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Ramanujacharya

KANNADA_at_aol.com
Date: Wed Jul 26 1995 - 21:29:36 PDT

Here is the artical I just submitted to for publication in a
temple magazine of Columbus, Ohio. As suggested by Mr. Krishna Prasad, I am
posting it. Any comments welcome.
-Sincerely, K. Sreekrishna.
ri Ramanujacharya (Longer version)
by Koti Sreekrishna, July 27, 1995

The system of Philosophy associated with Ramanuja is known as Vishistadvaita.
We should not think that Ramanuja started a new philosophy and he does not
claim that either. 
If Vishishtadvaita  can be likened to a lotus plant , then 
Srutis are its roots, Smrithis are its stems and leaves, 
Earlier Alvars and Acharyas  are its nourishment , and 
Ramanuja is that bright Sun-light that caused the lotus flower to fully
bloom. 

Ramanuja's supreme effort resulted in a systematic presentation of the
Vishishtadvaita.  His genius also led to the development of a complete system
which synthesizes concept of God with the philosophy of the impersonal
absolute. It is a matter of fact that the beauty of Lotus appeals to
everyone. The same was true of Ramanuja.  Such were his attributes.  His
scholarship coupled with  humility,  devotion, kindness, beauty, love,
compassion, pragmatism, and adventure left a strong impression on anyone who
came to know him.  That is exactly how I felt after reading "Life of Sri
Ramanuja" by Swami Ramakrishnananda. 

The followers of Ramanuja are called Sri-Vaishnavas. This term is not
exclusive to  Iyengars (a major  sect among Brahmins of South India). Also
among South Indians are a set of  followers called Shattada Sri-Vaishnavas of
non-Brahmin origins.  Followers of Ramanuja (or at least those who include
him in the lineage of their earlier Acharyas) can be seen far and wide in
different parts of India  including Gaudia Vaishnavas of Bengal and the
Swminarayans of Gujarat.

During Ramanuja's time he appointed 74 Mudhalis (Leaders or Simhasanadipati)
of whom a good number were Shattadas(generally of non-Brahmin origin).  It is
noteworthy that 5 among the 74 Mudhalis were women. All these fit well with
the character of Ramanuja. He freely mingled with true devotees of God,
irrespective of their caste.  He washed their feet, ate food  left over in
their plate, held them with great reverence, and popularized their works.
 When Kanchi Purna, a great devotee of God, did not let Ramanuja to wash his
feet, saying that he is from a low caste, Ramanuja says, "pray , noble Sir,
is it the wearing of the sacred thread that makes one a Brahmana? He who is
devoted to God, he alone is a genuine Brahmana."  

At another instance,  Kanchi Purna refused to accept Ramanuja as  his
disciple,  stating that Ramanuja was a Brahmin well versed in the shatras,
 while Kanchi Purna was just an ignorant old Sudra. To this Ramanuja replied,
" If the knowledge of the Sastras only brings about pride instead of devotion
to God, then it is false knowledge, better is ignorance than this.  You have
verily tasted the real essence of the Sastras; other scholars merely carry
the burden, like the ass that carries the load of sandalwood.  So saying, he
fell at the feet of Kanchi Purna and began to weep.

The tradition  followed by Sri-Vaishnavas is called Sri-sampradaya, which is
perhaps best preserved among the Sri-Vaishnavas of South India. In this
tradition, the Goddess Lakshmi acts as the mediator of salvation on behalf of
the devotees of Vishnu. This sampradayam recognizes a host of Acharyas and
Alvars.  The lineage up to Ramanujacharya is as follows: 

Periya Perumal (Parabrahman, Sriman Narayana, Emberuman)
Periya Piratti (Lakshmi)
Senai Mudaliyar (Viswaksena)
Nammalvar (around seventh Century AD)
-also known as Shatakopan, or Shatari
Natha Muni (823 AD) 
Yamuna Muni (918-1038 AD)
 -also known as Yamunacharya, Alavandar)
Ramanujacharya (1017 AD-1137 AD)
- also known as Yeti Raja, Bhashyakara, Udaiyavar etc.

In this list the first three names, of course, are anhistorical.  Nammalvar,
who belong to a non-Brahmin community is one among the twelve Vaishnavite
Alvars.  Alvars lived between 100 AD to 900 AD.  Alvars found God realization
through Bhakti-Prapatti. Bhakti means immense love of God and Prapatti (also
known as Saranagathi or Bharanyasam) means a single minded total surrender to
God.  The Tamil devotional works of Alvars  is known as Nalayirum (4000
verses) or Divya Prabhandam. Sri-Vaishnavas learn Nalayirum and other Tamil
works on par with the Sanskrit scriptures. Such practitioners   are called
Ubhaya Vedantins. Ramanuja took responsibility to popularize the Tamil
scriptures. This was one of the oath he took at the  site of the dead body of
Alavandar in Srirangam.   Ramanuja also ensured that Tamil poems become part
of all Sri-Vaishnava style Puja.  You may have witnessed this in the  Dayton
Hindu Temple as well!. .

Nammalvar, is placed first among the Historical personalities revered in the
Sri-sampradayam. He rescued the works of previous Alvars , added his own
contribution of1296 verses and passed it on to Natha Muni, who is a great
scholar and a devotee. Natha Muni's grand son is Alavandar, who at a tender
age of 14, won half the Kingdom by defeating  a great scholar in a debate.
Among  Alavandar's grand children are Ramanuja's mother and Ramanuja's uncle
 Periya Tirumalai Nambi (or Srisaila Purna).  At this point, I have a
confession to make.  I am the (great x 29) grand son of Acharya Natha Muni.
 I request the readers to take note of this and  pardon me if I sound too
sensational 

Ramanuja (1017-1137 AD) was born to a pious Vaishnava  Brahmin family in
Sriperumbudur, 30 miles South West of Madaras.  His parents were Aasuri
Sarvakrutu Keshava Somayaji Dikshitar and Kantimati (grand daughter of
Alavandar).  The couple gained progeny after they performed an Yagna at the
Parthasarathy shrine in Triplicane, Madaras.  The Lord Parthasarathy appeared
 to Keshava in his dream and promised that the Lord himself would be born as
his son for the purpose of redeeming the misguided souls. (Many  had mistaken
the Shankara's exposition of the vedantic mantra "Aham Brahmasmi" to apply to
their physical body  and had thus turned arrogant, wicked and perverse).

Srisaila Purna (Periya Tirumalai Nambi),  the maternal uncle of Ramanuja came
from Srirangam for the child naming ceremony. He saw the divine traits in his
nephew and was reminded of what Nammalvar had foretold as the divine messiah
of Srivaishnavism in his Tamil work Thiruvoymoli.  Nambi was totally
convinced that his nephew was none other than Lakshmana, the Ananta or
Adishesha of Kali Yuga. Thus, he gave the name Ramanuja (meaning brother of
Rama) to his nephew..

Interestingly, Ramanuja's birth month(Chaitra) and Zodiac (Cancer) sign are
same as that of Sumitra's sons Lakshmana and Shatrugna. Ramanuja is generally
regarded as the manifestation of both Adishesha (just as Lakshmana). as well
as the five ayudhas of Vishnu.

Ramanuja was a good student loved by his teachers.  He was able to grasp
 even complex ideas by hearing just only once from his teacher  He also loved
to associate with holy men.  Ramanuja at age 16 was wedded to an exquisitely
beautiful girl in a rather grand week long  wedding ceremony. The whole town
rejoiced. The joy did not last long as Ramanuja's father severely fell ill
and died shortly after.  Ramanuja with his wife and mother moved to the holy
city of Kanchipuram and therein became a disciple of Yadavaprakasha, the most
renowned scholar of that time. Yadavaprakasha was a great champion of Advaita
Philosophy. His doctrine is known even today as "Yadaviya Siddahanta." He was
such a rigid Advaitin, that he would not acknowledge God with form. Unlike
Shankaracharya, he would not even regard this universe as a maya. To him it
was totally insignificant. Ramanuja  was all devotion. The doctrine of Yadava
did not at all appeal to Ramanuja. Mostly out of respect, Ramanuja did not
challenge his guru until one day when he could not take it any more.  

Ramanuja humbly, but firmly disagreed with Yadava Prakasha on the
interpretation of one of the rather confusing mantra from the Chandogya
Upanishad.  The mantra was "tasya yatha kapyasam pundarikamevamakshini."
Taking "kapyasam" to mean the "nates of a monkey" as interpreted by the
venerable Shankaracharya, Yadavaprakasha explained the passage as follows:
'The two eyes of that golden Purusha are like two lotuses which are red like
the nates of a monkey."  Hearing this interpretation, tears rolled down  from
the corners of Ramanuja's eyes likes flames of fire and fell on the thigh of
Yadavaprakasha. Yadava understood that something troubled his dear disciple
Ramanuja.  When asked for the cause of his  anguish, Ramanuja politely
answered, " Revered Sir,  from the mouth of a wise person like you, I never
expected to hear the comparison of the eyes of the Supreme Godhead with the
posterior of  a monkey."
yadava considered this as a display of arrogance by Ramanuja and challenged
him to give his interpretation. Ramanuja proceeded to  give his
interpretation of Kapyasam, the troublesome word in the mantra. 
Kapyasam=Kapih+Asam
Kapih= Kam jalam pibatiti Kapih: he who drinks water=  Suryah, Sun
Asa=blossomed
Thus, Kapyasam=Sun blossomed or blossomed by the Sun

Now the mantra can be translated as : The eyes of the golden Purusha are as
lovely as the lotuses blossomed by the rays of the Sun. Hearing this Yadava
said that it is not a direct meaning but only a derived meaning.
Nevertheless, he recognized the skill of his student.  

The trend continued. One of the famous Upanishadic mahavakyas "Satyam Jnanam
anantam Brahma" was interpreted by Yadava as Brahman is truth, Intelligence
and Infinitude.
Ramanuja, again disagreed with Yadava and interpreted it as Brahman is
endowed with the quality of truth, intelligence and infinitude. It is not
correct to hold that all these qualities are He Himself. These qualities are
His, but not He, just as the body is mine, I am not the body. At this point
Yadavapraksha grew jealous of Ramanuja. He plotted to kill Ramanuja and wash
off his sins at the sacred Ganges.  Yadava with Ramanuja and the other
disciples set out on a pilgrimage to Kashi. Ramanuja, came to know his guru's
wicked plan through his cousin Govinda and returned back from the Dandaka
forest without finishing the so called pilgrimage. 

Ramanuja returned to his studies  under Yadava. Everyone concerned pretended
as though nothing happened. The mantra being discussed this time was "sarvam
khalvidam brahma" - All this is verily Brahma and "neha nanasti
kinchana"-there is no diversity whatsoever here. 
Yadava, had his class spell bound with his discourse on the oneness of Atman
and Brahman.  Ramanuja disagreed and expressed his position.  As the universe
is born of Brahman, is sustained by Brahman, so it may surely be said to be
permeated with Brahman(not verily Brahman).  For instance, fish is born in
water, lives in water, and dissolves into water; so it may be said to be
surely permeated with water.  But as fish can never be water, likewise the
universe too can never be Brahman. 

And "neha nanasti kinchana" does not mean that there is no diversity
whatsoever here; the various objects do not exist separately, but are like
pearls strung on a thread form a garland, so the various objects threaded in
Brahman have formed this universe.  Many have united and give the appearance
of oneness,  but by this the distinctiveness has in no way been impaired.  At
this Yadava  expelled Ramanuja from his school. (Many  years later, Yadava
became a disciple of Ramanuja and took sanyasa under the name Govinda Jeer.
 He composed  the incomparable work Yatidharmasamuccaya). 

Alavandar, who was of ripe age  thought his prayers answered when he heard
that Ramanuja was no more associated with Yadava.. He sent words for Ramanuja
so that he could   place the responsibility of spreading Vishishtadvaita on
his shoulders. . By the time Ramanuja arrived in Srirangam, to his dismay the
old sire Alavandar had just passed away. Ramanuja noticed that the three
fingers of the Maharshi's right hand were folded and clenched. Disciples of
Alvandar vouched that they had never seen the fingers of Alvandar  that way
before.  Hearing that Ramanuja made three promises on front of  the dead
body: "I will popularize the Tamil Veda, I will write Sri-Bhashya (detailed
treatise on Brahma Sutras), and I shall give the name of Parashara to an
accomplished Vaishnava(as a mark of respect to sage Parshara, the father of
Vyasa)".  As he made these promises one by one, so also the folded fingers
became straight one after another! 

(Later, Ramanuja fulfilled all his promises and more.  He made sure the Tamil
Veda remained as a part of Sri-sampradaya.  He entrusted many of his
disciples to expound on the message of the Nalayirums.  He wrote
Sri-Bhashyam, writing of which required a study of the Bodhayana-Vritti.  He
obtained the only copy of it at the Sarada Peetam of Kashmir established by
Shankara.  The library attendants refused to give him that book, however, it
is believed that Ramanuja had the vision of Sarada there and got the book in
a mysterious way. His other literary works include: Vedanta Sangraha-a
treatise on the principles of Vishishtadvaita elaborated from the Srutis;
Gita Bhashya-a detailed commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita; Vedanta dipa-a brief
commentary on the Brahma sutras;Vedanta sara-a brief commentary on the Brahma
sutras and intended for beginners; Saranagati gadya and Sriranga gadya-tell
about saranagati or prapatti; Sri Vaikunta gadya-describes Sri Vaikunta and
the state of the liberated; Nitya grantha- a short manual to guide devotees
in their daily life. As promised, he also named a great disciple of his as
Parashara Bhattar and instructed him to write his famous commentary on the
Vishnu Sahsranamam).

Ramanuja studied under numerous disciples of Alavandar and other Vaishnavite
scholars.  He left his wife, who was never in phase with Ramanuja. He took
Sanyasa, studied further and  under Goshti Purna, after much fuss, received
the moola mantra of Sri-Vaishnavas, "Om Namo Narayanaya." However Ramanuja
 even before leaving Goshti Pura, assembled the whole town with the promise
 of a great gift,  claimed the top of the Temple, and gave the moola  Mantra
to the entire town that had assembled . Such was the nature of Ramanuja. Both
preserving and spreading his creed. 

Ramanuja lived in Tirumalai for a while and studied Ramayana under his uncle
Sri Saila Purna.  At a later time he returned to Tirumalai and reestablished
it as a Vaishnavite shrine. Ramanuja basically returned to the shrine the old
glory as elaborated in the works of Alvar about Tiruvengadam.  He also
founded the town of Govinda Raja Puram (Tirupati) at the foot hills of the
mountain and installed the Govinda Raja's idol which he rescued from a nearby
abandoned town. This town initially used to be called Ramanuja Puram.  He
also established the  flower gardens at Tirumalai and entrusted its care to
Shattada Sri Vaishnavas.

 His digvijayas included many other holy places such as Thiruvanantha puram
in Kerala, Dwaraka, mathura, Brindavan, Salagram, Saketa, Badarikashrama,
Naimisha, Pushkara, Kashmir, where he had the vision of Sarada.  It is said
that, Sarada, particularly impressed by his previous translation of the word
"Kapyasum" to mean blossommed by the Sun  instead of nates of a monkey (as
translated by Yadava and other scholars) gave him the title Bhashyakara. From
Kashmir he proceded to Puri and established a monastery there and called it
Embar Math after his cousin Govinda, his own disciple. From here he went to
Ahobila and established a math there also which is still very well known.
Finally he returned to Tamil Nadu via Thirupati.


There were two other murder attempts on Ramanuja. The high priest of the
Srirangam temple tried to poison him out of jealousy. However, the priest's
 wife let the cat out of the bag. Later this priest became one of the
greatest devotees of Ramanuja. His Tamil poetry on Ramanuja is held at great
esteem.

 The  other threat to Ramanuja's life came from  king Krimikanta. This Chola
king residing in his capital Kanchipuram desired to have his entire kingdom
embrace the Shaiva doctrine.  He saw Ramanuja as a threat to his plan. He
sent for Ramanuja with the intention of forcibly converting him in to a
Shaivaite, if that is not possible to execute him.  This king remembered
 very much the service rendered to his family by Ramanuja  who had exorcised
the ghost out of his sister  many years ago. Nevertheless, the king's mind
was made up.  When the king's order came, Ramanuja switched his sanyasi robes
with one of his devout disciple Kuresa and exiled out of Chola empire into
Karnataka. Kuresa did not become a Shaivite either, the king had his both
eyes plucked and sent him away. 

In Karnataka, Ramanuja brought the Jain king Vittala Deva (Bitti Deva) under
the Vaishnavite fold. He  reestablished the temple in  Yadavagiri(also known
as Thirunarayana Puram or Melkote) near Mysore. A Moslem chieftain had
earlier raided this town and made it away with the Utsava Murthy of Sampath
Kumara (Cheluva Narayana).  The Moola Vigraha lay buried under an ant hill
(perhaps it was hidden there by the town's people). Ramanuja went all the way
to North India and rescued the Sampatkumara's idol from the Sultan.  Sultan's
daughter Bibi Lachimar, loved that idol very much and so she followed it to
Melkote. She lived there for many years serving  that idol and when she
passed away, the SriVaishnava's impressed by her love, made a staute of her
and placed it at the foot of the idol which can be seen even to day. The idol
of Lachimar is revered as Bibi Nachhiar.  The Bibi Nacchiar idol has been
duplicated in many other temples in South India. Because many untouchables
helped Ramanuja in carrying briskly  the idol from North India to Melkote, he
assigned three days in a year  in which the untouchables were allowed to
enter the temple. Ramanuja lived for many years in Melkote and with a heavy
heart left to Srirangam  The people of Melkote were deeply grieved at his
departure and learing this Ramanuja made a stone  image of his, invoked his
life into it and gifted it to  to people of Yadavadri.  .Melkote enjoys the
status of Abhimana sthanam in the Srivaishnava tradition. It is one of the
greatest Srivaishnava centers in Karnataka.

Ramanuja spent his last 60 years of life at Srirangam.  He left this world at
a ripe age of 120 years, after delivering his last sermon to scores of
Shishyas who had gathered with a heavy heart to listen to his last sermon.  

The life and message of Ramanuja could best be summarized in the words of
Swami Vivekananda, thus: Ramanuja, with his sariri-sharira Bhava of God and
worlds, a most practical philosophy, a great appeal to the emotional and
entire denial of birthrights before spiritual attainments and its appeal
through the popular tongue, completely succeeded in bringing the masses back
to the Vedic religion.

 Submitted to the feet of Ramanuja