A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of ramanuja: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second 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.


It has already been said that Mahāpūrṇa (Nambi), disciple of Yāmuna, had two sisters, Kāntimatī and Dyutimatī, of whom the former was married to Keśava Yajvan or Asuri Keśava of Bhūtapurl and the latter to Kamalākṣa bhaṭṭa. Rāmānuja (Ilaya Perumal), son of Keśava Yajvan, was born in A.D. 1017. He received his training, together with his mother’s sister’s son Govinda bhaṭṭa, from Yādavaprakāśa, a teacher of Vedānta of great reputation. The details of Yādavaprakāśa’s views are not known, but it is very probable that he was a monist[2]. Before going to study with Yādavaprakāśa, Rāmānuja was married at the age of sixteen, by his father, who died shortly afterwards. His teacher Yādavaprakāśa lived in Kāñcī. So Rāmānuja left Bhūtapurī his native place with his family and went to Kāñcī.

In the early days of his association with Yādavaprakāśa, it is said that Yādavaprakāśa became annoyed with him, because he had cured the daughter of a certain chief of the place from possession by aspirit, which his teacher Yādavaprakāśa had failed to do. Shortly after this there was a difference of opinion between Yādava and Rāmānuja on the interpretation of certain Upaniṣad texts, which Yādava interpreted in the monistic manner, but Rāmānuja on the principle of modified dualism. Yādava became very much annoyed with Rāmānuja and arranged a plot, according to which Rāmānuja was to be thrown into the Ganges while on a pilgrimage to Allahabad. Govinda divulged the plot to Rāmānuja, who was thus able to wander away from the company and retire to Kāñcī, after suffering much trouble on the way. While at Kāṅcī he became associated with a devout person of the śūdra caste, called Kāṅcīpūrṇa. Later Rāmānuja was reconciled to his teacher and studied with him.

When Yāmuna once came to Kāñcī he saw Rāmānuja at a distance among the students of Yādava marching in procession, but had no further contact with him, and from that time forward was greatly anxious to have Rāmānuja as one of his pupils. Rāmānuja again fell out with his teacher on the meaning of the text kapyāsam puṇḍarīkam (Chāndogya, p. 167). As a result of this quarrel, Rāmānuja was driven out by Yādava. Thenceforth he became attached to the worship of Nārāyaṇa on Hastiśaila in Kāñcī, where he first heard the chanting of the Stotra-ratnam of Yāmuna by Mahāpūrṇa, his maternal uncle and pupil of Yāmuna. From Mahāpūrṇa Rāmānuja learnt much of Yāmuna and started for Śrīraṅgam with him. But before he could reach Śrīraṅgam Yāmuna died.

It is said that after his death three fingers of Yāmuna were found to be twisted and Rāmānuja thought that this signified three unfulfilled desires:

  1. to convert the people to the prapatti doctrine of Vaiṣṇavism, making them well versed in the works of the Āḻvārs;
  2. to write a commentary to the Brahma-sūtra according to the Śrīvaiṣṇava school;
  3. to write many works on Śrīvaiṣṇavism. Rāmānuja, therefore, agreed to execute all these three wishes[3].

He returned to Kāñcī and became attached to Kāñcīpūrṇa, the disciple of Yāmuna, as his teacher. Later he set out for Śrīraṅgam and on the way was met by Mahāpūrṇa, who was going to Kāñcī to bring him to Śrīraṅgam. He was then initiated by Mahāpūrṇa (the ācārya), according to the fivefold Vaiṣṇava rites (pañca-saṃskāra). Rāmānuja, being annoyed with his wife’s discourteous treatment with Mahāpūrṇa’s wife, and also with people who came to beg alms, sent her by a ruse to her father’s house, and renounced domestic life when he was about 30 or 32 years of age. After establishing himself as a satinyāsin, his teaching in the Śāstras began with Dāśarathi, son of his sister[4], and Kuranātha, son of Anantabhaṭṭa.

Yādavaprakāśa also became a disciple of Rāmānuja[5]. Eventually Rāmānuja left for Śrīraṅgam and dedicated himself to the worship of Raṅgeśa. He learnt certain esoteric doctrines and mantras from Goṣṭhīpūrṇa who had been initiated into them by his teacher. Later on Rāmānuja defeated in discussion a Śaṅkarite named Yajñamūrti, who later became his disciple and wrote two works in Tamil called Jñāna-sāra and Prameya-sāra[6].

He now had a number of well reputed disciples such as

  1. Bhaktagrāma-pūrṇa,
  2. Marudha-grāma-pūrṇa,
  3. Anantārya,
  4. Yara-dācārya
  5. and Yajñeśa.

Rāmānuja first wrote his Gadya-traya. He then proceeded to the Śāradā-matha with Kureśa, otherwise called Śrīvatsāṅka Miśra or Kuruttālvan, procured the manuscript of the Bodhāyana-vṛtti, and started towards Śrīraṅgam. The keepers of the temple, however, finding the book missing, ran after him and took it away. Fortunately, however, Kureśa had read the book during the several nights on the way, had remembered its purport and so was able to repeat it. Rāmānuja thus dictated his commentary of Śrī-bhāṣya, which was written down by Kureśa[7].

He also wrote

The Śrī-bhāṣya was written probably after Rāmānuja had made extensive tours to

  • Tirukkovalur,
  • Tirupati,
  • Tirupputkuli,
  • Kumbha-koṇam,
  • Alagārkoil,
  • Tiruppullani,
  • Āḻvār-Tirunagari,
  • Tirukkurun-gudi,
  • Tiruvaṇpariśāram,
  • Tiruvattar,
  • Tiruvanandapuram,
  • Tiru-vallikeṇi,
  • Tirunirmalai,
  • Madhurantakam
  • and Tiruvaigundipuram[8].

Later on he made extensive tours in Northern India to

defeating many heretics. He also went to Benares and Purl and at the latter place established a matha. He forcibly tried to introduce the Pañcarātra rites into the temple of Jagannātha, but failed. According to the Rāmā-nujārya-divya-charitai, the Śrī-bhāṣya was completed in 1077 śaka or A.D. 1155, though two-thirds of the work were finished before the Cola persecution began. But this date must be a mistake; for Rāmānuja died in 1059 śaka or A.D. 1137[9].

The eyes of Mahāpūrṇa (Periyalnāmbi) and Kureśa were put out by the Cola king Koluttuṅga I, probably in the year 1078-1079, and this must be the date when Rāmānuja was forced to take refuge in the Hoysala country. It was in A.D. 1117, on the death of Koluttuṅga I, that Rāmānuja again returned to Śrīraṅgam, where he met Kureśa and finished the Śrī-bhāṣya[10]. In a Madhva work called Chalāri-sṃrti it is said that in 1049 śaka, that is A.D. 1127, it was already an established work[11]. It is therefore very probable that the Śrī-bhāṣya was completed between A.D. 1117 and 1127. Gopīnātha Rāu thinks that it was completed in A.D. 1125.

Rāmānuja fled in the garb of an ordinary householder from Śrīrangam to Toṇḍāṇur, to escape from the persecution of Koluttuṅga I or Rājendracola, otherwise called Kṛmikanṭḥa, a Śaiva king. He was successful in converting the Jain king Bittideva of the Hoysala country, who was renamed Viṣṇuvardhanadeva after the Vaiṣṇava fashion. Air Rāu says that this conversion took place some time before A.D. 1099[12]. With the help of this king he constructed the temple Tirunarayanapperumāl at Melukot (Yāda-vādri), where Rāmānuja lived for about twelve years[13]. According to the Rāmānujārya-divya-charitai Rāmānuja lived for eleven years after his return to Śrīraṅgam (some time after the death of Koluttuṅga I in 1118) and died in a.d. 1137. He thus enjoyed an extraordinary long life of one hundred and twenty years, which was spread over the reigns of three Cola kings, Koluttuṅga I (a.d. 1070-1118), Vikrama Cola (a.d. 1118-1135), and Koluttuṅga II (a.d. 1123-1146)[14]. He had built many temples and maṭhas in his lifetime, and by converting the temple superintendent of Śrīraṅgam got possession of the whole temple.

Rāmānuja’s successor was Parāśara Bhaṭṭārya, son of Kureśa, who wrote a commentary on the Sahasra-gīti. Rāmānuja had succeeded in securing a number of devoted scholars as his disciples, and they carried on his philosophy and forms of worship through the centuries. His religion was catholic, and, though he followed the rituals regarding initiation and worship, he admitted Jains and Buddhists, Śūdras and even untouchables into his fold. He himself was the pupil of a Śūdra and used to spend a long time after his bath in the hut of an untouchable friend of his. It is said that he ruled over 74 episcopal thrones, and counted among his followers 700 ascetics, 12,000 monks and 300 nuns (Keṭṭi ammais). Many kings and rich men were among his disciples. Kureśa, Daśarathi, Nadādur Arvān and the Bhattāra were dedicated to scholarly discourses.

Yajñamūrti performed the function of the priest; one disciple was in charge of the kitchen; Vatapūrṇaor Andhrapūrṇa and Gomatham Siṭiyāryān were in charge of various kinds of personal service; Dhanurdāsa was treasurer; Ammaṅgi of boiled milk; Ukkal Arvān served meals; Ukkal-ammal fanned, and so on[15]. Rāmānuja converted many Śaivas to Vaiṣṇavism, and in the conflict between the Śaivas and the Vaiṣṇavas in his time; though he suffered much at the hands of the Cola king Kṛmikanṭḥa who was a Śaiva, yet Kṛmikanṭḥa’s successor became a Vaiṣṇava and his disciple, and this to a great extent helped the cause of the spread of Śrīvaiṣṇavism.

The sources from which the details of Rāmānuja’s life can be collected are as follows:

  1. Divya-sūri-charitai, written in Tamil by Garudavāha, a contemporary of Rāmānuja;
  2. Gurū-paramparā-prabhāvam, written in maṇipravāla in the early part of the fourteenth century by Pinb’-aragiya Perū-māl Jīyar;
  3. Pillai Lokam-jīyar’s Rāmānujārya-dhya-charitai, written in Tamil;
  4. Aṇbillai Kaṇḍāḍaiyappan’s brief handbook of Āḻvārs and Aḻagiyas called Periya-tiru-muḍiy-aḍaiva, written in Tamil;
  5. Prappannāmṛta, by Anantācārya, a descendant of Andhrapūrṇa, and pupil of Śaila-raṅgeśa-guru;
  6. the commentaries on the Tiru-vāy-moḻi which contain many personal reminiscences of the Aḻagiyas;
  7. other epigraphical records.

Footnotes and references:


Most of the details of Rāmānuja’s life are collected from the account given in the Prapannāmṛta by Anantācārva, a junior contemporary of Rāmānuja.


Yādava held that Brahman, though by its nature possessing infinite qualities, yet transforms itself into all types of living beings and also into all kinds of inanimate things. Its true nature is understood when it is realized that it is one in spite of its transformation into diverse forms of animate and inanimate entities

anye punar aikyāvabodha-yāthātmyaṃ varṇayantcḥ svābhāvika-niratiśaya-porimitodāra-guṇa-sāgaraṃ brahmaiva sura-nara-tiryak-sthāvara-nāraki-svargy-āpavargi-caitanyaikn-svabhāvaṃ sva-bhāvato vilakṣaṇam avilakṣaṇaṃ ca viyad-ādi-nānā-vidhā-mala-rūpa-pariṇāmā-spadaṃ ceti pratyavatiṣṭhante.

Rāmānuja, Vedārtha-saṃgraha, p. 15,
printed at the Medical Hall Press, 1894.


Prapannāmṛta, ix, p. 26. The interpretation of this passage by Govindā-cārya and Ghosa seems to me to be erroneous; for there is no reference to Śaṭhakopa here. Kureśa, or Śrīvatsāṅka Miśra, had two sons; one of them was baptized by Rāmānuja as Parāśara Bhaftārya and the other as Rāmadeśika. Rāmānuja’s maternal cousin, Govinda, had a younger brother, called Bāla Govinda, and his son was baptized as Parāṅkuśa-pūrnārya.


  The name of Dāśarathi’s father is Anantadīkṣṭa.


His baptismal name was Govindadāsa. After his conversion he wrote a book entitled Yati-dharma-samuccaya. This Govindadāsa must be distinguished from Govinda, son of the aunt of Rāmānuja, who had been converted to Śaivism by Yādavaprakāśa and was reconverted to Śrīvaisnavism by his maternal uncle Śrīśailapūrṇa, pupil of Yāmuna. Govinda had married, but became so attached to Rāmānuja that he renounced the world. Śrīśailapūrṇa wrote a commentary on the Sahasra-gīti. Rāmānuja had another disciple in Puṇḍarīkāksa, Mahāpūrṇa’s son.


His baptismal names were Devarāṭ and Devamannātha.


Rāmānuja had asked Kureśa to check him if he were not correctly representing the Bodhāyana-vṛtti, and in one place at least there was a difference of opinion and Rāmānuja was in the wrong.


See Gopī-nātha Rāu’s Lectures, p. 34, footnote.


See Ibid.


Rāmānujārya-divya-charitai (a Tamil work), p. 243, quoted in Gopī-nātha Rāu’s Lectures.


kalau pravṛtta-bauddha’-di-mataṃ rāmānujaṃ tathā
sake hy eko-na-pañcāśad-adhikā-bde sahasrake
nirākartuṃ mukhya-vāyuḥ san-mata-sthāpanāya ca
ekā-daśa-śate śāke viṃśaty-aṣṭa-yuge gate
avatīrṇaṃ madhva-guruṃ sadā vande mahā-guṇam.
quoted in Gopī-nātha Rāu’s Lectures, p. 35.


Mr Rice, however, says in the Mysore Gazetteer, vol. i, that the conversion took place in 1039 śaka or a.d. ii 17. But Rāu points out that in the Epigraphia Carnatica we have inscriptions of Bittideva as early as śaka 1023 (No. 34 Arsiker), which call him Viṣṇu-vardhana.


The general tradition is that Rāmānuja kept away from Śrīraṅgam for a total period of twelve years only; but Rāu holds that this period must be about twenty years, of which twelve years were spent in Yādavādri.


Śrī Rātnānujācārya, by S. K. Aiyangar, M.A. Natesan and Co., Madras.


The Life of Rāmānuja, by Govindāchāryar, p. 218.

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