Vādirājatīrtha and Doctrinal Development in Dvaita Vedānta

Hello everyone,

I am Anusha Rao, a doctoral student in Religion at the University of Toronto. My thanks to Elisa and all the other board members for the opportunity to guest post here this month! I’d like to introduce my research in this post, and I would be delighted to receive feedback and comments. 

I work on dualist Vedānta (Dvaita) in early modern South India and the links forged in this system between narrative, theology, and philosophy. Dvaita Vedānta, founded by Madhva in the thirteenth century, is one of the three important Vedānta schools of South India, and argues for an unchanging difference between God (who, for Madhva, is the deity Viṣṇu), and individual selves. Dvaita Vedānta is understudied, partly because of the radical and eccentric interpretations of scriptural passages by Madhva, and partly because of the long-held misconception that Advaita is synonymous with all Vedānta. 

I am especially interested in the post-Vyāsatīrtha period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lawrence McCrea and Valerie Stoker have done crucial work in demonstrating Vyāsatīrtha’s role in the rising influence of Dvaita Vedānta in early modern South India, both through his political influence in the Vijayanagara polity and his formidable polemical texts that deployed Navya-nyāya and Mīmāṃsā to substantiate Dvaita doctrines that had previously received little attention. 

We know very little, however, on the productive period following Vyāsatīrtha, which saw a concerted attempt by thinkers such as Vijayīndratīrtha and Vādirājatīrtha to engage other sectarian groups in debate and extend the influence and appeal of Dvaita Vedānta by popularizing it through other genres of writing, both in Sanskrit and in Kannada. My current research focuses on the doctrinal development in Dvaita Vedānta at this point, with a particular emphasis on the sixteenth-century scholar Vādirājatīrtha’s magnum opus, the Yuktimallikā, an independent work committed to establishing the truth of the core doctrines of Dvaita Vedānta—the difference between God and the self, the ontological reality of the world, the idea of Viṣṇu as the Vedāntic Brahman, etc. 

Vādirājatīrtha is known for his writings across genres: philosophical texts such as the Yuktimallikā and the Nyāyaratnāvalī, commentaries on Madhva and Jayatīrtha, devotional hymns in Sanskrit and Kannada, and the epic poem Rukmiṇīśavijaya, based on the marriage of Kṛṣṇa and Rukmiṇī. Vādirājatīrtha’s versatility has been compared to that of Veṅkaṭanātha from the Viśiṣṭādvaita tradition. In addition, Vādirājatīrtha is accepted as equivalent in stature to Madhva by some sections of the Mādhva community, an honour not accorded to any other thinker within the tradition. 

The Yuktimallikā or Jasmine Vine of Reasoning presents Vādirājatīrtha’s arguments in favour of core Dvaita doctrines in verse through five sections, entitled saurabhas or fragrances: the GuṇasaurabhaŚuddhisaurabhaBhedasaurabhaViśvasaurabha and Phalasaurabha. Each of these sections concerns a specific doctrine that he wishes to defend. Vādirājatīrtha’s characteristic style is light and playful: he takes jibes at his opponents while using technical concepts from Mīmāṃsā against them through an appeal to the commonsensical and the theological rather than the technical and philosophical. In this, his writings differ vastly from Vyāsatīrtha, and I would argue that their intended audiences are markedly different. I am working on the implications of precisely this kind of approach—In what way do the specific social and theological concerns of Vādirājatīrtha shape this “commonsensical” approach to philosophy that is a direct contrast to Vyāsatīrtha’s? How does such an approach find expression across other non-technical, literary genres, and how does it, in turn, bring about doctrinal and institutional changes within Dvaita Vedānta? 

11 Replies to “Vādirājatīrtha and Doctrinal Development in Dvaita Vedānta”

  1. Hi Anusha and many thanks! I understand that you just started working on it, but do you have any working hypotheses about differences in V’s ideas when he uses Sanskrit vs Kannada and philosophical/theological style vs drama? E.g., is he more “religious” when speaking in Kannada (no need to back up claims with arguments)? Or does he just cover different topics?

    • Hi Elisa,
      Thanks for the question! There is certainly more philosophy and technical language used in Vādirājatīrtha’s Sanskrit texts than in his Kannada writing, but I am not sure what factors are involved here other than genre, and to what extent. Since his Kannada compositions are mostly devotional lyrics, they tend to eulogise Viṣṇu, Madhva, etc. rather than make any sustained philosophical arguments. However, even these are generally in strict conformity with Madhva’s interpretations of the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata.

      What is interesting to me is that even his Sanskrit polemical texts such as the Yuktimallikā are inflected with theological themes, and some technical terms/nyāyas from Mīmāṃsā are invoked almost flippantly in service of these theological ideals. Additionally, some arguments contain premises that would be acceptable only to other Dvaitins rather than external pūrvapakṣins. I plan to write on these two issues in my next post, but overall, it seems to me that in his case, the stylistic and structural features of Kannada devotional lyrics carry over into his Sanskrit polemical texts more than vice versa.

  2. Hi Anusha,
    Thanks for writing the article.Look forward to future posts regarding the result of your research.
    I have two questions, first related to this post and other on dvaitha in general
    1. Isn’t Vādirājatīrtha institutionalized the current form of paryaya system at Udupi Mutt that is followed even today.How these institutional reformation work affected his philosophical works
    2. As i understand Madhva doesn’t accept God(Vishnu/Sri Hari )is the efficient cause(nimitta karana) but not the material cause(upadhana karana) of the world.Prakriti is the material cause of the world. But he also says everything is ultimately depends on God so in this way Dvaita is not exactly dualist like sankhya as the two tattvas are not independent. is my understanding correct?
    But from this i got confused between two statements. If the world ultimately depends on God doesn’t he should be the material cause too? what is exactly meant by “Dependent on God” if it always existed will not be independent?

    • Dear Subramanya,

      Thank you for your questions! I apologise for the late reply.
      1) I am unsure of any direct relation between Vādirājatīrtha’s role in making institutional changes within the Mādhva community and his philosophical texts so far.
      2) The nimitta kārāṇa or the efficient cause refers to the cause whose activity results in the effect. For instance, in the standard example, a potter uses some raw materials, such as clay, to make a pot. The potter is thus the nimitta kāraṇa of the pot. The upādāna kāraṇa or material cause refers to the cause which acts as the raw material of the effect. In our previous example, the clay which is transformed into the pot is the upādāna kāraṇa of the pot. Madhva accepts that Viṣṇu is the nimitta kārāṇa of the world because he undertakes the activity that leads to the creation of the world. However, Viṣṇu cannot be the upādāna kāraṇa of the world according to Madhva, because Viṣṇu does not himself undergo transformation of any kind to become the world, the way clay is transformed into a pot. Rather, Viṣṇu uses prakṛti as raw material and transforms it into the world. This is because the basic premise of Dvaita Vedānta is that the self and God are different entities.

  3. Hi Anusha,

    Thank you for the wonderful introductory post on Sri Vadiraja Tirtha’s works. Best wishes on your journey.

    Sharing a quick question that came up my mind – I haven’t read any of Madhva’s works or translations except for some passages from BNK Sharma’s books. I would like to understand your take on
    “radical and eccentric interpretations of scriptural passages by Madhva”
    Can you please help with further information?


    • Hi Sriram,

      Thanks for the question. Madhva’s interpretations are known to be radical because of his frequent use of etymology to argue that a passage means something very different from its apparent meaning (he understands most passages, even those about rituals, as being in praise of Viṣṇu), his citations from many untraceable sources (see Roque Mesquita’s books on the subject), his claim to be the avatāra of Vāyu, etc.

      • Hi Anusha,

        Thanks for the introduction. Just a few points from my end. I am not aware of the methods employed by modern scholarship; however, given my limited understanding of traditional viewpoint, it is incumbent upon every commentator of Vedanta to bring about a unified approach while commenting on the texts. I actually felt it interesting when I read that Madhva had interpreted the ‘so-called’ ritualist section Veda to indicate His praise or that ‘Sarvanaman’ was used to vindicate monotheistic standpoint of Veda. While you may disagree with his perspective, you will have to accept that his position is quite consistent.

        The citation from untraceable texts cannot be attributed to Madhva alone. How is that this issue (untraceable texts) cropped up only at the time of Appayya Dikshita? How is it that JayaTirtha and VyasaTirtha never had to defend Madhva on this count, when they have scrutinised categories/concepts and interpretations of Madhva before setting the objections to rest? Furthermore, Roque Mesquita has made several blunders (such as attributing authorship of Vedas to Madhva, who has, in fact, taken great pains to remove objections against ‘unauthoredness’ of Veda! Desika’s Alepakamatabhanga has been falsely quoted against Madhva, when the work has nothing to do with Vedanta). There are, at least, four rejoinders available to his charges. Given these points, I would never take Mesquita’s points seriously.

        Traditionally, every schools associates its reviver (I would prefer this term to ‘founder’ as someone going by traditional approach) with some deity. It is Shiva in case of Shankara and Adi Sesha in case of Ramanuja. I do not see why there should be an issue with respect to Madhva. This identification, moreover, can still be acceptable when one realises that a few saints are acknowledged as manifestation of Krishna, notwithstanding express statements within Bhagavata and others that the Lord does not incarnate in Kali Yuga. Furthermore, the biography of Madhva was penned by N.Panditacharya, who was the former’s contemporary. As BNK Sharma, too, mentions, the miracles attributed to Madhva are well within the possibility of Yogasiddhis. Dismissing his philosophy as radical on these counts, I believe, is not vindicated; however, it is your right to disagree.


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