Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha (1595-1671)
 A Short (LIfe) Sketch
Taken From:

 Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha is possibly the most popular of all Maadhva saints. He is revered by many people of all faiths and from all walks of life, who consider him an infallible source of divine succor in times of extreme hardship. It is thus that among the lay masses, he is likely the best known of all Maadhva saints, and is held in very high regard even by many people who are not aware of either the nature or the extent of his stupendous contributions to the literature and metaphysics of Tatvavaada. Therefore, the life and work of Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha has been the subject of numerous books, essays, and other literary artifacts, and has also inspired numerous songs and movies. While all of these do sincerely attempt to capture the greatness of Sri Raghavendra  Tiirtha, and do often succeed to a greater or lesser extent, they more often than not are not truly authentic portrayals, for not having placed him in proper perspective, and for not having taken worshipful care in describing his effulgent qualities. Two authentic sources for information about Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha are the complete biography, Raghavendra Vijaya, written by Narayanacharya, and the GuruguNastava by Sri Vaadiindra Tiirtha.

 Tradition describes Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha as endowed with great mystical powers of perception and action, which are due to his great devotion and knowledge, and also describes him as carrying out a special task for Lord Raama, by helping devotees find relief from the crushing miseries of everyday life, so that they may focus their minds on the higher purpose of life. He is said to be an avataara of Prahlaada, and to be here to gift away a lot of puNya that he earned in that form; in this manner, he helps devotees who do not have enough merit to earn such puNya and enjoy its fruits on their own, and also sloughs off anishhTa karma that he, as an aparoksha gnyaanii, has no use for.

 Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha was a contemporary of the last Nayak of Tanjore. His father TimmaNNaachaarya was a great scholar and exponent of music who, following the fall of the kingdom of Vijayanagara (which happened around 1565), migrated to Tundiramandala (Kanchi) and made the town of Pattana his home with his wife Gopikamba. Venkatanatha (the future Raghavendra Tiirtha) had a brother, Gururaja, and a sister, Venkatamba. Venkatanatha was raised by his brother Gururaja, since their father passed on early, and was a very learned scholar, and also endowed with considerable prowess in music, most particularly in the playing of the veeNaa. He was married at an early age, as per the custom of the time. He did not travel much, for that would have wasted precious time better devoted to the study of shaastra, and was very poor, for he refused to desecrate his learning or his music by making them available to others for pecuniary profit. Thus, while others had to suffer one Ekadashi in shukla paksha, and one in krshna paksha, each month, the young Venkatanatha, and his wife and young son, would have to endure several Ekadashis in each fortnight!

 At this time he began to study under Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha at his Matha in Kumbakonam -- his 'ParimaLa' is a work essentially consisting of a set of notes he took while studying Sri Jayatiirtha's Nyaaya-Sudhaa under Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha. Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha was attracted to the scholarly and unassuming Venkatanatha, whom he considered a prize pupil, much to the discomposure of his other shishyas, who considered Venkatanatha a dangerous outsider. One night, the Lord Raama Himself appeared before Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha in a dream and informed him that he had a mere two years left of life, during which time he must choose and train an able successor; He also decreed that Venkatanatha was just the right choice, and that he should be given sanyaasa by Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha, so as to succeed him as the piiThaadhipati of the Matha in due time. The next day, Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha sent for Venkatanatha and informed him forthwith that he would be given sanyaasa, as per His decree. Venkatanatha protested inability to receive such diikshaa, saying "baalaa bhaarya, putraa.anopaniitaH," or that his wife was still very young (and would thus not be able to bear the shocking termination of her married life), and that his son's upanayana had not yet been performed, as was his duty, as a father, to do by his son. Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha advised Venkatanatha to perform the son's upanayana without delay, and to give up the false attachments to mortal entities that he had permitted within himself.

 It took some time for Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha to convince Venkatanatha to accept sanyaasa. The latter was finally ordained a monk at Tanjore whereabouts of 1621; he was only twenty-three at the time. Venkatanatha thus became Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha. Two years later he became the head of the Matha after the disappearance of his Guru, Sri Sudhiindra Tiirtha.

 Soon after his accession as the head, he began a series of pilgrimages that took him to Rameshvaram, Ramnad, Srirangam, and Madurai. He then went westward to Udupi, Subrahmanya, Pandharpur, Kolhapur, and Bijapur. He converted many scholars of other schools to Tatvavaada, especially during his stays at Kolhapur and Bijapur. On his way back to Kumbakonam, he visited Tirupati, Kanchi, Vrddhachalam, and Srimusnam. Years later, in 1663, he obtained a grant for his Matha from Dodda Devaraya Odeyar, during a trip to Mysore. Finally, he moved north and settled at Mantralaya, on the banks of the Tungabhadra in Adoni taluk (in modern Andhra Pradesh). This spot was chosen by him because as Prahlaada, he had performed a great number of yagnyas and other austerities there, and wished to carry on at the same hallowed spot.

 He has over forty works to his credit. Most of them are commentaries on the works of previous Maadhva scholars: Ananda Tiirtha, Jayatiirtha, and Vyaasa Tiirtha. The rest include commentaries on the Upanishad-expositions of previous Maadhva scholars, and an independent work on the Bhagavad Gita. History records Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha as a major non-polemical writer of Tatvavaada in the post-Vyaasa-Tiirtha period. Whereas as Vyaasa Tiirtha, he devoted his scholarship to expositions of Tatvavaada and refutations of other schools that often reached stratospheric heights, as Raghavendra Tiirtha, he focused on making very thorough but more accessible elucidation of shaastra, which are useful to less gifted scholars.

 Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha has many miracles attributed to him, some occurring while he was present in the flesh, and many continuing to this day. It can hardly be hoped that a short biographical piece such as this one can do even partial justice to his tremendous spiritual powers, but here is a short description of two incidents (one that occurred during his physical life, and one that happened later), which to our mind illustrate Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha's mystical abilities.

 Once, while on a tour, Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha met a young boy who was looking after a herd of grazing cattle, and blessed him, saying that if he, the boy, ever faced serious distress, all he had to do to be rescued was call to mind Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha and his blessing. Some time later, Sidi Masanad Khan, the Governor of Adoni, happened to be traveling in the same area, and received a letter. Being illiterate, he could not read it himself, and asked the boy who happened to be nearby to read it to him. When the latter protested his own inability to read, saying that he was a simple cattle-grazer, and had never received an education, the autocrat grew angry, and
demanded that the boy stop toying with him forthwith and read the letter as ordered, or face the consequences of his delinquent refusal to obey; the potentate refused to believe that the boy was telling the truth about being uneducated. Placed in an impossible situation, and faced with the prospect of having to suffer the cruelty of a despot for not doing something he knew not how to do, the boy remembered Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha's blessing, and proceeded to read the letter as demanded by the unlettered ruler. The missive apparently brought good tidings to the Governor, who was so happy with the news that he immediately made the boy his Diwan, or principal officer. Diwan Venkanna, as the boy therefore became, remained a close disciple of Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha throughout his life, and played a key role in the setting up of Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha's Matha on the banks of the Tungabhadra.

 The second incident happened over a century later, when the British administration of Adoni taluk decided to withdraw the grants of food-grains that had traditionally been provided to Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha's Matha at Mantralaya -- a vast portion of which had been used to feed anyone who came, including vast numbers of the poor and needy. A British officer by the name of Munro decided to take a first-hand look at the institution, so that he could provide a detailed report to his superiors of the exact state of affairs, and the justification for the withdrawal. He came to the Matha, and had a long discussion with someone he believed was its principal, who convinced him that the grant was for a good cause, and should be continued. It later transpired that Munro, the mlechchha interloper from a alien land, had actually met and conversed with Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha himself, a fortune that most members of the Matha themselves had never received.

 Sri Raghavendra Tiirtha departed his physical frame, by his own will, in 1671 -- he and Sri Vaadiraaja Tiirtha are two Maadhva saints who are known to have given up their bodies of their own will, rather than by injury, disease, or disorder. His Brndaavana (which is carved from a rock believed to have been used by the Lord Raama Himself to rest upon, during His journey southward in search of Sita) is at his Matha at Mantralaya, which is a very popular pilgrimage spot for millions, and where he has promised to reside for 700 years (i.e., until the year 2371), blessing devotees with true knowledge and devotion, and helping them overcome their worldly troubles.

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