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Home » Religion Articles > Sanathana Dharma > Sri Ramanuja - The first Revolutionist !
Sri Ramanuja, His life before & after "Sanyasam" (Sainthood)
The following article was written by Sri. S. Sriraman, (of 26/9, Promenade Rd., Trichy) who last held the position of Director of Secretariat of Industrial approvals, in the Ministry of Industries, Govt. of India. Born in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, he traveled widely across India and the world. He was an avid reader of Indian history, religion, and mythology. He endeavored to bring out aspects of these in a series of interesting "letters to the next generations", some of which are featured here.
All the three
are letters written by him to his grandson Chi. Gokul which
is now being reproduced in the formation of article.
The first two part below consists of the history of Sri Ramanuja, His life before and after becoming a sanayasi and the third, history of Swami Vedanta Desikan.
“It is a matter of content that a few instances from the lives of Sri Nadamuni and his grandson Sri Yamunacharya (also known as Alavandar) and added that Sri Ramanuja as the successor to Sri Alavandar took charge of the administration of the Srirangam temple".
Alavandar had a disciple known as Srisailapuranar who took the permission of his
Guru to settle down at Tirumalai hills to
serve the Lord of the Seven Hills.
In due course, he came to be known as
Thirumalai Nambi. He had two
sisters Kanthimathi married to Asuri
Kesava Somayaji at Sriperumbudur and
Sridevi married to Mazhalaimangalam Nayana Bhattar.
In 1017 AD, a son was born to Kanthimathi and Somayaji in the month of Chithrai, Sukhla paksha Panchami, the ruling Star being Thiruvathirai. On hearing about the birth of his nephew, Thirumalai Nambi went from Tirupathi to Sriperumbudur and named the child as Ramanujan (meaning younger brother of Sri Rama). It was a very apt name as it was later believed that Sri Ramanuja, like Sri Lakshmana, was. an avatar of Sri Adisesha.
One may have heard of electronic equipment being two- in- one or three- in-one. Adisesha serves Lord Vishnu in the manner of a seven-in-one facility, namely, as umbrella when the Lord walks, as His throne while He sits, as tree shade when He stands, as His couch and sofa for His comfort and as glowing light in the wide ocean of milk.This has been beautifully described by Poihaialvar in a pasuram in Mudal Thiruvandati:
Chendral Kudaiyam irundal simhasanamam
nindral maravadiyam neel kadalul endrum
punaiya mani vilakkam poompattam pulkum
stanza is one of the few prescribed for daily recital in Vaishnavite homes
Sri Adisesha did yet another service to Lord Vishnu by taking birth as Ramanuja. (Incidentally, today is Ramanuja Jayanthi; it is also Sankara Jayanthi.) Kanthimathi’s sister Sridevi also gave birth to a son who was named by Tirumalai Nambi as Govindan.
Somayyaji had a close and intimate friend called Tirukachi Nambi who was
living at Poonamallee
and who used to travel to
Kancheepuram for worshipping Sri Varadaraja Swami, taking rest on the way at
Sriperumbudur in the house of Somayaji.
As Ramanuja grew, his
admiration and affection for Tirukachi Nambi also grew and the latter became his
friend, philosopher and guide, notwithstanding the difference in age.
due course Somayaji performed his son’s upanayanam and Ramanuja learnt Vedas
and sastras at the foot of his father and attained
mastery by the time he was fourteen. His
parents got him married to Thanchammal hailing from an orthodox family.
passed away soon and Ramanuja at the age of sixteen shifted with his mother
and wife to Kancheepuram where he wanted to pursue his studies under an
able Guru. Kancheepuram had the
added attraction of being close to Tirukachinambi.
As the latter belonged to the community of vaisyas, Thanchammal’s
orthodox upbringing did not
allow her to relish her husband’s close association with him.
settling down at Kancheepuram Ramanuja got himself admitted as a scholar under a
learned and well known guru, Sri Yadavaprakasa who was a staunch believer in
advaita philosophy. His Cousin
Govindan also joined the same teacher.
day Sri Yadavaprakasa was commenting on the Upanishad quotation, “Satyam
gnanam anantham brahma,” saying that
satyam, gnanam, anantham are the same as brahmam.
Sri Ramanuja submitted that while satyam, gnanam, anantham could be the attributes
of brahmam, they
could not be said to be brahmam itself, just as sweetness could be only a
quality of sugar and not sugar
itself. As a staunch follower of Advaita
school of thought which had at its bedrock a nirguna brahmam, the Guru could not
digest Ramanuja’s interpretation.He was naturally very much annoyed with his
another occasion, Yadavaprakasa was
annotating the Upanishad quotation, “thasya
yatha kapyasam pundarikam evam
Akshina” describing the eyes of the Lord Almighty.
The Guru explained that the Lord’s
eyes were like lotus flowers which were as red as the anus of a monkey.
(According to him kapi meant monkey and asam meant anus.) This
was heresy to Ramanuja who started shedding tears.
The Guru asked him what was wrong. Ramanuja
said that the Lord’s eyes could not have been compared to such a lowly part of
animal anatomy. The Guru retorted
that Sri Sankaracharya himself has interpreted the phrase like that.
Ramanuja replied that Sri Sankara has said so in a different context and
not in the context of comparing Bhagwan’s
eyes. The Guru’s anger knew no bounds and he challenged Ramanuja to give the
meaning himself. Ramanuja said that kapi
also meant the sun whose rays made the water evaporate
pundarikam meant lotus blossomed by sun’s rays.
As he saw the admiring and appreciative
glances from the other students for this interpretation, the Guru was
stupefied and he asked Ramanuja to get out.
held consultations with some of his students close to him.
He told them that Ramanuja was developing into an enemy of
advaita school. A plan was
hatched. Accordingly the Guru
announced a pilgrimage to Kasi in North India.
Their plan was to get rid of Ramanuja on the way and tell the people that
he was drowned in the Ganges. While
the group was in the midst of the thick forests of
Central India, Govindan got wind of the conspiracy and told Ramanuja to
run away from the group. Ramanuja
soon disappeared from the group and
the Guru and his disciples thought he might have lost his way somewhere and must
have been devoured by wild animals.
lost his way in the forests no doubt. Night
came and he did not know where to go. Tired
and hungry, he took shelter under a tree and slept.
When he woke up, he saw a hunter and his wife who inquired about him.
Ramanuja told them he was back on his way to Kancheepuram and that he did not
know how to proceed.
The couple told him they were also bound for the Southern region and they
could all start their journey in the morning.
When it dawned, he heard the hunter’s wife demanding water to drink.
Ramanuja offered to go and fetch water.
He found a well and brought water from there. When he came back to where
the hunter couple were staying they
had already disappeared. With the arrival of
early morning sun’s rays, Ramanuja saw familiar sights at a distance.
He saw the gopuram of
Kanchee temple at a short
distance and realised that he was already close to Kancheepuram by Divine
interference. He realised that the hunter’s wife was none other than the
consort of Sri Varadaraja Swami and felt sorry he could not bring in time
the water she had demanded. So
he decided to take water in a pitcher daily from that well to the temple of
Sri Varadaraja for the deity’s oblations.This well is recognised even
today as Salaikkinaru at the outskirts of
mother was overjoyed to see her son back so soon.When he narrated what had
happened, she advised him not to reveal anything
to anyone except Tirukachi Nambi. Ramanuja was learning a lot from Tirukachi
Nambi during the next few months.
Srirangam, the aging
Sri Alavandar was worried over finding a successor for himself.
Some people who had contacts with Kancheepuram
told him that one named Ramanuja was
shaping well to be a worthy successor. Alavandar went to Kancheepuram temple and
had a glance at Ramanuja with an
approving nod within himself but he returned to Srirangam as he wanted to wait
for a more auspicious moment to speak to him. Ramanuja also saw Alavandar at the
temple without knowing who he was.
Yadavaprakasa and his disciples reached Kasi and had their holy dip into the
Ganges, Govindan came up from the
water with a lingam in his hand. He
was advised to worship the lingam and stay at Kalahasthi about 50 miles north of
Madras. In due course, Yadavaprakasa
and his other disciples returned to
Kanchi where the Guru found Ramanuja alive much
to his embarrassment. He accepted Ramanuja again as his student, as if nothing
had happened meanwhile.
day, the local Raja sent for Yadavaprakasa to
cure the king’s daughter from hysteria. Yadavaprakasa went to the palace with
his disciples but failed in his attempt to bring back the princess to normalcy.
He then asked Ramanuja to try. Ramanuja
uttered a few Alvar pasurams and lo! the princess became a cheerful and normal
person again. When the King
attempted to lavish praise and gifts on Ramanuja, the latter declined
them politely. This incident infuriated Yadavaprakasa and made him
intolerant of Ramanuja’s very
presence.The Guru angrily disowned Ramanuja as his student.
as per the advice of his mother, Ramanuja continued to learn from Tirukachi
Nambi and also continued to bring water for the temple
daily from Salaikinaru.
Srirangam the health of Sri
Alavandar was deteriorating. Some
of his principal disciples like
Periya Nambi, Thirukoshtiyur Nambi and Thiruvaranga Perumal Araiyar (his son)
were worried and decided to send Periya Nambi to Kancheepuram to fetch
Sri Ramanuja so that he could get upadesam from Alavandar before it was too
late. Accordingly, Periya Nambi
reached Kanchee temple one early morning and was reciting the slokas from the
Stotra Ratna of Alavandar. Ramanuja
who had just returned from Salaikkinaru
with a pitcher of water
was enchanted by these slokas and inquired from Periya Nambi who was the
author of these slokas. On hearing
that it was none other than Sri Alavandar, Ramanuja’s desire to see the latter
increased several-fold. On further
hearing that Alavandar was not well, he left for Srirangam immediately with
Periya Nambi. As they approached
Srirangam, they saw a big crowd at the bank of the Cauvery.
They soon realised the crowd had assembled there to bid farewell to
Alavandar who had just passed away. Ramanuja
was crestfallen. He could not see is
manasika guru alive.
saw three fingers of Alavandar were folded.
A close disciple explained that the departed soul had three unfulfilled
to write a commentary to Brahma Sutra
as per visishtadwaita philosophy;
(2) to name one of the children of his disciples as Parasarar (his father’s
name); and to locate correct
annotations to Nammalvar’s Thiruvoimozhi.
Sri Ramanuja declared that with the grace of Lord Ranganatha he would
attempt to fulfill these desires. The
three fingers of
Alavandar’s body came back immediately
to normal position. Ramanuja returned to Kancheepuram without going to
Sri Ranganatha’s temple.
return he continued his studies with Thirukachhi Nambi.
One day Ramanuja invited Thirukachi Nambi for a meal in his house.
The latter agreed but came when Ramanuja happened to be
away on a small errand. His
wife made Thirukachhi Nambi sit outside the main hall of their house and after
serving him food and sending him away, she took bath as she thought she should
purify herself having cleaned
the place where a vysya had taken food. It
was all over by the time Ramanuja returned home.
He felt greatly offended as
he thought his wife had insulted his guru.
Nambi directed Ramanuja to go to Srirangam and get pancha samaskaram (Samasrayanam)
done by Periya Nambi. Ramanuja
started for Srirangam. At the same time from Srirangam Periya Nambi and his wife
were coming to Kanceepuram with a view to taking back Ramanuja
with them to Srirangam. They
met at Maduranthakam. There
on the banks of the big lake Peria
Nambi did samasrayanam to Sri Ramanuja. The
silver sanku and chakram used for this purpose can be seen even today at the
sannadhi of Ramanuja in the Srirama
temple in Madurantakam. (While
you can see the idol of Sri Ramanuja in all temples wearing the saffron robe of
a sanyasi, in Maduranthakam you can see it adorned by white clothes as a
grihastha as he had not yet become a sanyasi here.)
took Periya Nambi and his wife to Kancheepuram as he wanted to learn Divya
Prabhandam and Vyasa Sutras
from him. He arranged a house
for the couple and looked after their daily needs.
As three-fourths of the course was finished,
his studies were interfered by
his wife sticking to heartless traditional orthodox practices.
One day Ramanuja saw a servant, doing work in his house. very weak and sick. When he ascertained from the servant that the cause of his weakness was for want of food, he asked his wife to serve him with whatever food was available in the house. Ramanuja’s wife said no food was readily available, as she did not want to serve food to a non-Brahmin before they had eaten, as per tradition. The other instance was when Peria Nambi’s wiife and Ramanuja’s wife happened to draw water from the well at the same time and their pitchers collided in the well. Thanjammal scolded Periya Nambi’s wife and picked up a big row saying that she could not use the water polluted by Periiya Nambi’s wife as the latter belonged to a lower sub-sect. Peria Nambi and his wiife could not bear this insult and they left Kancheepuram immediately without telling Ramanuja, as they did not want to complain against Thanjammal. When Ramanuja returned home and ascertained what had happened, his fury knew no bounds .and totally alienated him from his wife. When Thanjammal left for her father’s house to help him perform her sister’s marriage. Ramanuja availed himself of this opportunity to leave the house and became a sanyasi (Saint).
the above, you would have noticed a few
strong traits of character in Sri Ramanuja from the incidents relating to his
early days. Although he had great respect for his Guru, Sri Yadava Prakasa, that
did not deter him from pointing out what he thought were erroneous
interpretations of his Acharya. This
courage of conviction at such a young age showed signs of his growing as a
reliable spiritual leader. His
compassion for human suffering came out when he asked his wife to give food to a
starving servant, even before the family members ate. His seeking upadesam from
Sri Thirukachi Nambi (who belonged to a so-called lower caste) showed that he
attached more importance to knowledge and learning than caste hierarchy.
becoming a Sanyasi, Sri Ramanuja Mamuni, as he was then known, started giving
discourses on spiritual affairs and the mutt where he was staying at
Kancheepuram became popular as Yathiraja Mutt (abode of the king of sanyasis.)
The crowd visiting the mutt began to swell day by day. A large number of
persons thronged to come under his tutelage.
of the disciples who soon joined him at Kancheepuram were quite important. His
own sister’s son Dasarathy by name requested Sri Ramanuja Mamuni to take him
as a disciple. Sri Ramanuja accepted him and gave him the name “Mudaliyandan”………………….”
was a rich Chieftain at Kooram called Thiru Maru Marban. He was greatly
attracted by Ramanuja Muni’s teachings and shunning his riches he joined the
Yathiraja Mutt under the name of Koorathu Azhvar along with his wife Andal who
was also allowed to serve in the Mutt.
Sri Ramanuja Muni went, Mudaliyandan and Koorathu Azhvar always flanked him and
the trio became a familiar sight in Kancheepuram.
The third important disciple was none other than Sri Yadavaprakasa (once
guru of Sri Ramanuja himself). Advised
by his mother, who had great faith in Sri Ramanuja, the guru sought shelter in
the Mutt and took sanyasam from his own former disciple.
His new name was Govinda Jeeyar and as requested by Sri Ramanuja he wrote
a treatise “Yathi Dharma Samuchayam”.
Sri Alavandar’s disciples at Srirangam were becoming restive. They felt they
were like a rudderless boat after Alavandar’s demise. They decided that Sri
Ramanuja should be brought to Srirangam by hook or crook. A plan was hatched.
Perumal Araiyar (son of Sri Alavandar) was instructed to proceed to Kancheepuram
and attract the attention of all by his mellifluous singing of Prabhandam with
abhinayam. When the assembly at
Kancheepuram was pleased to offer anything, which he desired as reward, he
demanded that Sri Ramanuja should be allowed to go with him to Srirangam and
take the place of Alavandar. The
trick worked. Notwithstanding his great attachment to Sri Varadarajaswami of
Kanchee temple and his affection and regard for Thirukachi Nambi, Sri Ramanuja
had to leave for Srirangam in response to the decision of the Kancheepuram
reached Srirangam with Mudaliyandan and Koorathazhvan led by Perumal Araiyar.
Peria Nambi and others received the party with temple honours at the
outskirts. After a holy dip in the Cauvery, Ramanuja entered the Srirangam
Temple with remorse on his part for not having had the darshan of Lord
Ranganatha when he visited the town last time to meet Sri Alavandar.
Ramanuja was simply bewitched by the very first sight of Lord Ranganatha. He was
declared as the head of the temple administration and also the leader of
Vaishnavites. The first step taken by Ramanuja was to regulate the day to day
affairs of the temple. He wrote and brought into force a manual called Koil
Ozhuku setting out in detail how the daily poojas and utsavams throughout
the year should be conducted and how the supporting services should be organised.
Till today, after nearly thousand years, this is being strictly observed
in Sri Ranganatha temple in Srirangam. This
earned him the title and name of Udaiyavar.
saw to it that the hymns of Azhvars were regularly sung in the temple as part of
the Pooja Kramam and Utsavams. Seeing
this, other Vaishnava temples in Tamil Nadu followed suit in this respect.
This was a great service rendered by Sri Ramanuja to Azhvars, their Tamil
hymns and also to the common people who could understand Tamil pasurams more
easily than Sanskrit verses. (A forerunner to what was done later by Goswami
Tulsidasji who wrote Srimad Ramayana in Hindi for the benefit of the common
had always at the back of his mind his promise to Sri Alavandar to write a
commentary to Brahma Sutras. When
he was consulting Periya Nambi on this, the latter advised him to go to Thiru
Koshtiyur to receive guidance from Sri Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi who was one of the
disciples of Sri Alavandar and who could possibly give him a Mahamantra.
proceeded Thiru Koshtiyur with Mudaliyandan and Koorathazhvar. After as many as
18 visits to Sri Thiru Koshtiyur Nambi, the latter relented and asked him to
come alone, only with his
dandam (staff) and Pavithram, to receive the mantra.
Ramanuja appeared promptly with Mudaliyandan and Koorathazhvar.
When the Guru protested against the presence of the two disciples,
Ramanuja explained that Mudaliyandan was his dandam and Koorathazhvan was his
pavithram. The Guru taught the trio
the holy eight-lettered mantra (Astaksharamantra), “Om
Namo Narayana” and its inner
meaning. He took a promise from the
three recipients of the holy mantra that they would not reveal it anyone else.
Sri Ramanuja came out and walked towards the temple, his gaze fell upon the
large number of people around the area and a thought occurred to him.
He asked both his disciples to collect all the people near the tall
compound wall of the temple. He then
climbed the wall and from atop the wall he shouted to the crowd below asking
them to repeat thrice a mantra, which he recited. Ramanuja cried aloud “Om Namo Narayana”,
and the crowd repeated it in chorus. When
this was done for three times, Ramanuja explained to them that this mantra would
rid them of their bondage of past karma and pave the way to Heaven.
realising that he had not kept his promise to his Guru, Ramanuja went to Thiru
Koshtiyur Nambi and begged his pardon. The
Guru asked what he gained by revealing the secret to the public.Ramanuja replied
am certain to reach hell for having disobeyed you; but against the loss of one
man so many others have gained heaven.”
The Guru was spellbound by this reply.
Hitherto his concept of spiritual pursuit was towards elevating one’s
own soul but Ramanuja broke that tradition and established that the greatest
spiritual pursuit should be for the welfare of the whole mankind even at the
cost of one’s own life. The Guru
heartily embraced Ramanuja and said that the greatest principle of
Visishtadwaitham has been expounded by Ramanuja who should hence forward be
known as “Emperumanar”
was worried over his cousin Govindan who was in Kalahasthi.
He sent a communication to his uncle Thirumalai Nambi at Tirupathi to win
him back to Vaishnavism. After some time, he heard that this had been achieved
and Govindan had returned to Tirupathi and was learning under Thirumalai Nambi.
Ramanuja wanted to see them and also another disciple Ananthazhvan whom he had
earlier deputed to tend the gardens supplying flower garlands to Lord
Venkateswara. So a visit to Tirupathi was arranged.
When he was received by Peria Nambi at the foothills, he said to his
are my elder and Acharya too. You
could have sent a junior person.”
Peria Nambi replied, in humility, that he could not find anyone junior to himself.
He was happy to meet Govindan. They
both listened to Ramayana discourses by Peria Nambi for a year and returned to
Srirangam. Govindan sought sanyasa ashram and Sri Ramanuja gave him the name “Emperumanar”.
Govindan protested he was too junior to bear one of Ramanuja’s names.
So Ramanuja shortened it to “Embar”.
was told that before he attempted to write a commentary to Brahma Sutras, he
should study Bodayana Vriddhi, the only copy of which was available with the
Kashmir Raja. Along with Koorathu Azhvar and a few disciples, Ramanuja went to
Kashmir and met the Raja and told him his purpose. The Pandits in the Durbar
opposed the lending of Bodayana Vriddhi for his perusal.
With great difficulty, Ramanuja obtained the book and left towards South
reading it on the way with Koorathu Azhvar whenever they were taking rest.
The Kashmir Pandits were not reconciled to Ramanuja’s taking away their
book and so they arranged for a few men to follow Ramanuja and waylay him on his
march to the South. When the
Kashmiris overpowered them and took away the book, Ramanuja felt greatly
disappointed. Koorathazhvan came forward and consoled him saying he had already
read the book completely and remembered every word of it.
Ramanuja realised that Koorathazhvan was an eka
chanda grahi, viz., one who can accurately remember whatever he has read
or heard once only.
reaching Srirangam, Ramanuja set about writing the Bhashyam for the Brahma
Sutras in accordance with the tenets of Visishtadvaita for which the seed was
sown by Sri Nathamuni, the sapling was watered by Alavandar and manure was
provided by Azhvar pasurams, particularly those of Nammazhvar.
or the universe consists of three entities, (1) the non-living elements or
matter (achit), (2) the living soul (Jivatma) and (3) God (Paramatma or brahmam).
Under Visishtadvaita, matter, Jivatma and Paramatma are not one and the
same but are interactive or mutually actuated. The
Upanishad vakya “Tat Tvam Asi”(meaning you are that Paramatma) and “aham
brahmasmi” (meaning I am myself is the Paramatma) merely emphasises that
as the Paramatma is within ourselves as antaryami and actuates our body and
soul, the three are not exactly separate
entities. Just as Jivatma is the life
force of the body, Paramatma is the life force of the entire universe.
Paramatma is the supreme soul and all matter and jivatmas constitute
paramatma’s body. Nammalvar’s
words, “Udal misai uyirene karanthu
engum paranthu ulan” forms the quintessence of Visishtadvaita, which
speaks of Paramatma as sariri and the rest as sarira.
Visishtadwaitham is visishtasya advaitam; visishtam
consists of viseshanas
and viseshiyam. (All souls are paramatma’s viseshanas and Paramatma is the
viseshiyam with the viseshanas.)
Ramanuja went about writing his Sri Bhashya to Brahma sutras on the above lines
consistent with Visishtadvaita. Sri
Bhashya also spoke of the auspicious qualities (kalyana
gunas) of Paramatma. Sribhashya
soon came to be recognised as a great work of Sri Ramanuja and was useful to
spread Vaishnavism throughout India. Sri
Ramanuja and his disciples visited holy places all over India and spread the
message of Vaishnavism. Ramanuja came to be popularly known as Bhashyakarar.
fulfilled the second promise he gave to Alavandar by naming one of the twin
children of Koorathazhvan as Parasaran (the name of Alavandar’s father).
By way of fulfilling the third promise about locating proper commentaries
on Nammalwar’s Thiruvoimozhi, Ramanuja himself learnt the pasurams from
learned persons like Peria Nambi, Thirumalaiyandan etc., and he himself gave
discourses on them at Divya Kshetras and other shrines, which he visited in due
course. He earned the name of Thiruppavai Jeer for his adoration of Andal’s
rising popularity of Sri Ramanuja and the spread of Visishtadwaitham naturally
created a flutter in the political arena of the then Chola Nadu.
The Chola King was a saivite and his courtiers sounded a warning to the
king. A minister, Naalooran by name,
advised the King that if Sri Ramanuja could be made to sign a statement that
there was no God superior to Shiva, the rise of Vaishnavism could be stemmed.
The King sent a few soldiers to Srirangam to bring Ramanuja to the
Durbar. Koorathazhvar got wind of
these proceedings and he decided to save Ramanuja.
morning, as Sri Ramanuja was taking bath in the Cauvery and Koorathazhvar was on
the bank looking after Ramanuja’s robes, he sighted the King’s soldiers
approaching them. He had a quick
consultation with Peria Nambi standing by and then wore the robes of Sri
Ramanuja The soldiers mistook Koorathazhvar as Ramanuja and took him away along
with Peria Nambi also. When Ramanuja
came ashore, the other disciples told him what had happened and urged Ramanuja
to leave Srirangam immediately to a safer place.
Though he resisted the suggestion, finally he was persuaded and with a
few trusted disciples, Ramanuja left Srirangam and crossed the Western border of
Chola Nadu and reached the hills beyond which lay the present Karnataka State.
When Ramanuja reached Saligramam, he got a disciple called Vaduga Nambi.
Ramanuja won the loyalty of the Jain King of Tondanur Vittala Devan and
as a result the King and his subjects embraced Vaishnavism.
Ramanuja got a dam built in Tondanur and the big Tondanur Lake that took
shape is serving the needs of the area even now after nearly thousand years.
found a stone vigraha of Lord Vishnu in the forests and constructed a temple for
it at Thirunarayanapuram (also known
as Melkote) near Mandya in Mysore. He was told the Muslim soldiers who had
invaded the place had taken the utsava vigraha to Delhi.
Ramanuja went to Delhi and retrieved the utsava vigraha, which he called
Sampath Kumara (Selva Pillai). When
certain people attacked Ramanuja’s group returning with the vigraha in the
forests, the Harijans living nearby came around, fought against the marauders
and helped Ramanuja to save the vigraha. A grateful Ramanuja called them
Kulathore” and made an announcement that they were allowed always to
enter the temple and worship Sampath Kumara. Thus Thirunarayanapuram (Melkote)
temple was the first wherein Harijans were allowed and Ramanuja was the first
person who took the revolutionary step of admitting them into the temple.
Ramanuja stayed in Thirunarayanapuram for twelve years and thereafter the
disciples advised him to return to Srirangam, as it had become safe due to the
demise of the inimical Chola King. On
return to Srirangam, Ramanuja was sad to know that Koorathazhvar and Peria Nambi
had been blinded by the King and Peria Nambi had since died; his grief knew no
bounds when Koorathazhvan also passed away after some time. His only consolation
was that Koorathazhvan’s son whom Ramanuja named as Parasaran (Alavandar’s
father’s name) was shaping into a very knowledgeable and lovable pillar of
Vaishnavism. (He became famous as
Parasara Bhattar in due course.)
Ramanuja’s Sathabhishekam (centenary) was celebrated in a grand scale at
Srirangam in the year 1117 AD. He
lived up to the ripe age of 120 in 1137 AD.
Three of his vigrahas are popular in Sriperumbudur as thanuganda
meni; in Thirunarayanapuram
Uganda meni and in Srirangam as thanaana
nithyamachutha padambuja yugmarukma vyamohathisthadhi thrinaya mene
asmadguror bhagavathosya dayaigasindho: ramanujasya charanou charanam prapadye
Swami Sri Vedanta Desikan
In this third part, I am attempting to give you the a life sketch of Sri Vedanta Desika who appeared as a bright star on the religious firmament of South India about three centuries after the advent of Sri Ramanuja.
Sri Vedanta Desika was born 730 years ago at Thoopul near Thiruthanha temple of Kancheepuram. His father’s name was Sri Ananthasoori and mother was Thotharamma. As he was born in the constellation of Thiruvonam in the Tamil month of Puratttasi which is the birth day of the Lord of the Seven Hills (Thirupathy) his parents named him as Venkatesan. It is believed that he was born as an amsa of the holy bell in Tirumalai Temple.
As a small boy, Sri Desika used to attend the religious discourses of the famous Nadathur Ammal, along with his maternal uncle Kidambi Appullar. (Nadathur Ammal was taught at Thiruvellarai by Engal Azhvar, a disciple of Sri Ramanuja). Nadathur Ammal was quite impressed by the boy’s personality but due to his advanced age, he instructed Appullar to take special care of Desika’s education. Appullar taught the boy not only the vedas but also Divya Prabandhas besides logic, grammar and sastras. By the time he was twenty, Venkatesan was fully accomplished in spiritual knowledge and also in imparting such knowledge to others in accordance with the tenets of Visishtadwaitha Siddhantha. His parents got him married to Thirumangayar hailing from a noble family, and he started leading the life of a pious grihastha.
Sri Appullar passed away.One of the valuable gifts which he left for Sri Desiika was the padukas used by Sri Ramanujacharya. Sri Desika shifted to Thiruvahindrapuram for worshipping the deity Deivanayakan and consort there, as well as Narasimha on a hillock nearby. He remained here for a long time giving religious discourses to all those who approached him. It is believed that here he got the darshan of Garuda who gave him a vigraha of Sri Hayagriva and the latter also gave him darshan. Sri Desika composed Hayagriva Stotram, Garudapanchasath, Devanayakapanchasath and Achutha-sathakam in Sanskrit and Mummanikkovai and Navamanimaalai in Tamil. (Later, he also got another vigraha of Hayagriva from Apppullar family who got it from Srl Ramanuja.)
Sri Desika desired to worship Sri Varadaraja at Kancheepuram and so shifted to Kanchi. He was continuing his sampradaya pravachanam to his disciples at Kanchi. From Kanchi he went to Thirupathi and worshipped Lord Venkateswara on whom he composed Daya Sathakam invoking the mercy of Lord Venkateswara and his consort. He then undertook a long tour of North India and returned to Kanchi. He was blessed with a son whom he named Varadan.
Vidyaranya who was at that time the Asthana Vidwan of Vijayanagara King was a
boyhood friend of Sri Desika.Hearing
about the growing popularity of Sri
Desika as a religious leader, he sent word asking
Desika to join him in the darbar of
the King promising him rich rewards.
Sri Desika sent a reply consisting of five slokas known as
Vairagya Panchakam saying
that riches of the material world were transient and that the only wealth worth
acquiring is the grace of God ,
Pithrarjitham kinchith Na maya kinchitharjitham
Asthi me hasthisailagre Vasthu
have not inherited any wealth from my father;
nor have I earned any; but on top of
Hasthagiri, I have the wealth left by my grandfather(Brahma);( wealth=
Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal)
Sri Desika then shifted to Srirangam where a large number of disciples joined him through whom he spread Sri Bhagavat Ramanuja Siddhantha. His genius soon blossomed into an astounding volume of stotras and treatises exuding mystic fervour of a very high order sung in praise of the deities at Sriangam, Thirupathi, Kanchipuram Thiruvahindrapuram, etc., thus inspiring devotion and love towards the Archa (idol) form of worship. This earned him the title of Vedanthacharya and Sarvathantra Swanthantra from no less an authority than Lord Ranganatha and his Consort Srirangam elite conferred on him the title of Kavitharkika Simham (Lion among poets). His works included a drama Sankalpa Suryodayam. He also visited a number of Divya Kshetras in South India and returned to Thiruvahindrapuram.
are many anecdotes referring to Sri Desika’s miraculous ability.
At Thiruvahindrapuram, a mason once challenged him to
construct a well to deserve
his title of Sarvathantra Swanthantra.. The
mason gave him bricks of irregular shape to make his task difficult. The beautiful well constructed by Sri Desika exists even today in
Thiruvahindrapuram for darshan by
while at Srirangam, Sri Desika had to meet a challenge to compose thousand slokas during the course of one night in
praise of Lord Ranganatha.
The challenge included a condition that he should sing on that part of
the Lord which was lower than the one selected by another person.
To make it difficult for Sri Desika, the other person announced
that he had selected the feet
of the Lord, the lowest part.
But Swami Desika won the challenge by singing
overnight thousand slokas in
praise of the Lord’s padukas,
titled Paduka Sahasram.These slokas
are the outpourings of piety and devotion of the highest order and even if
considered as pure literature their merit is by no means small.
a poor young man approached Sri Desika saying he had no money to get married.
The Swami took him to the Sannadhi of Sriranganayaki Thayar and sang a
Sthuthi”, at the end of which
gold coins poured down in front of the
young man. With the grace of Sri
Garuda, he subdued the pride of a snake-charmer by controlling his snakes.
Sri Desika once submitted himself to a test under which a sculptor was to make a base and Sri Desika was to make a vigraha of himself. Sri Desika made a beautiful vigraha and the sculptor tried to fix it on the base which he had made, but it would not fit in. The sculptor thought the vigraha needed some mending. When he touched it with his chisel, blood came out of Sri Desika’s body. Horrified at it, the sculptor begged the Swami’s pardon. Sri Desika then rectified the defect in the base and fixed the vigraha on it nicely. This vigraha can be seen even now at Thiruvahindrapuram.
There was a threat to Srirangam temple by Muslim marauders. To save the sanctity of the temple, a wall was raised hiding the moola vigraha and the utsava vigrahas were taken secretly to Thirupathi and kept there for worship. Sri Desika left Srirangam and stayed at Sathyamangalam for some time and then went to Melkote (Thirunarayanapuram). In due course, when the Raja of Senji fought and defeated the marauders, peace was restored at Srirangam. The vigrahas were brought from Thirupathi and reinstalled at Srirangam.
was some opposition to resuming the Thiru Adyayana
Utsavam at Srirangam in the month of margazhi, saying that as the Alvars
were born in different castes, their vigrahas could not be worshipped within the
temple. Sri Desika intervened and
established that service to Alvars
was service to Lord Ranganatha and ensured that the utsavam was conducted
earlier when objection was raised to the recital of Naalayira Prabhandam in front of the deity’s procession
at the temple Utsavams in
Kanchi, Sri Desika intervened and made
all of them realise that the Tamil
Prabhandams were equally sacred and
ensured their regular reciital at all utsavams. Sri Desika’s son Sri
Varadacharya composed a Thanian,
“Sriman Venkada natharya kavitharkika Kesari,
Vedanthacharya varyome sannidhattam
to Sri Desika. The latter agreed to
this being recited at the beginning of Sanskrit slokas.
Similarly one of his disciples Brahmathanthra Swathanthrar composed a
gnana vairagya bhooshanam
Srimad Venkadanatharyam vande Vedantha Desikam”
which was prescribed to be read before Tamil Prabhandam and Tamil stotras. During the troubled times, Sri Desika preserved and taught to his disciples the rare manuscript Sruthaprakasika written by Sri Sudharsana Bhattar as a commentary to Sri Bhashyam.
Besides several works in Sanskrit and Tamil, Sri Desika also composed some treatises in Manipravala (mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil), one of which was Srimad Rahasya Thraya Saram explaining Thathvam, Hitham and Purushartham and giving the meaning of Thirumanthiram, Dwayam and Saramaslokam.
Vedantha Desika lived for more than hundred years.
He gave the Hayagriva Vigraham obtained from Garuda to his disciples to
be installed at Thiruvahindrapuram and he gave the second Hayagriva vigraham to
Brahmathanthra Swathanthrar which can be seen at the Mutt in Mysore even now.
all, he has composed and written 28
Stotras, 4 kavyas, 1 drama, 14 Vedantha Granthas,8 Vyakyana granthas, 2
anushtana granthas, 32 rahasya granthas and 24 Tamil Prabandhas.
The prapatti-marga or Saranagati (nyasa),
i.e. total surrender of one’s sovereignty to the Lord (which
is the quintessence of Visishtadwaita) is woven into the fabric of all
simhaaya kalyaana gunasaalinE
SrimathE VenkatEsaya VEdantha gurave nama:
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