Saturday 3 November 2012

A jeweller's son who became a monk

He is the fourth and last of the direct disciples of Madhwacharya. A native of a small village near Jamkhandi in  Bijapur district, he was attracted by the Dwaitha philosophy expounded by Madhwacharya when he was 30 years of age.
Son of a jeweler called Keshava Bhatta, he decided to join the monastic order of Madhwacharya (Acharya). Known in his Poorvashrama as  Govinda Bhatta, he was named Akshoba Theertha by the Acharya.  
One of the most unassuming of the Acharya’s disciples, Akshoba earned the respect of  other disciples with his simplicity and devotion. Like his predecessors, Padmanabha Theertha and Narahari Theertha, he was also an Adwaitha. He was won over by the Acharya’s philosophy.
He gave up his comfortable life and also bid adieu to his family business and took to a life of sanyas. He is believed to have joined Madhwacharya near Udupi.  
Once when Madhwacharya and his disciples and this group included Padmanabha Theertha, Narahari Theertha and Madhava Theertha among others, were near the sea, Madhwacharya asked them to jump into the swirling waters.
None of the disciples dared to enter the sea. Akshoba Theertha, did not even think for a minute, and jumped into the sea. He came to the Dwaitha kingdom after Madhava Theertha. He ruled over the Madhwa pontificate for 15 years from 1350 to 1365.
Born in 1282, he belonged to a well-to-do family. He is believed to be an Amsha of Rudra. He wrote a manual on Dwaitha tenets called Madhwa Tattva Saarasamgraha. Unfortunately, the book has disappeared and we are only left with references.
He was such an erudite scholar that he won the debate of Dwaitha versus Adwaitha when he defeated Vidyaranya at Mulabagal, Even today, there is a pillar in Mulabagal which speaks of his victory.
What makes Akshoba’s victory all the more creditable is that the arbitrator of the debate, Vedantha Dikshit, was a close friend of Vidyaranya. This debate took place sometime in 1336 after the Vijayanagar kingdom was founded by the brothers Hakka and Bukka,
Vedanta Dikshit or Desikar was a poet, philosopher and a brilliant teacher. He was himself a noted scholar and he was a disciple of Athreya Ramanujacharya. He was born in 1269 and he lived for 101 years.
Both Akshoba and Vidyaranya had chosen Vedanta to arbitrate over the argument. Vedanta’s students and contemporaries believed that he was an incarnation of the divine bell of Srinivasa  Temple in Tirupathi.
While Akshoba camped at a cave near the Shiva Temple on Hanchukallu Betta, Vidyaranya stayed in another cave which even today is called Vidyaranya Guhe.
Vedanta Desikar wrote his decision in the form of a beautiful sloka and sent it to the two seers. The sloka read “Asinā Tattwamasinā Parajīvaprabhedinā  Vidyāraya Mahāraya Akobha Muniraccinat.|
The debate and Desika’s sloka can still be seen on a pillar post called Jayasthamba.
The debate was on the meaning, interpretation and Tatvam Asi. While one line of scholars hold that there was a debate, the other group says there were written arguments exchanged between the two scholars. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that Akshoba Theertha scored over Vidyaranya.   
References to this victory exists in the works of Jaya  Theertha or Teekachar and Vyasa Theertha, one of the disciples of  Jaya Theertha and works of other Dwaitha scholars. There is even a text by Vidyaranya to suggest this victory.
The Jaya Theertha Vijaya of Vyasa Theertha records the victory of Akshoba Theertha. However, it does not mention the name of Vidyaranya but says a great Adwaitha scholar lost out in the debate. The 17th century work, Raghavendra Vijaya also talks about this incident.  
The debate can be termed as a seminal event in the history of Dwaitha philosophy. The victory is reckoned to be so comprehensive that there has not been any more such scholarly debates.      
Akshoba Theertha  is the founder of two mathas-the Koodli Akshoba Matha and Bagalur matha. He gifted an idol of  Vaikuntharama idol to the Akshoba Matha and Trinetra Narasimha idol to the Bagalur Matha.
One of the finest achievements of  Akshoba Theerta is identifying Dondu Panth  and taking him as a disciple. He once saw a horseman riding on the banks of the Bheema river near Pandrapur. The horseman appeared thirsty. Instead of getting down from the horse, he bent down towards the river and quenched his thirst.
Akshoba Theertha, who was watching the incident keenly, called out to Dondu Panth Theertha and asked him whether he was a horse in his earlier avatar. The query by Akshoba Theertha triggered Dondu Panth’s interest and he became a disciple.
Akshoba named Dondu Panth as Jaya Theertha. He took Jaya Theertha under his personal tutelage and spent his entire lifetime in making him the unrivalled scholar of his time. This is borne out by several writings of Jaya Theertha himself.  
Some scholars suggest that Jaya Theertha was a nephew of  Akshoba Theertha. There is not much information on this aspect. Akshoba Theertha spent his last days at Malkhed. When Vidyaranya came to Malkhed to visit and see Akshoba, he was told by Jaya Theertha that Akshoba had already entered Brindavana.
Akshoba had entered Brindavana at Malkhed on December 4, 1365. The Aradhana Thithi is Margashira Krishna Panchami.

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