History & Culture

He integrated the Veda and Agama systems

Among the Acharyas, Ramanujacharya occupies the pre-eminent position because of his singular contribution in spearheading the convergence of two scriptural traditions — the Veda (Nigama) and the Agama in the Sribhashya, his commentary on the Brahmasutras. While the significance of Ramanuja’s Sribhashya in consolidating the tenets of Visishtadvaita Vedanta is acknowledged and celebrated by one and all, his lesser-known coup de grace in elevating the scriptural status of the Pancharatra Agama in this work thereby enabling their integration with the Prasthanatraya texts and the smriti texts based on them, needs reiteration in this year of his millennium birth anniversary.

The import of this confluence can be appreciated better when it becomes apparent that this scriptural sanction empowered Ramanuja in his mission of social regeneration by making the spiritual goal inclusive and accessible by offering the easier alternative of Saranagati (Prapatti). Further it gave impetus to his efforts to streamline temple administration and ritualistic worship in the various centres of his religious ministry. On the philosophical front, the Pancharatra Samhitas provide the leitmotif for a doctrine that is fundamental to Visishtadvaita i.e. the Supreme Being (Para Brahman), the abode of infinite auspicious qualities (ananta kalyana gunas), who is difficult to grasp, makes Himself accessible in image form out of compassion (karuna) for His devotees.

The dynamics of this polarity, His transcendence (paratva) versus easy accessibility (saulabhya), offers immense possibilities: for human beings to experience His bountiful grace through the expression of His kalyana gunas and to actualise the potential of Bhakti yoga and Saranagati to realise the spiritual goal here and now by adoration of the deity and kainkarya to the Archa form, which intensify the yearning for the privilege of performing eternal service to the Lord (nityakainkarya) in the hereafter.

The Supreme Being limiting Himself as Archa and in the process becoming dependent on His devotee reverses the role of the eternal relationship between the Lord and the devotee thus giving scope for sublimation of human emotions into devotional ecstasy. Thus temples, especially Divyadesas, those glorified by the Azhwars, the Srivaishnava mystics, took centre-stage in Ramanuja’s mission to further the Pancharatra Agama legacy.

The Agamas are primarily moksha sastras that elaborate the practices in their charya and kriya sections necessary to pursue the means to liberation, which are only theoretically expounded in the Prasthanatraya texts. They are the scriptural authority for temple architecture, iconography, ritualistic worship in temples, and for personal worship. The scriptural status of the Pancharatra, unlike the Vaikhanasa, became contentious in course of time primarily due to its catholic spirit in making these texts and thereby the means to liberation expounded in them accessible to all sections of society including women.

—The Veda and the Agama traditions had existed in parallel from the time of the Mahabharata. The Santiparva section of the epic extols the Bhagavatas (Sattvatas), who were followers of the Bhagavad sastra, the name given to the Pancharatra because of having been taught by Lord Narayana. The other name Ekayana by which this sastra is known is a pointer to its origin in the Ekayanasakha of the Sukla Yajurveda. With the flux of time there arose opposition to it within the Vedic tradition because of “the rising popularity of the Pancharatragama” according to V. Varadachari.

By the time of Yamunacharya (Alavandar) it became necessary to uphold its scriptural authority (Pramana), which he undertook in an exclusive work, the Agamapramanya, to stem the tide of criticism by the Mimamsakas, the Naiyayikas and Sankara. His other work Kashmiragamapramanya, which is not extant now, was written by him to trace the origin of the Pancharatra to the Ekayanasakha. The onus of taking this initiative forward and silencing the critics once and for all was on Ramanuja, and he rose to the task with élan in his Sribhashya, the byword for Vedanta polemics in Visishtadvaita.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 3:01:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/divyadesa-took-centre-stage-in-ramanujas-mission/article18383931.ece

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