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An erudite guide of Vaishnavism

From: Malolan Cadambi (
Date: Fri Aug 03 2001 - 09:38:31 PDT

>From The Hindu Online August 03,2001.

An erudite guide of Vaishnavism 

THE HOARY tradition of Vaishnavism boasts of innumerable scholars and
savants who had distinguished themselves through dedicated service to
the propagation of its tenets and through their benign role as
authentic spiritual guides (acharyas) to the seekers of liberation
through self-surrender (saranagati). To this class of illustrious men
of erudition belonged Vangipuram Navanitam Srirama Desikachariar of
Oppiliappan sannidhi (in Tamil Nadu), who was reverentially and
endearingly called `Navanitam Swami'. 

Born in 1901, Srirama Desikachariar hailed from a family of great
scholars with a lineage traceable to Vangipuram Achan, a direct
disciple of Ramanuja. One of his ancestors, Venkatacharya, had
written a scholarly commentary on Chandogya Upanishad, titled
`Chandogya Navanitam' about 300 years ago,. From then on, `Navanitam'
has come to be used by the descendants as a prefix to their names. 

A Madras University diploma holder in Sanskrit (Siromani) and in
Tamil (Vidwan), Srirama Desikachariar was a teacher by profession
and, even while in service, had his tutelage in the spiritual realm
under his father, Krishnamachariar, from whom he learnt the
Vaishnavite scriptural texts in the traditional manner. An
acknowledged authority on Vaishnavism and a spiritual Guru
(preceptor) for a large circle of disciples, Krishnamachariar had
published several sacred works, including the Mahabharata. Quite a
few of the works, such as a commentary on the Upanishads by
Rangaramanujamuni (17th century) and `Nayamayukhamalika' of Appayya
Diskhitar, which were available till then only in palm leaves, found
its way into print because of his efforts. For his part, Srirama
Desikachariar had done monumental service to the cause of Vaishnavism
by editing several of the works of Vedanta Desika, with lucid
commentaries, explanatory notes, annotations and so on. Among them
were: Desika Stotras, Desika Prabandha, Rahasyatrayasara,
Hamsasandesa and Sillarai-rahasyas. Remarkable indeed was his
contribution to the popularisation of Vedanta Desika and his works.
He was also a regular contributor to religious magazines like
`Nrisimha Priya' and `Ranganatha Paduka'. 

The work Srirama Desikachariar cherished most was the Suprabhatam
(with) prapatti and mangalam he composed in Sanskrit on his favourite
deity at Oppiliappan Koil (near Kumbakonam), one of the 108 Divya
Desas and a popular prarthana sthala, and it is being recited in the
temple as part of the daily routine of rituals in the temple. 

Recipient of numerous awards and titles - Vidya Visarada, Nyaya
Vendata Pravina Darsana Dhurandhara, to cite just a few -Srirama
Desikachariar got recognition for his erudition in Sanskrit from the
Government of India in 1975 when he was honoured with the President's
award. Apart from teaching the Vaishnavite scriptural works in the
traditional manner, he reached out to the masses by travelling to
remote villages and performed religious rites such as panchasamskara
to thousands of disciples who flocked to him. His disciples always
marvelled at the facile and exemplary manner in which he used to
clarify even abstruse metaphysical points. 

To mark the birth centenary of Srirama Desikachariar (he passed away
at the age of 81), which was heralded with a function in Pondicherry
this time last year, celebrations were held every month throughout
the year by his disciples in different parts of Tamil Nadu. 

As a grand finale, a two-day celebration will be held, quite
appropriately, at his native place, Oppiliappan Koil, on August 15
and 16. Eminent scholars like Srivatsankachariar and Yajnavaraha
Thathacariar, besides numerous disciples and admirers, will
participate in the function. A commemoration volume and a set of
three audio cassettes, titled ``Tiruppavai - a simple exposition'' by
Srirama Desikachariar's son and disciple, V. N. Gopala Desikachariar
-himself a scholar and spiritual Guru in the footsteps of his father
- are slated for release on the occasion. 


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