Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Sri Ramanuja and Divya Prabandham

Dr. M. Varadarajan


Among the religions in India, Sri Vaishnavism, as enlightened in Tamil, through, Alwars, hymns, occupies a prominent place. The twelve alwars, who flourished in South India, mostly between the 6th and 8th centuries, have sung soul stirring hymns, called Divya Prabandham, a divine poetical composition. Alwars, who immersed in the nature of the Divine, His beauties, His attributes and deeds are called Divya Suris. In the divine poetical composition, they praised the Lord who is dwelling in a place or town which is called Divya Desa. So, Divya Suris, Divya Prabandham and Divya Desas are together akin to divinity.         

Sriman Nathamuni, the first pontiff of Sri Vaishnavism, rediscovered, collected and collected Alwars’ hymns in the middle of the 9th Century and arranged to recite the hymns in Deva Ganga in temples.

Since the advent of Sri Ramanuja in th 11th century, several acharyas contributed to the advancement of the concept of Ubhaya which means equal validity of both the Sanskrit srutis and Tamil Prabandhams of Alwars.

Alagiya Manavala Perumal Nayanar in his text Acharya Hridayam emphatically stated that like Sruti which was given by the Lord to Brahma, Divya Prabandhams were also given by the Lord to the Alwars. In another Sutra, he says that Ramanuja used to explain Brahma Sutras with the aid of Tiruvoymozhi of Nammalvar.

Until Ramanuja’s period, there were candid conversations, discussions and dialogues on the hymns of Alwars by Acharyas like Nathamuni, Yamunacharya, Tirumalai Nambi and Tirumalai Andan.

In compliance with Ramanuja’s instructions, his disciple Tirukkurakai ­piran Pillan, wrote the first commentary for Tiruvoymozhi, called Arayirappadi. Following this, four commentaries have come out in different times by four other acharyas. Among these, we could find a record of conversations, dialogues and discussions of several acharyas on alwars’ hymnsin the commentaries of Krishnapada’s 24 paadi and Nampillai’s idu. It is to be noted that Krishnapada, otherwise called Periyavachchan Pillai, wrote commentaries for 4000 hymns of alwars and acquired the title Vyakhyana Chakravarthi.

As a thought reader and a saint philosopher, Ramanuja intuited the inner thoughts of alwars and gave critical expositions of alwars’ experience. Although Ramanuja has not written any Tamil work, his most authoritative and systematic expositions on alwars’ hymns were recorded in the commentaries.

I wish to present some of the incidents and interpretations of alwars hymns as unearthed by Ramanuja. From his critical expositions, we can derive and enjoy his cardinal devotion in the following way:

1. Ramanuja’s obeisance to Alwars
2. Ramanuja’s revelation on alwars’ inner thought
3. Ramanuja’s intoxicated love in Tiruppavai
4. Ramanuja’s as a foster mother of Tiruvoymozhi.     

1. Ramanuja’s Obeisance to Alwars:

With a view to showing their gratitude, several acharyas including Ramanuja paid reverence to alwars and their hymns through invocatory verses.

Paying a glorious tribute to Nammalvar in his invocatory hymn to Periya Tiruvandhadhi, Ramanuja asks his mind to endeavour, abide, utter, salute and mouthfully praise the name of Nammalvar.

In another invocatory poem to Kulasekhara’s Perumal Tirumozhi, Ramanuja invites a parrot for feeding nectar and asks it to tell the name of Kulasekhara, who sings about Srirangam, adored the name of Perumal, and a Head of our lineage

Ramanuja’s devotion and love on Tirumangai Alwar and his Prabandham are par excellence. In his invocatory poem to Periya Tirumozhi, Ramanuja says thus.

            May Parakalan, who is a God of
death for enemies, prosper!
            May Kalikandri, who eradicates the
sins that comes in Kaliyuga, prosper!
            May the king who resides in
Kuraiyalur, prosper!
            May Tirumangai Alwar, who by his
powerful sword
            got Tirumantra Upadesa from
Sriman Narayana
            and who rules the subjects of
Tirumangai and
            Whose heart and conduct are alike
pure, prosper!

2. Ramanuja’s revelation on Alwars inner thought:

There are several incidents recorded in the commentaries on Ramanuja’s quintessence devotion of Alwars.

During Ramanuja’s time, Areyars used to perform abhinaya for alwars’ hymns in Srirangam. Even now service is being continued. One day, Areyar was elaborating a line of a hymn which speaks Periyalwar’s experience on child Krishna in His Tirumozhi. For that line, Areyar identified himself by doubling the upper eyelid over the eyeball inside out to frighten the gopi. Ramanuja’s cousin, Govinda Bhattar, who was sitting behind him in the audience noticed Areyar’s improperabhinay and he at once suggested silently by raising his two hands above his shoulders simultaneously as Krishna is showing His four hands with conch and chakra to frighten the gopis. Baving noticed, Areyar repeated his abhinaya for that line as narrated by Govinda Bhattar. Ramanuja, who was sitting in the front and minutely observing the abhinaya was amazed at this kind of action and turned where Govinda bhattar was sitting. Then he commended him for his point of action.

This shows Ramanuja’s deep observance of inner thought of alwar thatwas unearthed by Govinda Bhattar and practiced by Areyar.

Thus, Tiruvarangath thamudhanar, a contemporary of Ramanuja, in his Ramanuja Noorthanthadhi, beautifully describes Ramanuja whose mind never forgets to prostrate before the feet of Periyalwar who did mangalasasana to Lord for His safety....

3. Ramanuja’s intoxicated love in Tiruppavai:

By his discerning faith in Andal and her Tiruppavai, Ramanuja is called Tiruppavai Jeer.

One day, in his round for alms, he was reciting a verse in Andal’s Tiruppavai that speaks about the awakening of Nappinnai, Krishna’s Consort. While doing so, he reached the doors of his preceptor Tirukkottiyur Nambi. Incidentally daughter Devaki Piratti came out to open the door. Having seen the girl who resembles Nappinnai with her tinkling bangles, Ramanuja prostrated before. She went inside and told her father about it. Nambi thought that Ramanuja must have been reciting Tiruppavai hymn pertaining to Nappinnai and outpoured the experience by coincidence and he enquired Ramanuja about it. He agreed with him and fainted. This bears an eloquent testimony to his title Tiruppavai Jeer and his intoxicated love for Tiruppavai.

Thus, Amuthanar, narrates that Ramanuja was a great sage whose life is endured by the grand grace of Andal who first used the garland and later crowned the head of Lord Ranganatha.

4. Ramanuja as foster mother of Tiruvoyniozhi:

Ramanuja’s contribution to Tiruvoymozhi is significant in all aspects. It is said that he learnt the first three thousand hymns of alwas at the feet of Periya Nambi and Tiruvoymozhi at the feet of Tiruvaranga - Perumal Areyar. In compliance with the wishes of Yamunacharya, Ramanuja named his jnana putra Pillan after Nammalvar i.e. Tirukkurukaipiran Pilan and instructed him to write a commentary for Tiruvoymozhi.

At one time, while discoursing Nammalvar’s hymn ‘Ozhivi Kalallwellam’ he enquired which of the listeners in the group would like to go to Tirumala, a place which is all the time chilly combined with unbroken rains and render service to Lord as desired by Nammalvar. In response to that call, Acharya Ananthalwar readily agreed to render service and sought Ramanuja’s blessings. Then he embraced him for his courage and called him Anpillai (one and, only male). This shows Ramanuja’s abundant love and devotion for Nammalvar and strived hard to accomplish the wishes of Nammalvar.

Thus, Parasara Bhattar, son of Kuraththalwan, in his invocatory poem to Tiruvoymozhi, remarked that while Nammalvar was the mother of 1000 hymns of Tiruvoymozhi, Tamil Veda which speaks of the glory of Lord Ranganatha, Ramanuja was the foster mother whose perseverance nurtured these hymns for our benefit. Amudhanar also underlined that by the instinct of Ramanuja, Nammalvar’s Tiruvoymozhi has blossomed.

As has been stated earlier, Ramanuja gave thought provoking interpretations for Nammalvar’s   hymns particularly Tiruvoymozhi in more than 50 places. The following are two instances.

In the very first hymn of Tiruvoymozhi, Nammalvar instructs his mind to worship the Lord who has all auspicious qualities; head of both worlds; who gave to Nammalvar the wisdom and bhakti and whose feet dispel the distresses of the devotees.

In the tenth hymn of fourth centum in third decad, Nammalvar exalted the genuine nature of God. He states that god, by pervading the sentient being and non­-sentient matter, will not be affected by its changing fortunes, welfare, grief etc. Even the individual soul by dwelling in a particular body will not be affected by its metamorphasis or decline in energy. Though the soul is not affected by its body’s change of condition, it partakes the pain and pleasure that are experiencing through the body. In such a case, it is argued that the dweller, Lord inside all cannot also remain unaffected by such experiences of individual soul. The great commentator like Nampillai, explains that in a prison, a person is imprisoned for being guilty, whereas a jail visitor visits the prison for enquiry and other sort of work. He is not affected by visiting the jail. Prisoner is in prison because of his fault. Hence he is a sufferer. Jail visitor is in prison because of his liking. He is not affected. The individual soul is like a prisoner, body is like a prison-house whereas Lord is like a jail visitor who is not affected by being in prison. Further he explains that if one realises this philosophy, he can reach Him. Here, some acharyas say that God can be reached by those who practice Bhakti; some others say leaving other paths like Karma, Jnana and Bhakti-Yoga and taking God himself a path, one can reach Him. Further some interpret by antima smrithi, one can reach Him. Having noticed all other acharyas versions, Ramanuja asserts that since Nammalvar has showed sarvathma bhava to Lord in this particular hymn, it is to be stated that God will not be affected by the changes that took place for chit (sentient being) and achit (non-sentient matter) tatvas. When the individual soul dwells in a body, that soul will not be affected for the changes of fortunes, welfare etc. that took place for a body. Likewise God will not be affected by the change that affects body and its indwelling soul. He declared that one who gets such a revelation can attain Him.

In this way, there were several incidents and interpretations recorded in the commentaries.

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