Had we followed the Samatha Margam laid down by Shri Ramanujacharya some 1000 years ago, social inequalities might have disappeared in India by this time
Shri Ramanujacharya, an ardent proponent of Visista Advaitha was also a social revolutionary. Prastanatrayam a combination of (Brahmasutra, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads) was the basis both for his philosophy and social reform. He was born in Shriperumbudur in a Telugu brahmin family some eleven hindered years ago. Shri Ramanujacharya propounded that the social distinctions based on caste, age or gender were no longer relevant, and whoever surrenders to God would be saved and spiritually elevated. Unbridled faith in God and pure devotion coupled with love and affection towards co- human beings were essential to one’s salvation, according to Shri Ramanujacharya. The societal divisions based on birth appeared to him strange and illogical from an early age, and he made up his mind to fight against them.
Shri Tiruckacchi Nambi and Shri Periya Nambi were two Important spiritual teachers, who influenced the life and worldview of Shri Ramanujulu. Incidentally, both were non-Brahmins. Shri Tirukacchi Nambi used to spend most of his time in Varadaraja Swamy Temple in Kancheepuram. It is said that Tirukacchi Nambi used to talk with the Principal Deity Varadaraja Swamy directly. His pure devotion, simple living, unity of thought, word and deed (Trikarana Suddhi) attracted Shri Ramanujulu. Shri Tirukacchi Nambi used to clarify many philosophical and spiritual queries of Shri Ramanuja. He requested Shri Thirukachi Nambi many a time to formally accept him as his disciple, But the latter didn’t oblige because a non-Brahmin in those days should not guide a Brahmin in spiritual matters. Shri Ramanuja argued that devotion and knowledge were superior to one’s birth into a particular caste and hence Tirukacchi Nambi was very much qualified to be his guru. Shri Tirukacchi Nambi was not convinced and didn’t formally take him as his disciple, but nevertheless guided him in his spiritual endeavour. Shri Ramanuja learned many Vedantic and spiritual principles from Shri Thirukachi Nambi. It was said that Shri Thirukachi Nambi used to discuss with Varadaraja Swamy on how to find answers to the issues raised by Shri Ramanuja.
On the suggestion of Thirukachi Nambi, Shri Ramanuja approached another great teacher Mahapoornulu of Shrirangam. He was famous as Periya Nambi in history. He was a disciple of Shri Yamunacharyulu, another great Vaishnava saint and guru. Shri Periya Nambi accepted Ramanujulu as his disciple and initiated him in Dvaya Mantropadesam. He identified the potential of Shri Ramanujacharya and his capacity to lead the Vaishnava tradition.
ASHTAKSHARI FOR ALL
Shri Gostipoornulu, popularly known as Tirukkotteyur Nambi, was another famous disciple of Shri Yaamunacharyulu. On the suggestion of Mahapoornulu (Periya Nambi), Shri Ramanujulu approached Goshtipoornulu. The latter didn’t readily accept Shri Ramanujulu. He made Shri Ramanujacharya to come 18 times from Kancheepuram to Tirukotteyur. Whenever Shri Ramanujacharya came to Tirukotteyur, Goshtipoornulu used to say to come again. This was to test the interest and sincerity of Shri Ramanujacharya to learn from Goshtipoornulu. On his 18th pilgrimage to Tirukotteyur, Goshtipoornulu impressed by his curiosity and thirst for knowledge, explained Tirumanthra charama sloka’s meaning to Shri Ramanujacharya. He ordered him not to reveal the mantra and its meaning to anyone. He also cautioned him that teaching the mantra to the ignorant and undeserved people would constitute a sin and it attracted the punishment of hell. Thereafter, Ramanujacharya recited the mantra several thousand times and comprehended its meaning.
He realised the importance of mantra in the spiritual upliftment of a person and wanted to Share it with everyone. He climbed to the top of the local temple and in a loud voice gave that mantra to all the people assembled there irrespective of caste, age, gender and education. On knowing this, Goshtripoornulu came to him and threatened him that he would go to hell. Shri Ramanuja smilingly and politely answered that he was willing to go to hell if that helps ordinary people to go to heaven. His Guru was shocked by the reply and called him “Em Perumanare” (Oh Great Swami).
Preaching the Thirumanthra to all people indicates Shri Ramanujacharya’s big heartedness and his quest for spiritual empowerment for every human being irrespective of caste and gender. Shri Ramanujacharya’s immense compassion towards the common people is reminiscent of the history of Lord Buddha. Shri Ramanujacharya was a combination of three great qualities – the kind-heartedness (of Buddha), the love towards all living creatures (Bhootha Daya) (of Vardhamana Mahavira) and sharp intellect (of Shri Sankaracharya).
SPIRITUAL EMPOWERMENT OF DALITS
Shri Ramanujulu, from his childhood onwards realised that every human being was a Narayana Swaroopa. Respecting some as superior and discarding others as inferior was considered by Shri Ramanujacharya as an insult to godhood (Bhagavadapacharam). Bhagavad Gita has clearly stated that Brahman is eternally pervading all beings and all existence. Brahman manifests as Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Archa and Antaryami forms. Para is the Omnipresent State, Vyuha is the Cosmic state, Vibhava is the Incarnation State, Archa is the Manifest state and finally Antaryami is the imminent state. Poorvacharyas gave importance to the first four while Shri Ramanujacharya emphasised the last one along with other forms of manifestation. Shri Ramanujacharya’s social philosophy has a firm basis in the five forms of existence of Brahman and does not recognise social distinctions based on birth, colour, language, occupation, age and gender. For him everyone is qualified for spiritual training and advancement. This made Ramanujacharyalu distinct among other Aacharyas and rightly he was remembered even after eleven hundred years for his emphasis on equality and brotherhood.
Recognising the importance of having social unity and harmony in the context of foreign Muslim invasions, destruction of temples and forced conversions in the 10th century, he tried to uplift the ignorant, illiterate, and downtrodden masses by spiritually empowering them. He opened the temple gates to everyone. He appointed many non-Brahmins as archakas and acharyas based on their devotion to God, qualification, and thirst for service to God. He also converted many non-Brahmins into Brahmins. Chathada and Chathina Vaishnava Acharyas have come up from non-Brahmin communities. They propagated Ramanuja’ philosophy among the weaker sections of the community. Shri Ramanujacharya while training them kept in mind the lives of Tamil Alwars, the ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu and encouraged them to become great devotees. He had disciples from every community from the highest to the lowest. He declared “Attaining spiritual enlightenment is the birthright of every human being” and nothing should stand against the way of that attainment.
Among others, Shri Dhanurdaasu, Shri Thirumalai Nallan were his prominent Girijana discilpes. He encouraged many women disciples to pursue spiritual path. Kongupiratti Thiruvanantha purathu ammazh, Thiruvattar ammazh, Thiruvan Parisaram Ammazh, Pathikozhai Ammazh, Kongu Piratti, Thondyu Kondi, Thizhya were some of the prominent women devotees of Shri Ramanujacharya.
Alwars were ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu. They composed many Paasuralu (Divine Songs) in the praise of Lord Vishnu. Alwars were 12 in number and some of them belong to Shudra and Dalit communities. He gave equal importance to all the Alwars. Shri Natha Munulu composed those Divyapaasuralu. Ramanuja made it obligatory to recite them in all the Vaishnava temples. Thus, their devotional songs are being rendered even today, getting an eternal recognition
Because of the efforts of Shri Ramanujacharya and his immediate successors, adoring Thirunamalu, Hari Nama Smarana, Bhajanalu, and Kolatalu became popular across South India. Hari Daasulu were drawn from Dalit community, and they played a prominent role in the Vaishnava Bhakti movement in Southern India. Maala Daasarulu and Madiga Daasarulu have become very important in the Bhakti Movement in Andhra Predesh, and they were treated with respect and love by every section of the community. Bhaagavathars in Tamilnadu, Dasappas in Karnataka, Dasas in North India, and Daasarulu in Andhra were initiated during the lifetime of Shri Ramanuja into Vaishnavism. Spiritually empowered, they played a key role in safeguarding and propagating Sanatana Dharma.
ADVOCATE OF SOCIAL HARMONY
Social harmony was an important theme in Ramanuja’s religion. He declared that devotees have no caste. When one becomes a devotee of Hari, he belongs to Him only and their social background, genealogy, status etc. becomes irrelevant according to Shri Ramanuja. He gave importance to one’s devotion and knowledge rather than to his or her birth, caste and gotra. He liked Shri Thirukachi Nambi more who is a non-Brahmin than Shri Yadava Prakasulu who is a Brahmin because the former was more devoted and dedicated to God than the latter, though both taught him.
Alwars were ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu. They composed many Paasuralu (Divine Songs) in praise of Lord Vishnu. Alwars were 12 in number and some of them belong to Shudra and Dalit communities. He gave equal importance to all the Alwars. Shri Natha Munulu composed those Divyapaasuralu. Ramanuja made it obligatory to recite them in all the Vaishnava temples. Thus, their devotional songs are being rendered even today, getting an eternal recognition.
When birth and caste were so important, bringing revolutionary social reforms required a lot of foresight and boldness. How Shri Rananujacharya faced those challenges and how he overcame them was not properly recorded in history. He brought reforms that were beyond our imagination and implemented them in such a way that they reached the common people. It’s a miracle how his reforms reached so many thousands of villages in the South. His deep love and unbounded kindness towards depressed and suppressed people might have motivated Samatha Moorthy towards that end. Historians unfortunately ignored the services rendered to the depressed classes by Shri Ramanujacharya.
He advocated amending or abandoning those traditions which were continuing for generations but become obsolete in course of time. He put the onus of responsibility on the religious leaders to review such traditions and make the common people understand diversity and live with harmony with others. He also showed the way how our Dharma has to be propagated through various outreach programmes, giving equal importance to every section of the community and how birth based social distinctions can be tackled through spiritual empowerment.