Sri Ramanuja, Life & History

Jaya Jaya Sri Sudarsana !
Sri Sudarsana, The Wheel God Known as Chakrathazhwar.
Jaya Jaya Sri Sudarsana !


By B. R. G. Iyengar

AsmadgurubhyO nama:

SrimathE RAmAnujAya namaha:

YO NityamachyuthapadAmbuja yugmarukma

VyAmOhathasdhitharAni thrunAya mEnE

AsmadgurOrbhagavatOsya dayaikasindhoho

RamAnujasya charanau sharanam prapadyE

ThundeeramandalE Seshamurthim RamAnujam BhajE

KalyabdE divyakumbhE budhajanavidithE vatsarE PingalAkhyE

ChaitrE mAsE gathE cha thriyutha dashadinE deepyamanE himAmshau

PanchamyArdrA samEthE suragurudivasE karkatAkhyE cha lagnE

SrimAnRAmAnujaryassamajani nigamanthArthasamrakshanA

Thirunakshatram (Birth Star) of Sri RAmAnujAchAryA falls on 20th April 2010. This is the most sacred day for all SreevaishnavAs. It is our duty and privilege to remember Him and to study with love and reverence the life and greatness of Sri RAmAnuja . I would like to share my thoughts and exchange views with RAmAnujadAsAs. This note was prepared on an earlier occasion of Sri Ramanuja Thirunakshatram.

2. Birth/Incarnation and Naming

Details are as under.

Place of Birth   – SriperumbUdUr (Bhoothapuri),  Tamil Nadu

Day of Birth      – Shaka 839(1017AD)Pingala Samvatsara MEsha Masa  Panchami  GuruvAra

Time              – KarkAtaka  Lagna   Ardra Star

Parents           – KEshavasUri  and KAnthimathi of Haritha Gothra

The other names of SriRAmAnuja are  BhAshyakAr (One who composed SriBhashyam -Title given by Goddess Saraswathi); EmberumAnAr (As referred to by His guru, GostIpUrnar); KOil Annan (Called by another guru SreeShailapUrnar); GOdAgraja (Elder brother of Goda- Known in SriVilliputtUr); Lakshmanamuni(Called by MALAdhara); Udaiyavar(One who got Ubhayavibhuthi-Title conferred by Lord RanganAtha); YathirAja(King among yathis-Title conferred by Lord VaradarAja); and, Thiruppavai Jeeyar (One who mastered Thiruppavai- Title given by Srirangam  Prabhandha  GOsti)

3. Avatar Lakshana

Scholars have drawn comparison between Sri RamAnuja and Sri Krishna.

a) Sri Krishna is the younger brother of BalArAma  (Also called Rama) and is therefore RamAnuja.

b) Sri Krishna is the eighth child of DEvaki and VasudEva. SriRAmanuja is the eight in the line of AchAryAs after VishwaksEna, ShataGOpa, NAthamuni, PundareekAksha, RAmamishra, YAmunAchArya and MahApUrna

c) While Sri Krishna annihilated Kamsa Sri RAmAnuja vanquished the opponents of VishistAdwaitha.

d) Sri Krishna was born in Mathura, grew up in Gokul and settled in DwAraka.Sri RamAnuja was born in Bhoothapuri, grew up in Kanchi and settled in Srirangam.

e) Sri Krishna liberated Nala-Koobara (YamulArjunabhanga). SriRAmAnuja liberated souls by cutting asunder bondage of Sukha-Dukha and Papa-Punya.

f)  Sri Krishna had  established supremacy over the seven worlds (And also the seven nederworlds).Sri RamAnuja established supremacy in Shruthi, Smrithi, PurAna, ItihAsa, Agama,Prabhandham, AchAryasUkthi.

g) Sri Krishna protected PanchapAndavAs. Sri RAmAnuja protected Arthapanchaka and led to JnAnamArga.

4. Education

Just as Sri Rama had preceptors VasisHta and Viswamitra ,and Sri Krishna studied under Sandeepani

Sri RamAnuja had traditional teaching from YAdavaprakAsha, but accepted  YAmunAchArya as JnAna guru.

He had great love and regard towards KAnchIpUrnar, the closest devotee of Lord Varadaraja, and, would share all his thoughts with him, and,  act as per his advice. In course of time, the tutelage of YAdavaprakAsha was interrupted and SriRamAnuja devoted himself totally to the service(Theerthakainkarya) of Lord VaradarAja.

5. YAmuna’s Grace

SriYAmunAchArya , the pontiff of Srirangam recognised SriRamAnuja as his heir. He went to Kanchi and graced him by mere look. After returning to Srirangam he despatched his senior confidante MahApUrnar to Kanchi to bring Sri RamAnuja to Srirangam. MahApUrnar attracted SriRAmAnuja(Who was firmly in the camp of YadavaprakAsha) by rendering loudly SthOthraratna and escorted him to Srirangam. But by then YamunachArya had attained samAdhi. This saddened both MahApUrna and Sri RamAnuja, who  incidentally observed that three fingers of YAmunachArya were folded. On enquiry with the close associates of YAmunachArya he learnt that Yamunacharya had desired commentary to be written on BrahmasUthra and also wanted to perpetuate the name and glory of ParAshara and ShatagOpa.

SriRAmAnuja declared that he would fulfil these desires. Immediately the three folded fingers straightened up.

6. RAmAnujA’s grief and clearing of doubts

Sri RamAnujAa was distressed when he could not meet YAmunachArya. He returned to Kancheepuram and met KAnchIpUrnar. The latter told SriRAmAnuja that he knew the sadness and certain doubts in his mind, and,that he would seek Varada’s direction in the matter(He could fathom the doubts even without Ramanuja’s spelling them out).The next day he called Sri RamAnuja and conveyed Varada’s message.

  “ AhamEva param tattwam jagathkAranakAranam

KsheEthrajnEswarayOrbhEdaha siddha Eva mahAmathE

MokshopAyaO nyAsa Eva janAnAm mukthimicchathAm

MadbhakthAnAm janAnAm cha nAnthimassmruthirishyathE

DehAvasAnE bhakthAnAm dadAmi paramam padam

PurnAcharyam mahAtmanam samAshraya  gunAshrayam”

(I am paratattwa; I am distinct from JeevAtma;Prapatti is the route to Moksha;Anthimasmruthi is not essential;I shall grant Moksha to my devotees; Seek guidance from the esteemed MahApUrna). Sri RAmAnuja immediately left for Srirangam to meet MahApUrnar. From the other end, MahApUrnar left Srirangam for Kanchi to meet SriRAmanuja. 

     This is true love. The intending tutor and disciple  met at MadhurAnthakam. Sri RamAnuja obtained Panchasamskaram from Sri MahApUrna at MadhurAnthakam.

7. Family life

Sri RamAnuja married ThanjammAl. She was a very orthodox lady. But she could not match the large -heartedness and broadmindedness of SriRAmanuja. On one occasion she did not offer proper hospitality to Thirukkacchinambi who had been specially invited for lunch by Sri RAmAnuja. On a second occasion she refused to offer food to a hungry Sreevaishnava who came to her house. On yet another occasion she behaved in a very rude manner with the wife of Sri RAmAnuja’s guru MahApUrnar who had come as a guest. Sri Ramanuja got frustrated by the  constant bad behaviour of his wife not befitting a sreevaishnava. He immediately left  home and headed towards the temple seeking sanyAsa. Varada greeted him through the priest with the title “Yathiraja”.

8. To Srirangam

After the passing away of  YAmuna there was a void in Srirangam. Lord RanganAtha decreed through the priest that Sri RAmANuja should be brought to Srirangam. Vararanga was sent for this mission. He went to Kanchi and offered intense prayers to Lord Varada with his dance and music. Varada was highly pleased and bade Vararanga to seek any boon. He prayed to Varada that Sri RAmAnuja should be given to him. Varada felt sad at the thought of separation from SriRAmAnuja but having given word he had to agree to release Sri RamAnuja, who then proceeded to SriRangam. There he was warmly received by all led- by Lord Ranganatha himself. The Lord said that he would bless SriRAmanuja with the control of UbhayavibhUthi( Nitya and Leela).Also he conferred on SriRAmAnuja the title “Udaiyavar”.

9. PanchAchAryas

SriRAmAnuja received guidance from five AchAryAs as under.

MahApUrna—taught NyAyatatwa,GeethArthasangraha and AgamashAstrAs

GostipUrnar— taught Rahasyamantra

Thirumalainambi—taught RamAyana

MalAdhara — taught  Dharma Shastra and Bhagavadvishaya

Vararanga—  taught The entire Divyaprabhandham

GostIpurnar told SriRAmAnuja that the rahasyamantra was the means to Moksha and that he should treat it as secret and any violation would lead him to hell. SriRAmAnuja ,after initiation, went on top of the temple rampart and summoned all people to gather and listen to this highly potent mantra. On learning this, GostIpUrnar became furious and summoned his disciple and asked for explanation for the wanton violation of  his command. SriRAmanuja said that he was prepared to go to hell if in the process other people are assured of MOKsha. GostIpUrnar was overwhelmed at the largeheartedness of his disciple and embraced him calling him ‘EmberumAnAr”. He sought to become SriRAmAnuja’s disciple

10.Redeeming promise

Sri RAmAnuja systematised the administration and worship procedures in Srirangam. He then set upon the task of fulfilling the promise he had made to YAmuna. He went with his closest disciple and confidante , Kooratthalwan to Kashmir to get copy of Brahmasuthras. He wrote a detailed commentary on the same.This is called SriBhAshyam , the Magnum Opus of Srivaishnavite literature. In approval and admiration of this work,Goddess Saraswathi conferred on SriRAmAnuja the title “BhAshyakAr”. He named the child oF Kooratthalwan as ParAshara and the child of his cousin , Govinda as ParAnkusha in order to perpetuate the names of the great persons. He thus fulfilled the three promises he had made.

11.Digvijaya (Conquest)

SriRAmAnuja then set out on his digvijaya yAtrA. He went to Tirupathi-Tirumala. There was a lot of controversy about the identity of the deity at that place. Some argued that it was Easwara. Some said it was Shanmugha. Some claimed it to be Devi. Some insisted it was Vishnu. The king called for an open debate on the subject. Even after prolonged discussions,the subject was  not cleared. Then Sri RamAnuja suggested that the best way would be to leave the insignia of the various deities inside the temple and seal the place, and, watch out the next day for definite indications. This was accepted by all and the King approved the proposal. Accordingly, arrangements were made. The next morning the temple doors were opened with all security precautions and in the presence of all the parties who had laid claims on the issue. To the surprise of all and unqualified joy of SriRAmAnuja and his followers the deity shone wearing Shankha and Chakra. Then it was proclaimed that the deity was Vishnu. SriRAmAnuja was given full authority to oversee the worship arrangements. SriRAmanuja systematised the puja procedures. He however retained the VaikhAnasa System here whereas in all other places that he visited he adopted PAncharAthrAgama  system . In recognition of his contribution in establishing the identity of the deity and systematising pujAs,even to this day a special privilege is accorded to people of SriRAmAnuja mutt by giving exclusive  priority in the matter of ShAttumurai SevA after SuprabhAtham.

A great scholar, YagnamUrthy  of  VAranAsi  once challenged  all pundits to come for debate . After a long debate over 17 days SriRAmAnuja vanquished him ,and,  later accepted him as a disciple, who came to be called as  ArulAlapperumAl EmberumAnAr.

YadavaprakAsha who was earlier tutor of Sri RamAnuja was asked by his mother and later through archaka of Varada temple to realise the greatness of SriRAmAnuja and to become his disciple. Without any remorse and sense of ego, YadavaprakAsha accepted this suggestion and became the disciple and came to be known as GovindaJeeyar.

SriRAmAnuja’s cousin,  Govinda who had become a follower of YAdavaprakAsha was later brought back into SriRAmAnuja’s fold through the efforts of SreeshailapUrna and was named Embar.

12. To Melkote

In course of time, the chola king, Krimikanta started relentless persecution of SreevaishnavAs. Followers of SriRAmAnuja prevailed upon SriRAmAnuja to move away from Srirangam to a safe place since he was needed for humanity.SriRAmAnuja and others then moved to KarnAtaka. At Melkote he salvaged the NarAyana Vigraha which was buried under a snakehill ,and,  installed the same in a specially built temple. He learnt that the Utsavamurthy Ramapriyan had been taken away to Delhi. SriRAmAnuja proceeded to Delhi and brought back the same for worship. He systematised the worship and festivals. He appreciated the help rendered by the local people who had been classed as of lower caste. He arranged for special entry for these people into the temple(There was a bar on temple entry for these people earlier). He also called them as “Thirukkulatthar”hose of (Sacred class).He was the foremost social reformer!

13. Back to Srirangam

After twelve years at Melkote SriRAmAnuja and his followers returned to Srirangam .By then,with  the passing away of Krimikantan the persecution of Sreevaishnavas had stopped. SriRAmAnuja felt sad to see that Kooratthalvan had lost his eyes ( Through atrocious act of the cruel king) and that MahApUrna had passed away.

Before settling down in Srirangam SriRAmAnuja arranged for AkkAra Arisil Naivedyam at ThirumAlirumsholai temple to fulfil the vow of Andal. He was therefore called GodAgraja. He was deeply involved in study of ThiruppAvai and was called Thiruppavai jeeyar.

14. SriRAmAnuja’s works

The great works are listed below.

a) VedArthasangraha   – This provides a clear insight to the Upanishads

b) Sri BhAshya    –           This is the principal and classic composition which gives detailed commentary on  BrahmasUthrAs.

c) VedAnthadeepa        –  This is meant for people who are not in a position to study Sribhashyam.

d) VedAnthasAra         – This is smaller in size than VedAnthadeepa

e) GeethabhAshya     – This is based on YamunAchArya’s GeethArtha Sangraha and with greater explanation.

f) SharanAgathi Gadya –  This portrays the principle of surrender.

g) Sriranga Gadya –      This brings out the total devotion to SriRanganAtha

h) Vaikunta Gadya –     This brings out the beauty of MukthAvasthA(State of liberation)

i) Nitya Grantha   –        This defines the daily routine and rituals to be followed by paramEkAnthins.

15. DivyAjnA (Commandments)

Sri RamAnuja laid out the following;

a) One should follow the well- defined order of the VedAs and other DharmashAstrAs considering them as divine dispensation.

b) One must observe all prescribed rituals with a spirit of dedication  to God.

c) One must keep reciting Dwaya at all times and try to understand the significance.

d) One must study religious scriptures and teach other willing persons.

e) One must stay in DivyakshEtrAs whenever possible and offer dhoopa, deepa, naivEdya at the temple/s there.

f) One must seek Srivaishnavas who correctly follow the creed and serve them

g) One must rejoice at the sight of true sreevaishnavas.

h) One must shy away from people who are inimical towards Bhagavan and Bhagavathas.

I)  We must passively ignore people who do not show affection and love.

14. His Last message (Charama SandEsha)

a)       Sri Lakshminarayana is the supreme being

b)       He is our (Universal) father.

c)       Sri MahAlakshmi is our (Universal) mother  and guru.

d)       We are all brothers and sisters.

e)       All of us (ChEthanAs ) are servants of God.

f)        All chEthana and achEthana are subordinate to God.

g)       Since the entire universe is his body,He(Residing in the body) can not  bear when any part of the body suffers pain.

h)       Any pain or hurt we cause to any being is equivalent to causing pain or hurt to the antharyami bhagavan.

i)        If  one wants upliftment of soul and supreme bliss, the only way is total surrender to Him.

j)        Love and identifying oneself with the problems of others is the hallmark of a person who loves God and Is His devotee.

k)       Hence one should approach such an exalted soul, serve and surrender to be assured of Mukthi.

          Sri RamAnuja had 74 prime disciples who were to become the torchbearers of the Sreevaishnavite philosophy.

          The 72 golden words of SriRAmAnuja are well spelt in “Golden lives of the East” (Part 1 – Chapter 20). These will be brought in a subsequent note.

I wish to acknowledge with thanks the excellent material provided in the books and lectures of Sarvasri  C. M. Vijayaraghavachar, Dr. N. S .Anantharangachar, H. J. Ramiengar, Mudumbe Ramanujaiyengar, Swami Ramakrishnanada, Sridevi, S. M. Krishnamachar, G .R. Srinivasadesikachar, Raghusutha, S. S. Raghavachar, Prof. Yamunacharya, Sri Krishnapremi, K. C. Vardachari, Prof. K. S. Narayanachar, M. O. S. Iyengar, Setlur Srinivasaiyengar, A. S. Raghavan, Mysore Andavan, Dr. Varadarajan, Varadaraj Thirumale, and Krishna Thatachar and Velukudi Krishnan.

On Thirunakshatram day, it is recommended to recite the following.

Sri RamAnuja SuprabhAtham  


Koil Thiruvoimoli

RamAnuja NutrandAdi




Vaali thirunamam

I crave indulgence of readers with regard to any deficiencies and errors in this write-up and shall be grateful for correction.

TRS Iyengar

Born on Makara Uthiradam star, native of Mukkur and brought up in Ladavaram village near Arcot and now well settled in Mumbai for over five decades. Presently, at 70, trying to run this website without any commercial expectations or profit motive, just for the sake of our future generations to understand about Sanatana Dharma & Srivaishnavam sampradayam.Within my limited knowledge that I put it here, what I learnt from the world.

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