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Sri Raghavendra Swami was born in 1595 in Kaveripattana, Tamil Nadu to Thimmanna Bhatta and Gopikamba. His ancestors were of the Gautama Gotra. He was named Venkatanatha as he was born by the grace of Lord Venkateshwara. When his father was performing akSharAbhyAsa, Venkatanatha asked how a small letter like Om can explain the great God. The father was overjoyed that his son understood that the God cannot be fully explained by one small letter. Venkatanatha's Upanayanam was performed in chaitra mAsa, when he was 8 years old. Although his father passed away by then, Venkatanatha did not consider himself an orphan, as he considered Sri Narayana as his father and Gayathri, who reveals Him, as every twice-born's real mother.

Venkatanatha studied yajur veda, maNimanjari, and anumadhvavijaya at Madurai.His powers of meditation were shown when his water from doing sandyAvandan happened to fall on a dry seed, which sprouted. He also developed an expertise in playing the Veena, so he became known as Veena Venkata Bhatta. This is not surprising, since Venkatanatha came from a family skilled in music. His great-grandfather, Krishnabhatta, tutored the King of the Vijayanagar kingdom, Krishnadevaraya, in vina, and his father was skilled in music as well. Upon returning from Madurai, he was married to Saraswati, who was from a noble family. His marriage, just like his Upanayanam and schooling, was arranged by his brother Gururajacharya.

The Shastras say that for one who has control of his senses, wedded life does not hamper learning. For Venkatanatha, most of his learning occurred after marrying Saraswati, through the blessings of Goddess Saraswati. So Venkatanatha went to Kumbhakonam, the seat of learning at the time. There, he studied under Sri Sudindrateerta.He used to stay awake past midnight to write his own comments and notes on the lessons that had been done. Once, he engaged in a debate and defeated a mAyAvAdi at Rajamannar temple. Though his victory was not unexpected Sri Sudhindra tirtha was surprised at his scholarship in grammar, profound knowledge and rare debating skill, and called him "Mahabhashya Venkatanathacharya" Similarly he explained the significance of taptamudra dhAraNa quoting several smR^iti-s that the opponents had to accept his arguements were irrefutable. He had a son, Lakshminarayana. Although he and his family were in stark poverty, he was unaffected by it, being immersed in the sweet nectar of the Madhva philosophy. Not even once did he give up his teachings and learning; he was steadfast in his determination to live by whatever came to him unsought and unasked. Still, when his master asked him to take sanyAsA, he found himself in a grave dilemma. For one thing, he knew that if he took sanyAsA, he would eventually have to take control of the maTha. While trying to find a solution to this problem, Vidya Lakshmi herself appeared before him. She told him that if such great people like himself did not spread the right philosophy, that of Sri Madhvacharya, the maTha-s would fall into ruin. The light of Tattvavada would be extinguished by the darkness of Mayavada. Understanding where his true duty lay, Venkatanatha obeyed Vidya Lakshmi and took sanyAsA. Sri Sudhindra initiated Venkatanatha on the second day of the bright half of PAlguNa mAsa in the year durmati corresponding to the year 1621.He was given the holy name "Raghavandra Tirtha".

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