Category Archives: Biography

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay – The embodiment of Bharatiya Nationalism

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya (September 25, 1916 – February 11, 1968) was an Indian philosopher, economist,sociologist, historian, journalist, and political activist. He was one of the most important leaders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner of the present day Bharatiya Janata Party. A revered icon of Integral Humanism, he was an ideologue and a guiding force for a alternative model of governance and politics.

 

D-  Manish Mokshagundam

The embodiment of Bharatiya Nationalism, Deendayalji exemplifies the pinnacle of Indian civilisation. He personified the ideal Swayamsevak through his actions, words and spirit. His achievements and contributions as an organiser, social thinker, economist, educationalist, politician, writer, journalist and speaker continue to be the yardstick of every nationalist. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyayji’s life is a true refinement of altruistic Dharma and reflection of 5000 years of continuum of Indian cultural values.

A bright star in the pantheon of Indian Nationalistic leaders, Deendayalji is the ideal representative of Indian values in politics. A gift from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the political sphere after India’s independence, Deendayalji was directed by Guruji Golwalkar to take up mentoring of the nationalist political party, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, started by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951.

A pure spirit of Dharma, Deendayal Upadhyay was the greatest votary of Indianizing western concepts of democracy and governance. He was of the opinion that  the basic tenets of democracy in the west were a reaction to oligarchy, exploitations and capitalism and he advocated adoption of Indian principles of statecraft from the Vedas, Puranas, Dharma Shastras and other cultural knowledge systems.

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay was an organiser par excellence and a prominent leader of Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He maintained the highest standards of personal integrity and was the source of strength for all subsequent leaders’ actions, ideological guidance and moral inspiration. His treatise on ‘Integral Humanism’ is a critique of both communism and capitalism, advocating a holistic alternative perspective for political action and statecraft consistent with the laws of creation and the universal needs of the human race. This constitutes the basic political philosophy of the Bhartiya Janata Party also.

FORMATIVE YEARS

He was born on 25th September, 1916 in the village Nagla Chandrabhan (now known as Deendayal Dham) of Mathura District, Uttar Pradesh. Deendayal Upadhyay, fondly known as Deena belonged to a family of distinguished individuals. His great-grandfather, Pandit Hariram Upadhyay was a legendary astrologer. His father, Sri Bhagwati Prasad, was an assistant station master at Jalesar and his mother Shrimati Rampyari was a pious lady.

However, Deendayalji’s formative years were full of personal tragedies.  His father died when he was less than three years old, and his mother died before he was eight. He was then brought up by his maternal uncle. Deendayalji also had a younger brother named Shivdayal who too was taken away by smallpox inspite of dedicated efforts by Deendayalji to save him.. Thus, Deendayalji, who was only 18 years of age,had become a complete orphan.

Deendayalji’s life then turned nomadic and he left for high school studies in Sikar from where he matriculated. He stood first in the board exam and the then ruler of Sikar, Maharaja Kalyan Singh, presented him with a gold medal, a monthly scholarship of 10 rupees and an additional 250 rupees towards his books, as recognition of his merit. Deendayalji passed his Intermediate Board Exam in 1937 from GD Birla college, Pilani which later would become the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS PILANI). He graduated in first division from Sanatan Dharma College, Kanpur 1939 and joined St. John’s College, Agra to pursue a Master’s degree in English literature. In the first year, he obtained first division marks, but was unable to appear for the final year exam on account of a cousin’s illness.

His maternal uncle persuaded him to sit for the Provincial Services Exam, which he passed and he was selected after an interview. He chose not to join the Provincial services, as he was fascinated with the idea of working with the common man. At the instance of his aunt, he took a Government conducted competitive exam in Dhoti and Kurta with a cap on his head, while other candidates wore western suits. The candidates in jest called him “Panditji” – an appellation millions were to use with respect and admiration in later years. Again in this exam he topped the list. Armed with his uncle’s permission he moved to Prayag to pursue B.T. His love for studies increased manifold after he entered public service. His special areas of interest were sociology and philosophy, seeds of which were sown during his student days.

Deendayalji’s tough childhood and his capabilities to raise above personal sufferings strengthened his personality beyond the ordinary; we see the impact of this strength of character in every action that followed later on in his life.

 

TURNING POINT

While he was a student at Sanatan Dharma College, Kanpur in 1937, he came into contact with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) through his classmate Baluji (Balwant) Mahashabde. There he met the founder of the RSS, Dr. Hedgewar (Doctorji), this was the turning point in Deendayalji’s life. Doctorji used to stay at the same hostel and invited Deendayalji for an intellectual discussion at one of the Shakhas. Deendayaljiwas so impressed by the intellectual stimulation of Sangh and Shakha that he decided to  associate himself with this noble Organisation. He continued to engage with RSS throughout his college life.

Deendayalji earned his B.T. Degree from Prayag and decided not to take a job. He had attended the 40-day summer vacation RSS camp at Nagpur where he underwent training in Sangh Education and dedicated himself to full-time work in the RSS from 1942. The frail Deendayal; could not however, withstand the physical rigour of the training but was outstanding in the educational segment. He completed the second-year training in the RSS Education Wing, to become  a lifelong Pracharak of the RSS. He lived this life till the very end.

Deendayalji worked full-time for the RSS and moved to Lakhimpur District in UP as an organiser and in 1955 became the Provincial Organiser of the RSS in UP. He was sent to guide indian politics through RSS and became the General Secretary of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and later its President. His life was thus an embodiment of thorough political thought process.

DON’T DISTORT THE NEWS

A Brilliant Journalist, Deendayalji steered the Nationalistic thought through his contributions to publications like Rastradharma, Swadesh, Organiser, Panchajanya. His popular column ‘Political Diary’ was later published a best-selling book. He authored several classical books that remain even to this day, the most important for Indian nationalists.

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay established the publishing house ‘Rashtra Dharma Prakashan’ in 1940 at Lucknow and launched the monthly magazine ‘Rashtra Dharma’ to propound the principles he held sacred. Primarily it was meant for spreading the ideology of nationalism. Though he did not have his name printed as editor in any of the issues of this publication, there was hardly any issue which did not have his long-lasting impression due to his thought provoking writings. During his time withRSS, he started a weekly, ‘Panchjanya’ and a daily, ‘Swadesh’. He contributed extensively to the magazine, ‘Organiser’.

His message and mantra for the Media and journalists was crystal clear, “Don’t Distort The News”. Here is an anecdote to elucidate this; in 1961 the Railways employees called for a national strike with was supported by Jana Sangha but criticised by the RSS magazine, Panchjanya. This led to a strong attack by the Congress mouth piece magazine Navajivan against the Jana Sangha leaders.  Deendayalji intervened as the General Secretary and cleared the issue with his statement thus “”If something is in the interest of Party but not in the interest of nation, then what should be done? The Party might have certain compulsions to support the strike but Panchjanya should not have any such compulsion. I think everybody has taken right decision in their position. Parties cannot be larger than the society or the country. The national interest should get top priority. A journalist should be loyal to the country.” Priceless guidelines for the journalist fraternity.

AUTHOR OF BOOKS

He also wrote the drama “Chandragupta Maurya” and penned the biography of Shankaracharya in Hindi. He translated the biography of RSS founder Dr. K. B. Hedgewar from Marathi to Hindi. His other renowned literary works include Samrat Chandragupta (1946), Jagatguru Sankaracharya (1947), Akhand Bharat Kyon? (1952), Bharatiya Arthniti: Vikas Ki Disha (1958), The Two Plans: Promises, Performances, Prospects (1958), Rashtra Jivan Ki Samasyayen (1960), Devaluation: A Great Fall (1966), Political Diary (1968), Rashtra Chintan, Integral Humanism and Rashtra Jivan Ki Disha.

NURTURING JANA SANGH

Deendayalji shaped Nationalism into the democratic Gestalt by incorporating concepts from Vedic Sabhas and Samitis. As General Secretary of Bharatiya Jana Sangh,the principle opposition party, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Indianised the ideas of leadership and governance.

In 1950, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, then Minister at the Center, opposed the Nehru-Liaquat pact and resigned his Cabinet post and joined the opposition to build a common front of democratic forces. Dr. Mookerjee sought Shri Guruji’s help in organizing dedicated young men to pursue the work at the political level. Bharatiya Jana Sangh was founded in 1951 by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, wherein Deendayal Upadhyay was appointed as the first General Secretary. Pandit Deendayalji’s organising skills were unmatched. He continued to hold this position until the 14th Cabinet session in December 1967. His immense intelligence and perfectionism impressed Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee so much that he was honoured with a famous statement by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee:

“If I had two Deendayals, I could transform the political face of India!”

However, the sudden and untimely death of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1953 left the entire responsibilities and burden of the organisation on the young shoulders of Deendayalji.

Stalwart Statesman

Deendayalji served as the General Secretary of Bharatiya Jana Sangh for nearly 15 years from its inception and raised the organisation with high spirits and enthusiasm, thereby making it one of India’s strongest political parties. At the 14th annual session of Bharatiya Jana Sangh in Calicut in December 1967, Pandit Deendayalji was elected as the National President.

The original Poll Pandit

Deendayalji analysed the gains and losses of each party after every election. He also discussed the new emerging factors. Regarding the maintenance of democratic norms and expressing his concerns about new realities; thus we can say that he was also one the first psephologists of India.

Creator of the party with a difference

“The base of Jana Sangh being basically principled, we urgently require such training camps and workshops. Without these, we shall not be able to assess the different approaches of other political parties” – Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay

ACHARYA OF POLITICAL DHARMA & STATECRAFT

“Dharma wields its own power. Dharma is important in life. Shri Ramdas would as well have preached to Shivaji to become a mendicant and spread Dharma following his own example. But on the contrary, he inspired Shivaji to extend his rule; because the State too, is an important institution of the society.” – Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay

Deendayalji was convinced that India as an independent nation cannot rely upon Western concepts on individualism, democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism etc. to which Indian National Congress succumbed to remain in power. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaywanted to raise and grow India on the basis of its rich culture and not on western concepts left by the British at the time of their departure from the nation. Although democracy was established in India instantly after independence, Deendayalji was a little apprehensive about this development of India after these long years of slavery.

However, he believed that democracy was India’s birthright and not a gift of the West. He was of the view that the Indian polity after independence has been raised upon these superficial Western foundations and not rooted in the timeless traditions of India’s ancient culture. He was sure that the Indian intellect was getting suffocated by Western theories and ideologies and consequently there was a big roadblock on the growth and expansion of original Bharatiya thought.

He welcomed modern technology/science but wanted it to be adapted to suit Indian requirements. Panditji believed in a constructive approach. He exhorted his followers to co-operate with the government when it was right and fearlessly oppose it, when it erred. He placed nation’s interest above everything else. The following rousing call he gave to the thousands of delegates in the Calicut session, still rings in their ears:

“We are pledged to the service not of any particular community or section but of the entire nation, every countryman is blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh. We shall not rest till we are able to give to every one of them a sense of pride that they are children of BharathMata. We shall make Mother India Sujala & Sufala(flowing with water and laden with fruits) in the real sense of these words. As Dashapraharana Dharini Durga ( Godess Durga with her 10 weapons), she would be able to vanquish evil; as Lakshmi she would be able to disburse prosperity all over and as Sarasvati she would dispel the gloom of ignorance and spread the radiance of knowledge all around her. With faith in ultimate victory, let us dedicate ourselves to this task”.

INTEGRAL HUMANISM (EKATMA MANAVA DARSHAN) – ZENITH OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

“Neither possible nor wise to adopt foreign -Isms in our country in the original form in toto nor can we ignore altogether the developments in other societies, past or present and is certainly unwise”

– Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay

Deendayal Upadhyay conceived the political philosophy known as “Integral Humanism” which was adopted by Jana Sangh in 1965 as it’s official doctrine. It contains a vision organised around two themes:1) Morality in politics and 2) Swadeshi.

These ideas revolve around the basic themes of harmony, primacy of cultural-national values and discipline. According to Deendayalji, the primary concern in India must be to develop an indigenous economic model that puts the human being at center-stage. Integral Humanism is an alternative to both western capitalist individualism and Marxist Socialism.

The philosophy of Integral Humanism advocates the simultaneous and integrated fuctioning of the body, mind, intellect and soul of each human being. It is a synthesis of the material and the spiritual, the individual and the collective, . In the field of politics and economics, Deendayaljiwas pragmatic and down to earth. He visualised  India as a decentralised polity and self-reliant economy with the village as the base.

“Integral Humanism must necessarily make a balanced appraisal of both Bharatiya as well as Western ideologies. On the basis of this evaluation it seeks to show a way which would make man progress further from his present position of thought, experience and achievement. The Western world has achieved great material progress but in the field of spiritual attainment it has not been able to make much headway. India on the other hand lags far behind in material advancement and so its spiritualism has become a hollow-sounding word. There can be no spiritual salvation without material prosperity. It is necessary, therefore, that we strive for strength, and material happiness, so that we may be able to build up national health and contribute to the progress of the world, instead of being a burden on it. Integral Humanism is the ideal which determines our direction which has to be translated into practice. Our program, therefore, has to be grounded in realism. Indeed, realism is the forte of our program, the measure of our achievements and the touchstone of our ideal.”

This concept of Integral Humanism, which is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche, became the guiding philosophy of the Bharatiya Jana Sangha (Now the Bharatiya Janata Party).

END OF AN ERA

Deendayalji’s life was a dedicated life. He has sacrificed every atom of his body and every moment of his life at the altar of nationalism. On 11th Feb1968, his ‘almost dead’ body was found on the railway tracks of Mughalsarai station. Two men were arrested; they confessed to have pushed Upadhyaya out of the train apparently because he had caught them stealing his bag and had threatened to report them to the police. But they were both later acquitted of the murder charge due to lack of evidence. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay’s death is thus still shrouded in mystery even after the CBI enquiry and the one-man Commission of Justice YV Chandrachud..

Deendayalji was active in India’s political life from 1937 to 1968. He emerged as an all-round national leader but when this seasoned leader emerged as President of his party, destiny took him away to a mysterious and tragic end. He was the Jana Sangh President for only 43 days when around 3.45 a.m. on 11th Feb 1968, the lever-man at the Mughalsarai station informed the Assistant Station Master (ASM) that about 150 yards from the station, towards the south of the railway line, a dead body was lying near the electric pole.

The police was alerted and the doctor was brought in the morning who examined the body and declared it dead. When the dead body was brought to the station, a curious crowd gathered there. Till now, the dead body was unclaimed. Then one person in the crowd shouted, “This is the Bharatiya Jan Sangh President, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay.”

The parliamentary committee was in session at Delhi. It was adjourned and all the leaders reached Delhi where his body was brought. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay used to stay at parliamentarian Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence at 30, Rajendra Prasad Marg. His dead body was brought there. Guruji Golwalkar was already in Delhi because of his closeness toDeendayalji. Generally unperturbed, Guruji Golwalkar, when he approached Deendayalji’s dead body, his eyes filled with tears and he could only say in a choked voice,

“Oh what has happened to him! Many people run families, they can imagine the loss. Since I do not run a family, my sorrow is hundred fold. I won’t say anything about our personal relations. All that I can say is, those whom the Gods love, die young.”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s sentiments were expressed through the article, ‘We accept the challenge’, thus:

“The attack on his life is an attack on our nationalism. The wounds on his body are assaults on our democracy. We accept this challenge of anti-nationals and enemies of democracy”

The entire nation was plunged in grief, all volunteers of Bharatiya Jana Sangh and RSS were stunned. Who was the murderer that had so cruelly taken the life of sage like Deendayalji, who did not have a single enemy in the world? There was no answer. His death was as shocking as it was mysterious.

One wonders how all this could have occurred; this is a matter of investigation.The first Jana Sangh President, Dr. Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, was also victim of a political murder. That mystery also remains unsolved to this day. Perhaps it will never be solved.

 

Sources

http://deendayalupadhyay.org

http://indiafacts.org

BOOKS BY PANDIT DEENDAYAL UPADHYAYA

Samrat Chandragupta (1946)

Jagatguru Sankaracharya (1947)

Akhand Bharat Kyon? (1952)

Bharatiya Arthniti: Vikas Ki Disha (1958)

The Two Plans: Promises, Performances, Prospects (1958)

Rashtra Jivan Ki Samasyayen (1960)

Devaluation: A Great Fall (1966)

Political Diary (1968)

Rashtra Chintan

Integral Humanism

Rashtra Jivan Ki Disha

READING LIST TO KNOW MORE ABOUT PANDIT DEENDAYAL UPADHYAY

Life and Works of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya by S.R. Sharma

Deen Dayal Upadhyay (Hindi) by Harish Dutt Sharma

Deendayal Upadhyaya: Ideology and Perception, comprising seven volumes by Suruchi Prakashan

Ekatma manavvaad – collection of essays on “integral humanism”

Advertisements

Bulusi Sambamurti – An Unsung Hero

 When his daughter applied for financial assistance, powers-that-be in the Secretariat wanted to know who Sambamurthy was. Maharshi Samba Murti was a victim not only of the Britishers but also of the gross neglect of his own people of Bharat…an Unsung Hero

Bulusu Sambamurthy

The Late Bulusu Samba Murthy was born on the 4th March 1886, in Dulla village in the Godavari District, in an orthodox family of vedic pundits. He got graduated in science from the Madras University and after a brief stint of service as lecturer in physics in the Maharaja’s College at Vijayanagaram, he acquired a degree in law in 1911 and settled as a criminal lawyer at Kakinada. As a practicing lawyer, he proved his worth soon and appeared in the Madras High Court, along with the Late Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu in some very famous criminal cases.

Inspired by the call of the Mahatma Gandhi, during 1921, for Triple Boycott (boycott of courts, councils and colleges), Samba Murty sacrificed his highly lucrative legal profession and took a deep plunge into the freedom movement. A life of high ostentation and cosy comfort till then was suddenly transformed into a life of utter simplicity and austerity. Samba Murty took to wearing loin cloth in 1921 itself much before Gandhiji wore and popularised it. Samba Murty was a victim of the brutal lathi charge un-leashed by the police (Mustafa Ali and Dappula Subba Rao) under the British Raj, at the very place where his bust size statue now stands stoically in the Town Hall Premises at Kakinada.

As the General Secretary of the Reception Committee, he was instrumental in organising the Meetings of the all India congress committee, held at Kakinada in 1923. Even though he suffered bereavement of his only son a few days before the Congress Meetings, he stood unshaken like a KARMA YOGI and in the words of Smt.Sarojini Naidu, he turned the drops of his tears into diamonds and welcomed the national leaders attending the Congress Session.

In 1926, when other congress stalwarts were still demanding only a ‘dominion status’ for India, Samba Murty had moved a resolution in the Congress Session calling for ‘Poorna Swaraj’. As a patriot who led the Salt Satyagraha Movement (1930) in our parts, Samba Murty had vowed not to eat salt till the British Government lifted the Salt Tax and had lived up to his oath.

During the period of Diarchy, in 1937, Samba Murthy was elected as the speaker of the then composite Madras State Assembly and soon came to be known for his impartiality and boldness in conducting its proceedings. He was one of the founders of the ‘Chennapuri Andhra Maha Sabha’.

Samba Murthy had the strength of conviction to oppose (along with Rajaji), on a point of principle, the Mahatma’s QUIT INDIA call to the British and with this, started the process of his alienation from the congress leadership.

He suffered isolation, ill-health and poverty during the ten years he lived in Independent India and expired on the 3rd, February 1958, at Kakinada.

 Having lost his wife and position in public life, he spent his last days in penury at his hometown of Kakinada. Hearing about his plight, Govind Ballabh Pant, the then Union minister rendered financial assistance. He died as a neglected patriot. When his daughter applied for financial assistance, powers-that-be in the Secretariat wanted to know who Sambamurthy was.

True, Samba Murty was a Sthithapragna and like the lives of the Maharshis is of our ancient yore, his life also had inspired and will continue to inspire generations.

Source :

a. http://www.msisds.org/maharshi.html

b. Wikipedia

Pujya Adi Shankaracharya – The Spiritual General

When the Vaidic mode of communion with the ultimate was in jeopardy, with the rejuvenation and reassertion of its wisdom being a pressing need, Adi Shankara strode like a majestic lion across the country taking all other lions in his stride and converted even die hards making them opt for the path illumined by Upanishads, such a powerful leader was needed at that time when Hinduism had been almost smothered within an enticing entanglements of atheistic views and consequently the Hindu Society came to be disunited and broken up into numberless sects and denominations each championing a different new point and engaged in mutual quarrels and endless argumentations.

It was into such a chaotic intellectual atmosphere that Sri Shankara brought his life giving philosophy of non-dual Brahaman of the Upanishads. It can very well be understood what a colossal work it must have been for any one man to undertake in those days, when modern conveniences of mechanical transport and instruments of propaganda were unknown.

In His missionary work of propagating the great philosophical truths of the Upanishads and rediscovering through them the true cultural basis of our nation, Acharya Shankara had a variety of efficient weapons in his resourceful armory. An exquisite thinker, a brilliant intellect, a personality scintillating super think tank with the vision of Truth, a heart throbbing with industrious faith and ardent desire to serve the nation, sweetly emotional and relentlessly logical, Adi Shankara was the fittest Spiritual General to champion the cause of Upanishads. It was indeed a vast program that Shankara accomplished within the short span of 20 effective years for at the age of 32 he had finished his work and had folded up his manifestation. From masculine prose to feminine soft songs, from marching militant verses to dancing songful words, be in the halls of Upanishadic commentaries or in the temple of Brahmasutra expositions, in the theatre of his Bhagavad Gita discourses or in the open flowery fields of his devotional songs, His was a pen that danced to the rhythm of His heart and to the swing of His thoughts. But pen alone would not have won the war of culture for our country. He showed himself to be a great organizer, a far sighted diplomat courageous hero and a tireless servant of the country.

Before the advent of Sri Shankara numerous ritualistic practises engendered unclear practices which cried for reform. Sri Shankara completed this task. He gave them a new, purer and purposeful outlook. Working through its own tradition, each system or cult was helped to discipline mind conduct and practices, to be able to progress with the higher forum of truth. The evils were cleansed in the practice of rituals and a place was assigned to each cult in what may be described as a `federation of faiths’ with the prospect of leading its rotary to the understanding of Upanishadic ideal. Refinement of religious beliefs and practices leads to refinement of character and social respectability.http://www.sringeri.net/history/sri-adi-shankaracharya

Incidents related to Sri Adi Shankara Life – Incidents from Sri Adi Shankara’s Life

Pujya Ramanujacharya – Personification of Compassion

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 very 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.
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 God, Ramanuja escaped with the help of a hunter and his wife whom he accidentally met on the way.
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.
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 Sannyasin.
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 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.
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 Om Namo Narayanaya. 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.
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).
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.
Ramanuja then visited all the Vaishnavite shrines in South India and finally reached Srirangam. 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 Sannyasins, 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 and he was 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.
The king of the place was Bhatti Deva of the Hoysala dynasty. The Raja’s daughter was possessed of some devil and nobody was able to cure her. Ramanuja succeeded in exorcizing the devil and the princess was restored to her former health. The king was very much pleased with Ramanuja and readily became his disciple and he 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 Pariahs or depressed 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 some limited privileges–which they enjoy to this day.
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 1, 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.
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. The oneness of God is quite consistent with the existence of attributes, as the attributes or Shaktis depend upon God for their existence.
Source: Sivananda Online