This year is the 1,000' birth anniversary of the famous Bhakti saint Sri Ramanuja. He lived for 120 years. He travelled the length and breadth of our vast country to preach his simple philosophy of loving God and surrendering to Him to attain liberation (moksha). This was not to be a preserve of the upper classes or the affluent. He touched every human being with whom he empathised and wanted all of them to be liberated.
Swami Vivekananda referred to Sri Ramanuja as a saint of the heart, as his heart went out to the downtrodden. His philosophy was practical and not abstract. It recognized the existential reality of the world. Referred to as Vishishtadvaita, the philosophy was woven around a personal God with all auspicious qualities and attributes. It combined the revelations of the Vedas and the outpourings of the Vaishnavite saints from South India called Azhwars (those who dug deep into the love of God). God was not only the end to strive for, but the means as well.
Sri Ramanuja composed totally nine works in Sanskrit, his magnum opus being the interpretation of Sage Vyasa's Brahmasotra titled Sri Bhashya. His extensive early training in Nammazhwar's Thiruvaimozhi was the foundation for his philosophy, Sri Ramanuja Darsana.
Sri Ramanuja was a leader par excellence and compassion personified. Amudanar who composed the poem of 108 verses translated in this book, says that Sri Ramanuja succeeded where the Supreme Lord failed. The Lord was unhappy that in spite of his descending to earth in various incarnations, the people by and large lived in deep misery without any sense of purpose. He, therefore, chose to incarnate as Sri Ramanuja. The Lord succeeded in His mission during this incarnation.
Gopal Srinivasan (born in 1944 ) is a graduate engineer by qualification and a post graduate in Industrial Management from Bombay University and an industrial manager by profession. He is on the Board of Directors of a large engineering company, GKW Limited, Kolkata. Being deeply spiritual by inclination, he is also the Managing Trustee of several religious and social Trusts.
Hailing from a Sri Vaishnavite family having origin in Srirangam, who later moved on to Kancheepuram
and then to Chennai, the Vaishnavite traditions were inculcated in him from early childhood. He had the good fortune to learn from his father the chanting of Sri Vedanta Desika's Sanskrit and Tamizh compositions at a very early age. Later in his mid-thirties he studied p2rts of the Samhitas and Brahmanas of Krishna Yajur Veda and learnt the chanting of these hymns from qualified practitioners. He also studied the Nalayira Divya Prabandham and Desika Prabandham and learnt the chanting of all the verses. He was fascinated by "Iramanusa Nootrandadhi" composed by Thiruvarangatthu Amudanar and studied various books in Tamizh to understand the meanings of the hundred and eight wonderful paeans In Praise of Sri Ramanuja.
This book, which is the result of these dedicated studies, is meant mainly for those not familiar with classical Tamizh, and therefore interested in understanding the meaning of the verses in English.
Gopal Srinivasan is a regular writer on special topics of interest for senior citizens and reviews contemporary books in the monthly magazine Dignity Dialogue published for senior citizens by Dignity Foundation, and edited by his wife Sheilu. He is also the author of a blog (chummachumma.blogspot.in) which he started in 2004. His favourite subject is philosophy and in particular the study and practice of Ubhaya Vedanta, the Vishishtadvaitic philosophy of Sri Ramanuja. This is the author's first book.
I. Sri Ramanuja, the most compassionate Acharya
Sri Ramanuja took birth in the year 1017 CE (in the Tamil month of Chitthirai, in the year
Pingala on the asterism of Thiruvadhirai, in Sri Perumputhur, which is near Chennai, in Tamil
Nadu. This auspicious day happens to fall this year on Monday, the pt of May, 2017. This year
therefore will mark the Sahosrabdi (the milleniaI year) of the jayanthi (birth) of this great and
the most compassionate acharya. The contributions of this great acharya extend far beyond
Tamil Nadu. He was a great scholar, philosopher, acharya and social reformer, to say the least.
Through his erudite philosophic works including the famous commentaries of Vedanta sutras
and Bhagavat Gita, he re-established the more precise vision of Vedic teachings resolving all
seemingly conflicting Vedic statements. He is considered as the "avatharam" (incarnation
or descent) of Sri adhi sesha, the eternal attendant of the Supreme Lord Sriman Narayana,
forming the Lord's serpent bed in the "ocean of milk." He was known and referred to by many
honorific names which were conferred upon him by others known for their own eminence.
He was given the title of "yatiroja" meaning "king among the ascetics" when he took the vow
of becoming a sannyasin (renunciant) giving up the householder's life. This title was actually
conferred upon him by Lord Varadaraja the main deity of Kanchipuram. His commentary on
the Vedanta sutras of the sage Vyasa, was commended and named as "Sri Bhashyam" by none
other than goddess Saraswati Herself. He came to be later referred to as "Bhashyakarar" (one
who wrote the commentary, Sri Bhashyam). When he took over the guidance of Sri Vaishnavas
in Srirangam as the acharya after Sri Alavandar, Lord Sri Ranganatha Himself bestowed the
title of "Udaiyavar" (owner of both the Lila vibhuti the realm of this material world as well
as the eternal realm beyond - nitya vibhuti) and decreed that he can command both of them
as per his wish. Sri Ramanuja earned the most famous title of "Emperumanar" ("you are my
Lord") from one of his own acharyas Sri Thirukkottiyur nambi. Sri Ramanuja had to visit him
eighteen times (walking the distance of 80 km each time) before the latter would instruct him
about the true import of the "rahasya trayam" (triple secrets). The latter refers to the esoteric
meanings of three famous Sri Vaishnava mantras, namely the eight syllabled ashtaksharam,
the two part "Dwayam mantram", and the last verse or the charama slokam of Bhagavat Gita.
Despite the fact that his acharya had placed an injunction against him from revealing the secret
meaning to others, the very first act of the broad minded Ramanuja, was to get on top of the
temple tower and share the meanings with all those who were interested to learn. When
reprimanded by his acharya, Ramanuja told him that he would be more than happy to suffer
all the consequences of his action since all others would derive benefit and reach the divine
feet of the Lord. Thirukkottiyur nambi appreciating his broad mindedness and compassion for
the masses, embraced him and called him "you are verily my Lord"(Emperumanar). This title
of course captures his compassionate nature to all beings. The supreme Lord is usually referred
to by the term "Emperuman" since He is the repository of infinite auspicious attributes. The
suffix "ar" is added to show reverence and to indicate that the acharya is more compassionate
than the Lord. The second way of deriving the term will be to split the term into "Emperuman"
and "anar" meaning that the acharya became "Emperurnan" by his all compassionate grace.
(See verse #25 and verse # 95 from the text and translation of Ramanuja Nutrandhadhi).
Sri Ramanuja actually later changed the paradigm when he set the guidelines and rules
to follow for all his disciples whom he named as the heads or acharyas to teach and guide
Srivaishnava fold. He commanded them all to teach these mantras to all those who are
desirous to learn and reach the Lord. Sri Manavala mamunigal expresses this in his work
"Upadesa rattina malai" (verse 37).
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