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Acharya Vamsa Vruksham - 10 (November 15, 2009)

Lineage Tree of Preceptors
Anbil Ramaswamy, U.S.A.

16. Sri Vedantha Desika (Purattaasi-Thiruvonam) – Part - I

If Natha Muni retrieved the holy collects, if Yamuna Muni propounded it, if Ramanuja Muni expounded it, it was given to Vedantha Desika to systematise it almost to the form of a science. Even the renowned Advaitic critic Appayya Dikshithar was wonderstruck by the ineffable charm of his poetry and irrefragable power of reason and conferred on him the title of ‘Kavi Thaarkika Simham’ (Lion-king among Poets and Logicians) Appayya Dikshithar praised him as follows:

இதம் விசிந்த்யா: ஸர்வத்ர பாவா: ஸந்தி பதே பதே |
கவிதார்க்கிக ஸிம்ஹஸ்ய காவ்யேஷு லலிதேஸ்வபி ||

“Even in the simple and soft compositions of this Lion among both Poets and Logicians, there are poetic excellence evident at every step and indeed in every word.”

The title ‘Sarva Thanthra Swathanthra’ (Master of all arts, crafts and artefacts) sat snugly on him because his works show his intimate knowledge of almost all arts and sciences known to human intelligence. His works brim with philosophical grandeur, ethical excellence and aesthetic glory.

As a critic, he was as searchingly critical as he was sympathetically tolerant. He ennobled his poetry through philosophy and embellished his philosophy through his poetry. He preached only what he practised and practised what he preached. He was a saint par excellence though he remained a Gruhasta throughout. It is difficult to find such a harmonious blend – of precept and Practice, of exalted thinking and simple living. He synthesised in himself an inimitable moral fervour and an inspired spiritual insight.

To do him justice, it would be necessary to quote all his works; the only specimen of his masterpiece is simply all that he wrote.

A poet, philosopher, logician, and a scrupulous Anushtatha, he took upon himself the task of upholding the concepts preached by Bhagavath Ramanuja. It is because of him that ‘Ramanuja Darsanam’ came to be recognised by the world. Swami Vedantha Desika was the brightest star in the firmament of Visishtaadvaita next only to Bhagavath Ramanuja.

No writer among the followers of Ramanuja fought for the rightful place for Divya Prabandhams as did Swami Desika. His prolific compositions in pure Tamil, pure Sanskrit, Praakruth and Manipravaala bear ample testimony to the fact that he is not exclusively a Vada Kalai or exclusively a Then Kalai but more appropriately a ‘Ubhaya Kalai’.

Swami Desika was born in 1268 AD (about 131 years after Sri Ramanuja attained Paramapadha) at Thooppul near Kanchipuram as the son of one Ananthasuri and Thothaaramba. They named him Venkatanatha. He is believed to be the incarnation of the bell of Lord Venkateswara of Thirumala.

Even while young, he used to attend the Kalakshepam discourses of Nadaadhur Ammal along with his maternal uncle, Appullaar (Kidambi Appullaar– descendent of Kidambi Aachaan, Achrya Ramanuja's direct disciple) who was also his Acharya. Before the age of 20, he excelled in all that a person ought to learn. His exposure to Vedas, Divya Prabandham and Saastras at a very early age provided him with an encyclopaedic knowledge and this treasure house of knowledge was matched only by his exemplary modesty and humility which rarely go together among scholars.

Biographical details:

In the case Swami Vedantha Desika, certain oblique biographical references are available internally in his works e.g., in the prologue to his Sankalpa Sooryodhayam. Prathivaadhi Bhayankaram Annan (1300-1400 AD), a junior contemporary of Swami Desika and a disciple of Kumara Varadacharya gives some details about Swami’s parentage, education, etc. in his ‘Sapthathi Rathna Maalika’.

Blessed parents:

In the Perumal Koil, there was one Anantha Somayaji of Viswamitra Gothram, who was one of the 74 Simhasana Adhipathis nominated by Sri Ramanuja. His son was Pundarika Yajvaa. His son was Ananthasuri. Pundarika Yajvaa approached Appullaar (belonging to the Vamsam of Athreya Ramanuja Kidaambi Aachaan) and requested to give the latter’s sister Thothaaramba in marriage to his son, Ananthasuri.

That night, Lord Devaraja appeared in a dream of Appullaar and seconded the proposal saying that by this marriage will be born one who would be the prime torch-bearer of Ramanuja Darsanam. The very next day, the marriage of Ananthasuri and Thothaaramba was celebrated and they lived a happy and devout couple.

As ordered by the Lord of Tiruvenkatam and Padmavathi Thayar, the couple went on a pilgrimage to Thirumala. The Lord appeared in their dreams in the garb of a Srivaishnava youth and handed over a small golden bell which Thothaaramba swallowed. Next morning, when they compared notes, they were astonished to find how both of them had the same dream which concurred in every detail.

As the Archaka opened the doors of the Sanctum Sanctorum, he found the bell missing. During an investigation ordered into the loss of the bell, the Lord appeared by Avesa (spiritual trance) on Thirumalai Nambi and told that He had Himself presented the bell to the Ananthasuri couple and thenceforward, the small hand-bell need not be used in the Thiruvaradhana in the temple. Even today, when the Naivedhyam is offered to the lord, it is only the huge bell suspended in the front hall that is being rung.

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Next in series: On December 15, 2009.

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The author is President, Swami Desika Darsana Satsangam (SDDS) and Editor,
Sri Ranga Sri (SRS) Electronic Journal, U.S.A.

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www.svdd.com - © Sri Vedantha Desikar Devasthanam, Mylapore, Chennai.