Sri Ramanuja (1017 – 1137 CE), the most important philosopher-saint of Sri Vaishnavam and one of the most dynamic characters of Hinduism. He was a philosophical as well as a social reformer, displaying a catholicity that was nearly unparalleled in Hindu religious history before him. He revitalised Indian philosophy and popular religion so much that nearly every aspect of Hinduism has been influenced by his work. His life and works show a truly unique personality, combining contemplative insight, logical acumen, catholicity, charismatic energy, and selfless dedication to God.
The less known fact even among Srivaishnavas about this well known Acharya by whose name Srivaishnava philosophy is called ‘Ramanuja Darsanam’ and who is hailed as “Sri Vaishnava Siddhanta Nirdhaarana Saarva bouma” is that he was a ‘Vadama’ by birth.(Authority :” Periya Thrumudi Adaivu, Pazhanadai Vilakkam and Visishtaadvaita Catechism” – quoted in GLE)
HIS AVATARA AND EARLY DAYS
Ilaya Perumal was born to Kesava Perumal Somayaji Dikhsitar and Kanthimathi Ammal at Sriperumpudur. Just as Sage Vasishta on seeing the brilliance in the face of the child named him as Lakshmana saying “Lakshmano Lakshmi Sampannaha”, Periya Thiru malai Nambi struck by the Tejas of the child, named him after Lakshmana as Ilaya Perumal. (PPM) aka Ilayalwar.
There is a sloka in Yadhavaachala Mahatmyam which says:
Ananthah Prathamam Roopam Lakshmanascha Tathah Parah |
Balabadram Thritheeyasthu Kalou Kaschit Bhavishyathi ||
(meaning) It is the same who was Adhisesha first, Lakshmana after and Balarama in the third who is born as Sri Ramanuja in the Kali yuga. This Kaschit is taken by our Poorva Acharyas as referring to Ramanuja (PPM)
HIS BIRTH: (CHITRAI- TIRUVADHIRAI)
His date of birth is placed differently by different authorities.As per PPM, he was born in Kaliyuga year 4119 which corresponds to 1017 AD. PPM fixes even the exact date as 13th April 1017 AD, interms of English Calendar.
PRA, though notes the year as 4118 Kali , maintains the year as 1017 AD only and gives additional information that the Rasi was Karkataka and the time of birth was exactly at noon.
VAC, MKS and MSR also agree on the year 1017. PTA gives a few more details like the Yogam being Ayushman, Karanam being Bhadra, Gotra being Harita, Saakha being Yajus, Sutra being Apasthambha and Sect being Vadama ( Vide p.45 of GLE).
PPM and ATA mention the year as Pingala, month Chitrai and the constellation Tiruvadirai (Ardra nakshatra). PPM adds that it was a Sukla Paksha Panchami, a Friday.
It will be for the Research minded scholars to piece together all these details to arrive at the
correct date, time etc.
Vriddha Padma Purana presages his incarnation thus:-
” Long, long afterwards, the Lord himself will come down on earth as a Tridanda Sannyasin, to restore the good law. At that time heretics and men of perverted intellects will confuse the minds of the people. Aasuric Saastraas, based upon fallacious arguments and various schools of thought, very attractive and almost indistinguishable from the Vedanta, will turn away mens’ hearts from Vishnu and cause them to forget His glory. That glorious incarnation will, through the good fortune of the Lord’s devotees, come down upon earth, to explain and amplify the teachings of the great Sage Baadaraayana and the divine singer of the Gita. The holy one would compose a Bhaashya on the Vyaasa Sutras, to save men from the confusion and despair caused by spurious doctrines and lead them to the True faith” ( Vide p.44
While still a boy , he lost his father and was living with his mother at Kanchipuram under the protection of one ‘Tiruk kachi Nambi’ This Nambi was believed to converse and was on ‘speaking terms’ with Lord Varadaraja in the Archa form.
EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF SRI RAMANUJA
(1) Within 16 years of age, he had mastered all the Vedas and Sastras. At age 17, he married Rakshakaambaal ( Tanjammal, in Tamil) (PPM)
(2) Ilaya Perumal was placed under the Advaitic Sannyasi called YADAVA PRAKASA at Tirupput kuzhi for training in Advaita Purva Paksha Sastra of Vedanta. Once during this period, Alavandar who desired nominating Ilaya Perumal to succeed himself visited Tirupput kuzhi, met with him but had no opportunity to speak to him and had to return to Srirangam.
Very many occasions arose when the Saivite Guru clashed with Ilaya Perumal when the Guru misinterpreted Vedantic statements. Ilaya Perumal fearlessly pointed out the errors in the Guru’s interpretations and corrected him. This enraged the Guru. Fearing that one day, Ilaya Perumal would demolish Advaita philosophy, he plotted to kill Ilaya Perumal by drowning him in Ganga while on a pilgrimage tour of the country with his disciples.
Learning of the design through one Govinda, another disciple who was also related to him, Ilaya Perumal slipped out into the forest at dead of night. Miraculously, an aged hunter couple appeared and guided him. As Ilaya Perumal who was in a trance, opened his eyes, he found himself at the outskirts of Kanchipuram and the couple had disappeared. He realized that it was Lord Varadaraja and Perundevi Thayar who had come in the guise of the hunter couple. He stayed at Kanchi for a while to assist Tiruk Kachi Nambi in his daily chores of service to Lord Varadaraja.
(3) News came that Alavandar was very sick and he desired to meet with Ilaya Perumal. Just as Tirukkachi Nambi and Alavandar arrived, they saw the funeral procession of Alavandar. During the last rites, they noticed that three fingers of Alavandar remained folded signifying three of his last unfulfilled wishes. As Ilaya Perumal swore
( i ) that he would write a commentary on Veda Vyasa’s Brahma Sutra ( ii ) that he would perpetuate the memory of Vyasa and Parasara and ( iii ) that he would strive to propagate Visishtadvaita on the lines of the 4000 holy collects of Alwars, the fingers unfolded one by one automatically and stretched out to normal position signifying that these were his last wishes. Since he could not meet with Alavandar, he returned to Kanchi without even going into the temple at Srirangam (PPM)
(4) Tirukkachi Nambi obtained from Lord Varadaraja the famous ‘ Six Words ‘ and passed them on to Ilayalwar. The six words provided the guidelines for Ilayalwar to follow. They were:-
( i ) that Lord Narayana is the Paramatma. (ii ) that the individual souls were different from Paramatma. (iii) that Prapatti is the means to attain salvation. (iv) that the last remembrance of the Lord on the part of the departing soul was not necessary. (v) that Moksha can be obtained only on laying off the mortal coils (Videha Mukti) & (vi) that Ilaya Perumal should take refuge at the feet of Periya Nambi.
Accordingly, he met with Periya Nambi at Madurantakam , where under the shade of Vakula tree Periya Nambi performed Pancha Samskara to him. As he was initiated into the esoteric of Dvaya Mantra at Madurantakam, the place came to be known as “Dvayam Vilaindha Tiruppathi” (PPM) Both returned to Srirangam and did Kalakshepams on Brahma Sutra etc. for sometime. It was at this time that Lord Ranganatha called him “Nammudaiyavar” (He is ours).(PPM)
(5) Ilaya Perumals was not a happy married life. His wife never understood either his greatness nor appreciated his catholicity and always acted on her own wavelength and there was no compatibility as between them. Several instances are cited wherein the lady ensconced in her own in her own pet ideas of being holy or otherwise showed scant respect to Bhagavatas and this greatly annoyed Ilayalwar. When he was about 30 years of age, Ilayalwar took Sannyas with the name of ‘Ramanuja Muni’. He was the king among Sannyasis. Hence, he is called ‘ Yati Rajar’- a honorific invested by Lord Devaathi Rajan.
(6) The seat of Acharya at Srirangam was lying vacant without a successor to take over. He was prevailed upon to assume charge. But, before doing so, he wanted to equip himself with the secrets of the three great Mantras. For this purpose, he approached one ” Tiruk Koshtiyur Nambi” who made him come several times before actually instructing him. He cautioned Ramanuja that he should not give out the secrets to all and sundry and if he did so, he would go to hell.
Immediately on receiving the instructions, Ramanuja climbed up to the top of the steeple of the temple and proclaimed to the large gathering of his disciples assembled there the purport of the instruction.
The popular belief that he gave out the Mantras is not correct; What he actually gave out was that he had found out the way to attain Moksha through the three great Mantras and invited those who sincerely wished to follow him and get initiated. Also, he did not advise all and sundry as assumed by some. By the time of this episode, he had already gathered a huge following of disciples who congregated at the main entrance to the temple and he was thus addressing his own disciples (as explained in a separate posting in this series). This is another less known fact about the well known Acharya Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi was so enraged and demanded an explanation. Ramanuja replied that he did not give out the secrets and even if he had transgressed the specific warning of the Guru, only he himself would go to hell but the multitude of humanity that listened to his clarion ‘ wake – up’ call would be saved spiritually. The Guru was overwhelmed by this reply . Embracing Ramanuja appreciating his broad mindedness, he called him ‘Emperumanar’- ” O! My lord” and declared that Srivaishnavism would thenceforward be known as ” Ramanuja Darsanam”- ‘ the light of Ramanuja’
(7) Yadava prakasa, his old Guru had by then returned to Kanchi, became Ramanuja’s disciple assuming the name of ‘Govinda Yogi’
(8) Ramanuja used to go round the streets for his Biksha. An evil minded fellow had mixed poison in the biksha. His wife while serving the biksha fell at Ramanujas feet with tears in her eyes. Ramanuja understood that there was something wrong. When the Sishyas sorted out the biksha for cooking, they found out that poison was mixed with it. Ramanuja went on a fast with a view to cleanse the mind of the evil-doer. On hearing this, Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi rushed all the way to Srirangam. When Ramanuja heard of the coming of his Guru, he rushed to the banks of River Kaveri to receive him. It was the height of summer. Ramanuja ran towards him in the hot Sun to receive him and fell at his feet on the burning sands on the banks of river Kaveri. Nambi did not ask him to get up. Such was his Acharya Bhakti. At that time , Kidambi Aachaan, who was nearby told Nambi ” Your action (in not asking Ramanuja to get up) is worse than the poison mixed in the bikshai”. Such was the Acharya bhakti of Ramanujas Sishya !(Like master, like pupil !). Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi exclaimed, ” After all, now I can cast off my physical body since I have found one who would take the greatest care of Ramanuja”
(9) Ramanuja traveled throughout the country spreading the message of Visishtadvaita. Once a votary of the ‘ illusion theory’ Yagna Murthi by name confronted him for 16 days in endless arguments and counter arguments. Finally, he accepted defeat and became a disciple of Ramanuja assuming the name of ‘Arulala Perumal Emperumanar’ and wrote ‘Gnana Saram and Prameya Saram’.
(10) One of the most important disciples who was totally devoted to Ramanuja was Kuresan also known as ‘ Kurattalwan’. Once, Kuresan participated in the shradda ceremony performed for his mother by the famous Tiruvarangathu Amudanar. This Amudanar was in charge of the Srirangam temple. When Amudanar inquired what Kuresan desired as reward for his participation, Kuresan replied that the administration of the temple should be handed over to Ramanuja. Amudanar, who had already known the greatness of Ramanuja was only too glad to hand over the key to Ramanuja. It is this Tiruvarangattu
Amudanar who subsequently wrote the Ramanuja Noorrantadhi of 108 verses which was included in the holy collects to make up the total of 4,000.
(11) After Mastering the Bodhaayana Vritti of Sage Vyaasa, he wrote several works like Vedanta Sangraham explaining the various viewpoints of Sankara, Yadhava, Bhaskara and others, Vedanta Deepam, Geetha Bashyam etc.
(12) During Panguni Uttram, he did Prapatti before the Divya Dhampathi in Serthi and submitted his famous Gadhyatrayam (comprising Saranagathi Gadhyam, Sriranga Gadhyam and Sri Vaikunta Gadhyam ),
(13) Later, he wrote a Grantha called Nityam detailing the Tiruvaradhana Kramam
(14) While he was on his Sancharam, it is believed that the Lord himself appeared before him at Tiruk Kurum Kudi as a Srivaishnava got Samasrayanam from Udaiyavar (PPM)
(15) When he visited Saraswati Peetam, Goddess Saraswati was so impressed with his commentary on Brahma Sutram that she named it “Sri Bhashyam” and conferred on him the title of “Bhashyakaarar”. It must be noted that while the other commentaries are known by the names of their authors like ‘Sankara Bashyam’ written by Aadhi Sankara, the commentary of Ramanuja is always referred to with the venerable honorific ‘Sri’ denoting its unsurpassed quality and clarity and known as ‘ Sri Bashyam’ (PPM)
(16) When he visited Tirumala, a miracle happened. Some argued that the Lord of Tirumalai was Saiva param. It is surprising that such a claim should have arisen about the Lord who had been worshipped as Lord Vishnu by all the Alwars and Acharyas besides Elango Adigal and other Tamil Pulavars for several centuries. This was because the Lord had earlier entrusted His insignia to a King called Tondamaan. (SAA p.57-58). The Lord desired to take back from Tondamaan, these insignia viz., Sankhu, Tiruvaazhi, Soolam, Damarukam etc. They were placed in the Sannidhi the previous night. And, when the
doors were opened the next morning, the Lord gave Darshan adorning all his insignia (PPM). Ramanuja was hailed as ” Appanukku Sangaazhi Alittha Perumaal” Poet Arunagiri himself sang clearing all doubts in this regard saying “Ulageenra Pachai umaiyanan, Vada Venkadathil Uraibhavan, Uyar Sanga Chakra kara Thalan”
(17) Ramanuja “was the greatest synoptic thinker which the world ever produced to systematize Visishtadvaitic philosophy, faithfully interpreting the ancient knowledge in tune with the letter and spirit of the text in the light of revelation and experience tested by stern logic”- [- Hon’ble Justice K.S.Krishnaswami Iyengar of the High Court of Judicture, Madras in his foreword to Desika Prabahandam( P.31) published by Lifco Associates, Madras- 3rd Edition, 1982. ]
(18) His magnum opus is his wonderful commentary on Vedavyasa’s Brahma Sutram and a simpler commentary thereon called Vedanta Saram. Kuresan was very helpful in publishing his works. Thus, he fulfilled his FIRST PROMISE to Alavandar. It is this Kuresan (aka) Sri Vatsanka Misra who wrote the famous Pancha Sthava consisting of Athi Maanusha Sthava, Sri Sthava, Varadaraja Sthava, Vaikunta Sthava and Sundarabaahu Sthava.
(19) He asked Kuresan to name his two sons after Veda Vyasa and Parasara and thus fulfilled his SECOND PROMISE to Alavandar. It was this Parasara Bhattar who subsequently wrote the famous commentary on Vishnu Sahasra Nama as ordained by Ramanuja.
(20) Another disciple of Ramanuja was Pillaan. Once, when Ramanuja was alone mentally reciting a particular hymn of Tiruvoimozhi, Pillaan entered his room and inquired if he was meditating on a particular hymn. And, it was indeed the one Ramanuja was actually meditating on!. Ramanuja decided that Pillaan was the person best suited to write a commentary on Tiruvoimozhi. As ordered, he wrote the famous ‘AARAAYIRAPPADI’ (the commentary known as the 6000 Padi also known as Bhagavad Vishayam) and called Pillaan as ‘Tirukkurugai Piraan” after the name of Nammalwar. He was also known as Kurugesar and Braathru Thozhappar. Thus, he fulfilled his THIRD PROMISE to Alavandar. He was one of the Sri Bhashya ubhaya Simhasana Adhipathis.(PPM)
(21) Kulothunga Chola was a staunch devotee of Siva. He commanded Ramanuja to come to his court with a view to enlisting his support to establish the superiority of Siva over all other deities. (including Vishnu ). If the support was not forthcoming, the king was planning to kill Ramanuja. Sensing the danger, Kuresa went to the court disguised as Ramanuja along with another disciple called Periya Nambi. The king ordered him to sign a document to the effect that ‘Siva is the greatest’. Kuresa added that ‘ Sivam was no doubt great but Dronam was greater than Sivam’- both expressions referring to units of measurement. The enraged king ordered both of them to be blinded when he came to know that he was Kuresa who was impersonating Ramanuja. Periya Nambi was tortured to death while Kuresa survived. Kuresa, though he himself was blinded, was happy that he had saved Ramanuja. It is this Kulothunga who is reported to have thrown away the idol of Govindaraja in the sea. Ramanuja recovered it and had it installed at Tirupati.
(22) While on an itinerary, Ramanuja noticed an officer of state, by name Danur daasa, a hunter by birth was over -concerned and over- protective about the beauty of his wife who was walking along on the hot sands on the banks of the river Kaveri. Ramanuja offered to show him something more beautiful than his wife and took him to the proximity of the image of Lord Ranganatha. Danur daasa was enraptured by the charm of the Lord and became a disciple of Ramanuja assuming the name of ‘ Uranga Villi Daasar’. Ramanuja never entertained any caste distinctions and was conferring his benedictions even on the lowliest of the lowly whom he called ‘Tiruk Kulattar’.
(23) Ramanuja went to Tiru narayana puram in search of white clay paste used for applying caste marks by Vaishnavites. The idol of the temple there had been taken away by the muslim invaders and was being used at play as a doll by the muslim princess in Delhi. Ramanuja went to Delhi and when he endearingly called ‘ Come on! My dear child ‘Selva Pillaiye Vaarum’, the idol miraculously came onto his lap. Ramanuja reinstalled it in the temple.
(24) Once some kids were playing on the road pretending to construct a temple, installing an idol of the Lord, offering fruits and flowers etc all the time using the dust on the road for the purpose. They offered some mud as prasadam to Ramanuja who was passing along , he received it with due respect. He remembered in this connection the words of Poigai Alwar who said that the Lord took whatever name and form his sincere devotees wished and in the instant case though the kids were only playing, they sincerely believed in what they were doing.
(25) Another disciple of Ramanuja was Vaduga Nambi who put the sandals of his Guru along with those of the Lord. When questioned, he replied that the Acharya’s sandals were for him as holy as those of the Lord. When Lord Ranganatha was coming on his rounds on the streets of Srirangam, Vaduga Nambi remarked that the eyes that had seen the charm in the eyes of Ramanuja would not be able to appreciate the beauty of the eyes of even the Lord.-‘En Amudinai Kanda Kangal Marronrinai Kaanaave.’ Such was his devotion to his Acharya.
(26) Ramanuja arranged to make a lifelike idol of himself and embracing it invested it with his powers and had it installed in Tirumalai at Tirupati. The only temple consecrated in Tirumalai , other than that of Lord Venkateswara, is that of Ramanuja.(SAA p.58) The Archa moorthi of Ramanuja known as “Thaan Ugantha Tirumeni” was installed in Tirunarayanapuram.
(27) Once, when he visited Tondanoor in Hoysala State, he happened to meet a Jain king called Devarayan. His daughter was possessed by a demon and none could get rid of her predicament. When Ramanuja’s SriPaada Theertham ( water consecrated by association with his feet) was sprinkled on her,she was cured of the devil. The King pleaded to be accepted as Ramanujas Sishya. Ramanuja accepted and named him “Vishnu Vardhana”.
(28) Ramanuja nominated 74 Acharyas to succeed him. It is he who instituted the 13 day “iyal Goshti in Srirangam.