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Series: A Sage of a Saint – II

Vedanthacharya

On a request from a needy bachelor for money to get married, Desika prayed to Mahalakshmi and that was how famous stotra Sri Stuthi as born, which is being recited with fervor even today by millions of devotees. Needless to say that the ever-merciful Goddess showered abundant wealth to the gratification of the poor brahmachari.

At a time when there was a vigorous onslaught on Vaishnavam at Srirangam by other religionists, the scholars there felt Desika was the appropriate choice to engage the opponents in polemics and vanquish them. Promptly a message was sent to Kanchi inviting Desikan to come over to Srirangam.

In deference to the wishes of the scholars, Desika went over there forthwith, engaged the opponents in philosophical debata and easily defeated them, establishing the supremacy of Narayana and Visishtadvaita. The philosophical arguments advanced by Desika were recorded in writing and they constitute the Sadhadhusani(100 criticisms against Advaita, of which only sixty six are extant now). Ranganatha, pleased with Desika’s establishing the supremacy of Narayana based on Vedas and Vedanta, conferred on him the title ‘Vedanthacharya’. Goddess Ranganayaki also blessed him with the title ‘Sarvatantra svathantra’(Master of all arts and sciences). The elderly Sudharsana Bhatta and others called him ‘Kavitharkika simha’(Lion among poets and logicians). That he was bestowed the tide of Vedantacharya by Lord Ranganatha has been mentioned by the Svami himself in several of his works like the Dayasataka, Adhikaranasaravali and Sankalpasuryodaya.

An ardent admirer of Desika, Doddacharya of Cholasimhapuram(Sholingur) exclaims with wonder: ‘Brightly shines Desika in all glory and splendour; the lion amoung poets and logicians; a towering master of all arts and sciences; possessed of sharp and miraculous power of intellect, blessed by Hayagriva; a most distinguished poet and philosopher without any equal; and blessed by Lord Ranganatha as Vendanthacharya’.

Sarvatantra svathantrar

When there was a philosophical dispute between the Advaitin Vidyaranya and the Dvaitin Akshobhya Muni, both requested for Desika‘s judgement; and his decision went in favour of the Akshobhya Muni of the Madhva school.

The famous Advaitic scholar Appayya Dikshita, marvelled ar the epic poem Yadavabhyudaya of Desika , which describes in enchanting poetry the life and pranks of Lord Krishna.

Probodha Chandrodaya (The rise of the moon of knowledge), an allegorical drama wrirten by a famous poet Krkhna Misra, based on Advaita philosophy, came to Desika‘s notice. Refuting the theme developed therein thar knowledge brings about deliverance from samasara, Desika wrote a similar allegorical drama, Sankalpasuryodaya(The rise of the sun of Gods will), establishing that God’s will alone can help one get rid of worldly happenings.

The famous Advaitic scholar Appayya Dikshita, marvelled ar the epic poem Yadavabhyudaya of Desika, which describes in enchanting poetry the life and pranks of Lord Krishna. In a gesture of admiration and tribute, albeit religious and philosophid differences, the magnanimous Dkhita wrote an exquisite commentary on this work. Dikshita also observed that even in the simple verses of Desika, each word is pregnant with multiple meanings, sublime thoughts and noble ideas.

Once some disgruntled people, out of spire, hung some sandals in front of his house, which hit his head when he came out. Not the least perturbed, Desika observed in all modesty ‘Some people adopt Karma Yoga and some Jnana Yoga, I adopt (bear on my head) the sandals of devotees of Hari’.

On another occasion, an interesting competition was forced upon Desika (as he himself says in Padhukasahasra) and another scholar, by learned people to compose 1000 slokca-s in one night. Desika composed Padhukasahasra) in praise of Lord Ranganatha’s sandals. When the other scholar could nor complete 1000 slokas and lost out in the cornpetition, to soothe his injured feelings, Desiika said in all humility: ‘A she-pig giva birth quickly to a hundred ugly piglets. But an elephanr begets her a long time only one stately calf which is loved by kings and others.’ Indeed his humiliy is incomparable.

One day during the Svami’s unchaviritti, some well-meaning people offered gold coins, along with rice. At home the Svami’s wife asked him what to do. Replying that they were but glow worms, the Svami threw them away. When Desika was 48 years old, Kumara Varadacharya (Nayinaracharya) was born to him. He learnt in due course all sastras from his father and dedicated the Taniyan (verse) Sriman venkata natharyah kavitharkika Kesari, vedandacharya varyo me sannidhatham sada hridi. (‘May Sri Venkatanatha Lion among poets and logicians, and the ablest perceptor of Vedanta-s may always be enshrined in my heart’).

During the Mohammedan invasion of Srirangam, Desika, along with the two sons of Sudarsana Bhatta and his gloss on Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya (called Smta Prakasika), left for Karnataka once again. It was here at Tirunarayanapuram (Melkote) that Brahmatantra Svatanthra Jiyar dedicated the Taniyan (verse):‘Ramanuja dayapatram Jnana vairagyabhushanam Srimath Venkata nadaryam Vande Vedantha Desikam’ (I bow down to Sri Venkatanatha, Vedanta Desika, who is the recipient of the grace of Sri Ramanuja, one adorned by knowledge and detachment).

Desika then instructed his disciples that the Taniyan ‘Sriman venkata…’ may be recited while studying Sanskrit works and the Taniyan ‘Ramanuja dayapatram…’ while studying Tamil works.

Lord Ranganatha conferred on him the title ‘Vedanthacharya’.

Goddess Ranganayaki also blessed him with the title ‘Sarvatantra svathantra’(Master of all arts and sciences)

After peace returned to Srirangam and Gopanarya, a chieftain, brought back the the image of Lord Ranganatha, that was taken out of Srirangam earlier to escape any possible damage during Muslim invasion, Desika returned to Srirangam.

Tirukkinaru built by Svami
In a contest spurred by a sculptor, Desika made an image of himself, with the base fixed by the sculptor; and we can see it even now at Tiruvahindrapuram. We cannot present here all the details recorded in the various biographics of the Acharya, due to limitations of space; but the more important ones have been included. The Svami’s scholastic composition runs to nearly 120 works covering all spheres of philosophy and religion, in Sanskrit, pure Tamil, the Sanskritised Tamil, Manipravala and Prakrit. They include stotras like Hayagrivastotra and Sri Stuti; Kavyas like Yadhavabhyudhya, drama(Sankalpa Suryodaya) philosophical treatises like Nyay Parisuddhi and Nyaya Suddhanhana and Tattvamuktakalapa; commentaries on works like Sri Yamunacharya’s Chatussloki, Stotraratna and Sri Ramanuja’s Bhagavad Gita Bhasya; Tamil prabandha’s and Rahasyagrantha’s, the chief among them being Rahasyatrayasara.

Desika’s greatest service was his unparalleled defence of Visishtadvaita against attacks of all types by other religionits, even anticipating and answering all possible criticisms and firmly establishing the supremacy of Sriman Narayana. Above all, the credit for propagating, spreading and establishing on a sound basis the doctrine of surrender (prapatti) goes to Desika and Desika alone. No doubt the Vedas, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita and agama-s all glorify the efficacy of prapatti. It was however left to Desika to formulate and codify the doctrine of surrender, as an exact science. His magnum opus, the Rahasyatraya deals exhaustively with all aspects of prapatti and can be rightly cded as prapatti sastra.

Svami Desikan was now advancing in age. He had reached the Vedic span of life of a hundred years. He had the satisfaction of achieving his life’s mission of showing the right path to the masses by precept, practice and innumerable works and establishing the supremacy of Narayana and the Visishtadvaitha philosophy warding off all onslaughts.

‘My youth was well spent in studylng and enjoyinf the sacred works of Ramanuja. My llfe has been lived in happiness, without undergoing the misery of depending on others. The arrogance of rival religionists has been put down, to the satisfaction of good men. For the rest of my life, I am looking up to the Lord and His consort, for Their will and grace’.

Desika now yearned to reach his beloved Lord in Sri Vaikuntha. Vaikuntha also wanted to get back his darling son.

The Svami shed his mortal coils on a Kartika Paurnami day, under Karthikai star (1369 AD). On that bright full-moon day, the light that was Desika, reached the supreme effulgence Sriman Narayana in Sri Vakuntha for rendering eternal service to the divine couple.

Thus ended a great era, with the exit of an all-time great Master. However he continues to guide us in our day-to-day Life, through his precious preaching, contained in his everlasting works.

Source:
SrI Nrisimha Priya October 2003

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