Life of Sri Ramanuja

November 11, 2023 [books] #bhakti #sri-ramanuja

Book: Life of Sri Ramanuja
Author: Swami Ramakrishnananda, translated by Swami Budhananda

This was a throwback to the books I read as a child, the stories one is told before the disenchantment sets in. Written with such loving devotion, this is a world where the gods talk to the bhaktas and make their presence apparent. The sole purpose of the bhaktas is to be of service to the Supreme, sing the hagiographies of other bhaktas, and spread the word. Jati and other identities may matter in the social context, but irrelevant when making acts of devotion. Modeling one's behavior on the illustrious bhaktas becomes important, and this quote from the Vanaprasta of the Mahabharata appears more than once:

‘महाजनो येन गतः स पन्था—The way the great ones trod, that is the path.’

The story of Ramanuja and the Alvars thus told, is filtered through a thousand years of the Bhakti storm traversing across this country, seen from the perspective of a Bengali monk of the Ramakrishna order. As such, the references include not just the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas, but also the words of Christ. The muslim princess who was eventually deified in Srirangam, Tulukka Nachiyar, is also devoted a chapter. This emphasis on syncretism - and yet paying considerable attention to Sri Vaishnava orthodoxy - surely reflects one of the central concerns of Bengal renaissance at the time this book was written, in late 19th century. I enjoyed being immersed in it. I know a few elders with easy access to the devotion described here. I have always been jealous of them, wishing I could possess something of it. It is an inheritance I am afraid I have squandered forever.