Friday, February 2, 2007
1–Ramanuja and Sri Vaisnavism
Note: In India there are many schools of Vaisnavism, and they are generally named after the particular founder that initially propounded them. Consequently, there is the Vaisnavism styled after Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Caitanya, Ramananda, Jayadeva, J–anesvara, and so on. Each of these different schools of Vaisnavism has adapted itself to meet the local religious, social and language conditions where it developed. Together these schools form what has been called the bhakti movement of medieval Hinduism. Ramanuja's particular form of Vaisnavism is the oldest of these schools and is often termed Sri Vaisnavism in order to distinguish if from that of Madhva and the other Vaisnava schools.
The story of Ramanujacarya is actually the story Sri Vaisnavism in India. Unlike Madhva or Caitanya, who can justifiably be called the founders of their particular school of Vaisnavism, Ramanuja is not the founder of Sri Vaisnavism. Instead, he is an important member among a great succession of followers that trace themselves to the time of the Rg-veda. The school is known as Sri Vaisnavism because Sridevi, otherwise known as the Goddess Laksmi, is said to be its original propounder. In this system Sridevi holds an important theological position alongside Visnu and together they form the basis of ultimate reality. The descriptive name for the philosophy of Sri Vaisnavism is Visistadvaita.
The development Sri Vaisnavism can be divided into five historical periods: 1) the Vedic period 2) the period of the Agamas 3) the smrtis period 4) the period of the Alvars 5) and the period of the theologians (acaryas) including Sri Ramanuja.
The Vedic Period
Sri Vaisnavas argue that the philosophy, which underpins the Vedas, is monotheism. When the hymns of the Rg-veda address Indra, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, and any other devata, they are not intended for the particular deity, but for a Supreme Being who is the inner soul (antaryamin) for that deity. The various deities addressed in the hymns are simply different "faces" of this one Supreme Being. Despite its polytheistic appearance, the religion of the Vedas is, therefore, fundamentally monotheistic.
The hymns of the Rg-veda not only assert the existence of this one Supreme Being, but also describe the essential characteristics of this Being as the cause of all causes (sarva-karana),  the controller of all (sarva-niyamaka),  as immanent in the heart of every being (antaryamin),  as the ruler of the entire universe,  and as the giver of immortality.  Such a Being is also described as omniscient (sarvajna), omnipotent (sarva-sakta), full of unsurpassed glory (sarvatisayi) and the greatest of all (sarva-mahima).
Above all the deities mentioned in the Vedas, Sri Vaisnavas identify Visnu as the original or prime face of this one Supreme Being, who is the foundation of the world and the gods. They quote numerous verses from the Rg-veda and other Vedic texts to substantiate their position.  Perhaps the most important verse that is cited to establish the supremacy of Visnu above all others is the one that mentions the eternal abode (parama-pada) of Visnu: "As the blazing sun pervades the entire sky like an eye fixed in the heavens, so the divine seers eternally perceive that supreme abode of Visnu."  Other mantras are also cited that identify Visnu as that Supreme Being, including the Purusa-sukta  which is regularly chanted during worship. In this way, Sri Vaisnavas trace their philosophic origins to the earliest Vedic period and assert that Sri Visnu is the foundation of ultimate reality.
The Period of the Agamas
Next to the Vedas there is another set of sacred literatures that Sri Vaisnavas call upon, not so much for their philosophic roots, but more for their religious and ritual importance. These are the Agamas. The date of the Agamas, like the Vedas, is in dispute between traditional and modern scholars and varies from 3000 BC to 800 AD. In general, however, we can safely say that the Agamas fall somewhere between the time of the Vedas and the smrti literatures including the Mahabharata. The Vaisnava Agamas fall under two categories: Vaikanasa and Pancaratra. The Vaikanasa Agamas are derived from the sage Vikhanas, who, with the help of his disciples, was their compiler. Vikhanas claims to have taken his teachings directly from the Vedas. The Pancaratra Agamas claim to be based on the Sukla-yajur-veda (which is no longer extant) and also purports to be of Vedic origin. The Pancaratra Agamas, in particular, are extremely voluminous. The number of texts is in the hundreds, but the most ancient and authoritative Pancaratra texts are the Sattvata, Pauskara and Jayakhya Samhitas.
In general, the Vaisnava Agamas describe Visnu is the Supreme Being and the foundation of all existence. They describe the consecration of sacred images (murti-sthapana), the practice of image worship (murti puja), the building of temples, the observance of specific daily rituals and other festivals in these temples. Because of the emphasis on image worship, many scholars take the view that the Agamas are not Vedic in origin, but are representative of another tradition of ancient India known as the Sattvata or Bhavavatas tradition.  Although there is much debate over this issue, there is little doubt that the Agamas are at least pro-Vedic and have had a major influence on the religious development of Sri Vaisnavism.
The Smrti Period
The next phase of Sri Vaisnava development comes from the later Vedic texts, the so-called smrti texts. These include the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and the Vedanta-sutras. The smrti texts naturally include the Bhagavad-gita, which is a part of the Mahabharata. Sri Vaisnavas consider the Ramayana, the oldest and most authoritative of the smrti texts. The Ramayana describes how Visnu Himself incarnated on earth and played the role of a human being. The text describes the greatness of the Goddess Laksmi through the character of Sita and the devotional attitudes of service and surrender to God illustrated in the characters of Hanuman, Vibhisana, Laksmana and Bharata. For Sri Vaisnava the Ramayana is often called the saranagati-sastra because it best shows the way of surrender to God (prapatti), which is a key feature of Sri Vaisnava philosophy.
Next in prominence comes the Mahabharata, which is considered the encyclopedia of Vaisnava philosophy and religion. In the Mahabharata the single identity of Vasudeva, Narayana, Visnu and Krsna is established. The supremacy of Visnu over other deities including Siva and Brahma is also established. The Bhagavad-gita, as part of the Mahabharata, outlines the principals of karma, jnana, and bhakti yogas and like Ramayana teaches surrender to God (prapatti).
Among the eighteen Puranas, Sri Vaisnavas acknowledge the Visnu-purana as the oldest and most authoritative. For them it presents the basic philosophic and religious foundations of Sri Vaisnavism. Later schools of Vaisnavas lay more emphasis on the Bhagavata-purana instead of the Visnu-purana.
The Period of the Alvars
Sri Vaisnavism does not, however, base its authority solely on the Sanskrit Vedas, Agamas and smrti texts, but also on the Tamil writings of the Alvars. The twelve Alvar saints were born in different parts of south India and appear to span the dates 200 AD to 800 AD. Orthodox tradition, however, places the earliest Alvar saints at 4203 BC and the latest at 2706 BC.
The Alvars were mystic saints who immersed themselves in devotional experiences and expressed their divine experiences in Tamil verses that have been collection into 4000 stanzas call the Divya-prabandha or Divine Hymns. These sacred writings contain rich philosophical and religious material taken from the Upanisads, the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas and are accepted by many Sri Vaisnavas to be on par with the Vedas themselves.
The main teachings of the Alvars assert 1) that Sri Visnu along Sridevi forms the basis of ultimate reality 2) that self-surrender (prapatti) through acts of devotion (bhakti) is the means to attain salvation (moksa) 3) that service to God and godly souls is an essential duty for Vaisnavas 4) and that moksa or salvation from rebirth is the supreme goal of life.
Amongst the 4000 verses of the Divya-prabandha, the 1102 verses attributed to Namma Alvar are often considered the most important and are sometimes called the Tamil Veda. Based on the teaching of the Upanisads, these verses have inspired their own set of commentaries and sub-commentaries and have played a major role in the development of Sri Vaisnavism down to the present day. You may select the following link to hear a sampling of these hymns recorded in Malkote in 1986.
The Period of the Acaryas
The next stage in the development of Sri Vaisnavism brings us to more recent times (1000 AD) and is the development brought about by the acaryas or principal theologians amongst the Sri Vaisnavas. Three principle acaryas are named: Nathamuni, Yamuna and Ramanuja. By the time of the acaryas at the beginning of the ninth century, Sri Vaisnavism had to contend no only with rival philosophic and religious systems that included Buddhists, Jainas, Saivas, Sankhyas, Nyayikas, Vaisesikas, Mimamsa, but also the school of Sankara, advaita-vedanta. In order to defend the teachings of Sri Vaisnavism from these religious and philosophic schools there was an urgent need to consolidate and systematize Sri Vaisnavism as a coherent philosophical system and formal religious organization. This was the work of the acaryas, among which, the works of Ramanuja are the most comprehensive and well known.
Born in 824 AD, Nathamuni is the first of this group of theologians. Unfortunately his works are no longer extant. We only know of them through the references of Ramanuja and his later follower, Vedanta Desika. Nathamuni is most famous for having revived and edited the 4000 hymns of the Alvars. He was the one who arranged them into four sections and introduced their recitations as part of daily temple worship. Nathamuni also appears to have advocated the Alvaric doctrine of prapatti.
The next great acarya is Yamunacarya, who was the grandson of Nathamuni. Yamuna is also known as Alavandar. Born in 916 AD, he produced six major works that outline the principals of visistadvaita. His writings are the first extant works in Sanskrit by a Vaisnava acarya. In his writings he argues for the supremacy of Sri Visnu as the basis of ultimate reality and makes the case for the ontological status of Sri Devi, which in later Sri Vaisnavism became a topic of divisive controversy. Yamunacarya has also argued for the authority of the Agamas and like Nathamuni he promoted the doctrine of self-surrender (prapatti). Yamunacarya's writings are today considered the starting point for Ramanuja's great systemization of visistadvaita.
The Life of Sri Ramanujacarya
Like Madhvacarya, Ramanuja was born during a time when Sankara's advaita-vedanta had become a dominant philosophical force. In Sankara's advaita-vedanta ultimate reality is impersonal and devoid of qualities (nirguna). Advaita-vedanta in effect subordinated the personal God of the Vaisnavas to this impersonal reality. The Alvars and the acaryas, on the other hand, could not accept that ultimate reality was impersonal and devoid of qualities. Ramanuja's mission was, therefore, to diminish Sankara's teaching and to establish, on stronger logical foundations, the philosophy of Sri Vaisnavism. This was done primarily on the basis of the Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita and the Vedanta-sutras.
Ramanuja's biographers inform us that he was born in the village of Sriperumbadur in 1017 AD. (See the photo of the temple established at this site.) Today this village is about 20 km north of Chennai (Madras). See the side map. Ramanuja received his upper level education, together with his cousin Govinda Bhatta, from the Advaitin teacher, Yadava Prakasa. Just prior to studying with Yadava Prakasa, Ramanuja had been married and so it is estimated that he would have been about age 16 at this time.
As with Madhvacarya and his teacher, Ramanuja's biographers describe how he often disagreed with Yadava Prakasa over the interpretation of various Upanisads verses. Yadava Prakasa interpreted the verses in a monastic way, whereas Ramanuja wanted to understand them a devotional way. We are told that the disputes became so intense that Yadava Prakasa apparently plotted to have Ramanuja drowned while on pilgrimage to Allahabad. Apparently Ramanuja's cousin, Govinda, got wind of the plot and allowed Ramanuja to escape unharmed. Later Ramanuja was reconciled with his teacher and resumed his studies.
We are also told how Ramanuja's great learning and objections to Yadava Prakasa monastic views caught the attention of Yamunacarya in Srirangam. Yamuna traveled to Kanci to observe Ramanuja in secret to see if he was fit to become his successor. Evidently Yamuna was pleased with what he saw and decided that Ramanuja should become his successor. Eventually Ramanuja fell-out with Yadava Prakasa and left for good. On hearing of this break-up, Yamuna sent one of his disciples, Mahapurnam, to bring Ramunaja to Srirangam. But as fate would have it, Yamuna died before Ramanuja could reach Srirangam.
It is said that Ramanuja was taken to the body of Yamuna for a final look at the great master when he noticed that three of Yamuna's fingers were folded into the palm of his right hand. On inquiring, Ramanuja was told that the master had three unfulfilled wishes. Ramanuja understood that this was a sign left by Yamuna and pronounced the following three vows. 1) I vow to enter the Vaisnava faith and devote myself to the task of uplifting humanity by teaching the doctrine of surrender to God (prapatti). The first of Yamuna's fingers opened. 2) I vow to collect the teachings of the Vedas and the acaryas into a commentary on the Vedanta-sutras and place the means of salvation within the reach of all. The second of Yamuna's fingers opened. 3) I vow to perpetuate the name of Parasara Muni who, in the Visnu Purana, has revealed the position of God, His relation to the souls of this world and the path of liberation. The final finger of Yamuna opened. His hand was now wide-open.
Ramanuja was soon initiated into Sri Vaisnavism by Mahapura according to the panca-sanskara rites. (Select the link for an explanation of the panca-sanskara ceremony.) Sometime later Ramanuja relinquished his family life and became an ascetic (sannyasi). By this time he was about age 32. Afterwards he sought further initiation from Gosti Purna, another follower of Yamuna. Ramanuja's biographers tell us that it took Ramanuja successive attempts before Gosti Purna would accept him for initiation. In the end Gosti Purna initiated Ramanuja into what was then the most secret and sacred of Vaisnava prayers, the eight syllable (astaksari) mantra: om namo narayanaya. The story goes that immediately after initiation Ramanuja proceeded to climb the temple tower at Tirukkottiyar and call this mantra and the teaching of Gosti Purna out to anyone who would listen. On hearing of this Gosti Purna became furious and condemned Ramanuja to hell. Ramanuja readily accepted, saying that if the sacred teachings of Gosti Purna could elevate everyone to the state of salvation (moksa), he would gladly sacrifice himself. On hearing Ramanuja's explanation Gosti Purna blessed him. He had passed the test.
This point in Ramanuja's life is really the beginning of his long life as a philosopher and preacher within the school of Sri Vaisnavism. He was now 40 and he was to spend the next 80 years preaching and writing Sri Vaisnava philosophy.
Ramanuja's fame quickly spread far and wide. He soon undertook a tour to North India where he visited many the sacred places including Kashi, Kashmir, Badrinath, and even Puri. In Jagannatha Puri we are told how he tried to change the Deity worship from the rituals based on advaita-vedanta to the Vaisnava pancaratra system, but was rejected from the temple for his attempt. On his return to the south he visited Tirupati where he found the Saivas and the Vaisnavas quarrelling with one another over whether the image of God in the Tirupati temple was a form of Siva or Visnu. Ramanuja again intervened in temple affairs and proposed that they should leave it to the Deity Himself to decide. The priests were told to leave the ornaments of both Siva and Visnu at the feet of the image and wait outside all night. In the morning, when they opened the doors, they found that the image was wearing the ornaments of Visnu. This decided that the temple was Vaisnava and it has remained so ever since.
Ramanuja finally returned to Srirangam where he settled permanently and continued to preach and write. Daily hundreds of people flocked to him to hear his lectures. By now he had a following of over 700 sannyasis and thousands of followers, who revered him as their guru. He had converted thousands of people to the path of devotion. He was now seventy years old and what would have been the end of a long career for most people was just the beginning for Ramanuja. He was destined to live many more years.
About this time the Chola king, Kulothunga I, came to power. He turned out to be a ruthless follower of Siva and tried to convert his kingdom to Saivism under the threat of force. When he ordered Ramanuja to subscribe to his faith or be prepared to face the consequences, Ramanuja called on two of his best disciples to go to the king and work out a compromise. They argued for tolerance but the monarch refused to consider their request and had their eyes put out.
As a result, Ramanuja was forced to flee to the Western Ghats, forty miles west of Mysore. There, after great difficulties, he established himself in the Mysore kingdom where he spent the next 22 years of his life in exile away from his beloved Srirangam.
The king of Mysore, Bhatti Deva of the Hoysala dynasty, was pleased to have Ramanuja in his kingdom and readily became his disciple. Thereafter, Ramanuja was allowed to construct Visnu temples in and about Mysore. In particular he constructed a temple at Melkote and created an active Vaisnava community that is still thriving today. (See photos.) Ramanuja's labors were successful and his followers grew until they numbered hundreds of thousands in the Mysore kingdom.
Meanwhile, Kulothunga Chola 1, who had persecuted Ramanuja, died. The followers of Ramanuja at Srirangam immediately requested him to return. Ramanuja himself longed to go back to his followers in Srirangam and worship in the temple there. But his disciples at Melkote and other places in the Mysore kingdom would not let him go. So he constructed a temple for himself, installed his own image for worship by his disciples, and left for Srirangam.
Back in Srirangam his friends and disciples welcomed him. The successor to Kulothunga Chola I was favorable to Ramanuja so he was left undisturbed. During his final stage of his life Ramanuja completed is famous Vedanta-sutra commentary the Sri-bhasya.Through his Sri-bhasya he established the monotheistic principles of Sri Vaisnavism and opposed the philosophy of Sankara. He proclaimed to the world the doctrines of devotion and surrender to God (bhakti and prapatti). Ramanuja stands as an important milestone in the history of not just Sri Vaisnavism but Vaisnavism in general. The great Vaisnava teachers that succeeded him, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Caitanya are indebted to Sri Ramanuja. In Srirangam Ramanuja continued his labors for another 22 years and finally closed his long career after attaining the remarkable age of 120 years.
2. The Writings of Ramanuja Acarya
During his lifetime Ramanuja wrote relatively few works compared to Sankara or Madhva, but what he did write had a major impact on the development of Vaisnavism in India. In fact Ramanuja has left us with nine works: Sri-bhasya, Vedanta-dipa, Vedanta-sŒra, Vedanta-samgraha, three prose works (gadyas): Saranagati-gadya, Sriranga-gadya and Vaikuntha-gadya, the Gita-bhasya and Nitya-grantha. Unfortunately, Ramanuja wrote no commentaries on the Upanisads as did his colleagues Sankara or Madhva.
The Sri-bhasya is Sri Ramanuja's magnum opus. It is his commentary on Bodhayana's Vedanta-sutra. It was completed when he was around a hundred years old. Here Ramanuja presents the fundamental philosophical principles of Visistadvaita based on his interpretation of the Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita and other smrti texts, the previous acaryas, and of course the Vedanta-sutra itself. This is done by way of refuting Sankara's advaita-vedanta and in particular his theory of maya. In his Sri-bhasya he describes the three categories of reality (tattvas): God, soul and matter, which have been used by the later Vaisnava theologians including Madhva. The principles of bhakti as a means to liberation (moksa) are also developed. The Vedanta-dipa and the Vedanta-sara are also commentaries of the Vedanta-sutra, although in more brief form.
The Vedanta-samgraha is a summary of Ramanuja's views on the important Upanisads. In particular it is an exposition of the doctrines of categories of reality (tattva), the means to liberation, the goals of human life (purusarthas), the supremacy of Visnu and the powers of God. Next is Ramanuja's famous commentary of the Bhagavad-gita called the Gita-bhasya. In this work Ramanuja establishes the Supremacy of Visnu in the form of Krsna and discusses the details of bhakti-yoga, jnana-yoga, karma-yoga as the means to moksa. He also briefly discusses the Sri Vaisnava principal of prapatti or selfless surrender to God. The three gadyas are prose lyrics that also expound the doctrine of selfless surrender to God. Finally the Nitya-grantha explains the daily rituals and the mode of worship for Sri Vaisnavas. The writings of Ramanujacarya are most important because they provide a systematic account of the philosophic and religious principles of devotion for the first time in the history of Vaisnavism. Before Ramanuja's we only had pieces of such an approach. Ramanuja's writings also demonstrated how Vaisnavism could logically standup in the face of Sankara's advaita-vedanta.
Visistadvaita: The Philosophy of Sri Vaisnavism
The system of philosophy held by the Sri Vaisnavas and taught by Ramanujacarya is known as Visistadvaita. The term advaita literally means non-dualism (na dvaita) and it stresses the oneness of ultimate Reality. This philosophical perspective is also called monism. In Hindu thought there are many schools that uphold the principle of monism although they do not all agree when it comes to determining in what sense Reality is one. The main problem of monism is to account for the diversity of the world and souls within the world. The issue that faces a monist is as follows: How does the One become many? In other words how does the one Reality relate to the diverse world of matter and spirit? There are a number of ways to resolve this important theological problem. The way proposed by Sankara's school of absolute monism, called advaita, was to conclude that the world is ultimately not real, but only a phenomenal appearance of Reality. Ultimate Reality is absolutely one in the sense that it does not admit any kind of differentiation (visesa). Such an interpretation of monism implies the denial of reality to both the world and to the individual souls within this world. Both are unreal. The fact that we see distinction within this world and a plurality of souls is accounted for by the doctrine of illusion (mayavada). It is only due to illusion that we see this world as real and fail to see the oneness. Thus Sankara's form of monism is sometimes called mayavada.
The approach to the theology of monism as held by Sri Vaisnavas and Ramanuja is different. Sri Vaisnavas propose that ultimate Reality, although one, is not Absolute without any differentiation. They admit the reality of the world and the plurality of souls within this world. The world appears real because it is real and not due to some form of illusion (maya) as Sankara proposes. Accordingly Ramanuja teaches three fundamental categories of Reality: God (isvara), soul (cit), and matter (acit). On the basis of the principle of organic relation he upholds that ultimate Reality is one as a unity. God, as the creator of the world, is the immanent ground or inner soul of existence. God sustains and controls both the individual souls as well as matter. Soul and matter are dependant on God for their very existence and are organically related to God in the same way as the physical body is related to the soul within. The oneness of Reality is understood not in the sense of absolute identity, but as an organic unity. Though there is absolute difference between God and the other two categories of Reality, and for that matter between soul and matter, ultimate Reality is considered one because as an organic unity it is one. In this sense Ramanuja's philosophy may be defined as "oneness of the organic unity" (visistadvaita). More commonly visistadvaita is translated as "differentiated" monism (visistadvaita) as opposed to Sankara's absolute monism (advaita).
By the effect of kali, the people of this age are less intelligent, weak forgetful, and are incapable of extracting the original meaning of vedas. Out of causeless mercy Sri Badarayana has given us the the ephoric rules Brahma Sutras, the substance of vedas. By the advent of Budhism, Jainism, and Sri Shankara acharya's kevala advaitha philosophy in the 8th century AD,... many people became athiestic. They believed either complete non-existance of God or one-ness of God and the living entity. They denied vedas or gave incomplete meanings (kevala advaitha) of vedas.
The alwar saints are great devotees of the Lord, infact confidential associates (hamsams) of Lord Himself. They composed many songs in glorification of the Supreme Lord, Sriman Narayana, and His divine incarnations. They propogated the true meaning of vedas in Tamil, famously called Sri Divya Prabhandam. Then, many great acharyas like Sri Nathamuni, his grandson Sri Yamuna Acharya and other great vaishnavas established the truth of Supremacy of Sriman Narayana over all living entities and devathas (demi gods). Although, the sampradaya that is originated by Sriman Narayana Himself and guarded by Sri Lakshmi thayar and is passing the true message of vedas in disciplic succession in an unbroken way, Sri Ramanuja Acharya takes the credit of bringing all vaishnavas under one umbrella and authoritatively commented on all the important scriptures of vedic literature. He personally visited the whole land of Bharata and propogated the Visishta-advaitha doctrine (qualified non-duality), the complete meaning of vedas.
Our Acharya parampara actually starts with Sriman Narayana, then comes the Piratti followed by Vishvakshenar and Nammazhvar. After Sri Sadagopan, Nadamunigal leads
the acharya list. Then why do we regard Sri Ramanuja
to be our pradamacharya?
It is the wish of the Bhagavan. There is one I-thihyam in the guru parampara
that when Madurakavi Azhvar tried to make the vigraham of Nammazhvar using the Tamaraparani river water he found that the vigraham which came out was not of his
acharya but someone else. When he asked his acharya(sri nammazhvar) about it, Nammazhvar told him that it was the vigraham of the Bhavishyadhacharyan(Sri Ramanujan) about whom he has said in his ?Poliga Poliga? Pasuram. This vigraham
passed on through the guru parampara and today we can have darshan of the same in Alwar Thirunagari. Nammazhvar visits this sannadhi once during the Vaikasi Utsavam and has Thirumanjanam with the Bhavishyadhacharyan. So it is accepted fact that even
Sri Sadagopan accepted Sri Ramanuja as a great Acharya who has taken birth to remove the sins of the kali yuga as he says "Kaliyum kedum kandu konmin".
Sri Ramanuja appeared in this material world to save the badda jIvatmas (conditioned souls) in the year 1017 AD, and has given his divine company for 120 years. This great acharya of Sri sampradaya has establidhed the path of bhakti to be superior to any other path scripturally. He defeated all the rival groups with his un-matched tarka (logic), viveka (discrimination), scriptural comprehension and devotion. He firmly established supremacy of Sriman Narayana with all the scriptural evidences.
The avatAra of rAmAnuja is predicted in the scriptures even before he appeared. Our sAmpradAya identifies rAmAnuja as an incarnation of the AdisEsha himself. The following are the scriptural evidences for the interpretation.
EkAntino mahAbhAgAh S'athakopa-purassarAh
KshonyAm kr*r-AvatArA ye lokojjIvana-hetunA
S'AndilyAdyAs' ca ye c-Anye PancarAtra-pravartakAh
PrahlAdas' c-aiva SugrIvo VAyusUnur VibhUshanah
Ye c-Anye SanakAdyAs' ca PancakAla-parAyanah
i.e "Sathakopa and others, great devout saints, became incarnate on earth to save creature. Sanaka and others, Sandilya and others, prahalAda, SugrIva, the Wind-Son (HanumAn), VibhIshana and others - the strict observers of the Five Timed Injunctions (PancakAla)- these are the Promulgators of the PancarAtra.
Next, after Sathakopa and others, comes RAmAnuja. For NArAyana tells Bala-bharads (or Bala-rAma, the brother of Kr*shna) thus (Is'vara SamhitA, xx, 278-80):
Asti te vimalA bhaktih Mayi YAdava-nandana |
Prathamam S'esha-rUpo Me kaimkaryam akarod bhavAn ||
Tatas tu Lakshmano bhUtvA MAm ArAdhitvAn iha |
IdAnIm api MAm yastum Balabhadra ! tvam arhasi ||
kalAv api yuge bhUyah kas'eid bhUtavA dvijottamah |
NAnA-vidhair bhoga-jAlair arcanam Me karishyasi ||
i.e. "O Son of Yadu-race (BalarAma) ! thou hast clean (or pure) devotion (or love) for Me. Thou, first as S'esha didst the great service for Me. Then next didst thou worship me as Lakshmana. Thou art now serving me as Balabharada. Thou shalt again in Kali age be born as a great BrAhmana (=RAmAnuja), and shalt worship me with many things of joy".
Br*had-Brahma-SamhitA makes this clear, thus:
Dvija-rUpena bhavitA yA tu SamkarshanAbhidhA ||
DvAparAnte kaler Adan pAsanda-pracure jane |
RAmanuj-eti bhavitA Vishnu-dharma-pravartakah ||
S'riranges'a-dayA-pAtram viddhi RAmAnuja munim |
Yena sandarsitah panthA VaikunthAkhyasya sadmanah ||
PAram-aikAntiko dharmo bhava-pAs'a-vimocakah |
Yatr-AnanyatayA proktam Avayoh pAda-sevanam ||
KAlen-AchhAdito dharmo madIyo 'yam varAnane ! |
TadA mayA pravr*tto 'yam tat-kAl-Ocita-mUrtinA ||
Vishvaksen-Adibhir bhaktair S'athAri-pramukhair dvijaih |
RAmAnujena muninA kalau samsthAm upeshyati ||
i.e. " 'My Samkarshana part (O Sri),' says NArAyan, 'is the form of a BrAhmana, by the name RAmAnuja, which it is going to take, after the DvApara age and in the kAli age, to expound the Vishnu-dharma (=BhAgavata Religion), when the world will be full of heretics or renegades (pAsanda). Know that RAmAnuja will be the specially favoured of S'riRanga (-natha) and he will show the way to the Realm known as Viakuntha. The One-pointed Religion exclusively to be rendered to Thee and Me (=Sriman NArAyana) the religion which delivers (creatures) from the bonds of samsAra (material existance) becomes dimmed by age, O fair faced one ! According to the requirements of the age, I take many forms, and act by means of My devotees such as Vishvaksena, Sathakopa, etc., and RAmAnuja in the Kali age.".
BhAradvAja-SamhitA iv, 92, teaches -
Abhyarthito jagad-dhAtryA S'riyA NArAyanas svayam
UpAdis'ad imam yogam iti me NAradAt s'rutam,
i.e "Prayed to by Sri, the Universal Mother, NArAyana Himself taught (Her) this yoga. So did I hear from NArada".
Bhagavad Sri Ramanuja
Compiled by SrI.Vijayakumar
LIFE HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL FOR BEGINNERS
CHAPTER NO 1
Sriperumbudur is a small village around fifty kilometers from chennai. Around thousand years ago, there lived a couple named Asuri Kesavacarya and his wife Kanthimathi. Asuri Kesavacharya was very religious and used to do lot of poojas to God Sriman Naryana. This couple were leading a very happy and peaceful life. But they did not have a child for long time.
During that time, there was a great acharya called Thirukatchi Nambi. He used to visit the house of Asuri Kesavacharya very often. Once Kesavacharya told Thirukatchi Nambi about his desire to have a son and asked him to request Perumal of Kancheepuram to bless with a son. So Thirukatchi Nambi prayed to Perumal and Perumal told that if Asuri kesavacharya performs yagna to Lord Partahsarathy of Tiruvallikeni, he will have a son.
So the couple Asuri Kesavacharya and Kanthimathi went to Tiruvallikeni and performed yagna with full sincerity and devotion. Lord Parthasarathy was very much pleased and in the dream He told him that He was much pleased with the sincerity and told them to go back to their place and their desire will be fulfilled.
After about an year or so, on 4th April 1017 A.D., on a Thursday, Kanthimathi gave birth to a child. The child had a lot of auspicious marks on his body. The boy later came to be called Ramanuja.
Khantimati had a brother called Peria Thirumalai Nambi. She also had a sisiter called Mahadevi. When ramanuja was born, Mahadevi also got a child, called Govinda. No sooner Periya Thirumalai Nambi heard this good news about the birth of sons to his sisters he came to Sriperumbudur. He was very happy to see both the children. He saw Kanthimathi's son with divine traits similar to what Sri Lakshmana did posses. Just as Lakshmana dedicated his life to Rama, Periyathirumalai Nambi named the child of Kanthimathi as Ramanuja which means who does his duty with devotion and dedication to Lord Rama. It is also believed that Ramanuja is none other than Sri Lakshmana, who is the incarnataion of Adi Sesha.
The two children grew with lot of care from their parents and their uncle. They underwent all rituals(religious procedures) such as boring ear lobes, function of first tonsure, initiation in studies, wearing sacred thread, at the appropriate ages.
Ramanuja was a very intelligent boy. If he listens to a lesson taught by his teacher once, he will grasp it and repeat it. He always used to move with good friends. Also from his childhood days he used to become very close with the holy men and he always liked them very much and have them in his heart.
At that time, in Kancheepuram, a town near Sriperumbudur, there lived a teacher. His name was Yadavaprakasa. Students from nearby and also far off places came to his Gurukulam (School). Ramanuja also joined his school and became his disciple(student). Yadavprakasa was very happy to have Ramanuja as his student. Ramanuja grew to become one of the best students of Yadavprakasa.
But as times passed by, Ramanuja was not able to accept some of the explanations and meanings given by his guru(teacher). There were lots of difference in opinion between him and the guru. Over a period of time this difference became very big. At the same time Ramanuja's popularity also increased. Ramanuja's cousin Govinda also joined the gurukulam at this time and started studying along with him.
Yadavaprakasa did not like Ramanuja coming up and wanted to kill him. So he made a plan along with his other disciples to take a pilgrimage(holy tour) and on the way kill Ramanuja and go to ganga and get rid of the sin.
On an auspicious day all the students with Yadavaprakasa started the holy tour. After a few days, when they reached the vidhya mountains in central India, Yadavaprakasa decided that it was the right time to kill Ramanuja and started acting on his plan. Somehow Ramanuja's cousin came to know about this plan and told Ramanuja to escape. Ramanuja immediately took the advice of his cousin and ran inside the forest.
Yadavaprakasa and the other disciples started searching for Ramanuja and Govinda also acted as if he did not know anything about this. After some time they concluded some animal would have killed Ramanuja and continued their pilgrimage.
After Ramanuja escaped into the forest, he ran for a long distance and sat below a tre to take some rest. He was so tired that he fell asleep immediately. After some time when he woke up he found the sun setting in the west. He thanked Lord Varadarja Perumal of kancheepuram for saving his life.
At the same time, he saw a fowler couple(bird hunters couple) coming near him. They asked Ramanuja if he had lost his way. Ramanuja said yes and told that he wanted to go to Kancheepuram. The fowler couple told that they were going to Rameswaram via Kancheepuram and they will take Ramanuja there. The couple also thanked God for giving a good companion in Ramanuja for them.
Though Ramanuja was a little afraid of seeing them, their affection towards him made Ramanuja think good about the couple. Then Ramanuja agreed to go along with them to kancheepuram.
Next day morning, the wife of fowler couple wanted to have water. So Ramnuja went to a nearby well and brought her some water. Even after bringing water for nearly three or four times she was still wanting to have more water. Ramanuja was surprised but without any hesitation he again went to the well and brought some more water. As soon as he came up, he was surprised to see the couple were missing.
He looked around and started seeing the big tower of the temple and lot of people walking by. When he asked one of the passerby what was the place he was told that it was Kancheepuram. Immediately he realized the drama played by SrimaN Narayana and Lakshmi to bring him safely to Kancheepuram and thanked them for their blessings.
At home ramanuja's mother was very sad as she was thinking that she could not see him for the next few months until he returns from his tour. All of a sudden when Ramanuja went and fell on her feet she could not believe it at all. Ramanuja then told the entire story of what happened to him. She enquired about Govinda and both prayed to Lord Varadaraja Perumal for the safe return of Govinda.
After a few months Yadavaprakasa returned to kancheepuram He was shocked to see Ramanuja. But he did not show any thing to him and enquired about Govinda and what happened to him. Yadavaprakasa told that he had stayed in Kalahasti.
A few days later, Yamunacarya(Alavandar), a great saint from SriRangam came to Kancheepuram. He saw Ramanuja passing by along with Yadavaprakasa. When Alavandar saw Ramanuja he was attracted by his personality and prayed to Lord Ranganatha of SriRangam to make Ramanuja serve Ranganatha Himself.
Ramanuja's glory started growing day by day in all directions. Yadavaprakasa continued his classes but became afraid of Ramanuja. In the class lot of meanings thought by Yadavaprakasa about our Vedas and scriptures were not acceptable to Ramanuja. When Ramanuja expressed his views, Yadavaprakasa told that if Ramanuja could listen to his teachings he could stay otherwise he can go away. So Ramanuja decided to go away and started learning by reading lot of holy books.
One day Thirukatchinambi came to Ramanuja's house. On seeing him Ramanuja fell at his feet and wanted to be his disciple. They both were talking for a long time and Thirukatchinambi appreciated the devotion of Ramanuja towards Sriman Narayana. Instead of accepting him as a disciple, Thirukatchinambi told Ramanuja to bring holy water every day for Lord Varadaraja Perumal from the nearby temple well. Ramanuja happily accepted this divine service to Lord and continued to do this until he left for SriRangam.
In SriRangam, Alavandar fell ill. He came to know from two bramanas who had come from Kancheepuram, that Ramanuja had parted company with Yadavaprakasa and was doing noble service to Lord Vardaraja Perumal in Kancheepuram. Alavandar felt very happy and asked Periyanambi (Mahapurna) to go to Kancheepuram and bring Ramanuja and join him to their fold.
Perianambi went to Kancheepuram and saw Ramanuja. He was attracted by the divine features of Ramanuja and stated singing some stotras sung by Alavandar. Ramanuja was attracted by these stotras and learnt that these were sung by Alavandar. Perinambi expressed the desire of Alavandar to meet ramanuja and Ramanuja immediately accepted to go to SriRangam and left the same day.
When they reached SriRangam, they were shocked to see Alavandar had reached the Lotus Feet of Sriman Narayana. But they found that Alavandar's three fingers on thee right hand were folded separately. On seeing this Ramanuja realized that Alavandar had left a mission to be completed and eclared the following :
1. I shall make all people know about our Sampradayam and spread Vaishnavism
2. I shall write 'THE SHRI BASHYA' which will give the entire world the knowledge of reality.
3. I shall name a deserving child after Parasara Batta.
As soon as Ramanuja told these three, Alavandars fingers straightened. Soon all disciples of Alavandar requested Ramanuja to stay with them. But he did not stay and went back to Kanchepuram.
Ramanuja was married to Thanjammal. After the death of Ramanuja's mother, Thanjammal was taking care of the household and was serving Ramanuja by observing all rituals. Ramanuja was continuously getting the advice and teachings from Thirukatchnambi. But he wanted to have a guru and continue his studies. He was very much concerened as to how he will get a guru and with whom he can continue his studies. Ramanuja expressed this to Thirukatchnambi and in turn he prayed to Lord to lead them as to how Ramanuja can get a guru. At that time, Lord Varadaraja Perumal told Kanchipurna that Ramanuja should go and join Mahatma Mahapurna as a disciple. As soon as this divine message was conveyed to Ramanuja he felt excited and immediately left for SriRangam.
At the same time, after Alavandar's passing away, all his disciples requested Perianambi to go to Kancheepuram and bring Ramanuja to be with them. So Perianambi also left for Kancheepuram. Both he and Ramanuja met on the way at a place called Madurantakam. As soon as Ramanuja saw Perianambi he feel at his feet and wanted him to accept Ramanuja as his discple. Perianambi was very happy and held Ramanuja by his arms and gave the insignia of Vishnu the Disc and Conch. Both of them together went to Kancheepuram to perform the sacred ceremony before Lord Varadraja and Ramanuja became the disciple of Perianambi.
Soon after Ramanuja became the disciple of Perianambi, he started studying the Sacred 4000 Divya Prabandam from him. Ramanuja had housed his guru in his house and was extremely happy.
One day when Ramanuja returned home from outside, he found that his guru and his wife who were staying with him had left. He asked his wife about this. She told that she devolped some quarrel with the guru's wife near the well and they had left. Ramanuja got shocked and rushed to the temple.
On the way he saw a bramana who looked very hungry and tired. Ramanuja asked him why he is so. The bramana told he has not taken food for a few days and when he went to Ramanuja's house, his wife told the bramana to get away. The bramana expressed surprise on her behaviour. Ramanuja felt very bad and told the bramana that he will give a letter and if he gives it to his wife she will give food.
Ramanuja's wife gave the bramana the food and she left the house to her father's house. Ramanuaja left the house and went and fell at the feet of Lord Varadraja and took up Sanyasin. He procured Orchure cloth and a staff touched by the feet of Lord. At this time, Thirukatchnambi, under the command of Lord addressed Ramanuja as "ETHIRAJA" meaning King of ascetics. Ramanuja immediately accepted the triple staff (Tridanda).
From then on people from all directions poured to see Ramanuja and listen to his teachings and recive his blessings. The inmates of the monostery in Kancheepuram made Ramanuja their head. Dasarathi(Mudaliandan) his nephew became the first disciple of ramanuja and Kuresar(Kurathalvan) became the second disciple. Then lot of Sriman Narayana's devotees followed them to become disciples. Kuratalvan had an extraordinary memory power. If he read or listened to something once he will never forget even a single word.
One day Yadavaprkasa's mother saw Ramanuja in the temple. And was captivated by his divine features. She wanted his son to become Ramanuja's disciple and rushed home and told Yadavaprakasa to go and join as Ramanuja's student. Yadavprakasa did not like this but at the insistence of his mother he went to meet Ramanuja.
Ramanuja offered him a respectful seat and both were talking for a long time. After talking, Yadavaprakasa understood the greatness of Ramanuja and fell at his feet and became his disciple. Ramanuja blessed him and gave him the name Govinda Jeer. Yadavaprakasa than became a true devoted vaishnavite. Ramanuja told Govinda Jeer to write a book on the duties of a Vaishnavite. He wrote the book called " YATIDHARAMSAMULLAYA"
In SriRangam, after the passing away of Yamunacharya, the monostery had a leader in Thiruvaranga, son of Alavandar. But the monostery was not having a divine touch. They prayed to Lord Ranganatha of SriRanagam who Himself ordered Mahapurna to go to Kancheepuram, sing songs in praise of Lord Varadraja Perumal and ask for a boon. Then ask for Ramanuja and he will come with you.
Accordingly, Perianambi came to Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple, sang Divya Prabandam and got a boon and requested for Ramanuja. Perumal granted the boon. So Ramanuja left for SriRangam along with Mudalianadan and Kurathalvan and a host of disciples and devotees. While Kancheepuram was very sad to part Ramanuja, SriRangam was very happy to receive Ramanuja. Even Lord Ranganatha Himself invited Ramanuja into the temple by calling " come on my son, Udayavare". From then on Ramanuja came to called as Udayavar also.
After reaching SriRangam, Ramanuja had sent word to his uncle sri Thirumalianambi and requested him to go to Kalhasti and bring his cousin Govinda. After that Govinda also became a disciple of Ramanuja and Govinda came to be called as "EMBAR".
Ramanuja's quest for learning never ended. Perianambi told Ramanuja that in a nearby place called Thiurukottiyur, there lived a learned scholar who knows the meaning of the most sacred divine manthra and told Ramanuja to get it. Ramanuja attempted a lot of times and atlast in the eighteenth attempt, Thirukottiyur Nambi agreed to part with the Mantra and its meaning. But before that he got a promise from Ramanauja. As per the promise, Ramanuja should not tell this to anyone as this mantra will take a person who listens to it directly to Vaikuntam and if it is told out to others Ramanuja will go to hell. Ramanuja with great excitement and anxiety got the mantra and started going back to SriRangam. While he was walking thinking of what he heard, all of a sudden he had a feeling and wanted this mantra to be known to one and all in the world so that everyone can reach Vaikundam. So Ramanuja went up to the nearby temple,raised his voice to the highest peak and called whomsoever is interested to learn the divine mantra. He then initiated those who are eligible and interested to learn this mantra.
Thirukottiyur Nambi came to know of this and became very angry. He rushed to Ramanuja and enquired why he told this against the promise he had given. Ramanuja replied that by telling this Divine Manthra only he will go to hell but the entire humanity will reach Vaikuntam. This is what he needed and he did not mind going to hell alone. Listening to this Thirukottiyur nambi embaraced Ramanuja. Thirukottiyur Nambi also made his son Sowmyanarayan as Ramanuja's disciple.
After this incident, everybody started looking at Ramanuja as an incarnation of Lakshmana and he came to be called as " EMBERUMANAR" by Thirukottiyurnambi.
Ramanuja continued learning Divya Prabandam and started giving his meanings. This attracted more disciples for him. Alavandar one of the most learned gurus with lot of divine powers had five intimate disciples. They were, Thirukathchi Nambi, Periya Nambi, Thirukottiyur Nambi, Thirumalainambi and Thiruvaranga perumal. Ramanuja became the second Alavandar and attained special powers more than Alavandar.
During this period, in SriRangam, all rituals in the temple were conducted as per the instructions of head priest. The head priest did not like Ramanuja and wanted to eliminate him. So he called Ramanuja to his house one day for having food and planned to kill him by mixing poison. When Ramanuja came a little early before the head priest has arrived, the priest's wife saw Ramanuja's divine face and immediately told the truth and wanted him to go away. Ramanuja also immediately came out of the house without having food. But the priest did not leave Ramanuja. When Ramanuja came to the temple in the evening to get Perumal Thirtham, the priest mixed poison and gave it to him. Instaed of Ramanuja fainting and collapsing, he danced with joy. Next day morning, when the priest passed by the house of Ramanuja, he saw all his disciples singing stotras and chanting slokas. He was surprised and went inside to see Ramanuja. The moment priest saw Ramanuja's divine face straight, he realized his mistake and fell at his feet and prayed to forgive him.
Ramnuja's service to promote our Sri Sampradaym grew day by day and he established a system at SriRangam temple which is called as "Koilolugu" to perform the daily rituals and procedures to run the temple. This is followed even today. After this he went to Tirumala and established a system and created a mutt(religious institution) to organize the activities of the Tirumala temple. He had written various books on our Sri Sampradayam. He established the Vishistadvaita philosophy based on the Vedas and alwars' Divya Prabandam. He appointed 74 simharihipathis to spread our sampradayam. He established a temple for SrimaN Narayana in a place called Thirunarayanapuram (called as Melkote) in Karnataka state near Mysore. His works continued and he was taking all efforts to spread our Sri Sampradayam till his last. He lived for 120 years and attained Vaikuntapathi from SriRangam.
WORKS OF RAMANUJA
· VEDANTA SANGRAHA
· SRI BASHYAM
· GITA BASHYAM
· VEDANATA DIPA
· VEDANTA SARA
· SARANAGATHI GADYA
· SRIRANGA GADYA
· SRIVAIKUNTA GADYA
· NITYA GRANTA
RAMANUJA IS ALSO CALLED AS :
· THIRUPPAVAI JEEYAR
ARCHA THIRUMENI OF EMBERUMANAR
· THAN UGANDA THIRUMENI
· TAMAR UGANDA THIRUMENI
· TAMANA THIRUMENI
Empermanar thiruvadigale saranam.
Ramanuja himself set up 74 Simhasanadhipathis or 74 gurus to spread this wealth of knowledge of them the following are very close to him to get rahasya, commentaries etc. Nadathur Azhwan, koorathazhwan, mudaliandan, Embaar, Thirukkurugai piraan pillan, Ananthazhwan, kidambi Acchan, and the rest of 74 and their vamsa. When Ramanuja went to Kashmir saraswathi pandaaram and pattimandapam Srikoorathazhwan accompanied him and he also assisted Sri Ramanuja in writing commentary for Sribhasyam. Ramanuja installed Embaar to be the next dharsana pravarthaka (successor to ramanuja). Nadathur Azhwan got the SriBashya peetam from Ramanuja himself when the latter was about to attain thirunadu. MudaliyAndan was very close to emperumanaar and he was ramanuja as viswakshena to Emperuman himself. Of these Thirukkurugai piraan pillan wrote the first commentary to Tiruvaimozhi of satakopa with the divine grace of Ramanuja. It was called 6000 padi.
From the above it will be seen how the hierarchy (Guru-paramparA) if the S'ri-Vaishnavas or Sri-Sampradhayam came to be constituted thus:
(3) Vishvaksena = Senes'a = the Lord of the Hosts (the Eternals)
(4) S'athakopa or S'athagopa (the Mortal-Immortal)
(5) The others between (4) and (6)
(7) Succession after (6), up to one's own Holy Preceptor.
Very Important Works of Ramanujacharya
(Nava rathnangaL- Nine Gems)
- A treatise presenting the tenets of Visistadwaita, a reconciliation of different conflicting srutis.
2. Sri Bhasya
- A detailed commentary on the Vedanta Sutras .
Magnum Opus of Our Acharya : This is a voluminous work critiquing the interpretations on the BrahmasUtras of Sage Badaraayana ( Vyasa ) by Adhi Sankara's advaitha , Bhaskara's BhedAbhEdhA and other schools of Vedantha .The lengthy commentary on the first sUtrA lays the foundation for the Sri VisishtAdvaitha darsanam firmly and clearly.
- A detailed commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita.
This is a Substantive commentary on the Bhagavad Gita based on the shorter grantham ( GithArtha Sangraham ) by his Acharya's Acharya ( ALavanthar/Yaamuna Muni).
- A brief commentary on the Vedanta Sutras.
A brief commentary on the purport of each of the Brahma sUtrAs . It is shorter than Sri Bhasyam because it does not include the criticisms of the rival systems.
- Another brief commentary on the Vedanta Sutras and meant for beginners.
This grantham is for those , who might find Sri Bhaashyam and VedAntha DeepA too terse and tough . It brings out the essence of Brahma sUtrAs and the AdhikaraNAs . Our AchAryA did not want to frighten away those , who might have difficulty scaling the intellectual heights of Sri BhAshyam .
This deals with the most important SaraNAgathi ( Prapatthi )doctrine , which is cardinal to Sri VisishtAdvaitham.
7. Sri Ranga-Gadyam
This grantham is in the form of a soul-stirring prayer to Sri RanganAthA.
8. Sri Vaikuntha-Gadyam
- Describtion of Sri VaikuntAdhi Divya lOkam and the position of the liberated souls.
A glowing description of the celestial abode ( Sri Vaikuntam ) of Sriman NaarAyaNA and the supreme bliss ( MokshAnubhavam ) of the Muktha and Nitya Jeevans.
- A short manual intended to guide the Sri Vaishnava devotees for Nitya karmaas.
Bhagavdh AarAdhana PrayOgA :Following the instructions given by GeethAchAryA in the twelfth chapter of GitA , AchArya RaamAnuja insists on the need for a VishNu BhakthA to engage in the religious observances enjoined in the VedAs , Smrithis and PurANAs . Through these nine granthAs in Sanskrit , AchArya RaamAnuja built on the foundations laid by his predecessors ( natha Muni and ALavanthAr ) and built the citadel of Sri VaishNavam . His successors (74 SimhaasanAdhipathis) interpreted the above nine granthams and created the Vast Sri VaishNavite literature that we are blessed to possess as our sampradAya Dhanams today .
PranAmam Lakshmana Muni: Prathi GrihnAthu mAmakam
PrasAdhayathi yat Sookthi: Svadheena PathikAm Sruthim
Meaning: I beseech Sri Ramanuja (Lakshmana Muni) whose Srisookthis adorn the
Sruthi and the Upanishads to whom The Lord remain Loyal, to kindly accept my
Engal Alwan [Vishnu Chittar]
Nadadur Ammal [Varada Chariar]
Bhattar [Parasara Bhattar]
Periavachan Pillai Vadakku Thiruveedi Pillai
Pillai Lokachariar Manavaala Mamunigal [1370 - 1443]
Sri Madhava Kannan Swami of Singapore
Moderator, ?Acharya? group.
It is aDiyEn?s bhagyam to be chosen for contributing this article for the SathAbhisheka malar of Sri PerukaraNai Swamy. It is our fortune to live in his period. His ThiruppAvai commentary is a feast for anyone and everyone ? is a gross understatement. With humble prayers to Divya Dampathi for Their continuous blessings on this Swamy to live for innumoRu nooRRaaNdu? and bless us with many more such brilliant books for the sake of future generations.
aDiyEn wants to mull about out unparalleled peerless YathirAjar and his greatness in this rambling of mine. Please forgive me for mistakes and if ever there is any good in it, it is all due to the wonderful articles in Tamil from which I have written this piece.
Sri Ramanujacharya with His towering personality- Fair complexioned- with dwAdasa oordhva pUndram (12 ThirumaN), the pristinely pure saffron sanyaasi robe (that adds beauty to the fair complexion further), the dark tresses curly hair of sikhA which is so charming on His moon like Divine smiling face laden with dayA on us, (Charming Most graceful Thirumukham), the white bright pooNool (yagnOpaveedham), the strong thridhaNdam, the lovely Lotus feet- Oh Lord! What a sight It could have been, to those Srivaishnavas must have been blessed with!
How nice it would have been to witness Sri Ramanujacharya, walking so gracefully with such an enchanting personality, with his group of sishyas of caliber like KooratthAzhwAn, MudaliANdaan, Embaar, Boy Paraasara Bhattar, Kidaambhi Acchaan, and others?. What a sight! Once, even Periya Nambhi (who had initiated Sri Ramanuja with Pancha smaskaram) saw this group coming in the front and prostrated on the ground falling flat. When asked, he said "It appeared to me as if Alavandhaar is coming with his sishyas!
This scene of Divine Beauty of Sri Ramanuja reminds us of Embaar's verse on the divine beauty [azhagu] of Sri Ramanuja and declares in the end "illai enaaku edhir; illai enakku edhir; illai enakku edhirE! "There is none equal to me; none equal to me; none equal to me!". True!
There is NONE equal to us FOR BEING BLESSED WITH Sri Ramanuja (sampradayam)!
?parppOm enatthigazh pai~nkazhal unRan pallavamE viralum/
paavanamAgiya painthuvaraadai pathintha marunkazhagum/
muppuri noolodu munkail yEndhiya mukkOlthan azhagum/
munnavar tandhidum mozhikaL niRaindhidu muruval nilAvazhahum/
kaRpagamE vizhi karunai pozhindhidum kamalkkaNN azhagum/
kaarisuthan kazhalsoodiya mudiyum kana naRRsihai mudiyum/
yeppozhudhum ethiraaJan vadivazhaghu yen idhayatthuL uLLathaal/
illai enakku edhir; illai enakku edhir; illai enakku edhirE!"
Embar's enjoyment of seeing Sri Ramanujacharya's lotus feet, tender fingers reminding one of the creepers, sacred saffron robe, most auspicious pooNool, thridandam, His enchanting smile laden with dayA, large dark eyes reminiscent of wish yielding kaRpaka maram (tree), the kudumi (sikhA) formed by abundant tresses is simply beautiful. EmbAr declares that there is no one equal to him; since YathirAjan's Divine Beauty lingers in his heart.
This beautiful description also reminds us of Swami Desikan's verse in YathirAja saptathi:
thrijagath punya phalam thridhanda hastham
shikhaya shekarinam pathim yatheenaam"
The upaveedham [poonool] and 12 ThirumaN [dwadasa oordhva puNdram] are special characteristics of Yathis. The other unique characteristic of our Emperumanar as Swami Desikan's vision perceives is the fact that he was ever surrounded by a huge Srivaishnava prapanna goshti
Adding to our enjoyment is today's description of how the Lord was saved by YathirAjA. Swami Desikan's excellent description of the greatness of YathirAjA and his Srisookthis can be felt in each of the 74 slOkAs of YathirAja Sapthathi.
The 38th slOka says: (From Sri U Ve VN Vedantha Desikan's translation in Sri Nrusimhapriya)
"Victory to Ramanuja- who saved the Para Brahman by giving a hand lift from being caught in the slough of Saiva religion, without getting hooked, also from the net of pure dreamy imagination that the Saankhyaas had cast, avoiding also the entanglement in the contrivance laid by the scheming Chaarvaaka and finally when Brahman was almost about to fall into the trap-mouth of Advaitins, the deceitful misguides"
Elaboration: (as heard from the lovely sweet mellifluous voice of asmadhAchAryan His Holiness Srimath PaRavaakkOttai Andavan of Sri Poundareekapuram Andavan Ashramam, Srirangam in his seven cassette upanyasam on Yathiraja Sapthathi): [Please forgive me for my free translation]
The Lord (Brahmam) had started to look for the most accurate religion of philosophy and commenced His journey. On the way, He saw lots of muddy waters (i.e. Saivism sect, with various "odd" formalities and worships) and sensed danger of getting trapped. He avoided by going away from the track; but still, He was pulled by the current of the muddy waters (sERu) and He somehow managed to hold on to a nearby stick, saving Himself.
The Lord further proceeded and was caught in the deep, dense bushes with no trace of way anywhere (Saankhyaas); He managed to get out of it somehow (getting lost here and there). He could escape similarly from the clasps of Chaarvaakam too!
Then, when He further proceeded, He saw an excellent philosophy that follows Vedas! Brahmam was quite excited! YES! There's at least one religion that refers and interprets Vedas! It shall be the right one! Let me get in!
Alas! He fell down into the deep well with absolutely no water inside, full of bushes and thorns inside the well. The well was not at all visible from outside. There was huge covering of the well with leaves and flowers (Vedic statements and their (mis) interpretations). Brahmam was hooked like anyone else thinking that it is following Vedas! And He is deep down! No way to escape!
Brahmam has now realized that at least other religions do not refer at all to Vedas and thus He could sense the danger. Here he has been completely swept by the outside sugarcoated logic covered by (wrong) arguments /logic.
Sri Ramanuja heard the Brahmam's lament and moans. He sensed something wrong. He spotted the danger. He saw the covers and traps, and also comprehended what could have taken place! He could understand that even Brahmam was trapped by the misinterpretations of advaitam.
AchAryA, holding strongly and using his interpretations to Vedas, (with no ambiguities/ contradictions, in full accordance with BhOdhAyana's commentary for Brahma soothram,) as a support for himself, removed all the covers and bushes that hide the well, saw clearly the pitfalls- lent a hand to Brahmam and lifted Him out of danger. (Here, it should be noted that the one who lifts the other from the deep well, should be strong enough and even stronger than the one who is in danger. He should know of his capacity that he would be able to get the other One out of danger without himself falling into the well!
OUR SRI RAMANUJACHARYA, thus has emerged victorious and is stronger! Powerful! He lifted the Brahmam out of danger! So great are His Sri sookthis! (which AchAryA used as his support for himself)
(True! The Lord was claimed to be having no form, no guNam, no body; the world is false, the jIvan is false were all the statements as per advaitham, referring a portion of Vedic statements ignoring other Vedic statements completely, and understanding wrongly! It was Sri Ramanuja's VisishtAdvaitha siddhaantham that gave the true picture of what is Truth of the Lord! Without ignoring any statement, without contradicting any statement, encompassing all Vedic truths, AchArya saarva bhouman clearly and unambiguously established the Brahman and His KalyANA guNAs, His SarIram (i.e. the jIvan and Prakriti)). Thus, he established Brahman's identity and saved His existence even!
However, for Amudhanaar there is nothing more pleasurable than immersing in the overflowing kalyaaNa gunaas of emperumaanaar. Verse 84 of Iraamaanusa nooRRanthAthi:
kaNdukoN dEnem iraamaa NnusanRannai kaaNdalumE
thoNdukoN dEn_avan thodtar_poR RaaLil_en thollai ven^n^Oy
viNdukoN dEn_avan seerveLLa vaariyai vaaymaduththin
RuNdukoN dEn,innam uRRana Othil ulappillaiyE.
Now that I have seen my Ramanuja- what a sight it is indeed, it makes me seek to serve the golden feet of his devotees; Now that I have taken just a sip from this ocean of auspicious qualities and all my past karmaas are destroyed. There is no end if I start to say more.
Adi Sankara gave to the world the Advaita philosophy which considered every
creation of God is an ?illusion? (Maya). He criticizes in his great work ?Baja
Govindham? that knowledge without practice is worthless. Sri Ramanuja who came
later gave correct interpretation of Vaishanavism which remained latent in the
hymns of Azhwars and brought about a philosophy called quantified monism
(Vishitadvaitha). He established with the conviction that in God?s creation
everything is real and purposeful and his concept was convincing and appealing
even to a layman. He laid greatest emphasis on compassion, humility and
universal brotherhood. His concept has no parameter to quantify Vaishnavism, as
its tenets transcended all limitations. Comparisons are odious and arguing over
things that are abstract will not serve any purpose and the primary object of
absolute Bhakthi or to be in tune with the ?Infinite? would be lost. It is
incumbent that every Vaishnavite should know what our philosophy teaches
as propounded by our Preceptor, the indisputable awareness that Sriman Narayana
is Supreme and to develop a strong conviction that the ?Praparthi? is the
easiest means to obtain God?s Grace for final beatitude. This is the ?Doctrine
of surrender? which delineates the cardinal points as to where, when and through
whom a jeevatma should surrender in order to attain the ?Paramathma?.
Saint Thyagaraja of Thiruvaiyar in one of his ?Kirtanas? appeals to Sri Rama
thus ?I do not know the nuances of Dwaitam or Advaitham, Oh Sri Rama!, I believe
in absolute Bhakthi your name ad-infinitum?
The Vaishnavite world is very much indebted to Sri Ramanuja who preached the
parity of all without making invidious distinctions between class, caste or
creed. This does not however mean or convey that the great pontiff wanted to
dismantle the edifice of established customs and practices. One would be living
in fool?s paradise if he jumps to the conclusion that the Apostle advocated
inter-caste marriage. The crux of his philosophy was to eschew jealousy and to
love thy neighbors. Sri Ramanuja?s treatise, on Vishitadvaita philosophy called
?Sri Bashyam? and ?Gadya Thrayam? bear the testimony to his staunch belief on
his preaching and also discloses his erudition and scholarship.
There are several anecdotes connected with his life to establish Sri Ramanuja as
a celebrated preceptor and one of which was his bringing round a wrestler by
name ?Pillai Urangavilli Dasan? (as christened later) hailing from Karambanur
who admired the beauty of his wife prominently depicted through her glowing
eyes, by requesting him to have a look at the bewitching eyes of another (Lord
Ranganatha) which made him change the opinion held by him about the ephemeral
beauty of his wife. The wrestler and his spouse became Sri Ramanuja?s ardent
disciple engaged in the service to their Acharya.
Sri Ramanuja?s stupendous and admirable task was the regulation of rituals and
the codification thereof in the daily routine at Lord Ranganatha?s temple at Sri
Rangam as obtaining in Srivaikunta are still being followed meticulously.
His visit to Melkote (Thirunarayanpuram) where he made the ?Panchamas? whom he
respectfully and euphemistically christened as ?Thirukulathar? to participate in
the festival which was denied to them before due to socio religious taboos. Sri
Ramanuja?s ?Achrarya Bhakthi? could be seen by his being a disciple of great
savants like Thirukoshtiyur Nambi, Peria Nambi, Thirukachinambi. He had several
disciples among whom ?Kurathazhwar? was his trusted lieutenant, who assisted Sri
Ramanuja in preparing Sri Bashyam with his extra ordinary power of remembrance
Ramanuja carried the message of Vishistadvaita philosophy to every nook and
corner and traveled the length and breadth of our country and surmounted many a
vicissitudes that he was confronted with his by his convincing exposition and
the power of reasoning.
Sri Ramanuja imbibed the exemplary qualities of Sri Rama precisely ?Humility?.
While as Lakshmana he displayed anger and indignation at every stage when he
found an injustice had been perpetrated on his virtuous brother. He was pacified
convincingly by Sri Rama on such occasions. This Lakshmana exhibited that he was
none but incarnation of Adisesha. Perhaps, Adisesha came to this earth again
sans its natural instinct, as an altruistic anchorite only to redeem himself
from the general accusation that he was quick tempered and petulant while he was
the brother of sagacious Sri Rama.
Sri Ramanuja was born at Sri Perambudur in the year 1017, married Thanjamambal
in the year 1033 at Kancheepuram, took monastic order in the year 1047 and left
for his Heavenly abode on 22nd July 1138. Thus he lived for 121 years, a life
fully paced with activities of different hues. With his strict austerity in all
ramifications Sri Ramanuja lived longer than the specified limits of mortals. He
is an Acharya Par excellence.
This article was written by Late. L.P.Sampath Iyengar.