Vyasa Theertha, the Guardian Saint of Vijayanagara Kingdom

In India there is a tradition of Hindu rulers governing under the guidance and advice of saints and sages. Following this precedent we find Vyasa Theertha, a brilliant scholar, statesman and spiritual preceptor of famous saints like Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Vadiraja, etc., acting as the Raja Guru for successive kings of Tuluva dynasty who ruled Vijayanagara Kingdom.

Vyasa Theertha was born in 1447 at Bannur in Mysore district of Karnataka to Ramachari and Sumathi. The said couple was childless and begot Vyasa Theertha after being blessed by an ascetic Brahmanya Thirtha who had extracted a promise that a male child born to them would be given in adoption to him. Before Vyasa Theertha, the couple begot two female children. Brahmanya Thirtha after taking Vyasa Theertha under his tutelage initiated him as a sanyasi and took him to an all India tour. Brahmanya Thirtha also transferred his mutt at Abbur to Vyasa Theertha.

Later Vyasa Theertha spent some time studying under Sripadaraya, an ascetic belonging to Madhva sect at Mulbagal. As per the advice of Sripadaraya who said that in the interests of the good of the country, sanyasis may live in the capitals of kings, Vyasa Theertha went to the court of Narasa Nayaka who had begun to rule the Penugonda kingdom. Later when Narasa Nayaka began his rule from Vijayanagara, he invited Vyasa Theertha to Vijayanagara and in a grand reception showered him with precious stones (kanakabhisheka) and installed him as the guardian saint of Vijayanagara kingdom and carried on the administration under his guidance and advice. His son Veera Narasimha and later Krishnadevaraya followed the footsteps of their father in paying homage to Vyasa Theertha.

Promoter of Peace and Goodwill

When Krishnadevaraya was affected by Kuhu Yoga (an inauspicious period), as a remedial measure, astrologers suggested that a ‘Mahatma’ should sit on his throne for three days. An elephant in search of such a mahatma garlanded the stone figure of Hanuman at the entrance of the cave in which Vyasa Theertha was in meditation. Krishnadevaraya requested him to rule for three days and Vyasa obliged. Krishnadevaraya conferred the title ‘Raya’ to him and gifted a village near Madanapalli where the latter built a tank called Vyasasamudra.

Vyasa Theertha played the role of a peace maker by persuading Krishnadevaraya to return Manavadurga to the Bijapur Sultan Adil Shah and thereby created amity between Vijayanagara and Bijapur. The Bijapur Sultan presented a camel corps and green umbrella as gifts to Vyasa Theertha which is maintained even today in the mutt.

Catholic in outlook

Vyasa Theertha was catholic in his views and patronized Kanakadasa and Purandaradasa belonging to Kuruba and Vaishya castes respectively. He was the guru of distinguished galaxy of students like Vadiraja, Vijayendra and Lakshmikantha, Govindha Wodeya, Vaikuntadasa and others who by their works and students kept bright the firmament of Indian philosophical thought for a long time after he (Vyasa Theertha) himself passed away. Vallabhacharya and Chaitanya were the younger contemporaries of Vyasa Theertha. Vallabhacharya was honoured in Krishnadevaraya’s court in an assembly presided by Vyasa Theertha and Chaitanya took sanyasa from an ascetic of Vyasa Theertha line.

Vyasa Theertha was the head of a Hindu University in Penugonda and Vijayanagara for a period of about 50 years. He enriched the Dvaita philosophy by composing works like Tatparya Chandrika, Nyayamrita and Tarka Tandava in Sanskrit; besides many songs and poems in Kannada with the ankitanama Sri Krishna.

For a period of 12 years (1486-98) he took the responsibility of offering puja to Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala as the hereditary priests who were offering puja had to leave their posts as they had antagonized the Vijayanagara ruler, Saluva Narasimha. Later Vyasa Theertha relinquished that responsibility to the descendants of the hereditary line of priests without any grouse. He erected about 732 statues of Hanuman all over Karnataka to inspire devotion to divine worship among the masses.

By his commanding influence, Vyasa Theertha brought about necessary goodwill and better understanding between the Saluva and Tuluva rival families. His influence at Vijayanagara and on Hindu thought in the whole of India was not less than that of Vidyaranya who died about a century before Vyasa Theertha. According to Vidwan K.Narasinga Rao, as the guardian saint of Vijayanagara, Vyasa Theertha discharged his duties for the sacred cause of Hinduism with clear vision and deserves historical recognition and recollection by all those who love truth and selfless service. Vyasa Theertha entered the Brindavana on the island in river Tungabhadra in 1539.

References

  • K.Balasundaram, Relics of Vijayanagar Glory, Rayalaseema Krishnaraya Publications Works, Anantapur, 1948.
  • Venkoba Rao, Vyasa Raya, The Hindu University at Vijayanagara and some subsequent History, Quarterly Journal of Mythic Society, vol XV, October 1924, pp:43-47.
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