MadhvAchArya (1238 - 1317) belongs to the triumvirate of spiritual giants along with Sankara and Ramanuja, through whose expositions of Upanishadic philosophy India's spiritual greatness became famous and continues to be so, throughout the world. His original name was Vasudeva, while in religious circles he is known as Poorna-prajna, the fully enlightened. In his 37 treatises he signs himself as Ananda-tirtha. He is considered as an incarnation of the Wind-God, vAyu, also known as mukhya-prANa. He was born in a village near Udupi in Karnataka. Around the age of 25 he renounced worldly life. He was not only a scholar-Sannyasi but was also a giant in physical strength as well as in psychic powers. He studied the philosophy of advaita in the beginning but very soon was dissatisfied with the distance it keeps from reality.He started making his own interpretations of the scriptures. He used to declare that he remembered these ideas from his previous lives. His captivating powers of exposition, his originality and his untaught learning resulted in his being named as the head of the Monastery in which he was just a student. His philosophy is down-to-earth realism. He interprets the passage tat-tvam-asi as saying essentially that everything is under the direction and control of the Almighty, from whom we, the souls, are different. For this he invokes a vowel from the preceding word AtmA in the passage and reads it as atat-tvam-asi. He has written bhAshyas on the brahma-sUtras, the Upanishads and the gItA. It is said he mastered 21 rival traditions before he wrote all these. His mahA-bhArata-tAtparya-nirnaya (=the fixing of the purport of the mahAbhArata) is a poem of 32 chapters. He also wrote a gloss on the SrImad-bhAgavatam. He was probably the first one, chronologically, to use the bhAgavatam systematically for philosophical expositions. For a brief summary of the dvaita philosophy propagated by Madhva and his successors of whom the most famous was Vyasa-raja (15thcentury), go to
The Non-Absolutist School and Difference and non-difference.
MadhvAchArya was an uncompromising theist. His devotion was coeval with knowledge and therefore more intellectual than emotional. His life was so full of miracles and miraculous devotion that we cannot separate his life from either his miracles or his devotion. The most unique of them all has a historical overtone. Once a ship while reaching the shore near Udupi faced a great storm and was in imminent danger. MadhwAchArya who was standing on the seashore, saw the scene, waved his cloth towards the ship and by the Grace of God the ship was saved. The first thing the captain did on landing was to prostrate himself before the AcArya and thank him for what he believed was the AcArya's miracle and request him to take something as gift. The AcArya by his inner vision saw a heavy lump of gopi-candana (a species of white clay) lying in the ship as ballast. He asked for that to be given him as gift. Surprised at this seemingly trivial request the captain obliged. The AcArya drove his hand inside the lump of clay and brought forth a sAligrAma stone idol of Balakrishna (Krishna in his childhood) from within. The idol was so heavy that the very fact that the AcArya could carry it all by himself was itself a miracle. But more miraculous was the information he gave on the idol. It appears it was originally made by the divine architect viSva-karma and was kept by no less a person than Rukmini hrself in Dwaraka in the dvApara yuga. When Dwaraka was submerged in the sea at the end of Krishna's time, the idol was lost. That was the idol which the AcArya had unearthed! It adorns the temple of Udupi even today.
The end of MadhvAchArya's life was equally miraculous as was his life. It is said that when he had completed his mission on Earth the heavenly beings showered flowers on him and under the cover of these flowers heaped on him, his body simply disappeared!