It is said that a debate took place between Sri Vidyaranya of Sankara tradition and Sri Akshobhya Teertha of Madhwa sampradaya and Sri Vedanta Desikan declared Sri Akshobhya as a winner. Is it true ?
Yes, Vidyaranya (Advaitin Scholar and brother of famous Sayanacharya) was defeated by Akshobhya Tirtha (Dwaita Scholar) in famous debate moderated by Vedanta Deshikacharya (Sri Vaishnava scholar founder of Vadakalai sect).
In the year 1336 AD., Sri Akshobhya Tirtha had a scholarly disputation with Sri Vidyaranya on the interpretation of the "Tatvam-asi" ("You are the same as" or "I am that") 'Shruthi' text. The extensive and elaborate and sometimes acrimonious arguments were exchanged in the presence of Sri Vedantha Deshika who was chosen by both as an arbitrator. Another tradition says that all the arguments were literally written down and then sent to Sri Vedantha Deshika whose verdict was in favour of Sri Akshobhya Tirtha. The epigraphic evidence of this historic victory is on a commemorative pillar of victory on a hill near Mulubagal that can be seen even today.
More evidence from same source.
Sripad Akshobhya Tirtha's victory over Vidyaranya has been recorded in Jaya Tirtha Vijaya of Sripad Vyasa Tirtha, and in the Raghavendra Vijay (17th century) as well as in the Vishisthadvaitin (Sri Vaishnava) work Acarya Vijayachampu, and the epigraphic evidence carved in a pillar of stone at Mulbagal.(BNK Sharma.1961. History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta. page 230.)
Jayateertharu, the very next disciple of Shri Akshobhya teertharu had written a book named"Guru vandana", where he writes history, important aspects, his victories etc. But he never mention victory over Vidyaranya. 400 years some Chalaari Sankarshanaacharya created this false & concocted story. It is well developed by many Madhwaas afterwards.
No. Apparently there was a Avaidika Vidyaranya who is often confused with Vidyaranya, the Advaita Acharya.
The research article establishes the differences between Vidyaranya the acharya and the avaidika vidyaranya by way of antecendents as well as the vedic validity of each's ideologies thus attempting to understand the epithet "avaidika". The avaidika nature of the latter's belief system is studied and there is also scholarly opinion that some of it has been deliberately conflated by Ramanujacharya and Yamunacharya.
"Mr. Hanumatha Rao quotes from David Lorenzen’s book that both Rāmānuja and his preceptor Yāmunāchārya have ‘purposely’ superimposed the immoral practices of Pāshupata sect over Kālamukha sect and have caused a great distortion about the latter sect. "
The article also argues that Vedanta Desika who purpotedly refereed the argument was also not part of the scene and is a case of mistaken identity.
It must be noted that this story has been picked up by the Madhva writers of our time only.
Many other Shrivaishnava texts are silent on this achievement of Vedanta Deshika.
the entire Haridasa Sahitya is silent about the whole incident let alone taking the name of Vedanta Deshika as the Judge.
Hence I am of the opinion that the claim made by Srinivasa Surin in his “Vedanta Deshika Vaibhava Prakashika” has something to do with his personal aberration with Advaitins and particularly with the successors of Vidyaranya at Hampi Virupaksha Matha.