ஞாயிறு, 12 ஜூன், 2016

Reforms sans confrontation

-DR PREMA NANDAKUMAR





He showed by example what was to be done to enable society to live together in amity.

Religion calls for a personal god; it suggests rituals; it imposes a discipline. As Sri Aurobindo pointed out, religious discipline is like the scaffolding when building a temple. Only when man has built the “temple of the spirit” can he dispense with the scaffolding made up of worship, image, symbols and the rest. Even then, himself free in the vast expanse of spirituality, the lover of mankind continues to subject himself to religious discipline to show the others the way. Has not Krishna said this to Arjuna in the Gita, explaining his continuous involvement with karma yoga?


Living through long decades of work and worship, Sri Ramanuja had attained the remarkable stage of going beyond the world of forms to a constant union with the Divine. Yet, he never gave up his daily worship. He advised others to do the same. He also wrote a short treatise, Nithyagrantha, to help Srivaishnavas adhere to the ritualistic side of their faith. The great Vedantin was also a very practical guide to the Srivaishnava community and puts his message as brief commands. “I shall now tell those who believe in God alone the method of performing ritual worship of the Lord.” Apart from worshipping in temples, this personal association with a household deity (maybe an image or a salagrama) will discipline the body and the mind and turn the devotee’s emotion godward with very little effort.

Sri Ramanuja’s daily worship of his personal deity, Lord Varadaraja apart, he was also in daily communion with Lord Ranganatha and Goddess Ranganayaki. It is said that on a ‘Panguni Uthiram’ day when they both gave audience together, Sri Ramanuja who was at that moment offering worship surrendered, reciting his Saranagati Gadya. Here, the central concept of Srivaishnavism, which is one's surrender to the Divine Couple as a two-in-one presence, becomes a living experience - “Mother, who is equal to the Supreme Lord, of all-auspicious qualities!”

The Acharya used several descriptive terms to underline the glory and the good of the Divine Mother and hailed her as Akhilajaganmataram (Universal Mother). The Mother looked at him quizzically, and he understood the maternal glance. Immediately he said, ‘asmanmaataram’ (My Mother). For such is the wondrous love of the Divine Mother that even as She is the Universal Mother reigning over the seven worlds, She has the time to look after each and everyone of her children. It is this aspect that gives us comfort when we call out to her in distress, ‘mother!’ a moment that defines spirituality.

Sri Ramanuja, from his student days, had given up the pride of caste. He showed by example what was to be done to enable society to live together in amity. He was never one for confrontation. He did not force his beliefs on others. Returning from a bath in the Cauvery, he would put his hand on the shoulder of his disciple Dhanurdasa while walking. He would not prevent Periya Nambi from serving his friend, the pious Maraner Nambi and stood by the former who performed the last rites of the latter. He gave Dalits an identity within the society’s portals by referring to them as “Tiru-kulathaar” (belonging to the community of Lakshmi).

Many of Sri Ramanuja’s attempts to bring down the civilisational shame of casting out a particular group of people have been recorded. There was Pattini Perumal, who used to sing the songs of Azhwars beautifully, sitting in his hut. Sri Ramanuja, who was passing by, spent a long time listening to the hymns, a memorable gesture for the singer.

Sri Ramanuja never showed undue haste in reforms but was firm. No doubt it was his way of thinking that influenced his disciple, Bhattar, to write a gem-like commentary on Kaisiki Purana. After all, is not the Dalit singer Tiruppan one of the Azhwars, who has given a memorable portrait of Lord Ranganatha?

All this happened a thousand years ago. A noble life like Sri Ramanuja’s was not lived in vain. Others came to follow in his footsteps. When Swami Vivekananda started Sri Ramakrishna Mission, he gave special importance to raising the position of the marginalised castes and often spoke of the great work done by Sri Ramanuja. 


The most sublime monument to Sri Ramanuja comes from Narsi Mehta capturing the essence of Srivaishnava tradition: ‘Vaishnava janato!’
“He will bow down his head and make himself low

To all, he despises none.


He is pure in his thoughts, in his speech, and in his deeds,

Their mothers are blessed by such ones.”

(Translated by Swami Mahadevananda) 

NOTE:

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

Courtesy: The Hindu (09.06.2016)







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