Sri Nammalwar appears…

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Swami Nammalwar at Azhwar Thirunagari

Nammalwar was born in a clan “Vellalar tribe” on the 43rd day of kali yuga on Friday, under the star “Vishakha”, during the sukla pakshi, chathur dashi, in kataka lagna, in the month of vrushabha (May-June), in vasantha ruthu, in the year of Pramadhi, in Thiru kurugoor (near Thirunelveli) in the Pandaya dynasty of Tamil Nadu, to kariyar and Udayanangayar. The child was extraordinary. For several days, it lived with eyes closed in perfect health, without food (neither breast fed milk nor any other). For days together, it never spoke. Distressed at this, the parents place the child at the shrine of Aadinathar, the deity of Kurugoor, surrendering into Him the entire burden of upbringing the child. As the child was totally different from the general human nature, he was named Maran. He was also called “Sadagopan” as, unlike other children, he did not allow earthly ignorance to envelope him. For sixteen long years, Maran sat motionless under the tamarind tree (Thirupuliazhvar) in Sri Adinathar’s temple without food or drink, eyes closed, in padmasanam (lotus posture), in utter silence. He appeared like the radiant sun itself had taken on a human form, with an aura encompassing the universe. He is believed to be the avatara of Vishwaksena, chief of the hosts of Sriman Narayana in Vaikuntam.

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Sri Adinathar, Azhwar Thirunagari

During that period, an elderly Brahmin scholar named Madhurakavi was on his pilgrimage to north Indian shrines. At Ayodhya, the pilgrim saw an extraordinary sweet glowing light as a star on the southern sky. Keen on knowing the source whence it emanated he traveled southward. Even when he reached Srirangam, (near Trichy in Tamil Nadu) the light was visible in far south. He continued his quest till he reached kurugoor, where the light merged with the person in Nammalwar, seated blissfully under the tamarind tree.

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Sri Madhura Kavi Alwar

With great difficulty, Madhura kavi succeeded in drawing out Nammalwar from his deep samadhi. He learnt from Nammalwar the secrets of all the shastras by becoming his disciple. Thenceforward, he remained at his lotus feet, recording the divine poem swelling out of the heart of Nammalwar in great ecstasy of Krishna Bhakti, sometimes rapidly and other times slowly, depending on the intensity of intuition and inspiration. At the very thought of the birth and beauty of Sri Krishna, the Alwar used to go into deep trance for months together.
Nammalwar is the seer of Dravidian Vedas. He sang four immortal poems as the Tamil version of the of the four Vedas – Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvanda. Nammalwar stayed on earth in flesh and blood only for a brief thirty-five years. His return back to Vaikuntam through the Archaradhi gathi has also been sung by him in the penultimate portion of Thiruvaimozhi.

Madhurakavi composed “kanni-nun chiruthambu”— a short prabandha of just eleven poems, in praise of Nammalwar, which in tradition occupies a very central place. Madhurakavi spread the music of the poems of Nammalwar far and wide. During those days, it is said that everyone-be he an oarsman, or trader, a chieftain or a Brahmin, reached the transcendent state by merely singing these verses.

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Swami Nammalwar during the Nammalwar Moksham celebrations in Sri Rangam

The “Sataari” placed on the heads of all the devotees in Vishnu temples is supposed to be Nammalwar himself. All other Alwars are his limbs as brought out in the following invocatory verse:


Bhootam Saraschya, mahadaavya Bhattanatha
Sri Bhakti sara kulashekhara yogi vahaan
Bhakataangri- renu parakala yateendra mishran,
Srimath paraangusa munim pranatosmi Nityam

It was Sri Ranganatha, the Lord of Sri Rangam who fondly referred to “Sadagopan” as Nammalwar (which means “Our Alwar”). After this era, a gap of more than 600 years fell in the path of Vaishnava Bhakthi while religions like Jainism, Saivism etc seemed to grow.

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Swami Nammalwar giving the deity of Sri Bhavishyadhacharyan to Sri Nathamunigal

In the ninth century, when the Divya Prabhandam, composed by all the Alwars was lost to human memeory, through yogic contact with Nammazhwar, Sriman Nadhamunigal resuscitated all the paasurams(verses) and systematized their singing at the Vishnu Temples. The great Ramanuja fostered this practice universally. He wrote ‘Sri Bhashya’ keeping the Sri-Sukthis of Nammalwar in mind. Manavala maamunigal and Vedanta desikar, by their compositions and discourses, gave the pride of place Thiruvaimozhi occupies in Sri Vaishnavam.

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Swami Nammalwar, Kanchipuram

Nammalwar gave the Tamil version of the Vedas in the following works:—

1. THIRU-VIRUTTAM This constitutes the essence of Rig veda. Thiru means “Sri”. It is a poem of 100 stanzas each a quadrate. Viruttam is a style of poetry. Viruttam literally means an event. The event of ‘falling in love with the Supreme being’ is narrated poetically. ‘Bridal Mysticism’ is symbolized in a mellifluent way.

2. THIRU-ASIRIYAM This constitutes the essence of Yajur veda. It is a poem in seven sections or seven poems of unequal length. The breathless flow of the continuity of expression of the sun-lit beauty of the lord takes the reader to ethereal heights. In all, it has 71 lines.

3. PERIYA THIRUVANDADI This constitutes the essence of Atharvana veda. It is a poem of 87 lyrical stanzas. The style is at once simple and direct, moving and inspiring and transports one to see god face to face.

4. THIRUVAIMOZHI (literally means Divine words) This is the magnum opus of Nammalwar—the treasure of Vaishnavism. it consists of 1102 four lined verses or passurams. These appear in groups of eleven. One group, which is an exception has thirteen paasurams. Each group is known as a Thiruvaimozhi. Ten such groups is called a pathu (meaning ten in Tamil). Thiruvaimozhi therefore has 10 pathus that is 100 thiruvaimozhis and 1102 paasurams. The melody produces by chorus singing of these paasurams by devotees is a feast to the ears, and aptly so, as this work constitutes the essense of Sama veda.

To conclude this post, here is a beautiful video which begins singing by Srirama Bharathi…

Sri Nammalwar Thiruvadigale Saranam!

Excerpted and adapted from a 6/4/09 post by srivaishnavasri on the SriRangaSri yahoo group. Pictures from http://www.pbase.com/svami

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Pomona’s Sri Ranganatha…

Pomona Sri Ranganatha

There’s a beautiful temple located at the outskirts of New York City. The temple is run by Sri Ahobila Mutt, and was started under the auspices of the 44th and 45th Srimad Azhagiyasingar. If you’re ever in the area, the temple is worth a visit (or even a separate trip of its own). The following are some pictures of the beautiful deities over the past two years.

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The temple has many beautiful silver vahanams, and the brahmotsavam will be celebrated from June 26th through July 5th of this year. Last year’s festivities were wonderful, with live nadhaswaram accompaniment for the various utsavams. For details of this year’s brahmotsavam, as well as more pictures, please visit http://www.ranganatha.org/

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This year, the temple has a 6 ton new silver plated teak ratham (chariot) for a grand rathothsavam planned for July 4th!

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The temple has many beautiful sannidhis including Sri Ranganatha, Srinivasa Perumal, Sri Lakshmi Nrusimhar, Sri Venugopalan, Sri Chakravarthy Thirumagan, Sri Mahalakshmi, and Sri Godhadevi.

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The moolavar of Sri Mahalakshmi is very beautiful. The moolavars of this temple are all large, with impressive silver kavachams, and thiruvazhis.

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There are sannidhis for all 12 Azhwars, Sri Ramanujar, Sri Vedanta Desikan, Sri Adi Van Satakopan Jeeyar, and the 44th pattam Srimad Azhagiyasingar. There is even a consecrated deity of the present 45th pattam Srimad Azhagiyasingar in the garbhagraham of Sri Ranganatha Perumal…

Sri Ranganatha divyamani padhukaabhyam namah:

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Thirumanjanam in Thiruchanur…

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I apologize for not posting more frequently. Things have been quite busy, and will remain so for the next week or two. In the meantime, enjoy this video of Sri Padmavathi Thayaar’s thirumanjanam in Thiruchanoor, at the foothills of Tirumala. The video is accompanied by singing by the famous M.S. Subhalakshmi…

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Sri Narasimha Perumal!

In honor of Sri Narsimha Jayanthi, the following are the verses of Narasimha Panchamrutha sthotram. This prayer is believed to have been composed by Lord Rama when he visited the temple of Narasimha at Ahobilam. Since each stanza is like nectar, it is called Panchamrutham.

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Ahobilam Narasimham gathwa Rama prathapavan,
Namaskruthwa Sri nrusimham asthousheetha kamalapatheem.

The glorious Rama went to Narasimha of Ahobilam,
Prostrated before him and offered prayers to the Lord of Goddess Kamala.

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Govinda, Kesava, Janardhana, Vasudeva,
Viswesa, Viswa, Madhusoodhana, Viswaroopa,
Sri Padmnabha Purushothama Pushkaraksha,
Narayanachyutha Nrusima namo namsthe. 1

Protector of beings, destroyer of persons, he who is everywhere,
Lord of the universe, He who is complete, Killer of Madhu, Lord with universal form,
Lord having lotus growing from His navel, Best among men, Lotus eyed Lord,
Narayana! Unfailing one! Oh Narasimha!
Salutations again and again to you!

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Deva samastha khalu yoga mukhya,
Gandharwa vidhyadhara kinnarscha,
Yath pada moolam sathatha namanthi,
Tham Narasimham saranam gathosmi. 2

I have sought the protection of Sri Narasimha Whose feet are ever worshipped by all the celestials, by great experts in yoga, and the Gandharwas, Vidhyadharas and Kinnaras

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Vedan Samasthan khalu Sastragarbhan,
Vidyabale keerthimathim cha Lakshmeem,
Yasya prasadath sathatham labhanthe,
Tham narasimham saranam gathosmi. 3

I have sought the protection of Sri Narasimha,
By whose grace, one receives always without fail,
All the Vedas, essence of all sciences,
Knowledge, strength fame as well as wealth.

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Brahma shivasthwam purushothamancha,
Narayanoasoumarutham pathischa,
Chandrarka vayvagni maruth ganamcha,
Thwameva tham thwam sathatham nathosmi. 4

I always salute you and you only as you are,
Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, and Narayana,
The chief of the Maruths, the moon, the wind,
Fire and all the celestial principles!

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Swapnepi nithyam jagatham trayanam,
Srushta cha hantha vibhuraprameya,
Thratha thwameka sthrividho vibhinna,
Tham thwam narasimham sathatham nathosmi. 5

I always salute you and you only as you create, destroy, and protect
The entire three worlds as if in a dream; You are the one, who divides,
Yourself in to these three forms!

Excerpted and adapted from: http://www.celextel.org/

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Swami Ramanuja in 3 places…

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Birthplace of Swami Ramanuja, Sri Perumbudur

Although many sacred places associated with Swami Ramanuja exist, three are particularly special. Azhwar Thirunagari where the deity of Swami Ramanuja was installed prior to his incarnation; Sri Perumbudur, where he incarnated, and Thirunarayanapuram where Swami spent many years establishing temples in the area (having escaped from Kulothunga Cholan).

The above is a short video with the thaniyan (dhyana slokam) for Swami Ramanuja. The sloka is as follows:

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Sri Bhavishyadacharyan (Swami Ramanuja at Sri Azhwar Thirunagari)

yOnithyamachyutha padAmbuja yugmarukma

vyAmOhathas thaditharAnI thrunAya mEnay

asmad gurOrbhagavatOsya dayaika sindhOho

rAmAnujasya charanAU saranam prapadyE

“I surrender to that divine Sri Ramanuja, our guru, an ocean
of mercy, who in his intense attachment to the two feet of
Lord Achyuta considered all else as worthless as grass”

P.S: I re-posted yesterday’s post on Swami Ramanuja’s biography, and the pictures now are temple paintings illustrating the entire narrative. If you read the post, skim it again to see the new pictures…

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Sri Ramanuja appears…

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In the year 1017 A.D., Ramanuja was born in the village of Perumbudur, about twenty-five miles west of Madras. His father was Kesava Somayaji and his mother was Kantimathi, a very pious and virtuous lady. Ramanuja’s Tamil name was Ilaya Perumal. Quite early in life, Ramanuja lost his father. Then he came to Kancheepuram to prosecute his study of the Vedas under one Yadavaprakasha, a teacher of Advaita philosophy.

Ramanuja was a brilliant student. Yadavaprakasha’s interpretations of Vedic texts were not quite up to his satisfaction. Ramanuja pointed out many mistakes in the exposition of his master. Sometimes he gave his own interpretations which were much liked by all the co-students. This made Yadavaprakasha very jealous of Ramanuja…

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Yadavaprakasha made a plan to take away the life of Ramanuja. He arranged for Ramanuja and his cousin Govinda Bhatta–a fellow student–a pilgrimage to Varanasi. Govinda Bhatta, being a favourite student of Yadavaprakasha, came to know of the latter’s plan while they were travelling. He at once apprised Ramanuja of the danger and helped him to escape. By the grace of Sri Devaperumal of Kanchipuram, Ramanuja escaped with the help of a hunter and his wife (Perumal and Thayaar in disguise) whom he accidentally met on the way.

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About the end of the tenth century, the Visishtadvaita system of philosophy was well established in Southern India and the followers of this creed were in charge of important Vaishnavite temples at Kancheepuram, Srirangam, Tirupathi and other important places. The head of the important Vaishnavite institution was Yamunacharya, a great sage and profound scholar; and he was also the head of the Mutt at Srirangam. One of his disciples, by name Kanchipurna, was serving in the temple at Kancheepuram. Although a Sudra, Kanchipurna was so very pious and good that the people of the place had great respect and reverence for him. At present, there is a temple at Kancheepuram where Kanchipurna’s image has been installed and where he is worshipped as a saint.

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Young Ramanuja came under Kanchipurna’s influence and had such reverence for him that he invited him to dinner in his house. Ramanuja’s intention was to attend on Kanchipurna and personally serve him at dinner and himself take meals afterwards. Unfortunately, Kanchipurna came to dinner when Ramanuja was not at home, and took his meals being served by Ramanuja’s wife. When Ramanuja returned home, he found the house washed and his wife bathing for having served meals to a Sudra. This irritated Ramanuja very much and turned him against his wife who was an orthodox lady of a different social ideal. After a few incidents of this nature, Ramanuja abandoned the life of a householder and became a Sannyasi.

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About this time, Yamunacharya being very old was on the look-out for a young person of good ability and character to take his place as head of the Mutt at Srirangam. He had already heard of Ramanuja through his disciples and made up his mind to instal Ramanuja in his place. He now sent for Ramanuja. By the time Ramanuja reached Srirangam, Yamunacharya was dead; and Ramanuja saw his body being taken by his followers to the cremation ground outside the village. Ramanuja followed them to the cremation ground. There he was informed that Yamunacharya, before his death, had left instructions that he had three wishes which Ramanuja was to be requested to fulfil, viz., that a Visishtadvaita Bhashya should be written for the Brahma Sutras of Vyasa which hitherto had been taught orally to the disciples of the Visishtadvaita philosophy and that the names of Parasara, the author of Vishnu Purana, and saint Sadagopa (Swami Nammazhwar) should be perpetuated. Ramanuja was deeply touched, and in the cremation ground itself, before the dead body of Yamunacharya, he made a solemn promise that, God willing, he would fulfil all the three wishes of Yamunacharya. Ramanuja lived for 120 years, and in the course of his long life, fully redeemed his promise by fulfilling all the three wishes of Yamunacharya.

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After the death of Yamuna, his disciples at Srirangam and other places wanted Ramanuja to take Yamuna’s place as the head of the Mutt at Srirangam. This was also the expressed wish of Yamuna. Accordingly, Ramanuja took his place and was duly installed with all the attendant ceremonies and celebrations as the head of the Visishtadvaita Mutt at Srirangam

Ramanuja then proceeded to Thirukottiyur to take initiation from Nambi for Japa of the sacred mantra of eight letters (thirumantram). Somehow, Nambi was not willing to initiate Ramanuja easily. He made Ramanuja travel all the way from Srirangam to Madurai nearly eighteen times before he made up his mind to initiate him, and that too, only after exacting solemn promises of secrecy. Then Nambi duly initiated Ramanuja and said: “Ramanuja! Keep this mantra a secret. This mantra is a powerful one. Those who repeat this Mantra will attain salvation. Give it only to a worthy disciple previously tried”. But Ramanuja had a very large heart. He was extremely compassionate and his love for humanity was unbounded. He wanted that every man should enjoy the eternal bliss of Lord Narayana. He realised that the mantra was very powerful. He immediately called all people, irrespective of caste and creed, to assemble before the temple. He stood on top of the tower above the front gate of the temple, and shouted out the sacred mantra to all of them at the top of his voice. Nambi, his Guru, came to know of this. He became furious. Ramanuja said: “O my beloved Guru! Please prescribe a suitable punishment for my wrong action”. Ramanuja said: “I will gladly suffer the tortures of hell myself if millions of people could get salvation by hearing the mantra through me”. Nambi was very much pleased with Ramanuja and found out that he had a very large heart full of compassion. He embraced Ramanuja and blessed him. Having thus equipped himself with the necessary qualifications, Ramanuja succeeded Yamuna.

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By this time, Ramanuja’s fame had spread far and wide. He became a good controversialist. Then he wrote his commentary on the Brahma Sutras known as the Sri Bhashya. The Visishtadvaita system is an ancient one. It was expounded by Bodhayana in his Vritti, written about 400 B.C. It is the same as that expounded by Ramanuja; and Ramanuja followed Bodhayana in his interpretations of the Brahma Sutras. Ramanuja’s sect of Vaishnavas is called by the name Sri Sampradaya. Ramanuja wrote also three other books–Vedanta Sara (essence of Vedanta), Vedanta Sangraha (a resume of Vedanta) and Vedanta Deepa (the light of Vedanta).

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Ramanuja travelled throughout the length and breadth of India to disseminate the path of devotion. He visited all the sacred places throughout India including Kashi, Kashmir and Badrinath. On his way back he visited the Tirupathi hills. There he found the Saivites and the Vaishnavites quarrelling with one another, one party contending that the image of the Lord in the Tirupathi hills was a Saivite one and the other party saying that it was a Vaishnavite one. Ramanuja proposed that they should leave it to the Lord Himself to decide the dispute. So they left the emblems of both Siva and Vishnu at the feet of the Lord, and after locking the door of the temple, both parties stayed outside on guard. In the morning, when they opened the doors, it was found that the image of the Lord was wearing the emblems of Vishnu, while the emblems of Siva were lying at its feet as left there the evening before. This decided that the temple was a Vaishnavite one and it has remained so ever since.

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Ramanuja then visited all the Vaishnavite shrines in South India and finally reached Sri Rangam. Here he settled himself permanently and continued his labours of preaching the Visishtadvaita philosophy and writing books. Thousands of people flocked to him everyday to hear his lectures. He cleansed the temples, settled the rituals to be observed in them, and rectified many social evils which had crept into the community. He had a congregation of 700 Sannyasis, 74 dignitaries who held special offices of ministry, and thousands of holy men and women, who revered him as God. He converted lakhs of people to the path of Bhakti. He gave initiation even to washermen. He was now seventy years old, but was destined to live many more years, establish more Mutts, construct more temples and convert many more thousands of people…

The Chola king about this time was Kulothunga I, a staunch Saivite. He ordered Ramanuja to subscribe to his faith in Siva and acknowledge Siva as the Supreme Lord. Two of the disciples of Ramanuja, Kuresa and Mahapurna, donned the orange robes of Sannyasins and visited the court of Kulothunga I in place of Ramanuja. They argued there for the superiority of Vishnu. The monarch refused to hear them and had their eyes put out. The two unfortunate people started for Srirangam–their native place. Mahapurna was a very old man, and unable to bear the pain, died on the way. Kuresa alone returned to Srirangam. Meanwhile, Ramanuja, with a few followers, by rapid marches through day and night, reached the foot-hills of the Western Ghats, about forty miles west of Mysore. There, after great difficulties, he established himself and spent some years in preaching and converting people to the Visishtadvaita philosophy.

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The king of the place was Bhatti Deva of the Hoysala dynasty. The Raja’s daughter was possessed by an evil spirit and nobody was able to cure her. Ramanuja succeeded in exorcizing the spirit and the princess was restored to her former health. The king was very much pleased with Ramanuja and was converted by Ramanuja into a Vaishnavite. Thereafter Ramanuja firmly established himself in the Mysore king’s dominions, constructed a temple at Melkote, and created a strong Vaishnavite community there. The lower classes (now called Harijans) of the place were of great service to Ramanuja; and Ramanuja gave them the right of entry inside the temple which he constructed at Melkote–on some fixed days and with certain privileges–which they enjoy to this day.

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Ramanuja constructed a few more Vishnu temples in and about Mysore, set up a strong Vaishnavite community and put them in charge of his disciples to continue his work and spread the Visishtadvaita philosophy and Vishnu worship throughout the king’s dominions. Thus he continued his labours here for nearly twenty years and his followers numbered several thousands.

Meanwhile, Kulothunga Chola I, who persecuted Ramanuja, died. The followers of Ramanuja immediately communicated the news to Ramanuja and requested him to come back to Srirangam. Ramanuja himself longed to go back to his followers in Srirangam and worship in the temple there. But his new disciples and followers at Melkote and other places in Mysore would not let him go. So he constructed a temple for himself, installed therein his own image for worship by his disciples and followers, and left the place for Srirangam. He was welcomed by his friends and disciples at Srirangam. The successor to Kulothunga Chola I was a pro-Vaishnavite and Ramanuja was left undisturbed. Ramanuja continued his labours for thirty years more and closed his long active career after attaining the remarkable age of 120 years.

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Ramanuja was the exponent of the Visishtadvaita philosophy or qualified non-dualism. Ramanuja’s Brahman is Sa-visesha Brahman, i.e., Brahman with attributes. According to Ramanuja’s teachings, Lord Narayana or Bhagavan is the Supreme Being; the individual soul is Chit; matter is Achit. Ramanuja regards the attributes as real and permanent, but subject to the control of Brahman. The attributes are called Prakaras or modes. Lord Narayana is the Ruler and Lord of the universe. The Jiva is His servant and worshipper. The Jiva should completely surrender himself to the Lord…

Excerpted and adapted from: http://www.dlshq.org/saints/ramanuja.htm

Photos courtesy of: Picasa web albums


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Sri Parthasarathy…

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I found a beautiful video of Lord Parthasarathy of Thiruvallikeni, dressed as Venugopalaswamy (flute-bearing Lord Krishna). For those in a time crunch, the video is especially sweet from 3:00 onwards… Take a look.

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