Udupi: Dwaita philosophy, Krishna and beyond ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

I had written about Sri Ramanujacharya and the philosophy of Vishishtha Advaita in a previous article and also about Adi Shankaracharya’s life and the Advaita philosophy in my travelogue on Kalady. On this auspicious day of Guru Purnima (5th July, 2020), I would like to complete this triumvirate, by including Madhvacharya and the Dvaita philosophy that he propounded. The Dvaita Vedanta school believes that God (Vishnu, supreme soul or Paramatman) and the individual souls (jivatman) exist as independent realities and are distinct. Which means that Vishnu (Narayana) is independent, and souls are dependent on him.

When one talks about Madhvacharya, one can’t but help think about the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha. This temple was founded by Sri Madhvacharya (A.D. 1238-1317), who was one of the greatest saints, philosophers, and religious reformers of India.  This holy town of Udupi lies on the Arabian Sea in the South Indian state of Karnataka and is part of Tulu Nadu. The tract of land on the west coast peninsular India comprising the modern districts of South Kanara, Udupi and the coastal belts of North Kanara historically famed as Tulunad – the land of the Tuluvas.

From Gokarna in the north of Tulunad to Subrahmanya in the south is a distance of about 200 miles. Gokarna is in North Kanara while Udupi, Subrahmanya, Kumbhasi, Koteswar, Shankaranarayana and Kollur are in South Kanara. There are several theories on how Udupi got its name but the popular reason given is that the original Sanskrit name is derived from uDupa (uDu ‘star’ + pa ‘lord’). The lord of the stars is supposed to be the moon and since there is an ancient temple of Chandramaulishwara in Udupi, the place may have been known by the name Udupi, after its ancient deity.

Tulunadu in Karnataka (not to scale)

There is much to see in this little town, including the adjoining college town of Manipal. But by far, my favourite is the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha. Even before the Sri Krishna Matha was established the town had the Chandramoulishwara temple and the Anantheshwara temple.

The Udupi Krishna Matha:  

The story of this temple starts with the birth of a child to a couple called Narayana Bhatta and his wife Vedavati in a village called Pajakakshetra near Udupi. It was at the annual temple festival at Anantheswara temple a year back that a devotee who seemed to be possessed announced to the crowd of devotees that Lord Vayu, the son of Vishnu would incarnate on the Earth and revive Vedic Dharma. Narayana Bhatta wondered if this child would be born in his home and indeed, in 1238 A D on the auspicious day of Dasara, this child was born and was named as Vasudeva – who later went on to be Madhvacharya, the proponent of Dvaita philosphy. Even as a child, there were incidents that showed that he had a rare spiritual insight and was in the constant quest for the truth. His miraculous powers turned tamarind seeds to gold and he was able to relieve his father of debt.

After Vasudeva’s sacred thread investiture, his father sent him to the Gurukul of a teacher called Tontataillaya. However, Vasudeva was not happy with the explanations of the scriptures and he sought out another learned teacher called Achyutapreksha, where he learnt whatever his guru imparted. Vasudeva had by then decided to take up sanyasa, but waited till his parents had another child. Achyutapreksha then initiated him into sanyasa and Vasudeva was now known as Poornapragna. During the course of debates even Achyutapreksha found his interpretations baffling, but one day he announced that he would be his successor and called him Anan Thirtha. As Anantha Thirtha he wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita and even travelled to Badrikashram.

Back in Udupi, Madhvacharya had a deep desire to build a temple for Lord Krishna. Everyday he would go to the Malpe beach to meditate. One day as he finished composing the Dwadasha stotra, he saw a ship being tossed around in the rough waves. Seeing the fury of the sea, Madhvacharya waved his saffron robes around and the sea calmed down and the ship reached the shore. The ship was travelling all the way from Dwaraka with some merchant aboard, who were so full of gratitude that they wanted to give Madhvacharya a gift. Madhvacharya accepted the gopichandan (a sacred mud), which is supposed to be dear to Lord Krishna. The travellers gave Madhvacharya the block of mud and then were on their way.  Madhvacharya took the lump of mud all the way to the Anantheshwara temple and immersed it in the temple pond. The next moment, from the mud emerged an idol of Lord Krishna holding a butter-churning rod. Madhvacharya was elated that this idol from Dwaraka came to him and it was consecrated in the Matha which is now known as the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha.

The Pushkarani or Temple Pond at the Krishna matha

But where did the idol come from in this state? That is a story in itself. As we know the Krishna was the eighth child of Vasudeva and Devaki. However, due to the circumstances Krishna was raised by Yashoda and Devaki always felt that she had lost out on seeing the childhood of Lord Krishna. Krishna briefly granted Devaki the vision of himself as the mischievous child smeared with butter and Devaki was ecstatic. She wanted the childhood figure to be sculpted with a rope and churning stick which was then executed by the divine architect Vishwakarma.

It is said that Rukmini worshipped this idol in Dwaraka and after Krishna’s ascent to heaven, she gave to Arjuna, the Pandava for safe-keeping. Over time this idol was covered by the Gopichandan mud and was taken on the ship that had set out from Dwaraka and had got caught in the storm – and then you know the rest of the story.

Replica of the Udupi Krishna Idol

Another beautiful story associated with Udupi Krishna is about the poet-saint Kanakadasa. Kanakadasa was a disciple of Vyasathirtha- another Dvaita scholar (also the composer of the popular Kannada bhajan – Krishna nee begane baro) . Vyasathirtha Swami had asked Kanakadasa to visit the Udupi Sri Krishna temple. However, according to the caste system that was prevalent in those times Kanakadasa was denied entry. Kanakadasa was heart-broken and started singing songs beseeching the Lord to give him darshan. A miracle happened when the deity that facing the east turned around to face west so that Kanakadasa could see him through the window that was in the west side. This window known as “Kanakana Kindi”, stands as a testimony to Kanakadaasa’s bhakti.

At the Krishna Matha the daily sevas (offerings to god) and administration are managed by the Ashtha Mathas (eight monasteries). Each of the Ashta Mathas performs temple management activities for two years in a cyclical order. These eight Mathas are Pejavar, Puttige, Palimaru, Adamaru, Sodhe, Kaniyooru, Shirur and Krishnapura Matha.

The followers of Madhwacharya are known as Madhwas.

shops outside the Krishna Temple

Other places to visit near Udupi/ Manipal

  • Anantheswar Temple : The significance of the temple is discussed above. It was built during the reign of the Alupa or Alva dynasty in the 8th century C.E. and is considered among the oldest in the Tulu Nadu region. In an inscription dated 1357 C.E. the temple’s deity is referred to as Mahadeva of Udupi.
  • Yoga Narasimha Temple in Eshwar Nagar, Manipal – This is quaint temple of Lord Narahari tucked away in a quiet valley with a beautiful spring and is a mere 4 kms from Tiger circle, the central point of Manipal. The deity is more than 1200 years old and is the ONLY smiling deity of Lord Narahari! It is located in extremely tranquil surroundings.  It is run by a sect called Māyāwādis.
  •  Hanging (Suspension) Bridge:  The Suspension Bridge is famous among Manipal University students and worth a trip. The area around is absolutely verdant and peaceful.
  • St. Mary’s Island:  Situated in front of Malpe Beach, St. Mary’s Island offers tropical feeling with beautiful beaches. You can drive or take a bus to Malpe Harbour. There you can buy tickets for the ferry to St. Marys Island The last ferry back to Malpe Harbour leaves at 5 pm.
St Mary’s Island
  • Udupi Cuisine: The Udupi cuisine is also not to be missed. According to historian P. Thankappan Nair, dosa originated in the Udupi. Manipal has a great variety of restaurants that cater to every palate.

The Mitra Samaj lunch home is an iconic restaurant in the Sri Krishna temple complex that a visitor must visit. It offers a menu of idlis, dosas, vada, pineapple ksheera and upma. In addition, you can also try out the unique Mangalore buns and Goli Bajjis. It is run by the Holla family since 1949.

Mitra Samaj, Udupi
The famous ‘Gadbad’ ice cream
  • Udupi handloom sarees: The Udupi handloom sector that was facing a difficult times has now got a fillip. This saree originated in 1800s and is now G I tagged.

How to reach Udupi:

  1. We drove from Bangalore to Udupi which is nearly 403 kilometres and we took an average of 8. 5 hours to 9 hours. Depending on the roads the ghat section, the drive can slow you down but it is a picturesque drive all the way.

2. Or you can fly to Mangalore and then drive to Udupi.

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