Swami Ramanujacharya’s very first Guru was his own father swami Somayaji. The lessons started from a very young age. Unfortunately as his father passed away when he was just sixteen the lessons came to an abrupt end.
By that time Ramanuja had been married and the family along with his widowed mother had moved over to Kancheepuram. Ramanuja was in search of a good teacher. The only person available was Yadavaprakasa who was originally a part of the Advaita movement . Later he broke away from the group and started teaching on his own. He openly declared that he was not happy with the Great Shankara’s commentary on Brahmasutra and was attempting to write his own commentary. Yadavaprakasa could not tolerate any criticism. He was egotistic, eccentric and positively cantankerous. But he was well versed in Vedas and Shastras. He was an authority on magic, spells and evil spirits. There was no other teacher at that time around Kancheepuram. Naturally a number of students flocked to Yadavaprakasa.
Ramanuja was one of them. The Guru and the disciple were polar opposites. Yadavaprakasa was particularly notorious for his distorted explanation of the Vedic texts. One day when the Master was explaining the words ‘satyam, gnanam anantham brahma’ Ramanuja stood up in his place. “Why, Ramanuja? Do you have any doubts in my interpretation?” Young Ramanuja was as fearless as he was humble. “I don’t have any doubts, Acharya, that your explanation is wrong.”
“Come on. You explain.” Ramanuja explained the words. Yadavaprakasa wanted to find fault with Ramanuja’s interpretation. He tried hard but he could not. He just grunted and dismissed the class. One of the senior students took Ramanuja aside and told him to be careful with the old man. When Ramanuja repeatedly asked that student whether his explanation was in any way wrong the latter could not answer. The Senior explained that their Guru was offended. If Ramanuja did that again he was sure to be hurt one way or the other. After all the Master was well-versed in magic spells and evil spirits. From that day onwards the Yadavaprakasa was hell-bent on victimizing Ramanuja. He would ask Ramanuja to explain something and then make sarcastic comments on his words. Ramanuja respected his Guru as if he were a living God. While he was fearless in the class he was humble and submissive when it came to serving his Guru. He would willingly do all the chores in the Guru’s house.
And then came that defining moment. It was a Saturday. Yadavaprakasa had decided to take his weekly oil bath late in the morning. Ramanuja was applying oil on his Master’s head and massaging it gently. Another student was massaging the master’s back while yet another was applying oil on his legs. The wicked Guru started explaining a verse from Chandokya Upanishad. The exact words which he took up for a detailed explanation was ‘kapyaasam pundarikaksham’ The words refer to the beautiful eyes of the Lord. The problem came with the use of the metaphor. Yadavaprakasa did not have any reference books with him and he just blurted out, “This upanishadic verse says that the Lord has eyes as beautiful as a monkey’s buttocks.” Ramanuja was shocked. Oh My God! How can this man use that expression to describe the world’s most beautiful thing, the lotus eyes of the Lord? If this is not blasphemy what else is? Ramanuja would have shrieked. But then the senior student signalled him to be quiet. Ramanuja was not afraid. But at the same time he did not want to confront his guru or offend the senior student. He took Herculean efforts to keep his mouth closed. His mouth obeyed his mind; but not his eyes. Ramanuja was a natural devotee. His love for God was so great that he could not bear to hear the insults heaped upon the Loving Being.
His eyes became red and tears started flowing down. Ramanuja was bending his face and was massaging his Master’s head. His tears fell on his master’s thighs.
“What happened Ramanuja? Why are you crying?”
“I’m sorry, Acharya. I heard your explanation. I could not control my tears.”
“Oh, so you are our Lord’s Lawyer, right? Come, come in front of me.” Ramanuja obeyed.
Hot Tears were now flowing with greater force. Ramanuja had to take enormous efforts to muffle his sobs. “But you idiot, this is the only way the words could be interpreted. When the scripture says kapyaasam.. it means kapi + aasam. Kapi means a monkey and aasam means its buttocks. Haven’t you seen a monkey’s back-side? It will be really beautiful..”
“STOP IT ACHARYA.”
“Oh, the scholar has become angry. Come on tell me Most Revered Sir, what is your interpretation for that line?” The sarcasm in Yadavaprakasa’s words was intolerable. Ramanuja’s answer was firm yet humble. “Please forgive me, Gurudeva. The Upanishad is to be read with the heart of a devotee and the eyes of a poet. You are reading it like a legal document.” “How can you read a different meaning into those words, you fool?” “Gurudeva, kapi refers to the sun.” “How do you say that?”
“kam means darkness. The sun drinks the darkness.
Kam pipathi ithi kapihi is the rule of grammar. The next word aasam means that which has been made to blossom. So
kapyaasam pundarikaksham means
that the Lords eyes are like the lotus flower which has been made to blossom by the Sun.”
The students engaged in various chores around them involuntarily clapped their hands. Whatever interpretation that Ramanuja gave to those words at a young age of 16 stands even today. The Guru stood up with anger. “So you are wiser than your Master. You are more learned than your Guru. Right? Get the hell out of here, you arrogant fool. A student who does not know how to respect his teacher would never prosper in life. Life will teach this bitter lesson to you. Now get out of my sight before my anger gets the better of me.” Ramanuja walked away from the Gurukulam with a heavy heart. He ran to the Kanchi temple and stood crying before the Perarulala Perumal. “My Dear Lord, have I committed a sin? Probably. I have offended my Guru who is to be respected like God. Put me in hell ,my Lord, for what I have done. But I beg of you, please don’t make me hear such nasty things once again. Being roasted in hell fire is a far better option than hearing such words.”
The Lord’s smile was as mischievous as ever. Ramanuja could not sleep that night. Nor could Yadavaprakasa. He had now found out that any day Ramanuja was a better teacher than him. One day Ramanuja was going to teach a number of disciples and even lead a great movement. And that he would eclipse the fame of Yadavaprakasa. If Ramanuja grew in stature then Yadavaprakasa’s dream of founding a philosophy in competition with Shankara would be shattered. Something should be done. A week later Yadavaprakasa had hatched a perfect plan to eliminate Ramanuja from the scene. He convened a meeting of a few of his trusted disciples. “I am not concerned about me. I am concerned about our movement. Ramanuja’s growth will be a hindrance to us. In the name of God, in the name of religion and in the name of our movement, we should do something to finish off Ramanuja.”
“Do you mean to say, we should kill him Gurudeva?” “Never use that vulgar word.” “Then..”
“You should all go to Ramanuja. Tell him that I have gone from bad to worse and ask him to re-join the Gurukulam.”
“We will all go to Varanasi as a group.”
“Then..” “Suppose Ramanuja is “accidentally” drowned in the mighty Ganges place ..our reputation will be intact, Ramanuja will go to heaven. We are actually doing a service to him.” Yadavaprakasa talked for the whole day and brainwashed his students.
Ramanuja listened to the affectionate pleas from his fellow students and came back to the Gurukulam. Yadavaprakasa sought an apology from Ramanuja. Ramanuja fell at his Guru’s feet and thanked him profusely for his large heartedness.
Three weeks later. “My dear students, now that we have finished one round of learning why don’t we all go to place Varanasi I don’t want anybody to be left out. All of you should come. We’ll leave on the New Moon day which is the day after tomorrow.” Ramanuja took leave of his wife and mother. The group started on the appointed day. The conspiracy to kill Ramanuja was perfect but for one major flaw.
Ramanuja’s cousin – his mother’s sister’s son – Govindan was a student in the same Gurukulam. One of the students had leaked out the plan to him. He was now looking for an opportunity to caution Ramanuja. The conspirators realized their mistake and spared no pains to ensure that Ramanuja and Govinda were never left alone. The group walked continuously for fifteen days and was camping in a thick forest in Vindya Hills. They rested in a clearing in the middle of the forest. As they had been walking all day they soon fell asleep. All except one person – Ramanuja’s cousin Govindan who was anxious to alert the unsuspecting victim.
Around 1 AM he woke up without making any noise and went in search of Ramanuja. They had made Ramanuja sleep far away from his cousin so that there could be no communication between them. Govinda woke up Ramanuja. He signalled to him not to say anything there but to follow him. He led Ramanuja away from the group and then told him in a trembling voice.
“Anna, they are planning to kill you. I heard that they will make you drown in . So please run away from here. Don’t ever come back.” Ramanuja looked puzzled. If Govindan were to go with him at least they could find a way out of the forest together. How could he manage to go all by himself? Govinda read his thoughts. “Anna, if they find both of us missing, then the entire group will come looking for us. Sooner or later they’d find us out. Now that we know their plans they are sure to kill us both.
“You go away. I’ll somehow manage those people. Please, Anna. You need to do this for your mother and your wife. Please.”
Ramanuja hesitantly walked away from his cousin. Govinda went to his place and slept as if nothing had happened. When Yadavaprakasa woke up and found that Ramanuja was missing he suspected Govinda. “What happened to Ramanuja?”
Govinda knew that his life as well as that of Ramanuja depended on his answer. “I don’t know, Gurudeva. But I saw a wild boar going near the place where he was sleeping. I heard someone running fast and the boar chasing him. I was too afraid to wake up.”
Yadavaprakasa and his disciples were quite relieved. After all whatever they had planned to do in Varanasi had happened in the forest itself. Now no one would suspect them. Yadavaprakasa made a big fuss of searching for Ramanuja here and there. Their mission having been accomplished midway the group started walking happily towards Varanasi. Ramanuja was left all alone in the midst of a wild jungle. He could hear the noises made by all kinds of wild animals. He continued to walk in the narrow path. The darkness was total. He could not see the stones lying in the way. They hurt his feet. He was bleeding, tired, hungry, exhausted, afraid and helpless. He was constantly chanting the Lord’s name. After a while when he felt he could not walk any further he sat down beneath a large tree. “Oh My Lord, I have been such a fool all along! Why should I fear? Why should I grieve? When I was in my mother’s womb absolutely helpless did you not feed me? Did you not take care of me and my mother?
“Did you not convert the food my mother ate into my nutrition? At that time I did not even know who you are and how to ask for anything from you. When you are so loving and so caring, what’s the point in my being afraid or sad? “And if you decide that my body should be made food for the animals of this forest, so be it, Narayana. It’s your body. It’s your forest. It’s your animals. It’s your life. I don’t own anything, my Lord. Give me rest in your golden feet, my Lord.” Ramanuja almost fainted.
Of course the Loving Presence was taking extraordinary care to see that Ramanuja was not harmed in any way. And now the same Presence decided that its existence be made known to the young man whose heart was full of love.
When Ramanuja woke up a little later he could see a hunter and his wife coming at a distance. Near the tree there was a large clearing.
Ramanuja could see the forms clearly in the bright moonlight. He was relieved to have some human company. Little did he know about the identity of the nocturnal visitors. The hunter-couple came near Ramanuja. Ramanuja’s eyes suddenly started shedding tears. First he saw the hunter. The hunter was unusually tall, unusually dark and unusually handsome. He was clad in some animal skin. There was an unmistakable majesty in his bearing. When Ramanuja saw his eyes… Oh My God! … he felt like sobbing in love. Then he turned to see the hunter’s wife. Unlike her husband she was of golden colour. The love in her face… she could not be the mother of just one or two children. She should be the mother for the whole world. The Jaganmatha Herself. When the couple came near him suddenly Ramanuja felt refreshed. His hunger, thirst and fatigue had all vanished without a trace. They sat under the tree on the either side of Ramanuja. When the hunter spoke Ramanuja felt that his words gently held him in a warm hug. Ramanuja’s eyes had not stopped shedding tears. “Boy, looks like you are caught alone in the forest.”
“Not anymore.” Ramanuja blurted trying hard to muffle a sob. “Smart answer.” The hunter’s wife told these words and looked at her husband with pride as if to say, ‘See my son. How intelligent he is!’
Ramanuja then asked the hunter in a trembling voice, “Where are you nice men from?”
“We are from a place called Siddhasramam. We are on a pilgrimage to Sathya Vratha Kshetram which is just outside this forest.”
Ramanuja stood up and folded his hands towards the couple. “I don’t know who you are. But seeing you two my heart is overflowing with love. And my eyes won’t stop crying. Will you please grant me a favour?”
“What do you want?” The hunter asked. “Whatever it is, consider it done.” His wife snapped.
The hunter looked at his wife with an understanding smile. Any day he cannot compete with her in the matter of loving her devotees. “I am sort of lost in this forest. Will you please let me walk with you till the end of the forest?” “You are most welcome, my child.” The hunter’s wife answered hurriedly before the hunter could say anything. “My son, this forest is a dangerous place. But I know this place like the palm of my hand. I will hold my wife’s hand and walk before you. You follow us.”
“As you wish, Sir.” A young Brahman like Ramanuja need not address a hunter as ‘Sir’ but he could not think of any other way. In fact he wanted to call him ‘My Lord.’ The threesome procession started. The hunter and his wife walked a few feet ahead of Ramanuja. Ramanuja did not have any difficulty in following them. For there was a kind of luminous glow on the way the hunter-couple walked. The sun rose in the east and the forest was filled with the light of the sun.
Every now and then the hunter or his wife would turn back to see whether Ramanuja was following them. Ramanuja’s eyes would meet with their eyes. They would smile. Ramanuja would feel as if he was melting and running away like water. This time no stone or thorn dared to hurt Ramanuja. He did not feel hungry or tired. When the sun set for the day they had reached a large banyan tree. The hunter decided that they should rest there for the night and resume their journey from the next morning. The hunter’s wife told her husband that she was very thirsty. The hunter told her that she had to wait till next day as he knew for sure that there was a well nearby. “Can I go and see if I can find some water nearby?”“No need, my son. We’ll think about it tomorrow.” Early next morning the hunter woke up Ramanuja. “Can you please do me a favour, my son? My wife is very thirsty. So am I. You see over there.. yes, that’s a big town. And there is a large well. Its water used to be very sweet. I know that. I have stayed in this town. Can you please some bring water for us?” Bringing water for them.. If they had asked for his life Ramanuja would have given it happily. “I would love to do it my Lord, sorry, Sir. But you see I don’t have any vessel with me. Nor can I find anything to hold water. So..” “So what, my son? Why don’t you bring it with your own hands?” The hunter who was forever residing in the midst of the ocean of milk, the hunter who could have created a million oceans all full with the sweetest of nectars in a millionth of a second, was longing to drink water directly from the hands of his most loving devotee. The Holy Mother also seconded her dear husband’s proposal. Ramanuja ran like a mad man towards the well.
He filled up his hands with water and started running towards the hunter couple all the while chanting the name of the Lord.
Sriman Naryana charanau sharanam prapathye. Srimathe Naraayanaaya Namaha. …Sriman Naryana charanau sharanam prapathye. Srimathe Naraayanaaya Namaha. The hunter and his most beautiful wife were waiting for Ramanuja.
They drank the water from Ramanuja’s hand as if it were the sweetest life-giving elixir. They could not have enough of Ramanuja’s love. They sent him again for water. Ramanuja brought water for them three times. On the third time after they had drunk the water the couple sprinkled the remaining water in their hands on Ramanuja. They did it together. When the cold water touched Ramanuja’s body it shivered in uncontainable happiness. “Please don’t be angry with us, my son. But we do need some more water.” Ramanuja ran for the fourth time with even more devotion and love than he had during the first time. When he returned they were not there. Only then could the young Ramanuja knew clearly the identities of his fellow travellers. “Oh My God, do you have to come yourself to save me? And you came with the Holy Mother too! When you have a billion angels to do your command you took the trouble yourself! Whatever I do will not even be equal to a millionth of what you have done to me! “I don’t want anything from you except that love. Make me love you. Make me love my fellow beings. Make me discover a religion of love!” Ramanuja was sobbing still holding the water in his hands. Did he see the images of the hunter-couple in the crystal clear water? He was not sure.
Sriman Naryana charanau sharanam prapathye. Srimathe Naraayanaaya Namaha.
He chanted the mantra again and then drank the water with all the love in the world. The water was really blessed and it was that water which ensured that Ramanuja lived till he was 120 years old and gave him enough spiritual strength to found a religion based on nothing but love. After a long time Ramanuja composed himself and went into that town. He approached the first man he saw and asked him softly, “Sir, I am kind of lost. I don’t know the name of this place. I belong to Kancheepuram. Can you please tell me which path should I take to reach my place?” The man laughed as if he had heard a big joke. “Look up, young man. What do you see? Yes, it’s the Gopuram. Of Sri Varadaraja Perumal. Yes, you are right in the centre of Kancheepuram.” The man could not understand for his life why the nice looking young guy should cry like a mad man on hearing his humorous words.
“My dear Lord! I know that it is your favourite well.
From now on the water for your abishekam will come from that well. And I will myself carry that water.” Ramanuja was doing that service till he left Kanchipuram to take over the mutt in Srirangam.
Ramanujasya charanau sharanam prapathye”
“Ramanujasya charanau sharanam prapathye”
“Ramanujasya charanau sharanam prapathye”
Srimathey Ramanujaya namah :
“I seek refuge in the feet of Sri Ramanuja.”
Adiyen Ramanuja dasan ..
Adiyen offers humble obeisances to all the great bhagavathas for taking time to read this wonderful pastime of JagathAcharyar Swami Ramanuja …
Photos and videos : courtesy great devotees of LORD who uploaded in google pics and you tube .