Aki Azhvan was a pandit in the court of a Chola emperor
and he subscribed to the theory that only Brahman was
real and everything else was illusion. “Ekameva
Advitiyam,” says the Upanishadic statement.
Aki Azhvan belonged to a school of thought, which
interpreted this to mean that there was only One and that
was Brahman and that there was no second to It.
In Aki Azhvan’s interpretation, all except Brahman, was
illusion. Alavandar proved him wrong, said M.A.
Venkatakrishnan in a discourse.
“There is only one emperor and that is you. There is no
second to you,” Alavandar told the emperor. The King was
pleased. But then Alavandar said “Why are you happy,
instead of being sad?” The King wondered why he should
be unhappy. Alavandar replied “Since there is one Chola
emperor, that means you the emperor do not have a wife,
or children, or even an empire.”
The King laughed, and said “What kind of an
interpretation is that? When you say that I am the only
Chola emperor, it means that there is none superior to me
and that there is none equal to me. How can it mean I stand
alone without anything else?”
Alavandar then explained: “In the same way, Brahman is
Supreme, with none to surpass Him or to equal Him. This
is what the statement, ‘Brahman is One,’ means. It doesn’t
mean that there is nothing other than Brahman. There is
only One means there is only one Brahman and that there
isn’t another Brahman. It doesn’t mean that the world is
illusory. The entire Universe belongs to Him.”
And Alavandar’s explanation is what Ramanuja later
elaborated on, when he wrote Vedantic texts on the
Brahma Sutra, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita.