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Dvaita (Devanagari:द्बैत, Kannada:ದ್ವೈತ) (originally called Tattvavada), a school of Vedanta (the most widespread Hindu philosophy) founded by Shri Madhvacharya, stresses a strict distinction between God (Vishnu) and the individual souls (jivas). According to Madhva, souls are not 'created' by God but do, nonetheless, depend on Him for their existence.

Dvaita philosophy

Like Ramanuja, Madhvacharya too espoused a Vaishnava theology that understands Brahman to be endowed with attributes and a personal God, Vishnu. By Brahman, he referred to Vishnu, as per his statement "brahmashabdashcha vishhnaveva" that Brahman can only refer to Vishnu. Madhva states that Vishnu is not just any other deity, but rather the singularly all-important Supreme One. Vishnu is always the primary object of worship with all others regarded subordinate to Him. The deities and other sentient beings are graded among themselves, with Vayu, the god of life, being the highest, and Vishnu eternally above them.

Dvaita or (Indian) Dualistic philosophy is not to be confused with the Western "Dualism" that posits two 'independent' principles. Although Madhva's Dualism acknowledges two principles, it holds one of them (the sentient) rigorously and eternally dependent on the other (Vishnu/God).

Dvaita is also known by various other names: Bheda-vâda, Tattva-vâda and Bimba-pratibimba-vâda. Madhva is known by several other names: Ananda Tîrtha, Purnaprajna, Sarvajnacharya.

Five fundamental, eternal and real differences exist in his system: 1. Between the individual soul (or jîva) and God (Îshvara or Vishnu). 2. Between matter (inanimate, insentient) and God. 3. Among individual souls (jîvas) 4. Between matter and jîva. 5. Among various types of matter. These five differences are said to make up the universe.

Vyasa Tirtha (one of system's eminent disciples) is said to have succinctly captured the basic tenets (nine prameyas) of Madhva's system in a pithy prameya sloka - "SrimanMadhvamate Harih paratarah...", a grasp of which may be deemed a fair and accurate understanding of the fundamental position of this system.

Tharathamya or Hierarchy among Gods

It is in this regard that Dvaita differentiates itself from other Hindu schools of thought.

Vishnu is accorded The Supreme status and Maha lakshmi is His eternal consort. Brahma and Vayu occupy the same next level. Their wives (Saraswati and Bharathi respectively) occupy the next level. Garuda, Sesha, Shiva, Indra, Kama, Surya, Chandra, Varuna, Nala,Ganesh and others occupy the successively lower rungs in this hierarchy.

Madhva propounds that life in the world can be divided into two groups - Kshara and Akshara. Kshara refers to life with destructible bodies while Akshara refers to indestructible bodies. Laxmi is Akshara while others from Brahma and lower are Ksharas or jîvas. Possessing no body, Vishnu is exempt from this classification.

Impact of Dvaita movement

  • Madhva is considered one of the influential theologians in Hindu history. He revitalized a Hindu monotheism despite attacks, theological and physical, by outsiders. Great leaders of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement, in Karnataka, for example, Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa were strong proponents of the Dvaita tradition. Also, the famous Hindu saint, Raghavendra Swami, was a leading figure in the Dvaita tradition.

  • Madhva's theology heavily influenced those of later scholars such as Nimbarka, Vallabha, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. B.N.K. Sharma notes that Nimbarka's theology is a loose réchauffé of Madhva's in its most essential aspects. Vallabha even "borrowed without acknowledgement" a verse from Madhva's `sarva-shAstrArtha-sangraha.' The followers of Caitanya claim a link to Madhva, though such a link is not historically tenable or theologically plausible.

  • Madhva's singular contribution was to offer a new insight and analysis of the classical Vedantic texts — the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahma Sutra, Mahabharata, Pancharatra, and Puranas — and place uncompromising Dvaita thought, which had been ravaged by attacks from Advaita, on a firm footing. Before Madhva, Nondualism was rejected by others such as the Mimamsa tradition of Vedic exegesis, and by the Nyaya tradition of classical logic. However, it was only he who built a cogent, alternative system of Vedantic interpretation that could take on Advaita in full measure.

Comparison to Mainstream Hinduism

A few teachings of Madhvacharya are different from mainstream Hinduism. The first difference is his doctrine of eternal damnation. Generally, Hindus believe in the eventual salvation of every soul. Many of the doctrines in the Dvaita tradition resemble those of strict monotheism that is predominant among followers of Semitic religions. The second difference is of providing a greater role to Bhakti than ascribed to in other schools of Vedanta. Third difference is the reasoned belief in the supremacy of Vishnu over other deities including Shiva and rejecting the popular Hindu concept of Trinity, Trimurti of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. Shiva is worshipped as a subordinate god (deva) by followers of Dvaita. Though this appears intolerant, it is because of the strong monotheistic belief in a non-Impersonal God unlike Advaita for which the identity of God does not matter as it is Nirguna.

Historically, Dvaita scholars have been involved in vigorous debates against other schools of thought, especially Advaita. Whereas Advaita preaches that Atman and Brahman are one and the same, which is not evident to the atman till it comes out of a so-called illusion, Sri Madhvacharya puts forth that Brahman (Vishnu/God) and Atman (soul) are eternally different, with God always the Superior one. It is the same point that Madhvacharya reinforces in one of his doctrines ..."Yadi Namaparo Na bhaveth Sri Hari, khathamasya vasheth Jagathedhabhooth.Yadi Namanathasya Vashe Sakalam, Khatamevathu nithya suknham Na Bhaveth"

The translation of the above is :

"If you feel there is no God, how do you explain as to why you cannot free yourself from the limitations on Earth?If you feel YOU are the one in control of everything (as Advaita preaches that Soul and God are one and the same), then how come you don't enjoy happiness always and are also subject to sorrow and pain (as God is supposed to be an eternity of happiness)? "

See also


  • Deepak Sarma, "An Introduction to Madhva Vedanta," Ashgate, 2003.
  • B.N.K. Sharma, `The History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature', 3rd ed., Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.
  • B.N.K. Sharma, `The Philosophy of Madhvacharya', Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.
  • B.N.K. Sharma, `The Brahma Sutras and Their Principal Commentaries', 3 vols., Munshiram Manoharlal, 1986.
  • -- see especially section on Madhva at and on the nine tenets of his doctrine, at .
  • * Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, by Swami Tapasyananda, available at Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. available at India web site: and US site: and .

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