Vyasatirtha (ವ್ಯಾಸತೀರ್ಥ) (1460–1539), also called Vyasaraja or Vyasaraya or Vyasraja swamin. He was born in Bannur, Mysore District, Karnataka State. Vyasatirtha was born to Rallanna Sumati, his Guru Brahmanya.
Sri Vyaasa Tiirtha is probably the scholar of Tattvavaada held in highest esteem next to Sri Jayatirtha. His work has been to write detailed commentaries on the works of Srimad Ananda Tirtha and Sri Jayatirtha, and to show Tattvavaada as being placed on a firm logical footing; his work is considered to be of the highest significance, particularly because it is accepted even by his opponents that his understanding of their schools is second to none. Thus, there is no possibility of claiming Sri Vyasa Tirtha’s critiques to be invalid on account of his having misstated the positions he wishes to criticize. Sri Vyasa Tirtha also keeps a tempo that is hard for the less skilled to even conceive of, let alone match. His logic is exceptionally hard to beat, because of his uncanny knack of knowing exactly what the opponent is going to say, and using this information to lead the opponent on to traps of logic that are dozens of steps deep, and impossible to work through or around. One feels that while one gropes in the dark and tries to guess where one is and struggles to find one’s way, Sri Vyasa Tirtha not only knows one’s present position to a nicety, he also knows all the possible ways one might proceed, in advance of oneself, and has a proper plan of action already planned out for any further move one might make. Thus, holding one’s own in a debate with Sri Vyasa Tirtha is very similar to making one’s way across a field laid with mines; one does not know where to put one’s foot next, and very often, even a secure retreat to a former safe position is impossible, after one has taken a few steps down in hopes of making progress. In summation, it is hardly a stretch to say that Sri Vyasa Tirtha is the very personification of mastery of skill in dialogue and debate, that every logician and philosopher wishes to be.
In addition to his pellucid and luminescent writings, Sri Vyasa Tirtha is also known for the influence he had on the Vijayanagara empire, especially for the fact that it was under his tutelage that it had its heyday, and produced its greatest ruler. Perhaps even more importantly, it is noted that he was responsible for providing a healthy atmosphere in which the Hari-dasa tradition could sprout and flourish; he disregarded all highbrow disapprobation of the lower castes, as he showed by his acceptance of the low caste Kanaka Dasa as a shishya, on par with his other students, and by his even arranging to prove to them that Kanaka Dasa was a greater devotee than any of them.
An inauthentic biography of Sri Vyasa Tirtha can be found in the work Vyaasayogicharita, by the Smarta poet Somanatha (Bangalore, 1926). This is a champu kaavya (“A kind of elaborate and highly artificial composition in which the same subject is continued through alterations in prose and verse” — from Apte’s dictionary) which two was first presented by the poet in Krishnadevaraaya’s court using two reciters. The work however makes significant digressions from Tattvavaada, for instance when at the very outset, it names Balaraama as one of the avatars of Vishnu. However, the fact that such a work was even written by an adherent of another doctrine is an indicator of Sri Vyasa Tirtha popularity even among his opponents. An authentic biography of Sri Vyasa Tirtha is the one by his immediate disciple Sri Srinivasa Tirtha.
Sri Vyasa Tirtha was born around 1460 in Bannur which is in the Mysore district in the modern Karnataka state. He and his brother and sister were born as a result of the blessings of Brahmanya Tirtha, and the young Yatiraaja (the future Sri Vyasa Tirtha) was presented to Brahmanya Tirtha after he had completed the a comprehensive study of subjects like kaavya, naaTaka, alankaara, and vyaakaraNa. Having been impressed with the young Yatiraaja’s quick mind and great aptitude for learning, Brahmanya Tirtha secretly meditated to ordain him into the sanyasa order. Yatiraaja, though respectful of his Guru, had his doubts about receiving such diksha, and finally consented after receiving a vision in which Vishnu Himself instructed him not to try to avert his destiny.
Shortly after Yatiraaja’s ordination as Sri Vyasa Tirtha, Sri Brahmanya Tirtha passed on. Sri Vyasa Tirtha left for Kanchi after his succession to the piiTha and spent many years there studying the six systems of philosophy, and thus gave the finishing touches to his mastery of subjects like Advaita, Vishishtadvaita, and Navya-Nyaaya, in addition to Tattvavaada. After Kanchi, he continued his studies at Mulbagal which was the seat of Sripadaraja and a hub for learning like Kanchi. There he studied Vedanta for about five to six years.
Around this time, he distinguished himself at the court of Saluva Narasimha at Chandragiri by winning several debates against renowned opponents. During this time he was entrusted the worship of Lord Srinivasa at Tirupati, a task that he performed for twelve years, from 1486-1498. Sri Vyasa Tirtha left for Vijayanagara after persistent invitations by its royalty and ministers, and stayed there for the major part of the rest of his life. Among the several debates he had at Vijayanagara, a notable one is that with Basava Bhatta of Kalinga which lasted for thirty days, before Basava Bhatta lost comprehensively. However the ‘golden period’ of Sri Vyasa Tirtha life started after Krishnadevaraya ascended the throne of Vijayanagara, for what were the one-and-twenty greatest years of the kingdom’s history. Krishnadevaraya had a lot of regard for Sri Vyasa Tirtha, as is evident from the historical evidence that shows Krishnadevaraya regarded Sri Vyasa Tirtha as his Kuladevata, as well as from several honorific references in the writings of Krishnadevaraya.
Sri Vyasa Tirtha is responsible for the continuation of the high regard and recognition earned by the system started by Srimad Ananda Tirtha. He has been respected by many scholars from other schools, including the likes of Appaya Dikshita, Pakshadhara Mishra, Madhusuudana Sarasvati, and Basava Bhatta. He is known for his warm-heartedness and sympathy even toward proponents of other systems of philosophy, while being a staunch Madhva himself. In fact, his elucidation of the principles of Advaita and Vishishtaadvaita were so outstanding that he even had pupils of these doctrines, who learned those from him in preference to learning it from a guru in their own tradition.
Among his nine major works, his most important ones are Nyaayaamrta, TarkataaNDava, and Chandrika, collectively known as Vyasa-Traya. In his magnum opus Nyaayaamrta, he justifies the philosophy of Tattvavaada and shows that Monism is untenable on every ground, and that the reality of the world cannot be rejected, compromised, or diluted for any reason — physical, rational, or spiritual. The TarkataaNDava is a refutation of the principles of Nyaaya-Vaisheshika. Taatparya-Chandrika, or Chandrika as it is known for short, is a commentary on Sri Jayatiirtha’s Tattvaprakaashikaa and deals with the Suutra-Prasthaana of Tattvavaada. It is, in fact, a significant contribution to the literature on the analysis of the Brahma-Suutra, because it makes an in-depth comparative study of the Bhaashyas of Shankara, Raamaanuja, and Ananda Tirtha.
He has composed beautiful devotional songs in Kannada, thus contributing significantly to the Dasa-saahitya. He was also the Guru of Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa, two outstanding luminaries of the Hari-Dasa tradition, the former also the founder of modern Karnataka music, and is probably the greatest singer saint in history.
He cast off his mortal body on the 8th of March, 1539. His vrndavana is at Nava-Vrndavana, which is located on an island in the Tungabhadra river, near Anegondi, very close to Hampi. Here, in the company of eight other eminent Madhva ascetics, he continues to meditate, and to bless devotees with true knowledge.