Faith

Ramanuja’s explanation

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Acharya Ramanuja was the student of Yadavaprakasa. One day, Yadavaprakasa, while teaching the Chandogya Upanishad, came up with an interpretation for a line from the Upanishad. The interpretation was totally unacceptable to Ramanuja. The Upanishadic statement is: tasya yathaa kapyaasam pundareekam evam akshinee. The reference is to the lotus-like eyes of the Supreme One. While explaining the line, however, Yadavaprakasa said the eyes were red like the posterior of a monkey (kapi). The explanation caused great anguish to Ramanuja, said V.S. Karunakarachariar, in a discourse. How could the Supreme One’s eyes be compared to the posterior of a monkey? Ramanuja pointed out to his teacher that there were three other acceptable explanations for the line. The Sun is also referred to by the word ‘kapi’. In the context of the Upanishadic reference, the word kapi does not mean monkey, but it means the Sun, Ramanuja argued. So the reference in the Upanishad is not to a monkey, but to the Sun, which causes lotuses to bloom. There is yet another meaning for the word ‘kapi.’ It means the stem of a lotus. As long as a lotus flower is not snipped from its stem, it retains its freshness. So the line from the Upanishad could also mean that the Supreme One’s eyes have the freshness of lotuses sitting on their stems. Another way of interpreting the statement from the Upanishad is that it talks of eyes that are like lotuses sitting in a pond.

In his Vedartha Sangraha, Ramanuja integrates all three interpretations and presents them graphically. Yadavaprakasa was himself a scholar, and yet why did such interpretations not occur to him? The answer was because Ramanuja had studied Andal’s Tiruppavai thoroughly.

There is a verse in the Tiruppavai, where, Andal, while waking up a girl, says lotuses in the pond in the backyard of her house have bloomed, and calls upon her to sing the praises of the One who is lotus eyed. So here Andal talks of a pond with lotuses, and also of the One with lotus like eyes. So Ramanuja, perhaps, was inspired by this Tiruppavai verse.

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Printable version | May 24, 2019 7:38:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/religion/ramanujas-explanation/article5572704.ece

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