The spiritual light, the supreme being who created the universe and sustains it, manifests itself whenever there is a need. Such a thing happened before a thousand years. A child was born at Sriperumbudur in Tamilnadu to Kesav Somayaji Bhattacharya and his wife Gandhimathy on the day of Chithirai Thiruvathirai in the Tamil year Bingala (in 1017 CE). The child was named as Ramanuja.
Ramanuja was a philosopher, social reformer, Hindu theologian and a great exponent of Vaishnavism. He was the nephew of Thirumalai nambi, the disciple of Alavandar. He got married at sixteen. He studied in the gurukula of Yadav Prakasa, an advaitee at Thiruputkuzhi near Sriperumbudur. At gurukula, Ramanuja disagreed with many concepts that his guru taught him. He argued and challenged and proved himself correct. This made the guru to get angry and he tried to kill Ramanuja on their pilgrimage to north India. However, the Lord Narayana saved him in the disguise of a hunter.
Then, Ramanuja became the disciple of Thirukkachi Nambigal on the advice of his mother. Thirukkachi Nambigal was a great devotee of Lord Varadaraja of Kanchi and it is said that he could converse with the God directly. Once Nambigal asked the Lord if he has anything to inform Ramanuja. The Lord gave him six words to be given to Ramanuja. They are:
Paratathvam naame: Sriman Narayan is the supreme soul (Brahmam) mentioned in the vedas. All the animate and inanimate things are created and sustained by Him.
Bedhame dharshan: Though paramatma and jivatma are seemed to be one, they are especially different from each other. Understanding this twin entity is dharshan.
Upayamum prabathiye: Total surrender to the Lord is the only way to reach Him. One has to execute all his worldly duties devoted to the Lord and at the same time he should surrender everything at his feet.
Anthima smarithiyam venda: The one who has surrendered to the Lord and leads his life by the grace of the Lord, even if he does not mention or remember the Lord at the time of his death, the Lord excuses him and awards him the Moksha.
Sareeravasa nathile moksham: One who surrenders to the Lord and leads his life mentioned as earlier, reaches heaven at his death.
Perianambi thiruvadigalil asrapipathu: Ramanuja should accept Perianambigal as his guru and follow what he tells.
When he heard these words of the Lord Varadaraja through Thirukkachi Nambigal, Ramanuja was elated. These words gave him a great inspiration. He understood that none on this earth is greater than the other. The Lord is the Supreme and all the activities in the world are done according to his will. A devotee who always repeats and rejoices in the name of the Lord, though he forgets Him at his death, he attains moksha.
Alavandar had fallen seriously ill and he wanted to meet Ramanuja. On his request Peria nambigal brought Ramanuja to Srirangam. On their arrival, Alavandar had attained the lotus feet of the Lord. Ramanuja noticed that three fingers of Alavandar had not folded. When he enquired about it the elders mentioned that three wishes of Alavandar were not fulfilled. One was being respectful and showing thankfulness to the great aharyas like Vedvyasa and Parasara and second was to love and give proper respect to Nammalvar. The third one was to write an elaborate commentary to Brahmasutra. When Ramanuja assured that he would fulfil these desires, the stretched fingers folded by themselves.
Ramanuja left his family life and worldly desires and became a sannyasi. When he went to Srirangam, Lord Sri Ranganatha accepted him and called him as “Udayavar”. This means that Ramanuja is the owner of all the wealth of the Lord in this world and the world beyond.
Ramanuja wanted to learn the secret meaning of charama sloka of Baghvad Gita. So, he went to Thirukoshtiyur nambigal eighteen times. On his every visit the guru would ask him to come after few days. On his eighteenth visit he learnt the meaning but with a condition that the secret should not be revealed to anyone. He would go to hell if he did so. But Ramanuja told to everyone who listened to him and when enquired he told that, “I can go to hell happily when so many are going to heaven on learning this”. On seeing his immense love for the mankind Thirukoshtiyur nambigal embraced him and called him as “Emperumanar”, the great man equal to God.
Emperumanar Sri Ramanujar propounded Vishistadvaita philosophy on the basis of Vedvyasa’s Brahmasutra. Vishistadvaita is the non- dualistic school of Vedanta philosophy. It is non-dualism of the qualified whole in which Brahman alone exists but it is characterised by multiplicity. God has two modes of being, as cause and product. As cause, He is in His essence qualified only by His perfections. As product, He has all His body, the souls and the phenomenal world. Sriman Narayanan is the Parabrahman, the supreme self and the cause of all manifestations. He is the giver of grace to human beings based on their Karma. He could be realised through devotion (Bakthi) and total surrender (Sharanagathi). In return, He offers His grace which will help His devotee to attain Moksha. He is different from all the rest and most exclusive. One’s goal is to attain Moksha, the liberation from all bondage.
The purpose of human existence is called ‘Purusharthas’ or goals of human life. According to Vedas there are four Purusharthas – Dharma (righteousness, moral values) Artha (prosperity, economic values) Kama (pleasure, love) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). According to this philosophy, the first three goals are not an end by themselves, but need to be pursued with an idea of attaining Moksha. Moksha means the liberation or release from the worldly life (samsara) and the cycle of rebirth.
Devotion to the Lord is the only means of liberation in Visishtadvaita. Through devotion the ‘jiva’ ascends to ‘vaikunta’. There it enjoys itself in His service in a body which is sat-cit- ananda. The jiva sees the Lord in everything and everything in Him. This is the unity in diversity achieved through devotion. Ramanuja insists on total surrender (sharanagati) at the Lord’s feet and that alone is the sole means to moksha. Observing total surrender guarantees moksha at the end of this birth and hence the surrendered soul must spend his life time in devotion.
Sri Ramanuja made an extended pilgrimage circumambulating the entire country. He visited many places from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He met the people wherever he went, preached his philosophy and directed them to the Lord through devotion and surrender. He established seventy-four ‘simhasanapathis’ (crown bearers) in seventy-four different places all over the country. They were empowered to teach Dravida Vedamto all those who had the desire to learn. Thus, the holy 4000 verses spread to stay forever. He dug a vast lake for the people to use at Thondanur near Melkote in Karnataka. The lake it is claimed has medicinal properties and the water has never dried up since its creation even in the severe drought condition.
Though Ramanuja was loved and followed by many, he had few enemies too. Once a woman was compelled by his enemies to poison the food that he took as alms. But that lady fell at his feet and signed him not to eat the food. A Chola king named Kirumikanda cholan planned to kill him. Koorathalwan, a disciple of Ramanuja met the king in his disguise and he was blindfolded.
Ramanuja lived for 120 years in this world. When time came for him to depart from this world, he joined the lotus feet of his Acharya Sri Alavandar. He performed ritual surrender at the lotus feet of the Lord on the day of Panguni Uthiram in 1138 CE. Though he left his physical body, he blesses all of us in ‘archavatara’, at Srirangam as ‘Thaamana thirumeni’, at Sriperumbudur as ‘Thaane ana thirumeni’ and at Thirunarayanapuram ‘Thamar ugandha thirumeni’. He has given us six significant advices at the time of his demise. They are:
Learning Sri Bashyam and giving discourses on it.
One who could not do that should learn the prabhandams of Sri Nammalvar.
Feeding the devotees at divya desams.
Living at Thirunarayapuram at least in a hut.
Repeating the holy name of Narayana always.
After shedding his ego, one should find a true vaishnavite and follow him by word and deed.
Ramanuja was born in Sriperumbudur and attained moksha at Srirangam. He lived all his life elevating the ordinary souls by preaching Vaishnavism. He had established 74 acharyas to reach out everyone. He had preserved and spread the four thousand Tamil scriptures. He had accepted and appreciated ‘Thiruppavai’ as the seed for vedas. He proclaimed that all those who had accepted Narayana as the supreme soul are equal to one another irrespective of their caste, creed etc., He was a good administrator and the administration schedule followed in Srirangam even today was propounded by him.
Ramanuja has written nine scriptures in Sanskrit. They were:
Sri Bashyam: His commentary on Brahmasutra. In this text, he presents the fundamental philosophical principles of Visishtadvaita based on his interpretation of Upanishads, Baghvad Gita and other such texts.
Vedanta Sankragam: It embodies a comprehensive interpretation of the deepest insights of the Upanishads and Vedanta on the central concepts of Brahman, Mukti and Moksha.
Vedanta Deepam and Vedanta Charam: Both of them are the short commentaries on Brahmasutra. What is elaborated in Sri Bashyam is given in a nutshell in these texts.
Gita Bashyam: Commentary on Srimad Baghvad Gita
Sharanagati Gatyam: This depicts the philosophy of total surrender of Alwars.
Vaigunda Gatyam: This describes the nature of vaikunta and those who attained moksha.
Sriranga Gatyam: This is the pleading of a devotee to Lord Sri Ranganatha to accept him as his servant.
Nithya Krantham: It describes the duties of a devotee to the Lord. It helps as a guide to the devotee.
Although Ramanuja’s contribution to Vedanta was significant, his influence on the course of Hinduism has been more significant. He aligned the religion with the pursuits of philosophy and gave Bakthi as an intellectual basis. Ever since bakthi has remained as the major force in Hinduism. Ramanuja transformed the practice of ritual action into a practice of divine worship and the way of meditation into a continuous loving, pondering of the God’s qualities. They both help an ordinary soul to show his fully realised devotion that finds God. For all Srivaishnavas, Emperumanar Sri Ramanujar is the fruit of attainment and also the means of attainment. He is the Acharya and kulapathi of Srivaishnava sampradaya.
(Author is education officer of Vidya Bharati Uttar Tamil Nadu.)