Jaya Jaya Sri Sudarsana !
Jaya Jaya Sri Sudarsana !
Sri Ramanuja, His life before & after “Sanyasam” (Sainthood)
The following article was written by Sri. S. Sriraman, (of 26/9,PromenadeRd., 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.
Arun SKL Veeraragavan
“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”.
Sri 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
(This stanza is one of the few prescribed for daily recital in Vaishnavite homes during Aradhana.)
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.
Kesava 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.
In 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. Unfortunately, Somayaji 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.
After 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.
One 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 renegade disciple.
On 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 and kapyasam 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.
Yadavaprakasa 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.
Ramanuja 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 Kancheepuram.
Ramanuja’s 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.
At 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.
When 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.
One 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.
Thereafter 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.
At 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.
Ramanuja saw three fingers of Alavandar were folded. A close disciple explained that the departed soul had three unfulfilled desires: (1) 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.
On 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.
Thirukachi 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.)
Ramanuja 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).
From 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.
After 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.
Some 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”………………….”
There 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.
Wherever 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”.
Meanwhile, 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.
Thiruvaranga 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 public.
Ramanuja 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.
Sri 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.
Ramanuja 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 people.)
Ramanuja 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.
Ramanuja 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.
When 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.
Thereafter, 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 “I 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”
Ramanuja 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 uncle, “You 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”.
Ramanuja 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.
On 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.
Prapancha 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.)
Sri 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.
Ramanuja 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 verses.
The 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.
One 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.
Ramanuja 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 “Thiru 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.
Sri 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.)
Sri 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 as thamar Uganda meni and in Srirangam as thanaana meni.
yo 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.
Sri 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 , concluding:
Nasthi Pithrarjitham kinchith Na maya kinchitharjitham
Asthi me hasthisailagre Vasthu paithamaham danam.
I 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.
There 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 the public.
Once 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.
Once 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 Stotra “Sri 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.
There 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 regularly. Similarly 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 sadahruthi”
devoted 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 thanian,
“Ramanuja dayapatram 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.
Swami 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.
In 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 his works.
Kavithaarkika simhaaya kalyaana gunasaalinE
SrimathE VenkatEsaya VEdantha gurave nama:
कावितार्किक शिम्हाय कल्याण गुणसालिनॆ \
श्रीमतॆ वॆ‘न्कटेसाय वॆदान्त गुरवॆ नम: \\
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