A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the aḻagiyas from nathamuni to ramanuja: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “an historical and literary survey of the vishishtadvaita school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

A. Gōvindāchāryar has written a book, The Holy Lives of the Azhvârs, based upon a number of old works[1]. The writings of the Āḻvārs may be sub-divided generally into three rahasyas (or mystical accounts) called

  1. Tiru-mantra-churukku,
  2. Dvaya-churukku,
  3. Carama-śloka-churukku.

These three rahasyas have also been dealt with in later times by very prominent persons, such as Veṅkaṭanātha, Rāghavācārya and others. Some account of these, in the manner of these later writers, will be briefly given in the proper place, since the scope of this work does not permit us to go into the details of the lives of the Āḻvārs. The hagiologists make a distinction between the Āḻvārs and the Aḻagiyas in this, that, while the former were only inspired men, the latter had their inspirations modified by learning and scholarship. The list of Aḻagiyas begins with Nāthamuni. There is some difficulty in fixing his age.

The Guru-paramparā, the Divya-sūri-carita and the Pra-pannāmṛta, are of opinion that he was in direct contact with Nāmm’-āḻvār, otherwise called Śaṭhakopa, or Kaḻimāḻan, or rather with his disciple Madhura-kaviy-āḻvār. Thus, the Prapannāmṛta says that Nāthamuni was born in the village called Vīranārāyaṇa, near the Cola country. His father’s name was īśvara bhaṭṭa, and his son was Īśvaramuni[2]. He went on a long pilgrimage, in the course of which he visited the northern countries, including Mathurā, Vṛndāvana and Haridvāra, and also Bengal and Puri. After returning to his own place he found that some of the Śrīvaiṣṇavas, who came from the Western countries to the temple of Rājagopāla, recited there ten verses by Kaḻimāḻa.

Nāthamuni, who heard those hymns, realized that they were parts of a much bigger work and decided to collect them. He went to Kumbhakoṇa, and under the inspiration of God proceeded to the city of Kurakā, on the banks of Tāmraparṇī, and there met Madhura-kaviy-āḻvār, the disciple of Nāmm’-āḻvār, and asked him if the hymns of Nāmm’-āḻvār were available. Madhura-kaviy-āḻvār told him that after composing a big book of hymns in Tamil and instructing Madhura-kaviy-āḻvār the same, Nāmm’-āḻvār had attained salvation. The work could not, therefore, obtain currency among the people. The people of the locality had the misconception that the study of the work would be detrimental to the Vedic religion. So they threw it into the river Tāmraparṇī. Only one page of the book, containing ten verses, was picked up by a man who appreciated the verses and recited them. Thus only these ten verses have been saved.

Nāthamuni recited twelve thousand times a verse composed by Madhura-kaviy-āḻvār in adoration of Nāmm’-āḻvār, and, as a result of that, Nāmm’-āḻvār revealed the purport of the whole work to him. But when Nāthamuni wanted to know all the verses in detail he was advised to approach an artisan of the place who was inspired by Nāmm’-āḻvār to reveal all the verses to him. So Nāthamuni received the entire work of Nāmm’-āḻvār from the artisan. He then gave it to his pupil Puṇḍarīkākṣa, and Puṇḍarīkākṣa gave it to his disciple Rāma Miśra, and Rāma Miśra gave it to Yāmuna, and Yāmuna gave it to Goṣṭhīpūrṇa, and Goṣṭhīpūrṇa gave it to his daughter Devakī Śrī.

Nāthamuni brought the hymns together, and, through his two nephews, Meḷaiyagaṭṭāḻvār and Kiḷaiyagaṭṭāḻvār, set them to music in the Vedic manner; from that time fonvard these hymns were sung in the temples and were regarded as the Tamil Veda[3]. The oldest Guru-paramparā and Divya-sūri-carita, however, say that Nāthamuni obtained the works of Nāmm’-āḻvār directly from him. The later Śrīvaiṣṇavas found that the above statements did not very well suit the traditional antiquity of the Āḻvārs, and held that Madhura-kaviy-āḻvār was not the direct disciple of Nāmm’-āḻvār and that Nāthamuni attained the high age of three hundred years. But, if, as we found before, Nāmm’-āḻvār’s date be fixed in the ninth century, no such supposition becomes necessary.

Gopīnātha Rāu refers also to a Sanskrit inscription in the middle of the tenth century, in which it is stated that the author of the verses was a disciple of Śrīnātha. If this Śrīnātha is the same as Nāthamuni, then the computation of Nāthamuni’s date as falling in the tenth century is quite correct. He had eleven disciples, of whom Puṇḍarikākṣa, Karukānātha and Śrīkṛṣṇa Lakṣmīnātha were the most prominent.

He wrote three works,

  1. Nyāya-tattva,
  2. Puruṣa-ninṇaya
  3. and Yoga-rahasya[4].

Nāthamuni is also described as a great yogin who practised the yoga of eight accessories (aṣṭāṅga-yoga)[5]. The Prapannāmṛta says that he died by entering into yoga in the city of Agaṅgā (probably Gaṅgaikoṇḍaṣodapuram). Gopīnātha, however, thinks that he could not have died in that city, for it was not founded by Rajen-dracola, otherwise called Gaṅgaikoṇḍasola, before 1024, which must be later than the date of Nāthamuni.

Nāthamuni lived probably in the reign of Parāntaka Cola I, and died before or in the reign of Parāntaka Cola II, i.e. he lived eighty or ninety years in the middle of the tenth century. He had made an extensive tour in Northern India as far as Mathurā and Badarī-nātha and also to Dvārakā and Puri.

Śrīkṛṣṇa Lakṣmīnātha, disciple of Nāthamuni, wrote an extensive work on the doctrine of prapatti. He was born at a place called Kṛṣṇamaṅgala. He was well-versed in the Vedas, and was a specialist in Vedānta and also a great devotee, who constantly employed himself in chanting the name of Viṣṇu (nāma-saṅkīrtana-rataḥ). He used often to go about naked and live on food that was thrown to him. The hagiologists say that he entered into the image of the temple and became one with God.

Puṇḍa-rīkākṣa Uyyakoṇḍār is supposed to have very much influenced the character of Kurukānātha, who in the end entered into yoga and died. Rāma Miśra was born in the city of Saugandhakulya, in a Brahmin family, and was a pupil of Puṇḍarīkākṣa. The name of Puṇḍarīkākṣa’s wife was Āṇḍāl. Puṇḍarīkākṣa asked Rāma Miśra (Manakkal-lambej) to teach Yāmuna all that he was taught.

Yāmuna, however, was not born during the life of Puṇḍarīkākṣa, and Puṇḍarīkākṣa only prophesied his birth in accordance with the old prophecy of Nāthamuni. Rāma Miśra had four disciples, excluding Yāmuna, of whom Lakṣmī was the most prominent[6]. He used to stay in Śrīraṅgam and expound the doctrines of the Vedānta.

Yāmunācārya, otherwise called Āḷavandār, son of Īśvaramuni and grandson of Nāthamuni, was born probably in A.D. 918 and is said to have died in A.D. 1038. He learned the Vedas from Rāma Miśra, and was reputed to be a great debater[7]. Becoming a king, he was duly married and had two sons named Vararaṅga and Śottha-pūrṇa. He lived happily for a long time, enjoying his riches, and took no notice of Rāma Miśra. But Rāma Miśra with some difficulty obtained access to him and availed himself of the opportunity to teach him the Bhagavad-gītā, which aroused the spirit of detachment in him, and he followed Rāma Miśra to Śrīraṅgam and, renouncing everything, became a great devotee[8]. One of the last instructions of Rāma Miśra was to direct him to go to Kurukānātha (Kurugai-kkaval-appan) and learn from him the aṣṭāṅga-yoga, which had been left with him (Kurukā) by Nāthamuni for Yāmuna. Yāmuna had many disciples, of whom twenty-one are regarded as prominent.

Of these disciples, Mahāpūrṇa belonged to the Bhāradvāja gotra, and had a son named Puṇḍarīkākṣa and a daughter named Attutayi. Another disciple, called Śrīśailapūrṇa, was known also by the name Tātācārya[9]. Another of his disciples, Goṣṭhīpūrṇa, was born in the Pāṇḍya country, where also, in the city of Śrīma-dhurā, was born another of Yāmuna’s disciples, Mālādhara.

In the city of Maraner in the Pāṇḍya country was born another disciple, Maraner Nambi, a śūdra by caste; a further disciple, Kāṅclpūrṇa, who was also of the śūdra caste, was born in the city of Punamallī. Yāmuna used to invest all his disciples with the five Vaiṣṇava saṃskāras, and he also converted the Cola king and queen to the same faith and made over the kingdom he had hitherto enjoyed to the service of the deity Raṅganātha of Śrīraṅgam.

Śrīśailapūrṇa, or Bhūri Śrīśailapūrṇa, or Mahāpūrṇa had two sons, two sisters and two daughters. The elder sister, Kāntimatī, was married to Keśava Yajvan, also called Asuri Keśava, Rāmānuja’s father, and the second sister, Dyutimatī, was married to Kanalākṣa bhaṭṭa, and a son was born to them called Govinda. Kureśa, who was long in association with Rāmānuja, w as born of Ananta bhaṭṭa and Mahādevī, and this Kureśa was the father of Anantācārya, writer of the Prapannāmṛta[10]. Dāśarathi was born of Ananta Dīkṣita, of Vādhūla gotra, and Lakṣmī. Dāśarathi had a son called Kaṇḍadanātha, who was also called Rāmānujadāsa. They are all associates of Rāmānuja, who had seventy-four prominent disciples.

Yāmuna was very fond of Nāmm’-āḻvār’s works, the doctrines of which were often explained to the people. Yāmuna wrote six works:

  1. Stotra-ratnam, in adoration to the deity Yarada;
  2. Catuḥ-ślokī ;
  3. Āgama-prāmāṇya ;
  4. Siddhi-traya ;
  5. Gltūrtha-saṃgraha ;
  6. Mahā-puruṣa-nirṇaya[11].

Of these the Siddhi-traya is the most important, and the section on Yāmuna in this volume has been based almost entirely on it. The Āgama-prāmāiiya is a work in which he tries to establish the high antiquity and undisputed authority of the Pañcarātra literature, which is supposed to be the canon of the Śrīvaiṣṇavas. The Stotra-ratnam, Catuḥ-ślokī and Gītārtha-saṃgraha were all commented upon by various persons, but the most important of the commentaries is that of Veṅkaṭanātha[12].

The Stotra-ratnam consists of sixty-five verses in which Yāmuna describes the beauty of the Lord Kṛṣṇa, as set forth in the Purāṇas, and confesses to Him the deep affliction of all his sins and guilt, frailties and vices, and asks for forgiveness of them. He also describes the greatness of the Lord as transcendent and surpassing the greatness of all other deities, as the supreme controller and upholder of the universe. He narrates his own complete surrender to Him and entire dependence on His mercy. If the mercy and grace of the Lord be so great, there is none so deserving of mercy in his wretchedness as a sinner. If the sinner is not saved, the mercy of the Lord becomes meaningless. The Lord requires the sinner in order to realize Himself as the all-merciful.

Yāmuna further describes how his mind, forsaking everything else, is deeply attracted to the Lord; and the sense of his supreme helplessness and absolute abnegation[13]. The devotee cannot bear any delay in his communion with God, and is extremely impatient to meet Him; it is galling to him that God should heap happiness after happiness on him and thus keep him away. The fundamental burden of the hymns is an expression of the doctrine of prapatti’, this has been very clearly brought out in the commentary of Veṅkaṭanātha. It is said that it was after reading these hymns that Rāmānuja became so deeply attracted to Yāmuna. The Catuḥ-ślokī consists of only four verses in praise of Śrī or Lakṣmī[14].

In the Gītārtha-saṃgraha Yāmuna says that the means to the attainment of the ultimate goal of life is devotion, which is produced as a result of the performance of scriptural duties and the emergence of self-knowledge[15]. According to Yāmuna, yoga in the Gītā means bhakti-yoga. So the ultimate object of the Gītā is the propounding of the supreme importance of bhakti (devotion) as the ultimate object, which requires as a precedent condition the performance of the scriptural duties and the dawning of the true spiritual nature of the self as entirely dependent on God.

It is related in the Prapannāmṛta that Yāmuna was anxious to meet Rāmānuja, but died immediately before Rāmānuja came to meet him. So Rāmānuja could only render the last homage to his dead body.

Footnotes and references:


(see list:)

  1. Divya-sūri-carita (a.i earlier work than the Prapannāmṛta, which often alludes to it) by Garuḍa-vāhana Paṇḍita, contemporary and disciple of Rāmānuja;
  2. Prapannāmṛta, by Ananta-sūri, disciple of Śaila-raṅgeśa guru;
  3. Prabandha-sāra, by Veṅkaṭanātha;
  4. Upadeśa-ratna-mālai by Ramyajāmātṛ-mahā-muni, otherwise called Varavara-muni or Periya-jīyar or Manavāla Māmuni;
  5. Guru-paramparā-prabhāvam by Pinb’-aragiya Peru-ināl Jīyar;
  6. and Pazhanadai-vilakkan.


It is said that he belonged to the lineage of Śaṭhakopa or Śatha -mar§ana. His other name was Śrī-raṅga-nātha. (See introduction to Catuḥ-ślukī, Ananda Press, Madras, p. 3.)


Prapannāmṛta, Chs. 106 and 107.


The Nyāya-tattva is referred to by Veñkatanātha in his Nyāya-pariśuddhi (p. 13) as a work in which Gautama's Nyāya-sūtras were criticized and refuted:

bhagavan-nātha-munibhir nyāya-tattva-samāhvayā
avadhīryā’ kṣapādādlti nyabandhi nyāya-paddhatiḥ

Nyāya-pariśuddhi, p. 13.


The practice of aṣṭāṅga-yoga was not a new thing with Nāthamuni. In giving an account of Tiru-marisai Pirān, also called Bhaktisāra, the Prapannāmṛta says that he first became attached to the god Śiva and wrote many Tamil works on Saiva doctrines; but later on the saint Mahārya initiated him into Vaiṣṇavism and taught him aṣṭāṅga-yoga, through which he realized the great truths of Vaiṣṇavism. He then wrote many works in Tamil on Vaiṣṇavism. Bhakti -sāra also wrote a scholarly work, refuting the views of other opponents, which is known as Tattvārtha-sāra. Bhakti-sāra also used to practise aṣṭāṅga-yoga and was learned in all the branches of Indian philosophy. Bhakti-sāra had a disciple named Kanikṛṣṇa, who wrote many extremely poetical verses or hymns in adoration of Viṣṇu. Kula-śēkhara Peru-māl is also said to have practised yoga.



  1. Ṭaivattuk-k-arasu-Nambi;
  2. Gomathattut-tiruvinnagar-appan;
  3. Sirup-pullur-udaya-Pillai;
  4. Vangi-puratt-acchi. (See The Life of Rāmānuja, by Govindāchāryar, p. 14.)


The Prapannāmṛta relptes a story of Yāmuna’s debating power at the age of twelve. The king of the place had a priest of the name of Akkaialvan, who was a great debater. Yāmuna challenged him and defeated him in an open debate held in the court of the king. He was given half the kingdom as a reward. He seems to have been very arrogant in his earlier days, if the wording of his challenge found in the Prapannāmṛta can be believed.

The words of challenge run as follows:

ā śailād odri-kanyā-caraṇa-kisalaya-nyāsa-dhanyopakaṇṭhād
ā rakṣo-nīta-sītā-mukha-kamala-samullāsa-hetoi ca setoḥ
ā ca prācya-pratīcya-kṣiti-dḥara-yuga tadarkacandrāvataṃsān
mīmāṃsā-śāstra-yugma-śrama-vimala-manā mṛgyatāṃ mādṛśo'nyaḥ

     Ch. iii.


A story is told in the Prapannāmṛta that, when Yāmuna became a king and inaccessible to him, Rāma Miśra was concerned how he could carry out the commands of his teachers and initiate Yāmuna to the path of devotion. He got in touch with Yāmuna’s cook, and for six months presented some green vegetables (alarha-śāka) which Yāmuna very much liked. When, after the six months, the king asked how the rare vegetables found their way into the kitchen, Rāma Miśra stayed away for four days praying to Raṅganātha, the deity, to tell him how he could approach Yāmuna. In the meanwhile the king missed the green vegetables and asked his cook to present Rāma Miśra when next he should come to the kitchen. Rāma Miśra was thus presented to Yāmuna.


Prapannāmṛta, Ch. 113, p. 440.


Ibid. Ch. 150, p. 450. Anantācārya, called also Ananta Sūri, was the pupil of Śailaraṅgeśa-guru. He reveres also Ramyajāmātṛ-mahā-muni.


See Veṅkaṭanātha’s introduction to the Gītārtha-saṃgraha-rakṣā.



The commentary on the Catuḥ-ślokī by Veṅkaṭanātha is called Rahasya-rakṣā, and the commentary on the Stotra-ratnam goes also by the same name. The commentary on the Gītārtha-saṃgraha, by Veṅkaṭanātha, is called Gītārtha-saṃgraha-rakṣā.


Two specimen verses may be quoted from the Stotra-ratnam:

na dharma-niṣṭho'smi na cā’ tma-vedī na bhaktimāṃs tvac-caraṇā-ravinde a-kiñcano nā’nya-gatiś śaraṇya tvat-pāda-mūlaṃ śaraṇaṃ prapadye.


na ninditaṃ karma tad asti loke
sahasraśo yan na mayā vyadhāyi
so’ham vipākā-vasare mukunda
krandāmi sampraty a-gatis tavāgre.


Veṅkaṭanātha, in his commentary on the Catuḥ-ślokī, discusses the position of Laksmī according to the Vaisnava tradition. Laksmī is regarded as a being different from Nārāyaṇa, but always associated with Him. He thus tries to refute all the views that suppose Laksmī to be a part of Nārāyaṇa. Laksmī should also not be identified with māyā. She is also conceived as existing in intimate association with Nārāyaṇa and, like a mother, exerting helpful influence to bring the devotees into the sphere of the grace of the Lord. Thus Laksmī is conceived to have a separate personality of her own, though that personality is merged, as it were, in the personality of Nārāyaṇa and all His efforts, and all her efforts are in consonance with the efforts of Nārāyaṇa (parasparā-nukūlatayā sarvatra sāma-rasyam). On the controversial point whether Laksmī is to be considered a jīz a and therefore atomic in nature, the problem how she can then be all-pervasive, and the view that she is a part of Nārāyaṇa, Veñkatanātha says that Laksmī is neither Jīva nor Nārāyaṇa, but a separate person having her being entirely dependent on God. Her relation to Nārāyaṇa can be understood on the analogy of the relation of the rays to the sun or the fragrance to the flower.


nārāyaṇaḥ paraṃ brahma gītā-śāstre samuditaḥ
verse I.

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