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rAmAnujar and the gopuram episode

From: Anand Karalapakkam (
Date: Sun Dec 13 1998 - 15:57:05 PST

SrImatE SrI Lakshminrusimha ParabrahmanE namaha

Dear devotees,
namO nArAyaNA.
  adiyEn is forwarding a posting by a bhAgavathA in
another list , with his permission.

adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan
ananthapadmanAbha dAsan

Sri Ramanuja’s life history is filled with extraordinary
events.  Paraphrasing Einstein on Mahatma Gandhi, it is
almost unbelievable that such a one walked this earth in
flesh and blood about 1,000 years ago.  Among these events
the most emotional one is the incidence that gave him the
name “Emperumaanaar”.  The skeletal details of the event
are well known.  However, there are some important
misunderstandings.  The most important of these is whether
or not Sri Ramanuja went up the temple Gopuram and preached
the Rahasyas and Rahasyarthas to everyone.

Research on such matters is of no importance to a Bhagavtha
who is completely immersed in the Kalyana Gunas of our Lord.
However, since adiyEn is not at that level of maturity my
curiosity got the better of me.  AdiyEn looked into four
publications.  They are:

[1] Acharya Vaibhavam by Sri. U. vE. Purisai Nadathur
Krishnamachariyar Swami, published by Sri Visishtadvaita
Research Centre, 66 Dr. Rangachari Road, Madras 18. (1992)

[2] Sri Ramanujar by Pi. Sri, published by Sudesamithran,
(1964) (Out of print)

[3] Ramanuja Vaibhavam by Vadivazhagiya nambidasar with
Commentary by Sri R. Kannan Swamy, published by Sri
Villiputhoor R. Kannan Swamy, 91 Thulasingam Mudali Street,
Madras 11 (Original 300 to 400 years ago, commentary 1988)

[4] Araayirappadi Guruparampara vaibhavam by Pinbazhagiya
PerumaaL Jeeyar (a sishya of NampiLLai), published by
Puththoor Swamy, (The oldest account of Guruparampara,
1968 print)

Before we examine the written evidences, let us examine
the scene of the event.  First, going up the temple Gopuram
and looking down from the top is an intense emotional
experience.  The watchman who took us up narrated the
story with so much emotion that it was impossible to
keep the tears in check.  There are two moorthy’s for
Emparumaanar, in seated position, at the top of the
Gopuram looking down into the street.  The watchman also
narrated how pilgrims from Andhra would hug these moorthees
and weep.  Such untinted devotion towards our Ramanuja is
indeed inspiring.

Then we notice a few things.  First, ThirukkOshitiyur
Nambi’s thirumaaLigai is just a few steps from the bottom
of the Gopuram.  Would Sri Ramanuja have violated the
promise he made to his Acharyan in such a brazen way
right in front of his own house?  May be , may be not,
this is perhaps arguable.  But, the second thing we
notice is that the day when this event is supposed to
have happened was the day of TheRkaazhvaan (Lord Nrisimha)
utsavam.  On that day the place in front of the temple
Gopuram must have been crawling with people, young and
old, men and women, children running around, vendors
hawking their wares, etc, etc.  There must have been a
carnival atmosphere.  Would our Paramacharyan have chosen
such a time and place to openly impart the  most esoteric
of manthras to even the uninterested and incompetent?
How many people would have really understood the
significance of this?  Lastly, from a real practical
point of view, there is simply no way that Sri Ramanuja
would have been heard down below in the streets even if
he was shouting at the top of his voice from high above
on top of the Gopuram.

Now, let us turn to the textual evidence.  First, the
most recent of these is Sri Purisai Swami’s book [1]
published by Sri Ahobila Mutham.  Here the Swami says,
even though Sri Ramanuja went to Thirukkoshtiyur along
with Koorathazhvaan, Mudaliandan, and Nadadurazhvan, he
approached Nambikal by himself and received the upadesam.
Then, the next day, the day of TheRkazhvan utsavam, Sri
Ramanuja conveyed the upadesams to Koortahaazvaan
and others.  NambikaL was irked by this and ordered that
Ramanuja be brought in front of him.  The rest of the
story follows along the well known lines.  The significance
of this is the ease with which Sri Ramanuja passed on the
upadesam.  Even at the risk of the esoteric meanings getting
lost for ever, NambikaL put Sri Ramanuja through severe
tests before imparting them to him.  Further, Nambikal
passed it on only to one disciple.  However, Sri Ramanuja,
out of his limitless compassion, did not subject his pupils
to any grueling tests.  This opened the way for everyone
to learn the manthras with ease.  This is the real
significance of the event.

Now let us move to the second text by Pi. Sri.  Here,
Pi. Sri. says that Sri Ramanauja approached Nambikal along
with Koorathaazhvaan (K) and Mudaliandan (M).  When Nambikal
objected to the presence of K and M, Sri Ramanuja answered
that M is his Thridandam and K is his Pavithram.  NambikaL
was pleased and taught the manthras and the meaning to all

Then, the next day, on the day of Therkaazhvaan utsavam,
Pi. Sri. says, Udayavar conveyed the esoteric manthraas
as well as the hidden meaning to everyone present, including
women and children.  Pi. Sri. then adds that “some say he
went up the gopuram”.  Here is the original:

“gOpuraththil ERi ninRu ivar
     thirumanthiraththaiyum, athan
         poruLaiyum muzhanginaar
            enRu *** kooRuvOrum uNdu ***.”

The phrase “kooRuvOrum uNdu”, i.e. there are people who
claim this, clearly shows that Pi. Sri. Was hedging about
the gopuram incidence.

Now, to the remaining two references [3] and [4].  Of these,
Sri Ramanuja Vaibhavam [3] is dated approximately 300 to 400
years ago.  Sri R. Kannan Swamy, the commentator, argues
that the author, Vadivazhagiya Nambi is a disciple of
Azhakappa Nambi.  This means the author must have belonged
to ThenAcharya sampradayam.  According to this text, Udayavar
does introduce M and K as his Thandu and Pavithram.  But,
the upadesam itself is supposed to have been given in the
ear of Udayavar.  Here is the relevant portion of the
verse #341:

... nambi oppilaar seviyil andha
            uNmaiyai upadEsiththaan.”

(Nambi gave the upadesam about the truth in the ear of
the peerless Ramanuja.)

>From this we can infer that the Upadesam was given only
to Ramanuja, but not to others.

The text then continues that Sri Ramanuja stayed in
Thirukkoshityur for a few days.  Then, on the day of
Therkaazhvaan utsavam, Sri Ramanauja openly gave out
the upadesam.  Here is that part of verse #356:

“.... anaivarum aRiyum vaNNam seppinaar
              iLaiyaazhvaar ...”

(Ramanuja explained the meaning so that everyone
could hear.)

There is no mention of Gopuram here or Ramanuja giving
upadesam specially to M or K.  But, since [3] follows
[4] quite closely, we can infer that by “anaivarum” (all)
what is actually meant is the group of Sri Vaishnavas
present with Sri Ramanuja.

Finally, let us look at the oldest of all these texts,
ARAyirappadi [4].  The Thandu-Pavithram part of the story
is mentioned here, which is repeated in much the same way
in [3] above.  But, in this text Nambikal gives permission
for Udayavar to instruct K and M on the esoteric manthras.
Here is the original:

“... ivvartthatthai ivargaLukku oziya
     maRRoruvarukkum sollaathE k0LLum ...”

(Do not explain these meanings to anyone other than
these (two).)

>From this it is clear that Nambikal gave upadesam only to
Ramanuja, but not to K and M.

Then, the text goes on, the next day was Therkaazvaar
utsavam.  On this day Sri Ramanuja gave upadesam to many
Sri Vaishnavas.  Here is the original:

“... therkaazvaar thiruvOlakkaththil
       anEgam srivaishNavarkaLLukku ap
         prama rahasya arththatthai aruLinaar.”

Note the term, “anEgam Sri VaishnavavargaLukku”.  Nambikal
allowed Ramanuja to pass on the upadesam only to K and M.
But Udaiyavar gave it away to many Sri Vaishnavas.  That
is all.   There is no mention of upadesams to everyone
including women and children as Pi. Sri states.  And, there
is no mention of any Gopuram.  The Gopuram episode is just
interesting addition to popular folklore full of emotional
anubhavam, but not much in the way of fact.

Did Sri Ramanuja climb to the top of the Gopuram?

[1], [3] and [4] do not mention this at all.  Even Pi Sri
in [2] hedges by saying some people claim this.  So we can
authoritatively conclude that Sri Ramanuja did not climb
on top of any Gopuram.

Did Sri Ramanuja give out rahasya manthras/mantharthas
to everyone?

Only Pi. Sri. states this happened.  ARAyirappadi clearly
states that this was given only to "anEga" "Sri Vaishnavas."
Thus there is no justification to claim that Sri Ramanuja
freely gave it to anyone walking in, let alone anyone
standing in a street corner.  It seems some people claim
that "Sri Vaishnavas" means anyone coming in and "anEga"
means a mass of people.  Such broad interpretations of
these terms are speculations and cannot be presented or
accepted as facts.  Those who continue to claim such
broad interpretations are well advised to look at the
way in which Kooraththaazhvan and Mudaliandan got

All said and done, none of these diminish the significance of
what actually took place almost 1,000 years ago.  But for
Sri Ramanuja’s perseverance to get the upadesam from NambikaL
and then the ease with which he passed it along to many of his
sishyas, we may not have the prapatti margam today.  It is for
this reason that Udayavar is indeed Emperumaanar.