புதன், 29 ஜூன், 2016

Like the rain that drenched everything


The Idol of Ramanujar being taken in procession on the ocassion of his Tirunatchathiram as a part of the 1000th year celebration in Sri Ranganathar swamy temple in Srirangam.

Sri Ramanuja’s compassion knew no distinction.

The ideal student of yesterday had now become a sought-after teacher too. One thousand years after, we still speak of the admirable relationship that existed between him and his students. They revered him because of his exemplary character and readiness to work hard to teach them. Sri Ramanuja had written his magnum opus, Sri Bhashya, as a highly erudite commentary on the Brahma Sutras. And though there were brilliances like Kuresa, Dasarathi, Parasara Bhatta and Govinda, the teacher must have noticed that there are always rising tiers in the capacity of young minds to understand the technicalities of a subject. This is why he wrote other commentaries on the Brahma Sutras like Vedanta Sara and Vedanta Deepa for different grades. And all his commentaries have an intensely human angle coming through legends and similes from everyday experience. This way, none of his disciples felt left out. Perhaps a lesson for those teachers of today, who are not prepared to go the extra mile for the sake of a student or see another point of view!

During these years of his middle age, Sri Ramanuja undertook long pilgrimages visiting great temples all over India. He also went to Kashmir where he managed to collect material for his Sri Bhashya. The local king took him to the famous temple of Sarada Pita (now in Pak-occupied Kashmir) and the Acharya was given a resounding welcome with special festivities for Goddess Sarada. The travels of Ramanuja with his entourage which have been recorded by different scholars and poets are indeed treasure troves of humanistic philosophy.

As the fame of Sri Ramanuja spread and his disciples increased and the Srirangam complex became a showcase for temple administration, a new threat loomed on the horizon. The king of the day wanted to apply the brakes and give Saivism a boost. It has never been clear who this king was, referred to only as Kirimikanta Chola (The Chola with an infected throat). Though they adhered to Saivism, the Chola kings have not been historically portrayed as anti-Vaishnava. History tells us that Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1122 A.D), who ruled the land for more than half a century was a liberal king and so would not have harmed Sri Ramanuja and put a spoke in his wheel. Whatever the background, all that we need to know here is that some methodical persecution pushed Sri Ramanuja into self-exile. He now spent more than a decade in Karnataka engaged in the work after his heart. The local king of the famous Hoysala dynasty was a Jain. He became Ramanuja’s disciple, and was named Vishnu Vardhana.

The king helped his guru in digging the celebrated Tondanur tank (popularly known as Tonnur Kere) spread over 2,000 acres. With the height of the dam at 230 metres, its outflow forms a waterfall, Ramanuja Gange. Tondanur village has also the Nambi Narayana and Yoga Narasimha temples which gave an ideal space of refuge for the Acharya.

The Karnataka interregnum would prove highly fruitful as the Acharya discovered the image of Tirunarayana and built a temple to him in Yadugiri. He planned the management of the temple from the scratch with great insight about the future requirements of devotees. The festivals and other day-to-day rituals of the place have continued till this day. One of the festivals is Delhi Utsava in commemoration of the Acharya getting the processional deity of Sampathkumara from the Sultan at Delhi. Are these incidents stuff of legend or was there a conscious attempt to achieve national integration? The building of the Pancha Narayana Kshetras in Karnataka by Vishnuvardhana under the direction of Dasarathi whom Sri Ramanuja had put in charge is yet another epic tale.

With the death of the inimical king, Sri Ramanuja could return to Srirangam. He was very close to Kanchipuram and Tirumala, but he had been chosen for the Spiritual Throne at Srirangam by his predecessor Yamunacharya. Also, engaged in managing the temple, the deities had become living presences for him. He appointed seventy-four persons to take charge of sustaining and spreading Srivaishnavism, something they have done quite well through all these centuries. Some of the paramparas like Gomadam, Mudumbai, Kandadai and Kidambi stand witness to the visionary in the Acharya.

Sri Ramanuja was one hundred and twenty years old. Reassured that Srivaishnavism with its integrated presence of the Sanskrit scriptures and Tamil hymnology will prosper for all time to come, he installed Parasara Bhattar as his successor and quietly withdrew from the physical. It was 1137 A.D.

So how shall we crown Sri Ramanuja? The philosopher who brings a smile to our face with a simile in Sri Bhashya? The commentator who breaks out into poetic visions of Krishna’s personality? Or the sociological thinker who found that one-sixth of the population had been set aside as ‘untouchables’ and so named them as Tirukulathar (Lakshmi’s race) and himself walked into the Dalit Pattini Perumal’s house and heard him recite the verses of the Alwars? Or the social worker who established free dining areas and hospitals like the Dhanvantari Sannidhi in Srirangam? Or the teacher who was a walking university when he went on pilgrimages with the disciples? Or the student who was never afraid to question the teacher but did not swerve from his perfect behaviour?

All we can say today is that Sri Ramanuja was an untiring integrator in every aspect of his life. He was an achiever because he did everything for others without expecting even a word of ‘thanks’. That is why he has been called “Karei karunai Ramanuja”, an image of compassion like the rain-bearing clouds which pours its life-giving nectar over all irrespective of caste, creed or country. May his teachings grow stronger within and around us and may his tribe increase! 


Smt. Dr Prema Nandakumar, is a notable Tamil Scholar and Writer.

Courtesy: The Hindu (12.05.2016)

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