An appellation by which
Ramanuja was called is ‘Ubhaya-Vedanta- Pravartaka.’ It means the propagator of two schools of Vedanta - the Vedanta found in the works of the Azhwars, known as Nalayira Divya Prabandham, and the Vedanta which found its expression in philosophers who wrote their works in Sanskrit and who were the Acharyapredecessors of Ramanuja.
Ramanuja, as an individual, had his dominant characteristic - being compassionate towards the lowly - as is evidenced in many incidents that one comes across in the traditional account of his life. One of the verses in which he was honoured by his followers reads thus: “yo nityam achyuta-padambuja-yugmarukma- vyamohatastaditarani
trunaya mene asmad guror bhagavato ‘sya dayaikasindhoh Ramanujasya charanau saranam
prapadhye .” This may be roughly translated as follows : “I resort to the sacred feet of
that Bhagavan Ramanuja who is the very ocean of compassion, our Master, who in his fascination for the golden lotus feet of Lord Achyuta, deemed everything else as trifling as a blade of grass.” That Ramanuja was both a philosopher and a devotee is expressed in the first verse of his great commentary on the Brahmasutras known as Sribhashya.
The verse runs thus: ‘Akhila-bhuvana-janmasthema-bhangadi-lile, vinatavividha- bhuta-vratarakshaika- dikshe sruti-sirasi vidipte Brahmani Srinivase bhavatu mama parasmin
semushi bhakti-rupa. ” “May my knowledge of God gathered from the study of the
scriptures, the pages of which are illumined by His light, ripen into the ardent love for
Him, who is the creator, sustainer and the annihilator of this whole universe and who has pledged himself to redeem the souls of those who bow down to Him in all humility.” This is the keynote of his entire philosophy of life known as Bhaktirupapannajnana (knowledge
transformed into love). Ramanuja was a Godintoxicated soul and every page of his writings reflects his devotion to God and to all that belongs to God. The traditional life of
Ramanuja is narrated in three important works such as ‘Guruparampara-prabhava,’
‘Divya- suri-charita’ and ‘Prapannamrita.’ ‘Guruparampara-prabhava’ is a work written in what is known as the Manipravala style, a mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit, while ‘Divya-suricharita’ and ‘Prapannamrita’ are in Sanskrit. These three works give an account of
Ramanuja’s life and that of the Azhwars and the philosophers known as the Acharyas. We
can only pick out a few incidents from the traditional account of his life. Ramanuja went forth on his
mission preaching his philosophy of bhakti or loving devotion and prapatti or absolute and unqualified self-surrender to God wherever he went. He became a parivrajaka, a wanderer in a quest for the truth. He is said to have travelled extensively throughout India and to Kashmir where he came across the commentary of Bodhayana, which acted as a great inspiration to his own interpretation of Vedic and Upanishadic texts. In the
course of his stay in Tamil Nadu, when he was about seventy-eight, it is said he was
subjected to persecution for his philosophical and religious views by a king who was
reigning then and Ramanuja moved to Karnataka where he stayed for a few years before
he returned to Tamil Nadu. It was while he was in Karnataka that he wielded great
influence on Bittideva, a king of the Hoysala country and converted him from Jainism
to Vaishnavism. The king who was given the name Vishnuvardhana was responsible for the building of the beautiful temple of Kesava at Belur. The Catholicism of Ramanuja and the broadmindedness of Hoysala Vishnuvardhana found their expression in one of the verses
inscribed on the compound wall of this Kesava temple.
Ramanuja, while travelling across Karnataka, stayed at Melkote or Tirunarayanapuram, where he restored and consecrated a temple dedicated to Lord Narayana. It was due to
Ramanuja’s efforts that even
today, the Vairamudi festival held at Melkote temple is open to people from all walks
of life. Ramanuja founded a math at Melkote which is known as Yatiraja Matha. Yatiraja or the Prince of Ascetics being the name, by which the followers of Ramanuja adored him.
We describe God as the form of truth, goodness and beauty, with an emphasis on the first two. And Ramanuja described the Lord as ‘Divyamangala- vigraha.’ In his works he described God as the very embodiment of beauty (saundarya), grace (lavanya),
sweetness (madhurya) and magnanimous (audarya). According to Ramanuja, the perfect form of beauty is found only in the supernal form of the Divine Being, who has to be approached successfully only through love (bhakti) and self-surrender (prapatti).
This truth is brought out by another incident traditionally narrated, according to which
Ramanuja succeeded in turning the love of one Dhanurdasa, who was engrossed in the beauty of his own beloved, towards the supreme beauty of the Lord. Ramanuja held Dhanurdasa as an example for all his disciples to emulate.
Another incident that is worthy of mention relates to the simplicity and innocence of Ramanuja despite his stupendous learning and the eminent position that he held
among the teachers of Vedanta. One day he was walking along the street where
a few children were playing on the mud by building a temple, installing in it an image of the deity made by themselves and enveloping the mock temple with a prakaram and a
gopuram usually found in great temples. Once done the boys asked Ramanuja to
prostrate before the idol of their worship and receive the prasadam consisting of knickknacks offered by the urchins to the Lord. Ramanuja closed his eyes, folded his palms and fell prostrate as he was bidden by the children. He felt in his heart that one has to grow innocent as a child, in order to easily approach God. Ramanuja’s doctrine of
prapatti or self-surrender finds its essence in his interpretation of the 66th verse of the eighteenth chapter of the Gita which runs thus: sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam
saranam vraja aham twam sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma suchah “Abandon all duties and resort to Me alone. I shall cleanse thee of all thy sins; do not grieve.” Ramanuja and his Vaishnava tradition looks upon this verse as indicative of abhaya-pradana or the grant of fearlessness which God assures His devotees.
The idea of prapatti or self-surrender finds its most moving and poetic expression in Saranagati-gadya which is a dialogue between (Ramanuja?) himself and the God of his vision. In the Sriranga-gadya Ramanuja betrays his great fondness of the archavatara
(iconographical manifestation) of Ranganatha at Srirangam where he spent many precious years of his life. He closes this prose poem with these words : “O Ranganatha! My Lord! I bow to Thee.” In Srivaikuntagadya, Ramanuja dreams of the kingdom of God in the
everlasting companionship and communion with the Divine Being. His last work, Nitya-grantha, is a manual for worshipping the deity. The post-Ramanuja period threw up several great teachers who continued the tradition of the philosophical and religious thought of India, whose interpretation of the words of their great master, though substantially the same, differed in a few minor details. Nevertheless, they held aloft
the torch of Ramanuja’s gospel of life. Among these great teachers, we have Vedanta
Desikar, Pillai Lokacharya and Manavala Mamuni. They wrote works, some of these
being in Sanskrit and some in Tamil, giving a brilliant exposition of ‘Ubhaya Vedanta’ of which Ramanuja was the foremost teacher.
Ramanuja is one of the greatest spiritual teachers and religious reformers that the world has seen. His message of Bhakti for the Supreme Being and love for all, converted thousands of hearts. It is the vitalising influence of great spiritual teachers that has made it possible for Hinduism to stay unaffected through centuries. (These are extracts from
‘Ramanuja,’ an article written by M. Yamunacharya in the book, ‘Philosophers and
Leaders,’ published (1978) by the Publications Division, The Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting, Government of India, and edited by Dr. V. Raghavan. The late
Yamunacharya was Professor of Philosophy, University of Mysore.