It was the golden period of the imperial Cholas a thousand years ago in south India. Yet, the society here as elsewhere had many fault-lines which needed the corrective touch of an incarnational personality. As if the Time Spirit had taken note of all this, Sri Ramanuja appeared in the land south of the Vindhyas as a guardian of Sanatana-dharma. During his long life of 120 years (1017-1137 A.D), he successfully strove to integrate the society, teach the people forget caste and credal differences and remain united to save the Vedic religion from external challenges.
There was no aspect of life that was not touched by Sri Ramanuja. Towards achieving his ideals, he embraced sannyasa, became a legendary teacher, a venerated scholar, an excellent management expert of temple culture and a path- breaking social reformer. Sri Ramanuja: The Great Integrator is an attempt to introduce this multi-faceted personality who avoided confrontation and was unflappable in the face of persecution and calumny. A tireless traveller of India's vast spaces, a fosterer of bhakti to bring people together, his only armour was surrender to the Divine; his sole weapon a love for all creation, for all is the Divine: lsa vasyam idam sarvam.
DR. PREMA NANDAKUMAR (b.1939) obtained her Ph.D. in 1961 for her study of Sri Aurobindo's epic poem Savitri. Since then, she has been an independent researcher, publishing critical and biographical works. As a translator, her career spans half a century, with the UNESCO publishing her book on Subramania Bharati. A prolific writer, her recent works are Srimad Bhagavatam: At Each Step a luminous World (2014) and Matter's logic and Spirit's Dreams: A Sheaf of Essays (2016). A creative writer in Tamil, a collection of her Tamil stories has been translated into English by Ahana Lakshmi as Election Fever (2013).
As a speaker in Tamil and English, Dr. Nandakumar draws her inspiration from sources as varied as the Vedas, Sanskrit and Tamil epics, and modern Indian literature. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Sri Aurobindo Puraskar (Calcutta), Pandita Ratna (Warangal), U. Ve. Swaminatha Aiyar Award (Coimbatore) Manimekalai Virudhu (Rajapalayam) and the Thamizh Thendral Tiru Vi. Ka. Award by the Government of Tamil Nadu.
It was Diwali, 1944. My father gave me an inscribed copy of Sri Andal by P. Sri. Acharya. The pictures were nice but I could not read Tamil. "Mother will read the book for you daily and also teach you the language;' he said, patted my head, and went back to his work. For more than seventy years, my personal library of Srivaisnavism which began with that tiny book has sustained me as taraka, posaka and bhojya in every way as I have struggled to study the works which are in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Manipravala and English. So many spires of scholarship, poetry, legends and real-life happenings, and all of them leaving a trail of ananda for the engaged student.
In this world of brilliances, Sri Ramanuja has been the Sun ineffable. Sister Nivedita said that the history of India is the land itself. So it is with Sri Ramanuja whose life is in the temples, the rituals of Srivaisnavism, his philosophy and poetry, his repeated attempts to integrate the society as also the ideal of compassion which he taught by example through his life of ceaseless action, humility and concern for the common man. Since I have been married into a family that has been following the Ramanuja sampradaya (including the ritual worship of the household deity twice a day and the festivities associated with the sampradaya), the Acarya's life has also been a living experience. However, I never imagined that I would engage myself in writing about him. What do I really know of this divine personality?
When I submitted the manuscript of my book on Adi Sankara to the General Editor, Dr. R. Balasubramanian at the end of 2011, for publication by Chinmaya International Foundation, all he said was: "Now begin work for a companion volume on Sri Ramanuja," To say the least, I was taken aback. Soon Swami Advayananda joined his persuasive voice. Meditating upon the Acarya, I began the work and immediately lost myself in a world which can only be termed as puskala in every way. Salutations to the Divine Mother for guiding me gently and firmly, to draw from the Sri Ramanuja-sarit-sagara a few pearls to light our way to the future. For, the only term to describe him is 'the great integrator': ten centuries have passed by and yet he is relevant to us in every way.
My grateful thanks to Swami Tejomayananda, Head of the Chinmaya Mission, for his generosity of understanding in welcoming my book on Adi Sankara and encouraging me to proceed with this companion volume on Sri Ramanuja. Dr. R. Balasubramanian for his faith in my ability to write this book and Swami Advayananda for helping me in many ways to finalise the manuscript. I also record my gratitude to Dr. Dilip Kumar Rana, the Director of the CIF Shodha Sansthan, who made a careful perusal of the manuscripts and got the text ready for printing. My deep thanks to Sri Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ch. Raghunathacharyulu, the great Srivaisnava-acarya for his blessings when I went to him in Warangal before starting the actual writing of the book two years ago.
As always, Nandakumar has been the never-failing companion helping me in many ways; our children Ahana, Bhuvana and Raja and their families have been lovingly supportive; to them all my thanks for keeping me from sliding back into helplessness or self- pity. My thanks are also due to Sathiya Bama for taking care of the two maps indicating Sri Ramanuja’s pilgrimages.
Finally, I salute in reverence this holy city of Srirangam for making Sri Ramanuja a living experience for me, yes, even today, when his image came to bless this street to mark his 999th janmanaksatra and Nandakumar and myself bowed deep to the huge procession.
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