The bhakti movement emerging in 6th century India, challenged the existing Vedic religion and the Brahmins led the van by giving more importance to bhakti than to knowledge which was the domain of a select few. The idea was to realize a direct relationship with God. This thought remains enshrined in the sacred 'four thousand' of the Alvars. The highly theistic movement finally found a temple-centered expression.
Ramanuja after succeeding to his ponitifical seat in Srirangam, laid down monumental reforms in temple administration. After his return from Mysore, he set out to propagate Srivaisnavism. His magnum opus, the Sribhasya gave birth to many commentaries and glosses, which comprise almost half the entire body of work pertaining to the system. Although his writings indicate a shade of brahminical exclusiveness, Ramanuja introduced liberal practices. The lower classes were given great opportunities which fostered the democratization of Vaisnavism- without compromising on Vedic Puritanism. He organized the existing temples and arranged for the worship of the deity mainly according to eh Pancaratra agama. He also incorporated the hymns of the Alvars, giving these songs a status at par with the Vedas.
Being Conscious of the limitations of Bhakti-yoga, or complete submission to God. Thus, he achieved a perfect synthesis of the gnana of the scriptures and the bhakti of the Alvars. His philosophy and preachings were a direct response to the needs of the time. Ramanuja made the temple a centre of learning as well as worship giving importance to arcavatara. He was responsible for the hectic temple building activity, subsequently. By way of munificent donations, the temple became rich and it's income was diverted to promote agriculture and trade. Slowly, the temple evolved into a socio-religious centre. The Brahmins were the greater beneficiaries, as they were the custodians of the Vedic tradition. Although, after Ramanuja's time, a violent sectarian split tore the srivaisnavas into two sects, the essential principles remained immutable and to this day, Srivaisnavism performs it's role in stabilizing society.
About the Author
Sarojini Jaganathan teaches English at a higher Secondary school in Delhi. She is a post-graduate both in English literature and Sociology and has authored many books some of which are: (i) Ksetranjali- The temple of India, (ii) Tirthanjali The rivers of India and her monograph on Subramanya Bharati- sponsored by the ICHR, is in the offing.
The present work owes itself to a study grant given by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. It seeks of Ramanuja's religion and contribution to Visnu temple worship in south India. The author has brought out answers to questions unanswered till now, as to how the religious movement in the south has remained a temple based one. She has analysed the social content of Ramanuja's Srivaisnavism, by establishing the fact that, though the theory and concepts of Visistadvaita have greatly impressed the Vaisnavass community, temple worship also has remained equally popular and meaningful.
This book owes itself to a study grant from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. I have looked upon it as an opportunity for a thesis in liberty to commemorate the great task Sri Ramanujacarya had accomplished both in propounding the philosophy of Visistadvaita and also blending it into the Pancaratra and the song of the Alvars to make Sri Vaisnavism an all-embracing creed irrespective of caste and sex. Sri Ramanuja's rare courage in affirming the fact that religion evolves itself solely to ennoble human dignity establishes him as more catholic than any of the Sri Vaisnava preceptors. He belongs to those ever lasting phenomena who linger on infinitely to influence the social psyche.
For this work I could not procure much historical evidence, that being the case the only sources available were the literary records on the darsana of Ramanuja. Though there are temple inscriptions and traditional accounts they were all later to his period. However, they furnish valuable data about the social, economic, and religious life of the people of those times. After Ramanuja there was an outburst of intellectual activity by his followers for more than three centuries, which fertilized men's minds and hearts all over southern India. This activity constituted a theme of more abiding interest than even the conquest of mighty emperors. This period saw the rise of classical Sanskrit, Manipravala and the development of the popular regional language. It moulded the character and civilization of the people around. Above all it saw the evolution of the art of writing a principle instrument of the advancement of learning and the diffusion of knowledge.
My study has been rendered possible to a large measure by the Vaishnava chronicles (bountiful resources of the temples) like the Loil Olugu, the Tirumalai Olugu, the Divyasuricaritam, a few commentaries on the Alvars' Prabandhams, monographs on the four temples with which Ramanuja had intimate and personal association.
The traditional accounts like the Prapannamruta, Gupuparampara and the Laksmi Kavyam served as important documents in corroborating details though some of them belong purely to the realm of hagiography. Inscriptions do not surprisingly speak of the great Acarya though he was the spiritual and the temporal leader of the affairs of these temples.
Later inscriptions are of tremendous value in studying about a succinct sketch of the activities following Ramanuja's time hour munificent benefactions have been endowed by kings and richmen for festivals and caturvedimangalams.
The epigraphical information which I have given is all drawn from the following books -
1) V.N. Hari Rao The History of the Srirangam Temple
2) Dr. N. Ramesan The Tirumala Temple
3) Sri T.K.T. Veera Raghavachari History of Tirupati
4) B.R. Gopal Ramanuja in Karnataka.
Though not specially equipped for the venture of jotting down a comprehensive study of Sri Ramanuja's darsana and his skill in organizing temple worship, I must admit that it was only my preoccupation with religious studies all these years that gave fillip to this work.
I have drawn extensively from pieces of literary evidence available to give factual information. My intention was not to put forth original points of view, rather it was to make a simple undertaking to arrange and present the great strides in temples worship since and after the time of Ramanuja. As the subject is so sublime and splendid, any kind of treatment by authors cannot rob it of its dignity.
My late father who possessed abundant vitality of mind and senses cast off the intellectualism he imbibed from his Western education when he found ultimate rest and joy in the Vaisnava ideal of love. For him, Vaisnavism was the finest flowering of the Hindu spirit. In his association, I learnt the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom. When I was working on the Srirangam temple during this project, I relived those days when my father used to take me to Srirangam on many a solourn relating anecdotes of the great Acarya's life. My mother, in every sense an ideal Hindu wife has always been supportive of my ventures. I deem it a great fortune to have inherited such a legacy from my parents.
I am deeply beholden to Dr. V. Varadachari of The French Indological Research Institute, Pondicherry for his meticulous guidance and kindliness. I could never have had the grasp of the subject but for his unfailing readiness always to help.
My thanks are also due to Dr. K.K.A. Venkatachari of the Anantacharya Indological Research Institute, Bombay for his guidance and help in getting the sources.
My foremost thanks are due to Sri Ka-Sri-Sri of Kalaimagal, who at the initial stages encouraged me with his rich writing experience. He also gifted away some of his valuable books to me. But for his encouragement I could not have fulfilled this project. I shall always cherish with respect my association with him.
When I went to seek blessings for this project, from the Paramacarya Svami of Kancikamakotipeetham words rolled from his mouth asking whether the project would be a Divyacharita of Sri Ramanuja. Though I tried to resist this approach in the early stages, as that was not my aim it finally ended as a biography of the saint, though in parts.
I am grateful to the late Jiyar of Ahobila Math (to which I belong) who taught me the concept of prapatti. The present Jiyar has blessed me with his Srimukham. I cherish this as a great boon.
I owe great thanks to scholars like Sri V.T. Tirunarayana Iyengar of Mysore University who taught me in a nutshell the philosophy of Visistadvaita, Sri Nadamuni Arayar of Srirangam, the late Sri Velugudi Varadachari for their lessons in prabandhas and Kesava Bhattar of Bangalore for enlightening me on the Pancarata agamas.
Any amount of words cannot adequately express my gratitude to Sri Admarsvami (Senior) of Udupi who has been my mentor and teacher for the past twenty years. He has guided me on some valuable points in the philosophy of Ramanuja and has heartily blessed this project.
I wish to thank Shri Ananata Kulavi who has ungrudgningly entered the text in the word processor as a labour of love, and also Sri Himanshu Pahad M.S. University, Baroda for his excellent reproduction of photographs.
My thanks are also due to friends and members of my family, especially my sister Srimati Padmini Sarangan for the kind help she gave in correcting the proof.
I have dedicated this book to the Lord of the Seven Hills and His Divine Consort whom Ramanuja hails as the Supreme Brahman in his Sribhasya and by Whose grace I am what I am.
Of India, it may perhaps be said that through the centuries, her destiny has rested in the hands of benevolent kings and wise men, who were known for their remarkable qualities of wisdom. In a land of many streams of religion and culture it is only a very great teacher whose precepts can stand the test of time. These are the men who enriched the land with their deep philosophical wisdom. The modern generation is turning again for guidance and knowledge from these masters, to get the best from the past for building a greater India. I mean, there is a general trend of renaissance to go back in the lane of history in quest of knowledge and wisdom. It is difficult to assess the incalculable spiritual debt we owe to our ancient seers. These men arrived at the proper time, and stood staunchly by their convictions, gave up the prizes the world could bestow. They also gave counsel by their understanding and proved good angury in the form of prophecies, and spiritual work. They were honoured in their own days for they set to notion spiritual and intellectual powers to accomplish goals in lifting mankind from its slumber.
Great ideas germinated in the minds of these people. Nurtured by fortune and a sense of practicality those ideas were transformed into great achievements. Wherever they were the world knew to acknowledge the success of these fortunate mortals. Their dreams always bore fruit. Here is the poignant story of such a dream by the great mystic of Sri Vaisnnavism Sri Ramanujacarya.
Religion has been the inexhaustible fountain and as a source of human passion. So in the history of civilisation, we find it manifest in the lowest primitive as well as in the learned thinker. It fosters the faith in man that he is not alone and that a superior power pervades this world and conducts its affairs. This was when man began to learn that God is the beginning of all things and also the end.
More than three millenia ago when the Aryans fanned their way into the Punjab and Indus Valley, their society was governed by a polity, a special feature of which was worship of the Gods of the open sky, Indra, Varuna and Agni being the major Gods. Rudra, Usas and Surya were the minor ones. Visnu is mentioned as the pervader and he took three strides. This early religion consisted of propitiation of these Gods, by the brahminical purohita who passed on the prayers to the Gods through agni and performed Vedic sacrifices with appropriate mantras prescribed in the Vedas themselves. This first phase spanned over eight centuries from 1500 B.C. to 700 B.C. The second phase dawned with the advent of the Upanisads, which are abstruse metaphysical texts speaking of God-man relationship.
This phase more or less coincided with the rise of Buddhism and Jainism. When the relative dryness of the former and the abstruseness of the latter were attacked by the heretics and replaced by human ethics more appealing to the masses, real danger cropped up in brahminical orthodoxy.
Now the period of the Gita makes a turning point with its supreme call to do one's duty and advocated varnasrama or caste. The Gita surpasses karma prescribed in the sutras and by presenting Bhakti, cuts short the Upanisadic adventure in the realm of search for God. The Gita brought the Vedas and Upanisads to the level of the masses. Post Gita Hinduism stood on the tripod of karma, gnana and bhakti. When bhakti became dominant, the Vedic tradition was eclipsed by the more glamorous tradition of temple worship. This tradition became so strong that from the 5th to 6th century A.D. and especially in the Tamil country the nayanmars and Alvars led- the bhakti movements. By the time of Sankara's emergence it looked as though the Vedas and Upanisads were thereafter to function merely as back drops while bhakti acquired greater importance. Sankara chose the Brahma Sutras as the common point and in his interpretation revealed his own thoughts on the matter. But his intellectual path led to the conclusions resembling the Nirguna Brahman.
Sankara believed that there cannot be any combination of knowledge and ritualistic duties of life, and the ritualistic and other duties imposed on man by the scriptures can only make us fit for the study 9f Vedanta and nothing more, but Ramanuja interpreted the theory of advaita allowing the differentiation of reality without implying any difference in the reality itself.
There are proofs of dominant theistic ideas in the Vedic literature. It is a religion, a monotheism based on personal devotion to the supreme deity variously named Narayana, Hari, Bhagavan, Rama and Krsna. Visnu is associated with the highest heaven. His three steps became later the foundation for His other avataras. Scholars think that the three steps are symbolic of the three periods of sun's rays, his cakra as the symbol of the solar disc etc. His three steps suggest His omnipresence. Since He being the moral ruler He should know all acts of men, so He must be omnipresent. The brief survey of the references to the Vedic literature comprising the mantra, Brahmana and the Upanisad sections brings us to the conclusion that already in the Vedic times, Visnu was a God of worship. So it is easy for the later religious leaders to build upon these data the superstructure of Vaisnavism. The doctrines of grace, bhakti and prapatti must have been known to the Vedic poets. This Vedic Vaisnavism was later identified with the worship of Vasudeva Krsna. The concept of Visnu and movement of Vaisnavism were being continually reshaped and moulded by areas of theology, rituals, cult and artistic manifestations. The myth created by such an influence got transformed or modified through two ways (1) practice and 2 pervasiveness of ritual. Visnu and Vaisnavism present a case for undertaking an 'investigation of the process of collective psyche, nurtured by a living oral tradition. The concept of Visnu and the impact of Vaisnavism is only a part of a totality of Indian vision and approach.
Vaisnavism is a religion of high antiguity. Down from the Vedas it has been receiving merited treatment the Mahabharata, Visnupurana, the Bhagavata Purana, Visnu Dharmottara and Varaha Puranas, all these contain references to the tenets of Vaisnavism and exclusive devotion to Visnu. Hence the ground must be taken to have been already prepared for further development as a highly devotional cult in the early centuries of the Christian era.
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