The body of Ramanujar inside the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
|Born||Lakshmana, also called Ilaya Perumal (The Radiant one)
Sriperumbudur, present-day Tamil Nadu, India
Sri Rangam, present-day Tamil Nadu, India
|Titles/honours||Emberumaar, Udayavar, Yathiraja, Most venerated acharya (teacher) in the philosophy of Sri Vaishnavism.|
|Literary works||Vedartha Sangraham, Sri Bhashyam, Gita Bhashyam, Vedanta Deepam, VedAnta Saram, Sharanagati Gadyam, Sriranga Gadyam, Sri Vaikuntha Gadyam, Nitya Grantham|
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Ramanuja (traditionally, 1017–1137 CE) was a Hindu theologian, philosopher, and scriptural exegete, born in a Tamil Brahmin family in the village of Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. He is also known as Sri Ramanujacharya, Udayavar, Ethirajar (Yatiraja), Emberumannar and Lakshmana Muni. He is seen by Sri Vaishnavism as the most important acharya (teacher) of their tradition who followed Nathamuni and Yamunacharya, and by Hindus in general as the leading expounder of Vishishtadvaita, one of the classical interpretations of the dominant Vedanta school of Vedic philosophy.
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The traditional biographies of Ramanuja place his life in the period of 1017–1137 CE, yielding a lifespan of 120 years. Any chronology depends crucially on the major historical event mentioned in the traditional biographies: the persecution of Srivaishnavas under the Chola king Kulothunga and Ramanuja's subsequent years of exile in Melkote, in Karnataka.
In 1917, T. A. Gopinatha Rao proposed a chronology based on the traditional lifetime of 1017–1137. He identified the Chola king with Kulothunga Chola I (reigned 1070–1120), and dated the exile to Melkote from 1079 to 1126 CE (Rao 1923 cited in Carman 1974:45). However, this would extend the period of exile to 47 years, and in any case, Kulothunga I was not known for being an intolerate Shaivite.
A different chronology was proposed by T. N. Subramanian, an official in the Madras government (Subramanian 1957 cited in Carman 1974:45). This chronology identifies the Chola King with Kulothunga Chola II, who reigned from 1133–50 and was - also arguably - known for his persecution of Vaisnavites. It puts Ramanuja's exile from c. 1137 to 1148. Subramanian's hypothesis is aided by a fragment from the late Tamil biography Rāmānujārya Divya Caritai, which states that Ramanuja completed his most important work, the Śrībhāṣya, in 1155–56. Nevertheless, temple inscriptions in Karnataka indicate the presence of Ramanuja and his disciples before 1137. Carman (1974:45) hypothesizes that the traditional biographers conflated two different visits to Mysore into one. This later chronology has been accepted by several scholars, yielding a tentative lifetime of 1077–1157.
Whatever the precise dates of Ramanuja's lifetime, it seems clear that all three of the great Srivaiṣṇava acharyas lived under the relatively stable and non-sectarian climate of the Chola empire, before its decline in the late 12th and 13th centuries (Carman 1974, p. 27).
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By the 5th century, the South Indian religious scene was diverse, with popular religion existing alongside Vedic sacrifice and non-Vedic traditions like Buddhism and Jainism. Indeed, the title character of the sixth century Tamil Buddhist epic Manimekalai is advised at one point to study the various Hindu schools of philosophy, such as Sankhya and Vaisheshika as well as Buddhism, Ajivika, Cārvāka, and Jainism. It was in this context that fears of a Buddhist or Jain takeover spurred a large Hindu revival that reached its peak in the 7th century and continued nearly into the 2nd millennium.
The popular aspects of this revival took the shape of several mystical and passionate bhakti movements, represented on the Sri Sampradaya side by the twelve alvars. The alvars came from a variety of social strata; their ranks include shudras (persons from the lowest castes) and one woman. The intense devotionalism of their poetry and insistence that caste and sex are no barrier to a relationship with the Divine is uncharacteristic of classical Vedic thought, which laid a strong emphasis on the performance of the social and religious duties proper to one's place in the social structure. Some of these were collected into a definitive canon known as the Nālāyira Divya Prabandha ("divine composition of 4000 verses"), by Nathamuni in the 10th century, and came to be seen as a source of revelation equal in authority to the Vedas in the Śrīvaiṣṇava community.
On the philosophical side, this period saw the rise of the Vedanta school of philosophy, which focused on the elucidation and exegesis of the speculative and philosophical Vedic commentaries known as the Upanishads. The Advaita, or non-dualist interpretation of Vedanta was developed in this time by Adi Shankara and later by Maṇḍana Miśra. It argued that the Brahman presented in the Upanishads is the static and undifferentiated absolute reality, and that the ultimately false perception of difference is due to avidyā, or ignorance.
The goal of proving the Vedantic legitimacy of the popular conception of a personal deity and a genuine personal identity essentially characterizes Ramanuja's project, and the Advaitin school presents a natural object for his polemics. It is this synthesis between the classical Sanskrit writings and the popular Tamil poetry that is the source of one of the names of Ramanuja's system: Ubhaya Vedānta, or "Vedanta of both kinds."
In dealing with the lives of the Vedantic teachers, there is little in the way of actual history, and it is thus necessary to make reference to the many hagiographical works—both in verse and prose—that form a major genre in both Sanskrit and South Indian vernaculars.
The earliest such hagiographies in prose is the Ārāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāva (the "six thousand" splendour of the succession of teachers) (not to be confused with the well-known commentary on the Divya Prabandha of the same length, also commonly referred to as the "Six Thousand"). This was written by Piṉpaḻakiya Perumāḷ Jīyar in the 13th century in a highly Sanskritized dialect of Tamil known as Maṇipravāla. Perhaps earlier was a Sanskrit work of poetry, the Divya Sūri Carita or Acts of the Divine Sages, probably written in the 12th century by Garuḍavāhaṇa Paṇḍita, a contemporary disciple of Ramanuja's.
In later times, a number of traditional biographies proliferated, such as the 16th or 17th century Sanskrit work Prapannāmṛta and, following the split of the Śrīvaiṣṇava community into the Vadakalais and Teṉkalais. The Muvāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāva or the "Three Thousand" Splendor of the Succession of Teachers by Brahmatantra Svatantra Jīyar represents the earliest Vadakalai biography, and reflects the Vadakalai view of the succession following Ramanuja. Ārāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāva, or "Six Thousand" Splendor of the Succession of Teachers referred in the previous paragraph represents the Tenkalai biography.
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From a young age, his intelligence and ability to comprehend highly abstract philosophical points were legendary. He took initiation from Yadavaprakasa, a renowned Advaitic scholar. Though his new guru was highly impressed with his analytical ability, he was quite concerned by how much emphasis Ramanuja placed on bhakti. After frequent clashes over interpretation, Yadavaprakasa decided the young Ramanuja was becoming too much of a threat and plotted a way to kill him. However, Ramanuja's cousin Govinda Bhatta (a favourite of Yadavaprakasa) discovered the plot and helped him escape. An alternative version is that one of Yadavaprakasa's students plotted to kill Ramanuja as a means of pleasing their teacher, but Sri Ramanuja escaped in the afore-mentioned manner. Yadavaprakasa was horrified when learnt about the conspiracy. Ramanuja returned to Yadavaprakasa's tutelage but after another disagreement, Yadavaprakasa asked him to leave. Ramanuja's childhood mentor, Kancipurna, suggested he meet with Kancipurna's own guru, Yamunacharya. After renouncing the life of a house-holder, Ramanuja travelled to Srirangam to meet an aging Yamunacharya, a philosopher of the remergent Vishishtadvaita school of thought. Yamunacharya had died prior to Ramanuja's arrival. Followers of Ramanuja relate the legend that three fingers of Yamunacharya's corpse were curled. Ramanuja saw this and understood that Yamunacharya was concerned about three tasks. Ramanuja vowed to complete these--
- Write a Visishtadvaita Bhashya for the Brahma Sutras of Vyasa which had previously been taught orally to the disciples of the Visishtadvaita philosophy.
- That the name of Paraśara, the author of Vishnu Purana should be perpetuated.
- The name of Saint Śaţhakopa should be perpetuated by writing a commentary on the Tiruvoimozhi
Legend goes that on hearing the vow, the three fingers on the corpse straightened.
Ramanuja accepted Yamunacharya as his Manasika Acharya and spent 6 months being introduced to Yamunacharya's philosophy by his disciple, Mahapurna although he did not formally join the community for another year. Ramanuja's wife followed very strict brahminical rules of the time and disparaged Mahapurna's wife as being of lower subcaste. Mahapurna and his wife left Srirangam. Ramanuja realized that his life as a householder was interfering with his philosophical pursuit as he and his wife had differing views. He sent her to her parents' house and renounced family and became a sanyasin.
Ramanuja started travelling the land, having philosophical debates with the custodians of various Vishnu temples. Many of them, after losing the debates, became his disciples. Ramanuja standardized the liturgy at these temples and increased the standing and the membership of the srivaishnava school of thought. He wrote his books during this time.
Ramanuja, who was a Srivaishnavite, has faced threats from some Shaivite Chola rulers who were religiously followers of Shiva . Ramanuja and a few of his followers moved to the Hoysala kingdom of Jain king Bittideva and queen Shantala Devi in Karnataka.
According to historian Alkandavilli Govindāchārya, Bitti Deva and his chief queen Shantala Devi had a sick daughter. She was possessed by an evil spirit and the Vaishnavite saint Ramanuja is said to have cured her. After this episode it is said that Bitti Deva embraced Vaishnavism. But from his inscriptions in the Hassan district, his daughter by one of his queens called Shantala Devi, died during his reign.
He treated all people as equal without considering their castes. At that time low caste people were prohibited inside the temples. He led the low caste people into the temples in many places. Due to this, he is praised as a "social reformer".
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Swami Ramanuja incorporated teachings from 5 different people who he considered to be his acharyas
- Peria Nambigal (Mahapurna) who performed his samasrayana,Dvayam,
- Thirukkotiyur Nambigal (Ghoshtipurna) : who revealed the meaning of the Charama Shlokam and Ashtakshari to swami on his 18th trip
- Periya Thirumalai Nambigal (Shailapurna) : Ramayana
- Tirumālai Aandaan (Maladhara): Bhagavad Vishayam (Śrī Thiruvaymozhi)
- Azhwar Thiruvaranga Perumal Arayar (Vararanga) : Remaining 3000 verses of Arulichcheyal(works of Azhwars) and Sandhai
Thirukachchi Nambigal (Kanchipurna) : The 6 sentences or PErarulAlan, and many others
Sri Ramanuja has many names, which were given at different points of time :
- Ilayazhwar-Name given by Thirumalai Nambi at birth
- Ramanujar-Name given by Varadaraja Perumal at Sanyasa
- Yathirajar-Name given by Thirukkachi Nambi
- Udayavar-Name given by Namperumal on Ramanuja's arrival at Srirangam
- Lakshmana Muni-Name given by Thirumaalai Aandaan
- Godagrajar- Name given by Srivilliputhur Srivaishnavas
- Appanukku Sangaazhi Alittha Perumal-Name he received because of settling the dispute regarding whether the main deity at Tirumala is Shiva or Vishnu
- Anna(elder brother)-Name given by Aandal after Ramanuja presented 100 cupfuls of porridge(Akkaravadisal) to Maaliruncholai Azhagar in Madurai, as per her wishes which were expressed in Nachiyar Thirumozhi
- Thiruppavai Jeer- Name given at Srirangam after Ramanuja swooned on seeing Athuzhai, daughter of Mahapurna, mistaking her to be Nappinnai(i.e.,since he was so absorbed in the meanings of Thiruppavai)
- Bhasyakarar- Name given by Saraswati at the Sri Bhandaram library in Kashmir because of his authorship of Sri Bhasyam
Ramanuja may have written 9 books. They are also referred to as the nine precious gems, the Navaratnas.
- His most famous work is known as the Sri Bhashya or Brahma Sutra Bhashya. It is a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, known also as the Vedānta Sūtras of Badarayana.
- Gadhya Thrayam (three prose hymns). All three are important works in Srivaishnava philosophy:
- Vaikuntha Gadyam describing in great detail Vaikuntha, the realm of Vishnu and recommending meditating on it.
- Sriranga Gadyam, a prayer of surrender to the feet of Ranganatha
- Saranagati Gadyam, an imagined dialogue between Ramanuja and Shri (Lakshmi) and Narayana where he petitions Lakshmi to recommend Narayana to give him grace. Narayana and Lakshmi accept his surrender.
- Vedartha Sangraha (a resume of Vedanta). It sets out Ramanuja’s philosophy, which is theistic (it affirms a morally perfect, omniscient and omnipotent God) and realistic (it affirms the existence and reality of a plurality of qualities, persons and objects).
- Vedanta Saara (essence of Vedanta) an appendix to Sri Bhasya
- Vedanta Deepa (the light of Vedanta), another appendix/commentary to Sri Bhasya.
- Gita Bhashya (his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita)
- Nitya Grantham (About the day-to-day activities to be performed by all Sri Vaishnavas)
Reverence as an Acharya
Harold Coward describes Ramanuja as "the founding interpreter of [Sri Vaisnavite] scripture." Although a collator and interpreter rather than an original thinker, there was originality in his method of synthesising the Tamil and Sanskrit texts.
Ramanuja's thiruvarasu (sacred burial shrine) is the Ramanuja shrine (sannidi) located inside the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple (periyakoyil or simply koyil) Srirangam, Tamil Nadu within the temple complex, where he attained his Acharyan Thiruvadi (the lotus foot of his Acharya).The Body of the saint(thirumeni) is placed inside the Sri Ramanuja shrine in "Padmasanam" (folded leg posture). It is anointed with chandan (sandalwood paste) and saffron (kungumappoo) twice a year. His shrine is open to the general public for darshan. Acharya Sri Ramanuja is believed to be the titular administrator the Srirangam temple.
In almost all of Sri Vaishnava temples, Acharya Ramanuja is given the foremost prominence. His blessings are invoked at the beginning of devotional services. Several temples like Sri Venkateswara Temple at Tirumala, Sri Parthasarathy Temple at Chennai, Sri Thirunarayana Swami Temple at Melukote have exclusive shrines dedicated to him. The Sattrumurai, or Appellations made to the Lord, at the end of daily services in a Sri Vaishnava temple always conclude with the words:
Sarva Desa Dasa Kaleshu Avyahata Parakrama |
Ramanuja Arya Divyajna Vardhatam Abhivardhatam ||
Meaning: Let the most Magnificent instruction of Sri Ramanuja increase and pervade through all countries at all times, without any hindrance.
Iyengar Brahmins in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh follow his philosophical tradition. The Tamil prabandhas are chanted at Vishnu temples on par with the Vedas. Persons of all communities, and not just Brahmins, are given roles in rituals at Srirangam and other leading temples. The philosophic discourses have been passed on to subsequent generations by great successors like Pillai Lokacharya, Vedanta Desika and Manavala Mamuni who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries.The famous freedom fighter and saint Aurobindo Ghosh has followed Visishtadvaita Philosophy. Several hagiographic accounts suggest that Ramanuja was an incarnation of Sri Adishesha. The Swaminarayan tradition of Gujarat also traces its acharya-parampara to Ramanuja through Ramananda (who according to legend was administered pancha-samskaras by Ramanuja).Visishtadvaita philosophy is widely followed in Andhra Pradesh,Tamil Nadu,South Karnataka,Gujarat and some parts of Maharashtra.
- "Sri Ramanuja's gift to the Lord". The Hindu (India). 24 December 2012.
- (Bartley 2002, p. 1)
- (Carman 1974, p. 24)
- Carman, John B. (1994). Majesty and Meekness: A Comparative Study of Contrast and Harmony in the Concept of God. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 9780802806932.
- For further information on Vedantic hagiographies, see Granoff 1984.
- The "Six Thousand" refers to the number of paṭis or granthas, units of 32 syllables.
- Some modern authors have argued for a date two centuries later, and give the actual author as a descendant of the traditional one, pointing out that Garuḍavāhaṇa Paṇḍita is a family title. This possibility has been argued at greater length by Ramanujam 1936.
- The life of Râmânujâchârya: the exponent of the Viśistâdvaita philosophy, page 180
- Epigraphia Carnatica: Inscriptions in the Hassan District, page xvi
- The Hoysaḷa vaṁśa, page 112
- "Ramanuja, a great social genius". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 8 May 2000.
- Coward, Harold G. (2008). The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. pp. 139–141. ISBN 9780791473351.
- Overzee, Anne Hunt (1992). The Body Divine: The Symbol of the Body in the Works of Teilhard de Chardin and Ramanuja. Cambridge University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 9780521385169.
- Ayyangar, S.Krishnaswami; Chariar, Rajagopala; and Rangacharya,M (1911), Sri Ramanujacharya: a sketch of his life and times and His Philosophical System, Madras: G.A.Natesan & Co.,
- Sampatkumaran, M. R. (1985), The Gītābhāṣya of Rāmānuja, Bombay: Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute
- Raghavachar, S. S. (2010), Vedartha Sangraha, India: Advaita Ashrama, ISBN 978-81-7505-118-8
- Bartley, C. J. (2002), The Theology of Rāmānuja: Realism and religion, London: RoutledgeCurzon
- Carman, John Braisted (1974), The Theology of Rāmānuja: An essay in interreligious understanding, New Haven and London: Yale University Press
- B. S. Devamani (1990), The Religion of Rāmānuja: A Christian Appraisal, Chennai: Christian Literature Society
- Christopher Duraisingh (1979), Toward an Indian-Christian Theology, Rāmānuja's Significance a Study of the Significance of Rāmānuja's Theological Hermeneutics for an Indian-Christian Understanding of the Relation Between God and All-else, Harvard: Harvard University
- Eric J. Lott (1976), God and the universe in the Vedāntic theology of Rāmānuja: a study in his use of the self-body analogy, Chennai: Ramanuja Research Society
- Govindacharya, A. (1960), The Life of Rāmānuja, Madras: S. Murthy
- Rao, T. A. Gopinatha (1923), Sir Subrahmanya Ayyar Lectures on the History of Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, Madras: University of Madras, Government Press
- Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta (1955), A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, London: Oxford University Press
- Sharma, Arvind (1978), Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta: A study, New Delhi: Heritage publishers
- Srinivasa Aiyengar, C. R. (n.d.), The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramanujacharya, Madras: R. Venkateshwar
- Subramanian, T. N. (1957), "South Indian Temple Inscriptions", Madras Government Oriental Series, no. 157 3 (2): 145–60
- Ankur Barua, "God’s Body at Work: Rāmānuja and Panentheism," International Journal of Hindu Studies, 14,1 (2010), 1-30.
- Biography and works, The Internet encyclopedia of Philosophy.[dead link]
- Biography of Ramanuja, Sanskrit.org
- Reckoning the date of birth of Ramanuja, rangavilasam.com'[dead link]
- Sri Bhashya: Ramanuja's commentary on Vedanta Sutras, translated By George Thibaut (1904)
- A collection of articles on the philosophy of Sri Ramanuja
- Srivaishnava Sampradayam - Information on various aspects of Srivaishnavite philosophy, culture, literature and history
- Srivaishnava guru paramparai
- rAmAnuja sampradhAyam articles/archives
- A collection of e-books on Ramanuja Sampradayam
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