Vadiraja Tirtha - A Gem Among Haridasas

Manasi Prasad

Saint Vadiraja is one of the forsas of Karnataka. His contribution to society as a composer...

Saint Vadiraja is one of the foremost among the Haridasas of Karnataka. His contribution to society as a composer, religious leader and as a scholar is unique and invaluable. While his work was largely unexposed as compared to the works of his more famous contemporaries (Puranadara Dasa and Kanakadasa), today there is a growing awareness about this great Saint and his compositions.

Vadiraja was born in 1480 AD in Hoovinakere, Kundapura district of Karnataka. His parents, Ramacharya and Saraswati made their living by growing crops in the fields. There is a story connected with his birth. It is said that his parents were childless for many years, and went to Sode Mutt (in north Karnataka) to receive the blessings of the pontifical head- Sri Vagisha Teertha. Vagisha Teertha blessed them and said that they would have a child on one condition- were the child to be born inside the house, the parents could bring him up, but if the child were to be born outside the house, the parents would have to give him up to the Sode Mutt. Tide of events led to Vadiraja (originally named as Varahacharya) being born outside the house, and hence as a young boy, he left home to join the Mutt for his religious instruction

Vadiraja began his spiritual journey under the guidance of Sri Vagisha Tirtha and was bestowed with the title of Vadiraja Tirtha. From then he continued his life as a staunch Madhwa saint, committed to the cause of spreading Dwaitha philosophy.

Vadiraja's chosen deity was Hayagriva (or Hayavadana), one of the forms of Lord Vishnu. He adopted 'Hayavadana' as his 'ankita' (signature) in his compositions.

Sri Vadiraja grew in knowledge and experience, and became the head of the Sode Mutt (one of the Ashtamathas - eight Mutts - in Udupi). He was responsible for introducing the Paryaya system in Udupi, whereby each of the 8 Mutts is responsible for the puja and upkeep of the Krishna temple in Udupi for a period of two years. Thus, one entire cycle of Paryayas spans sixteen years, and this ensured an equitable distribution of privileges and responsibilities between all the Mutts. He travelled extensively to all the famous pilgrimage sites in India and chronicled his travels in a treatise known as the "Tirtha Prabandha". He was adept in both Sanskrit and Kannada. His other famous works include "Rukmineesha Vijaya", "Yuktimalika", "Mahabharata Tatparyanirnayatika" and others.

As a composer of keerthanas, Sri Vadiraja's creativity and devotion knew no bounds. He has left the musical world with hundreds of compositions which abound in scope for musicians to present. They are composed such that they are suitable to different tala formats. Most of his compositions are Bhakti oriented and praise the virtues of Lord Krishna, Narayana and Hayavadana in beautiful and simple language. Some of his well known compositions are 'Narayana Enniro', 'Govinda Gopala Gopika Vallabha' and 'Vani Paramakalyani'.

Vadiraja had boundless creativity. In one composition 'Enu sukritava maadidalu Yashodhe', he describes the good fortune of Yashodha, as she is able to call the Almighty as her son. The similarity of thoughts between this composition and 'Enna thavam sheidanai Yashodha' by Papanasam Sivan in the 20th century shows how great minds sometimes think alike, even when they are separated by time and space.

In another composition, Vadiraja shows how he was not bound by constraints of his school of thought, and believed that all Gods were one. In his composition "Ondu Mooruthiyalli", he describes how he imagined seeing both Shiva and Vishnu in the same idol, and draws comparisons between them.

Sri Vadiraja was also aware of the ways of society around him and used his compositions to gently chastise those on the wrong path. In one composition - "hanave ninnaya gunavenu", he sarcastically says that one without money ('hana") is equivalent to a corpse ("hena")! It seems as though things weren't very different from today in the 16th century! Then in the same composition, he describes how money could make one forget the Lord, and thus warns people against greed.

Despite being a sanyasi, who was never bound by material ties, Vadiraja has composed many beautiful javali-like compositions, which are filled with sringara rasa. These describe the longing of the nayika for her Lord Krishna. These compositions are all the more remarkable because javalis are supposed to be fairly recent compositions in the Carnatic tradition, but Vadiraja seems to have composed these much earlier.

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