The redoubtable bhAskararAya was one of the greatest shrauta sacrificers and exponents of the tantra of recent times. He would rank no less than great savants of the mantra shAstra throughout bhArata, through the ages, like amoghavajra and indrabodhi of Kanchipuram, vasugupta, lakshmaNa deshikendra and abhinavagupta of Kashmir, sha~nkara bhagavatpAda of the Chera country, dIpAMkarashriGYAna of Kalinga, mahIdhara dIkShita of Kashi and matsyendra of the icy Himalayas. He was born in Hyderabad in ~1690 as the second son of gambhIraraya and koNamAmbAL of the kaushika gotra [several southerners claim that he belonged to the vaDamA branch of smArtas, while Maharashtrians claim that he was of the Deshasta branch of Maharatti Brahmins. The distinctions amongst the pa~ncha draviDa may have been less pronounced then]. gambhIraraya was an expert of the purANas and epics and had studied the tantras from his uncle nArAyaNan paNditar of our lineage of the bhArgava gotra. The tale goes that gambhIrarAya had fed his wife with the brAhmI plant before his birth to ensure that he would be born bright unlike his dull earlier sons. koNamAmbAL had observed a vrata of sUrya before his birth and he was accordingly named bhAskara. At the age of five he started learning the R^igveda and at seven he stunned the paNdits at a discussion in kAshi with his exposition of the meanings of the R^iks. bhAskararAya then attracted the attention of nR^isimha shAstri, a notable adhvaryu of the taittirIya shAkha from Andhra, who was also a scholar of gaNita and Ayurveda. He went to learn these subjects from him. He also acquired knowledge of the nyAya darShaNa from gangadhara vAjapeyI, a great sacrificer of the kANva branch of the shukla yajurveda (from Thiruvalankadu, Tamil Nadu) and poetics from rukamaNa paNDita. After learning these to revive the dying tradition of the atharva veda he learnt it from his bhArgava uncle and imparted it further to number of other Brahmins. At this point his father suggested that he take up the job of the prime minister of the Turushka chief of Golconda, but nR^isimha shAstri suggested that he rather engage himself in the revival of the Hindu dharma than serve a Turushka. Then he moved to the regions of Shrisailam and collaborated with nR^isimha shAstri’s son svami shAstri to compose an exposition on the significance of the shrauta sacrifice. He also wished to preserve the lore of the tantra, and nR^isimha shAstri suggested that he learn the depths of tantra from shivadatta, a Brahmin of the mAdhya~ndina branch of the shukla yajurveda, who resided at Surat, Gujarat. Impressed by bhAskara’s intelligence, the Maharatta commander, dhanAji jAdhav, gave him a scholarship for this purpose. bhAskararAya went to Gujarat and shivadatta was delighted to impart to him the highest lore of shrividya, in its pristine form as expounded in the great tantras of yore. At this point he encountered a vaiShNava scholar of the mAdhva sect and routed him in the debate. As a result of his victory the mAdhva offered his daughter to bhAskararAya in marriage (then named pArvatI). He initiated her into the tantra shAstra, providing her with the secret name of the initiate.
He then went to Kashi and performed the great soma sacrifices like the jyotiShToma and aindra saptaha. He then married a second wife named Anandi of Thanjavur. He also decided to revive the temples destroyed by the Turushkas in the regions conquered by the Maharattas. Firstly he restored and built the chakrasvamI temple to viShNu in vArAnasi. At the behest of the Maharattas he also consecrated the pANDuranga temple in Maharashtra, while dhanAji jAdhav and his son chandrasenji jAdhav restored the khaNdobA temple at Jejuri. bhAskararAya also built the temple of gambhIranAtha in the Konkan and during the course of his presence in Goa with the invading Maharatta army he composed his great commentary on the vAmakeshvara tantra, known as the setubandha. He constructed a temple in the shape of a 3D Shrichakra, for mahAdevI at Sannati in Karnataka, which was wrested by chandrasenji jAdhav in the second battle of Gulbarga, and restored temples in Chola Nadu. Then sarfoji-I bhosle of Thanjavur offered him an agrahAraM near Kumbhakonam on the upper banks of the Kaveri river. It was named after him as Bhaskararajapuram and his first wife built a temple to rudra and umA in this town while his second wife built a hall for charitable feeding in the region. He also built the temple of vajreshvara at Rameshvaram. He lived most of his remaining life in his agrahAraM and conducted his shrauta sattra with great soma yAgas. chandrasen jAdhav whom bhAskararAya had taught Sanskrit had great regard for him and he bestowed him with great favors when he cured jAdhav’s son of infertility with his herbs.
It is narrated that he used to sit in relaxed pose, with his legs stretched out, as he lecture to his students in the porch of his house on the way to the li~ngasvami temple. A sannyAsi used to pass that way to the temple, but bhAskararAya would not bother to draw his legs back or fall at his feet. One day when bhAskara had gone to the li~ngasvamI temple to chant the rudra sUktaMs during the pradoShaM hour, the sannyAsi yelled at him, and accused him in front of the crowd of insolence in not showing proper respect to a sannyAsi. bhAskara asked the sannyAsi to place his daNDa and kamaNDalu on the ground and he did a namaskAraM before it. It is said that immediately the two objects crumbled to powder, much to the shock of the sannyAsi and the crowd. bhAskara explained that he was a hotar and brahmA, an offerer of soma to indra, and a bearer of the saMhitas, the shrauta prayoga, and the dharma sUtras, as also the tantra, and he was not bound by conventions of a nominal Brahmin. Hence, even sannyAsis and such saints should not expect to receive a namaskaraM from him unless he felt the need to do so.
bhAskara authored 40 books in course of his life, including the great work on the correct tantric worship of gaNapati (with the commentary on the gaNesha saharanAmaM, the text is called khadyota) and the worship of lalitA. His method for drawing the shrichakra is the one commonly used by tAntrics in Tamil Nadu. His works also covered Hindu law- the bodhAyana dharma sUtras, three books of Sanskrit poems, Ayurveda and exposition on vedAnta and nyAya philosophies.
jagannAtha paNDit, a Maharashtrian Brahmin, visited him at Thiruvalankadu and became his student in the later part of his life. bhAskara transmitted to him his great knowledge of the tantra. jagannAtha returned to the Peshva’s court and summed up his master’s teachings in the great Sanskrit work nityotsava. Here jagannAtha provides a detailed account of shrI vidyA upAsana according to the parashurAma kalpa sUtras, including the worship mahAgaNapati and his shakti. His successors also revived the worship of gaNapati in Maharashtra and restored the 8 great gaNapati kshetras. At the end of his life bhAskararAya donated his agrahAraM to the students of the R^igveda. He initiated his student nArAyana devan to continue his teaching in Tamil Nadu, while he sent his son through his second wife to Kashi to take over the teaching at the chakrasvami temple. He then went to Thiruvidaimardur and took samAdhi after meditating on tripurasundari. The bhosle of Thanjavur, the chiefs at Satara and the Peshva of Pune paid their respect to the brahmin who had attained moksha.
NOTE: There are others stories and some variants to the above hagiographic account floating around in Tamil Nadu, including those with exaggerated narratives of his siddhis.