Life at Kanchi
The story of Kuresan's life has been told many times over the centuries.
Nonetheless it is a life-story of such nobility and inspiration that it
will bear repetition this year on his "tirunakshatram" and in all years
So here is a
sketch of the life-story of Kuresan:
from the hamlet of "Kura" (or "kooram") near Kanchipuram. He belonged to
the clan of the Haritas and to a well-to-do, land-owning and Propertied
family that lived in peace with its neighbours and friends. Kuresan had
a gem of a person in his young and comely wife, AndAlammA. They lived a
happy and contented life in Kura. They were both known in Kanchi for
their unstinting philanthrophy and kindness. They were both ardent
devotees of Kanchi Varadan, the presiding deity of the holy city.
Meeting Sri Ramanuja
Early in his life,
Kuresan came under the spell of RamanujAchArya who at that time was
living in Kanchi. It was the time when Ramanuja was slowly emerging as
the propagator of a new school of thought. He was spreading a whole new
philosophy quite different from the sterile monism of Advaita which
people at that time were growing weary of. Bands of disciples and
followers were already growing around Ramanuja.
became a disciple of RamanujAchArya.The two took to each other easily
and warmly. Under Sri.Ramanuja's guidance, Kuresa was soon
initiated into the rigorous study of the ancient Vedic scripture and
more especially the "meemAmsa-sutrA-s".
A strange bond of
kinship developed between master and student over the years they spent
together in Kanchi.
In his mid-life,
due to a variety of personal and social reasons, Ramanuja took to "sannyAsA"
and was called away by the community of SriVaishnavas in SriRangam to
rally them all into a cohesive force there against the onslaught of
religious bigotry waged by the Saivite State at that time.
Thus, in deference
to the commandments of his elders in SriRangam like Mahapurna, and
Kanchipurna in Kanchi, Ramanuja decided to migrate to SriRangam. He left
Kanchi for good never to return in future except for brief visits.
relationship with Ramanuja thus drew to a close. Seeing off his guru
Ramanuja to SriRangam, Kuresan returned to his hamlet of Kura and
commenced his living his life as before.
Varadarajan and his Consort Perundevi thAyyAr had other plans for
Departing to Srirangam
With the departure
of his guru Ramanuja to SriRangam, Kuresan and his wife AndAlamma
returned to their good, uneventful lives in Kura.
One evening, after
they had completed their daily routine of feeding the poor at dusk, they
retired for the day. They clanged the big brass doorway to their home
This clanging of
the brass door was so loud in the quiet of the night that it was heard
some distance away in Kanchi. Lord Varadaraja and Perundevi thAyyAr too
were a little startled by it. ThAyyAr queried the Lord as to the cause
of the gong reverberating through the night air. The Lord turned to his
chief priest, Kanchipurna or Tirukacchi-nambi (also one of the several
mentors of Ramanujacharya) and asked,"Pray tell Us, wherefrom this sound
of the night, O Sire?".
replied,"Lord, it is the doorway of our dear Kuresan's home being shut
for the day after the daily alms-giving."
The Lord and
Perundevi-pirAtti, very pleased to know of Kuresa and his piety and
charity, commanded that Kuresan be brought to their Presence.
Kanchipurna hastened to Kura to beckon Kuresan to Kanchi.
At Kura, when
Kuresan came to know from Kanchipurna the purpose of his visit, he
became extremely indignant with himself. "What?! Did the clanging of my
doorway disturb the Lord and His Consort in Kanchi?! What a conceited
wretch am I that I should let my charity be announced thus to the whole
world! What a vain sinner am I!".
seemed to rudely awaken Kuresan out of a strange spiritual torpor. He
realized that a choice in life had been staring him in his face but
which he had been subconsciously avoiding all the while since Ramanuja's
departure: Either he could continue to live in Kura and lead a life of
pious, vain but ineffectual charity or, he could pursue his guru Ramanuja to SriRangam and serve him in his life's great mission.
Kuresan made his
Kanchipurna back to Kanchi. He told his wife AndAlammA to immediately
renounce all their wealth and belongings and to join him in migrating to
SriRangam and wedding themselves forever in the service of SriRamanuja.
It was a turning
point in the life of Kuresan.
The same night
husband and wife walked out of their homes with nothing but the clothes
they wore. They set out for SriRangam by foot.
Along the way,
Kuresan and AndAlamma had to journey through jungle infested with
wayside brigands. AndAlamma was mortally afraid of nocturnal robbers and
made no secret of her fears to her husband. WHen he heard of his wife's
anxieties Kuresan quickly replied,"AndAl, watching your agitation I
suspect that your fears are founded in something you have not fully
disclosed to me. I asked you to renounce all our belongings back in our
village of Kura. Have you renounced everything? I mean really
When questioned so
intensely by Kuresan, AndAlamma had no choice but to confess,"My Sire, I
did renounce everything save for this little golden goblet which I
secreted in the folds of my saree. I thought I would need it during the
journey to serve you some beverage and relieve you of weariness".
Kuresan looked at
the golden goblet that his wife pulled out from her saree-folds and then
mildly chided her,"My dear woman, when I wanted you to renounce
everything I meant this little goblet too!".
So saying Kuresan
took the vessel from AndAlamma's hands and threw it away into the night
and deep into the forest shrubbery.
"There now!", he
said turning to his wife, "There now, my dear wife, has been cast away
the source of all your fears".
AndAlamma were received into Srirangam with great joy and fanfare by
SriRamanujAchArya. He welcomed them as if they were his own children,
put them up in his quarters and quickly settled them into the life and
society of Srirangam.
Kuresan started a
new chapter in his life in SriRangam as one of the closest disciples of
SriRamanuja. He assisted Ramanujacharya in all aspects and affairs of
his ministry... the temple of SriRanganatha and the SriVaishnava
community. He was Ramanuja's aide in scriptural study, disputations and
exegesis. He was at his beck and call. He tended to his minutest needs.
He was his factotum. His amanuensis. His valet. His eyes and ears. His
conscience keeper. His alter ego....
became his Master's faithful shadow.
Helping Ramanuja to write Sri
Kuresan soon became his Master, Sri.Ramanujacharya's faithful shadow.
Ramanuja was by
that time the acknowledged leader of a great movement in the religious
and social history of India. His following was large and growing in
numbers. His new philosophy, called VisishtAdvaitA was attracting
universal attention and numberless adherents.
Yet Ramanuja knew
that unless his new philosophy was institutionalised into a system, the
newly founded school of thought would soon wither away. To that end,
therefore, Ramanuja set about writing down the principles of what later
came to be known as "ramanuja darsanam"... the philosophical system of
Ramanuja. Ramanuja was assisted greatly in the task of systematizing
his philosophy by 4 principal disciples who formed the "inner circle".
They were Kuresan, DAsarathi, DevarAt and EmbAr. All 4 were closely
involved with their Master in the daily study of scripture, the Vedanta
sutras, the 'tiruvoimozhi' and in the formulation of ideological and
polemical attacks on Advaita, Jainism and Buddhism.
disciples over many years of deep study and refinement, began to slowly
build, brick by brick, the architecture of VisishtAdvaita until they
were sure that they could proceed with the raising of its
Ramanuja at last
decided to record his commentary on the Brahma-sutras of Vyasa .... the
kernel of Truth contained in the vast body of Vedic knowledge.
It was Kuresa whom
he appointed as his amanuensis. Ramanuja told him,"Kuresa, begin
writing down my "bhAshya" as I dictate it, but should you find anything
I say to be at variance with what we have all agreed is the considered
position of our new system you should immediately cease writing. By this
way I may know where to stop dictating and review our positions."
And thus began the stupendous task of writing the great Sri-bhAshya of
In the course of
dictation one day, Ramanuja stated that the distinguishing attribute of
the atomic soul ("jeeva") is its cognitive power. At this point Kuresa
put his writing-quill down and ceased writing. He dumbly looked up at
RamanujachArya looked at Kuresan and suddenly flew into a temper. The
many years of work done and the strain of many days of hard intellectual
labor had taken the toll of the ageing guru and his nerves were frayed.
When Kuresan stopped writing indicating thereby that his Master was
probably straying from right reasoning, Ramanuja mistook it as an
affront and flew off the handle.
"Sir, if you mean
to write the "bhAshya" on the "vyAsa-sutras" you may do so", thundered
Ramanuja at Kuresan. He then kicked him and stomped out in a fit of
who had gathered there were shocked. They began to commisserate with
Kuresan who however politely told them,"My friends, I am but a chattel
of my guru. He can do what he wants with me or treat me any way he
After a while
Ramanuja reflected upon the incident. And he realised that Kuresan was
right in finding fault with his dictated passage.
The definition of
the "jeeva" as a cognitive entity was no doubt a good but not valid
definition in as much as the most essential characteristic of the soul
viz. its allegiance or leigeship to God ('seshatva') was a serious
ommission. Defining the soul as possessing cognition and bliss without
stressing that it was the sole property of God, the Universal Spirit,
was like defining light without any reference to the sun. Ramanuja
quickly realised that if his original defintion of the jeeva had gone
unchallenged by Kuresan then the very superstructure of VisishtAdvaita's
theology would have proceeded to be built on thin air.
repentant. He beckoned his Kuresan and told him, "My son, you are
absolutely right! Now please write down the true nature of the soul as
that which is God's ... and let us proceed with the rest of the
In such manner,
did Kuresan and Ramanuja proceed to compose the great standard works of
"sri-sampradAyam" that have come down to posterity --- "sri-bhAshya", "vedanta-deepa",
"vedanta-sAra", "vedArtha-sangraha" and "gita-bhAshya".
Traveling to Kashmir to acuire
although Ramanuja and Kuresan succeeded in the stupendous task of
systematising an exciting and epochally new philosophy, they both knew
that the "sri-bhAshyA" still needed a final coat of brilliant polish....
the polish of irrefutability... before it could go into and earn an
unchallenged place in the annals of Vedantic history.
Ramanuja knew that
in order to lend irrefutable authority to his commentaries on the "brahma-sutras",
he badly needed to consult with ancient texts and treatises that could
be actually shown to expressly affirm some of the the fundamental
postulates and theses of VisishtAdvaita.
Ramanuja knew he
must access an ancient parchment or document called "boddhAyana vrutti"
--- a rare exegetical treatise on VyAsa's "brahma-sutras" incorporating
the insights of other great 'bhAshyakAr-s' of a distant past like
Dramida, Guhadeva, Tanka and Bharuchi. The "boddhAyana vrutti", Ramanuja
learnt, was lying somewhere in a musty library in the royal library of
the then king of an obscure Kashmiri state.
Daunting as the
task appeared to him, Ramanuja decided that he must have access to the "vrutti".
To that end he, at the advanced age of about 60 odd years, decided that
he would undertake a "digvijayam" of the country --- an All-India tour
by foot --- which would not only take him to Kashmir in pursuit of the "vrutti"
but also enable him to propagate his message throughout the vast land
through establishment of several "ramanuja- koodam-s" and "mutts"... his
Ramanuja with his
disciples thus set out from Srirangam on their formidable expedition.
Kuresan was with him.
sojourned through vast provinces --- Tirupati, then south to the Malabar
areas, up north along the western coastal belt of India to the eastern
regions of Puri, Kasi, NaimishAranyam, Varanasi, Salagrama in Nepal, the
West to Dwaraka, Pushkaram and to Bhatti (near Lahore) and finally into
the Himalayan districts of Kashmir.
In the court of
the King of Kashmir, Ramanuja was told that before they gave him access
to their library he would first have to prove his credentials as a
philosopher genuinely propagating a new school of thought.
Ramanuja not only
put forth his exposition of the new VisihtAdvaita but also engaged the
royal pundits in debate to show them the inadequacy of their own monism.
The King was
pleased and freely gave permission for Ramanuja and Kuresan to access
the archives in the royal library. The royal pundits however were none
too happy about the King's generosity and played malicious mischief to
frustrate Ramanuja. They held that, notwithstanding the royal assent,
Ramanuja would not be permitted to take the "vrutti" out of the library
Kuresa then began to study the "vrutti" within the library premises
itself. Then the pundits came up with another plot to frustrate them.
They held that Ramanuja would not be allowed to take down any notes from
So Ramanuja and
Kuresan proceeded to memorise vast portions of the "vrutti".
The pundits seeing
that Ramanuja and Kuresan were thwarting them at every point finally
plotted murder. It was then that Ramanuja decided that enough was enough
and decided to leave Kashmir...
slowly wound up and returned south to SriRangam.
In spite of the
disappointment faced in Kashmir, Ramanuja however, as it turned out,
suffered no loss at all! For, back in Srirangam, when Kuresan and he sat
down to complete the "sri-bhAshya" by incorporating authentic references
to the "boddhAyana vrutti", Kuresan by the sheer power of his prodigious
memory was able to instantly and accurately recall vast passages from
the "vrutti"--- word for word! The commentary of Ramanuja on VyAsa's "brahma-sutrA-s"
-- the labour of so many, many years --- quickly progressed to its
It turned out to
be a real miracle of miracles!
his immortal "sri-bhAshyA" with a sense of utter fulfillment thanks to
the "vrutti" and even greater thanks to the daring enterprise and
phenomenal memory of his chief disciple, Sri.Kuresan!
Birth of Parasara Bhattar and Vyasa Bhattar
After his great
expedition all across India to propagate his fresh Vedantic theology and
to also secure the "boddhayana vrutti", Ramanuja settled down in
SriRangam once again to consolidate the position of Srivaishnavism. His
fame had now spread far and wide over the country. His disciples and
followers were now legion. SriRangam and the temple of Lord Ranganatha
became the capital city of SriVaishnavites.
Ramanuja, at that
point of time in his life, had indeed fulfilled much of his promise to
his own guru, YamunachArya, who had on his death-bed entrusted him with
the life-mission of
(1) writing a
fresh, new commentary on the "brahma-sutrA-s" based on the philosophical
premises of the "bhakti" tradition handed down from the times of
NammAzhwAr through Nathamuni and
(2) to propagate
the same through the devotional literature of the ancient AzhwArs known
as the 'Tamil Vedas' or the 4000 verses of the "nalayira divya
At that point of
time, Ramanuja's most beloved disciple, Kuresan, however was not a
fulfilled man. His wife, AndAlamma and he still went childless.
Kuresan had so thoroughly become involved in the ministry of SriRamanuja
that he had very little time to devote to family affairs. His wife
AndAlamma too was a very devout lady and too good a soul to rebel
against what had become her hard lot in life.
Kuresan earned his
daily bread by the traditional means prescribed for a Vedic "grahasta"
(householder) viz. "unchavratti" or the practise of going around one's
neighbourhood begging for daily alms and ekeing out a living solely by
such means. Kuresan begged from day to day. Nothing was accumulated...
be it food or clothes...nothing more was collected than what Kuresan
considered as sufficient to satisfy the wants of his family in the space
of a single day...
One day it rained
heavily and the time for going around on his "unchavratti" came and
passed. Kuresan and Andalamma went without any food that day except for
a sip of the holy water offered to the household deity. They skipped
supper too. Kuresan was unmindful of his hunger since he kept reciting
the "tiruvoimozhi" throughout the rainy day, but AndAlamma deeply felt
the pangs of pain... pain, not of her own hunger, but the pain of
watching her husband starve.
It was evening
then and just at that moment the temple bells of the Srirangam temple
gonged. It was the signal to indicate that Lord Ranganatha was being
offered his evening "naivEdyam" or worshipful food. When AndAlamma
heard the temple gong she bit her lips in tears. She couldn't help
silently muttering,"O Ranga, when your devotee Kuresan goes starving on
a day like this, how are you able to enjoy your feast?".
The piercing cry
of Andalamma's pain was obviously heard by the Deity, for Ranga that
same night appeared in the dream of one of His temple-officials, one
Sri. Uttama-nambi whom He commanded: "Go forth immediately with my
food-offerings to the house of my devotee Kuresan for he has eaten
nothing this day! Tell him that We send him our meal and our
up startled and drenched in cold sweat.
up and summoning all temple staff including pipers, drummers, stewards
and ceremonial carriers, he marched in a great procession in the middle
of the night to Kuresan's house, carrying trays of food that had
previously offered as "naivEdyam" to Lord Ranganatha.
procession reached Kuresan's home Uttama-nambi recounted to him Lord
Ranga's commandment in his dream and begged Kuresan to accept the Lord's
offering of food.
Kuresan was too
dumbfounded to react!
gently advised her husband to accept the temple offerings. "This food
has been sent by our Lord Ranga Himself, and we must accept it and
rejoice!", she said.
accomplised, Uttama-nambi returned to his abode, utterly relieved that
he had carried out Lord Ranga's express orders without further ado.
Back home at
Kuresa's place, he suspected that the midnight offer of food by Lord
Ranga had something to do with his wife. So Kuresa queried AndAlamma who
after much persuasion confessed to what had happened, of how she had
shared her anguish with Ranga over the plight of Kuresan going without a
morsel of food on that rainy day.
"My dear woman",
chided Kuresan gently,"what have you done! What have you done! You have
tested Divinity's compassion for a mere morsel of food to fill this
All the same that
night, Kuresan and AndAlamma ate the temple food-offerings of Lord
Ranganatha and went to bed happily.
That same night,
Ranga appeared again in a dream, but this time in Kuresan's sleep and
announced,"Kuresa, We trust that our offering of food has pleased you.
Our offering was not merely to satisfy your pangs of physical hunger but
to meet your desire or greater hunger for the love of children! What you
and AndAlamma have just eaten are the seeds of two little children to be
born to you! They will Our Own Children! They are blessed indeed!
Rejoice in them as you would rejoice in Our Own Presence amongst you!".
Ranga vanished and Kuresan excitedly woke up Andalamma to tell her all
about the dream.
A year later, two
beautiful boy babies were born to Kuresan and Andalamma! Their hearts
burst with joy.
The news of the
birth of Kuresan's boys reached Ramanuja and he was transported with
joy!The grand old "AchAryA" himself performed the "nAma-karanam" for
Kuresan's 2 boys naming them "VyAsa-bhattar" and "Parashara-Bhattar"!
The latter boy
became later in life one of the tallest "AchAryA-s" in the SriVaishnava
pantheon of post- amanuja stalwarts! Parashara Bhattar came to be
acknowledged by posterity as the natural heir to all of Ramanuja's
Thus indeed, had
Kuresan, through his offspring, Parashara Bhatta, performed yet another
great service or "kainkaryam" to his beloved guru: He gave unto the
venerable RamanujachArya's arms his fledgling spiritual heir... one who
would carry on unbroken the grand tradition of "sri-sampradAyam" for all
times to come!
Meeting Kirimikanda Chozhan
By the time
SriRamanuja was a septuagenarian, his stature as a giant of an "AchAryA"
in the Vedantic galaxy of India became secure. Sri Vaishnavam had
reached its pinnacle of development around that time.
followers of Ramanuja were multiplying by the day, he also began to make
a few enemies. The growing influence of SriVaishnavism once again stoked
the malevolent fires of religious bigotry in the land. Amongst some
sections of the Saivite population which at that time was concentrated
around Gangai-konda- sozha-puram... near Chidambaram ... hatred of
SriVaishnavaism and of Sri.Ramanuja began to flare up.
The King of
ChozhanAd at that time was a tyrant who was also a Saivite fanatic. His
name was Krimikantha Chola of the clan of the Kollutunga kings. This
tyrant was hell-bent on rooting out Vaishnavism in his kingdom and the
best way to do that, he thought, was to destroy Ramanuja.
He issued royal
summons to Ramanuja to appear in his court for the ostensible purpose of
engaging him in scholarly debate with his own royal pundits. The real
intention however was to coerce Ramanuja to recant from SriVaishnavism
and if he refused ... to have him murdered in cold blood.
followers got wind of the king's evil designs and promptly dissuaded
Ramanuja from going to Gangai- onda-sozha-puram. Fearing for their
Master's safety, the disciples of Ramanuja persuaded him to flee from
the land of the Cholas.
volunteered to go as Ramanuja's proxy and respond to the royal summons.
reluctance Ramanuja thus left Srirangam with a small band of acolytes
and fled to the distant but salubrious land of Melkote or
Ramanuja lived in
exile there for 12 long years... a difficult period in life for the aged
Ramanuja however once again re-built his pontifice from scratch. He
consecrated a temple of Lord SampathkumAran. He developed a colony of
devout SriVaishnavas from amongst the local residents. In good time,
Melkote became a thriving centre of Sri vaishnavism second only in glory
to Srirangam when Ramanuja had lived there.
One day a
Vaishnava member who had travelled very far, and for many days, from
Srirangam arrived in Melkote and sought audience with Ramanuja.
rushed to meet the visitor from Srirangam, eager to know tidings from
his beloved city of Lord Ranga from where he had been so abruptly and
violently uprooted by medieval bigotry.
"Pray tell me
quickly how fare my beloved SriRangam, my beloved mentors and my dearest
disciples?", asked Ramanuja.
replied, "All fare well in the city of Srirangam, Sire, except that you
are sorely missed by everyone."
After a few more
inquiries and a pregnant pause Ramanuja asked,"And how is my disciple
It was then that
the visitor, in a voice choked with pent-up emotion, began to narrate to
Ramanuja details of the grim fate that had befallen Kuresan at the hands
of the Chola tyrant, Krimikanta Chozhan.
Loosing his eyes for Lord Ranganatha
After a few more
polite inquiries about the affairs of Lord Ranganatha's temple, and
after a long, pregnant pause Ramanuja asked the Vaishnava visitor from
Srirangam,"And how is my disciple Kuresan?".
It was then that
the visitor, in a voice choked with pent emotion, narrated to Ramanuja
details of the grim fate that had befallen Kuresan at the hands of the
Chola tyrant, Krimikanta Chozhan.
This is what the
gentleman related to Ramanuja who began listening with rapt attention:
"Sire, after your
departure from Sri Rangam, Sri.Kuresan and Sri.Mahapurna were summoned
to the royal court at Gangai-konda-sozha-puram.
At the court the
King thrust a written declaration in their faces which read:"Nothing
higher than Siva exists", and commanded them both to affix their
signatures to it without protest.
He launched into a long and magnificent recital of authoritative texts
and sources from the Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis and Puranas that proved
that Narayana was the Supreme Principle and none was higher than He and
hence He was the only object fit for worship and contemplation.
The Chola King was
incensed. Thrusting a writing-quill into Kuresan's hands he commanded
Kuresan again to forthwith sign the declaration swearing allegiance to
Siva. "If you refuse we shall have your eyes pulled out here and now!".
On hearing this
Kuresan flew into a greater rage.
He grabbed the
quill from the King's hands and said, "But let me save you the trouble,
you tyrant, for I shall pluck out my eyes by my own hand! These eyes
that have set sights on a sinner such as thee have no further use for
So saying Kuresan
plunged the sharp writing-quill into his own eyes,and extracting ball
from socket threw his eyes on the floor at the King's feet!
The sudden and
violent act of martyrdom of Kuresan struck terror into the hearts of all
The cruel King
remained unfazed! He turned next to Mahapurna and commanded him to sign
the declaration of apostasy. The elderly Sire too flatly refused, upon
which the vengeful King ordered his courtiers to
Mahapurna and gouge out the old 'AchAryA's' eyes without further ado!
And so was it done
without much ado!
Blood streamed out
of the eyeless cavities of Mahapurna and the poignant agony caused may
be better imagined than described.
younger compared to Mahapurna, and of stronger will, somehow took hold
of Mahapurna and both managed to totter out of the palace with blood and
gore trailing them.
Bearing their pain
with a superhuman effort they trudged some distance to the outskirts of
Gangai-konda - hozha-puram where they were met by Mahapurna's daughter,
the poor girl, AttulAzhAy-piratti. The girl had come all the way from
Srirangam looking for them. When she saw her father thus, his face now
eyeless and disfigured beyond recognition, she screamed her heart out in
Mahapurna being in
his declining years, and on meeting his daughter, now collapsed by the
roadside. He could proceed no further on the road from the Chola capital
to the city of SriRangam. The pain became unendurable.
He lay down with
his head resting on Kuresan's lap and his feet resting on his daugter's
and told them that his mortal end was nearing.
broke and he began to wail aloud,"O Sire, what cruel fate has befallen
us and you especially! Your birthplace is Srirangam and your God is
Ranga and your disciple is the great Ramanuja himself! And yet to think
that your death should be ordained in a wayside field on the outskirts
of Gangai-konda-chozha-puram! Does this cause you grief?".
The old Mahapurna
then told Kuresan,"My dear Kuresa, my beloved AtullAzhAy! Have you not
heard that wherever a Vaishnavan may chance to die, there God is present
with him, even as Rama was present while Jatayu passed away from this
world in the wilderness of a jungle?
"And have you not
heard, O Kuresa, that the best place to die is on a SriVaishnavan's lap
or house? Am I not blessed therefore, O Kuresa, to have you cradle me in
your lap as I now breathe my last? Do not gireve!
"Also if not dying
on the soil of Srirangam is a cause of grief, all posterity would think
that death in SriRangam is the only thing in life worthy of attainment!
How ridiculous! No! Our rule is that a good soul which has surrendered
or performed "prappati" to God may meet its death anywhere and yet be
sure of God beside it!
where am I dying here now? Is this not the land where my great gurus
like Nathamuni and Kurugai-kaval-appan also died? So should I not
consider myself fortunate that I die like them? Grieve not!", said the
He then expired, O
Sire, with his thoughts firmly fixed on his guru Yamunacharya.
Sire, just then a
band of SriVaishnavas happened to pass by. They lent Kuresan a hand and
together they solemnly performed for Mahapurna the special last rites,
the "brahma-mEdha" for the great soul."
heard the above account of the visitor from Srirangam he sobbed
uncontrollably. His sadness knew no bounds.
remembered that he owed so much to his mentor Mahapurna. It was for
Ramanuja's own sake that the old Master had to give his life! Alas,
Ramanuja could not be at his side at the time of his death to perform
obsequies like the son Mahapurna never had!
"In death, as in
life, O my dearest Master Mahapurna", thought Ramanuja silently, " I
remain eternally in debt to you, Sire! How shall I ever repay thee?".
Ramanuja wept like a child.
In sadness there
was however a tinge of happiness too for Ramanuja. "At least my Master
did not die abandoned!", thought Ramanuja, "At least, he was tended to
in his last moments by none other than my own dearest disciple,Kuresan!".
Thus did Kuresa
perform one more poignant deed of "kainkaryam": Kuresa performed the 'antima-samskAram'
for his guru's guru!
Returning back to Srirangam
After Mahapurna's cruel death at the
palace of the Chola king at Ganga-konda-sozha-puram, and after he had
himself been violently blinded for life, Kuresan returned to SriRangam.
Life in Srirangam
without the benign presence of his "achAryA" Ramanuja soon became
unbearable for Kuresan. In the meanwhile, all the stalwarts of the times
began to pass away, one by one.
great mentor of Ramanuja passed away. Tirumalai-AndAn and
Tiruvaranga-perumAl-araiyar were next to pass away. The news came to
Kuresan that SriSaila-purna in Tirupati, the maternal uncle of Ramanuja
and his mentor too, had expired. And finally the news came from Kanchi
that Ramanuja's most beloved mentor, Sri.Kanchipurna too had passed
away. Kuresan had spent many years of his life in the company of
Kanchipurna in Kanchi and in his passing away Kuresan felt a deep and
The city of Lord
Ranga took on the forlorn and eerie appearance of a ghost town in
Kuresan's eyes. Ramanuja was in exile, the leading lights of the
SriVaishnava movement were all dying one by one around Kuresan, the
SriVaishnava movement had suffered a setback, and Vaishnavas everywhere
lived in constant fear of the ugly bigotry and fanaticism of those
times. Suddenly, Kuresan began to feel extremely lonely and abandoned in
One day the blind
Kuresan tottered through his way from home to the temple of Ranganatha
to have 'darshan' of the Lord there and to unburden his heart in the
presence of God of all the untold grief and loneliness that had piled up
The temple guards
however stopped him at the gates and told him,"Blind man, we have
instructions from the King to let people in only if they swear that they
willingly renounce RamanujachAryA as their guru. If you denounce your
guru you can enter the temple of Ranganatha. If you won't this holy
temple is out of bounds for you!".
Kuresan told them,
"Sires, please tell your King that Kuresan is prepared to forsake Lord
Ranganatha in this world and even in the next. But denounce Ramanuja...he
The blind Kuresan
then hobbled back to his home and told his wife, "AndAl, call the
children and pack up to leave Srirangam. We shall live here no more."
Kuresan and his
family left the holy city of SriRangam and trudged away to the town of
TirumAlirunjolai (near Madurai).
They settled down
there and lived in exile as complete recluses for many, many sad years.
Meeting Sri Ramanuja
After living in
exile in Melkote for a decade and more, a time came in history when
Ramanuja was at last in a position to return to SriRangam.
The Chola tyrant,
King Krimikantha, died of a deadly tumour that grew inside his neck.
After his death, the fanatic fringe of Saivism in the kingdom quickly
lost its militant edge and the land of the Cholas again reverted to
sanity and its high civilization.
successor was his son who turned out to be a wise king utterly unlike
his father. He discouraged religious bigotry in his kingdom and allowed
freedom of faith and worship amongst all his subjects.
Taking leave of
his vast following in the Mysore regions of Tirunarayanapuram, and at
the ripe old age of around 100, SriRamanuja finally decided to return in
triumph to his holy See in SriRangam.
re-entry into Srirangam was a historic moment in the annals of
A great gathering
of SriVaishnava laity and orthodoxy lined the streets of SriRangam to
welcome their beloved leader as he came in majestic procession with his
disciples. Pagaentry and fanfare, excitement and expectation was rife in
the air. Vedic chants and loud "prabandhic" recitation filled the air as
Ramanuja's great procession wound its way slowly from the outer ramparts
of the Srirangam city into the inner courtyards of the temple of Lord
It was the grand
return of the Hero of SriVaishnavism to reclaim the papal throne that
was rightly his!
inside the temple of Lord Ranganatha, Ramanuja went out again into his
beloved city of SriRangam to loud cheers ot the population. The street
sights and smells, the people and their children, were all familiar to
He remembered the
glorious days of the past .... a happy and eventful past that had been
peopled by so many of his dearest gurus, mentors and disciples....and so
many, many wonderful memories...
stop in Srirangam was to call on the house of his most beloved disciple,
the blinded Kuresan....
learnt that his guru Ramanuja was returning to SriRangam, Kuresan and
his family, exiled in Tirumalirunjolai for several years, had made the
greatest haste in themselves returning to their homestead in Srirangam
to await their Master's arrival.
ahead of Ramanuja's procession to tell the blind Kuresan that Ramanuja
was himself heading straight towards his home after worshipping at the
temple. Kuresan's heart leapt with joy. He immediately asked his family
to lead him out onto the street outside his home. There he eagerly
awaited his guru's arrival.
arrived, the Master and the disciple faced each utterly transfixed... In
each other's presence they suddenly lost themselves in a flood of
distant recollections... of their young days together back in Kanchi, of
their times in Srirangam composing the "sri-bhAshya", their travels
together across India to Kashmir and back .... and the many battles they
had together fought and won against ideological adversaries like
Advaitins and "mAyAvadins", Jains and Buddhists....
Tears welled up in
the Master's eyes as he looked at Kuresan who, being eyeless, was unable
to vent or shed the tears of utter joy that seemed to inundate his
forward and fell at Ramanuja's feet and clasped them both tightly to his
eyeless and scarred face. He lay there motionless and speechless for
A great hush of
silence descended on the large crowd collected there! It stood dumb
witness to probably the most poignant moment ever in the entire
history of the SriVaishanavite movement.
himself speechless for a while as tears shook his now frail body and
rolled down his aged cheeks. Then the old, wizened "AchArya" bent down
and lifting Kuresa to his feet held him to his bosom tightly.
"My child, my
child," whispered Ramanuja to Kuresan,"what have thee done! What have
thee done! You have given your eye... the eye of faith... for the sake
of Our faith!".
When he heard his
Master's familiar voice again for the first time after 12 long years
Kuresan became simply overwhelmed. But with effort, he somewhat composed
himself, recovered quickly and finally replied,
"My Master, if I
had to lose my eyes it was but in atonement perhaps for some sin I may
have committed! Perhaps I may have once happened to pass by some good
SriVaishnavan and may have said to myself "How clumsily this man has
applied his "urdhvapundhram" on his forehead! Hence, Sire, my
punishment is rightly deserved!".
Ramanuja said, "My
beloved Kuresa! You and sin?!! Never! Rather, my child, it is is all my
sin for which you have atoned all these years!"
"But let the past
be bygone, Kuresa, come with me now! You and I have lots of unfinished
work yet to do!".
So saying Ramanuja
proceeded to his own monastery in Srirangam, personally leading his
blind but happy Kuresan by hand.....
All the crowds
gathered there in SriRangam that day watched in wide-eyed fascination as
the old RamanujachArya led the blind disciple to his papal headquarters
.... It was indeed the perfect and most appropriate picture that anybody
could have witnessed on that most magnificent occasion ---- the picture
of "enlightenment" lovingly leading the "blind"....
Remained his Guru's faithful shadow
At the age of well
over 100 years, after his triumphant return to Srirangam from Melkote,
Sri.RamanujachArya with the help of Kuresan, once again set about
resurrecting Sri Vaishnavism and restoring its soaring spirit to former
In the 10 odd
years of Ramanuja's exile away from SriRangam, and under the rule of the
bigoted despot Krimikantan Chola, the temple of Srirangam had fallen
upon ill-fated days; many centers of worship belonging to the faith had
been vandalised too; Vaishnava associations, libraries, schools and
trusts had all been systematically looted and destroyed as well.
Corruption, indiscipline and laxity of faith had also set in amongst
assisted his guru in setting right all the wrongs of the SriVaishnava
faith. Together they worked tirelessly to bring order, vigour and
rectitude back to their faith. It was during this time that
RamanujachArya composed his famous work called "Nithya".... a practical
manual to be followed in SriVaishnava "perumAl" temples for daily
conduct of rituals and a compendium of administrative matters. The "Nithya"
is a very valuable manual in use even today in most "perumAl" temples
most notably, in the famous temple of Tirupati- tirumala.
Thanks to Ramanuja,
SriVaishnavism once again began to flourish in the land where once
people had been frightened to even utter the holy name of "NARAYANA"!
his great physical handicap shirked no duty or "kainkaryam" that was
thrust upon him by his centenarian guru, SriRamanujachArya. Even in
those last years of life on earth, as always, he remained his guru's
SriVaishnava tradition, Ramanuja is regarded as an "avatara" of the
great Lakshmana of the 'Ramayana' whose extraordinary life of service
and dedication ("kainkaryam" and "shraddhai") to Lord Rama was divine
legend. It is said that Rama found no better way of repaying his debt to
Lakshmana other than to take 'avatar' again as Kuresan during
Ramanuja's time on earth and reverse roles i.e. to do unto Ramanuja the
same yeoman service that he had been blessed to receive from Lakshmana
in an ancient age of the past!
Such was the
celebrated "kainkaryam" Kuresan rendered to his guru that the
SriVaishnava faith did not hesitate to confer the sacred hood of Rama's
"avatara" upon him!
Going back to Sri Vaikunta to receive his Guru
tirelessly at Srirangam all his life for his guru Ramanuja who was by
then more than 110 years old and also for the cause of SriVaishnavaism
which had by then become firmly established as a distinctive shool of
Vedantic thought and practice in India.
Kuresan too had
aged considerably. His sons, Parashara and Vyasa Bhattar had quickly
grown to be stripling lads who showed great promise as future leaders of
the Sri Vaishnavism fold. His wife AndAlamma too had grown into an old
but graceful lady.
One day blind
Kuresan went all by himself to visit Lord Ranga in the temple. After
offering worship Kuresa continued to linger behind in the presence of
the Lord. The Deity was a little surprised and asked Kuresan,"You seem
to have something to say to Me, Kuresa?".
replied,"No my Lord! I linger here so that I may sing your praise to my
Ranga was pleased
and said,"Kuresa, you have pleased me today! Ask of me any favour you
replied,"O Ranga, you have bestowed me with every blessing and gift in
life! There is nothing that I lack! What can I ask thee further?".
The Deity however
pressed Kuresan,"No, once more ask, and ask for more, if not for
yourself, then ask for the love that I bear towards my beloved spouse,
Ranganayaki, and towards my Ramanuja!".
Kuresan then had
to ask for something, so he asked that he be released from his mortal
body and be merged in the Lord's Feet. The Deity however demurred and
said,"Ask me anything but that, Kuresan!".
Kuresan said he
had nothing else to ask of God. So Ranga finally relented and said,"Let
it be so then! What you have asked of me, Kuresan, shall be boon for not
only thee but also a boon conferred upon everyone that has any sort of
kinship with thee!".
On receiving the
supreme blessing from the Deity of Srirangam, Kuresan walked out of the
temple with his head held high in pride! He felt like a crown-prince who
was about to be coronated in the Kingdom of God! He went home with his
Meanwhile news of
Kuresan's encounter with Lord Ranganathan quickly reached Ramanuja who
was in his monastery. When the old AchArya heard of the incident he was
startled! He stood up immediately, and throwing his upper garment in the
air, let out a low whoop!
The old achAryA's
behaviour was so unusual that a disciple who was standing close-by asked
him what the matter was. Ramanuja replied,"My faithful one, do I also
not bear kinship with my Kuresan! My salvation too is now assured by the
boon that Ranga has granted my Kuresan!".
It was an ironic
but wonderful reversal of roles! Usually it is by the guru's
intercession that God's grace is fetched for a disciple. But here in the
case of Kuresan and Ramanuja, it was the Master who was benefiting from
the disciple's stock with the Almighty!
The old pontiff
then left his Mutt and made his way to the quarters of Kuresan in the
other part of SriRangam. Kuresan was waiting for his guru.
When the Master
met Kuresan he said,"What have you done,Kuresan?! You have gone and done
a deed without even consulting me your guru?".
was a bit remonstrative and a bit accusatory too. So Kuresan kept
"Why do you not
speak, Kuresa? What was your purpose in going to our Lord Ranga and
begging Him to let go of thee far in advance of someone like me here who
is so far gone in age? Do you wish to be gone ahead of me, my dear
Kuresan spoke in
soft tones, "My Master, my most Holy Sire! My sole purpose was to
preserve the order of prededence in "parama-padam".... in God's
"Don't speak to me
in riddles and conundrums, Kuresa! I am your Master, speak plainly with
me!", gently chided Ramanuja.
"Sire, in the "pasuram"
"muDiyuDai" it is said that our elders in heaven who preceded us come
out of the gates of "parama=padam" to welcome their younger brothers
when it is the latter's turn to arrive there.... and then the elders
usher the young ones into God's Presence. Sire, but this I consider as
being of improper order! It is the younger ones who should always go
first and prepare in Heaven to receive and welcome their elders. That is
the order of precedence I wish to preserve! Hence, Sire, I go in advance
so that I may welcome my Master when he arrives there in good time!".
heard Kuresan's stirring words his whole body shook with tremors of
emotion. His spirit melted.
"My most beloved
Kuresan, you forget the rule in Heaven that all differences and
distinction between elder and young, between wise and ignorant, between
saint and sinner simply disappear there! And yet you Kuresan, who has
served me here so devotedly as a disciple, wish to perpetuate in Heaven
too the same relationship that existed between you and me here on earth!
O, my dearest Kuresa, is there anybody to match you in this world!
Kuresa, my beloved child!".
The aged Ramanuja
could not contain his tears and rushing forward took hold of his
disciple and embraced him.
"Kuresa, my Kuresa,
my dearest son, you are my very soul! How can I part with thee? You say
you want to leave this old man behind alone in this world! Can you not
be kind-earted to this Master of yours of so many years? Take me too
with you, my son, to the Kingdom of God! Why do you want to leave me
behind to suffer the pangs of separation? While I am yet here upon this
earth, how can you be so anxious for Heaven, O Kuresa? Tell me, how can
you enjoy "parama-padam" without me?".
On hearing his old
guru's wrenching words, Kuresan heart was torn to shreds by emotion. He
was stunned into a poignant silence. After a moment Kuresan meekly
"My Master, my
Great Sire, in the depth of my thoughts for the miseries of earthly
existence, I completely forgot the point that you have raised! Pray
forgive me please, SIre, please pardon for me my thoughtlessness even in
the presence of God!".
said,"If Ranga can grant you a boon such as that which you asked him,
Kuresa, surely He can grant me one too! So I will go right now to His
temple and ask him to stop you here on earth for my sake!".
So saying the old
and bent Ramanuja turned and walked a few paces towards the temple of
Lord Rangantha.... but then after a short distance paused abruptly and
"The Will of God
is unalterable! What audacity on my part to go and force Him to change
it! No! Let me submit and be resigned to the Divine Inevitable!". So
saying the old guru retraced his steps towards Kuresan.
Ramanuja now faced
Kuresan and spoke in a clear voice:
"Kuresa! When you
are gone how shall I live without thee? Alas, God in "parama-padam" has
attracted thee, even though our Ranga here has all attractions too! So
then yet have you decided to sever yourself from Ranga here! Happy is
the God in "parama-padam" and happy His celestials to claim thee as one
of their own! Luckless are we all going to be here, yes luckless Ranga
too, who will no longer have thee amongst us....".
"But Kuresa, I am
an old and fading man now, let me not change your mind and disturb thy
plans! Be it all as thou wishest! All Hail to you, my dearest Kuresa! Go
now, go now and proceed to the Blessed Kingdom of God and rule there in
eternal Peace and Happiness!".
So saying Ramanuja
gathered the blind Kuresan in his arms and smothered him with love,
stroking his head and shoulders as if he were a but mere a child.
"Kuresa, in this
moment when you have to depart from me, I salute thee now, my son!". It
was moment of divine pathos.
Kuresan had no
words left in him! Such was his stupefied condition of being that he
simply lay motionless in the arms of his great "achAryA" who clasped him
in his arms as if he were a tiny infant!
After a while
Kuresan disengaged himself slowly and simply fell at Ramanuja's feet
like a log of senseless wood. The old guru then bent down and raised his
disciple and wiped away his tears. "Go now, my child, go now quickly to
the Lord! Thou hast now my leave to depart!".
So saying the aged
and venerable Ramanuja turned and slowly made his way to return to his
monastery in the other part of SriRangam.
It was at that
moment that a most excellent and poignant prayer ("tanian")
in euphonious Sanskrit sprang spontaneously to Kuresan's lips and
which even to this day all devout followers of SriRamanuja recite in
their homes daily and at all times:
nityamachutha padAmbhuja yugmarugma
vyAmOhatas-tadi-tarANi trNAya mEnE
asmath gurOr bhagavatOsya daiyaiyaka sindOhO
rAmAnujasya charanow sharanam prapadyE !".
"The Holy Feet of
My Master, Ramanuja, are my sole refuge! For He is an Ocean of Mercy!
And for Him all else is dross other than the supreme wealth that is the
Feet of God!"
away peacefully after a few hours in the presence of his loving family, AndAlamma and their two young sons Vyasa and Parashara Bhattar. All of
Srirangam gathered and performed all the due obsequies and honours that
one so great a soul as Kuresan richly deserved. Ramanuja had many
disciples. But there never was one like Sri.Kuresan....
Sri Sampath Kumar