The Life of Ramanujacarya


       About six months before the disappearance of Yamunacarya, Ramanuja's mother, Kantimati, had left this world. Now, Raksakambal, the wife of Ramanuja, was the mistress of the house. She was as beautiful as an apsara, devoted to her husband and very strict in her cleanliness and observance of ritual. Unfortunately, she had been unable to imbibe her husband's pure love of God and was more attached to the external features of religious ritual. She was unhappy to see her husband becoming more and more absorbed in devotional sentiments after his return from Sri Rangam, though she tried to conceal her inner feelings.

       Ramanuja now passed a lot of his time in the company of Kancipurna. Ramanuja was generally in a serious mood and still unhappy at heart due to feelings of separation from Yamunacarya. Understanding his mind, Kancipurna told him one day, "You should not be troubled at heart. Just remain fixed in your devotion to Lord Varadaraja and continue to serve him in every possible way. Alabandara has now returned to the abode of Lord Narayana, and it is your duty to fulfill the promises you made before Him"

       When he heard these words of instruction, Ramanuja bowed before Kancipurna and said, "Please allow me to be your disciple. Please allow me take shelter of your lotus feet"

       Immediately, Kancipurna raised Ramanuja, saying, "You are a brahmana and I am sudra. How can I initiate and receive obeisances from one who is my master? Just have faith in the Lord, and sooner or later He will surely send someone who is fit to be your guru."

       Having said this, Kancipurna left to worship Lord Varadaraja. Ramanuja thought to himself, "He is refusing to accept me because he knows how my heart is devoid of all devotional sentiments. How can birth or caste affect a person who is the intimate associate of Lord Varadaraja? Merely by his merciful glance, Kancipurna can elevate a dog-eater to the level of a brahmana. Therefore, if I am able to taste the remnants of his food only once, then I will gain immeasurable benefit."



       Later that day, Ramanuja went to persuade Kancipurna to take lunch at his house the next day. Eventually Kancipurna agreed, saying, "Tomorrow I shall break free from the modes of nature by receiving food at the house of a pure devotee."

       The next morning, Ramanuja instructed his wife, Raksakambal, that she should cook the very best preparations to honor their exalted guest, Sri Kancipurna. At once she began to cook and before noon had prepared many different types of food. Seeing this Ramanuja was very pleased, and he set out for Kancipurna's asrama to bring him to take prasadam.

       Kancipurna could understand all Ramanuja's intentions, and so he came by another way to his friend's house. When he arrived, he said to Raksakambal, "Mother, today I have to go to the temple very quickly. Please serve me with whatever is immediately available, for I cannot stay here for more than a few minutes."

       "My husband has gone to your house to bring you here," Raksakambal replied. "If you wait for a short time he will soon return."

       "I am afraid I cannot wait here for a moment," said Kancipurna. "How can I neglect my service of Lord Varadaraja just for the sake of my stomach?"

       So Raksakambal arranged a sitting place for Kancipurna and then with great attention served him all the different preparations she had cooked. As soon as he had finished eating, Kancipurna stood up and cleaned the place where he had been eating with water mixed with cow dung. He offered his obeisances to Raksakambal and then quickly left the house, taking his leaf plate with him to discard at a distant place.  Raksakambal gave away all the remaining prasadam to a sudra woman and then, after taking a bath, began to cook again for her husband.

       In the meantime Ramanuja returned home and was very surprised to find his wife still cooking. "Did Kancipurna not come here?" he asked. "Why are you cooking again? Where is all the prasadam that you prepared this morning?"

       "Mahatma Kancipurna came here" replied Raksakambal, "but he said that he could not wait for you, as he had service to perform in the temple. Therefore, I served him his lunch and then gave whatever was left to a sudra woman. How could I serve you with the remnants of a sudras meal?"

       Ramanuja was very disturbed to hear his wife speak in such a way. "You foolish woman! " he exclaimed. "How can you think of Kancipurna as no more than a sudra. Because of you I am now unable to take the prasada of that pure-hearted devotee, and this is my great misfortune" Having said this, he sat down unhappily with his head in his hands.



       Meanwhile, Kancipurna was praying to Lord Varadaraja while fanning Him, "My Lord, what are You trying to do to me? My only desire is to pass my life peacefully in Your service and the service of Your devotees, but now You are trying to make me into a famous acarya. Even Your pure devotee, Ramanuja, now bows down before me. I do not want to become an object of worship, so please give me permission to leave Kanci and go to Tirupati, where I can worship You in the form of Balaji."

       Lord Varadaraja gave His permission, and so Kancipurna went to Tirupati. He stayed there for six months, fully absorbed in the service of Sri Balaji, the form of Lord Visnu who resides in the temple there. Then one night Lord Varadaraja appeared to him in a dream, saying, "I am suffering from the severe heat here in Kancipuram. Why don't you come back and fan me again?"



       The next day Kancipurna arose and set off at once to return to Kanci. When Ramanuja heard of his return, he went to visit his friend. The two devotees felt great pleasure in regaining one another's association after such a long period of time. After they had been talking for several hours, Ramanuja fully revealed his mind to Kancipurna. "Since I left the school of Yadavaprakasa" he told him, "I have continued to study the scriptures alone. But there are certain points I cannot understand, and this is causing a great disturbance to my mind. Please beg the Lord to enlighten me, for I know Sri Varadaraja will never deny any request that comes from your lips." Kancipurna agreed to Ramanuja's request.

       The next day when the young brahmana came to visit him, he spoke very confidentially, "Last night Lord Varadaraja spoke to me and told me I should reveal the following six truths to you. These are the four verses the Lord spoke to me:

aham eva param brahma jagat-karana-karanam

ksetrajnesvaror bhedah siddha eva mahamate


moksopayo nyasa eva jananam muktim icchatam

mad-bhaktanam jananam ca nantim asmritir isyate


dehavasane bhaktanam dadami paramam padam

purnacaryam mahatmanam samasraya gunasrayam


iti ramanujarya mayoktam vada satvaram


       "'Firstly, I am the Supreme Brahman, the cause of material nature, from which this universe has come into being. Second, the separate existence of the jiva souls and the Supreme Lord is an eternal truth. Third, surrendering to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord is the only true path for those who desire liberation. Fourth, devotees will certainly be liberated even if by chance they fail to remember Me at the time of death. Fifth, as soon as My devotees give up their present bodies, I bring them to My supreme abode. Sixth, you should immediately take shelter of Mahatma Mahapurna, the reservoir of all good qualities. These are My instructions for Ramanuja."'

       When Ramanuja heard these words, he began to dance in ecstasy. He had not revealed his six doubts even to Kancipurna, but now the Lord had supplied the answers to all of them. Having offered obeisances to Sri Varadaraja and to Kancipurna, he returned home and prepared to depart for Sri Rangam. There he hoped to find Mahapurna, one of Yamunacarya’s disciples, and take initiation from him.



       After the disappearance of Sri Yamunacarya, none of his disciples was able to discourse on the scriptures in the same wonderful way that he had done. Tiruvaranga was now in charge of the asrama, but he lacked the ability to expound the meaning of the scriptures as his master had done. Everyone admired his devotional qualities and noted the fact that he spent so much of his time worshipping the Lord, but still the atmosphere in the asrama was not what it had been before.

       At that time both the married and unmarried devotees used to live together in the asrama, while the wives would live in separate quarters outside in the city. Their time was passed for the most part in worship of the Deity and the chanting of bhajans  glorifying the Lord.

       In this way a year passed by uneventfully. On the anniversary of Alabandara’s disappearance all his disciples gathered together, and Tiruvaranga addressed the assembly. ‘It is now one year’, he began , ‘since our guru-maharaja , Sri Yamunacarya, left us to return to the abode of Lord Narayana. While he was with us it was our great fortune that every day we were able to hear his nectarean words. However, since his disappearance no one has been able to describe the glories of the Lord in such an exquisite manner or expound all the subtle points of the scriptures as he was able to do. Although he instructed that I should take over his position at the asrama, I have to admit that I am incapable of properly executing this duty.

       ‘All of you may recall how, just prior to his departure, our master desired to see Sri Ramanuja of Kancipuram and sent Mahapurna there to fetch him. It is that great soul alone, the intimate friend of Kancipurna, who, having been choosen by Sriman Alabandara himself, is competent to take on the responsibility as acarya for this asrama. Therefore, let one of us go to Kancipuram and, after initiating him, bring him here ton Sri Rangam. He will spread the teachings of Yamunacarya all over the India, as he promised to do whilst looking at the body of our preceptor.’’

       All the assembled devotees unanimously accepted Tiruvaranga’s proposal, and Mahapurna was chosen to go to Kancipuram to initiate Ramanuja and bring him to Sri Rangam. He was told, ’’ If at present he is reluctant to abandon the association of Kancipurna, then do not press the matter. You may remain in Kanci for one year, instructing him in all the bhakti-sastras. He need not to be told that your purpose is to bring him to Sri Rangam.’’



       Being thus instructed, Mahapurna , along with his wife, set off for Kancipuram. After four days they reached the town of Madurantakam, where there is a Visnu temple with a lake in front of it. While Mahapurna and his wife were resting beside that lake, Ramanuja suddenly appeared there offering obeisances at his feet.  Mahapurna was both surprised and delighted by this unexpected turn of events, and he immediately rose to embrace Ramanuja.

       ‘This is certainly a surprise,’’ he said. ‘Anything can be accomplished by the grace of Lord Narayana. For what reason have you come here?’’

       ‘This must certainly be the plan of Lord Narayana,’’ Ramanuja replied,’’ for it was only to find you that I left Kancipuram. Varadaraja Himself has instructed me to accept you as my guru. Please bestow your mercy upon me by initiating me at once.’’

       Mahapurna agreed to this request, saying, ‘Let us go to Kancipuram so that the ceremony can be performed before Lord Varadaraja.’’

       However , Ramanuja was insistent. ‘You know that death makes no distinction between the timely and the untimely," he said. "Do you not recall with what high expectations I went with you to meet Sri Yamunacarya? Providence cheated me then, so why should I trust him now by allowing any delay? Please give me shelter at your lotus feet right at this very moment"

       Mahapurna was pleased by Ramanuja's words, and there on the banks of the lake in the shade of a flowering bakula tree he lit a sacrificial fire. In that fire he placed two metal discs, one bearing the sign of Lord Visnu’s cakra and the other that of His conch. When the two discs were hot, Mahapurna pressed them onto Ramanuja's right and left arms, thus marking them with the signs of Lord Visnu. Finally, meditating on the lotus feet of Yamunacarya, Mahapurna whispered the Vaisnava mantra into Ramanuja's ear. When the initiation was thus completed, Ramanuja returned to Kancipuram, accompanied by his guru and his guru’s wife.

       When they arrived, they were welcomed by Kancipurna, who took great pleasure in associating with Mahapurna. At Ramanuja's request, Mahapurna then also initiated Raksakambal. Half the house was given over to Mahapurna and his wife, and every day Ramanuja would study the Vaisnava scriptures in his association.



       Six months passed by quickly, while Ramanuja felt great satisfaction in hearing all the truths of Vaisnava philosophy from Mahapurna. One day, while both Ramanuja and Mahapurna were away from home, Raksakambal went to the well to get water. It so happened that Mahapurna's wife was drawing water at the same time, and while so doing a few drops from her pitcher felt into that of Raksakambal, who immediately flew into a rage. "Are you blind?" she shouted. "Look what you have done! By your carelessness a whole pitcher of water is wasted. Do you think that you can sit on my shoulders just because you are the gurus wife? Just remember that my father's family is of a superior lineage to yours, so how can I use water that has been touched by you? But why should I blame you, for having fallen into the hands of this husband of mine all my caste and position is lost."

       When she heard these harsh words, Mahapurna's wife, who was by nature calm and modest, begged forgiveness from Raksakambal. However, being very disturbed by the woman's anger, she set down her pitcher and began to weep quietly.

       When Mahapurna returned and found his wife in that distressed condition, he asked her what was the cause of her unhappiness. When he learned of everything that had taken place at the well, Mahapurna became thoughtful. Eventually he said, "It is no longer the will of Lord Narayana that we should remain here, and for this reason he has caused you to hear these unkind words from the mouth of Raksakambal. Do not be sorry over this matter, for whatever the Lord ordains is for our good. Because we have not worshipped the lotus feet of Lord Ranganatha for a long time, He now desires that we go back to Him."



       Without waiting for Ramanuja to return, Mahapurna and his wife then collected together their few possessions and departed for Sri Rangam. While Mahapurna was staying with him in Kancipuram, Ramanuja had been very happy, looking upon his guru as the representative of Lord Narayana. During those six months they spent together, Ramanuja had studied about four thousand verses composed by the great Vaisnavas of south India. That morning he had gone out to purchase fruit, flowers, and new cloth with which to make an offering to his guru, but, when he returned to his house, he found Mahapurna's quarters deserted.

       After searching all over the house, he inquired from a neighbor, who told him that Mahapurna and his wife had left Kanci to return to Sri Rangam. Anxious to discover what could have caused his guru’s abrupt departure, Ramanuja went to speak to Raksakambal. She told him, "I had a quarrel with the wife of your guru when we went to fetch water from the well this morning. I hardly spoke any harsh words to her at all, but the great man was so enraged that he left here almost immediately. I had heard that a sadhu is supposed to have given up all feelings of anger, but it must be that he is a new sort of sadhu. I offer millions of obeisances at the feet of your sadhu."

       Ramanuja could hardly believe his ears when he heard his wife speak in such a contemptuous and sarcastic way about Mahapurna, and he could not restrain his feelings. "0 sinful woman," he cried out, "it is a great sin even to look at your face" Having said this, he left the house and went to the temple to offer the fruits and flowers he had purchased to Lord Varadaraja.



       A short time later, a lean and hungry brahmana came to Ramanuja's house to beg for something to eat. Raksakambal was still shocked by her husband's words, and, when the brahmana disturbed her, she immediately became angry and shouted at him in a shrill voice, "Get out of here. Go somewhere else. Who do you think will give you rice here?"

       Hurt by these harsh words, the brahmana turned away and began to walk slowly towards the temple of Lord Varadaraja. On the way he met Ramanuja, who was returning home, having made his offering to the Lord. Seeing the brahmanas dejected features and undernourished body, Ramanuja felt compassion and said to him, "0 brahmana, it seems that you have not eaten today."

       "I went to your house to ask for a little prasadam, but your wife became angry and turned me away," replied the brahmana.

       Ramanuja was shocked to hear that a guest had been so badly mistreated at his house. He was thoughtful for a few moments, and then he said, "Please go back to my house. I will give you a letter, and I   want you to tell my wife that you have been sent by her father to deliver it to me. When she hears this, you can be certain she will feed you with great attention."

       Ramanuja then wrote out a letter as follows:-


       My Dear Son,

       My second daughter is to be married soon. Therefore please send Raksakambal to my house with this man. If you have no pressing business at present, I would be very pleased if you could come as well. However, it is very important that Raksakambal comes here as soon as possible, as it will be very difficult for your mother-in-law to cater for all the guests alone.


       Promising that he would be well rewarded for his services, Ramanuja sent the brahmana to his house with this letter. When he arrived there, the brahmana told Raksakambal, "Your father sent me here."

       She was delighted to hear this and received the brahmana with great courtesy, feeding him and offering him water for bathing. In the meantime, Ramanuja returned home. "My father has sent this letter for you," Raksakambal said modestly and gave it to him.

       Ramanuja read the letter out loud and then said to her, "I have some urgent business to attend to at present, so you must go alone. If I get finished quickly, then I will try to come later on. Please convey my greetings to your father and mother." Raksakambal accepted his words, and, after preparing herself for the journey, she offered obeisances to her husband and set out for her father's house, escorted by the brahmana.



       When she had left, Ramanuja walked back to the temple of Lord Varadaraja, praying constantly to the Lord within his mind, "0 Lord Narayana, please allow this servant of yours to take full shelter at Your lotus feet." When he reached the temple, he bowed down before the Deity and prayed, "My dear Lord, from this day I am Yours in every way. Please accept me."

       Then he obtained saffron-colored cloth and a staff that had been touched by the lotus feet of Sri Varadaraja. He went outside the temple and, after bathing, lit a sacrificial fire on the banks of the lake there. At that time Kancipurna, being inspired by Lord Varadaraja, approached him and gave him the name Yatiraja. Ramanuja then accepted the tridanda of Vaisnava sannyasa, which symbolizes, the surrender of thoughts, words, and deeds to the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When the ceremony was completed, Yatiraja, in his saffron robes, appeared as

effulgent as the rising sun.



       All the people of Kancipuram were very surprised to hear that Ramanuja had taken sannyasa. He was still a young man, and his wife was extremely beautiful. Some considered him insane, but many others began to compare him to great devotees of the past; from all around people came to see him. The Vaisnavas who stayed at the asrama at Kanci made him their acarya, for his good qualities and understanding of the scriptures were well known.

       Gradually, by ones and twos, disciples began to gather around him. His first disciple was Dasarathi, his nephew, who was famous for his knowledge of the Vedas. The second was a young man named Kuresa, who had a wonderful memory.



       One day, when the elderly mother of Yadavaprakasa came to the temple to see Lord Varadaraja, she noticed Ramanuja instructing his disciples outside the asrama. Being captivated by his gracefulness and scholarship, she considered that if her son were to become the disciple of such a wonderful personality, then his life would be perfect. Ever since his mistreatment of Ramanuja, Yadavaprakasa had been very disturbed at heart, and his mother knew this. She considered that the best thing for her son would be to take shelter at the feet of this effulgent young sannyasi.

       When she returned home, she begged her son to go and become a disciple of Ramanuja, but Yadavaprakasa would not hear of surrendering to one who had previously been his own student. Still, however, his mind remained disturbed. Once he happened to meet with Kancipurna and he inquired from him, "Sir, I am very troubled at heart and can find no peace. As you are well known as the one through whom Lord Varadaraja gives instructions, please tell me what I must do."

       "Go home now," replied Kancipurna. "Tonight I wilt pray to Lord Varadaraja. If you come to me tomorrow, I will tell you His instructions."

       When they met the following day, Kancipurna immediately began to describe the greatness of Ramanuja and the benefits one might derive from becoming his disciple. On hearing this, Yadavaprakasa decided he would go to visit Ramanuja at the asrama and discuss the scriptures with him.

       That night Yadavaprakasa found it hard to sleep. He lay awake for several hours, considering the different points over and over again. Eventually he dozed into a light sleep, and while he slept, he had a wonderful dream. It seemed that an effulgent person appeared before him and began to give him instructions. Again and again he told Yadavaprakasa that he should become the disciple of Yatiraja.

       When Yadavaprakasa awoke, the effects of the dream were still with him, and he was struck with wonder. However, he was never a man to act solely on the basis of his emotions, and in his mind there still lingered doubts about Ramanuja's philosophy.

       That afternoon he went to the asrama and, as soon as he saw Yatiraja, he was struck by the young acaryas purity and effulgence. Ramanuja received his former teacher with courtesy, offering him an elevated sitting place. After they had exchanged greetings, Yadavaprakasa began to express his doubts about the Vaisnava philosophy that Ramanuja was so expertly presenting. "My child," he said gently, "I am very pleased by your scholarship and humble behavior. I can see from the markings of tilaka and the emblems of the lotus and cakra on your body that you are a devotee of Lord Visnu and consider the path of bhakti alone to be proper. But what evidence can be found in the scriptures to support such a point of view?"

       To this inquiry Yatiraja replied, "Here is Kuresa, who is most learned in all of the revealed scriptures. Place your question before him."

       Thereupon, as Yadavaprakasa looked towards Kuresa, the young disciple of Ramanuja began to speak. He cited numerous verses from many different scriptures – the Vedas, Upanisads, Puranas, etc. – which confirmed that loving devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the perfection of spiritual life.

       On hearing this torrent of evidence from the scriptures, Yadavaprakasa was dumbfounded and fell silent. Different thoughts passed quickly through his mind – his previous outrageous behavior, the words of his mother, and the advice that had been given to him by Kancipurna. Suddenly he threw himself down at the feet of his former disciple, crying out, "0 Ramanuja, blinded by pride, I could not see your true qualities. Please forgive all my offenses and become my guide to deliver me from the miseries of this material world. I take shelter of you alone."

       Yatiraja then raised Yadavaprakasa to his feet and embraced him with warm affection. With his mother's blessings, that same day Yadavaprakasa accepted sannyasa from Ramanuja and considered himself greatly fortunate. He was given the name Govinda dasa, and from that day on he was like a different person. He now fully embraced the Vaisnava philosophy and gave up all pride in his scholarship. Tears of humility now decorated his eyes as he engaged in acts of devotion to the Supreme Lord. On hearing of this extraordinary transformation, everyone praised the influence of Ramanuja, and his fame spread far and wide.

       Seeing the devotional sentiments in his former guru, Yatiraja once addressed him, saying, "Now your mind has become free from all contamination. To remove the sins of the past, you should write a book delineating the duties of a true Vaisnava. By rendering this service you will attain full perfection."

       Accordingly Yadavaprakasa wrote a wonderful book called Yati-dharma-samuccaya, which he offered at the feet of his guru. At this time Yadavaprakasa, or Govinda dasa as he was now known, was over eighty years old. A short time after the completion of the book, he passed from this world.