CHENNAI: A spiritual tradition has the distinction of having been named after one of its important preceptors because his compassion infused it with an all-inclusive spirit in precept and practice. The savant was none other than Ramanuja (1017-1137 A.D. according to tradition) after whom the Visishtadvaita system came to be known popularly as “Emperumanar Darsanam.” The incident that brought him such renown and became a significant milestone in his spiritual mission was indeed revolutionary considering that it happened nearly 10 centuries ago when any transgression of social norms was not only frowned upon by the orthodoxy but also met with severe indictment.
In his discourse, Nagai Sri Mukundan said Ramanuja’s heart overflowed with compassion for suffering humanity so much that he threw caution to the winds when Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi warned him that he would go to hell if he disclosed the Ashtakshara Mantra he had taught him to anyone else. He initiated Ramanuja only after making him travel from Srirangam to Tirukkoshtiyur 18 times. He had also asked him to come alone for initiation but Ramanuja came accompanied by his disciples Mudaliandan and Kurattazhwan to show that they were inseparable from him like the insignia of renunciation (Danda and Pavitram). And finally when he received it, Ramanuja went straight to the top of the temple tower and disclosed it to all who had assembled.
Ramanuja had reasoned to himself that it did not matter if he alone was damned for disobeying his preceptor but all would be redeemed from worldly bondage by chanting the sacred Mantra if he taught them, and also that they should not suffer the hardships he had to learn it. It was also a reiteration of the fact that God-realisation was the birthright of every human being.
Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi was naturally furious but when he heard Ramanuja’s reason for defying him he was overwhelmed with his magnanimity and at once declared that this tradition deserved to be known after him. Ramanuja’s reformist zeal later made him bring about many changes in temple administration to the benefit of the socially disadvantaged sections.