Contributed by: Pundit Srinivas Khedam
Thadirani Thrunaya Mene
GurorBhagavathosya Dayaika Sindho
Charanow Sharanam Prapadye
Ramanujacharya – The proponent of Vishishtadvaita Philosophy
Sri Ramanujacharya is regarded as the father of the Sri Vaishnava philosophy.
Sri Ramanujacharya was instrumental in spreading the Sri Vaishnava philosophy
extensively throughout India. His philosophy is called as Vishishtadvaita, which
is a refined Advaitam of Sri Adi Shankaracharya, a great saint and philosopher
of 8th CE. Vishishtadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya is very popular when
compared to the other philosophies because it has revealed many secretes of the
Vedantic philosophy. That’s why millions of people follow the Vishishtadvaita
philosophy of Sri Ramanujacharya.
Sri Ramanujacharya was born in the year 1017, Chitra month and on the day of
Arudra star. He mastered the Vedas at the young age of 16 years, and became the
disciple of an Advaita teacher called Yadava Prakasha for further education. The
interpretations by his teacher on the Vedic concepts bothered Ramanuja, and he
never hesitated to present his interpretations. One great example is when Yadava
Prakasha misinterpreted the verse from Chandagyopanishad, “Kapyasam Pundareekam
Ekam Akshini”, as the eyes of Lord Vishnu are red as the “bottom of a monkey”.
Ramanuja was very disturbed by this interpretation and cried. Upon inquiry,
Ramanuja said to his teacher that his interpretation was wrong and it hurt him
deeply. When his teacher demanded the correct interpretation, Ramanuja explained
that the correct meaning of the verse is that Lord Vishnu’s eyes are red and
beautiful as lotus flower. At this interpretation Yadava Prakasha felt
threatened by Ramanuja’s intellect and devotion for lord Vishnu. Some of Yadava
Prakasha’s disciples plotted to kill Ramanuja for becoming a threat to his
teacher and also constantly questioning their teacher and the Advaita
philosophy. However, with the help of another disciple and his friend Ramanuja
escapes the plot and spends a night in the forest. With the divine grace of Lord
Varadaraja and Thaayaar he wakes up at Kanchipuram.
At Kanchipuram Ramanuja spends time doing chores for Lord Varadaraja, and learns
the secrets of devotion through ThiruKachii Nambi(Kanchipurna), who is known to
have spoken with Lord Varadaraja everyday during the fanning service to the
lord. During this time, Alavandar, a well known Sri Vaishnava saint wanted to
meet Ramanuja and sends one of his disciples to fetch him, but Alavandar passes
away before Ramanuja arrives. While disappointed for not able to speak to
Alavandar, Ramanuja notices that there of fingers were closed. His disciples
mention that Alavandar had three desires and wanted someone to fulfill them.
They were: 1.Write commentary on Veda Vyasa’s Brahma Sutras, 2. The names of Sri
Parasara and Vyasa are perpetuated, and
3. Propagate the Vishishtadvaita philosophy as recommended by Alwars in
their work, Nalayira Divya Prabandham containing 4000 verses. As Ramanuja vowed
to fulfill these wishes, Alavandar’s fingers opened one after the other. Then
Ramanuja spent rest of his life fulfilling the three wishes of Alavandar.
Ramanujacharya was known for his broadmindedness from his young age. During
Ramanuja’s time, there lived a great Vishnu Bhaktha called
Kanchipurna(Thirukacchi Nambi). He was a non-brahmin by birth but had a great
devotion for Lord Varadaraja and served him everyday at the temple. Ramanuja was
always fascinated by his devotion and learnt so much information about devotion
and serving God.
Many people in the village never liked Ramanuja’s association with this low
caste Kanchipurna. Ramanuja had a great respect for Kanchipurna and he often
invited him for lunch. One morning Ramanuja invited Kanchipurna for lunch and
went to Lord Varadaraja’s service in the temple. At lunch time Ramanuja came
home with a banana leaf and told his wife to get the lunch ready for
Kanchipurna. Ramanuja’s wife replied that she already served lunch to
Kanchipurna, gave the leftover food to the maid, and cleaned the place where he
ate. Hearing this Ramanuja was very disappointed with his wife and the way she
treated Kanchipurna. Ramanuja’s wife was so orthodox and she exhibited
discrimination with the people belonging to other castes. Whereas Ramanuja was
an open minded person and had a great reverence for Kanchipurna. He regarded
Kanchipurana as a very learned person and a great devotee.
There was also another incident with his teacher Mahapurna, who initiated
Ramanuja with Panch Samskaramas(five steps of initiation to become a Sri
Vaishnava). Mahpurna belong to slightly lower level Brahmins sect. One day
Ramanuja’s wife made discriminatory remark at Mahapurna’s wife while collecting
water from the well. Ramanuja’s wife says that the water collected by
Mahapurna’s wife and her may have mixed up, and being a higher caste person she
cannot use the water that is mixed up the water that is drawn by a lower
caste/sect person. At this insult Mahapurna leaves Ramanuja’s place without
informing him. After learning this from his wife Ramanuja decides to leave
married life and become a saint, because he felt that married life is a
hindrance to his ambition of learning and fulfilling the three wishes of his
The third incident is the most classic of all, and it happened a little later in
his life. After establishing worship procedures at Srirangam, Ramanuja
approaches Thirukkottiyar Nambi for Charama Slokam(the most scared mantras).
Thirukkottiyar Nambi refused to teach the sacred mantra to Ramanuja 17 times.
Ramanuja never understood the reason for the refusal and was deeply disappointed
for not able to receive the manthra. It is said that Ramanuja was denied of the
sacred manthra because he was identifying himself as Ramanuja, but not the
servant of Lord Varadaraja. On the 18th trip he realizes the mistake
and introduces himself to Nambi as the servant of Lord Varadaraja. Then Nambi
teaches the scared manthra to Ramanuja, but warns him not to share with anyone
as it is the most sacred manthra. He also warns him that he will go to hell if
he shares the mantra with others. After
learning the manthra, Ramanuja chooses to share it with everyone irrespective of
the caste, creed, sex and social status. The next day he climbs up the
gopuram(entrance arch) of the temple and teaches the manthra to all those who
gathered there. He also advises them to chant that scared manthra all the time
to get moksham(salvation). Immediately Ramanuja’s teacher Nambi calls him and
threatens that Ramaunja would go to hell for sharing the secret manthra with
everyone. In reply Ramanuja says to his teacher that he is happy to go to hell
at the expense of many people getting moksha for chanting the scared manthra. At
this response his teacher Nambi realizes that Ramanuja is a great person than
and decides to become Ramaunja’s disciple.
Philosophy of Vishishtadvaita
The Vishishtadvaita philosophy of Ramanuja is refined Advaita philosophy
proposed by Adi Shankaracharya. Shankracharya’s Advaita philosophy says that
Brahmin is the ultimate truth, the world is an illusion, and there is no
difference between the Brahman and individual self.
Whereas Ramanuja’s Vishishtadaviat
philosophy says that Brahmin is ultimate and He has numerous attributes. It is
incorrect to say that Brahmin is Nirguna(without attributes). Brahmin, the ultimate truth, is
different from individual self. At the same time Brahmin is in every entity of
this universe, which is His creation. Brahmin is Paramantma(supreme soul) and
individual self is Jeevatma(minute soul). They could be compared to an ocean and
drop of water simultaneously. The ultimate goal of jeevatama is to reach
paramantma, juts like the destination of every rain drop is the ocean through
complete surrender. Once jeevatma reaches paramatma it will continue to serve
paramatma in Paramapadama, the abode of Lord Narayana or Mahapurusha.
In order to surrender to Lord SrimanNarayana, one must take the initiation just
like Ramaunja did with his guru. It includes five steps-
- Taapa - branding the symbols
of conch and discus on the shoulders of the aspirant to eliminate past sins and
also as reminder that he/she is the servant of the Lord.
Pundram –The application of sacred marks
on 12 places; forehead, shoulders, chest, top and bottom end of the backbone,
the head. This sacrament is protection
against temptation, and also reminder that our body is a temple.
- Dasya Naama – Securing a name
that constantly reminds one that he/she is a servant of God.
Mantra Upadesha – Instruction of the
three sacred manthras and their meaning. Recitation of these manthras redeem one
from the cycle of birth and death.
- Complete surrender to supreme
personality if Godhead(Narayana), and lead a sacred life by worshipping God
everyday, and performing actions that please God.
The ultimate objective of the ritual is to have the sincerity in surrender to
God. Going through the ritual
without leading the life the way it is recommended will yield to no results, and
it is not considered as complete surrender.
Testimony to Ramanuja’s Devotion
Undoubtedly Ramanuja was an incredible devotee of Lord Narayana, and he was able
to demonstrate on several occasions. In his effort to fulfill the three wishes
of his teacher, Ramanuja travelled extensively to spread Sri Vaishnava
philosophy. Ramanuja’s influence over people was such that a Chola king, who was
a staunch Shaivite, was afraid of Ramanuja and passed an order to capture and
kill Ramanuja. Though Ramanuja was not afraid of the king and his death, on his
disciples’ request he left Tamilnadu and travelled to Karanataka. At the same time the daughter of one
of the kings in that area was haunted by evil spirits. Learning the greatness of
Ramanuja the king requests Ramanuja to heal his daughter. Ramanuja simple takes
the name of Lord Narayana and gives princess the holy water to drink.
Immediately the evil spirits leave the body of princess and she becomes well. As
the king hails Ramanuja, he replies that it is the greatness of Lord Narayana
that healed the princess and He will protect anyone who surrenders to Him
On another occasion, some followers of Jainism argue with Ramanuja and denounce
the Vedas and Hindu way of worship, rituals, etc. Further, the Jain followers
demand that Ramanuja should answer their questions and if he was able to answer
their questions they will accept him as their teacher. One day the place was set
for the question and answer session. About one thousand people get ready to
question Ramanuja. To answer their questions Ramanuja takes the form the divine
serpent with 100o hoods, Adishesha, and answers all their questions at the same
time. The Jain disciples were astounded at the authority of Ramanuja, accept
their defeat and become the followers of Ramanuja.
These two incidents are a great testimony to Ramanuja’s complete surrender to
Lord Narayana, and in fact he was the true messenger of Lord Narayana.
Restoration of Vishnu Temples
Ramanuja was instrumental in establishing correct practices in all Vishnu
temples, including the famous and the most sacred shrine of Tirupathi. He taught
his disciples the correct way of worshipping Lord Narayana through Pancharathra
Agama (the worship procedure). He also made sure there were no errors in
worshipping Lord Narayana. He made sure that there is a place for Nalayira Divya
Prabandham, the works of Alwars, in the day to day worship of Lord Narayana. He
also made sure there was no discrimination against the people of other castes.
One great example is a Lord Vishnu’s temple in Melkote in Karanataka, where a
very special celebration is held once a year called Vairumidi. This celebration
goes for almost a week, and one day people of other castes are given an
opportunity to celebrate and worship God in their own way. In this way Ramanuja was also a great
reformer of social justice. Ramanuja made a point many times that everyone,
irrespective of caste, creed and sex, is eligible for Lord Narayana’s grace, and
it can be received with complete surrender to Him.
The Works of Ramanuja
Ramanuja’s works include Vedanta Sangraha(summary of the menaing of the Vedas),
commentary on the Brahma Sutras(Sri Bhashyam), Geeta Bhashyam
(commentary on Bhagavath Geeta), Gadya Trayama(Sharanagarthi Gadyam, SriRanga
Gadyam, Vaikunta Gadyam). Sharanagathi Gadyama is about complete surrender to
Sriman Narayana. In his dialogue with Sri Lakhsmi Devid Ramanuja pleads with the
Mother to recommend for his moksham to Sriman Narayana. SriRanga Gadyam is about
a prayer of surrender to Sri Ranganatha. Vaikunta Gadyam is about the
description the Sri Vaikuntam, the abode of Sriman Narayana on whom everyone
should be meditating upon for Moksham. In addition to this Ramanujacharya also
Vedanta Sara, Vedanta Deepa, and Nithya Granthams(day to day activities related
to God’s worship).
Lord Ramanuja established 74 mutts(branches) to promote Sri Vaishnava philosophy
and each is headed by a Sri Vaishnava saint. The common goal of all these mutts
is to spread the Vishishtadvaita philosophy and worship of the supreme
personality of Godhead through complete surrender. The leadership provided by
Ramanuja continues to influence saints, teachers, scholars and his disciples as
on today. Many scholars continue to deliver lectures and write papers on the
works on Ramanuja. His contribution in refining the philosophy of Hinduism and
God’s worship is so incredible that it will continue to be there until the end
of this creation. Greatest testimony is that in every temple and house where
Lord Narayana and his forms are worshipped, Ramanuja is worshipped as a great
teacher. Ramanuja’s worship goes hand in hand in everyday prayer.
In conclusion, Ramanuja lived 120 years which is the complete life span of a
human being and the fact has been indicated in the Hindu scriptures. Recently
scientists also confirmed that 120 years is the life span of a human being.
Ramanuja’s life is a testimony to validate the authenticity of the Vedas and
many facts which have been stated in them about God, creation and many aspects
of the material world and spiritual world.
The following listed websites have been very useful in writing this article.
These links provide addition details about Ramanujacharya, his life, works and
his contribution to the Hindu philosophy and mythology.
Dates Ramanuja Jayanthi All over the World (2013):
- Hawaii: April 16th 2013
- USA/PST: April 16th 2013
- USA/MST: April 16th 2013
- USA/CST: April 16th 2013
- USA/EST: April 16th 2013
- UK: April 17th 2013
- India: May 14th 2013
- Malaysia: May 14th 2013
- Australia -- WAU: May 14th 2013
- Australia -- SAU: May 14th 2013
- Australia -- NT: May 14th 2013
- Australia -- QSLND: May 14th 2013
- Australia -- NSW: May 14th 2013
- Australia -- ACT: May 14th 2013
- Newzeland: May 14th 2013
- Fiji: May 14th 2013