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.
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:
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
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
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.
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