Ramanuja: Who Was He?

If you are familiar with Hinduism, chances are that you have probably read about the Hindu philosopher and theologian Ramanuja. Ramanuja, a very brilliant philosopher, had a tremendous impact on Hindu Vaishnava. This thinker was one of the three most influential Vedantic philosophers of the 2nd millennium. And that is why we will shed more light on the life of Ramanuja.
Birth and Early Life
Ramanuja was born in 1017 C.E. to Kebava Somayayi (father) and Kantimathi (mother) in the village of Sriperumbudur. This place is a Tamil speaking community near modern day Chennai, India. Ramanuja’s family, a subclass of Brahmins, was reputed for their learning in Vedas, which is the most ancient Hindu scripture. The Vedas contain hymns, philosophies, and guidance on rituals relating to Vedic religion. Ramanuja and his family moved to Kancipuram after the death of his father.
Ramanuja as a child idolized Kancipurna (a local member of the servile caste) due to the latter’s piety and devotion to Hindu deity Vishnu. Although he wanted Kancipurna to be his teacher, it was Yadava Prakasha whom he met at Kanchipuram that officially became his guru.
Adult Life
After he left Yadava’s school, Ramanuja returned to his childhood idol Kancipurna whom he assisted in manual services in the idol temple of Vishnu. Yamanu, the head of Vaishnava (Vishnu worshipping) had desired for Ramanuja to replace him in the idol temple. However, he died before handing over to Ramanuja as head of the Vishnu temple.  Mahapurna, who was Yamuna’s senior disciple, later became Ramanuja’s guru. Nevertheless, a quarrel between Ramanuja’s and Mahapurna’s wives led to the separation of the duo. Due to the constant interference of his wife with his spiritual development, Ramanuja sent his wife back to her parents. Ramanuja’s separation with his wife and subsequent initiation into the ascetic order officially launched his career as a self-assured and independent philosopher.
Works by Ramanuja
The Sri Vaishnava tradition holds that Ramanuja authored nine works. Two of his most influential texts written in Sanskrit are “Sri Bhasya” and “Bhagavad Gita.”  Ramanuja’s first work titled Vedārthasaṅgraha or “The Summary of the Meaning of Vedas” is the work he is best known for outside the Sri Vaishnava tradition. Apart from the philosophical works attributed to his name, Ramanuja is credited as the writer of three Hymn proses which were collectively titled The Gaya Traya.  Other works by Ramanuja include Vedanta Sara or “Essence of Vedanta,” Vedanta Dipa – Light on Vedanta and Gitabhashya.
Philosophical Beliefs
Ramanuja was a chief proponent of Visistadvaita, one of the three forms of Hindu orthodox philosophical schools of Vedana. He offered the first systematic interpretation of the philosophies of the Vedas. Ramanuja argued for the epistemic and stereological importance of bhakti or a devotion to a personal God. Ramanuja’s philosophy is mainly theistic, which affirms the existence of a morally perfect, omniscient and omnipotent God. He also affirmed the existence of plurality of qualities, objects and persons.
In a Nutshell
Ramanuja, despite being without a teacher twice, displayed vast intellect as a philosopher.   He was able to convert opposing scholars to disciples through the numerous debates he had won. His works remains a great influence in Hindu philosophy.
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