In the 17th Century,
Rayasada Varadarya wrote a Kannada work titled ‘Prapannamrtam’
about Ramanuja, for which he sourced a lot of material.According to Prapannamrtam, Ramanuja leaves Srirangam in 1,096 C.E., reaches Ramanathapura in Karnataka, then proceeds to
Saligrama and after a stay there, comes to Tondanur and thence to Melkote,” says R.K. Narayanan, Sanskrit scholar and researcher at Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote. “Varadarya’s manuscript has been published by the Academy.”
A Kannada book titled ‘Yadavagiri Jeernodhara’ was published in 1932 by Aasuri Tirunarayana Iyengar and Aasuri Srinivasa Iyengar.
“This book gives Ramanuja’s time of arrival in Melkote as
Bahudhanya year, Salivahana Saka 1020. Ramanuja discovered the idol of Tirunarayanan under an ant-hill in the Makara masa
(third week of January to second week of February) shukla paksha, chaturdasi, Punarvasu star. The year of discovery, therefore, would be 1,099 C.E. An earlier temple must have crumbled down.
Ramanuja, therefore built a new temple to house the idol. Hoysala Bitti Deva, gave him one lakh varahas, of which 50,000 were used for construction of the temple. Bitti also stationed one of his
officers in Melkote, to help the Acharya. Udayavar drew up construction plans too.
Ramanuja fixed the muhurtham to begin construction — Phalguna
(March-April) month, Sukravara, Hasta nakshatra, Vrishaba lagna,” says Narayanan. According to Yadavagiri Jeernodhara, construction work was completed on Svabhanu Samvatsara
Vaishakha, Bahula Panchami, which means it took four years, two months and eleven days for the work to be completed. Sukha nasi, Ranga mandapa, Chakrathazhwar sannidhi, yagasala, ugraanam,
Rama sannidhi called Sitaranyam opposite Kalyani tank and kattalu pradakshina path were all completed by this time. “Kattalu means
darkness. This path is opened only on the last day of Vairamudi Brahmotsavam.”
Ramanuja performed Tiruvaradhana to the idol, according to Pancharatra Agama tenets for three days, after which he handed over charge to Srirangaraja Bhattar. Interestingly, Yadavagiri Jeernodhara refers to the deity as Adinarayana. Ramanuja also built the gopura and floor in the Narasimha shrine and had
Dwarapalakas installed. “When Ramanuja first saw the deity of Tirunarayana at Melkote, he sang Bhoothathazhwar’s ‘Pagarkanden, Narananaikanden’ verse and the decad of Thiruvaimozhi verses beginning with ‘Orunayakamai.’ These are
still recited at Melkote during Punarvasu utsava and on the Jayanthi of Tirunarayana.
Ramanuja instructed his disciples to first recite Madhurakavi Azhwar’s ‘Kanninun Siruthambu,’ before Dravida Veda
Parayanam begins, and this practice continues,” says Ramanujamuni Krishna Iyengar, who, for more than 60 years, recited all 4,000 verses of the Divya Prabandham 11 times a year at
the Melkote temple. During the Kotharotsava, on the day on which
Orunayakamai decad is offered to Lord Thirunarayana,
Cheluvanarayana and His Consorts, and also idols of Nammazhwar and Ramanuja are taken to the Aayi family residence. The family has the right of mangalasasanam on the day. “The Aayi family is
descended from Asuri Perumal, who accompanied Ramanuja from Srirangam.
He was one of the 74 Simhasanadipathis designated by Ramanuja, and had supervisory duties in the temple,” says Narasimhan,
who belongs to the Aayi family. Ramanuja stayed at what is
now the Yatiraja matha in Melkote, which has a 13th century inscription that begins with the invocation “Srimathe Ramanujaya
Namaha.” It records grant of land to a Ramanuja kootha by
Kettiappa Setti. Everything in Melkote reminds one of the Acharya
who stayed here. A few years ago, I met Sampathkumara Bhattar, who had served as the chief priest in the temple.
He pointed out that Melkote was the only temple where a Brahmotsava was celebrated to mark the Acharya’s Jayanthi.
“To mark the discovery of the idol by Ramanuja, during
the Punarvasu utsava, Ramanuja’s idol is brought to the sanctum sanctorum. The curtain is then drawn, to indicate that Ramanuja
himself is going to decorate the idol, as he did several centuries ago! Fruits and flowers are brought from the house of the priest who serves at the Ramanuja shrine. These are considered Ramanuja’s offerings to the Lord,” said Sampathkumara
Before Ramanuja left Melkote, an image was made of him and this is one of the three main images of Ramanuja celebrated by Sri
Vaishnavas, the other two being in Srirangam and Sriperumbudur.
During Kalyanotsava, the processional deities of the Lord and His Consorts come first, with Ramanuja’s image bringing up the rear. Not surprising, for Ramanuja, like Lakshmana, was an incarnation of Adi Sesha. And didn’t Valmiki say in Aranya Kanda, (11th sarga, verse 1) that Rama and Sita walked ahead, while Lakshmana
followed them? It is perhaps to remind us of Adi Sesha’s service to the Lord, that Ramanuja follows in the wake of the Lord and His Consorts.
The utsava idol is adorned with the Vairamudi in front of Ramanuja’s sannidhi, causing poet Tirumal Arya II, court poet of King Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (1673–1704 C.E.) to observe in his
Yadugirinarayana stava, that in the empire of Yatiraja, Lord
Sampathkumara is just a yuva raja:
yedhatAm yatirAjasya sarvatOmukham yatra sampathkumarOpi
yuvarAja padAspadam Ramanuja told his disciples that if they found the scriptures beyond comprehension, they were not to worry. All they had to do was to build an abode in Yadavagiri (Melkote): kutIm krtvA tasmin yadugiri tate nitya vasatih
Ramanuja left Melkote 900-odd years ago. But even today it is referred to in folklore as Doddagurugalahalli — the abode of the great Acharya.