Ramanujacharya, also known as Ramanuja is the main proponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy. The word Anuja refers to the younger brother. Thus, Rama-anuja refers to the younger brother of Lord Rama. Ramanuja’s Tamil name was Illaiya Perumal (Ageless God).
Sri Ramanuja was born in the 11th century around 1017 in Shriperumbudur village of Tamil Nadu, India. His birth name was Lakshmana. He was also known as an Indian theologian, social reformer, philosopher, and one of the most important exponents of Sri Vaishnavism. His philosophical foundations for devotionals were influential to the Bhakti movement. It is believed that Ramanuja is said to have lived all of 120 years, preaching and practicing his philosophy.
Sri Ramanujacharya was popularly known as Sri Ramanuja among his disciplines. He was also known by other names as Udayavar, Bhashyakara, Ethirajar, Emberumannar, Godaagrajar, Thiruppavai Jeeyar, and Laskmana Muni all over the world.
Birth Story of Ramanuja
Around a thousand years ago, a couple named Asuri Kesavacharya and Kanthimathi lived in Sriperumbudur village, Tamil Nadu. They both were having a righteous life and peaceful life. They were also very devoted but they were childless for a long time.
A great sage, Thirukatchi Nambi advised them to perform a Yagna and offer devotions to Lord Parthasarathy of Thiruvallikeni which will fulfill their wish of having a son. As instructed, they both performed the Yagna with full sincerity and devotion. Lord Parthasarathy was very pleased and blessed them with a son. One year later, Kanthimathi gave birth to a child in 1017. The child had a lot of favorable marks on his body. Yamunacharya seeing those marks on the body named the child Ramanuja or the brother of Rama.
Ramanuja had all the qualities of Adisheha in Kali Yug like Lakshmana of Treta Yug. Interestingly, Ramanuja’s month of birth and Zodiac sign are the same as that of Laksmana and Shatrunga. Vaishnavites generally regard Ramunja as the appearance of both Adishesa and the five weapons of Lord Vishnu.
Ramanuja was a very intelligent boy. He always used to move with good friends. Also from his childhood, he used to become very close with the holy men and liked them very much. He lost his father when he was young. It was after his death that Ramaunja’s family moved to Kancheepuram to study. There he joined gurukul to begin his Vedantic study under Yadavprakasha, a teacher of Advaita Philosophy, non-dualistic philosophy. Before his formal initiation into the gurukul, Ramunja married Rakshakaabaal at the age of 16.
As time passed by, Ramunja was not able to accept the explanations and meaning given by his guru about Vedas and the Scriptures. There were lots of differences in opinion between them. He followed the Indian Alvars’ tradition, the scholars Nathamuni and Yamunacharya. Yadava Prakasha, seeing the intellectual challenge planned to murder Ramunja by drowning him in the Ganga River while on a pilgrimage to the country with his disciplines. However, Ramanuja’s cousin, Govinda, informed Ramanuja about the plan to kill him, and he ran inside the forest. Fortunately, his life was saved and backed to his village. Thereafter, Ramanuja rejected the views of Yadava Prakasha about Vedas and scriptures. He left the Gurukulam and continued his studies by reading a lot of holy books.
Yamunacharya’s three wishes
Yamunacharya is also known as Alavandar was a profound influence on Ramanujacharya. He wanted Ramanju to take over the spiritual leadership of the Sri Vaishnava community. So, he traveled to Kancheepuram to observe Ramanuja in secret and was attracted by his personality. Yamunacharya, thus, sent one of his disciples, Mahapurna, to bring Ramanuja to Srirangam.
Unfortunately, before Ramanuja reached Srirangam, Yamunacharya passed away from the world. So they never get an opportunity to meet each other. Mahapurna took Ramunja close to the body of Yamunacharya for a last look at the great saint. Meanwhile, Ramanuja observed that the three fingers of Yamunacharya were folded into his right hand’s palm indicating his three unfulfilled wishes. When Ramanuja promised to carry out the three wishes, Yamunacharya’s fingers became straightened. Soon all the disciplines requested Ramanuja to stay with them. But he denied it and return to Kancheepuram. The three wishes of Yamunacharya fulfilled by Ramanuja are:
- To write a commentary for Brahmasutra.
- To honor the contribution of the sages Vyasa and Parasara.
- To write a commentary on Nammazhvar’s Thiruvaimozhi.
Ramanuja begins his teaching
All the people of Kanchipuram were very amazed to hear that Ramanuja had taken sannyasa. So, his reputation quickly spread far and wide. And, he attracted many disciples near to him. The Vaisnavas who stayed at the ashram at Kanchi made him their acharya, for his good qualities and understanding of the scriptures were well known.
Dasharathi, Ramujna’s nephew was the first discipline .he was famous for his knowledge of the Vedas. The second one is Kuresha, who had a wonderful memory. With these disciples, he soon started his tour to north India where he visited many sacred places including Kashi, Kashmir, Badrinath, and even Puri.
Sri Ramanuja has written 9 important Sanskrit literary works on Sri Vaishnavism. They include:
- Sri Bhasya: it is detail commentary on Brahma Sutras.
- Gita Bhashya: it is a commentary on Bhagavad Gita.
- Vedastasagraha: a treatise presenting the tents of Visistadwaita, a reconciliation of different conflicting srutis.
- Vedantadipa: it is a brief commentary on the Vedanta sutras
- Vedanta Sara: Another brief commentary on the Vedanta sutras and meant for the beginner.
- Sri Ranga Gadyam: It is in the form of a soul-stirring prayer to Sri Ranganath.
- Saranagati Gadyam: it includes the imagined dialogue between Ramanuja and Lakshmi.
- Sri Vaikunta Gadhyam: Description of Sri VaikuntAdhi Divya and the position of the liberated souls.
- Nitya Grantham: A short manual intended to guide the Sri Vaishnava devotees for Nitya Karmaas.