On a visionary and his mission

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

Published - July 11, 2013 07:15 pm IST - chennai

Still from 'Sri Ramanujar'.

Still from 'Sri Ramanujar'.

A revered sanyasin 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 sanyasin- 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. There is an inscription in Heragur, dated 1218 A.D., which says that the sculptor Narayana Deva, who built the Jaita Narayana temple, was a Sri Vaishnava. Another inscription from the last years of Hoysala rule, dated 1300, records that many members of the Panchala (Viswakarma) community became Sri Vaishnavas. In an inscription in Melkote, dated 1319 A.D, Ramanuja is referred to as Emberumanar.

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 no family that is perfectly ideal, and there are bound to be aberrations. Just as we cannot allow the aberrations to blind us to the contributions of a family or an individual, we cannot gloss over the aberrations either.

There is evidence to show that the Cholas did not always adhere to dharmic rules, and were capable of barbarity. There is an inscription in Annigere in Dharwad, dated 1071 A.D. which speaks thus of Rajadhi Raja, grandson of Raja Raja the Great, and son of Rajendra Chola: “the wicked Chola, who had abandoned the religious observances of his family, penetrated into the Belvola country, and burnt the Jain temples, which Gangaperumanadi, the lord of Gangamandala, while governing Belvola, had built in Annigerenad.” 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. The seeds of greatness were inherent. He must have been naturally inclined towards sanyasa. Arguments with his wife could only have been the immediate trigger, and certainly not the underlying cause.

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.

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

Ramanuja belonged to a long line of Vaishnava preceptors. Using the ghataka srutis, he bridged the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the bheda and abheda srutis. But Ramanuja went beyond mere philosophical abstractions. He streamlined temple administration, and said that moksha was for all. He gave as much importance to Tamil as to Sanskrit, and even today, Vaishnavite temples reverberate with the sonorous cadences of the Divya Prabandham as with those of Sanskrit. Is it any wonder then that his appeal cuts across all boundaries? Vivekananda, an Advaitin, wrote of Ramanuja’s brilliance, the greatness of his heart, and lauded his “most practical philosophy, his denial of birthrights before spiritual attainments.” And here is what atheist Bharatidasan had to say, “Muktiyo silaradu sothena irukkaiyil, ith Tamizhnaadu tan iruntavappayanai Ramanujanai eendradandro- When it was averred that moksha was only for the privileged few, how blessed was Tamil Nadu to have brought forth Ramanuja.”

The film Sri Ramanujar is in the making and is expected to be released soon.

The cast

Nizhalgal Ravi- Kooratazhvar, Kalanilayam Chandru- Alavandar, YGM- Tirukkoshtiyur Nambi, Delhi Ganesh- Yadavaprakasar, Sriman – Pillai Urangavilli Dasar, Anu Krishna- Thanjammal, Gowthami, (who acted in the serial Thirumati Selvam)- Andal.

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