THE SRI VAISNAVA ACARYAS
The period of the Alwars ended 300 years after the start of the Age of Kali.
Shaivism became prominent, and bhakti was gradually covered over by externals.
The Dravida Veda (Divya Prabandha) disappeared. There was no darshana
pravartaka. Then 3224 years after Kali Yuga began, Natha Muni appeared. He
is the first darshana pravartaka.
In a village of the name Viranarayana Pura there lived a brahmin devotee of
Lord Vishnu named Isvarabhatta. He prayed to the Lord and got a son, Natha
Muni. After study, NM took many pilgrimages and finally came to Vrindavana.
He circumambulated Govardhana Hill. He prayed to the Lord that he might
establish the Visistadvaita philosophy. He was called back to his own home
village by Viranarayana. At the temple he saw some simple villagers reciting
a verse in front of the Deity. This verse contained the statement “This is
one of the 1000 verses of Madhura-kavi. One should engage in pure devotional
service.” He interrupted them – “Where have you learned this verse?” They
were frightened. He said, “No, don’t be afraid, you are giving me my life.
Teach me more of these verses.” They answered, “We only know this one verse.
It was handed to us via family tradition.”
He searched for others who might know more verses by wandering about chanting
this one. In this way he searched everywhere for 6 years. During this time
he almost gave up his life. He went to the birthplace of Shatakopa Alwar and
chanted this verse 12000 times. Shatakopa appeared before him and asked him
“why are you chanting this verse again and again?” NM answered, “I want to
know all the verses of the Divya Prabandha.” SK declared, “I’ll tell you the
1000 written by me and the 3000 other verses. I will also tell you the
purport. You teach your disciples these truths. A great acarya will appear
in your line.”
He stayed in Viranarayana Pura and trained many disciples, thus
re-establishing the chanting of the DP. He told his son Iswara Muni, “Your
son will be a great preacher. You take shelter of my disciples and get your
son trained up by them.” He told his most intimate disciples Puyakundar (a
great preacher) and Kavala (a great yogi) to train up his grandson when he
While NM was once doing puja, Sita-Rama-Laxmana came asking for him from the
children outside. When he came out, they were gone, and the children
described the trio to him. He could understand Their identities. He went
running after them so madly that people thought he was crazy. He climbed up a
mountain – for 1 moment he saw Them, and then he rolled down the mountain,
leaving his body.
Puyakundar and Kavala continued preaching. Puyakundar had one disciple named
Manakalnambi, who served him for 12 years. Puyakundar had two daughters but
had lost his wife, so Manakalnambi was like their nursemaid. He even laid in a
puddle for the two little girls so that they wouldn’t get their footsies wet.
This pleased Puyakundar so much that he placed his feet upon MK’s head and
asked him for a boon. MK said, “Please always keep your feet on my head,” and
PK answered, “These feet are always moving. But you should teach Iswara
Muni’s son.” MK would come back from travelling and preaching periodically to
see if IM had yet gotten a son. Finally he got, and MK named him Yamunatira
YT was sent to school to learn Vedic knowledge. But he became bored –
“They’re chanting the same thing every day.” He learned the Taittariya
Upanisad in one day. So he went to Mahabhasya Bhatta (known as Astavadhani,
because he could think of 8 things at once). He taught everything at once,
and YT learned everything at once.
In that city, Aki, the court pandit, would defeat all comers and the penalty
would be that the defeated pandit would lose an ear. When he heard of
Mahabhasya Bhatta, he sent a challenge to him by way of a royal messenger.
When that messenger came, YT was cleaning the cow stall. He took the
challenge missive and used it to clean, saying “We have no time for such
nonsense. Forget it.” YT was milking the cow when the messenger came again.
“Aki wants to know if you are poets or logicians”, the messenger demanded.
“Tell him we are lions”, YT answered. “Prativadi bhayankara simha” (great
ferocious arguing lions.)”
When Aki asked his messenger about YT’s answer, he told him “He said ‘we are
lions'”. Aki said to the king, “These men are too proud. They must be forced
to come here.” Out of respect, the king sent the royal elephant, palanquin,
chamaras and the chief minister to request them to visit his court. This
procession was greeted by MBB himself, who agreed.
While riding in the palanquin, YT told MBB, “This is just a small-time
program. Don’t speak, I’ll take care of everything.” When they arrived, Aki
was waiting for them with thousands of books and 50 one-eared pandits who had
become his disciples. He said upon seeing MBB, “You have nice ears – now you
will lose one. I can prove day is night and life is death.” YT said, “What
is the use of proving such ridiculous things as that?” Everyone applauded.
In this way YT established that he would face MBB on behalf of his guru. Out
of deference to the boy (who was then only 9 yrs. old), Aki asked YT to open
the debate by asking him challenging questions. So YT said, “I will make
three statements. You just disprove them: ‘Your mother is not barren; the
king is ruler of the earth; the queen is chaste.” Aki, in embarrassment,
thought for a while and answered, “I can say nothing about these statements.”
The queen (who was much taken with the bold little fellow) stood up and said,
“Now let the young scholar prove his own arguments. If he can do that, give
him 1/2 of the kingdom.” YT cited sastra to show that a mother who has only
one son may be considered barren. Then he said that the king is not the ruler
of the whole earth, but only a part of it. Then he said, when a girl attains
puberty, two demigods occupy her body, and when marriage is made, the priests
ask the two devatas to leave. This means that before marriage she was united
with two men. The queen embraced him and called him Albandaru.
After YT was a big king, Manakalnambi wanted to meet him, but he was not
allowed in by the guards. Finally MKN ran into YT’s cook and asked him what
food the king likes best. When he heard wit was a particular kind of green
spinach, he daily brought 3 kilos for two years. Then MKN stopped for three
days; when the cook was asked by the king what had happened with the spinach,
he answered that one brahmin had been donating, but had just stopped. YT
said, “Bring him here.” So the cook fetched him, and YT remembered him: “For
a long time I didn’t see you.” MKN said, “I want to give you the family
wealth which is guarded by 1000 snakes and which you must protect. To do this
I need 2 hours every day for 3 months.” YT agreed and in that time learned
Bhagavad-gita. Then he took sannyasa. He asked MKN, “Show me this wealth
now”, and MKN took him to Sri Rangam – “This is wealth, protect it with
YT was now Sri Yamunacharya (YA). He wrote commentaries. He went to keep an
appointment with Kavala to learn yoga, but he missed it because he took a side
trip to Trivandrum to see Lord Padmanabha. The appointment’s conditions were
that if he didn’t meet K on that day, the knowledge would not every be
transmitted to anyone again. YA said, “Let that line now be finished.” Thus
yoga was cut off from Vaishnava-dharma.
YA had 5 main disciples. He trained each in a particular field: Sankskrit,
Puja, Mantra, Divya Prabandha, and Acara. YA told the 5 to be on the lookout
for someone with mahapurusha-lakshana and bring him to me, he will be the
At Kanchipuram he saw Ramanuja, and told his disciple Mahapurna to bring him
to SR. Ranganatha appeared in a dream and told YA, “Come to me.” YA said, “I
need more time”, and Ranganatha said, “OK, but after 9 days, you are coming to
me.” But Ramanuja did not come within 9 days time. His disciples were just
preparing his samadhi on the bank of the Kaveri when Ramanuja arrived in the
tow of Mahapurna.
Some of YA’s principle disciples were Kancipurna, Sri Ranga Purna,
Madurapurna, etc. His famous composition is Sri Stotra Ratna.
YA had a disciple named Sailapurna who dwelt in Tirupati. He had two sisters,
one named Sri, the other Bhu. In Bhudapuri, Kesava Somayaji married the older
sister, while Ananta Bhatta married the younger one. On eclipse day KS came
to Parthasarathi Mandira. He had a dream there, that an amsa of Sesa would
appear in his family. Next year Ramanuja took his birth. He’d been expected
for 350 years by the acaryas of the Sri Vaisnava line. Sailapurna performed
all samskaras; baby was named Rama (Lord Rama) Anuja (younger brother,
Baby was branded with the 4 symbols. SP also performed the hair shaving
ceremony and started his schooling. At age 16 RN was married. He went from
Bhudapuri to Kancipuram where many schools of philosophy were existing at that
time. RN joined the school of Yadavaprakasa, an ekadanda sannyasi. RN went
to him to learn siddhanta.
The other sister of Saila gave birth to Govinda, who also came to Kancipuram
and joined his brother at YP’s school. When YP spoke on impersonal concepts
of the Lord, RN would object. YP would become angry and tell him to sit down.
But RN would continue. YP got the idea to destroy him. But then he would
think, “No, he’s so nice”, and relent.
Nearby, a king had a daughter haunted by a brahmanaraksasa. The king wanted
someone to cure her and brought many doctors, healers, pandits etc. who would
try various remedies, but she would just laugh at them. The king heard about
YP and invited him to come, which he did with all his disciples. When they
arrived the daughter was hanging from the rafters by her legs. YP began
meditating on a special mantra. She jumped down and chanted that mantra
aloud. The brahmanaraksasa, speaking through her mouth, said “YP, I know both
of our previous births. You were a lizard in a well in a Visnuksetra. You by
good fortune were sprinkled by water that had washed the hand of a Vaisnava.
Now you are a pandit. And I was a pandit like you in my last life who
neglected to worship Visnu.” The girl jumped on YP’s back, screaming “Get
out!” RN separated the girl from YP. The girl hid behind a pillar and said
“I (the raksasa) will leave if RN puts his foot on my head and gives me the
water of his foot-wash to drink.” This was done. Then the b.r. spoke once
more through the mouth of the girl: “Now I am going. I will break the banyan
tree on the north side of the palace to prove I’ve departed for good.”
The king bathed Sri Ramanuja with gold coins. YP was unhappy but did not show
it; YP tried to take the credit by saying, “He’s from my school.” RN gave YP
all the gold, but still YP was inwardly disturbed that he’d been surpassed by
Later, YP disclosed his resentment towards RN to a few trusted disciples. He
was especially worried that RN would develop into a such a learned scholar
that he would challenge advaitism’s supremacy. His close disciples said, “Do
away with RN.” He answered, “To simply kill him would be a great sin. But if
he goes with us to Kumbha Mela, we can arrange that he drowns in the
Triveni-sangam. That way he’ll be liberated, and there’ll be no reaction for
us. Thus advaita siddhanta will remain firmly established as the only
RN, in any case, got tired of hearing YP’s advaitist explanations of the
sastra and stopped coming to classes. Still YP invited him to come with his
students to Kumbha Mela in Allahabad. While on the way, Govinda (RN’s
cousin-brother) understood there was a plot afoot and gave timely warning to
RN. In a forest near the Vindhya hills, RN got separated from the rest of the
party. YP cried, thinking, “I wanted to liberate him.” When Govinda bathed
at the Mela, a shiva-linga came into his hand. YP told him it was a mystical
occurrence. G had a dream of Lord Siva and later went to Kalahasti and became
In the meantime, RN was saved by a hunter and his wife, who gave him water. He
told them, “I have to go to Satyavrataksetra at Kanchi.” “I live there,” the
hunter replied. “But no tribals live in that place”, countered RN
incredulously. “No, I am there”, the hunter insisted. They took rest
underneath a banyan tree. RN overheard the hunter’s wife complaining about
thirst, since they’d give all their water to RN. RN couldn’t sleep hearing
this and went off in the night to search for water. He found a well, but had
no means to carry the water except in his hands. So he prayed to Vadiraja.
Suddenly the hunter and his wife were standing there. From his hands they
took two drinks. As they were taking the third drink, RN found himself in
Kanchi. He went to his mother, who told him, “I know YP is not a proper
person to instruct you, but now at least you know the purvapaksa. You should
approach Kanchipurna and take shelter of him.” He went to the temple of
Vadiraja where he found KP fanning and talking with the Deity. RN touched his
feet, and KP said, “Yes, I know you’re coming, you just sit down here. You
want to learn from me? I’ll tell you what the lesson will be – every day you
just bring some water for Vadiraja.”
Later YP returned to Kanchi and some of his disciples told RN, “You should go
see your guru.” KP said, “Yes, you may go to him. Do what he says.” YP told
him to stop his service to the Deity and learn the Upanisads.
At this time YA came to Kanchi to see RN, about whom he’d heard. KP received
him with all honors. From a high place in the temple YA saw RN following YP.
“Why does he follow him?” lamented YA. KP assured YA that everything would
happen in good time – “RN will soon follow you, and everyone else will follow
him, including YP.”
YA returned to SR, but learning about his impending disappearance he sent a
disciple to pick up RN by reciting the Stotra Ratna. Meanwhile, RN was
massaging the legs of YP when YP explained a verse by comparing Visnu’s yes
to a monkey’s backside. YP felt hot drops fall on his back and inquired what
was happening? It was RN crying; his tears had dropped on YP’s body. RN
angrily denounced YP’s interpretation and explained the verse by comparing
Visnu’s eyes to a red lotus. In this way RN left YP and resumed his service
to Vadiraja and Kanchipurna. The next day he heard that disciple of YA
reciting the Stotra Ratna and became ecstatic. This disciple, Mahapurna, took
RN to Sri Rangam after RN asked KP if it was OK; KP had grabbed the pot and
said, “Don’t waste time – go!” RN ran all the way with MP behind.
YA was waiting for RN in SR, but 8 days passed without RN’s arriving. YA
begged forgiveness from his disciples and told them to work together under the
next acarya. He then put the shoes of his guru on his head. “When RN comes,
you all teach him”, he instructed.
When RN and MP arrived, YA had just left his body; they both fell unconscious.
They were awaken by the other disciples. RN saw that YA had three fingers
folded in one hand. As RN took a vow of three parts before the body of YA,
one by one the three fingers straightened. RN’s vows: 1) “I will deliver all
the people by preaching Bhagavata-Dharma; 2) “I will make Parasara Muni famous
by creating another Parasara” (a disciple with that name); 3) “I will write
RN then went back to Kanchi because he was angry with Ranganatha for taking YA
so untimely. When he returned, KP recounted everything that RN had done since
his departure, saying “Vadiraja told me everything.” RN then asked KP to get
from Vadiraja the answers to 4 doubts he was keeping within his mind.
The next day, while KP was fanning Vadiraja, the Deity spoke 6 sentences:
1) “I am the absolute truth.”
2) “Surrender to Me is the only process of liberation.”
3) “There is difference between the ksetrajna and the Supreme Lord” (Ksetrajna
4) “It is not necessary at the time of death to make a separate endeavor to
5) “By performing service one can come back to Me in this lifetime.”
6) “RN should take shelter of Mahapurna.”
KP went out and saw RN waiting with folded hands. KP said, “Here are your
answers”, and recited them. RN was extremely happy to hear them, and said
“Yes, these answers were already within my mind.”
The leading devotees met to discuss what to do after the disappearance of YA.
They decided that MP should go to RN and either bring him to SR or stay with
him at Kanchi. In either case he should give him initiation and train him up.
Mahapurna stayed at Madhurantaka (2 days from Kanchi) on his journey towards
Kanchi. RN, on his way to SR, also arrived there, and they met. RN told MP,
“The Deity told me to come to you.” MP replied, “I am coming with even higher
orders, from persons above the Deity, namely the Vaisnavas, who invite the
Lord to come as the Deity. I am to give you initiation. Let us go together
to Kanchi, and I will give you diksa.” RN cried, fearing separation from his
guru by the death of one or the other, as had happened in the case of YA. He
told MP, “If there is rain and I see shelter, do I wait 2 days before taking
it? Please initiate me now.” Even though it was sunset, the yajna was
How Ramanujacharya took sannyasa:
Previously, RN had asked KP to initiate him, but KP had refused. So RN asked
him to eat at his house. RN told his wife Raksakambol that KP was coming and
that she should cook nice preparations for him. But when the cooking was
finished, KP didn’t come. RN told his wife to wait. RN, going to the temple,
entered from the left side just as KP exited from the right. While RN looked
around the temple for KP, KP came to his house and asked RN’s wife for prasad,
declaring, “I’m hungry.” He ate everything on his plate and gave the leaf to
the cow. The wife cleansed the place and gave the extra remnants from the
pots away. Then she took a bath and was cooking when RN returned. She told
RN, “That sudra is gone now.” RN, who had wanted to take KP’s remnants, saw
how his wife viewed KP and was angry. He said, “This was a big mistake you’ve
made. I’ll give you just two more chances. If you don’t curb down your pride
and become a servant of the Vaisnavas, everything between us will be
Another time RN was taking a massage from a Vaisnava of the 5th caste. That
Vaisnava became quickly tired by doing massage, so RN asked him why. He said,
“I’m quite hungry – I haven’t eaten for some time.” RN immediately answered,
“Go to my house right now and get yesterday’s rice from my wife. Eat it and
come back.” So this devotee came to the house, calling “Hello, I am from the
5th caste. I’ve come to beg prasada from you. RN says you have some rice
here.” She started complaining, telling him, “There’s nothing here for you.”
He left without eating. RN, hearing this, came home, went into the kitchen
and found the rice, and said, “This is your second mistake. You have only one
When MP came to Kanchi, RN put him and his wife up in his house. RN told his
wife, “This is my guru and his wife. You serve them nicely.” One day both
wives went to the well simultaneously, and put their pots in the well together
for taking water. But some drops of water fell from MP’s wife’s pot into RN’s
wife’s pot. Raksakambol began complaining, “There are 18 classes of Brahmins.
We are of the first class, and you are of the third class. Now my water is
contaminated!” MP’s wife fell at her feet, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Please
forgive me.” RK said, “I can’t give you shelter, because I am a woman. You
must fall at my husband’s feet.” When MP returned he found his wife crying,
and when he heard the whole story, he thought, “Oh, what an offense we have
made”, and left without saying anything.
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