Sri Vidyaranya: The saint who saved Hindu religion

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By Nithin Sridhar

Guru Poornima special- Part 5

Vijayanagara Empire stood as a bulwark for 310 years (between 1336 CE and 1646 CE) against the Islamic invasion of South India.

The purpose of its foundation was to save South India from the conquest of Islamic rulers to save Hindu religion, culture and learning and help them to flourish, according to Dr. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, an Indian historian and academician.(1)

The inspiration and the driving force behind the establishment of Vijayanagara Empire by Harihara I and Bukkaraya was Sri Vidyaranya.

Therefore, the fifth installment of the Guru Poornima series is dedicated to Sri Vidyaranya.

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His Life: No definite information is available about the date of his birth, but what is definitely known is that he was the 12th Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peetham(2) from 1380 CE to 1386 CE when he left his body, and his pre-monastic name was Madhava.

According the traditional account as accepted by Sringeri Peetham(3), he was born in present day Warangal, Andra Pradesh and was the elder brother of Sri BharatiTirtha who became the 11th Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peetham in 1333CE and occupied that position till his Samadhi (i.e. left his body) in 1380 CE.

The tradition holds that Sri Vidyaranya took Sannyasa (renunciation) in 1331 AD from Sri Vidya Tirtha, the 10th Shankaracharya of Sringeri. Therefore, according to the traditional account, both the brothers had the same Guru, but the younger brother took renunciation earlier and hence, he succeeded his Guru as 11th Shankaracharya, whereas Sri Vidyaranya became 12th Shankaracharya in 1380 CE.

But some scholars believe that Sri Vidyaranya was none other than Madhavacharya, the elder brother of Sayanacharya; both of whom were ministers in Vijayanagara court. According to this view, Madhavacharya served in the court of Harihara I, Bukkaraya and briefly under Harihara II, before he took Sannyasa in 1380 CE and occupied Sringeri Peetham under the monastic name Vidyaranya. The traditional view considers Madhavacharya, who was a minister in Vijayanagara court, and was the brother of Sayana as being different from Sri Vidyaranya.

Ruins of Vijayanagara. Photo Credit:
Ruins of Vijayanagara. Photo Credit:


Founding Vijayanagara Empire (4): The exact accounts of the origins of Vijayanagara Empire is of dispute. But it is largely agreed that Harihara I and Bukkaraya were either chief in Hoysala kingdom or were serving Kakatiya king in Warangal.

When the kingdoms were attacked by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, it is believed that they captured and converted Harihara I and Bukkaraya into Islam and sent them back as vassals. During that time, Sri Vidyaranya was staying at Matanga Hill and the brothers came there and met him. Under the guidance of Sri Vidyaranya, the brothers returned back to Hinduism and founded the Vijayanagara Empire.

Some consider that these conversions may not have taken place and that the brothers fled the Islamic invasion and took refuge in Sri Vidyaranya. Some accounts even mention that Sri Vidyaranya gave the brothers a large hidden treasure that the saint had discovered.

Irrespective of the accounts, what is clearly known is that Harihara I and Bukkaraya approached Sri Vidyaranya and it was under his inspiration and guidance that they decided to establish the mighty Vijayanagara Empire and managed to revive Hindu religion, culture, arts and crafts.

His Works and Legacy: Sri Vidyaranya has written a number of books on a variety of topics like Meemaamsa, Vedanta, music, Smriti etc. Some of his important works are:

  • Shankara Digvijaya: A biographical account of life of Adi Shankaracharya written in poetical form.
  • Parashara Madhaviya: A commentary on Parashara’s Smriti.
  • Sarvadarshana-Sangraha: A compendium of views of various Hindu schools like Nyaya, Yoga, Samkhya etc.
  • Panchadashi: A very important work on Advaita Vedanta.
  • Jaimini Nyayamala Vistara: A work on Meemaamsa.
  • Sangita Saara: A work on music.
He was one of the most important writers on Advaita in post-Shankara period. His contributions to Advaita like Panchadashi and Jivanmukti-viveka is considered one of the most authentic works on Advaita philosophy.

His works like Parashara Madhaviya,Kala Madhava and Smriti Sangraha are important contributions in the field of Dharma shastras (works on law, polity, duty etc.)

His biography of Adi Shankara is held in high esteem by traditional followers and scholars alike.

In his compendium of various daarshanas (world views), he gives a systematic analysis of various schools of Hindu world view and how each of them is connected to others, inspite of their differences.

Under his guidance, the commentaries on all the Vedas were undertaken and completed by Sayanacarya.

He got many temples built and renovated, and he re-started worship in many temples wherein worship had been suspended.

He was instrumental in building the infrastructure for Sringeri Peetham, which helped the peetham to sustain and spread its dharmic activities for many centuries.

Finally, he was instrumental in the building of Vijayanagara Empire, which resulted in the revival of Hindu religion and practices.


  1. As quoted in Decisive Battles India Lost (326 B. C. to 1803 A. D.) by Jaywant Joglekar (2006).
  2. Sringeri Sharada Peetham in Karnataka is one of the four centers established by Adi Shankaracharya.
  3. The traditional account as accepted by Sringeri Sharada Peetham is briefly mentioned in their official website.
  4. Robert Sewell in his ‘A Forgotten Empire’, narrates many such accounts. Various historians have accepted various narratives.


1. Nyaya: A school of Hindu philosophy that deals with logic and worldview established through logic.

2.Samkhya: A school of Hindu philosophy that proposes a world model based on duality of Purusha and Prakriti.

3. Yoga: A school of Hindu philosophy that deals with practical application of Samkhya philosophy.

4. Advaita Vedanta: It is a Non-dual philosophy based on Upanishads.


More in this segment:

Guru Poornima Special- Part 1

Guru Poornima Special- Part 2

Guru Poornima Special- Part 3

Guru Poornima Special- Part 4