Sri Vadiraja Tirtha is one of the most revered saints in the Dvaita Vedanta tradition. In his Tirtha Prabandha, he describes Ayodhya in a peculiar way which hints at the exile of Rama from His holy abode.
In her seminal work, “Rama & Ayodhya”, Ms Meenakshi Jain has given great details about the scriptural, sculptural and epigraphic pieces of evidence for Lord Rama. This was done to contravene some absurd remonstrations as part of the Rama Janmabhumi dispute where it was alleged that worship of Lord Rama as Vishnu’s avatara was a profoundly recent phenomenon.
Ms Jain’s work is extraordinary — tracing the evidence from thousands of years ago till the recent past. When studying the same, I noticed that although the collection of evidence is hugely impressive, some very interesting evidence that is available in the Madhva tradition of Dvaita Vedanta was not included in the same. There is a rich body of scriptural and sculptural evidence in the Madhva tradition about the Rama Janmabhumi. One of those scriptural evidence is being presented here in the form of an article. The intention is purely to provide a tiny supplement to the huge body of evidence Ms Jain has gathered.
Sri Vadiraja Tirtha
Sri Vadiraja Tirtha, who lived a long and glorious life of 120 years, is one of the most important saints in the Dvaita Vedanta tradition. His duration of stay was from 1480 A.D to 1600 A.D. He is revered as one of the greatest saints to have walked on this planet by the followers of Sri Madhvacharya. He has composed tens of works on Vedas, Dvaita Vedanta along with numerous commentaries on Sri Madhvacharya’s works.
Sri Vadiraja Tirtha was also a great logician and gifted poet. He has composed numerous stotras and poems in Sanskrit, Kannada and Tulu languages. He studied under another of the great Dvaita saints Sri Vyasatirtha. He was also one of the patron saints of the great Vijayanagara King Krishnadevaraya and his successors. Sri Vyasatirtha, Sri Vadiraja Tirtha, Sri Purandara Dasa and Sri Kanaka Dasa were all contemporaries and were under the patronage of the Vijayanagara empire.
Of interest to us in this particular article is a work called “Tirtha Prabandha” composed by Sri Vadiraja Tirtha. It is essentially a religious travelogue — in which Sri Vadiraja has composed stotras to various deities, rivers and kshetras that he visited as part of his “tirtha yatra”. The work has 4 prabandhas — paschima, uttara, purva and dakshina prabandhas — composed as he traveled the 4 regions of Bharata. Depending upon the nature of the place — he composed shlokas either on the most significant deity of a tirtha kshetra — or a prayer to a river — or a shloka in accolade of the greatness of a particular place.
Many tens of places, including Udupi, Badarinath, Tirupati, Kashi, Rameshwara, Dwaraka and Puri are covered in this work. And of course — Ayodhya — the focus of this post — has also been visited and covered by him.
Sources for discussion
To further my hypothesis — I refer to two sources primarily. The first is, of course, the pristine Tirtha Prabandha itself and the second work is a commentary on the Tirtha Prabandha. This commentary — called Guru Bhava Prakshika — was written by Sri Narayanacharya — who was a direct disciple of Sri Vadiraja Tirtha. Since the author of this commentary had direct interaction with Sri Vadiraja, his work becomes important in this discussion.
The author of this commentary, in fact, confirms that the commentary written by him was in effect a recording of his Guru — Sri Vadiraja.
“tathApi vakshyE tacchikshAmanusrutyaiva lEshataH”
“To the best of my ability, I have followed the lessons and statements of him (Sri Vadiraja)”
Timing of the composition
As mentioned earlier, Sri Vadiraja was the student of Sri Vyasatirtha. As part of his yatra to compose this work, he has also visited Anegundi near Hampi. As of today, Anegundi houses 9 brundavanas of Madhva tradition and is famously known as Navavrundavana. One of the vrundavanas belongs to Sri Vyasatirtha who entered the same in 1539 A.D
The Tirtha Prabandha shloka by Sri Vadiraja, which extols navavrundavana, does not make any reference to Sri Vyasatirtha, the immediate Guru of the author. It refers to Sri Jayatirtha, another great Dvaita saint. This omission of Sri Vyasatirtha’s name is only possible if Sri Vadiraja visited Anegundi prior to 1539 A.D
As part of the life history of Sri Vadiraja, many people have recorded an incident where Sri Vadiraja is requested by the King of Delhi to treat his ill son and in turn, tries to offer him numerous jewels. Many Dvaita scholars opine that this King was Humayun and the young son, Akbar. This interaction, therefore, must have happened after 1530 A.D when Humayun reigned at Delhi for the first time.
Combining the above two factors, we can quite confidently conclude that the visit of Sri Vadiraja to various parts of India (for composing this work) happened somewhere between 1530 A.D and 1539 A.D. This is definitely true for at least the North India visits of the tirtha yatra.
Update: Sri @MadhvaHistory kindly provided some great inputs on this section of the post. From the records available at the Sode Matha, Uttara Kannada, Sri Vadiraja Tirtha’s travels have been timelined to six main intervals in the 16th century. These have also been cross-checked with the 2-year paryaya duties that Sri Vadiraja had to perform at Udupi. The paryaya opportunity comes ones every 14 years (after the end of the previous paryaya).
Using all this data, it does appear that the interval between 1542–1547 A.D is the most likely time when Sri Vadiraja Tirtha performed the yatra that led to Uttara Prabandha in this work.
Two points stand out from this timing:
- Babar’s reign at Delhi had ended when the visit of Sri Vadiraja to North India happened
- The visit happened not too distant from the end of Babar’s reign
The description of Ayodhya
The typical structure used by Sri Vadiraja upon visiting a place is to describe the chief deity of a place if the kshetra happens to have a famous kshetra. If the place happens to be a religious kshetra or a river, then he praises the same and there is no direct praise of any deity or idol of the place.
For e.g. when he visits Kashi, he sings the glory of Bindu Madhava. When he visits Badari, he composes numerous shlokas on Badari Narayana. However, when he visits a place like Naimisharanya, he praises the region itself instead of a particular deity’s idol over there. Similarly, he has praised Ganga, Yamuna, Tunga and other rivers at appropriate places in his work.
Let us now focus on the actual description or praise of Ayodhya that Sri Vadiraja resorts to. Sri Vadiraja devotes just one shloka for Ayodhya. The following is the actual shloka.
“ayOdhyA nAma nagarI bhAti sAdhvI vadhUriva |
vanaM gatasyApi tasya pAdukE yA$karOt patiM”
The literal translation of the shloka is as below:
“The town of Ayodhya appears resplendent like a chaste wife (woman). That city which accepted the paduka as it’s Lord (Rama) even when he had gone to the forest.”
At the outset, it appears as if Sri Vadiraja has only praised Ayodhya and compared it to a chaste lady waiting on her husband just like how the citizens of Ayodhya during Ramayana considered Rama as their King even when he was in the forest.
However, some questions come up here:
- Out of all the incidents involving Rama at Ayodhya, why did Sri Vadiraja pick up this incident to describe Ayodhya?
- What is the need to compare Ayodhya to a wife?
- What is the meaning of the comparison to the state when Rama was out of Ayodhya during Ramayana?
One can question why Sri Vadiraja Tirtha chose to describe Ayodhya by referring to Ayodhya around a time when Rama was actually not present in Ayodhya.
Leaving aside the 11,000 years that Rama ruled Ayodhya, Sri Vadiraja chooses the 14 year period when he actually was not at Ayodhya. Why not a shloka about Rama Rajya? Why not a shloka about the 11,000 years of Rama’s golden regime? Why not a shloka about the Ashwamedha and other yagas? Why not a shloka about the times he spent happily with Sita Mata?
This line of thinking gets even further strengthened by the commentary written by his shishya Sri Narayanacharya (referred to earlier) on this shloka. Describing the first half of the shloka, he says:
“pativratA nArI bhartari prOshitE sati tadIyaM vastrAbharNAdi vastu tadvat sameekshya yathA tishTati tadvadiyamapi nagarI tishTatIti bhAvaH”
The meaning of this commentary is as below
“The purport of this shloka is that the city (Ayodhya) was waiting just like a chaste pativrata wife who stays and waits thinking of her husband looking at his clothes, ornaments and other remaining objects even when the husband is out of town”
Note further that the use of the word ‘bhAti” in the present tense by Sri Vadiraja Tirtha clearly means that he is referring to the present condition of Ayodhya lest there be any doubt if he was referring to the times of the Ramayana.
Further, note the usage of the word “pati” in this shloka. Sri Vadiraja is effectively saying that the city is waiting while the “Ayodhya Pati” is not present there.
Given the timing of the visit to Ayodhya- between 1530 A.D and 1539 A.D, as established above, and the strange and unique reference to the incident of paduka in Ramayana when Lord Rama was out of Ayodhya — and the direct comparison of the city to a wife whose husband (Ayodhya pati in this case) is not in town, I think this is a clear reference by Sri Vadiraja Tirtha that the Lord of Ayodhya was not in the city at that time — a direct reference to the bringing down of the Rama Temple and consequent absence.
Note that the Tirtha Prabandha was a religious work and therefore there was no chance of making any political or social statements in that work. Hence Sri Vadiraja resorts to his creative genius and describes Ayodhya in this fashion while still sticking to the religious frame of reference that bound the Tirtha Prabandha.