Tamil Nadu

He crawled all the way up

Tirumala Venkateswara Temple main gopuram. Photo: V.Ganesan

Tirumala Venkateswara Temple main gopuram. Photo: V.Ganesan   | Photo Credit: V_GANESAN


On how Ramanujar made Tirumala accessible to devotees.

Philosophers have come and gone: some merely preached, some provided insights and some great ones inspired us. Ramanuja belongs to the last category and is relevant to us even after 1,000 years.

The Acharya was the first to provide a systematic, theistic interpretation of the Vedic philosophy and stressed on the significance of bhakti and unity.

For the Vaishnavites, Ramanuja is the panchamritham, a blend of five nectars representing the five lords — Tiruvallikeni (Geethamrutham), Kancheepuram (Devamrutham), Melkote (Ramamrutham), Srirangam (Jeevamrutham) and Tirumala (Gaanamrutham).

It was the deity of Tiruvallikeni, Parthasarathy, who had blessed the childless couple, Kesava Somayaji and Kanthimathi, with Ramanuja after they performed a yagna to get a child. In his youth, Ramanuja performed the daily chores at the Kancheepuram temple.

Later, he shifted to Srirangam and from there travelled to Melkote to retrieve the idol of Lord Ramapriyar, and finally at Tirumala he ensured that the sacred place was once again accessible to pilgrims. Ramanuja’s life was steered by these five Lords and that’s why those who chant his name experience tranquillity.

The life history of Ramanuja tells us that the Lords of Srirangam and Kancheepuram vied with each other to own him. The Srirangam araiyar who had never sung in praise of any other deity was sent to Kancheepuram to sing the praise of Varadarajar and seek Ramanuja as a return gift for his performance.

Ramanuja was delighted to go to Srirangam and serve the presiding deity there. But he secretly longed to go on a pilgrimage to Tirumala. But the deity, Lord Venkateswara, atop the hill was inaccessible to devotees. Not only was the forest infested with wild animals, but members of a group called Kaapalikas, who went against Vedic rules, did not allow anyone near the temple and practised human sacrifice.

Ramanuja was distressed to learn that worship had been stopped in Tirumala because of these reasons. He wanted to restore the sanctity of the place.

During his discourse at the Srirangam temple one day, he wanted to know if anyone among his disciples was willing to travel to Tirumala to serve the deity there. Ananthaazwan was the only one, who showed willingness. Delighted, Ramanuja called him ‘Aanpillai’ (the real man) for his daring to travel to Tirumala (the descendants of Ananthaazhwan still call themselves the Aanpillai clan) and instructed him to revive worship at Tirumala, dig a lake and create a garden.

Ramanuja’s dream of visiting Tirumala turned into a reality under unpleasant circumstances. A dispute had erupted between Vaishnavites and the Saivites over the Tirumala deity. The former claimed it was a Vishnu idol and the latter, Siva. Ramanuja’s intervention was sought in the matter by his maternal uncle, Periya Thirumalai Nambi, the local ruler and Ananthaazwan.

Ramanuja, who arrived at Tirumala to resolve the feud, was hesitant to climb the hill as it was believed to be Adisesha. So he crawled all the way up.

Heated debates followed between Vaishnavites led by Ramanuja and the Saivites (the debate was recorded in Venkatachala Ithihasamala by Ananthazhwan).

Finally, they left the choice to the deity. A trident (symbol of Siva) along with a conch and chakra (symbols of Vishnu) were placed before the deity. The sanctum sanctorum was closed and guards were posted outside. When the shrine was opened the next day, the deity was holding the chakra and the conch.

Next, Ramanuja streamlined the rituals at Tirumala temple. He restructured the vimana and installed images according to the Agama traditions. Hereditary Vaishnava priests belonging to the Vaikhanasa agamas were appointed and he also introduced the recitation of Naalaayira Divya Prabhandams.

The Tirupati Jeeyar Mutt was set up by Ramanuja, to supervise the temple rituals and the Jeeyars to this day ensure that the rituals ordained by Ramanuja are observed. Ramanuja insisted that garlands of flowers should not be worn by devotees at Tirumala and the rule still holds.

Ramanuja had delivered a series of discourses on Upanishads at Tirumala, which were compiled and named, ‘Vedanta Sangraha. He was also keen to learn the essence of Valmiki Ramayana from his maternal uncle, who taught him daily at the foot of the hill (the impression of Ramanuja’s foot can be seen at the spot).

After restoring the glory of the hill temple, Ramanuja returned to Srirangam.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 1:57:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/He-crawled-all-the-way-up/article14425912.ece

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