The legacy of a saint and social reformer

The legacy of a saint and social reformer
This year, we are celebrating the 1,000th  birth anniversary of Sri Ramanujacharya, a saint and social reformer. He reestablished the path of Bhakti that was originally propounded by Tamil Alwars. Sri Ramanuja propagated Bhakti Siddhantha, which promotes equality in front of God, without any prejudice.

Sri Ramanujacharya (1017–1137) was born in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu and pursued his higher studies in Kanchipuram. Later, at the age of 24, he accepted asceticism and assumed the headship of the math at Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam. He realised that temples are not merely a centre of worship, but also a place for social activities. He wanted the temple to work for the comprehensive development of society, not for the development of a few. He organised the temple with many administrative divisions like ritual kitchen, goshala, land and revenue, and devotee’s grievances departments. Ramanujacharya ordered temple officials including priests to maintain discipline in  timings and transparency in the accounts.  He adopted all the management techniques at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam and also installed a sand-clock for time management. He introduced similar techniques in Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple in Melukote and Sri Venkateswara Temple at Tirumala, Tirupati. He also had written down the bylaw of these temples in the name of  Udayavar Niyamanappadi. Even after 1,000 years, these institutions follow the principles of Sri Ramanujacharya.

When Sri Vaishnavism became popular under Sri Ramanujacharya, many Shaivas went to the ruling Chola king in hopes of stopping him. So, Sri Ramanujacharya

escaped to Hoysala nadu (Karnataka) for safety. Here, he continued to propagate the philosophy of Bhakti. While staying at Thondanur and Melukote in Mandya district, Sri Ramanujacharya continued the preachings and initiated many social reforms.

When Sri Ramanujacharya was residing at Thondanur, the farmers of surrounding areas requested him to help them overcome the drought situation. So, he went near the natural hills and placed his tridanda across the small water flow in Thondanur. With the help of his devotees, he built a bridge and constructed a huge lake. He named it as Tirumalasagara. Even today, Thondanur lake water is used for drinking and agriculture.

When Sri Ramanujacharya was in Melukote, he organised the annual utsavas at the Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple. At that time, he observed that a few communities, under the label of ‘untouchables’, were not allowed inside the temple. So,  after reviewing the dharmashastras, he decided to allow them inside the temple. He also encouraged education to people from all sections of society. Sri Ramanujacharya wanted to uplift all people without discrimination. So, he gave Dasa diksha (initiation into the path of the dasas) to people of all communities.

Sri Ramanujacharya encouraged art, architecture, music, dance and painting. He introduced Pancharatra Agama systems in Karnataka and motivated Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to construct five wonderful Narayana Temples in Karnataka: Tondanuru Nambi Narayana, Talakadu Keerthi Narayana, Melukote Chaluva Narayana, Beluru Vijaya Narayana (Channakeshava) and Gadag Vira Narayana. In Belur, the Hoysalas started a new style of architecture on the basis of Sri Ramanujacharya’s preaching. Later on, hundreds of temples were constructed by the Hoysalas in the same way. Architectural parts and Vaishnava images carved in these temples also reflect the influence of Pancharatra Agamas.

In Sri Vaishnavism, after getting diksha, a Dalit, Brahmin and Vaishya are the same and considered as dasa to the guru. Sri Ramanujacharya popularised the dasa concept, and gave Sri Vaishnava Dasadiksha to all. In Melukote, Sri Ramanujacharya  appointed four stanacharyas and gave them Haridasa–Ramanuja Diksha. He instructed them to continue giving diksha to all the devotees. They were also motivated to start music in the temples. New kattiyams (mixture of prose and poetry) and poems were written and sung by these stanacharyas. Many Ramanuja kutas (assembly of Ramanuja devotees) were also formed, and devotees started to sing and dance in groups.

Sri Ramanujacharya was a great social reformer who introduced various changes for the upliftment and betterment of the society as a whole. Due to all these efforts, he is considered as great Acharya and is remembered even after a thousand years.

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