Sri Ramanuja – The Sole Refuge

Tree of Knowledge

By Niranjana KarthigaiRajan

In India, Sri Ramanuja Jayanthi was celebrated yesterday (9 May 2019). Nammazhwar, one of the 12 Tamil poet-saints of south India over 5000 years ago, in his composition Thiruvaimozhi (sacred Tamil hymns) forecasts the arrival of a Mahapurusha to be born upon which the Kali Yuga (dark age) will lose its venom. “Poliga poliga poliga poyitru valluyir chaabam…”, sings azhwar, which means, “Glory! Glory! Glory! Strong curses in the form of ignorance (ignorance of one’s true self and about the Supreme) will be destroyed”.

After 4000 years, Sri Ramanuja was born on 1017 AD during Chithirai month on Thiruvathirai nakshatra to Vedic scholar Kesava Somayaji and his wife Kantimathi at Sriperumbatur (a town in South India). He is the incarnation of Adhisheesha (the serpent bed on which Vishnu reclines). During his lifespan of 120 years, he travelled across the length and breadth of India up to Kashmir, having philosophical debates and regulating the administration of various temples in a manner which is adhered to even till now.

Sri Ramanuja’s doctrine of saranagthi (surrendering to God) and knowledge- ripened-to love (bhakthi) finds its essence in Vedic and Upanishadic texts. That is, not just mere Jnana (knowledge) but the knowledge-ripened-to-love towards the Supreme would lead to eternal bliss. 

Equality in Bhakthi

A story of how a Muslim princess became an idol in a temple: While Sri Ramanuja was travelling across Karnataka (a state in southwest India), he stayed at Melkote, a city in Karnataka. There, he found that the idol of Cheluva Narayana Swamy Temple called Rama Priyan was missing at the temple. 

One night, the Lord revealed to him in his dream that the murthi, which had been stolen by King Emmadu Rayan was in Delhi. Sri Ramanuja rushed to Delhi to retrieve the deity. But the King’s daughter had fallen in love with the murthi and was worshipping it in her harem; she refused to return it. However, the sultan promised to return the murthi to Sri Ramanuja if it wishes to come along with him.

Sri Ramanuja lovingly called out, “Oh! my dear child, please come.” And lo! To everyone’s surprise the murthi got down from the Princess’ decorated bed and walked towards Sri Ramanuja with echoing chime from his ankles, dangling hip chain and gleaming crown. Then He jumped on Sri Ramanuja’s lap and with tears. Sri Ramanuja embraced the murthi as a father would dote on his child. Since then, Rama Priyan was fondly known as “Chella Pillai”. 

The princess, unable to bear the separation from the murthi, followed Sri Ramanuja to Melakote. But while they neared Mysore, since she had restrictions on entering the territory, at her request, Sri Ramanuja transformed the princess into a murthi l so that she could be near her beloved Lord forever. 

Ramanuja then installed this murthi of the Muslim princess at the feet of Chella Pillai. Since then she is hailed as Bibi Nachiyar.

Restoring the Identity of Venkateshwara

Today, Venkateshwara Temple, Thirumala, is one of the wealthiest temples of India. A 1000 years ago Thirumala wasn’t accessible to people. There wasn’t any worship owing to its thick forest cover and existence of ferocious animals and poisonous reptiles.

During one of his discourses, Sri Ramanuja asked his disciples as to who would be interested to create garden atop the hill to adorn Sri Venkateshwara with garlands. One of his disciples Ananthalvan was courageous; he undertook this selfless service to create a garden and dig a well. Thus, Sri Ramanuja was instrumental in re-establishing worship and streamlining the rituals of the temple. 

Later, while there raised an ambiguity on whether the presiding deity is Vishnu or Shiva, Sri Ramanuja debated the identity of the Lord as Maha Vishnu by validating proofs from the Scriptures. When the opponents weren’t still convinced, he proposed the temple priest to place the arms of Vishnu – sacred discus and conch, and arms of Shiva – damaru, inside the sanctum. Then Sri Ramanuja pleaded with the Lord to grasp the arms of which He belongs. After a while, when the door was opened, the Lord gave dharshan with discus and conch. Thus, He established that the Lord atop the seven hills was solely a manifestation of Mahavishnu.

Guru Parampara

The Lord Himself had fostered reverence for acharyars during His incarnations so that mankind would follow in His footsteps. For instance, Lord Rama had Sage Vashishta as His acharya and Lord Krishna learnt 64 arts from Sage Sandeepan. 

Just like we have teachers, coaches and mentors to guide us in our journey of life for gaining materialistic knowledge, the unique bond of a spiritual preceptor is paramount to realize the infinite, invisible God and to lead us to the feet of the Supreme One.

So, this chain of Guru parampara (the uninterrupted lineage of teachers) starts with Sriman Narayana, Mahalakshmi, Vishwaksenar, Namazhwar and continuous with other list of acharyars with Sri Ramanuja in the middle. 

While Sri Ramanuja surrendered to Lord, the Lord granted boon to him that whomsoever Sri Ramanuja points out, they would attain eternal bliss in Sri Vaikundam. So, owing to his ocean of compassion, he appointed 74 disciples as acharyas in order to carry the mantle of knowledge, and even today (after a millennium) the bloodline of each of those acharyas is in the service to the Lord and they enlighten their pupil through their advice. 

When we catch hold of the lotus feet of anyone of those 74 acharyars, the chain links us to Sri Ramanuja and in turn to Sriman Narayanan Himself. Until today, most of the families in India prostrate to any one of those 74 acharyars and only through them Saranagathi is done. 

Uyya ore vazhi Udayavar thiruvadi!! (Sri Ramanuja is the sole refuge!) 

Niranjana KarthigaiRajan
niranjanavk@gmail.com


* Published in print edition on 10 May 2019

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