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Restoring the reformist zeal - The Hindu article 12 Nov 1999

From: Venkatesh K. Elayavalli (
Date: Thu Nov 11 1999 - 17:03:05 PST

The Following article is reproduced from The Hindu newspaper dated Nov
12, 1999.

Restoring the reformist zeal

The emanicipatory outlook of Ramanuja was restored and propagated
by Manavala Mamuni. T. C. A. RAMANUJAM writes...

``OH!  WE will wait for One, be it a God or God inspired  man  to
teach us our religious duties, and to take away the darkness from
our eyes.''
- Plato

``Lord  Ranganatha  is  there  to favour  those  with  power  and
influence. O Ramanuja ! You are the only one left to take care of
the meek, weak and the needy. What shall we do if you also  yield
to power?''

That is one of the moving appeals of saint Manavala Mamuni in his
last  work  praying  for the grace of  Lord  Ranganatha  and  Sri
Ramanuja. The Vaishnava religion since the days of Ramanuja,  has
known   several  deviations,  leaning  sometimes  towards   Vedic
orthodoxy  and sometimes exhibiting a reformative zeal  embracing
the entire Hindu clan, irrespective of caste and creed.  Ramanuja
had  established  Sri  Vaishnavism as an  orthodox  tradition  by
wedding the devotional piety of the Alwars with the philosophy of
the  Brahma  Sutras  and the Bhagavad Gita.  This  synthesis  was
followed  by  the Acharyas who succeeded him  and  continued  the
Ubhaya  Vedanta tradition. These Acharyas wrote in Sanskrit  when
they  wanted  to  address their Advaitin,  Buddhist  and  Saivite
rivals. But they used the Mani Pravala style for their own  Tamil
followers.  As  the name indicates, it was a mixture  of  elegant
Sanskrit  and beautiful Tamil, something like a garland of  coral
laced  with golden gems. The Acharyas embellished the  verses  of
the Alwars with their erudite commentaries and the secrets of the
Vaishnava  literature  became  the subject  matter  of  scholarly
expositions at centres of learning. The Sri Vaishnava  philosophy
was  adorned by such illustrious leaders of thought  as  Bhattar,
Nanjeeyar,  Nampillai, Periya Vachaan Pillai, Pillai  Lokacharya,
Vedanta  Desika  and  last but not the  least,  Acharya  Manavala
Mamuni. In the two centuries immediately prior to the arrival  of
Manavala  Mamuni  on  the  scene,  Vedic  orthodoxy  was  on  the
ascendance  in the interpretation of Sri Ramanuja's  emancipatory
thesis. It was left to Sri Manavala Mamuni to once again  restore
the  reformist  zeal and the catholic outlook propagated  by  the
Savant from Sriperumbudur.

Manavala  Mamuni's first major work was in Sanskrit -  ``Ethiraja
Vimsathi'' singing the glory of Ramanuja. His Guru, Thiruvaymozhi
Pillai  went ecstatic while reading the work and named Mamuni  as
Yatindra Pravana. The Mamuni was told to concentrate on the Tamil
works  of the Alwars and spread their work all over South  India.
All  the Acharyas were known for their deep love of Tamil.  Their
very names breathed the sweet fragrance of the language. Manavala
Mamuni  was christened as Azhagiya Manavala after  the  presiding
Lord  of Thiruvarangam. His father was  Thirunaveerudiya  Biraan.
All  the  Acharyas  considered Nammalwar's  Thiruvamozhi  as  the
Dravida Veda and expounded the doctrine of Grace and Surrender as
propounded by the Saint from Alwar Thirunagari.

Nammalwar's   verses   became  the  subject  matter   of   devout
commentaries  known  as  Eedu  in Tamil.  There  were  five  such
commentaries  which came into prominence in the  three  centuries
after  Sri Ramanuja. Manavala Mamunigal mastered these texts  and
was  discoursing  on Bhagavath Vishayam (the name  given  to  the
lectures  on  Nammalwar) at the Srirangam temple. Legend  has  it
that  as  the lectures concluded after one year,  a  little  boy,
sporting  all  the Sri Vaishnava insignias, came  up  before  the
Acharya, prostrated before him and rendered the Sloka:

``Srisailesha dayaapaatram dibhakty adi gunarnavam
Yat Indrapravanam vande ramyajamatram munim.''

Lord  Ranganatha is said to have taken Sri Manavala Mamunigal  as
his  Acharya by this invocation through the medium of the  little
boy.  This  is  rendered in all the Sri  Vaishnava  temples  from
Badrinath  to Kanyakumari at the time of the daily  rendering  of
the Alwar pasurams. The Sri Vaishnava world celebrated the  600th
anniversary  century  of this great event on November  12th  this
year, which incidentally happens to be the birthday of the Saint.

Mamunigal also interpreted such rahasya texts as Acharya Hridayam
and  showed  that temple-based religion  emphasised  by  Ramanuja
needed  an egalitarian approach where service to fellow men  (the
Bhagavatas) was as important as the service to the Lord. He had a
noble  conception of the Divine: ``Ranganatha as the Lord of  the
Universal  Stage,  resting on Eternal Time, allowing  the  cosmic
processes  of  evolution  and dissolution to  go  on  freely  and
sleeping the sleep which is in the language of one of our  poets,
ever  wakeful in the cause of the protection of the  whole  world
or,  in other words ever wakeful in watching the progress of  the
moral law.''

The  Lord  is important no doubt, but equally or more so  is  the
Acharya.  Mamuni's devotion to Sri Ramanuja was unparalleled.  So
was his devotion to the dedicated followers of Sri Ramanuja  from
generation  to generation. Tradition has it that  Ramanuja  lived
for 125 years and Sri Manavala Mamuni lived for 75 years to carry
on the great work of spreading the gospel. The two blend together
so  uniquely that in every Sri Vaishnava temple you can hear  the
resounding recital:

``O Manvala Mamuni! May you live for a hundred more years.''


Azhvaar emperumaanaar jeeyar thiruvadigale saranam


Venkatesh K. Elayavalli             Cypress Semiconductor
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