Ramanuja 999 History & Culture

His sweep in Karnataka

Some years ago, when I met Sanskrit scholar Dr. Prabhakar Apte, who has translated Pancharatra Agamas to English, he said that there were four kinds of endowments mentioned in the Paushkara Samhita. And thinking about Ramanuja’s stay in Karnataka, I came to realise that Ramanuja made all these four endowments in Karnataka. Here is how Ramanuja’s contributions fit in with what the Samhita says.

According to Paushkara Samhita, Alaya pratishthana –temple construction is one endowment. Ramanuja built the Melkote temple. Coming to the second endowment - Brahma pratishtana - establishing a priestly colony around the temple, Ramanuja did that too in Melkote.

The third endowment mentioned is vidyapitha pratishtana - educational endowment for establishing a Veda patasala within the temple premises. While Ramanuja did not actually establish such a Veda patasala in the Melkote temple, it is believed that he taught Sri Bhashyam in the temple precincts. He is also believed to have taught in other places in the temple town. This certainly would have fostered a spirit of learning in Melkote. He brought in Vedic scholars to take care of various temple duties.

In most places, scholars engaged in academic pursuits, do not usually take care of temple duties, and temple priests are not academically inclined. But in Melkote, we find those on duty in the temple, doubling up as Sanskrit scholars. They study old grantha manuscripts in the Academy of Sanskrit Research in Melkote, and help in bringing out critical editions of old texts. In fact, when I visit Melkote, Thirukkurungudi S. Krishnan, descended from one of the four sthanikas appointed by Ramanuja, has a brief conversation with me at the Sanskrit Academy, and then excuses himself because he has temple duties.

Rangapriya Swami, descendant of Tiruvanatapura Dasar, yet another sthanika appointed by Ramanuja, also has work both at the temple and the Academy, and dusk is falling, when he is finally able to meet me. Not surprising that Melkote is referred to as Jnana Mandapa. In fact, if you visit Melkote, chances are you will bump into a Sanskrit scholar sooner or later. In the 19th century, Veda patasalas were run in many houses in Melkote.

It was perhaps because of this long tradition of learning in Melkote, dating back to Ramanuja’s time, that Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar established the Vedavedantabodhini Samskrita Maha Pathasala in Melkote in 1854. In 1902, the Sri Ubhaya Vedanta Pravartana Sabha was established, to teach both Sanskrit and Tamil texts.

According to the Paushkara Samhita, the fourth endowment is phala mula pratishtana, providing agricultural accessories to temples, and providing water for the temple’s agricultural lands by building lakes and wells. In Tondanur, Ramanuja built a lake. While the Nambi Narayana temple there came later, the lake Ramanuja built would certainly have irrigated lands that were gifted to the temple. Thus Ramanuja can be said to have made in Karnataka all the four kinds of endowments described in Paushkara Samhita.

Ramanuja’s influence in Karnataka is also interesting from a sociological standpoint. During the Hoysala rule (1022 C.E. to 1310 C.E, when the Hoysalas were defeated by Malik Kafur), 648 temples were built. In his book, “The Hoysala artists: their identity and styles,” Kelleson Collyer writes that this could not have happened without two significant occurrences. One was the succession of Vishnuvardhana. The second was the “increased impetus given to the already long established Hindu bhakti movement by the arrival of Ramanuja in the Hoysala territory.”

Ramanuja’s philosophy lays great emphasis on archa (idol) form of worship, and this would no doubt have given a fillip to temple building. It may be argued that not all the Hoysala temples were Vaishnavite. Maybe not. But when Vaishnava temples were built in large numbers, it could have triggered an urge to build temples for other deities too.

Doubts have been raised over whether Vishnuvardhana was indeed a convert to Sri Vaishnavism. Whether Vishnuvardhana converted or not, he did declare his faith in Vaishnavism in an inscription in Belur, where he says that he built the temple “with faith in Lord Vijaya Narayana, called Chenna.”

Ramanuja’s appeal also extended to the Viswakarma community, who were the architects and sculptors of the temples. There are instances of Viswakarmas who converted to Vaishnavism. According to an inscription in Heragur (1218 C.E.) one of the architects of the Jaita Narayana temple was a Vaishnava called Narayana Deva. Another 13th century inscription says that some members of the Panchala (Viswakarma) community swore their fealty to Sokkapperumal. Even artists who belonged to other faiths, sometimes recorded their belief in Vishnu. The artist Cavana, who belonged to the Kalamukha faith, records below one of the madanika figures in Belur, that he made the sculpture for the deity Kesava, implying that it was an act of worship to that deity. Mallittamma, the most prolific of the Hoysala architects, was a Saivite. But Collyer notes that most of his sculptures are in Vishnu temples, “the creation of each being undertaken by the sculptor as a form of worship to the God.” Interestingly, Collyer also points out that there are post Hoysala period inscriptions that show that there were some staunch Vaishnavite Viswakarmas who constructed only Vishnu temples.

There was also a blurring of social divisions when it came to commissioning temples. Temples were commissioned not just by kings, but by people belonging to all strata of society. Buchiraja, a Brahmin built a temple in the 12th century. Amitayya Dandanayaka (12th century), who built a temple, recorded in an inscription that he belonged to the fourth varna. Damodara Setti, a Vaisya, built a Vishnu temple in 1234 C.E.. There seem to have been no barriers on the basis of economic status either, when it came to erecting temples. While Amitayya belonged to the fourth varna, he was a Dandanayaka (army general) and must, therefore, have been wealthy. But we have the example of a horse trainer called Ananthapala Sahani, also of the fourth varna, who erected a temple in 1140 C.E.

Ramanuja continued to be revered in inscriptions in the centuries following his period. There are inscriptions dated 1410 C.E, 1528 C.E., 1610 C.E., 1628 C.E.. etc., which begin with the words “Obeisance to Ramanuja.” Thus Ramanuja’s influence is seen not only in the Melkote temple and in the lake he built, but most importantly in the spread of his philosophy, and the social consequences of that.

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Printable version | May 6, 2022 11:41:10 am | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/Ramanuja-in-Melkote/article17319686.ece