Acharya means Guru or Teacher. Vamsa means Lineage Vriksham means tree. What is the relation between these 3 words. Are we telling that Acharya is a tree? No
Imagine a tree… say Banyan tree… A huge tree… is it not? What are the parts of a tree? Let us start from the root. The tree has root, stem, branches, leaves, and fruits etc.
Our Lineage of spiritual teachers is compared with a tree. Like the root has the connection to stem, stem to branches, branch to leaves and fruits. Our Acharya parampara has connection from the first acharya to our present Acharya.
By the way who is your present acharya? Ask your parents. We call them as Jeeyar or Andavan.Do you know who is your first Acharya? It is Sriman Narayana
So our Acharya Vamsa Vriksham starts from Sriman narayan and ends with our present acharya. Do you remember a Thaniyan,we recite before starting recitation of Pallandu?
Lakshmi naatha samaarambhaam, natha yaamuna madhyamaam.
asmadh aacharya paryanthaam vandhE guru paramparaam
I salute the line of acharyas starting with Lakshminathan i.e.: Sriman Narayana, the others like Nathamuni, Yamuna muni coming in between, and up to my present Acharya
Now let’s us learn briefly about our acharya parampara. First let us see a chart of our acharya lineage (See next page)
In this write up, let us learn about our Acharyas up to Swami Desika.
In fact the acharya lineage after Ramanuja branches out in multifold and
we have hundreds and hundreds of acharyas upto present day acharya.
Sri Yamuna Muni
Present Day Acharyas
Sriman Narayan taught the Vedas to Brahma and Pancharatna Sastras to Sri Lakshmi and others. He took various Avatars himself like Fish, Tortoise, and Boar etc to preserve the Vedas and save his devotees. He also took the role of Guru-Sishya (Teacher-Student) as Nara, Narayana at BadriKashramam to present role models of an Acharya and Sishya.
The next acharya is our Srivaishnava Sampradhaya is Sri Lakshmi.She is called Priya Piratti or divine mother. Sri Lakshmi is always in the company of Naryana. Her only concern is the welfare of us. She is full of compassion and ignorant of punishing us for our faults. Without her recommendation, Sriman Naryana won’t grant our wishes
He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Lord Sriman Narayana.He wields a whip in his hand, and the entire universe functions in the constant fear of the whip striking them, if they do mistake. He rules over the entire world by his commands. Vishwaksena always removes obstacles in performing our duties. He is third in our acharya parampara.
Sri Nammazhvar is an incarnation of Visvaksena and he is born in the month of Vaikasi, on a Pournami day and his birth star is Viskaha.He was born 43 days after Sri Krishna left the World to Vaikunta after his Avatara.He was born in the year 3102 BCE.
His father’s name is Kaari, a farmer of Thirukkurugur on the banks of Tamraparani river and his mother Udaya nangai is from Thiruvan paricharam in Kerala.
Sri Nammazhvar when he was born did not open his eyes nor his mouth to eat and never cried like other newborn baby. Because he was “very different” from other children, his parents named him as “Maran” meaning “different”. He was also called as Shatakopa.
His parents prayed to Lord Adhinathan, the Perumal of Thirukkurugur and left the child in a cradle under a tamarind tree. It is believed that the tree is an incarnation of Adishesha, the Serpent on which the Lord Narayan is sleeping in Milky Ocean.Nammazhvar stayed in the same state for 16 years. He enjoyed the divine ecstasy of Sri Krishna. He was waiting for a good sishya to do Upadesam.
During that time, in a nearby village called Thirukkolur there was an elderly Brahmin saint called Madhurakavi.He went on a pilgrimage to North India and while he was in Ayodhya, he saw a bright light shining in the far south. He was delighted and followed the light and finally reached where Nammazwar was sitting. Seeing the brilliance of Nammazhvar Madhurakavi prostrated and requested him to accept him as disciple. Although Madhurakavi was very much older than Nammazhvar, he did not hesitate to accept Sri Nammazhvar as his Guru.
Nammazhvar started reciting divine poems and Madhurakavi wrote them on Palm Leaves. The Four Prabhandhams of Nammazhvar are as follows
1. Thiru Viruththam
2. Thiru aasiriyam
3. Peria Thiruvandhaathi
Nammazhvar stayed under the tamarind tree for 32 years, reciting the above Prabhandhams .All his Prabhsnadhams explain the essence of Vedas, and hence called “Tamil Vedam”. Lord Adhi Natha presented Nammazhvar a garland of Vakula flowers from his own neck. So Nammazhvar is also called Vakulabaranan.His other names are Parangusan, Sataari and Kurugai Piran. Sri Nammazhvar’s Prabhandham brim with devotion, love, bhakthi and poetic excellence. Many Acharyas and Tamil poet Kamban wrote Tamil and Sanskrit poems in praise of Nammazhvar.He is considered to be our first Acharya in Kaliyuga.Later he gave the entire Dhivya Prabhandham to Sri Nathmuni.We will read more about this in the story of Nathamuni
If Srivaishnavam has a global appeal today, it is due to great Nathamuni who discovered the lost divyaPrabhandham and inaugurated devotional Vasihnavam
Nathamuni was born at Veera Narayana Puram near Kaatumannar Koil, in the year 584 BCE.His other names were Shadamarshana Kula thilakar and Sottai Kulathtu Arasar.his birth star is Anusham and born in the month of Aani.He was great devotee of Narayana and Yogi too.
One day Nathamuni was worshipping at local temple. Few pilgrims who had come there from Kumbakonam sung Nammazhvar’s Thiruvaymozi praising Lord “Aravamudhan”. The final verse concluded saying that “One who recites these ten verses that form of 1000 verses, would become darling of the gods”. Since the verses sang by devotees were hinting that there are 1000 verses in total Sri Nathamuni was overjoyed. Nathamuni was so impressed with poetic beauty of the Pasuram and requested the devotees to teach the entire thousand.They told that only they know the Ten Pasurams on aravamudhan but they told Nathamuni that Sri ParankusaDasar in Kurugur might help, since he was a sishya of Madhura kavi.
Sri Nathamuni immediately undertook the long journey by foot to Kurugur.The melody of Nammazhvar’s Pasuram was ringing in his ears .The journey was tiring and long, but Nathamuni was committed to know more about Thiruvaymozi.Finally he came to Kurugur and met Parankusa Dasa, but alas! He told that being disciple of Madhurakavi Azhvar the devotees in Kurugur know only “Kanni nun Siruthaambu” and they do not know any Pasuram of Thiruvaymozi.Nathamuni was extremely disappointed. Parankusa Dasa suggested that if Nathamuni could recite the “Kanni nun Siruthambu” 12000 times, then he might be blessed by Nammaazhvar. Nathamuni agreed to do so and went to the tamarind tree, where Sri Nammazhvar was sitting in yogi form and delivered the verses. Nathamuni with utmost devotion recited the “Kanni nun Siruthaambu” 12000 times and lo and behold. He had the mystic vision of Nammahvar.Nammazhvar taught him all his 4 Prabhandhams and the entire Prabhandhams of other 11 Azhvars too. Imagine the divine ecstasy Nathamuni would have had. But for Nathamuni we would have lost the treasure of Divya Prabhandham.
Sri Nathamuni promptly codified the devotional hymns as Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. He set them to melodious music and rhythm and taught to his two nephews called “Keezhai Agaththu Azhvan and Melai Agaththu Azhvan””. He also revived the Adhyayana Utsavam instituted by Thirumangai Azhvar.He also commenced the practice of Arayar Sevai, a form of dance performed by male dancers singing Divya Prabhandham. This Arayar Sevai can be seen even today in SriRangam temple.
Nathamuni also revived the Propagation of Rahasyaas and Vyasa’s Brahma Sutra. Our Srivaishnava Sampradhayam began to shine like a becon light from Nathamuni’s time. He wrote 3 scholarly works
1. Nyaya Tattva
2. Yoga Rahasya
3. Purusha Nirnaya
Sri Nathamuni’s grandson was Sri Yamunacharya who is another important Acharya in our Sampradhayam.He had 8 sishyas and the prime sishya was Sri Uyyakkondar alias PundariKakshar
He was born at Thiruvellarai (near Trichy) in the year 827CE,in the month of Chithirai and his birth star is Karthigai.His original name was “Pundarikakshar”, Vyyakkondar means “One who came to redeem i.e. uplift”. How he go this name. It is an interesting story.
As ordered by his master, Nathamuni he escorted Aravinda Pavai, Sri Nathamuni’s wife to her parent’s place. There one woman folk called “Vangipuraththu Aachi” made him to sit in open space (Muttram) and eat stale remnants of food left over (Pazhayadhu). Pundarikakshar did not hesitate to eat left over food, partook the same with relish, since it was offered by the close relatives of his Acharya, Sri Nathamuni. When Sri Nathamuni came to know about this he exclaimed, “Nammai Uyyak kondeero”? Meaning Oh! You can redeem me? From then he was referred as “Uyyakkondar”
He had 5 sishyas and the important one is Manakkal Nambi
His original name was Rama Misrar.He was born in Anbil, near Trichy in the year 832CE,in the month of Masi. His birth star is Magam. He rendered personal Service to his Acharya i.e. Uyyakkondar including preparation of food. His devotion to his Guru is unbelievable. Once the two daughters of Uyyakkondar had to cross the slush on the way back to their home after bath in the river. They hesitated to step down on the slush fearing they will get dirty. Sri Rama Misrar without hesitation laid down on the slush and asked the girls to walk over on his back. Since the sands at the feet of his Guru’s daughters were on his body, he was called “Manal Kaal Nambi”. He took Sanyasam and he was instrumental in guiding alavandar to became a Sanyasi to propagate one Sampradhayam. He is considered as fourth Rama, after Parasurama, Rama and Balarama
He was the grandson of Sri Natha Muni.His parents were Iswara Battar and Ranganayaki.He was born in the year 917 AD in the month of Adi on Uttarashada star. He was born at Kuppankuzhi near Kattumannar Koil.He was named as Yamuna by his parents. He learned all branches of knowledge both secular and spiritual
Once a haughty Royal Chaplain by name Akkiyalvan was challenging and humiliating learned scholars. Young boy Yamuna accepted the challenge and went to King’s court to argue with Akkiyalram. The queen was so impressed at the young boy and offered the kingdom to the boy if he win the debate
Akkiyalvan asked the boy to state 3 propositions, which he will counter and prove it as false statements. If he could not, Yamuna be declared as winner.
1. Your mother is not a barren Mother (childless)
2. Our King is a righteous and powerful ruler
3. The queen is a model of Chastity
Akkitalvan was shocked. How can he prove that his mother was barren when he is the son of his mother? How he can dare to say the king is wicked and powerless. Similarly he cannot allege that the queen is an unchaste lady. He was nervous and silent. The king ordered Yamuna to disprove his statements. Yamuna clarified as follows
1. The sacred law says that only son is no son at all. Since Akkiyalvan
is the only son to his mother she can be called as barren
2. The king is entertaining an arrogant person like Akkialvan to be his Chaplain, he can not be called righteous
3. According to Shruthi texts, every woman is first wedded to soma, then Gantharva, then Agni before marrying her early partner. So in the eyes of Shruthi the queen cannot be deemed as a model of Chastity.
The queen said the boy as Alavandar “One who came to save me”. He was given the Royal Kingdom as promised. Alavandar thus became king, but due to his royal duties he could not attend to the religious duties properly. This made his Acharya Rama Misrar (Manakkal Nambi) worried because he has promised Uyyakondar that he would install Alavandar as spiritual successor to Nathamuni.Rama Misrar tried to meet Alavandar but could not get permission for this.
Rama Misrar made a curious plan. He came to know that Alavandar relishes special spinach called “thuduvalai keerai”. Rama Misrar supplied this spinach for six months regularly, and then stopped the supply. Alavandar enquired his Royal kitchen staff for the reason of not serving this spinach. They told that an old man used to supply but he did not turn up. Alavandar ordered that the old man should be brought to him, if he turns up. The very next day Rama Misrar came and he was taken to King Alavandar.
During the meeting Rama Misrar reminded the King Alavandar about his unfulfilled spiritual duties. He also requested him to take over the reins of spiritual leadership, as per the wishes of his Grand father Narthamuni.Alavandar immediately stepped down from royal Kingdom and took Sanyasa.He was called Yamuna Muni.He wrote several works that are simply brilliant. His works are as follows
1. Stothra Ratna
2. Chatuh Sloki
3. Siddhi Trayam
4. agama Pramanya
5. Maha Purusha Niyamam
6. Githartha Sangraham
8. Maya Vadha Khandanam
Yamuna muni/Alavandar had many illustrious sishyas. Some of his important
1. Peria Nambi
2. Thirukkoshtiyur Nambi
3. Peria Thirumalai Nambi (uncle of Ramanuja)
4. Alavandar Alwan (Thiruvaranga Perumal Arayar)
5. Thirumalai Andan
Alavandar blessed Bhagavad Ramanuja from a distance while he visited Kanchipuram although he never met Ramanuja in person during his lifetime. He wanted Sri Ramanuja to continue the Propagation of Srivaishnava Sampradhayam after his lifetime.
He was born in the year 998CE in the month of Margazhi.His birth star is Kettai.He is one of the Prime Sishya of Alavandar and Peria Nambi is the Acharya of Sri Ramanuja. He did Samasrayanam to Ramanuja at Madhuranthakam, when they met each other midway between their journeys. Peria Nambi was traveling from SriRangam to Kanchi to bring Ramanuja to SriRangam as per the wishes of Alavandar. Ramanuja was traveling from Kanchi to Srirangam as ordered by Lord Varadha to become sishya of Peria Nambi. Not much know about this Acharya. He wrote a Grantha titteld”thiru Pathithak Kovai”. Sri Peria Nambi is an important Acharya since he taught Bhagavad Ramanuja, based on what he learnt from Alavandar.
Bhagavad Sri Ramanuja
Bhagavad Ramanuja was born in Sriperumbudur, a small town near Madras in the year 1017 CE in the month of Chiththirai and his birth star is Thiruvadhirai.His parents are Asuri Kesavacarya and Kanthimathi. Seeing the brilliance in the face the child, his uncle, Sri Peria thirumalai Nambi named the child as Ramanuja. Rama anuja is ramanuja, meaning brother of Rama. Peria thirumalai nambi thought that the child was looking like Sri Lakshmana the brother of Rama and hence named after Lakshmana.
There is a sloka in Yadhavaachala Mahatmyam, which says:
Ananthah Prathamam Roopam Lakshmanascha Tathah Parah |
Balabadram Thritheeyasthu Kalou Kaschit Bhavishyathi ||
(Meaning) It is the same who was Adhisesha first, Lakshmana after and Balarama in the third, who is born as Sri Ramanuja in the Kali yuga.
EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF SRI RAMANUJA
Within 16 years of age, he had mastered all the Vedas and Sastras. At age 17, he married Rakshakaambaal (Tanjammal, in Tamil)
Ramanuja was placed under the advaitic sanyasi called Yadhava prakasha at kanchi for training in Vedanta. His cousin Govinda also joined him in the gurukula. Yadhava prakasha’s explanations of Vedanta did not appear to be correct to ramanuja on many occasions and and ramanuja politely pointed out the errors in his explanation. One day, while explaining the word Kapyaasam, Yadhavaprakasha told that “the eyes of the Supreme being is red like the butt of a monkey”. Ramanuja was shocked at this interpretation and tears rolled out of his cheeks. Yadhava prakasha was astonished and asked ramanuja, why he was crying. Ramanuja told that he couldn’t bear the cheap and poor simile quoted by his guru for the beautiful eyes of the Supreme being. He also told that “Kapyaasam here refers to the lotus that always depend on the sun to blossom and the eyes of the Supreme being is compared to the lotus flower”. This wonderful explanation made Yadhava prakasha angry and he was enraged. He thought that ramanuja, will one day demolish the advaita philosophy and ramanuja should be killed while he is young for the sake of preserving the teachings of his acharyas. He made an evil plan to drown ramanuja in the Ganges and for that purpose he made a pilgrimmage trip to North. Innocent ramanuja without knowing the Guru’s evil plan joined the guru along with his cousion Govinda for a long trip to North.
Fortunately, midway during their trip somehow Govinda came to know about the evil plan of their master and cautioned Ramanuja and demanded that ramanuja should leave the group at once and get back to Kanchipuram. It was dense forest and ramanuja was tired walking long distances without food and he was worried whether he is walking in the correct direction to return to Kanchi.That night, a hunter couple appered before Ramanuja and offered help. They told that since they are also travelling towards South, ramanuja can join them and reach Kanchi safely. Ramanuja thanked them and all the three of them were taking rest under a big tree. Next morning when Ramanuja woke up he did not see the hunter couple but saw a big temple tower at a distance and soon realised that he was miraculously transported from the jungle to Kanchipuram. Ramanuja knew that the hunter couple was none other than Varadaraja perumal and thayar.
While Ramanuja was studying under Yadhava prakasha, once Sri Alavandar came to Kanchipuram and he saw ramanuja from a distance. Seeing the brilliance of Ramanuja, he blessed him (in his mind) that he should succeed him as Srivaishnava acharya and propagate Srivaishnava sampradayam. Alavandar also prayed to Sri Varada for the well being of ramanuja. Somehow, Alavandar could not meet ramanuja in person during his lifetime.
Yadhavaprakasha came to Kanchi and he was surprised to see ramanuja alive. He was worried whether ramanuja came to know about the evil plan of him and told every one about this. Being a gentleman Ramanuja did not tell anyone about Yadhavaprakasha’s plan of killing ramanuja. Do you know that finally Yadhavaprakasha became the disciple of ramanuja?
At Srirangam Alavandar was seriously ill and he wanted to meet Ramanuja. Sri Peria nambi who is one of the alavandar’s sishya rushed to kanchi and took ramanuja with him to srirangam. Unfortunately before they reach srirangam, alavandar passed away. Ramanuja was extremely sad and he looked Alavandar from head to foot very closely. He found a strange thing. Three of his fingers were remained folded. He asked alavandar’s disciples, about this and they told that Alavandar had three unfullfilled wishes and he was talking about them just before he passed away. The wishes were
( i ) that he would write a commentary on Veda Vyasa's Brahma
( ii ) that he would perpetuate the memory of Vyasa and Parasara and
( iii ) that he would strive to propagate Visishtadvaita on the lines of the 4000 holy collects of Alwars,
Ramanuja swore that with the blessings of Alavandar and Perumal, he will fullfill the above three wishes. Dramatically, the folded fingers of alavandar stretched out to normal position. The gathered devotees were surprised at this and understood the greatness of ramanuja. He returned to kanchipuram without even taking blessings from Sri Ranganatha in Srirangam.
During that time at Kanchi there was another acharya called thirukkachchi nambi who used to do fanning kaimkaryam to Lord Varada. The Lord used to speak to Thirukkachchi nambi sometimes. Ramanuja requested him to ask the Lord on his behalf, what ramanuja should do next. Lord has ordered Ramanuja to meet Sri Peria nambi and become his sishya.
As per the order of Sri Varada Sri Ramanuja wanted to meet Sri Peria nambi to take him as his guru. He started his journey towards Srirangam immediately. At the same time, Sri Peria Nambi was also travelling from Srirangam to Kanchi to meet Ramanuja. Both met at Madurantakam, where under the shade of Vakula tree Periya Nambi performed Pancha Samskara to him. As he was initiated into the Dvaya Mantra at Madurantakam, the place came to be known as "Dvayam Vilaindha Tiruppathi"Both returned to Srirangam and did Kalakshepams on Brahma Sutra etc. for sometime. It was at this time that Lord Ranganatha called him "Udaiyavar" (He is ours).
When he was about 30 years of age, Ramanuja took Sannyas with the name of 'Ramanuja Muni'. He was the king among Sannyasis. Hence, he is called ' Yati Rajar'- a honorific invested by Lord Varada raja.
The seat of Acharya at Srirangam was lying vacant without a successor after the death of Alavandar to take over. Ramanuja was requested to assume charge. But, before doing so, he wanted to learn the secrets of the three great Mantras. For this purpose, he approached an acharya " Tiruk Koshtiyur Nambi" who made Ramanuja to come to him come 17 times from Srirangam to Thirukkoshtiyur before actually instructing him. He cautioned Ramanuja that he should not give out the secrets to anyone with out his permission and if he did so, he would go to hell.
Immediately on receiving the instructions, Ramanuja climbed up to the top of the temple tower and proclaimed to the large gathering of his disciples assembled there the purport of the instruction.
Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi came to know about this and was so enraged and demanded an explanation. Ramanuja replied that he himself would go to hell for not obeying his guru's order but the multitude of humanity that listened to his upadesam would be saved and they will attain salvation due to the blessings of Thirukkoshtiyur Nambi. The Guru was overwhelmed by this reply . Embracing Ramanuja appreciating his broad mindedness, he called him 'Emperumanar'- " O! My lord" and declared that Srivaishnavism would thenceforward be known as " Ramanuja Darsanam"- ' the light of Ramanuja'
Ramanuja used to go round the streets for his Biksha.( This is called uncha viruththi) An evil minded fellow had mixed poison in the biksha. His wife while serving the biksha fell at Ramanujas feet with tears in her eyes. Ramanuja understood that there was something wrong. When the Sishyas sorted out the biksha for cooking, they found out that poison was mixed with it. Ramanuja went on a fast with a view to cleanse the mind of the evil-doer.
On hearing this, Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi rushed all the way to Srirangam. When Ramanuja heard of the coming of his Guru, he rushed to the banks of River Kaveri to receive him. It was the height of summer. Ramanuja ran towards him in the hot Sun to receive him and fell at his feet on the burning sands on the banks of river Kaveri. Nambi did not ask him to get up. Such was his Acharya Bhakti. At that time, Kidambi Aachaan, who was nearby told Nambi " Your action (in not asking Ramanuja to get up) is worse than the poison mixed in the bikshai". Such was the Acharya bhakti of Ramanuja's Sishya! (Like master, like pupil!). Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi exclaimed, " After all, now I can cast off my physical body since I have found one who would take the greatest care of Ramanuja". He ordered that Sri Ramanuja will not go for biksha henceforth and it is the duty of Kidambi achchan to cook and serve food for Ramanuja.
After Mastering the Brahma sutra of Sage Vyaasa, he wrote several works like Vedanta Sangraham Vedanta Deepam, Geetha Bashyam etc.
During Panguni Uttram, he did Prapatti before the Divya Dhampathi in Serthi and submitted his famous Gadhyatrayam (comprising Saranagathi Gadhyam, Sriranga Gadhyam and Sri Vaikunta Gadhyam)
Later, he wrote a Grantha called Nityam detailing the Tiruvaradhana Kramam
While he was on his Sancharam, Lord himself appeared before him at Tiruk Kurum Kudi as a Srivaishnava got Samasrayanam from Udaiyavar
When he visited Saraswati Peetam in Kashmir, Goddess Saraswati was so impressed with his commentary on Brahma Sutram that she named it "Sri Bhashyam" and conferred on him the title of "Bhashyakaarar". It must be noted that while the other commentaries are known by the names of their authors like 'Sankara Bashyam' written by Aadhi Sankara, the commentary of Ramanuja is always referred to with the venerable honorific 'Sri' denoting its unsurpassed quality and clarity and known as ' Sri Bashyam'
When he visited Tirumala, a miracle happened. Some argued that the deity at Tirumalai was Saiva deity. It is surprising that such a claim should have arisen about the Lord who had been worshipped as Lord Vishnu by all the Alwars. This was because the Lord had earlier entrusted His Sanku and Chakra to a King called Tondamaan. Sri Ramanuja placed Sankhu, chakkaram (the weapons of Sri Vishnu) and Soolam, Damarukam (the weapons of Siva) in the Sannidhi the previous night. Next day when the doors were opened, the Lord gave Darshan adorning Sanku and Chakra, proving that He is the icon of Sri Vishnu only. Ramanuja was hailed as " Appanukku Sangaazhi Alittha Perumaal"
By writing wonderful commentary on Vedavyasa's Brahma Sutram and a simpler commentary thereon called Vedanta Saram, he fulfilled his FIRST PROMISE to Alavandar.
He asked one of his close disciples Kuresan (Kurataazhvan) to name his two sons after Veda Vyasa and Parasara and thus fulfilled his SECOND PROMISE to Alavandar. It was this Parasara Bhattar who subsequently wrote the famous commentary on Vishnu Sahasra Nama as ordained by Ramanuja.
Another disciple of Ramanuja was Pillaan. Once, when Ramanuja was alone mentally reciting a particular hymn of Tiruvoimozhi and doing abhinayam for the pasuram. Pillaan entered his room and inquired if he was meditating on a particular hymn. And, it was indeed the one Ramanuja was actually meditating on!. Ramanuja decided that Pillaan was the person best suited to write a commentary on Tiruvoimozhi. As ordered, he wrote the famous 'AARAAYIRAPPADI' (the commentary known as the 6000 Padi also known as Bhagavad Vishayam) and called Pillaan as 'Tirukkurugai Piraan" after the name of Nammalwar.Thus, he fulfilled his THIRD PROMISE to Alavandar
During that time Kulothunga Chola was ruling the Chozha nadu and he was a staunch devotee of Siva. He commanded Ramanuja to come to his court with a view to get his support to establish the superiority of Siva over all other deities. (including Vishnu ). If the support was not forthcoming, the king was planning to kill Ramanuja. Sensing the danger, Kuresa went to the court disguised as Ramanuja along with another disciple called Periya Nambi. The king ordered him to sign a document to the effect that 'Siva is the greatest'. Kuresa added that ' Sivam was no doubt great but Dronam was greater than Sivam'- both expressions referring to units of measurement. The enraged king ordered both of them to be blinded when he came to know that he was Kuresa who was impersonating Ramanuja. Periya Nambi was tortured to death while Kuresa survived. Kuresa, though he himself was blinded, was happy that he had saved Ramanuja.
Ramanuja went to Tiru narayana puram during that time and the idol of the temple there had been taken away by the muslim invaders and was being used at play as a doll by the muslim princess in Delhi. Ramanuja went to Delhi and when he endearingly called ' Come on! My dear child 'Selva Pillaiye Vaarum', the idol miraculously came onto his lap. Ramanuja reinstalled it in the temple. Ramanuja lived in Melkote (thiru narayana puram)
Ramanuja lived for 120 years and he had 74 prime disciples. His prime sishyas were Kurataazhvan, Mudhaliyaandan, Embar and Vaduka nambi. His archa vigraham at Melkote, Sriperumputhur and Srirangam are of great importance. In thiruppathi, Ramanuja is the only acharya having a separate sannidhi. He propagated Srivaishnava sampradayam throughout India and made the supreme Lord accessible to even a common man.
Ramanuja went to Vaikuntam, with his head on the lap of Embar and his feet on the lap of Vaduga Nambi, in the year 1137 CE at Srirangam listening to the recitation of the Divya Prabandam and Upanishads.
Sri Desika’s original name was Venkata natha. His parents have choosen this name since Desika was born on a sravanam day, which is the birth star of Thiruppathi perumal, Lord Srinivasa.Besides he was born with the blessings of Lord Srinivasa and he is the incarnation of the bell of Lord Srinivasa.
Sri Desika was born in the year 1268 CE (Common Era) about 130 years after Bhagavad Ramanuja attained parama padam.His parents were Sri Ananthasuri and Smt Thothaaramba.He was born in a place called Thoopul near Kanchi puram.
Birth and Younger days:
Sri Appullar was Swami desika’s uncle as well as acharaya. When Sri Desika was a small boy of five years old he was taken to Kanchi Varadarajar Temple where Sri Nadathur ammal was giving lecture on Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashyam. Sri Appullar and the young boy desika went and prostrated to this scholar and he has stopped the lecture and blessed them. Sri Appullar and desika was about to leave and the acharya wanted to continue his lecture but he forgot where he has stopped.
Although desika was mere a boy of 5 years he reminded the acharya the place where he had stopped. Every one assembled there were astonished at the brilliance of Desika at this tender age. Sri Nadadhur ammal blessed Sri Desika and he told every one that Sri Desika will be a great scholar who will firmly establish the supremecy of our sampradayam following the footstep of Bhagavad Ramanuja. He also instructed Sri Appullar to teach desika all vedas, divya prabandham and other sastras. Even today we can see a painting in the varadaraja temple reminding us this incident.
At the age of 7, after upanayanam Sri Appullar started teaching the Vedas, Sastras, Sri bhashya and divya prabandham. He was surprised at the brilliance of swami desika as he has grasped in no time what ever taught to him.The elders were wondering whether Sri Desika is the combined re incarnation of earlier acharyas like Ramanuja,Natha muni and Alavandar. At the age of 20, Sri Desika has mastered all the sastras and became a scholar.
At the age of 21, Sri Desika was married to a beautiful girl called Thirumangai or Kanaka valli.Sri Appullar taught Desika the sacred Garuda mantra. Sri Desika has started his family life as ordered in the Sastras. He was strictly performing all the duties required by a Srivaishnava and living on uncha vritti.ie their daily supply of rice and vegetables will be given by his disciples.
Desika in Thiruvaheendra puram:
After the death Sri Appullar Swami desika wanted to chant the garuda mantra taught to him for many days to receive the blessings of the divine bird Garuda on which Sri Narayana travels. It is said in Scriptures that the Garuda is Veda swaroopi. Desika went to Thiruvahendra puram and climbed the small hill there and started chanting the mantra. Garuda was pleased with the devotion of Desika and blessed him with Hayagreeva mantra and instructed him to chant the Hayagreeva mantra continously to receive the blessings of Haygreeva. Then Lord Hayagreeva appeared before desika and blessed him with the nector flowing from HIS mouth. Lord Hayagreeva took the seat of Swami Desika’s tip of the tounge as prayed by desika. Also Hayagreeva gave an idol of himself for desika’s daily worship. This idol or vigraha is still being preserved in the Devanatha temple in Thiruvaheendra puram. Swami desika composed famous Haygreeva stotram, Devanayaka panchashat in sanskrit and achchutha shatakam in Prakriut and Mummanikkovai and Nava mani maalai in Tamil.
Desika in Kanchipuram:
Sri Desika came back to Kanchipuram and composed various stotras explaining the concept of prapatti or surrender.The stotras are Nyasa vimshati,Nyasa dashakam and Nyasa tilakam in sanskrit and Adaikkalappaththu and artha panchakam in Tamil.He composed Sri Varada raja panchashat on Lord varada of Kanchipuram.
In the Year 1317CE,in the Tamil month of AvaNi, Sri Varadha raja perumal blessed swami desika with a son who was name as Varadhacharya. His birth star was rohiNi which is the same as that of Lord Krishna.His son followed the footsteps of Swami desika and shined as his father.
Swami desika then went to Thiruppathi and here he composed the beautiful stotra called Daya shatakam. Lord Srinivasa has blessed swami desika conferring the title Vedantaacharya.Then swami desika went to Badri,Ayodhdhi, kaasi,Nepal and other places in North India.
Sri Desika in Sri rangam:
Swami desika was asked to come to Sri rangam by other acharyas, for
a debate to prove the correctness of Our sampradayam which is strictly
in accrodance with the scriptures. Swami desika came to Srirangam and on
the way he halted at Sri Perumpudhur the birth place of Bhagavad Ramanuja
and composed a stotra on Sri ramanuja to seek his blessings to win in the
debate. This slokam is called Yatirja saptati which glorifies all our acharyas
and Sri Ramanuja in particular.
In Sri rangam the debate with schloars of other sampradayam went for 7 days and finally Sri Desika demolished every argument of the opponents. The scolars who have debated with Sri Desika have accepted the defeat and become his disciples. This discussion has been compiled as Satha dhudhaNi.
Lord Ranganatha was pleased with their beloved child Sri Desika’s intelligence and conferred him the title of “ Vedanta Desikan” Sri Ranga naayaki thaayaar conferred the title of “ Sarva tantra swatantrar” which means that he is master of all arts, crafts. The other acharyas assembled there were pleased with this and declared that Sri desika is indeed deserved of this honorory titles.
Swami’s visit to Melkote, Karnataka.
In the year 1327, Srirangam town was invaded by Muslims. Malik kafur the General of Allauddin, Sultan of Delhi came to Srirangam to rob the temple and kill the satvic devotees. Fear gripped in the minds of every one and they afraid how to preserve the glory of the temple. It was decided that Swami desika will travel to Karnataka along with the manuscripts of Sri Bhashya commentry along with the sons of Sri Sudarshana bhattar, a great acharya who wrote commentry for Sri Bashya. Other acharyas left to Thiruppathi with the idol of Ranganatha. The temple was closed and many bhagavathas were killed by the brutal invaders and even Swami desika has to hide among the corpses (dead bodies) for one night before travelling to Karnataka.
Swami desika while at Karnataka composed a stotra called “abhithi sthava” praying to Sri Ranganatha to restore the glory of Sri rangam. Swami was crying for the death of many acharyas and bhagavathas by the ruthless invaders. After 12 years when the muslims were thrown out of Srirangam Swami desika came back to Srirangam.
Back at Srirangam:
Swami came to srirangam and it was time for yearly utsavams when the entire divya prabandham will be recited in 20 days. The first ten days the utsavam is in the day and the next 10 days in the night. Since this utsavam was stopped for many years due to Muslim invasion, the orthodox people objected to recitation of Divya prabandham since it is in Tamil and only Sanskrit vedas should be recited. They also objected to install vigrahas of Azhvars because they were just human beings and many of them were not even Brahmins. Swami desika argued with them at length proving that the divya prabandham is nothing but the essence of Vedas and Upanishads and the Azhvars are great devotees of Sriman Narayana and they are fit to be worshipped in side the temple. Finally the orthodox devotees agreed with Sri Desika and the utsavam has been celebrated in a grand manner. Swami was pained to see the objections and to make sure no such problems in the future he has got the details of the utsavam written in a stone and installed in the temple. Sri Ranganatha was pleased with this and commended that the Thaniyan glorifying swami desika “Ramanuja daya patram..” should be recited every day in the temple before starting the prabandham recitation.
While at Sri rangam swami has composed the famous Bhagavad dyana sopanam glorifying the beauty of the Sriranganatha from the feet to the head. This stotra is like Amalanaadhi piran of Thiruppaanaazhvar.
Some vidhwans challenged that whether swami desika can compose 1000 hymns in praise of Lord Ranganatha in one day. Swami has accepted the challenge and he prayed to Ranganatha to bless him to compose 1000 stotras and the Lord has commended that sri Desika should compose the stotra on the Divine Sandals (padhukas). Swami did not write anything in the day as he was busy in teaching etc and in the night also he slept till 4 O’clock in the morning. Then he started writting down the stotras and in less than 3 hours he has composed 1008 stotras on the padhukas. Even a fast recital of the entire stotras will take more than 6 hours and swami has composed them in such a short time since he was “Kavitarkika simham” which means lion among the poets.
Swami at Srivilliputtur:
Swami desika went on a pilgrammage to South and visited many divya
desams in Kerala and Madurai and while he was at Srivilliputtur he has
composed the famous Godha sthuthi. Swami had special bhakthi to Andal and
this stotram glorifies Andal.She has commended that this stotra should
be recited during her utsavam along with divya prabandham.
Some of the local people in Kachipuram felt bad that a great master like Sri Desika is doing uncha vrutti ie begging for grains. They thought of mixing gold coins along with rice and offered him since Desika won’t accept money or Gold if given separately. Sri Desika did not notice this trick and came home and gave the rice to his wife for making prasadam. She is also a simple maiden and never seen gold coins in her life. She called Desika and asked what the glittering coins are. Swami desika was suprised at this and told her that they are vermins and separated them by a dharpa grass, as he did not even want to touch the gold coins.
One of Swami desika’s friend (Vidyaranya) during their school days became the minister of Vijayanagara kingdom. He heard about the poverty of Sri Desika and wanted to help him.So he has sent in a message asking desika to come to the Kingdom to receive gifts from the king.Swami desika has refused to this request and sent him the reply in a poem called Vairagya panchakam.
Once a young boy wanted some money for his marriage and approched the wealthy people in Kanchipuram.They were jealous of Sri desika’s simplicity and not seeking any financial help from them. Just to embarraas our swami they have told that only desika can give lots of money because he is rich.The boy did not know the evil intention of the jealous people and went to swami desika for financial help. We all know that desika is not having any money but he took the young boy to the Thayar sannidhi and started reciting Sri Stuthi and lo and behold.. It has started raining and rain of gold coins from the sky. Swami desika thanked the thayar for her mercy and told the boy to take as much he wants and he did not take any coin for himself. The jealous people were shocked at this incident and came running to seek the pardon of swami desika.
Once a snake charmer came and challenged desika that whether he can control his poisonous snakes and sri desika drew a chalk line on the ground and recited some mantra. None of the snake could cross over the line drawn by swami but one ferocious snake crossed over to harm swami. Sri Desika recited the Garuda mantra and instantly Garuda came and took away all the snakes. The Snake Charmer begged to swami desika to give back his snakes since it is the only lively hood of him. Swami desika again prayed to Garuda and it brought the snakes again.
One magician confronted with swami and drank the water from the pond. With his magic he made swami’s stomach to bulge as the magician drank water from the pond. Swami was feeling extreme pain and understood the reason quickly. Desika just scratched the pillar near by with his fingernails and the water flowed out of the pillar. The magician was astonished with the super magic of Desika and begged his pardon.
Swami Desika as Sarva tantra (Master of all arts, crafts):
There are many incidents in Swami desika’s life which prove that he is not just an acharya or poet.He was well versed with many other crafts and the following three incidents prove this point.
Once a mason challenged swami desika whether he can construct a well with the bricks supplied by him. Swami desika accepted the challenge and the mason gave broken and irregular shaped bricks to swami but he nicely arranged them and finished the well construction. This well is still existing in Thiruvahendrapuram.
Once a sculptor challenged swami whether he can make an idol of himself and fitted in the pedastal that was made by the sculptor. Swami made an idol and the sculptor tried to fix it in the pedastal and could not do so.He thought that the idol was wrong and tried to chisel some part of the idol to fix it. Blood flowed out of desika’s corresponding part of the body where he chiseled out. The sculptor accepted that the pedastal is of wrong size and then swami desika corrected the pedastal and installed the idol on it. This image is even today available in Thiruvahendara puram.
Once a shoe maker challenged that whether desika can mend his sandal and swami accepted this challenge and to every one’s surprise he made the sandal quickly as if he was a original shoe maker.People are astonished at swami desika’s knowledge in various crafts.
Swami’s last days:
Swami desika lived 101 years and he felt the time has come for him to go the spritual abode of Narayana. He went to Sriranganatha and took his permission. His disciples and his son were feeling the pain of his separation and cried. Swami desika consoled them and instructed them to continue their divine works and follow the ramanuja dharshanam. In the year 1369 he kept his head in the lap of his son Kumara varadhachariar and left his mortal coil while listening to the chanting of thiruvaymozhi and Upanishads.
Later Sri Ranganayaki thayar ordered that a sannidhi should be made for Swami desika close to her sannidhi inside the temple. Also it is believed that she ordered that no other acharya sannidhi will be made hereafter inside the temple as a mark of respect to this great acharya, which is being followed to this day.One can see the desikan sannidhi in front of the thaayaar sannidhi in Srirangam.
Swami Desika’s works:
A: DEVOTIONAL POEMS (STOTRAS)- 29
B: KAAVYA GRANTHAS -5
C: DRAMA -1 (SANKALPA SURYODHAYAM)
D: RAHASYA GRANTHAS (ESOTERIC WORKS) -32
E: VEDANTHA GRANTHAS -11
F: VYAAKHYAANA GRANTHAS (Commentaries) -10
G: ANUSHTAANA GRANTHAS -4
H: MISCELLANEOUS GRANTHAS -13
I: TAMIL PRABHANDHAMS -24
Thaniyans on Swami desika:
A number of 'Thanians ' (laudatory dedication verses) were dedicated
(1) His son Kumara Varadacharya has composed a thaniyan on swami desika. We are reciting this thaniyan before reciting any sanskrit stotra of swami desikan.
"Sriman Venkata Natharyah Kavitarkika Kesari |
Vedantacharya Varyo Mey Sannidhattam Sadaa Hridhi ||"
The meaning of this verse is” "the great lion of poets and the great preceptor of Vedanta (that Swami Venkatanatha was) should reside in his heart always."
(2) Another one was by his disciple Brahma Tantra Swatantra which says:-
"Ramanuja Daya Patram Gnana Vairaghya Bushanam |
Srimad Venkata Natharyam Vande Vedanta Desikam ||"
We recite this taniyan before starting divya prabandham.The meaning of this taniyan is "I salute the great Venkata Natha also called Vedanta Acharya and Lion among poets and logicians and who was well adorned by both Knowledge and discretion and who well deserved the grace of Srimad Ramanuja":
(3) There is another taniyan on Swami Desika which is recited before reciting any of the desika prabandham
"Seeronru Tooppul Thiruvenkata mudaiyan
par onra chonna pazhamozhiyul- OronRu
thane amaiyadhO Dharaniyil Vazhvorkku
Vanerap PomaLavum Vazhvu ||"
The meaning of this taniyan is " For a person who desires to ascend up to the Heavens, even a single statement of the great Acharya, Tooppul Tiuvenkadamudaiyan (Vedanta Desika) uttered by him for the benefit of humanity would be sufficient to lift him up to his desired goal
Swami desika was a poet, philosopher, logician and he took the task of upholding the concepts preached by Sri.Ramanuja. It is because of him the Ramanuja dharshanam is being recogonised by the world. Even the critics of Swami desika have suprised at his knowledge and logical reasoning and praise him for his masterey in every form of work be it drama, poetry or commentry in either Tamil, Sanskrit and Mani pravala.It is told that he was proficient in 8 languages.No acharya among the followers of Sri Ramanuja fought for the rightful place for Divya prabandham as did swami desika. It was he who re established the recitation of divya prabanhdam in Srirangam and other temples.
Swami desika has composed more than 100 works and even if one wants to read all of them it will take more than 100 years. His Sanskrit is considered to be most sweet only after to Maha kavi Kalidasa.His Tamil prabandhams are equally sweet and he has brough the essence of Vedas to his simple Tamil prabandhams and translated the tamil pranbadham Tiruvaymozhi to sanskrit.
And finally a word for children:
Dear children, now we have learned briefly about our acharyas starting from Sriman Narayana upto Swami desika. Let us pray to these great acharyas and seek their blessings to read and understand their works/Storas, which will be the most pleasing kaimkaryam to Perumal and Thayar. Good luck!