About Shri Ramanujachraya
Shri Ramanujacharya was born in the year 1017, Chitra month and on the day of Arudra star. He mastered the Vedas at the young age of 16 years, and became the disciple of an Advaita teacher called Yadava Prakasha for further education. The interpretations by his teacher on the Vedic concepts bothered Ramanuja, and he never hesitated to present his interpretations. One great example is when Yadava Prakasha misinterpreted the verse from Chandagyopanishad, “Kapyasam Pundareekam Ekam Akshini”, as the eyes of Lord Vishnu are red as the “bottom of a monkey”. Ramanuja was very disturbed by this interpretation and cried. Upon inquiry, Ramanuja said to his teacher that his interpretation was wrong and it hurt him deeply. When his teacher demanded the correct interpretation, Ramanuja explained that the correct meaning of the verse is that Lord Vishnu's eyes are red and beautiful as lotus flower. At this interpretation Yadava Prakasha felt threatened by Ramanuja's intellect and devotion for lord Vishnu. Some of Yadava Prakasha's disciples plotted to kill Ramanuja for becoming a threat to his teacher and also constantly questioning their teacher and the Advaita philosophy. However, with the help of another disciple and his friend Ramanuja escapes the plot and spends a night in the forest. With the divine grace of Lord Varadaraja and Thaayaar he wakes up at Kanchipuram.
At Kanchipuram Ramanuja spends time doing chores for Lord Varadaraja, and learns the secrets of devotion through ThiruKachii Nambi(Kanchipurna), who is known to have spoken with Lord Varadaraja everyday during the fanning service to the lord. During this time, Alavandar, a well known Shri Vaishnava saint wanted to meet Ramanuja and sends one of his disciples to fetch him, but Alavandar passes away before Ramanuja arrives. While disappointed for not able to speak to Alavandar, Ramanuja notices that there of fingers were closed. His disciples mention that Alavandar had three desires and wanted someone to fulfill them. They were: 1.Write commentary on Veda Vyasa's Brahma Sutras, 2. The names of Shri Parasara and Vyasa are perpetuated, and 3. Propagate the Vishishtadvaita philosophy as recommended by Alwars in their work, Nalayira Divya Prabandham containing 4000 verses. As Ramanuja vowed to fulfill these wishes, Alavandar's fingers opened one after the other. Then Ramanuja spent rest of his life fulfilling the three wishes of Alavandar.
Ramanujacharya was known for his broadmindedness from his young age. During Ramanuja's time, there lived a great Vishnu Bhaktha called Kanchipurna(Thirukacchi Nambi). He was a non-brahmin by birth but had a great devotion for Lord Varadaraja and served him everyday at the temple. Ramanuja was always fascinated by his devotion and learnt so much information about devotion and serving God.
Many people in the village never liked Ramanuja's association with this low caste Kanchipurna. Ramanuja had a great respect for Kanchipurna and he often invited him for lunch. One morning Ramanuja invited Kanchipurna for lunch and went to Lord Varadaraja's service in the temple. At lunch time Ramanuja came home with a banana leaf and told his wife to get the lunch ready for Kanchipurna. Ramanuja's wife replied that she already served lunch to Kanchipurna, gave the leftover food to the maid, and cleaned the place where he ate. Hearing this Ramanuja was very disappointed with his wife and the way she treated Kanchipurna. Ramanuja's wife was so orthodox and she exhibited discrimination with the people belonging to other castes. Whereas Ramanuja was an open minded person and had a great reverence for Kanchipurna. He regarded Kanchipurana as a very learned person and a great devotee.
There was also another incident with his teacher Mahapurna, who initiated Ramanuja with Panch Samskaramas(five steps of initiation to become a Shri Vaishnava). Mahpurna belong to slightly lower level Brahmins sect. One day Ramanuja's wife made discriminatory remark at Mahapurna's wife while collecting water from the well. Ramanuja's wife says that the water collected by Mahapurna's wife and her may have mixed up, and being a higher caste person she cannot use the water that is mixed up the water that is drawn by a lower caste/sect person. At this insult Mahapurna leaves Ramanuja's place without informing him. After learning this from his wife Ramanuja decides to leave married life and become a saint, because he felt that married life is a hindrance to his ambition of learning and fulfilling the three wishes of his teacher Alavandar.
The third incident is the most classic of all, and it happened a little later in his life. After establishing worship procedures at Shrirangam, Ramanuja approaches Thirukkottiyar Nambi for Charama Slokam(the most scared mantras). Thirukkottiyar Nambi refused to teach the sacred mantra to Ramanuja 17 times. Ramanuja never understood the reason for the refusal and was deeply disappointed for not able to receive the manthra. It is said that Ramanuja was denied of the sacred manthra because he was identifying himself as Ramanuja, but not the servant of Lord Varadaraja. On the 18th trip he realizes the mistake and introduces himself to Nambi as the servant of Lord Varadaraja. Then Nambi teaches the scared manthra to Ramanuja, but warns him not to share with anyone as it is the most sacred manthra. He also warns him that he will go to hell if he shares the mantra with others. After learning the manthra, Ramanuja chooses to share it with everyone irrespective of the caste, creed, sex and social status. The next day he climbs up the gopuram(entrance arch) of the temple and teaches the manthra to all those who gathered there. He also advises them to chant that scared manthra all the time to get moksham(salvation). Immediately Ramanuja's teacher Nambi calls him and threatens that Ramaunja would go to hell for sharing the secret manthra with everyone. In reply Ramanuja says to his teacher that he is happy to go to hell at the expense of many people getting moksha for chanting the scared manthra. At this response his teacher Nambi realizes that Ramanuja is a great person than and decides to become Ramaunja's disciple.
The Philosophy of Vishishtadvaita
The Vishishtadvaita philosophy of Ramanuja is refined Advaita philosophy proposed by Adi Shankaracharya. Shankracharya's Advaita philosophy says that Brahmin is the ultimate truth, the world is an illusion, and there is no difference between the Brahman and individual self. Whereas Ramanuja's Vishishtadaviat philosophy says that Brahmin is ultimate and He has numerous attributes. It is incorrect to say that Brahmin is Nirguna(without attributes). Brahmin, the ultimate truth, is different from individual self. At the same time Brahmin is in every entity of this universe, which is His creation. Brahmin is Paramantma(supreme soul) and individual self is Jeevatma(minute soul). They could be compared to an ocean and drop of water simultaneously. The ultimate goal of jeevatama is to reach paramantma, juts like the destination of every rain drop is the ocean through complete surrender. Once jeevatma reaches paramatma it will continue to serve paramatma in Paramapadama, the abode of Lord Narayana or Mahapurusha.
In order to surrender to Lord Shriman Narayana, one must take the initiation just like Ramaunja did with his guru. It includes five steps-
Taapa - branding the symbols of conch and discus on the shoulders of the aspirant to eliminate past sins and also as reminder that he/she is the servant of the Lord.
Pundram –The application of sacred marks on 12 places; forehead, shoulders, chest, top and bottom end of the backbone, the head. This sacrament is protection against temptation, and also reminder that our body is a temple.
Dasya Naama – Securing a name that constantly reminds one that he/she is a servant of God.
Mantra Upadesha – Instruction of the three sacred manthras and their meaning. Recitation of these manthras redeem one from the cycle of birth and death.
Yaga - Complete surrender to supreme personality if Godhead(Narayana), and lead a sacred life by worshipping God everyday, and performing actions that please God.
The ultimate objective of the ritual is to have the sincerity in surrender to God. Going through the ritual without leading the life the way it is recommended will yield to no results, and it is not considered as complete surrender.
Testimony to Ramanuja's Devotion
Undoubtedly Ramanuja was an incredible devotee of Lord Narayana, and he was able to demonstrate on several occasions. In his effort to fulfill the three wishes of his teacher, Ramanuja travelled extensively to spread Shri Vaishnava philosophy. Ramanuja's influence over people was such that a Chola king, who was a staunch Shaivite, was afraid of Ramanuja and passed an order to capture and kill Ramanuja. Though Ramanuja was not afraid of the king and his death, on his disciples' request he left Tamilnadu and travelled to Karanataka. At the same time the daughter of one of the kings in that area was haunted by evil spirits. Learning the greatness of Ramanuja the king requests Ramanuja to heal his daughter. Ramanuja simple takes the name of Lord Narayana and gives princess the holy water to drink. Immediately the evil spirits leave the body of princess and she becomes well. As the king hails Ramanuja, he replies that it is the greatness of Lord Narayana that healed the princess and He will protect anyone who surrenders to Him completely.
On another occasion, some followers of Jainism argue with Ramanuja and denounce the Vedas and Hindu way of worship, rituals, etc. Further, the Jain followers demand that Ramanuja should answer their questions and if he was able to answer their questions they will accept him as their teacher. One day the place was set for the question and answer session. About one thousand people get ready to question Ramanuja. To answer their questions Ramanuja takes the form the divine serpent with 100o hoods, Adishesha, and answers all their questions at the same time. The Jain disciples were astounded at the authority of Ramanuja, accept their defeat and become the followers of Ramanuja.
These two incidents are a great testimony to Ramanuja's complete surrender to Lord Narayana, and in fact he was the true messenger of Lord Narayana.
Restoration of Vishnu Temples
Ramanuja was instrumental in establishing correct practices in all Vishnu temples, including the famous and the most sacred shrine of Tirupathi. He taught his disciples the correct way of worshipping Lord Narayana through Pancharathra Agama (the worship procedure). He also made sure there were no errors in worshipping Lord Narayana. He made sure that there is a place for Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the works of Alwars, in the day to day worship of Lord Narayana. He also made sure there was no discrimination against the people of other castes. One great example is a Lord Vishnu's temple in Melkote in Karanataka, where a very special celebration is held once a year called Vairumidi. This celebration goes for almost a week, and one day people of other castes are given an opportunity to celebrate and worship God in their own way. In this way Ramanuja was also a great reformer of social justice. Ramanuja made a point many times that everyone, irrespective of caste, creed and sex, is eligible for Lord Narayana's grace, and it can be received with complete surrender to Him.
The Works of Ramanuja
Ramanuja's works include Vedanta Sangraha(summary of the menaing of the Vedas), commentary on the Brahma Sutras(Shri Bhashyam), Geeta Bhashyam
(commentary on Bhagavath Geeta), Gadya Trayama(Sharanagarthi Gadyam, ShriRanga Gadyam, Vaikunta Gadyam). Sharanagathi Gadyama is about complete surrender to Shriman Narayana. In his dialogue with Shri Lakhsmi Devid Ramanuja pleads with the Mother to recommend for his moksham to Shriman Narayana. ShriRanga Gadyam is about a prayer of surrender to Shri Ranganatha. Vaikunta Gadyam is about the description the Shri Vaikuntam, the abode of Shriman Narayana on whom everyone should be meditating upon for Moksham. In addition to this Ramanujacharya also Vedanta Sara, Vedanta Deepa, and Nithya Granthams(day to day activities related to God's worship).
Lord Ramanuja established 74 mutts(branches) to promote Shri Vaishnava philosophy and each is headed by a Shri Vaishnava saint. The common goal of all these mutts is to spread the Vishishtadvaita philosophy and worship of the supreme personality of Godhead through complete surrender. The leadership provided by Ramanuja continues to influence saints, teachers, scholars and his disciples as on today. Many scholars continue to deliver lectures and write papers on the works on Ramanuja. His contribution in refining the philosophy of Hinduism and God's worship is so incredible that it will continue to be there until the end of this creation. Greatest testimony is that in every temple and house where Lord Narayana and his forms are worshipped, Ramanuja is worshipped as a great teacher. Ramanuja's worship goes hand in hand in everyday prayer.
In conclusion, Ramanuja lived 120 years which is the complete life span of a human being and the fact has been indicated in the Hindu scriptures. Recently scientists also confirmed that 120 years is the life span of a human being. Ramanuja's life is a testimony to validate the authenticity of the Vedas and many facts which have been stated in them about God, creation and many aspects of the material world and spiritual world.