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Philosophy, Vishishtadvaita Vedanta

The life of Ramanujacharya

Ramanujacharya, the main exponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy was born in Tamil Nadu in a small village of Sri Perumbudur, formerly known as Bhutapuri to a Vadama Brahmin family. There is conflicting evidence whilst establishing the precise years of Ramanuja’s life, however the popular belief held by western academia is between 1017 A.D to 1137 A.D, giving Ramanuja a life span of 120 years. Although this is not impossible, it is highly debated by scholars and hence the reason for concern over his age and birth date.

Ramanuja born to Kesava Perumal Somayaji Dikhsita and Kanthimathi Ammal was named Ilaya Perumal as a child. At the age of 16 Ilaya married Rakshakambal and after a short while he went to study the scriptures under the guidance of Yadava Prakasha, a prominent scholar in Shankara’s non-dualistic philosophy[1].

Due to differences of opinion and rejection of Yadava Prakasha’s interpretation and subsequently a rejection of the non-dualist philosophy, Yadava Prakasha plotted to murder young Ilaya. However Ilaya was informed regarding the scheme from this cousin Govinda and had consequently left the hermitage.

During this period, Yamunacarya learnt that a student had left the hermitage and rejected the views of Yadava Prakasha whilst interpreting the scriptures similar to his own.[2] Yamunacharya, sent one of his disciples to bring Ramanuja to Srirangam, unfortunately before Ramanuja reached Srirangam, Yamunacharya had left his material body. Saddened by this loss, Ramanuja returned to Kanchipuram after promising to satisfy the three unfulfilled desires of Yamuna:

  • Compose a commentary on Upanishads, Vedanta Sutras and Bhagavad Gita
  • Compose a commentary on Nammalvar’s Tiruvaymozhi
  • The name of Parasara, should be commemorated on the earth by giving it to a person worthy to bear it.

Ramanuja was then initiated and educated into the Sri Sampradaya by Mahapurna, a learned scholar in Sri Vaishnava theology. Due to some unmannerly behaviour by Rakshakambal to the wife of Mahapurna, Ramanuja, 32 at the time, decided to take renunciation.

After being initiated into the monk order, Ramanuja returned to Srirangam and studied and received tutelage under the disciples of Yamunacharya whilst being initiated into the secret mantra[3] by Goshti Purna.

It seems to suggest that Ramanuja wrote all of his works exclusively in Srirangam. Before commencing the Sri Bhashya, Ramanuja’s commentary on the Brahma Sutra, he travelled to North India with one disciple, Kuresh, in order to obtain an earlier commentary called the Bodhayana Vritti.  The keepers of the book would not allow him to take it, but Kuresh had read it and memorised it word for word, which then allowed Ramanuja to complete his commentarial work.

In his lifetime, Ramanuja restored many temples rituals to the Vaisnava tradition, including Sri Ranganatha Swami Temple(Srirangam), Tirupati (Melkote). He was a great social reformer, and converted many to Srivaisnavism, it is suggested that around his disappearance his followers consisted of 700 ascetic monks, 12,000 monks living in monistic establishments and 300 females renunciates.

Tradition narrates that before Ramanuja’s mortal demise, he breathed his spirit into an idol of himself constructed by his followers and finally shed his mortal body resting himself on a disciples lap whilst listening to the recitation to the divya prabandham, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses composed by the 12 Alvar saints.


[1] Academics suggest Ramanuja may’ve been 17 years of age by this time.
[2] It seems to suggest that Ramanuja’s uncle was also a disciple of Yamunacharya and hence Ramanuja must’ve been familiar with the teachings of Yamuna from a young age and something which he identified with. This inturn would suggest his reasons with disagreeing with Yadava Prakasha.
[3]Om Namo Narayanaya

The copyright of the article The life of Ramanujacharya is owned by the Jigyasa Team. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

About Makwana

A student of Sanatan Vedic Dharma

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  1. Pingback: Documentary: Sri Ramanuja « jigyāsā - September 18, 2012

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