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History of Karnataka
Ramanujacharya (1017 - 1137 A. D.)

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Shankara’s philosophy was considered far to profound and logical, and perhaps because of its very perfection, it appeared to many as a splendid piece of learned error. Ramanuja, the great exponent of Vishishtadwaitha or qualified monism, led the revolt against Shankara’s system.

Ramanuja was born in 1017 A. D. at Sriperumbudur near Madras. His parents were Keshavacharya and Kanthimathi and according to Sri Vaishnava traditions, Ramanuja was the incarnation of Adishesha. He had his early education under Yadavaprakasha, an Adwaitha scholar. Ramanuja disagreed with the views of his teacher, became a householder and continued his self-study.

His profound scholarship attracted the attention of Alavandar, who wanted him to be his successor at the pontifical seat of Srirangam. Ramanuja, however, had by then come to realise that his spiritual exercises could not be continued in his position as a grahastha. His wife was positively hostile to all his spiritual pursuits.

Ramanuja took the most momentious decision of his life when he sent his incompatible wife to his father-in-law, and became a Sanyasi. He proceeded to Srirangam to occupy the pontifical seat there, after the death of Alavandar.

But the Chola King Kulothunga threatened to persecute him, and so Ramanuja fled to the Hoysala country, converted its ruler Vishnuvardhana to Vaishnavism and popularised his faith.

After the death of his persecutor Ramanuja returned to Srirangam, organised the Sri Vaishnava faith, spread the gospel of Bhakthi and after a long innings of 120 years, died in 1137 A. D.

Ramanuja’s chief works are Vedanta Sara, Vedanta Sangraha, Vedantadipa and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. The last is regarded as the most authoritative commentary (Sri Bhashya) by the Sri Vaishnavas.

The system of Ramanuja is known as Vishishtadwaitha, and he derived the doctrines of his system from the triple texts (Prasthanathraya) the Bhagavata, the Pancharatra Agamas and the mystical writings of a number of god -intoxicated men called Alvars.

Ramanuja’s conception of Reality is that of a complex whole that is organic. Its unity is like that a living organism; one element predominates and controls the rest. That element is God. The world of souls and the world of matter are subordinate elements and stand in the relation of adjectives (Visheshanas) to the Lord. The complex whole in, which they are included, is described as unity. Hence the name Vishishtadwaitha.

Ramanuja repudiated the idea of Shankara’s Nirguna Brahman Ramanuja regarded the Reality as a supreme, adorable, personal and loving God. He is the home of all auspicious qualities (Anantha Kalyana Guna paripurna). He is the lord of all (Ishwara) and is the Highest person (Purushothama). Matter and souls exist for the Lord, He controls and supports them. He takes on avataras to help men and show them the way of life and truth.

The soul, on account of its karma gets bound to samsara. The release or Moksha is possible only through the Lord’s grace or Prasada. It can be earned only through Bhakthi. It is love sublimated, and dedicated to God. It is a total surrender to the will of God (Sharanagathi), which implies complete self-effacement, and destruction of self-pride.

The Moksha in fact, means freedom from the bondage of karma, but the soul is happily bound to the lord, which is the most joyous association, which the human soul can aspire for.

Ramanuja believed that love for humanity is the corollary of the love for the lord. He laid emphasis on social work and humanistic ethics. He is said to have once claimed the tower of a temple to announce the secrets of a mantra, which was forbidden to be revealed to the non-Brahmins. Ramanuja is reported to have said that he did not mind going to hell if only people are assured of an entry into heaven. He permitted the untouchables to visit the temple on certain days in a year.

Thus Ramanuja was a great exponent of Bhakthi and its social relevance.

to be continued...


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