Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ramanuja Avathara Utsavam Sriperambudur

Ekantha Sevai at 430am, Ramanuja's Special Varisai Walk in front of Lord Rama and presenting milk in a conch shell to child Ramanuja marked this Tuesday's Avathara Utsavam Celebrations at Sriperambudur

One of the biggest contributions Saint Philosopher Ramanuja made was his all inclusive approach to apportion activities in temples including at the Lord Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam. It was the 999th birthday at the Aadhi Kesava (Basyakarar) Perumal temple in Sriperambur this Tuesday
(10 May). 

And I watched in shock the turn of events at the start of the morning street procession. As the ghosti was about to commence, a 50+ Vadakalai devotee came and stood on the road (North Mada Street) just behind the Ghosti Group.

No sooner had he stood, a member of the Ghosti who stood between the Jeer and Sri Parthasarathy (former Dharma Kartha of the temple) gave a big shout asking this Vadakalai man to go further behind and not to come anywhere near the group. It left me stunned. 

Ramanuja advocated an all inclusive approach and here on his birthday, they were asking one of the devotees to get out. The tone and the manner of the message gave a feeling that this man was an outcast. If this was bad, what followed was worse. 

A school boy from Triplicane (who also carries Lord Parthasaray on processions) came up to this elderly person and in a tone that was completely unsavoury hit out at this man to send him rocking back on the road. The elderly man was almost in tears but bore the shouts and left the place shortly. 

The same boy later that afternoon during the 'conch milk feeding event' shouted out in an unruly manner at another devotee for taking photo with his phone. Just a couple of months, his father was talking non stop over the phone while performing pradakshanam around the Thayar Sannidhi at the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane. During the Voyyali in front of the Ramar Sannidhi, his mother remarked that the phones should fall of the devotees' hands when they are thus taking photo during the special walk. Indeed that was a fair comment. But I hope and wish that she would also talk to her husband and ask him not to do pradakshanam inside the Parthasarathy temple while talking on the phone. 

While the Vadakalai v Thenkalai fights are in the public domain with any number of instances at Thiruvahindrapuram, Srirangam and Triplicane, one would have hoped that such an ugly incident would not have taken place on the birthday of the great Saint Philosopher.


The clock had just ticked past 3am this Tuesday (10 May) morning when Ramanuja made his way back to the Aadhi Kesava Perumal Temple in Sriperambudur after a three hour procession on a pushpa pallakku. The entire temple reverberated in bhakti with the recital, by around 50 Prabhandham experts, of devotional hymns from the final verses of Thiru Mangai Azhwar’s Thiru Nedunthandagam leaving Ramanuja visibly happy.
He was even more delighted when these experts, many of whom had come from Thiruvallikeni (Chennai), in a sweet rendering presented the 9th Canto of Nam Azhwar’s Tiruvoimozhi, one that went up to almost 430am.
Ekantha Sevai – 16 days in a Year
It was now time for the Ekantha Sevai to conclude the 9th day of Ramanuja’s avathara utsavam. In pin drop silence, Ramanuja made his way to each of the inner Sannidhis of the temple first providing his blessings to Nam Pillai and Vedanta Desikar and then receiving blessings from Nam Azhwar, Andal, Aadhi Kesava Perumal, Thiru Kachi Nambi and Alavanthar. In front of each of these deities, the relevant praise highlighting their greatness and achievements was presented.

Several centuries ago Sriperambudur Embar Jeer created 16 days of a special Ekantha Sevai at the Aadhi Kesava Perumal temple to be presented on select occasions annually. These comprise of 9 days during the Ramanuja Avathara Utsavam, 3days in Thai, 1 day on Koorath Azhwan, Pillai Lokacharya and Manavala Munigal Avathara Utsavam, with the final one on the last Thiruvathirai of the year in Panguni.

Birthday Celebrations
The 10th day Utsavam and his birthday - the Thiruvathirai star in Chitrai - celebrations began after 8am with Ramanuja presenting a special walk in front of Lord Rama. The story goes that Lakshmana (Ramanuja is seen as his incarnation) had a beautiful grace in his walk but the Lord had never been able to experience this as his younger brother had always walked behind him. As his special birthday treat, Ramanuja presented a special ‘Voyyali- Varisai’ walk providing the Lord with a full long view of his ‘brother’s’ walking grace  and one could visualise the joy and happiness on Lord Rama’s face that seemed to lend a smile in appreciation of this exclusive presentation before him.
Presenting Milk to Child Ramanuja in a Conch Shell
It seemed even the Rain God wanted to wish the Acharya on his birthday for soon after the three hour morning procession, he presented the town with light showers.

And then the big moment of his birthday arrived. Ramanuja was brought to the location of his birth opposite the temple that has been converted to an ‘Avathara Mandapa’. Here, taking the devotees back in time to the day of his birth, he was placed in a cradle (Oonjal) and presented with milk in a conch shell. He was also presented with butter as tears of joy rolled down the eyes of hundreds of devotees present inside the mandapa. 
As part of the birthday celebrations,Garland and Parivattam that had come in from various Divya Desams were presented to Ramanuja. The birthday was also marked by recital of Ramanuja’s Gadya Trayam, a Thirumanjana and street procession in the night.

Ramanuja Nootranthathi is the only composition in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham that has the unique distinction of being written by one who was a contemporary and one who watched the daily activities of his Acharya from close quarters. Ramanuja was not keen on a work that just had his praise alone. Hence he directed his disciple Thiruvarangath Amudhanar to compose a work that included praise of the Azhwars and the Divya Desams.
In 108 verses of praise, Amudhanar brings out the great noble qualities of his acharya and his concern for the weak and the masses. Referring to Ramanuja as the king of ascetics and as one who took birth to counter the destructive powers in this Kali Yugam, Amudhanar assures the devotees that just chanting the name of Ramanuja will create a Bhakthi path in one’s mind. Each verses of this composition thus has the name of Ramanuja.

It was Ramanuja who helped ordinary people understand the philosophical aspects of life for he had the ability to transform even wicked people. Citing his own example, Amudhanar provides insights into the contribution of his acharya in transforming him towards the noble path. Ramanuja considered devotees performing service with true devotion to the Lord as very close to him and instilled the need to use every part of the body to do some service related to God. 
‘Compassion is one of your greatest qualities. Is it not a great example of your compassion that you made a true human being out of me? My body that was previously enjoying the pleasure of life has now come to perform noble activities after having come under your influence’ thus praises Amudhanar in the Nootranthathi.

Ramanuja dedicated his knowledge and learning to the cause of uplifting the devotees. Just like Rama followed every direction of his father, Amudhanar too followed Ramanuja to the full with the confidence that his acharya would not ask him to do anything that was not for the good of the world. Those who do not change themselves for the better by following his teachings are likely to come under the negative influence of Kali. But to all those people who believe in Ramanuja’s teachings, Amudhanar commits his self to serving them at all points of time without displaying any tiredness.

Amudhanar says that even if Ramanuja were to show him the Lord himself he would not see anything but his acharya’s compassionate heart and places one final request to Ramanuja that if he were to be born again, he should be born as one with utmost bhakti with a mind on serving the devotees and says that such selfless service is better than a service performed even to the Lord at Vaikuntam.

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