Biopic Hyagreeva Cine Arts chose to make a film on Ramanuja to inform the next generation of this legacy Suganthy Krishnamachari

Arevered sanyasi who had dared to question received wisdom, had refused to tread the beaten track and had challenged established convention, left his beloved Srirangam, and began a long trek to Karnataka. The sanyasi —Ramanuja — had to leave because the ruler of the time, who later acquired the epithet Kirumikanthan, wished to snuff out Sri Vaishnavism and the life of Ramanuja.

Ramanuja’s peregrinations earned him new followers wherever he set foot and Sri Vaishnavism continued to thrive in these places, long after Ramanuja’s departure from this world.

In Karnataka, many Viswakarmas converted to Sri Vaishnavism in the post Ramanuja period. Vaishnava scholars give Ramanuja’s period as 1017 to 1137 A.D. Epigraphist T.N. Subramaniam argued that his period must have been from 1077 to 1197 A.D., and that Kulottunga II, who threw the Chidambaram Govindaraja idol into the sea, was Kirumikanthan.

S. Ramachandran, retired epigraphist, Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department, says the tenor of Ottakoothar’s words recording Kulottunga’s act indicates his hostility to Vaishnavism. The meikeerthi of Raja Raja II, who succeeded Kulottunga, says, “Ari samayam meetteduthu”, indicating that Vaishnavism had been under threat previously. The concerns of academicians about who Kirumikanthan was, however, do not detract from Ramanuja’s greatness in any way.

Some people question whether a Chola king would have been intolerant or cruel. History is also an account of the jostling for religious space. While the Chola Kings, in general, might have exhibited religious tolerance, there were exceptions too. There is evidence to show that the Cholas did not always adhere to dharmic rules, and were capable of barbarity. An inscription in Hottur, Dharwad district, Karnataka, says that Rajendra Chola I slaughtered women and children and seized women. The meikeerthi of Vira Rajendra says he severed the nose of Nagalai, the only daughter of the Chalukya general, Chamundaraja. When Chalukya Ahavamalla was defeated, his chief queens Sattiyavai and Sangappai, other minor queens and many other women were carried away as war booty by Rajendra II, and his meikeerthi refers to this.

Coming to Ramanuja’s personal life, sometimes Ramanuja’s wife is portrayed as a virago. But such vilification is unfair. Not everyone is born a visionary. To speak of Ramanuja as having renounced samsaric life because of quarrels with his wife is to trivialise his motivations.

Ramanuja, because of the enormity of his accomplishments, is not an easy subject to handle in a film, although G.V. Iyer did make a film some years ago. So when I hear that Hyagreeva Cine Arts is coming up with a film on Ramanuja, my curiosity is aroused. Srirangam Rangamani, who is the script writer, says, “In our film, titled ‘Sri Ramanujar,’ we have adhered strictly to the traditional Vaishnava texts.”

T. Krishna, who plays the role of Ramanuja, and is also one of the producers, says, “I do not come from a rich background. If today I run a shipping company successfully, it is due to the grace of Ramanujacharya. This film is my tribute to the Acharya. I also want the younger generation to be aware of our legacy.” It seems as if the entire crew is caught up in a Ramanuja wave. Cameraman Primus Das, a Christian, has read up books on Ramanuja.

P.R. Sethuraman, co-producer of the film, says, “We will not resort to a great deal of computer graphics. We are waiting for water in the Cauvery, to resume shooting in the Thanjavur region.” Scenes involving Kirumikanthan will be shot in Melkote. “There is a mandapam near the Kalyani theertham, which, with some clever use of sets, will serve as the Chola palace,” explains Ravi V. Chandar, the director.Lyrics are by Vaali, and music is by Ilayaraja. There are six songs, five of which are in classical ragas- Thodi, Mayamalavagowla, Hindolam, Bhimplas, Kalyani. One is a folk tune.

“Organisers of the Tirupati umbrella festival, because of their Ramanuja bhakti, printed pamphlets about our film at their cost and distributed them during the festival,” says Pammal Srinivasan, legal adviser to the team.

“Plans include commercial films. But we will also come up with films on Sankara, Madhva, Azhvars, Nayanmars, and mythological stories,” says Krishna.

(The film “Sri Ramanujar” is in the making and is expected to be released soon.)