FINAL DAYS IN SRI RANGAM
Not long after Kuresa regained his sight, Ramanuja decided to leave Yadavadri and return to his previous residence at Sri Rangam. On the way, he stopped for some time at Vrsabhacala, near Madurai, to worship Lord Sundara-bahu in the temple there. In previous times the great female devotee, Andal, had composed a prayer which said, "0 Lord Hari, if you will accept me, I wilt offer you a hundred pots of sweet rice and a hundred pots of butter."
Shortly after composing this prayer, Andal left this world and returned to the abode of the Lord. Now, Ramanuja fulfilled her prayer by offering Lord Sundara-bahu the hundred pots of sweet rice and the hundred pots of butter she had promised Him. For this act Yatiraja became known as the elder brother of Andal.
From Vrsabhacala Ramanuja and his disciples went on to Sri Villiputur, the birthplace of Andal.
There he saw the Deity of Sesasayi Narayana and offered prayers to Andal in the temple dedicated to her. Continuing on their journey, the Vaisnavas passed through Alvar Tirunagiri, Sri Vaikuntha, and other holy places, before finally arriving back at Sri Rangam. Immediately, all the devotees ran to see Lord Ranganatha, their Lord and master. When the people of the town heard that Yatiraja and his followers had returned, they felt as if they had regained their lives. At that time Kuresa was also reunited with his spiritual master, falling at Yatiraja's feet with tears of ecstasy in his eyes.
DISAPPEARANCE OF KURESA
For the next two years all the Vaisnavas passed their days in Sri Rangam just as they had done previously, singing bhajans in praise of Lord Hari and hearing Ramanuja's wonderful discourses on the revealed scriptures. By this time Kuresa was a very old man and was unable to rise from his bed. Therefore Yatiraja and the other devotees would come to him every day to chant the holy name and discuss the pastimes of the Lord. One day, while all the Vaisnavas were holding joyful kirtana, Kuresa began to shed tears of ecstasy. Taking hold of his gurus lotus feet, he pressed them to his heart. In this position he gave up his life.
On witnessing the departure of this exalted Vaisnava from their midst, all the devotees were grief-stricken, and Ramanuja himself was seen to shed tears. After a short while the acarya controlled his intense feelings of separation and spoke to the others, comforting them and reminding them that Kuresa was now undoubtedly in the direct association of the Lord. Then he said, "Parasara, Kuresa's son, is just like the son of Lord Ranganatha Himself. From today you should accept him as your leader. His devotion is like that of his father, and his wisdom is incomparable. Therefore, he is fully qualified to take the position of acarya."
Then he seated Parasara on the vyasasana and put a flower garland around his neck. He embraced the son of Kuresa and bestowed all his blessings on him, empowering him to spread the glories of the Supreme Lord.
Kuresa's body was burned on the banks of the Kaveri, and the devotees passed the rest of the day performing the congregational chanting of the holy names of Lord Hari. In this way all grief was removed from the hearts of the devotees. Every day for the next month a great festival was held in Sri Rangam to celebrate Kuresa's return to the abode of the Lord, and Vaisnavas from all over south India came to take part in the festivities. Many poor people and those who were lame or blind also came there, and all of them were fed sumptuously with prasada from Lord Ranganatha.
ANDHRAPURNA'S DEVOTION TO HIS GURU
Ramanujacarya was now one hundred years old, and, though he lived for twenty years more, he never again left Sri Rangam. For the remainder of his life Andhrapurna was engaged constantly in his personal service, supplying everything that his guru required.
Once when Lord Ranganatha came out of the temple on procession, all the devotees left the asrama to join in the worship. The Lord was gorgeously decorated with jewels and flower garlands as he rode through the streets on a beautiful palanquin. Ramanuja, thus beholding the glory of Lord Narayana, felt himself blessed with divine mercy.
Only one of Yatiraja's disciples was absent from this festival – Andhrapurna, who had remained at the asrama boiling milk for his guru. When Ramanuja asked him why he had neglected this opportunity to worship the Lord, Andhrapurna replied, "If I had gone outside the asrama to worship Lord Ranganatha, then my worship inside would have suffered. How is it possible for me to neglect my devotional duties?"
ANANTACARYA IN SRI SAILA
Another of Yatiraja's disciples was Anantacarya. He had been sent by his guru to Sri Saila, Tirupati, where he lived with his wife, constantly worshipping the Lord. While living in Sri Saila, he saw that the local people underwent great hardships because of a scarcity of water in the area. Therefore he resolved to dig a lake and with only his wife to help him, began the work immediately. By undertaking great labors every day, the couple completed the task, and that lake, which bears the name Ananta-sarovara, is still to be seen in the tirtha of Sri Saila. It is said that once, when Anantacarya's wife was pregnant and too weary to help with the work, the Lord Himself assumed her form to assist His devotee's endeavor.
THE PIOUS BRAHMANA
Once a brahmana came to Ramanuja and said, "I wish to purify myself by serving you, for you are the best of devotees. By such service I shall be freed from the influence of material nature"
Yatiraja accepted the request, saying, "What you have said is correct, for one can be liberated only by service. If you wish to serve me, then you must stay here and do whatever I ask of you."
The brahmana was very pleased by this reply and said eagerly, "0 master, tell me what is your desire. I will do anything you ask of me"
Seeing the man's sincerity, Ramanuja then told him, "0 brahmana, I have resolved to purify myself by taking daily the water which has washed the feet of a pure-hearted brahmana. Now, by the grace of the Lord, you have come here. My order is that you stay here, and every day give me the water that has washed your feet. Only if you do this will you be able to render real service to me."
Although a very humble person by nature, the brahmana could not refuse this direct order. From that time on, every day when Yatiraja returned from taking his noon bath in the Kaveri, he would take upon his head some of the water that had washed the brahmanas feet.
One day Ramanuja was invited to take prasadam at the home of one of his householder disciples and went there directly after bathing in the river. After they had eaten, all the devotees began to discuss the glories of Lord Narayana, putting various questions to Ramanujacarya and listening intently to the explanations he gave. So sweet were these discussions that the devotees became unaware of the passage of time. Thus, by the time Yatiraja rose to leave the house, it was very late at night.
When they arrived back at the asrama, they found that the only person still awake was the pious brahmana. "Why have you waited up so long for me?" asked Yatiraja. "Have you eaten yet?"
"How could I think of eating," replied the brahmana, smiling, "when I have not yet rendered my service to you"
At this Yatiraja smiled broadly and embraced the man, saying, "You are a wonderful devotee, the perfect servant of the Lord. By being absorbed only in thoughts of service, you have attained perfection" Then he drank the water that had washed the brahmanas feet and offered it to all his other disciples.
When they learned that Ramanujacarya was going to leave them and return to Sri Rangam, all the devotees in Yadavadri were very unhappy at the prospect of their imminent separation. When they presented their distress before him, Yatiraja gave permission for a stone murti of himself to be made.
When it was completed, he said to them, "When you are feeling sorrow because of separation from me, all of you come before this murti. By contemplating this form here, your unhappiness will be removed."
At about the same time the devotees of Bhuta-puri, Ramanuja's birthplace, also made an image of their guru and installed it in the temple according to the proper Vedic rituals. When he heard about this, Yatiraja shed tears and said, "The people of Bhutapuri have made me their captive by the love and devotion that they unceasingly offer to me."
PREACHING IN SRI RANGAM
However, the most fortunate of all were the devotees of Sri Rangam, for they were able to see Yatiraja constantly and listen every day to his discourses on the glories of Lord Narayana. From miles around people came to see the great acarya and on his order took up the path of devotional service.
For many more years Ramanuja continued to reside in the holy city of Sri Rangam – until he was one hundred and twenty years old. During his life he had established seventy-four centers for the Sri Vaisnavas and had many thousands of followers, including several kings and many wealthy landowners. Apart from the householders, he numbered amongst his followers 700 sannyasis, 12,000 brahmacaris, and 300 ketti ammais, (ladies who had taken vows of renunciation). Eventually, seeing that his mission on earth was now completed, he decided to give up his frail body and return to the abode of the Lord. Seeing their spiritual master becoming fixed in a mood of intense devotion, many of Yatiraja's disciples were overcome and began to lament loudly.
On hearing their cries, Ramanujacarya came out of his trance and said to his disciples, "My dear children, why do you cry out in lamentation like uneducated men? Do you think this body can endure forever? Am I not fixed in your hearts for all time? Therefore, give up this useless wailing and understand the will of the Lord."
To this the disciples all replied, "0 master, as always your instructions are perfect. Nonetheless, it is impossible for us to bear the pain of separation which must surely overwhelm us if you leave us now. Out of pity for your children, we beg you to remain with us for some time more."
In response to this request, Ramanuja agreed to stay with them for three more days. He ordered that all of his disciples should come there, and, when they were assembled, he delivered his final instructions. "Worship all Vaisnavas as you worship your guru," he told them. "Have faith in the previous acaryas and never be controlled by the senses. Never be satisfied simply by worldly knowledge. Study the scriptures that describe the glories of the Supreme Lord. Transcendental knowledge can overcome the pushings of the mind and senses. Be indifferent to the promptings of the mind. Always relish the chanting of the holy name and qualities of the Lord. The best way to serve the Lord is rendering service to his devotees. Never follow the ways of a Vaisnava for material gain. Always endeavor for purity.
"Every day spend some time in contemplating the greatness of the spiritual master, and every day study the teachings of the Vaisnava acaryas. Always associate with those who are surrendered to the Lord. Avoid those who teach paths other than devotional service and those interested in sensual pleasures. One who sees the Deity as stone, the guru as an ordinary man, the devotees in terms of caste or bodily designation, caranamrita as ordinary water, the holy name of the Lord as a mundane sound vibration, or the Supreme Lord as one of the demigods, is certainly destined for hellish life"
When Yatiraja had finished speaking, the disciples questioned him further, asking how they should conduct themselves while in this world. Again Ramanujacarya instructed them, "One who has surrendered to Lord Narayana should not be concerned about his future, depending always on the Lord's mercy. All duties should be performed as acts of devotion to the Lord and never for material gain.
"Study the Sri-bhasya and teach it to others – this service is the most pleasing to the Lord. If this is not possible, then study the teachings of other devotees and then instruct some disciples. If you are unable to do this, then go to a holy place and reside there or go to Yadavadri and serve the Lord there. If you cannot do this, then remain where you are and surrender to your guru and meditate on the Vaisnava mantras. If all of these are impossible, then simply seek out a pure-hearted Vaisnava and associate with him constantly.
"Discriminate carefully between friends, enemies, and those who are indifferent. Those who are Vaisnavas will be your friends, the atheists and blasphemers wilt despise and hate you, and the worldly men will be indifferent. Associate joyfully with the devotees, rigorously avoid the blasphemers, and never be disturbed by the materialistic plans of worldly men. Never flatter princes and worldly men, seeking to earn your livelihood thereby. Remember that the Supreme Lord always takes care of those who are surrendered to Him. Take shelter of Him and have faith in Him alone. If you follow these instructions, then you will never be separated from me. Why should one grieve over the disappearance of the temporary body?"
DISAPPEARANCE OF RAMANUJACARYA
When Ramanuja had finished speaking, Dasarathi, Govinda, Andhrapurna, and some of the other leading disciples came forward and made this presentation to him. "Your body, which is ever engaged in the service of the Lord, can never be material. Our bodies are certainly temporary, but you exist only on the platform of spiritual life. Therefore, our request is that we never be deprived of the sight of your transcendental form."
Taking pity upon them, Ramanuja accepted his disciples' request and ordered that expert sculptors be brought there to carve a stone deity in his likeness. After three days the work was complete. Then the deity was bathed with water from the Kaveri and installed upon a newly constructed altar. Yatiraja then came slowly up to the deity and filled it with his potency by breathing into the crown of the head.
Turning to the disciples, he said, "This is my second self. When I have cast off this body, you may worship this form instead of me."
Then he lay down with his head on Govinda's lap and his feet on the lap of Andhrapurna. In this position, with his eyes fixed on the wooden shoes of his own spiritual master, Ramanujacarya gave up his body and returned to the abode of Lord Visnu. It was noontime on the tenth day of the bright moon fortnight in the month of Magha in the year 1059 of the Saka era (1137 A.D.). A few days later, Govinda, Ramanuja's cousin and life long companion, also departed from this world.
The other devotees remained under the leadership of Sri Parasara Bhatta, the son of Kuresa, always endeavoring to follow in their master's footsteps by constantly serving Lord Narayana. By serious practice of devotional service, they were able to feel Ramanuja's presence within their hearts; thus their intense feelings of separation were mitigated. Parasara continued the mission of Ramanujacarya by strongly preaching the doctrines of Vaisnavism. In a great debate he overcame Vedantin Madhava dasa, the leader of the impersonalist scholars, and made him into a devotee. Years later, after the disappearance of Parasara, this same Madhava dasa became the acarya of the Sri Vaisnavas.