Popularly regarded as an incarnation of wind God Vayu, Madhavacharya propagated the Dvaita or “dualist” school of Hindu Vedanta philosophy in 13th-century. He was of the view that there exist two different realities in the universe. The first is the independent reality, which is the supreme God Himself, and the second is the dependent reality, which comprises of the universe, matter and souls. In all, Madhavacharya is thought to have written 37 works, all of which exhibit a complete unity of purpose.
According to one popular tradition, Madhavacharya was born on the auspicious day of Dussehra in 1238 AD at a small village near Udipi on the west coast of India. It is said that at the time of his birth, there were sounds of divine drums from heavens. Some sages predicted that the Wind God had taken birth for revival of Vedic dharma on earth. Since childhood, Madhavacharya showed a precocious talent for all things spiritual. When he was only eleven years old, he was drawn to the path of renunciation, and joined a reputed monastic order near Udipi. At the time of initiation in sanyasa, he was given the name of Purnaprajna. The teachers at the monastic order soon realised that the young Madhavacharya was already well versed in the religious rituals. He could recite the Vedas flawlessly and he was always filled with supreme effulgence that made everyone’s minds fill with reverence.
Barely 40 days after he had become an ascetic, Madhavacharya managed to defeat in debate an expert group of Vedic scholars led by Vasudeva Pandita, who was famous for his erudition all over the country. Overjoyed by the precocious talent that Madhavacharya had displayed, the leader of the monastery consecrated him as the head of the empire of Vedanta and conferred on him the title of Ananda Tirtha. Thus Madhavacharya came to have three names. Purnaprajna was the name given to him at the time of Sanyasa. He became Ananda Tirtha when he was consecrated as the head of the empire of Vedanta. Later on he realised that the Vedas talk about him as Madhava and he decided to utilise the name for himself.
While he was still in his teens, Madhavacharya set on a tour of South India. He visited many holy places and met and debated with Vedic scholars. He also delivered discourses and preached his Tyaktaveda or religious truth to the people. In a course of time, he was filled with the desire of touring North India. The holy centre of Badri, which was located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, beckoned him irresistibly. During those days, it was believed that Vyasa used to reside in a remote place in these mountains.
According to a popular legend, one night while he was in Badri, Madhavacharya disappeared from the ashram. He remained missing for many months and his followers were filled with the apprehension that he had perished in the desolate mountains. But their fears proved to be unfounded when he appeared one fine morning looking resplendent and joyful. He told his disciples that he had ascended to the mythical mountain called Mahabadari, where he met Vyasa. He presented his commentary of Bhagavad Gita to the Vyasa and received his blessings.
When he was back to Udipi, Madhavacharya began writing his famous Brahmasutra commentary, which had the effect of further enhancing the appeal of his message. A man of great physical stamina, he used to travel a lot and preach in his sonorous voice. The number of his disciples kept growing, and his influence spread far and wide across the country. During this time he also established a temple by installing the statue of Sri Krishna, which he had found in the ocean.
The 37 works that Madhavacharya wrote during his lifetime include, the four commentaries – on the Bhahmasutra, on the opening passages of Rig Veda, on the Upanishads and on the Bhagavad Gita. He also wrote lengthy expositions of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata. Then there are his ten treatises devoted to the inquiry into the Supreme God. There are several other works that are devoted to establishing the fact that it is possible for human beings to make their entire life an expression of the inquiry into the Supreme God. He composed lyrical pieces that can be sung during religious ceremonies, and continue to be popular till this day.
Madhavacharya’s teachings have played a seminal role in the revival of Vedic culture in the country. According to most accounts, he passed away in 1317 AD.