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From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
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 below. > 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  follows >  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. Summary ------- 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 "gopuram". 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 area. 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 adiyEn 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.