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Srimad Ananda Tirtharu (Sri Madhvācārya)

Srimad Ananda Tirtha, also known as Sukha Tirtha, Purnabodha, and Poornapragnya, is the founder of the doctrine of Tattvavada. He is the last of the great Acharyas of Vedanta, and is also the 22nd commentator on the Brahma-Sutra of Vedavyasa. His doctrine asserts, as has already been noted elsewhere, that the differences are eternally real, and that hence there is more than one absolute real, and that Hari (Vishnu) is the only entity praised in the Shrutis and their adjuncts. Thus, he always identifies the Brahman of the Upanishads with Vishnu, and forcefully argues against the dichotomy of Shrutis (tattvavedaka/atattvavedaka) as claimed by Sri Shankaracharya, saying that such arbitration of apaurusheya scripture is unacceptable both logically and spiritually. He also emphasizes that it is important to understand and specifically reject other schools’ precepts, and hence devotes much time to nitpicking analyses and denunciations of other doctrines.

Srimad Ananda Tirtha is commonly identified with Madhwa, the third avatara of Mukhyaprana, the god of life, as given in the Balittha Sukta of the Rigveda. The first two avataras are as Hanuman and Bhimasena, and the third is Madhwa, who came down to Earth as a sanyasi, in order to decimate the forces of evil. Srimad Ananda Tirtha himself makes the claim to being Madhwa in several instances, one of which is in the Vishnu-tattva-vinirnaya. It was recognized in his own time, and it has been documented, that he had all two-and-thirty shubha-lakshana-s that define a ruju-tattvika-yogi, including the prescribed height of six feet-and-nine inches quoted in the Mahabharata-Tatparya-Nirnaya. 

However, he is firmly set against the notion of accepting doctrines because they come from prophets or claimed gods — he refuses to accept that it is possible to derive a meaningful spiritual system based on any but the apourusheya texts (the Vedas/Upanishads/Shrutis) and their adjuncts (the Itihasas, Puranas, etc.). He also dismisses claims that only part of the Vedas are useful, and claims that even the so-called karmakanda portions of them are only meant to worship Hari.

The earliest and most authentic biography of Srimad Ananda Tirtha is the Sumadhwa-Vijaya, a.k.a. Madhwa Vijaya, by Narayana Panditacharya, the son of his close disciple Trivikrama Panditacharya. There are other English biographies by C. M. Padmanabhachar, C. N. Krishnasvami Ayyar, S. Subbarao, and C. R. Krishnarao, among others, but these are not truly independent efforts, since they draw very deeply upon Narayana Panditachar’s work.

Madhwa was known as Vasudeva, as a child, and was born in response to a prayer by some brahmana-s of the Bhagavata sampradaya, as a result of which Vishnu, who himself does not incarnate during Kali Yuga, ordered his chief aide Mukhyaprana a.k.a. Vayu to go to Earth, and rescue the mumukshu-s from the unrelenting deluge of the illusionist schools. Therefore, Vayu was born in Pajaka-kshetra, near Udupi (in modern Karnataka state), to Madhyageha Bhatta. Even as a child, he was extraordinary in every respect, and repeatedly astounded his teachers, and performed several miracles, a notable one being when he freed his father from the clutches of a loan shark, by giving him a handful of tamarind seeds which satisfied the latter completely. He also killed the demon Manimanta, who attacked him in the form of a snake, by crushing the snake’s head under his toe.

At the age of eight or thereabouts, he announced to his parents his intention to take up sanyasa, and on noting their distress at this pronouncement, promised to wait until another son was born to them. Finally, at the age of eleven, upon the birth of a younger brother (who many years later joined his order as Vishnu Tirtha) he was ordained into sanyasa, whence he was given the name Ananda Tirtha by his guru Achyutapreksha Tirtha, a.k.a. Achyuta-pragnya Tirtha. Soon afterward, when his guru attempted to educate him, he astounded the former by his knowledge. It is said that when his guru tried to teach him the noted Advaita text Ishhta-Siddhi, he pointed out, to Achyutapreksha Tirtha’s amazement, that there were 30 errors in the very first line of that work, where its author Vimuktatman pays obeisance to himself by saying something like: “The only truth is the soul’s empirical knowledge. In the presence of this truth the world appears to be an illusory play. The essential soul manifests itself as I, you and everything…”

It was this profound knowledge of all subjects that earned him the title of “Poornapragnya” for “the one of complete wisdom”. The initially discomfited but finally greatly pleased Achyutapreksha Tirtha soon gave up trying to educate the master, and himself made a full conversion to Tattvavada, under the name Purushottama Tirtha.

Srimad Ananda Tirtha is known for his skill at debate and repartee, which were amply evident when he roundly trounced all opponents who dared take him on. One early convert to his school was Shobhana Bhatta; after losing to Madhwa in debate, he accepted the latter as his Guru, and was given sanyasa under the name Padmanabha Tirtha. Two other noted opponents whom Poornapragnya defeated in debate and converted to ardent devotees, were Trivikrama Panditacharya, and Shyama Shastri — the latter accepted sanyasa as Narahari Tirtha.

Madhwa made two trips to Badarikashrama, the abode of Badarayana a.k.a. Vedavyasa, and on the first, obtained the imprimatur of Badarayana himself for his Bhashya on the Bhagavad Gita. He also founded the Krishna temple at Udupi, when by his spiritual power, he rescued a ship in distress on the high seas, and got from its captain the apparently useless gift of a large mound of gopi-chandana mud that had been used as the ship’s ballast, and which broke open to reveal the long-concealed icons of Krishna, Durga, and Balarama.

There are many notable incidents on record involving Srimad Ananda Tirtha, and it is futile to hope that a short piece like this one can capture even the essence of his mission correctly. However, in brief, two of them are the ones where he lifted and displaced a boulder weighing tons that was obstructing some construction; and on another occasion, he led some disciples to a spot where he showed them the long-buried weapons of the Pandavas, including the great mace he had wielded to telling effect as the mighty Bhimasena.

Visual evidence, if one may call it that, of Srimad Ananda Tirtha being Madhwa, the avatara of Vayu, was obtained by Trivikrama Panditacharya when the latter had the great fortune to observe the three forms of Vayu worship simultaneously — Hanuman worshipping Rama, Bhimasena worshipping Krishna, and Ananda Tirtha worshipping Vyasa. On that occasion, Trivikrama Panditacharya composed the Hari-Vayu Stuti, also called just Vayu Stuti. Madhwa himself validated the Vayu Stuti by adding the mangalacharana shloka, called Narasimhanakha Stuti, to be chanted in the beginning and at the end of the Vayu Stuti. This very short work of just two shloka-s is counted as one of his thirty-seven grantha-s.

Srimad Ananda Tirtha disappeared from amidst an audience, after giving a lecture on the Aitareya Upanishad, on the ninth day of the shukla paksha in the month of Magha, and now is permanently in Badarikashrama, where he serves his master Badarayana in person.

(Credits: Sri Palimaru Matha, Udupi)


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