Sri Vyaasa Tîrtha

Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha (1460-1539) -- a short sketch

Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha is probably the scholar of Tattvavâda held in highest esteem next to Sri Jayatîrtha. His work has been to write detailed commentaries on the works of Srimad Ananda Tîrtha and Sri Jayatîrtha, and to show Tattvavâda as being placed on a firm logical footing; his work is considered to be of the highest significance, particularly because it is accepted even by his opponents that his understanding of their schools is second to none. Thus, there is no possibility of claiming Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha's critiques to be invalid on account of his having misstated the positions he wishes to criticize. Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha also keeps a tempo that is hard for the less skilled to even conceive of, let alone match. His logic is exceptionally hard to beat, because of his uncanny knack of knowing exactly what the opponent is going to say, and using this information to lead the opponent on to traps of logic that are dozens of steps deep, and impossible to work through or around. One feels that while one gropes in the dark and tries to guess where one is and struggles to find one's way, Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha not only knows one's present position to a nicety, he also knows all the possible ways one might proceed, in advance of oneself, and has a proper plan of action already planned out for any further move one might make. Thus, holding one's own in a debate with Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha is very similar to making one's way across a field laid with mines; one does not know where to put one's foot next, and very often, even a secure retreat to a former safe position is impossible, after one has taken a few steps down in hopes of making progress. In summation, it is hardly a stretch to say that Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha is the very personification of mastery of skill in dialogue and debate, that every logician and philosopher wishes to be.

In addition to his pellucid and luminescent writings, Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha is also known for the influence he had on the Vijayanagara empire, especially for the fact that it was under his tutelage that it had its heyday, and produced its greatest ruler. Perhaps even more importantly, it is noted that he was responsible for providing a healthy atmosphere in which the Hari-dâsa tradition could sprout and flourish; he disregarded all highbrow disapprobation of the lower castes, as he showed by his acceptance of the low-caste Kanaka Dâsa as a shishya, on par with his other students, and by his even arranging to prove to them that Kanaka Dâsa was a greater devotee than any of them.

An inauthentic biography of Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha can be found in the work Vyâsayogicharita, by the Smârta poet Somanatha (Bangalore, 1926). This is a champu kâvya ("A kind of elaborate and highly artificial composition in which the same subject is continued through alterations in prose and verse" -- from Apte's dictionary) which two was first presented by the poet in Krishnadevarâya's court using two reciters. The work however makes significant digressions from Tattvavâda, for instance when at the very outset, it names Balarâma as one of the avatars of Vishnu. However, the fact that such a work was even written by an adherent of another doctrine is an indicator of Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha's popularity even among his opponents. An authentic biography of Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha is the one by his immediate disciple Sri Srinivasa Tîrtha.

Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha was born around 1460 in Bannur which is in the Mysore district in the modern Karnataka state. He and his brother and sister were born as a result of the blessings of Brahmanya Tîrtha, and the young Yatirâja (the future Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha) was presented to Brahmanya Tîrtha after he had completed the a comprehensive study of subjects like kâvya, nâTaka, alankâra, and vyâkaraNa. Having been impressed with the young Yatirâja's quick mind and great aptitude for learning, Brahmanya Tîrtha secretly meditated to ordain him into the sanyâsa order. Yatirâja, though respectful of his Guru, had his doubts about receiving such dîksha, and finally consented after receiving a vision in which Vishnu Himself instructed him not to try to avert his destiny.

Shortly after Yatirâja's ordination as Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha, Sri Brahmanya Tîrtha passed on. Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha left for Kanchi after his succession to the pîTha and spent many years there studying the six systems of philosophy, and thus gave the finishing touches to his mastery of subjects like Advaita, Vishishtadvaita, and Navya-Nyâya, in addition to Tattvavâda. After Kanchi, he continued his studies at Mulbagal which was the seat of Sripadaraja and a hub for learning like Kanchi. There he studied Vedanta for about five to six years.

Around this time, he distinguished himself at the court of Saluva Narasimha at Chandragiri by winning several debates against renowned opponents. During this time he was entrusted the worship of Lord Srinivasa at Tirupati, a task that he performed for twelve years, from 1486-1498. Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha left for Vijayanagara after persistent invitations by its royalty and ministers, and stayed there for the major part of the rest of his life. Among the several debates he had at Vijayanagara, a notable one is that with Basava Bhatta of Kalinga which lasted for thirty days, before Basava Bhatta lost comprehensively. However the 'golden period' of Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha's life started after Krishnadevaraya ascended the throne of Vijayanagara, for what were the one-and-twenty greatest years of the kingdom's history. Krishnadevaraya had a lot of regard for Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha, as is evident from the historical evidence that shows Krishnadevaraya regarded Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha as his Kuladevata, as well as from several honorific references in the writings of Krishnadevaraya.

Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha is responsible for the continuation of the high regard and recognition earned by the system started by Srimad Ananda Tîrtha. He has been respected by many scholars from other schools, including the likes of Appaya Dikshita, Pakshadhara Mishra, Madhusûdana Sarasvati, and Basava Bhatta. He is known for his warm-heartedness and sympathy even toward proponents of other systems of philosophy, while being a staunch Mâdhva himself. In fact, his elucidation of the principles of Advaita and Vishishtâdvaita were so outstanding that he even had pupils of these doctrines, who learned those from him in preference to learning it from a guru in their own tradition.

Among his nine major works, his most important ones are Nyâyâmrta, TarkatâNDava, and Chandrika, collectively known as Vyâsa-Traya. In his magnum opus Nyâyâmrta, he justifies the philosophy of Tattvavâda and shows that Monism is untenable on every ground, and that the reality of the world cannot be rejected, compromised, or diluted for any reason -- physical, rational, or spiritual. The TarkatâNDava is a refutation of the principles of Nyâya-Vaisheshika. Tâtparya-Chandrika, or Chandrika as it is known for short, is a commentary on Sri Jayatîrtha's Tattvaprakâshikâ and deals with the Sûtra-Prasthâna of Tattvavâda. It is, in fact, a significant contribution to the literature on the analysis of the Brahma-Sûtra, because it makes an in-depth comparative study of the Bhâshyas of Shankara, Râmânuja, and Ananda Tîrtha.

He has composed beautiful devotional songs in Kannada, thus contributing significantly to the Dâsa-sâhitya. He was also the Guru of Purandara Dâsa and Kanaka Dâsa, two outstanding luminaries of the Hari-Dâsa tradition, the former also the founder of modern Karnataka music, and is probably the greatest singer-saint in history.

He cast off his mortal body on the 8th of March, 1539. His Brndâvana is at Nava-Vrndavana, which is located on an island in the Tungabhadra river, near Anegondi, very close to Hampi. Here, in the company of eight other eminent Mâdhva ascetics, he continues to meditate, and to bless devotees with true knowledge.

(This piece is the result of joint work, being partly due to Narahari S. Pujar, with some additions and editing by Shrisha Rao and H.P.Raghunandan).


History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and its Literature, Dr. B. N. K. Sharma, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1981.

Works by Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha