His respect for women

Sri Ramanuja’s arrival in the 11th century CE

heralded a new beginning and a new vision for a

society lost among class, caste and gender divisions.

In the course he had many followers, both men and

women. And a few women figure prominently in his long

journey as a spiritual leader.

First, his wife Thanjamambal, whom he married when

he was 16. Now, the Sri Vaishnava school never believed

in renunciation of life and taking to sanyas. Ramanuja

was exceptional in this regard. He took to sanyasa till fate

intervened when he was 38. years old.

Traditional accounts blame Thanjamambal for having

been adamant and refusing or not following the

commands of her husband. She came from a pious family

sworn to orthodoxy. One traditional scholar in fact raised

the question – “What prevented Ramanuja from inviting

Thirukachi Nambigal on another day for lunch so that his

aim could be fulfilled ?” It has been suggested by scholars

that Thanjamambal had forebodings of the great

renunciation in store and felt obliged to make a sacrifice

in public interest and to make a success of Ramanuja’s

birth mission (Refer commentary by Narasimha

Varadarajan) Ramanuja had immense respect for

women. He worshipped Andal, whom he considered

equivalent to Mahalakshmi. His reverence towards

women evident through many instances. On one occasion, standing outside Periya Nambi’s house in Srirangam and watching his daughter Athuzhai opening the door to offer madhukaram, Ramanuja, lost in thought, prostrated before her, imagining her to be the reincarnation of Andal. Periya Nambi, who was watching all this came out and asked Ramanuja, “Undhu Mathagalithan Anusanthanamo?”

A similar event happened at Thirukoshtiyur, where

Ramanuja prostrated before Thirukoshtiyur Nambi’s

daughter Devaki Piratti imagining that it signified

purushakaram of Devaki herself for receiving the

meaning of Charama Sloka from Thirukoshtiyur Nambi.

Thirunagari Pillai

In another incident, Ramanuja was on a pilgrimage to

Thiruvali Thirunagari and the surrounding Divyadesams.

On the way stood an apparently illiterate woman

belonging to a lower order in society. In order to avoid

her, Ramanuja commanded her to step aside till he

crossed the way. The lady surprised him with the

following questions: “Sir, to which side shall I move?

Here before me stands Thy Holy Self, a Brahmin, whom I

cannot approach lest I pollute thee by my nearness;

Behind me, is the Holy shrine of Thirukannapuram; to

my right are the Thirumanam Kollai where Saint

Thirumanagai waylaid the Lord and Thiruvarasu (the

Peepul Tree) used by the Saint as his watch tower and to

my left is Thiruvali Manavalan. There is thus purity all

around me here, which side then can my impurity turn?”

Ramanuja was struck by that and pleaded forgiveness.

He administered to her the holy Vaishnava sacraments

and allotted her a place in the shrine, where her image is

seen and revered by all the pilgrims to this day. (Source:

Alkondavilli Govindacharya)

Parithi Kolli Ammal

During his journey to Tirupati, Ramanuja and his 40

disciples came to a village, where they came across an

impoverished Srivaishnava family. As the lady of the

house, Parithi Kolli Ammal, was not in presentable

clothes she could not come out to welcome the group.

Ramanuja flung his uthareeyam (upper cloth) through a

window. Moved by the gesture, the woman covering

herself with the cloth prostrated and fervently requested

that the Vaishnava troupe dine at their house. Ramanuja

agreed. The woman felt immensely happy but there were

no supplies at home to be cooked and served. So she

planned to take the help of the local merchant, who had

vice intentions on her. After feeding the preceptor and

his disciples, the woman along with her husband

Varadaraya went to thank the merchant, who was waiting

with a wily intention. But with Ramanuja’s grace, the

merchant got transformed into a person with fair


Thirukkolur Ammal

The story of Tirukkolur Penpillai, whose enlightened

status moved the seer, is well-known. The legend goes

thus: After fulfilling Andal’s wish of offering

Akkaravadisal at the Azhagar temple, Ramanuja

proceeded towards Nammazhwar’s Nava Tirupati. While

entering Tirukkolur, birthplace of Madurakavi Azhwar,

Ramanuja saw a woman exiting the town and wondered

why. Thirukkolur Ammal, as she came to be known,

explained how she could never equal the bhakti of

Akrura, Vidura, Anusuya, Draupadi, etc., and how she did

not deserve to live in such a holy place as Thirukkolur.

Ramanuja was deeply moved and ate the food prepared

by her as a token of her spiritual enlightenment and


Kongu Piratti

She was another staunch devotee of Ramanuja.

Kulothunga Chola was on a rampage. Ramanuja was

forced to retreat to the west. At a village near the Nilgiris,

the family of Kongu Piratti received him with full

honours. During her visit to Srirangam years earlier, she

had taken the images of the Padukas of Ramanuja with

her. Finding Ramanuja in white, instead of saffron, she

was a little confused. She took out the Padukas and found

them matching Ramanuja’s holy feet. Her joy knew no

bounds. Ramanuja and his entourage took part of the

hospitality of Kongu Piratti and her husband.

Thulukka Nachiyaar

Ramanuja’s travails at Melkote lasted for 12 years.

Finding that the utsava idol of the Lord was missing, he

went on a mission to the North to find it. It was in the

custody of a Muslim Chieftain appointed by Ghazini

Mohammed. The chieftain’s young daughter had fallen in

love with the beautiful idol and was worshipping it. She

refused to part with the image. But at the call of

Ramanuja, Chella Pillai jumped into his lap and the

Nawab had to send the idol with Ramanuja. But the girl,

who pined away, got a place next to the Lord. Hailed as

Thulukka Nachiyar, she is enshrined in the temples of

Melkote, Srirangam and Kanchipuram.

                                              From The Hindu Publication