Why did Vyasaraja consecrate 732 temples to Hanuman
Karnataka is home to some of the most eminent saints and they have contributed immensely not only in defending the religion or sect that they belonged to but also pioneered the growth of literature.
In the Madhwa or Dwaitha order, one of the first saints who come to our mind is Madhwacharya. After him came a long line of ascetics and one among them is Vyasaraja or Vyasa Theertha.
Vyasaraja hailed from Bannur near
and he studied under another notable saint of the era-Sripadaraja of Mulabagal. He performed pooje for 12 years continuously at Tirupathi and subsequently settled down at Hampi or Vijayanagar. Mysore
While in Hampi, he consecrated the Yantrodharaka Hanuman at Chakratheertha.
Apart from this temple, he is credited with having consecrated 732 idols of Hanuman mostly in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. A majority of these 732 temples were consecrated in Penukonda in Andhra Pradesh.
Many scholars and historians are yet to unravel the reason behind why this great saint went about with such single minded devotion and consecrated so many temples to a single deity.
Locals of Penukonda where there is a old Vyasaraja math say that Vyasaraja defeated 732 Jain scholars and he installed one statue of Hanuman after each victory against a Jain scholar. While it is true that Jainism had a strong influence in several parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh during the 15th and 16th centuries, this does not appear to be the plausible reason for Vyasaraja to consecrate Hanuman idols. Please remember that Vyasaraja never exulted in his triumphs over any scholar and he treated defeated scholars with kindness and respect. This fact is borne out in his biographies written by a Smartha poet Somanatha and Portueguese accounts. The Adil Shahi accounts also rate Vyasaraja highly and there is an episode when the Adil Shah sultan honoured the saint with a Green umbrella (the symbol of highest respect ). The Bijapur Ambassador to Vijayanagar also speaks highly of the scholastic ability, humility and kindness of Vyasaraja. Would such a person celebrate his victory in this manner, is the question to be asked.
Another and more appropriate reason as to why Vyasaraja consecrated 732 temples can be traced to an earlier avatar of Vyasaraja.
As all of us know, Shankukarna was cursed by Brahma when he delayed bringing flowers from Kishkinda (modern day Hampi and Anegundi) for the pooje. He then took birth as Prahalada. The second avatar was as Bahlika Raja, the third Vyasaraja and the fourth was Raghavendra Swamy.
In his second avatar as Bahlika Raja, he took the side of the Kauravas against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. Historians have roughly traced this destructive war to 3067 BC and it was fought in what is today knows as Haryana.
There are several mentions about Bahlika Pradesh and Bahlika Raja in the Mahabharata. The Bahlika Raja we are referring to here was the brother of Shantanu. He had performed the samarpana of "Kanaka Ratha"(golden chariot) to Pandavas when Yudhistara performed the Rajasuya Yagna. He was known for his righteousness and sense of dharma.
Since he was related to both the Pandavas and the Kauvras, he was present during all the major events that took place in Hastinapur, including the arrival of Kunti with the Pandavas, dice game and planning of the Kurukshetra war.
Bahlika Raja was an expert in Gaada Yudha (mace fight) and he was also among the many commanders of the Kaurava army. Bheesma rated him and his son highly. As he had to side with Bheesma, he had to stand against the Pandavas and also fight them.
As he was an expert mace fighter besides being one of the cpommanders of the Kauvrava Army, he came to be pitted against Bheema, the foremost mace fighter of the time. Bheema was so well known for his way with the mace that even Duryodhana who was equally adept at wielding the mace, ranked Bheema as the greatest mace warrior ahead of such persons as Balarama.
Please remember one thing here. Balhika Raja was a Vaishnava King and the Kurukshetra war brought about a divide between kingdoms, religions and even relatives. A majority of the Vaishnavas joined hands with the Pandavas to fight Duryodhana and his Kaurava army. The only exception perhaps was Balhika Raja.
Bahlika Raja wanted to die at the hands of Bheema. But this chivalrous Pandava said he could kill only in combat and that too in a fair fight. He also said he would not hit the first blow and asked Bahlika to start the fight. Thus Bahkila Raja took on Bheema. Though the result of the battle was a forgone conclusion, we can only surmise that Bahlika either lifted the mace against Bheema 732 times or hit him so many times. In the end, an aged Bahlika fell to Bheema. He was the only Vaishanava that Bheema killed, the rest were all Kshatriyas. To Bheema also goes the credit of killing Duryodhana and all of his brothers.
The last rites of Bahlika were performed by Dritharashtra.
Coming back to the issue, raising weapons against God is a sin and more so against the Pandavas. A repentant Bahlika was born several thousands of years later as Vyasaraja. He perhaps had to wash away the stain of having raised a mace against Bheema, an avatar of Hanuman. He thus consecrated 732 idols of Hanuman in his avatar as Vyasaraja.
Another fact to be noted is that when Vyasraja was born, the Hanuma-Bheema-Madhwa avatar had already taken place. As Bheema or Madhwa could not be worshipped in physical form, Hanuma could have been the obvious choice. But there is another question here. Since Raghavendra Swamy is the next avatar of Vyasaraja, why did he not consecrate so many Hanuman temples. I have so far found that Raghavendra Swamy consecrated only two temples to Hanuman and that his Brindavana faces Anjaneya, while the Brindavana of Vyasaraja which is in Navabrindavana faces Pranadevaru.
An interesting incident worth narrating here is about the Sanchara (tour to propogate one’s religion) of Madhwacharya during the reign of Balban, the Delhi Sultan. When the Acharya reached Kurukshetra with his followers, he dug up the spot where Bheema had buried his huge mace. He also showed them the place where Arjuna had buried his weapons.
This article was written for my sister's blog-Kalpavriksha Kamadhenu. I have posted a copy of that article here.