The Glories of Sri Ramanujacarya

BY: PREETI MADHUSUDHAN DASI

Apr 15, 2017 — INDIA (SUN) — Written by a member of the Srivaisnava sampradaya in honour of Sri Ramanujacharya's 1000th Appearance Day Anniversary, observed on April 1, 2017.

    Sri:

    "Anantha prathamam roopam lakshmanascha tatha para
    Balabhadram tritheeyaasthu kalau kaschit bhavishyati"

    He who was Adisesha in his primary form, Lakshmana in his next avatara and Balabhadra in his third avatara will be reborn in the Kaliyuga.

The birth of Swami Ramanuja was foretold in the Padma, Skanda puranas and thus through the above mentioned sloka from the Yadavaadri Mahaatmeeyam. Nearly 4,000 years before the birth of Swami Ramanujacharya, Nammaalvaar or Shatakopa, the primary of the 12 alvaars (proponents of the Bhakti Sharanagati maarga) who sang the sacred hymns on Sriman Narayana, collectively known as the Dhivya prabhandhas, prophesised the birth of Swami Ramanuja to his sishya, Nathamuni whose descendant Alavandar identified Ramanuja as indeed the Bhavishyadaachaarya foretold by Nammaalvaar. Nammaalvaar had gifted an idol of the Bhavishyadaachaarya to Nathamuni, also revealing the appearance day of this divine person who was to uphold the Vedic Sampradaya.

Sri Ramanuja was born to Asuri Kesava Somayaji and Kantimati in the year 1017 AD in the Chaitra Maasa, Ardhra Nakshatra (as foretold by Nammaalvaar to Nathamuni), after they performed putra kaameshti yagna in the desire of begetting a child. Recognizing the divinity in the child's noble bearing, his maternal uncle Srisailapoorna or Periya Tirumalai Nambi named the child Ilayaalvaan, as Lakshmana is known in Tamil. Ilayaalvaan or Ramanuja, the younger sibling of Rama.

Having received all the samskaras due his age, the young Ramanuja was placed under the tutelage of Yadavaprakasa, an Advaiti scholar, on the suggestion of Tirukachinambi, a friend of Asuri Kesava Somayaji. Tirukachinambi, was engaged in the service of fanning the Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram. Such was the glory of Tirukachinambi that the Lord and His consorts conversed with him every day while they were being thus served! Despite the entreaty of Ramanuja's parents, Tirukachinambi's innate humility didn't permit him to accept Ramanuja as his disciple, since he belonged to a lower caste.

Such was the knowledge that this avatara of Adisesha was blessed with, that right from the start, he knew the teachings of the Advaita Acharya Yadavaprakasa's teachings to be untrue and based on Mayavada! Especially noteworthy is this incident. Acharya Yadavaprakasa was being massaged by Ilayaalvaan. The disciples were all gathered for the day to listen to the discourse of their Acharya on the Shaastraas. While explaining the meaning of the phrase "Kapyaasam pundareekam evam akshini", from the Chandogya Upanishad, the Acharya explained that the Lord's eyes are red like the posterior of a monkey! Tender at heart, yet fiercely devoted to Lord Narayana, this harsh inference of a gloriously beautiful verse describing the Lord's eyes, the repository of His mercy, a glance of which even the Devas yearn for, was unbearable for Ramanuja. This overwhelming love that he displayed here for the Paramatma, defined his life and works and is central to his philosophy. Yet, then, his upbringing and the shastras prevented him from disrespecting his Acharya. This conflict filled his young eyes with tears of misery. Yadavaprakasa, understanding that his meanings weren't to the liking of his illustrious disciple, demanded that Ramanuja come forward with his understanding, if he so dared! Unable to withhold his misery any further Ramanuja said, "Eyes akin to lotus that blooms upon the touch of the effulgent Sun. That is the meaning of Kapyaasam. Such is the beauty of the Lord's eyes!"

Admiring the erudite Ramanuja, the other disciples applauded his loving understanding of The Lord's attributes. Humiliated, Yadavaprakasa conspired to eliminate Ramanuja! A pilgrimage to the holy places on the banks of the Ganges was arranged. Ramanuja, accompanied by his constant companion and cousin Govinda, was one of the party. Aware of the heinous plot upon reaching their destination in the Northern parts of India, Govinda alerted his cousin, upon which Ramanuja escaped and was lost in the dense forests in the middle of the night. A hunter couple guided the young scholar, requesting him to fetch water once they reached the edge of the forest. And to the great surprise of Ramanuja, they had reached Kanchi overnight! He spotted the tower of Lord Varadaraja's temple in the horizon. Hurrying back with water, he found that the hunter couple had magically vanished without a trace, he realized that they were none other than Lord Varadaraja and His consort Perundevi! From then on, till he left to Srirangam, Ramanuja performed the service of fetching the ritualistic bath waters to Lord Varadaraja and His consort every day, from the very same spot!

Despite their differences, Ramanuja because of his immense compassion, forgave Yadavaprakasa of all his faults when he sought refuge at the lotus feet of Swami Ramanuja. Naming him Govinda Jeeyar, Ramanuja accepted him as his disciple, and lovingly asked him to compose a work on the duties of a Sanyasi. "Yati Dharma Samuchayam" was the work written by Govinda Jeeyar, formerly Yadavaprakasa.

This immeasurable compassion and humility was the hallmark of Swami Ramanuja, much discussed in the work "Ramanuja Nootrandaadi", composed by his disciple Thiruvarangathu Amudhanaar. The significant phrase amongst others in this great work, popularly known as the "Prapanna Gayathri": "Kaarei karunai Raamaanusa" means, "Ramanuja who is as compassionate as a rain laden cloud that showers on everyone without distinction"! And such was this compassion that it won over the enemies, endearing them to him.

Yagnamoorthy, a scholar of the Mayavada Advaitha philosophy, hearing of Swami Ramanuja's erudition, challenged him to a "tarka-vivaada", a verbal duel to establish the supremacy of his advaitha religion. The debate was fixed for a duration of 18 days. Owing to the exemplary oratorical skill and extensive knowledge of the Advaitha Sanyasi, Yagnamoorthy, till the end of the sixteenth day, Swami Ramanuja was unable to gain the upper hand in the debate. A despondent Ramanuja returned to his ashram that evening and prayed to Lord Varadaraja, his araadhanamoorthy, to protect the sampradaya nurtured by the 12 azhvaars and great Acharyas like Nathamuni and Swami Alavandar.

After offering food to The Lord, Sri Ramanuja lied down without partaking Prasad, restless in worry. The defeated scholar was to surrender unto the victorious party and take up their religion. This pact made at the beginning of the debate now worried Ramanuja. Later that night, Lord Varadaraja appeared in Swami Ramanuja's dream and reminded him of his Paramacharya Swami Aalavandaar's "Akhand Advaitha Khandana" which as the title suggests, counters the Advaitha theory. This was the spark that Swami Ramanuja was waiting for. With the blazing fire of confidence and morale instilled in his heart, he set out for the next day's debate, and as the history-book of the Acharyas of the Ramanuja Sampradaya; "Guruparamapara Prabhaava", delineates, looking at the very countenance of Ramanuja lit like the Sun, Yagnamoorthy surmised what must have transpired and fell at Swami Ramanuja's lotus feet, seeking his forgiveness and sought his refuge.

Explaining his standpoint with the assistance of Sri Aalavandaar's "Akhand Advaitha Khandana" Ramanuja lovingly countered the point of contention from the Visishtaadvaitha philosophy and embraced Yagnamoorthy into his fold. Yagnamoorthy became "Arulaalaperumal Emberumaanaar", "Arulaalan" is the name of Lord Varadaraja and "Emberumaanaar" was the name given to Sri Ramanuja by one of his five Acharyas, Goshtipoorna. Arulaalaperumal Emberumaanaar went on to become one of the primary disciples of Sri Ramanuja lovingly spreading his message and teachings everywhere.

Srirangam the biggest temple complex in India, where The Lord is in a reclining position, housed many devout Vaishnavas whose loving pastime was to be continuously engaged in Lord Ranganatha, celebrating His numerous utsavs and observe naam-sankeertan through their everyday mundane activities. And the merciful Lord Ranganatha uses every opportunity He gets, to rush out to His devotees. And the devotees began viewing a strange sight during these processions, when The Lord came out in all His glory for the pleasure of His devotees. There was a handsome, well-built youth who would walk backwards, facing his wife, shielding her with his umbrella, never letting his loving sight away from her. The other devotees used to be amused and at times frustrated with the absurdity of this youth's action. Here was Lord Namperumal (the utsavamoorthy of Lord Ranganatha) in all His ethereal glory, celebrated in verses by all of the 12 azhvaars, and the youth had eyes only for his wife!

Spotting this youth and his peculiar behavior, Swami Ramanuja was moved and owing to his immense compassion decided to correct this youth. What impressed him was this person's determined dedication, which Swami Ramanuja thought would be of immeasurable value to the Sampradaya. He found from general enquiry that this person called Dhanurdaasa was a wrestler and requested for an audience with him. Dhanurdaasa curious at being summoned by a sanyasi arrived at Swami Ramanuja's ashram. Ramanujacharya fondly enquired the reason behind the youth's behavior. He replied, "My wife's eyes are the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen, so I never want to lose sight of them, I am devoted to her beauty!" Swami Ramanuja asked, "And if I were to show you a pair of eyes of unsurpassed beauty, then, would you consider replacing your devotion there?"

Dhanurdaasa replied, "Never have I seen anything more beautiful than my wife's eyes, I doubt the existence of anything that exceeds their beauty, but since you insist I am willing to see what you refer to." Without wasting a second, Swami Ramanuja escorted Dhanurdaasa to the sacred sanctum sanctorum of Lord Ranganatha and showed Dhanurdaasa the glorious lotus eyes of Lord Ranganatha, the sight which even the devas yearn for and consider their sole sustenance as seen by the verse, "Sadaa pashyanti soorayaha". And that one sight of those beautiful eyes was enough to convert Dhanurdaasa. Awe-struck and bewitched he swore servitude to Lord Ranganatha and more importantly to Swami Ramanuja for having guided him towards this Supreme Truth! Corrected out of the boundless compassion of Swami Ramanuja, Dhanurdaasa remained one of his most loyal disciples.

Terming them "Thirukulatthaar": roughly translatable as folks of Thiru or Goddess Mahalakshmi; Ramanuja gained temple-entry rights for the shunned low-caste community devotees almost a millennium back. It was this overwhelming compassion for us, his children, which also instigated the passion in him to break the vow made to his Acharya Goshtipoorna! Goshtipoorna instructed by his Acharya Alavandar was to impart to the Bhavishyadaachaarya, the Rahasyatraya; the esoteric meanings of the three sacred mantras that everyone seeking the Lord's refuge must be equipped with. To test the perseverance, earnestness and eligibility of Sri Ramanuja, Goshtipoorna thwarted his attempts to learn the Rahasyas from him 17 times.

Swami Ramanuja walked from Srirangam to Thirukoshtiyur, the ashram of Goshtipoorna that many times in the eagerness for knowledge. From the outskirts of the village Ramanuja would prostrate, straighten up only to prostrate again, this time his feet falling where his head had touched the ground in the previous prostration! It was thus that he approach his Acharya's ashram. Touched by his obvious devotion, Goshtipoorna imparted the secrets to him, but only after he had sworn Ramanuja to secrecy, warning him of attaining hell if this promise was broken.

It was what Sri Ramanuja did after receiving the sacred knowledge that defines his exemplary mercy. Climbing the temple tower he proclaimed the sanctimonious mantras to all gathered there. The furious Goshtipoorna thundered at Ramanuja, chiding him and condemning him to hell and demanded the reason for his disrespect! With his legendary humility Ramanuja bowed to his Acharya and told him, "By observing these sacred mantras if everyone will be granted moksha and I alone will suffer in hell, then so be it." The shocked Goshtipoorna overwhelmed with admiration for his young protégé embraced him calling him "Emberumaanaar": The great one. How visionary was Goshtipoorna to have named Ramanuja, Emberumaanaar! While at refuge in Melkote from the vicious Saivite King Krimikanda Chozha, Ramanuja debated against innumerable Jains, slipping into his Adisesha form; each of his thousands of serpentine heads debating against and defeating each one of the Jain scholars. Sri Ramanuja can be viewed in this form even today at the Yoga Narasimha temple at Thondanoor, where Ramanujacharya created a large water reservoir.

Once, hearing of Sri Ramanuja's yatra through their village, a wealthy merchant and an impoverished woman both sought to serve the Acharya and his retinue. Knowing her dire state, the wealthy merchant proposed an inappropriate arrangement to this pious lady in exchange for money that she required for a feast for Ramanujacharya and his disciples. Earlier in the day, when Swami Ramanuja had passed by the lady's home, she was unable to come out to receive him due to lack of clothes. Swami Ramanuja threw in his Prapannapaagai, his turban, through a window, so she could cover herself and come outside to obtain his blessings. When time came, Ramanuja instructed his disciples to partake food at the home of this lady Paruthikollai Nachiyaar. The wealthy merchant realising his mistake, prostrated before Paruthikollai Nachiyaar, understanding that devotion and not wealth was treasured by this legendary Master.

Lord Ranganatha had handed over the access to His nithya and leela vibhutis to Ramanujacharya, thus earning him the name Udayavar: The one who possesses! Sri Venkatesha, Lord of Tirumala had lent His shanka and chakra to Thondaimaan Chakravarthy for a battle, which the King failed to return to the Lord. The absence of His trademark shanka and chakra led to confusions that the idol wasn't that of Sriman Narayana at all! Ramanujacharya regained the Lord's shanka and chakra from the King. Hence he is called "Appanukku sangaazhi alitha perumal": The one who gave The Lord His shanka and chakra. Sri Venkatesha too reaffirmed Lord Ranganatha's words granting Ramanujacharya access to both His nithya and leela vibhutis.

Andal or Goddess Godha who sang 143 divinely sweet hymns in praise of Lord Krishna, yearning for the state of the Gopikas of Vrindavan and advocating bhakti and surrender as sole refuge towards the Lord, had pledged 100 pots of butter and rice sweetened with milk to the Lord at Tirumaliruncholai, near Madurai if He assists in Her union with Lord Ranganatha! Ramanujacharya checking the temple records found these had not been offered to Lord Azhagar of Tirumaliruncholai. Eager to fulfill the promise of Andal, Ramanuja offered these and was addressed as "Koyilannan" or "Godaagraja": Goda's older brother.

His understanding of the glorious attributes of The Brahman; expounding the true meanings of the sweet verses embedded in the Vedas was acknowledged by Goddess Saraswati in the Sharada peeth when Sri Ramanujacharya submitted his Bhaashya to Bodhaayana's Vritthi to the Brahma Sutras. Goddess Saraswati declared Sri Ramanuja's commentary to be unsurpassed, declaring it to be "Sri Bhaashya", and affectionately gifted Ramanujacharya an idol of Lord Hayagreeva. Thus did Ramanujacharya establish the supremacy of Visishtadvaitha and gain the name, "Bhaashyakaaraa".

The legendary Acharya lived to 120 years of age and till his last breath dedicated his life to propagating the name and the auspicious qualities of The Lord Sriman Narayana. Swami Ramanuja appointed 74 Acharyas to carry on his work. Descendants of these 74 Acharyas still carry on Swami Ramanuja's instructions and lovingly work to spread the message of The Lord's mercy and infinite love, to everyone, irrespective of their gender, birth, caste or financial status.

Srimathe Ramanujaya namaha!


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