The Life of Ramanujacarya


       Kuresa was one of Ramanuja's most intimate disciples, always absorbed in thought of how he could assist his guru in his preaching work. He came from a wealthy brahmana family of Kuragrahara, a small village near Kancipuram. As he was in fact the landowner of the whole area around the village of Kura, he came to be known as Kuresa, the master of Kura. He married a very qualified girl named Andal, and together they used the immense wealth he had inherited in acts of charity, providing for all the poor people in the area.

       He had known Ramanuja since his boyhood and had always regarded him as a most elevated personality. When Yatiraja adopted the sannyasa order of life, Kuresa and Andal were among the first to become his disciples. Kuresa was widely renowned as a great scholar, for whatever he heard, even once, he would remember for all time. It was with his assistance, as we have heard previously, that Yadavaprakasa was defeated and made into a devotee.

       From early in the morning until midnight, the gates of Kuresa's house would be open and any poor man who went there would receive gifts in charity. Once Laksmidevi, the consort of Lord Varadaraja, on hearing the gates of Kuresa's house closing, inquired from her servant Kancipurna as to where the sound was  coming from. At that time Kancipurna explained to Mother Laksmi all about Kuresa's activities. "From early in the morning until midnight, service is rendered to the poor, the lame and the blind," he told Her. "Then the gates of the house are closed until the next morning so that Kuresa and his wife Andal may take a little rest. It was the sound of the gates closing that you have just heard." After hearing this description from Kancipurna, Laksmidevi became very anxious to see Kuresa and asked him to bring that devotee to her the next morning.

       When Kancipurna saw Kuresa early the next day, he informed him of the Goddess of Fortune's wishes. At this Kuresa appeared astonished and replied, "Who am I? Nothing but an ungrateful, evil-minded man, while Laksmidevi is the mother of the universe, who is worshipped with great reverence even by Brahma and Siva. It is said that a candala may not enter the temple and I, having been polluted by my wealth, am lower than any candala. Therefore how can I present myself before Mother Laksmi?"



       Having spoken in this way, Kuresa returned home and after removing his costly garments and ornaments, he dressed himself in the garb of a mendicant. Then he approached Kancipurna once more. "O Mahatma," he said, "I cannot disobey the order of the consort of Lord Narayana, but it is not possible for me to go before Her at present, polluted as I am by the contaminations of opulence and wealth. Therefore I will take shelter of Yatiraja, my guru, and purify myself by bathing in the water that has washed his feet. Who knows, if I receive the mercy of great souls such as yourself, then I may be able to see the lotus feet of Mother Laksmi even in this life."

       So Kuresa set off that same day, walking towards Sri Rangam, with Andal following behind. She too had abandoned all trace of opulent life, retaining only one gold cup from which to supply water to her husband when he became thirsty. After travelling for some time, they entered a dark forest and Andal began to be afraid. "My lord," she said to her husband, "is there anything for us to fear in this desolate place?"

       "It is only the rich who have cause to be afraid," replied Kuresa. "If you have no money or wealth with you then there is nothing to fear" On hearing this, Andal immediately threw away the golden cup.

       The next day they arrived in Sri Rangam. When Ramanuja heard news of this, he sent at once to have them brought to the asrama. Then, when they had rested and taken prasada, he arranged accomodation for them in a nearby house.

       From that time on Kuresa lived in Sri Rangam and maintained himself and his wife by begging from door to door. Although he had been accustomed to living in the most opulent circumstances and was now in a poverty-stricken condition, he considered himself most fortunate, for now he could pass his days in chanting the holy name, discussing the scriptures and serving the feet of his guru. Andal was also  completely satisfied by the position in which she found herself, never once lamenting the wealth they had abandoned. Whilst staying in Sri Rangam, Kuresa wrote two books, a commentary on the Sahasra-giti and another work entitled Kuresa-vijaya.



       Once during the rainy season there was such a torrential storm that Kuresa was unable to go out and beg, and so he and his wife were fasting for the day. Kuresa was completely undisturbed by hunger, but Andal, who was always absorbed in serving her husband, was very unhappy to see him without food. Within her mind she began to pray to Lord Ranganatha that He might provide something for His devotee Kuresa. A short while later there was a knock at the door, and one of the priests from the temple was admitted carrying a plate of maha-prasada that he had brought as a gift for them.

       When the priest had left, Kuresa inquired from his wife, "Did you ask Lord Ranganatha to provide for us? Why else would he send such opulent foodstuffs, the taste of which may reawaken our material desires?"

       After Andal had sorrowfully confessed what she had done, Kuresa instructed her, "It is not our business to make the Lord our servant. What has already been done cannot be helped, but please never do such a thing again." Having said this, he ate a small portion of the maha-prasada and asked his wife to honor the rest.



       About a year later Andal gave birth to twin sons. Yatiraja was delighted to hear of this and sent Govinda to perform the jata-karma, or birth ceremony. After the ceremony was completed, Govinda whispered two mantras into the ears of both babies – sriman-narayana-caranau saranam prapadye, ' I take shelter at the feet of Lord Narayana' and srimate narayanaya namah, ‘I offer my obeisances to Lord Narayana'.

       As gifts for the children, Ramanuja had made out of gold the five weapons of Lord Visnu – the conch, disc, club, sword and bow – so that by wearing them the babies might be protected from ghosts and evil spirits. After six months Yatiraja performed a name-giving ceremony both for Kuresa's twin sons, whom he named Parasara and Vyasa, and for the son of Govinda's younger brother, whom he named Parankusa-purna.

       When Ramanuja had stood before the body of Yamunacarya, he had made three vows: to write a Vaisnava commentary on the Vedanta-sutras, to preach the philosophy of devotional service all over India, and to name one disciple Parasara, in honor of the speaker of the Visnu Purana. Now all three of these vows were fulfilled.



       From an early age the child Parasara gave evidence of his genius and extraordinary character. When he was only five years old, a renowned pandita known as Sarvajna Bhatta passed along the road by Kuresa's house, accompanied by many disciples who were beating on drums and proclaiming the glories of the great scholar.

       One of the disciples announced, "Here is the unrivalled pandita, Sarvajna Bhatta. All those who wish to become his disciples may come to his feet without delay." On hearing this the child Parasara approached the pandita, scooping up a handful of dust as he went. Standing before the great scholar, the child addressed him boldly, "Let me see if you can tell how many grains of dust are in my hand. If you are truly Sarvajna then you should know everything."

       The pandita was very surprised to hear Parasara's question, but, as he considered the child's words, he began to see clearly the emptiness of his pride and vanity. Taking the young boy on his lap, Sarvajna kissed him on the forehead and said, "My child, you are truly my guru. Your question has revealed how foolish I was to be so proud of the little knowledge I have acquired."

       Both Parasara and Vyasa grew up to be great devotees of Lord Narayana, dedicating themselves to the service of Yatiraja. Following Ramanuja's instructions, Parasara later married two daughters from Mahapurna's family.



       On the day of the Festival of Garuda, thousands of people gathered in Sri Rangam to see the Deity. At the temple gate a huge crowd had assembled, for on this day Lord Ranganatha comes out of the temple and rides around the city on a palanquin in the form of His carrier, Garuda. Drums were resounding and flags were flying, as rows of brahmanas chanted hymns from the Vedas to make the occasion doubly auspicious.

       Suddenly the looks on the faces of the waiting crowd became even more expectant, as the chanters of the Vedas began to move forward and a procession emerged from the inner courtyard. First came a brilliant red banner, held aloft on two long bamboo poles and emblazoned with the marks of the conch, disc, and Vaisnava tilaka. Behind the brahmanas came several decorated elephants, all wearing tilaka on their foreheads, moving forward with a majestic gait, and waving their trunks from side to side. Behind the elephants came a procession of bullocks and horses, all gaily decorated and carrying large drums across their backs. Then all the people felt a thrill of delight as a party of devotees emerged, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari and accompanying the chanting with various drums and cymbals.

       Immediately behind the kirtana party came Lord Ranganatha Himself, riding on the back of Garuda with His eternal consort, Laksmidevi. The palanquin was born aloft by hundreds of devotees, while priests fanned the Lord with many camara whisks and expert singers sang bhajans praising His glorious pastimes. On seeing the emergence of the Lord from His temple, the throng of people gathered around the gateway let forth a great shout of joy.

       In front of the gate a pavilion had been constructed, and the Lord rested there a while before continuing on His journey. At this time hundreds of devotees took the opportunity to present their offerings to Him – coconuts, bananas, plantains, and sweet-smelling camphor lamps. After some time the procession moved on once more, and the sound of the brahmanas chanting the Vedic hymns could be heard in all directions.

       As the Lord moved through the streets, housewives appeared at the doors and windows along the way to give fruits, flowers, and betel nuts to the priests for offering to His lotus feet. When the offerings had been made the prasada was returned to the women, and they were blessed by having their heads touched by one of the Lord's helmets. As the procession moved on and on, everyone's eyes were fixed on Lord Narayana and Laksmidevi, their hearts filled with devotion.



       However, walking amongst the crowd was one man who was behaving in a completely different manner. He was tall and handsome with broad shoulders and seemed to be walking without any particular purpose, just being swept along by the crowd. With his left hand he held aloft a decorated umbrella with which he was shielding a most beautiful young woman from the sun's rays. In his right hand he carried a fan, which he continually flicked back and forth to remove any discomfort she might be feeling from the sun's heat.

       It seemed that the young man's attention was so completely absorbed in the beauty of his lady friend that he was oblivious to everything else that was going on around him. Though many people whispered and some made joking comments on seeing such a public display of affection, the young man did not notice this at all, so great was his attraction to the lady's good looks.

       After bathing in the Kaveri and worshipping Lord Ranganatha, Yatiraja was returning to his asrama with his disciples when he noticed the young man walking with his companion on the other side of the road. "Dasarathi," he said to his disciple, "go and ask that man, who is devoid of both shame and hatred, to come to me."

       Quickly Dasarathi crossed the street and spoke to the man, who was so engrossed in the beauty of the lady that he had to be addressed several times before he became aware of the other's presence. Slightly disturbed, like a man who has just been roused from deep slumber, he then gave his attention to the brahmana who had accosted him, joining his palms as a mark of respect and saying, "Sir, how may I serve you?"

       "Over there," replied Dasarathi, "is Yatiraja, the great devotee of Lord Narayana, and he wishes to speak with you. Please come with me for a few moments."

       On hearing the name of the famous acarya, the young man took his leave of the lady and went with Dasarathi across the street to where the devotees were standing. Having bowed down at Yatiraja's feet, he stood in silence before him, wondering why it was that this famous sadhu should want to talk with him. At last Ramanuja said, "What nectar have you found in that young lady that – giving up all hatred, shame, and fear – you think nothing of making yourself a laughingstock throughout the whole city of Sri Rangam by acting in such a way?"

       "0 Mahatma," the young man replied, "I have seen many beautiful sights on this earth, but nothing which came even close to matching the entrancing beauty of the bright eyes of that young lady. When I see them, I become so captivated that I cannot look away."

       "Is she your wife?" Yatiraja inquired.

       "No, she is not married to me," the man replied, "but I am certain that, even though she is not my wife, I will never love any other woman."

       "What is your name," asked Yatiraja.

       "I am known as Dhanurdasa," came the response, "and I come from the town of Nichulanagara, where I am famous for my ability in wrestling. The lady's name is Hemamba."

       "Dhanurdasa," said Yatiraja, "if I can show you a pair of eyes even more beautiful than those of your beloved, will you give up this lady and love the other?"

       The wrestler replied, "0 great soul, if it were possible to discover a pair of eyes filled with a more haunting beauty than those of my Hemamba, then surely I would leave her and worship instead that lady who possessed them."

       "Then come to me this evening at my asrama," concluded Yatiraja, "and perhaps we can resolve this matter."

       "At your command," was Dhanurdasa's respectful response. He then returned to where the lady was waiting for him and continued walking with her, still holding the umbrella over her head.



       That evening Ramanuja left the asrama accompanied only by Dhanurdasa and walked with him the short distance to the outer gate of Lord Ranganatha's temple. Having passed through all of the outer gates, the two of them stood at last before the Deity of the Lord. At that time the arati had just begun, and the priest was offering a fragrant camphor lamp to the Lord and His consort Laksmidevi. Although the inner room of the temple was dark, being enclosed by walls on all sides, as the lamp was presented before Sri Ranganatha, its flaming effulgence lit up his transcendental features and shimmered on His beautiful, golden, lotus-like eyes.

       When he saw this revelation of the divine form of the Lord, Dhanurdasa stood as though transfixed, looking without blinking at the eyes of Sri Visnu, who is known as Aravindaksa. All at once tears of love began to roll down his cheeks as he experienced a taste of the real enjoyment that is found only in the spiritual world. In an instant all his attraction to the pale pleasures of this mundane existence began to fade, like the stars at sunrise.

       After some time Dhanurdasa regained his composure and turned towards Ramanuja, falling at his feet saying, "By your causeless mercy, you have given to this most lusty of men pleasures that are sought after even by the demigods in heaven. I am your servant forever. Like an owl of the night, I had turned away from the sun and had become infatuated with a glowworm. Now you have opened my eyes, and thus you alone are my master"

       Ramanujacarya then raised Dhanurdasa from the ground and firmly embraced him. From that moment, the young wrestler from Nichulanagara gave up his entanglement in material affairs and became a pure-hearted devotee of Lord Narayana. Hemamba, although a courtesan by profession, had long regarded Dhanurdasa as her husband. Despite her sinful engagement, she was at heart a devotee of the Lord. Therefore, upon hearing of the great transformation that Dhanurdasa had undergone, she was filled with happiness and came also to surrender her life at the feet of the merciful acarya.

       Yatiraja arranged for them to be properly married as man and wife, and by his pure instructions he removed the contamination of lust from their hearts. They left Nichulanagara and moved to Rangaksetra, where they rented a house close by Ramanuja's asrama. In this way they were able to associate with their spiritual master and hear the nectarean Vaisnava teachings from his lips.



       Because of his devotion to his guru, his humility, honesty, and gentle speech, all people came to respect Dhanurdasa. In order to show that it is a person's behavior that should be considered and not his birth, Ramanuja would hold Dhanurdasa's arm while returning from the Kaveri, although he would hold the arm of Dasarathi, a brahmana by birth, while walking to the river. When Yatiraja's young brahmana disciples observed their gurus intimate dealings with a person of lower birth, some of them were disturbed and even dared to say that his behavior was not befitting.

       Understanding the misconceptions in the hearts of his disciples, Ramanuja decided to teach them a lesson that would bring them to a proper understanding of the character of a Vaisnava. One night while all the others were sleeping, Ramanuja arose and tore a strip off all the dhotis that were hanging up to dry. The next morning when the brahmanas discovered what had happened, a great quarrel arose amongst them with accusations and harsh words flying back and forth. Eventually, Yatiraja himself had to intervene to calm the situation down.



       That evening Ramanuja called several of his disciples to him and said, "I am sure all of you have observed how my disciple Dhanurdasa is leading the life of an attached householder, while posing as a great devotee. This evening, as usual, he will come to talk with me. While I detain him here, discussing the scriptures, you should go to his house and steal the ornaments with which he is so fond of decorating his wife. Then we will see the extent of his attachments fully manifested"

       The disciples happily agreed to this proposal and set off to do their gurus bidding as soon as Dhanurdasa arrived at the asrama. When they reached his house, they saw Hemamba sleeping within. As the door was not locked, they were able to gain entrance without difficulty. Then very quietly and as gently as possible, they began to remove the golden ornaments from the wife of Dhanurdasa. In fact Hemamba was not sleeping and was fully aware of everything that was happening, but she pretended to be in deep slumber, so as not to cause any disturbance to the brahmanas.

       When all the ornaments had been removed from one side of her body, Hemamba pretended to turn in her sleep so that the brahmanas could take those from the other side as well. However, at that moment the brahmanas became alarmed, fearing that she was about to wake up. They left the house immediately and returned to the asrama. There they reported everything that had happened to Ramanuja, who then called for Dhanurdasa and told him that he should return home now as it was growing late.

       When the wrestler had departed, Ramanuja instructed his disciples, "Go now and follow Dhanurdasa back to his house so that you may observe his reaction to the great loss he and his wife have suffered."

       The young men followed their gurus order, and when Dhanurdasa entered his house, they were all watching and listening from a secluded place nearby. On entering the house Dhanurdasa at once noticed his wife's unusual appearance and inquired, "How is it that you are wearing jewels only on one side? Where are the others?"

       "Some brahmanas came here while you were gone," Hemamba replied. "Due, no doubt, to their extreme poverty, they have been forced to take up the ways of thieves. At that time I was lying awake, repeating the names of the Lord in my mind, but they must have thought that I was sleeping, for they entered the room and took all the ornaments from one side. When they had done this, I turned over so that they could take the rest of my jewels, but unfortunately they were frightened by my movement and fled from the house."

       "This was your mistake," exclaimed Dhanurdasa. "You are still not completely free from illusion, for you were thinking, 'These are my ornaments. I will give them away.' When will you give up this idea and realize that everything is the property of Lord Narayana. If you had remained still then you would have been able to give everything to the brahmanas,"

       Hemamba recognized her fault and begged her husband, "Please bless me, so that one day I may become free from this illusion."

       Having witnessed everything, the young brahmanas returned to the asrama and told Ramanuja all about the behavior of that devoted couple. As it was by that time late at night, he told them to go and rest, but the next day he discussed the matter fully when they assembled before him to study the scriptures. "You are all learned scholars," he said, "and very proud of your position -as brahmanas. So tell me, whose behavior was more befitting a brahmana – yours, yesterday morning when you found your cloth a little shorter, or that of Dhanurdasa and his wife when the jewels were stolen?"

       The disciples could do nothing but hang their heads in shame and say, "Master, it was Dhanurdasa whose behavior was worthy of a brahmana; ours was abominable."

       "Therefore," Yatiraja continued, "you must understand that birth and caste are unimportant. It is a man's qualities and actions that show who is fallen, regardless of social position. Now, giving up all pride in your birth as brahmanas, endeavor to serve Lord Narayana with a pure heart. That alone is the way of perfection."



       A short time after the incident involving Dhanurdasa and the brahmana disciples, word came to Ramanuja that his own guru, Mahapurna, had performed the cremation ceremony for a sudra and that as a result of this many people were criticizing him for transgressing the rules which govern a brahmanas conduct. On hearing this news, Ramanuja went at once to Mahapurna's house to hear from him the truth behind these allegations. When he arrived at his gurus house, he learned that all of Mahapurna's relatives had abandoned him, considering him fallen, and that he was served now only by his daughter, Attulai, who had come from her father-in-law's house.

       When Yatiraja inquired from him about his actions, Mahapurna replied, "Yes, it is true that my behavior was improper according to the Dharma Sastras. But what is real dharma? The Mahabharata states, mahajano yena gatah sa panthah – true dharma is to follow the example set for us by great personalities. Now consider the example of Sri Ramacandra, for he performed the funeral ceremony of Jatayu, who was just a bird. Then again we have King Yudhisthira, who worshipped Vidura, who was considered a sudra by birth. Why would they act in such a way? The answer is that a devotee of the Lord, being liberated while still in this world, is transcendental to all consideration of family or caste. For Sri Rama or King Yudhisthira no irreligious act is possible. That devotee, whose body I cremated was a pure-hearted servant of the Lord and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to render that service to him." Very pleased at Mahapurna's words, Yatiraja bowed down at his feet and begged forgiveness for his impudence in questioning his gurus activities.



       Once Mahapurna came before Yatiraja and bowed at his feet. Seeing Ramanuja still sitting without embarrassment at his guru's behavior, some of the other devotees questioned him in surprise, "Yatiraja, how could you allow your guru to bow down before you without making any protest?"

       "My spiritual master acted in that way," replied Ramanuja, "to show how a true disciple should behave before his guru. If Mahapurna has a purpose to fulfill through these activities, it is not my position to interfere with his desires."

       Later the devotees inquired from Mahapurna about his offering obeisances to a disciple and he explained to them, "In Yatiraja I see constantly the embodiment of my own guru, Sri Yamunacarya, and therefore it is impossible for me not to bow down before him" On hearing this all of them realized even more profoundly the greatness of Ramanujacarya.



       On another occasion Ramanuja observed Sri Gosthipurna meditating for many hours in a room with closed doors. At the end of the day he inquired, "0 master, on which form of the Lord have you been fixing your mind and what is the mantra by which you worship Him?"

       "I worship only the lotus feet of Sri Yamunacarya, my guru-maharaja," replied Gosthipurna, "and his holy name is the only mantra I chant, for it brings relief from all suffering" From this statement Ramanuja could understand the importance of worshipping the devotees of the Lord.