Thursday, June 15, 2017

Saint Ramanuja-The great social reformer born 1000 years back

Saint Ramanuja-The great  social reformer  born  1000 years back

By
P.R.Ramachander



Albert  Einstein  is  supposed   to have told  ““Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. (said of Mahatma Gandhi)”I hope every one    would agree  with this   but if they  know  more   about  Saint  Ramanuja    who    lived 1000  years back in India , I am sure  they would   say  “ How can   any one like   this , with thoughts   belonging   to twenty  twenty second centuary   lived    and preached   in  our  India, one thousand   years back?”
  One   thousand years  back  India was  pervaded  by an orthodox religious   crisis  that was sweeping India.  Untouchability   and caste differentiation was    a normal practice  .  The Hindu religious  lingua was   Sanskrit  which was   considered   as the languages  of Gods . The new religions  Jainism and Budhism   were   trying to convert   as many Hindus as possible    to their   religion.  Two great Bhakthi movements     in tamil  called  Vaishnavism    and Shaivism were    sweeping across   Tamil  Nadu.  Both these  movements had great saints   as their sentinals.. Though a few  Brahmins joined   these Bhakthi movements   , the  saints of these  movements    were  mainly people    from other castes. A great  philosophy  movement lead   by Adhi Sankara    had just got over. It was at this time  that  Saint  Ramanuja    was born in a village called   Sriperum Pudur   to  Kesava Somayaji     and Kanthi mathi  . Kesava  Somayaji was great Vedic scholar    as well   as a professional priest. Once when Saint Ramanuja   was still a boy , a young boy of  a caste  lower than Brahmins    was  prevented from entering the temple  . Though as a young kid, he could not do much, he saw to it that he gave   the Prasada  of the temple to that  boy daily  . Since Kesava Somayaji was a Vaishnavite , he was a great follower of the Tamil  Vaishnavism   as propagated   by the 12  minstrels called   Azhvars  . Most of their preachings   were  in the   form of Tamil songs and Poems.  The young Ramanuja    was attracted  by this    and started  teaching  these   to young boys all around   who were  not Brahmins.  When  Ramanuja   attained   his teens  , he was put   to learn Vedas   in an Advathic school run by  One  Yadhava Prakasha  .  Ramanuja    who was already a great scholar    could not agree    with what he was taught   by  Yadhava Prakasha and so he  chose to learn  religion from  one Kanchipoorna  (Thirukachi nambi)  , a  non  Brahmin devotee   of  Lord Varada   of Kanchi  .
     Much before this time ,  one a   great devotee of   Lord Vishnu called Nathamuni started   collecting the tamil devotional works   of all the Azhvars and   the entire   collected work was called    as Nalayira  Divya prabandham (The collection of four thousand divine verses ). This collection  was inherited by   one of   his Disciples   called Yamunacharya  , who had been told    about    the impending arrival   of a great saint    who would take it from him. But as   per God’s will   Ramanuja   could not meet him when he was alive .But as per his wishes Ramanuja   got trained  by great  Vaishnavite scholars .  From then on it was his mission  to put Vaishnavism  and its philosophical basis  in firm footings.  He travelled all over India  for that   and   reached   the feet of God Vishnu   when he    was   120 years  old.   
   Saint Ramanuja differed   with Adhi Sankara in the  philosophical approach   to god. He is the creator  of Visishtadvaitha  philosophy. In essence, visishtadvaita says brahman is one without second, but this brahman is qualified as a soul(paramatma) and a body(jivatmas and achit).They are not different in the sense of how a wave is not different from the ocean(but at the same time it is not identical). He also evolved the Saranagathi Thattwa (Principle of absolute surrender) through which the Antharathma can merge with the Paramathma. Two schools of thought differentiated later on the Saranagathi. One school believed that the Saranagathi does not need an effort on your part and is a passive surrender (Marjara Saranagathi-kitten like surrender) and the other school believed that your effort is very much needed even after the surrender and is an active surrender (Markata Saranagathi- the surrender of baby monkey). Unlike Adhi Sankara Saint Ramanuja made the tamil BHakthi movement as a part of his philosophy. In fact, even todayTamil is used in pooja and rituals by his followers. Saint Ramanuja also travelled all over India and conversed with all scholars. But due to Tamil becoming a part of his school, his school is mainly confined to Tamil Nadu and neighbouring states

     Saint Ramanuja apart from    his  being   a religious  reformer   was also    a great   social reformer with ideas   which are  not  being accepted   even today  by  Hindu religious  people.
1.Unlike   Saint   Ramanuja   his wife was very orthodox.  One day  Ramanuja    had invited one of his Gurus(Thirukachi Nambi  )   who was  a non Brahmin   devotee  for lunch in his home. Unfortunately he could not reach  in time   and the Guru arrived. His wife Thanjamambal fed the Guru outside the house   , and after he went away took   bath and  washed the place where  he took food   and Ramanuja arrived at that  time. He was   so pained  by her orthodox behaviour  and her insulting his guru  that   he took a decision to  go away  from his  wife   and took Sanyasa, He was perhaps   the first orthodox Brahmin   who  did not give any importance  to caste. Those times, the   present day Dalits were called  “Theru kulam”  - ie  “Street people”    and he changed it to  “thiru kulam “ i.e  “Divine  people”  .Much much later   almost after  900 years  Mahathma  Gandhi decided   to call them, “Harijans”  -“People  of Lord Hari”
2. Ramanuja was   directed   to one Guru called  Thirukoshtiyur Nambi   to get   initiation. But every time he went,  he was sent back  saying  that  the   time was not ripe   and on the   seventeenth time  Thirukoshtiyur Nambi    taught   him  the eight   lettered manthra   “Om Namo Narayanaya” and warned him that   if he teaches  that  Manthra   to any body else   it would not effective for him but to the one who learnt it from him.  Immediately Ramanuja climbed  on the top of the temple tower  , managed to draw huge crowd   and Taught   the Manthra to all of them.  When his Guru   got angry , he told him that   that if by the act of his teaching,  thousand of devotees were  benefitted but he  alone  is not benefitted, it was a good act   and worth doing again and again.
3. Yamuacharya    had an ardent non brahmin follower   called Mareneri nimbi  .After the death   of Yamunacharya that   Maraneri nambi  became a great follower of Ramanuja and his Guru Mahaparna. , One day  Mareneri Nambi breathed his  last and Mahaparna  performed his funeral rites   as per Brahmin custom. When other   people objected  Ramanuja drew  their attention   to the fact that Jatayus funeral was done   by Sri Rama  and thus defended his  Guru’s action,
4. One Mohamedan princes in Delhi  was given the pretty idol of  Krishna   taken away   from Karnataka  . She fell in love   with that Vigraha . Ramanuja went to the palace   and called out the God  , who came out.  Later  not only  Ramanuja performed the marriage of that  princess   with Lord  Ranganatha   but also  built   a temple  for her in Sri Rangam temple . Even   today   Pooja is performed at this  temple of  that princess (Thulukka Nachiar )  according to Hindu rites. He also modified regular  worship  Srirangam temple, the presiding deity, Ranganatha, and offered  him  a daily offering of rotis, sweet with a heady scent of  ghee  – made with wheat (in contrast to the orthodox rice meal) and made him even wear colored lungis (not the white cloth worn by Hindus) to please a Thulukka  Nachiar.
5.Another great reform brought by Ramanuja was the inclusion of Tamil   in Worship methods in temple     as well  as rituals like marriage  . This was great reform because   even   till today , majority of the   devotees   believe that  worship should be done   only using  Sanskrit  , as it is the language of Gods . In all temples maintained by follows of Ramanuja, the worship would not be complete   without recital of verses   from Thiruppavai., a tamil  prayer  composed  by Aandal.
           A   poet of modern times   who was   his follower has told  :-
If we compare   this Ramanuja   to two incomparable social reformers  ,
Of the twentieth centaury   and tell   about it ,
He can be called  Periyar with a sacred  thread  ,
And Ambedkar   wearing   the twelve Vaishnavite marks.
This   is not that true  because  Unlike  these  two great social reformers  Ramanuja  believed   in God  and  his social reform was  very much within   his religious   reforms. He could be possibly compared with  Narayana  Guru  a social reformer of Kerala   and  Swami Baswaesvara , the great   social reformer  of Karnataka..Narayana  Guru  told his followers to  believe in Hinduism  and  built his own temples  where  every one was allowed. Guru Basava  on the other hand asked his followers  to become staunch devotees of Lord Shiva and again created his own temples.

   In case of Ramanuja   a social reform based  on Bakthi   was already   sweeping over Tamil Nadu   and all that he did was to become  a member of  that BHakthi  group  and fortified it with philosophy as   well as religious  beliefs.

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