Vidyaranya or Madhavacharya was the 12th head of the Sringeri Sharada Peetam established by Jagadguru Shankaracharya.
Madhavacharya was a philosopher, saint, statesman, empire maker and a scholar. He wrote many philosophical works, the most famous of which are the Sarva Darshana Sangraha and the Parasara Madhaviya.
In the Sarva Darshana Sangraha, Madhavacharya examines and refutes 15 different systems of philosophies, asserting the supremacy of Sri Shankara’s Advaita. He starts from Charvaka philosophy, proceeds to Buddhism, Jainism and proceeds on gradually to Sankhya and Yoga. He builds on all these and presents Advaita as the culmination of all the philosophical schools, the one ultimate truth.
Madhavacharya also wrote a commentary on Mimamsa Sutras while his younger brother wrote a commentary on the Rig Veda and dedicated it to Madhavacharya.
His Role as a Saint and Statesman
Madhavacharya became the 12th Jagadguru of the Sharada Peetam at Sringeri as Sri Vidyaranya. He was a contemporary and a friend of the great Vishishtadhvaitha saint and scholar Sri Vedanta Desika, whose original name was Venkatanatha. It is believed that Madhavacharya and Venkatanatha studied at the same Gurukula and became lifelong friends.
The Muslim Invasions
During this time, the Muslim sultanate from the North began to make incursions into South India. The expeditions led by Malik Kafur were brutal and destructive. Vidyaranya saw and heard about the atrocities committed by the invading army and their wanton destruction of Hindu temples and monuments.
The famous Ranganatha temple at Srirangam was attacked and the idol was mutilated but fortunately, at the suggestion of Venkatanatha, the original idol had been concealed and most of the valuable temple jewels were hidden before the Muslim armies descended on the town and plundered and looted the temple.
When Vidyaranya heard of the plight of Srirangam, he was greatly angered and saddened. He decided that what was needed was a strong Hindu Empire that could resist the advances of the Muslim invaders.
The Rise of the Vijayanagara Empire
An opportunity to establish such an empire came to him in the form of two brothers, Harihara and Bukka, who were descendants of the Hoysala dynasty. They had been captured by the Delhi Sultan and forced to work for him. But they had managed to free themselves and had carved out a small kingdom near the Tungabhadra River.
Vidyaranya realized that these two were the people with whom he could establish a Hindu fort against invaders from the North. He helped them establish the Vijayanagara Empire. The brothers named their capital Vidyanagara in honor of Sri Vidyaranya, but it later came to be known as Vijayanagara.
It is said that Sri Vidyaranya served as the prime minister to three successive kings of this kingdom that he helped establish, and laid a strong foundation to one of the greatest and final Hindu Empires in South India.
Vidyaranya was a Saint and Scholar who also had a pragmatic vision of the society and its needs. The 14th century was a period of turmoil in the history of South India, with no great kingdom left to protect the people against invasions from the Islamic rulers who had overrun North India long ago.
He decided that decisive action was the necessity of the moment, and so took an active part in politics and helped establish the Vijayanagara Empire, which went on to establish a golden period in the annals of Indian history, and he will forever be remembered for his contribution.