TRAVELLING AND PREACHING
Three times over Ramanuja studied the Sahasra-giti with his disciples. At the conclusion of the third reading a desire arose within his heart to see for himself the holy shrine of Sri Saila. Thus a few days later he set off on the journey from Sri Rangam accompanied by his disciples, all chanting the holy name of Lord Hari together.
At the end of the first day of the journey, they stopped for the night in the town of Dehali. On the next day they walked as far as the village of Astasa-hasra. Here there lived two of Ramanuja's disciples, Yajnesa and Varadacarya. Intending to pass the night at the house of Yajnesa, who was a wealthy merchant, Yatiraja sent two of his followers ahead to convey the news of his imminent arrival.
When he learned of this from them, Yajnesa was delighted and immediately began to see to all the arrangements necessary for receiving the party of pilgrims. However, so absorbed was he in all these activities that Yajnesa completely neglected to see to the comfort of the two tired messengers, who were left alone without being offered so much as a glass of water. Becoming unhappy at this mistreatment, they returned to Ramanujacarya and reported to him everything that had taken place.
Being most displeased to hear how his disciple had failed to show proper respect to Vaisnava guests, Yatiraja decided he would go instead to the house of Varadacarya. This second disciple was an extremely poor man but was noted for his pure heart and great devotion to Lord Visnu. Every morning he would set out to beg alms, returning at noon to present whatever he had received as an offering to the Lord. Thus he passed his life in great contentment along with Laksmi, his chaste and extremely beautiful wife.
When Ramanuja and his party arrived at the house, Varadacarya was still out begging and they were all received with great respect by Laksmi. Paying obeisances at the feet of her guru, she said, "My husband is still out begging alms. All of you please sit here and be merciful to me by accepting this water to wash your feet. Just nearby there is a lake where you may bathe, and in the meantime I will prepare the offering for Lord Narayana."
Having said this she entered the kitchen. However, there was not a single grain of rice in the store. So poor were this couple that they had nothing at all in the house. In great anxiety Laksmi began to consider how she could properly serve her guru.
In that same village there lived a rich businessman who had become attracted by Laksmi's beauty. He had tried many times to tempt her through female messengers, offering her money and jewels, but she would never even speak to the rascal. Now, however, she began to consider that this might be the only way that she and her husband would be able to render proper service to their spiritual master. Eventually she concluded that, as service to one's guru transcends all other principles, she would surrender herself to that man in return for whatever was required to serve her guests.
Accordingly, she slipped out the back door of her house and ran quickly to the house of the businessman, which was not far from there. When she came into his presence, she said, "This evening I shall fulfill your desires. My guru and many of his disciples have come to my house as guests. Send to our house without delay all things necessary to receive them properly."
The merchant was surprised to hear this, for he had by now resigned himself to the fact that this chaste lady would never be allured by the things he offered. Greatly pleased by this unexpected turn of events, he quickly arranged for the most opulent foods to be sent to his neighbor's house.
Quickly then Laksmidevi busied herself in preparing offerings for Lord Visnu from the different things that were brought to her. When everything was completed and the offering made, she invited Ramanujacarya and his disciples to sit down and take prasadam. They were all most surprised to find such opulent foodstuffs available in a poor man's house and ate with great relish, praising the good lady for her excellent hospitality.
THE POTENCY OF MAHA-PRASADA
When he returned home, Varadacarya was filled with happiness to see his guru actually in his own house. However, when he heard about the wonderful prasadam they had all been offered, he was astonished, knowing only too well the poverty-stricken condition in which they were living. When he inquired from his wife as to how she had been able to serve their guests in a manner so befitting, Laksmidevi bowed her head in shame and narrated to him all the arrangements she had made with the merchant.
Far from being angry, however, Varadacarya began to dance with joy when he heard what had happened and he cried out, "0, I am blessed! I am blessed!" Addressing his wife, he said, "Today you have shown the highest degree of chastity. Narayana, who is represented by Sri Guru, is the only purusa and thus he is the enjoyer of prakrti. Only a great soul can fully realize this knowledge of devotional service. How fortunate I am to be married to such a lady who is the embodiment of religious principles."
Taking his wife with him, Varadacarya then went into the presence of Yatiraja and explained to his guru everything that had taken place. By Ramanuja's order they sat down and took prasadam in his presence. When they had finished eating, he told them to go to the businessman's house together and take all the remaining prasadam to offer to him.
When they arrived at the large mansion, Varadacarya waited outside while Laksmidevi was admitted to the merchant's rooms. She immediately offered him the prasadam they had brought, and he accepted it with pleasure. Prasadam is not ordinary food, and particularly the remnants left by pure devotees possess great spiritual potency. This prasadam began to affect the merchant at once and by the time he had finished eating he was a changed man.
All the sensual desires having been purged from his heart, he looked upon Laksmi as he would his mother and spoke to her with tears in his eyes, "How sinful I am! My fate would have been the same as that of the hunter who was burned to ashes when he attempted to touch the chaste Damayanti. Only by your great compassion have I been saved. 0 mother, please forgive all of my offenses and have mercy upon me by showing me the feet of your guru. "
In great happiness Laksmidevi and Varadacarya returned to their house along with the merchant. In the presence of Ramanujacarya all three of them bowed down to the ground to offer their prostrated obeisances. When Yatiraja touched the merchant with his hand, all of the man's miseries were removed and he begged for initiation from that great soul.
Desiring to make life easier for the devoted brahmana couple, Ramanuja requested them to accept the large sum of money the merchant had offered. At this Varadacarya spoke to his spiritual master with folded palms, "0 master, by your mercy everything that we require is provided for us. Money is the root of all evil, for it distracts the senses and thus drags the mind away from service to the Supreme Lord. Please do not order me to become a wealthy man."
Ramanuja was satisfied by these words, and he embraced the pure-hearted devotee, saying, "Today I have become purified by the association of such a great mahatma as yourself, devoid of all material desires."
At that moment Yajnesa, Yatiraja's wealthy disciple, entered the house and fell down at the feet of his guru. Having waited expectantly for Ramanuja's arrival, he had eventually learned that the party of pilgrims had gone instead to the house of the poor brahmana, Varadacarya.Thinking that he must have committed some grave offense and displeased his guru, he had gone there feeling depressed at heart.
Gently and with affection, Yatiraja raised Yajnesa to his feet and said, "Is this unhappiness due to my not coming to your house? The reason for this was the offense that you made to two exalted Vaisnavas by neglecting them. There is no higher dharma than rendering service to the Vaisnavas, and in this you have failed."
Being humbled by this chastisement from his spiritual master, Yajnesa replied in a voice choked with tears, "This thoughtless behavior of mine was not due to the vanity of wealth. Rather it was my exultation and eagerness to serve you that made me so neglectful" .Ramanuja then consoled this repentant and simple-hearted devotee by promising to be his guest when he returned from Sri Saila.
ARRIVAL IN SRI SAILA
Early the next morning Ramanujacarya and his party left Astasahasra and set off for the city of Kancipuram. At noon they arrived there and went immediately to pay their obeisances to Lord Varadaraja. They met with the renowned Vaisnava saint, Sri Kancipurna, and joyfully passed three days in his association. They then travelled to the holy place known as Kapila Tirtha and on the same day arrived at the foot of the sacred hill known as Sri Saila.
Yatiraja became filled with ecstasy there, thinking, "This is the holy place where Sri Hari Himself is residing along with His consort Laksmi. It would be a great offense for me to touch the Lord's holy abode with my feet, therefore I will remain here at the foot of the hill." Thus he remained with his followers at the foot of Sri Saila, offering constant prayers to Lord Narayana.
In the meantime all the sadhus and devotees who lived at Sri Saila came to see Ramanuja. When they heard of his resolution not to climb the hill for fear of committing an offense, they all submitted a petition. "0 pure one, if great souls such as yourself are unwilling to walk upon the sacred hill of Sri Saila, then all the common people will act in the same way and even the priests will be afraid to go up to the temple. Therefore please change your decision and agree to climb the hill. The hearts of pure devotees are the real temples of Sri Hari, for He is always present where pure devotion is manifest. The places of pilgrimage become even more sanctified because they are visited by the great devotees."
MEETING WITH SAILAPURNA
Accepting the appeals of these holy men, Yatiraja changed his decision and set off with all his disciples to climb the hill. The ascent is long and steep, and after some time Ramanuja became fatigued due to hunger and thirst. While they were resting by the side of the path, Ramanuja's uncle, the Vaisnava acarya Sri Sailapurna, appeared there, having come to bring mama-prasada and caranamrita from the temple at the top of the hill. Seeing this saintly devotee performing such menial service on his behalf, Ramanuja was a little disturbed and hesaid, "Why are you behaving in this way? Why should such a learned acarya as yourself take such trouble for a lowly person like me? Surely a boy could have been engaged to perform this service."
"I was thinking in this way, too," replied Sailapurna, "but after searching for someone suitable Icould find no one less respectable than myself. For this reason I have come to you personally." Ramanuja was very satisfied to hear this reply from his uncle, for he could understand that humility is one of the Vaisnava's most essential qualities. He then offered obeisances at the feet of Sri Sailapurna and happily honored the prasada along with his disciples. Being relieved from their fatigue, the party then continued up the hill until they reached the famous temple of Venkatesvara.
Having circumambulated the temple, Ramanuja went before the Deity to offer prayers and obeisances. On seeing the beauty of the Lord his heart became filled with devotional ecstasy, and tears began to flow down his cheeks. Quickly the symptoms of love of God overwhelmed him, and he passed from external consciousness, falling to the ground in a faint. When he eventually regained his senses, the priests of the temple brought large quantities of maha-prasada both for Yatiraja and all of his disciples. All the devotees felt great happiness in seeing that holy shrine and remained at the temple for three days.
During this time Govinda, Ramanuja's cousin, who was a disciple of Sailapurna, came there to join the party. The two devotees were delighted to see one another again and embraced each other in great happiness. At the request of Sailapurna, Ramanujacarya remained at Sri Saila for the next year, and every day the aged acarya would recite the Ramayana to him, adding his own inspired explanations to the verses. At the end of one year their study of the Ramayana was complete and Ramanuja considered himself highly fortunate to have been able to hear this scripture from such a learned devotee.
GOVINDA'S UNUSUAL BEHAVIOR
While he was staying at Sailapurna's asrama, Yatiraja was astonished by the behavior of his cousin on a number of occasions. One day he saw Govinda preparing his gurus bed, but he was shocked to see his cousin lie down himself upon the same bed. Ramanuja was disturbed to see such apparently disrespectful behavior and went at once to inform Sailapurna, who immediately summoned his disciple to his presence.
"Do you know what happens," he asked Govinda, "to one who sees fit to lie down on his guru’s bed?"
"One who lies down on the bed of his guru is certainly destined for hell," replied Govinda calmly.
"If you are aware of the consequences, then why do you act in such a way?" Sailapurna then inquired.
To this Govinda replied, "Every day I lie down on your bed just to make sure that it is comfortable and that your rest will be undisturbed. If it ensures your comfort, then I am certainly willing to remain eternally in hell." When Yatiraja heard his cousin's humble submission, he felt ashamed of his ignorance in misjudging Govinda and begged his forgiveness.
On another occasion Ramanuja saw his cousin behaving in a manner that was totally bewildering. He saw Govinda holding a snake in his left hand and repeatedly thrusting the finger of his right hand into the creature's mouth, causing it almost to die from pain. After taking his bath, Govinda came to Ramanuja, who inquired from him, "Why were you acting in such a strange way with that snake? It was sheer madness, and only due to good fortune were you not bitten. By acting like a cruel child you not only placed yourself in great danger, but also caused needless suffering to the poor creature, which is now lying there almost dead."
"But my dear brother," replied Govinda, "while eating something that snake had got a thorn stuck in its throat and was writhing in pain when I found it. I was putting my finger into its mouth only to remove that thorn. Now it appears lifeless only because of exhaustion and will soon be fully recovered." Yatiraja was both surprised and gratified to see Govinda's compassion on his fellow living beings, and after this incident his love for his cousin became even more profound.
RETURNING TO KANCI
After thus passing one year at Sri Saila, hearing the Ramayana from Acarya Sailapurna, Ramanuja decided to return to Sri Rangam. When he came, before Sailapurna to offer his respects before departing, that elderly disciple of Yamunacarya said to him, "My son, having you with me here for this last year has given me great pleasure. Now if there is anything that you desire from me, just ask, and, if it is within my power, I will give it to you."
To this Ramanuja replied, "0 Mahatma, please give me your disciple Govinda. That is my only request."
Sailapurna assented at once, and so it was with great happiness that Yatiraja set off for Sri Rangam in the association of his beloved cousin. After travelling for several days they came to the city of Kancipuram, where Ramanuja and Govinda had grown up together.
SAILAPURNA'S DEALINGS WITH GOVINDA
They first went to see Lord Varadaraja and then on to visit Kancipurna, the great devotee and old friend of Ramanuja. After describing to him Govinda's wonderful devotion to his guru, Ramanuja finally begged Kancipurna, "Please bless my cousin and make him even more devoted to his guru and even more merciful toward all living entities."
On hearing this Kancipurna smiled and said, "The Lord always fulfills your desires. No harm can ever befall one who has your blessings." But having observed a disconsolate took on Govinda's face, he added, "Your cousin is suffering greatly due to feelings of separation from his beloved guru. Why don't you send him back to Sri Saila, so that he can resume his service to Sailapurna, which is the delight of his life?"
Ramanuja considered Kancipurna's words for some time. Then he went over to Govinda and instructed him to leave immediately and return to the shelter of his spiritual master. Govinda was very pleased to receive this instruction and travelled quickly back to Sri Saila by the shortest possible route.
However, when Sailapurna heard of Govinda's return, he did not so much as glance at him or call him to take prasada. Eventually the acaryas wife, a kind-hearted lady, said to her husband, "You may or may not speak to Govinda, but you must at least feed him"
"It is not my duty to feed a horse that has been sold," replied Sailapurna. "He should take shelter of his new master alone."
When he heard these words, Govinda, who was standing at the door, understood his gurus mind and left at once to rejoin his cousin. On arriving at Kancipuram, he went before Ramanuja and bowed down at his feet, saying, "From this day on you should never again address me as 'brother', for I have heard from the lips of Sailapurna that you are now my master."
RETURN TO SRI RANGAM
Seeing Govinda's fatigue from his travels, Yatiraja had him bathe and then take prasada. From that time on, Govinda rendered service to his cousin in the same meticulous way he had done for Sailapurna. The party of Vaisnavas remained for three more nights in Kancipuram and then travelled on to Astasahasra. There they stayed for the night with Yajnesa, Yatiraja's wealthy disciple who had previously been so disappointed. The next day they continued on to Sri Rangam and were warmly welcomed by all the inhabitants of that city.
Now realizing that his gurus intention had been to entrust him completely to the care of Ramanuja, Govinda served his cousin with a contented heart. Within a few days he had discovered all of his new master's requirements and rendered service to him so perfectly that all the other disciples were struck with wonder. One day, while they were talking with Govinda, some of them elaborately praised the quality of his service. On hearing this, Govinda surprised them by saying, "Yes, my good qualities are certainly worthy of praise."
Shocked at hearing such proud words from a Vaisnava, they reported the incident to Yatiraja, who called Govinda to him, saying, "Although it is true that all the good qualities of a devotee are seen in your person, you should never allow this to make you feel arrogant or conceited."
To this Govinda replied, "After many thousands of births, I obtained this human form of life, but even then I was going astray and falling from the path of true perfection. It was your mercy alone that saved me from the darkness of delusion and therefore whatever good qualities others may see in me are due to you alone, for I am by nature fallen and low-minded. Thus whenever anyone offers me words of praise, it is in actuality praise of yourself. For this reason I fully approve of such statements."
On another occasion, when several of Yatiraja's disciples were walking to the asrama, they were shocked to see Govinda, who had not even finished his morning duties, sitting down outside the house of a prostitute. Again Yatiraja summoned his cousin to ask him about his unusual behavior. "Why were you sitting at the door of a prostitute's house instead of attending to your morning duties," he inquired.
"That woman was singing the tales of the Ramayana in such a sweet voice," came the reply, "and I was so captivated by hearing the pastimes of Sri Ramacandra that I could not bring myself to leave. For this reason my morning duties have been neglected" On hearing this, everyone was filled with wonder to understand Govinda's simplicity and natural devotion.
A few days later Govinda's mother, Diptimati, came to Ramanujacarya. "My child," she said, "Govinda's wife is now grown up and of a suitable age to bear children. Please ask him to perform his duty by perpetuating our family, for he will not listen to me. When I raised the matter with him previously, he told me, 'You may bring my wife to me when I have completed my service to Yatiraja and have some free time.' But up until this day he has never had any free time, being always absorbed in his service."
Ramanuja then called for Govinda and instructed him that, as a householder, it was his duty to have children who could be trained as pure devotees. "Purify your mind of the lower modes of nature," he told him, "and then live with your wife and raise a family." Govinda, as always, accepted his cousin's order and went away to carry out his instructions.
However, a few days later Ramanuja's aunt came to him again, complaining that Govinda still had not adopted the life of a grhastha. When he was called to come before Yatiraja, Govinda explained the situation. "0 Master, you instructed me to purify my mind of the lower modes of nature and then to live with my wife and beget children. However, I find that when my devotion to the Lord is completely pure, I cannot even think of family life or begetting children. Therefore it has now become very difficult for me to follow your instructions."
When he had listened to Govinda's submission, Ramanujacarya was silent for some time. Then he said, "Govinda, now that I understand the state of your mind, I consider that it is your duty to take sannyasa immediately, for a person must accept the regulations of the status of life that is most suitable or him. This is the injunction of the scriptures. As you have attained complete mastery over the senses, you are quite fit to be a sannyasi. " Govinda was very pleased to hear his cousin's words and bowed down at his feet.
With the permission of Diptimati, Yatiraja began to arrange for the ceremony without delay. In the presence of the sacred fire, Govinda was offered the danda and kamandalu and thus became a Vaisnava sannyasi. With effulgent features and tears of ecstasy in his eyes, his pure appearance attracted the minds of all those present at the ceremony.
Out of great affection, Yatiraja gave his cousin the name Mananatha, meaning the controller of the mind, a name used by his own disciples to address him. Thinking himself unworthy to bear the same name as his preceptor, Govinda refused to accept this name. So Ramanuja translated it into the Tamil equivalent, 'Emperumanan', or Embar for short. Later on when Ramanuja founded an asrama in Jagannatha Puri, he called it the Embar Math in honor of his cousin.
JOURNEY TO KASHMIR
While Ramanujacarya was teaching his disciples at Sri Rangam, he frequently recalled the promise he had made before the body of Yamunacarya to present an authentic Vaisnava commentary on the Vedanta-sutras, which would nullify the misleading mayavadi interpretations.
One day, recalling his vow, he said to the assembly of disciples, "I have made a promise to Yamunacarya that I would write the Sri-bhasya commentary, but until now I have done nothing to keep my vow. Before attempting such a task, it is essential that I study the Bodhayana-vrrti, written by the sage Bodhayana, but this is such a rare book that I have been unable to locate a single copy of it anywhere in this part of the country. However, I have heard that one copy of this work is preserved with great care at Sarada-pitha in Kashmir. Therefore I am proposing to go there, taking with me only Kuresa, so that I can make a study of Bodhayana's teachings and then present a true explanation of the Vedanta-sutras.
Thus it was that a few days later Ramanuja and Kuresa set off for the far north of India. After travelling for three months, they arrived at Sarada-pitha in Kashmir. There Yatiraja held long philosophical discussions with the local panditas, who were amazed by his knowledge of the scriptures and the depth of his wisdom. Thus they treated him as an honored guest.
However, when he inquired from them about the Bodhayana-vrtti, they were reluctant to let him see this book. Being themselves impersonalists, they realized that if Yatiraja were able to absorb Bodhayana's philosophical conclusions, he would be in a position to completely destroy their false mayavada doctrines with his forceful Vaisnava presentation. Thinking in this way, they said to him, "It is true that the book you mentioned was here until recently, but unfortunately it has been eaten by worms and is now completely destroyed."
KURESA'S WONDERFUL ABILITY
Ramanujacarya was dismayed to hear this, thinking all his labor in travelling so far had been for nothing. However, that night as he was lying down the goddess Sarada (Durga) appeared before him with the book, saying, "My child, take this book and return immediately to your own country." Straight away, having hidden the book amongst their belongings, Ramanuja and Kuresa took leave of the panditas of Sarada-pitha and departed from that place.
A few days later the scholars were rearranging the books in their library and checking to see if any were in need of repair. When they discovered that the Bodhayana-vrtti was missing, they at once concluded that the two Vaisnavas from south India must be responsible for its disappearance and sent a party of men in pursuit of them to recover the book. After travelling day and night for almost a month, they at last caught up with Ramanuja and Kuresa and learned on inquiring from them that they were indeed in possession of the Bodhayana-vrttii. Without another word they took the book from them and returned with it to their home in Kashmir.
Yatiraja was distressed at the loss, wondering how it would now be possible for him to write the Sri-bhasya. Kuresa, on the other hand, did not seem in the least disturbed and said cheerfully, "0 Master, there is no need for you to feel unhappy about what has happened. Every night of our journey, while you were sleeping, I was studying that vrtti, and now I know the whole book by heart. If we stay here for a few days, I will be able to write it all down from memory."
Ramanuja was surprised to learn of his disciple's prodigious powers of memory and also delighted to hear that he would be able to retain a copy of the book he had so eagerly sought. Embracing Kuresa, he said, "From this day I am eternally indebted to you."
WRITING THE SRI BHASYA
When Kuresa had finished transcribing the book, they continued on their way and reached Sri Rangam without further incident. Back at the asrama, Ramanuja called all his disciples together and recounted to them what had befallen himself and Kuresa on their journey.
Finally he said, "0 devotees, by the strength of your devotion and the wonderful power of Kuresa's memory, the Bodhayana-vrtti has been procured. Now I will be able to refute the foolish ideas of persons who consider that a mere intellectual understanding of the Vedic statements, tat tvam asi and aham brahmasmi can bring one to a state of full perfection. By falsely staling that the individual souls are themselves God, these scholars have misled the mass of people away from the true goal of life, devotion to Lord Visnu.
"Therefore I shall now commence writing the Sri-bhasya, which will reveal the true verdict of the Vedas, that only through loving devotion to Lord Narayana can one achieve the perfection of life. Now all of you please pray to the Lord that this may be completed without any impediment. Kuresa, you must act as my secretary, but if you hear some argument which does not seem proper to you, then you must stop writing and sit quietly. Then I shall reconsider my statements and change them if I find any fault."
The next day Yatiraja began to dictate the Sri-bhasya, with Kuresa writing down everything he said. Only once did Kuresa stop writing and refuse to inscribe one of his gurus statements. This occurred when Ramanuja described that the essential nature of the soul was nitya and jnata, that is, eternal and full of knowledge. When he saw his disciple's behavior, Yatiraja was at first annoyed, saying to him, "Why do you not write the commentary yourself".
But, when he thought deeply about what he had said, he realized that the statement that the soul is eternal and full of knowledge might indicate that the soul is independent. He considered that the statement of the Bhagavad-gita: mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah clearly reveals that the jiva is always dependent on the Supreme Lord for his existence. Therefore the Lord is eternally the master of all jivas.
Having reached this conclusion, Yatiraja changed his previous statement to say that the essential nature of the soul is visnu-sesatva and jnatrtva, that is, always completely dependent on Lord Visnu and existing just to engage in His service. On hearing this, Kuresa continued writing, and in a few months the Sri-bhasya commentary was complete. This wonderful book so nicely explains the supremacy of Lord Visnu and so expertly refutes the false notions of the mayavadis, that it is still venerated by all Vaisnavas. Ramanuja wrote several other excellent books of Vaisnava philosophy and in this way presented the doctrine of Visistadvaita-vada.
TRAVELS THROUGHOUT INDIA
Having finished the Sri-bhasya, Ramanujacarya was satisfied in having fulfilled one of the three vows he had taken to complete the work of Yamunacarya. Now he decided he was ready to fulfill the second of his promises by preaching the Vaisnava philosophy he had presented in the Sri-bhasya all over India. Therefore, with seventy-four of his chief disciples and many other followers, he set off to spread the glories of Lord Narayana and refute the false doctrines of the impersonalists.
First of all they went to Kancipuram, the capital of the Cholas. Having offered prayers to Lord Varadaraja, Yatiraja then continued on his journey to the city of Kumbakonam. When he spoke in the temple there, he was challenged by some of the local scholars, who were followers of Sankaracarya. However, by citing many verses from different scriptures, he completely nullified their arguments. All the panditas of Kumbakonam then surrendered to Ramanujacarya and became devotees of Lord Narayana.
Next, Yatiraja and his followers travelled to Madurai, which in those days was the capital of the Pandya kingdom as well as a center for all types of scholars. Before a great assembly of learned panditas, Ramanuja spoke about the philosophy of devotion. His presentation was so convincing that at once everyone accepted his teachings and agreed to become devotees of Lord Visnu.
After remaining for a few days in Madurai, the party of Vaisnavas travelled on to the city of Kuranga and from there to Kurakapuri. In both these places Deities of Lord Visnu were being worshipped, and all the devotees took pleasure in singing devotional songs in the temples.
From there they journeyed across to the west coast of India to the city of Trivandrum in Kerala, where they were able to behold the beautiful features of Lord Padmanabha lying on His bed of Ananta-Sesa. Then they travelled all the way up the west coast to Dvaraka, from there across to Mathura and Vrndavana, to Salagrama, Saketa, Naimisaranya, Puskara, and Badarikasrama.
In these holy tirthas Ramanuja preached the philosophy of loving devotion to the Supreme Lord, and all those who heard him were convinced to become devotees. Many times logicians, Buddhists, and the impersonalist followers of Sankara came before him to present their own arguments, but in every instance he was able to point out the deficiencies in these different doctrines and establish the supremacy of the Vaisnava philosophy. Eventually they came again to Sarada-pitha in the province of Kashmir, where Yatiraja and Kuresa had previously endeavored to obtain a copy of the Bodhayana-vrtti.
The scholars of that place came to try to defeat Ramanujacarya, but none of them could match his solid arguments. Being overcome in debate, they then resorted to the art of black magic in which they were also adept. They chanted various mantras with the intention of bringing about the death of their opponent. However, because of Yatiraja's spiritual potency, the spells were unable to affect him and returned to afflict those who had cast them. Thus all the panditas of Sarada-pitha fell sick and were on the point of death.
At this time the King of Kashmir heard of what was happening. He hurried to Sarada-pitha and fell at Ramanuja's feet, begging him to forgive those sinful brahmanas. Yatiraja accepted this appeal and cured all of them, after which they became his disciples along with the king.
Having left Sarada-pitha, Ramanujacarya travelled southwards to Benares, where he remained for several months preaching and inspiring many of those who heard him to become devotees. From Benares he travelled to Jagannatha Puri, where he founded a monastery named the Embar Math. By this time his reputation as a scholar and devotee was widely known throughout the whole of India, and as a result none of the pandits of Jagannatha Puri dared to come and challenge him.
Desiring that the priests of the Jagannatha temple adopt the pancaratrki system of worship, as explained by Narada Muni, Ramanuja appealed to the King of Orissa to arrange a debate between them. Being fearful of the outcome of such a confrontation, all the priests prayed to Lord Jagannatha to save them from inevitable defeat. That very night as Yatiraja was sleeping, he was flung three hundred miles by Lord Jagannatha to the holy dhama of Kurma-ksetra.
When he awoke, Ramanuja was bewildered to find himself in a completely different place and without any of the disciples who had been accompanying him. At first he thought that the temple nearby was dedicated to Lord Siva, and so he decided to fast for the day as a penance for his inability to worship Lord Narayana. However, when he inquired from some of the local people, he was informed that the Deity was in fact that of Lord Kurmadeva, one of the incarnations of Lord Visnu. He then went to the temple and happily engaged in the worship of the Lord.
RETURN TO SRI RANGAM
After residing at Kurma-ksetra for several days, Ramanuja was reunited with his disciples, who were continuing their journey southwards. He went with them to Simhacala and then on to Ahovata, where he established another matha. At Isalinganga they were able to see the Deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva and offer prayers at His lotus feet.
In this way, travelling southwards down the eastern side of India, they came at last to Tirupati, Sri Saila, where Yatiraja had previously stayed for one year with his uncle, Sailapurna. At that time a great controversy was raging there, for the followers of Lord Siva were challenging the devotees by claiming that Lord Venkatesvara was actually a Deity of Siva. Ramanuja then explained the history of Venkata Hill, with reference to various scriptures, and established that Sri Venkatesvara was a Deity of Lord Visnu.
Having remained at Tirupati for two weeks, Ramanuja and his followers continued their journey on to Kancipuram, where they were able to worship Lord Varadaraja. From Kanci they passed on through Madurantaka to Vira-narayana-pura, the birthplace of Nathamuni, Yamunacarya's grandfather and receptor. From there they went on to Sri Rangam and once again took shelter of Lord Ranganatha.