DIVINE VEDANTA DESIKAR JAYANTI
Vedanta Desikar (1268-1369 AD)
Vedanta Desika Jayanti this year fell on 6th October 2011 (Thursday). Vedanta Desika is considered to be the second greatest Sri Vaishnava writer in the history of vaishnavism. He was a great poet, devotee, philosopher and master-teacher. After the death of Ramanuja in 1137 A.D., Vedanta Desika became one of the greatest Acharyas of Vadakalai Vaishnavism.
As a long standing resident of Chennai I am overcome with pride and joy to note that Sri Vedantha Desikar Devasthanam, Mylapore, Chennai is celebrating Pavithra Uthsavam of Sri Vedanta Desikar from 11th October 2011 to 17th October 2011. The week-long purification ceremony will conclude with a grand Poornaahuthi on 17th October (Monday). The uniqueness of the Uthsavam in this Temple is that devotees can do Pradakshinam covering the Lord, the Yaga Sala, all the Ghoshtis and all the Sannidhis in one go. Thus in one round they will be able to receive the blessings of Lord Srinivasa, Goddess Alarmelmanga Thayar, Sri Pey Azhwar and Swami Vedantha Desikar.
Sri Vedanta Desikar Srinivasa Perumal Temple Mylapore, CHENNAI-4
Sri Vedanta Desikar Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Mylapore lies next to the Kesavaperumal Temple, sharing a wall with it. This Vadagalai Temple is nearly 300 years old.
Vedanta Desikar was born in 1268 at Thoopul, near Kanchipuram, (according to legend, on the order of Lord Srinivasa and Padmavathi Thayaar, the God and Goddess of the Tirupati temple), as the son of Ananta Suri and Totaramba. He was named `Venkatanatha' and belonged to the Vishwamithra gothra (lineage). He was educated and trained by a scholarly maternal uncle of his, Kidambi Appullalar (who was a direct disciple of Ramanuja). Appullarlar also initiated Venkatanatha's Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony) at the age of seven and made him master the Vedas, Divyaprabandam, Puranas and Sastras. By the age of twenty he was a great scholar without par in the history of Vaishnavism. He got married at the age of 21 to Tirumangai (also known as `Kanakavalli'). The Lord blessed the couple with a son in 1317 A.D., named `Varadarya'.
Vedanta Desikar rose to the status of an `Acharya' by the age of 27. He was specially proficient in Kavya, Logic and Philosophy, as evidenced by the title of KAVITARKIKA SIMHA (Kesari), which was conferred upon him by his admirers and followers. His irrefutable logic expressed in a thunderous voice ringing like a clarion bell from the hill top, earned for him the title of GHANTAVATARA. Later in life he gained a general mastery of Tamil grammar and Poetics (Dramida). According to tradition, he seems to have been proficient in secular arts and crafts as well like masonary, icon-making etc. He was thus a great polymath _ Sarva Thantra Swanthatra.
Vedanta Desikar was a prolific writer. He became the foremost exponent and a unique preceptor of the ancient and yet new philosophy _ Sri Ramanuja _ Desika Darsana. I am presenting below a summarised list of the immortal works of Vedanta Desika:
I came across an Article in Tattva Darsana Quarterly Journal (January-March 2008 issue) by M C Devi Prasad of Madurai in which he has given a graphic description of how Vedanta Desikar's `Abheetisthvam' helped the devotees of Lord Ranganatha at Sri Rangam to withstand and survive the onslaught of the Muslim marauders in the days of Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316), the then Emperor of Delhi.
Sri Vedanta Desikar, was witness to the inhuman and barbarous atrocities of the Muslim plunderers who invaded South India under the leadership of Malik Kafur, a favourite Hindu eunuch slave of Alauddin Khilji, who embraced Islam and looted the famous Madurai and Srirangam Temples between 1308 and 1310.
Malik Kafur, a Hindu, became a General in the Army of Alauddin Khilji, Ruler of the Delhi sultanate from 1296 to 1316. He was originally captured by Alauddin's army after his army conquered the city of Khambhat. The story goes that Alauddin Khilji, fell in love with the voluptuous beauty of Malik Kafur, who was a eunuch and took him to his court in Delhi. In Delhi after forcible conversion to Islam, Malik Kafur was made the head of invading armies to the south. Kafur rose quickly in the army. It was Malik Kafur who invaded South India and went upto to Rameshwaram, destroying several Hindu temples on his way at Srirangam, Madurai, Manamadurai, Paramakudi and other places. The main objective of these Islamic marauders was to intimidate, terrorize and forcibly convert to Islam the peace-loving Hindus of South India. Those were terrible times and South India had entered a Dark Age. During those days of encircling gloom created by growing Islamic terror, Vedanta Desika gave the message of Abhaya (fearlessness) to the Hindus of South India through his inspired verses numbering 29 in his famous Abheetisthvam. I am presenting below one of the most inspiring verses from this great devotional poem:
In the above sloka, the second line contains clear reference to Islamic Terrorism. Sri Vedanta Desikar uses the terms, Turushka yavanaadibhih, meaning Muslims. He says, Jagati jrumbhamaanam bhaya i.e., the increasing (jrumbhamaanam) terror (bhayam) in the world (jagati). Terror is extreme fear and the reference is relevant to the India of today. We can see what is happening to the Hindu pilgrims going to Amarnath in Kashmir today. The anti-Hindu Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress Party and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed of PDP Party in Jammu and Kashmir today can be compared with Malik Kafur of Allaudin Khilji's time!
In the above sloka , Sri Vedanta Desikar prays to Bhagavan Ranganatha to give to all his devotees the five weapons or dimensions of fearlessness represented by Chakra, Shanga, Gadha, Sword and Bow and Arrow (of Bhagavan Ranganatha) to fight against the forces of atheism and Islam which were engulfing our country in the 14th century.
According to many scholars, Swami Vedanta Desikan's period in Srirangam was a defining moment in the evolution of `Vaishnava' philosophy for many reasons. The Islamic forces led by Malik Kafur invaded Srirangam in 1311-12 and stole away the Idol of the presiding deity of Bhagavan Ranganatha to Delhi. The people of Srirangam after a prolonged struggle against the Muslims returned back to Srirangam with the Idol of Bhagavan Ranganatha. There was more shock in store, when some years later the second Islamic invasion took place with a stronger military force led by Mallik Kafur. At that perilous moment Swami Vedanta Desikan decided to send the `Utsava Murthi' of Srirangam with a group led by `Pillai Lokacharayar' to an unknown destination. Likewise he also protected the Goddess of the Temple. Swami Vedanta Desikan saved the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Srirangam Temple by covering it with a brick wall. When Sri Vedanta Desikar saw that the entire population of Srirangam was perturbed by the Islamic attack and engulfed in fear, he composed his famous the `Abheethistavam', which was recited in a chorus in a defiant and fearless manner by all the people of Srirangam during that moment of grave crisis. Almost 13000 Sri Vaishnavites were killed in the prolonged battle against the Islamic invaders in Srirangam. Sri Sudharshna Bhattar also sacrificed his life in the struggle, not before requesting Sri Vedanta Desikar to bring up his children, who were very young then.
What are the divine qualities and qualifications of a great Guru? They were defined in an exact mathematical and beautiful manner in 22 versus by Vedanta Desika in his NYASA VIMSHATHI. M.C. Devi Prasad, a great Sanskrit scholar and devotee of Sri Vedanta Desikar has invited my attention to the following most exquisite verse from this great work:
According to above sloka, a Guru is a great achiever, rooted in ancient and traditional lore. He is endowed with these qualities of head and heart — steadfast intellect, blemishless/faultless character, free from arrogance and ostentation and other degenerating qualities, a man of compassion, a man rooted in truth, a man who has controlled and mastered his senses, a man steeped in Brahman and Satvika qualities, an enhancer, ennobler, emancipator, and liberator of mankind and the world.
M.C. Devi Prasad also told me that `Chanting of slokas of Shankara Bhagavadpada and Vedanta Desika will work wonders in combating Islamic terrorism all over India today. In particular the chanting of the particular sloka of Sri Vedanta Desikar in his Abheetistavam (quoted above) with faith and devotion every day early in the morning in all Vaishanavite and Saivite Temples all over India will go a long way in protecting the peace-loving Hindus of India against the never-ending acts of Islamic terrorism'.
May Sri Vedanta Desika confer his blessings on us all. Let me conclude with one of his Stotras: