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Re: rAmAnujar and the gopuram episode

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Mon Dec 14 1998 - 13:00:50 PST

This is obviously one of the most significant episodes
in Sri Ramanuja's life, and no matter how interprets it,
one cannot but be impressed with the concern Ramanuja had
for his fellow beings.

But what exactly did Ramanuja do? These questions are
lost in history, perhaps, but the early biographies, acharyas'
works, and oral tradition can lead us near the truth.

Sri Anand wrote, quoting another bhakta (Dileepan?):
> 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? 

This is a good question.  Ramanuja was a revolutionary 
character, unquestionably unique in his open-mindedness
and willingness to see through religious texts and
teachings and make sense of them. What is more, he was
a person who stuck to certain principles even when  
they challenged the norms of his time.

Here are a few examples of how he related to several of
his acharyas.

a) When Yadavaprakasa, his first teacher of Vedanta, 
   interpreted some passages of the Upanishads in an
   intellectually unacceptable way, compromising the glory
   of God, Ramanuja respectfully but openly disagreed, putting
   his very life in danger. This was when he was a mere boy.

b) While being instructed in the inner meaning of Tiruvaymozhi
   by Tirumaalai Andaan, Ramanuja openly objected to several
   interpretations taught by the acharya, and offered his own
   instead.  At least once, Andaan refused to teach Ramanuja
   in consternation.

c) Periya Nambi performed the "brahma medha" funeral rite, 
   traditionally reserved only for brahmins, for an untouchable 
   saint, Maaraneri Nambi. When Ramanuja saw this, he challenged
   PN, his primary acharya, to explain how he could violate 
   tradition in such a gross manner.  Periya Nambi gave a convincing
   and moving reply about the greatness of bhAgavatas irrespective
   of caste which satisfied Ramanuja.

You see, openly but respectfully challenging his acharyas on principle
came easily to Ramanuja, even when the consequences were severe.  In
this instance, he knew that Tirukkottiyur Nambi would come to hear of
his revealing the secret teaching, irrespective of how and where he
did it.  Ramanuja did not want to hide his actions from Tirukkottiyur
Nambi; that would be cowardly.  He knew he was disobeying his acharya,
knew that the latter would find out, and for the sake of uplifting his
fellow beings, was willing to pay the consequences.

So, in answer to the question, 

  > Would Sri Ramanuja have violated the
  > promise he made to his Acharyan in such a brazen way
  > right in front of his own house? 

my answer is: I think so.  Ramanuja was not trying to hide his
actions. But this may not be the "gopuram" in question. More on this

> 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?

This, to me, shows Ramanuja's very uniqueness, and I believe
this why he did it.  He went to the most public place possible,
the temple, (this is undisputed) and revealed the mantrArthas
there. Sri Pinpazhagiya Perumal Jiyar, in another description
of this event in his biography, writes that Ramanuja taught
this to "everyone" (sarvarkkum aruLicceyya).

If one would ask how this would have occurred, I can
easily surmise the following situation. Ramanuja sits down
with his inseparable associates Mudaliandan and Kurattazhvan.
A crowd gathers around, attracted by the tejas evident in 
Ramanuja's face. And Ramanuja proceeds to teach.

This kind of thing (public discourses with random visitors) 
happen even today in any major temple.

[ I do not think that Ramanuja climbed the gopuram, nor
  do the oldest accounts say that he shouted out the sacred
  mantra. As Sri Bharat has written, it seems that gopura also 
  referred to a particular area or room of the temple. But all
  of the old accounts are agreed that he taught the mantrArthams
  in this place to many people, not just a select handful of
  disciples. ]

Re: Sri Purisai Swami's version of the events

I am not sure what texts Sri Purisai Swami used for his
version, but they do not agree in many respects with 
Sri P.P. Jiyar's aaraayirappadi.  

Re: Vadivazhagiya Nambi Dasar's "Ramanuja Vaibhavam"
    (300 - 400 years old) 

Dileepan writes:
> ... anaivarum aRiyum vaNNam seppinaar
>               iLaiyaazhvaar ...
> (Ramanuja explained the meaning so that everyone
> could hear.)
> There is no mention of [...] 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.

This conclusion I don't find obvious at all. Why doesn't "everyone"
(anaivarum) simply mean everyone (or many people) at Tirukkottiyur?
Why would Ramanuja go to the temple to teach, instead of his 
thirumaaLigai, if it were not to teach people unknown to him?
This is much more straightforward. 

In general, these biographers are very specific. If they mean
only a few or select people, they usually say so. When they mean
otherwise, they say it.

Re: P.P. Jiyar's aaraayirappadi

Dileepan writes:
> 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
>          parama 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.

Women and children are also Sri Vaishnavas and can be
included in the group. But, it is true, children may not
have had an interest and may not have sat and listened.


I agree with Dileepan's summary that the facts do not admit of
Ramanuja having climbed the temple tower (gopuram).

But as far as the second question is concerned:

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

I agree that Ramanuja did not give out the rahasya mantras
in this episode. No ancient biography mentions that he did.

However, Dileepan writes:
> ARAyirappadi clearly
> states that this was given only to "anEga" "Sri Vaishnavas."
> [...] There is no mention of upadesams to everyone
> including women and children as Pi. Sri states.

The aaraayirappadi also says, [p. 286, Puttur Swamy's edition]:

    ivarum adhaith theRkaazhvaar thiruvOlakkaththilE 
    dhooLidhaan^amaaka sarvarkkum aruLicceyya
                       ^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^

    Ramanuja went to sannidhi of Terkaazhvaar (Narasimhar)
    and graciously imparted [the meaning] to everyone,
    as if he were giving away dust

At the very least, the meaning of "everyone" (sarvarkkum, anaivarum)
must be broader than a select few of his disciples. I also see no need 
to categorically exclude women and children, for whom Ramanuja
has shown great affection and respect (more than the norm) many other
times in his life.

Dileepan continues:
> And, there is no mention of any Gopuram.

I would like to repeat here what Sri Bharat wrote about the 

   The next day, he entered into the big and elevated hall
     *(this is called the Gopuram or pinnacle as sung by 
       ANNAvappangAr in his Ramanuja AtimAnusha stava-
          <kim gOpurOpari vitEritha bhUridAnam>) 
   of Terk-kAzhvAn or the Lord Nrisimha,Resident of Tiru-k-kOTiyUr ...

So gopuram does not mean the pagoda here, but a large meeting

I think we agree in many respects.  Ramanuja did not climb
the temple tower. That would not serve his purpose. He also
did not shout out the sacred mantra. That wasn't his point.
But he did teach many people, perhaps everyone he could gather,
the sacred teaching embodied in the mantra as revealed by Tirukkottiyur
Nambi, putting himself in danger of severe punishment here and
hereafter, for the upliftment of his fellow beings.

emberumaanaar thiruvadigaLE SaraNam

thirukkacci nambi dhaasan

P.S. Just as one should not speculate so much as to make Ramanuja a
revolutionary firebrand, changing everything in sight, one should also
not speculate the other way and reinterpret all his bold moves to
always fit the straightjacket of traditional norms and conservatism.
The spirit of the ancient biographies do not read this way.