven as his mission on earth was completed.
VAdirAja sent a message back to Indra asking for 3 more days so that he could complete the final rituals associated with Lord Trivikrama’s utsava. Indra agreed with pleasure.
Finally, on Phalguna Bahula thritiya, VAdirAja entered the brindavana alive. The moment the last stone was laid on the Brindavana, a great lament broke out from his disciples.
VAdirAja, who had entered the brindAvana wearing his robe and pAduka-s (wooden sandals), and was being taken in a golden car to heaven, threw down the robe and sandals as mementos for his sad disciples. Every year, when the Aradhane of VAdirAja is performed, the robe and sandals are worshipped with extra fervor.
Svapna VrundAvanAkhyAna and anu-VrundAvanAkhyAna
The Svapna-VrndAvanAkhyAna is a very special work. It was authored by VAdirAja after entering the brindAvana. It is the only work in which he has revealed that he is an incarnation of lAtavya. The genesis of this work happened in a very special way.
VAdirAja’s retinue contained an illiterate brahmin who was also deaf and mute, but had a lot of devotion towards VAdirAja and served him in many menial ways. The kind hearted VAdirAja knew about the mute’s devotion and service, but was waiting for the right opportunity to reward him. Years after entering the Brindavana, VAdirAja appeared in the mute’s dreams and instructed him as follows:
*VAdirAja would appear in his dream every day and dictate a portion of the AkhyAna
*The mute would have to meet the pontiff of the maTha the next morning and recite whatever he had heard. VAdirAja would bless him with the power of perfect memory and speech for the time it took him to recite the previous night’s portion
*This would happen for a few weeks until the AkhyAna was completed
The above sequence of events happened as planned and the AkhyAna was fully composed. But nobody really understood its true meaning and significance, and the mute too died after a few years. Many years later, he reincarnated as an ascetic in the Sode maTha and finally became its pontiff. He then wrote a commentary on the AkhyAna, explaining its contents and significance.
VAdirAja’s devotees regularly recite the AkhyAna with utmost devotion. A fragment of the AkhyAna called the Anu-VrundAvanAkhyAna is also popular.
Even though VAdirAja is not visible physically, he continues to bless his devotees from his BrindAvana. People who visit Sode and perform service with devotion and sincerity have their wishes fulfilled.
Mrithikas taken from the Brindavana have miraculous powers and heal ailments of body and mind. His phenomenal contribution to Dvaita/tattvavAda philosophy and devotional literature in Sanskrit and Kannada is a standing testimony to his genius.