Thursday, June 13, 2024

When a simple lady stunned Ramanuja with her knowledge…

[Today is 1004th birthday of Jagadguru Ramanuja. Paying tribute to him, Madabhushi Sridhar narrates an incident in his life.]

An ordinary woman selling curds has stunned the Jagadguru Bhagavad Ramanuja.  Pen Pillai, a cowherd woman confronted Ramanuja, who was entering one of the 108 DivyaDeshaTirukolur on the banks of Tamraparni river in Tamilnadu, around 1000 years ago. Every Vaishnavaite love to reach or live in Tirukolur where as Ramanuja found Pen Pillai was leaving the town. As she say the saint, she prostrated and sought permission to leave Tirukolur. The saint asked: “Even the poor who share one cloth among several and struggle to get food, would like to remain in this divine place, why are you leaving?”

Tirukolur gained significance because here appeared MadhurakaviAzhwar and here Nammazhwar imagined himself as a beautiful maiden and sings the Pasuram in praise of God. Then Pen Pillai points out how she could not perform 81 deeds of great devotees and thus does not deserve to reside in this Vishnu DivyaDesha. Her famous 81 questions are:

  1. Like sage Akroora, “did I assure Kamsa that “I would bring Krishna and Balarama”?
  2. Like Vidhura did I open up my mind, to Lord Krishna, when Krishna visited Hasthinapura?
  3. Like the wives of sages did I sacrifice my body when Krishna asked for food.
  4. Like Goddess Sita did I ignore Ravana?
  5. Like King Thondaimandid I wake up the corpses of the family of Krishna Sharma?
  6. Like Ghanta Karna did I offer a feast of corpses to Lord Krishna, to get Moksha?
  7. Like Sati Anasuya did I assume the role of mother to Trimurthy’s?
  8. Like Dhruva did I ask my mother , “Where is my father”?
  9. Did I chant the three lettered name” Govinda “as per the sages advice and was born as Brahmin in next birth?
  10. Was I touched by the first footstep of Rama like SathiAhalya and got out of my curse?
  11. Like Aandal who started loving God even as a child, did I become a fruit without ripening?
  12. Like Periyaazhvar who was blessed by Lord Narayana and became a great poet, did I call the God as my lord?
  13. Like Thirumazhisaiaazhvar, did I learnt other system of relegions and left them to become a Srivaishnavite?
  14. Like the great Pundit THirumazhisaiAazhvar did I refer myself as a small person with humility?
  15. Like KulashekaraAazhvar, did I pray to be born as anything on the Thirumala mountains?
  16. Like all Vishnu devotees did I say that “Lord Krishna as personification of truth“?
  17. Like Kabanda who after being killed by Rama got rid of his curse, did I told him about who kidnapped Sita and where she is?
  18. Like Trijatadid I tell the private truths of Ravana to Sita?
  19. Like Mandodari did I understand the incarnation of Rama and told Ravana that Rama is God?
  20. Like sage Viswamithra did tell Dasaratha that I know about Lord Rama?
  21. Like Madura Kavi rayarDid I demonstrate My BHakthi to Guru and God?
  22. Like Devaki did I give birth to God?
  23. Like Vasudeva did I ask God to hide his vedic form of the sea and become like a baby?
  24. Like Yashoda did I bring up a cowherd?
  25. Like the squirrel, did I go along with the monkeys to build a bridge?
  26. Like Kuchela did I offer Lord Krishna , the puffed beaten rice?
  27. Like Sage Agasthya did I give weapons to Rama?
  28. Like Sanjaya, was I able to see hidden secret incidents of Kurukshetra?
  29. Like King Janaka did I get to the Lord due to Karma yoga?
  30. Did I steal and then saw the Lord Vishnu like Thirumangauaazhvar?
  31. Like Aadishesha, did I do any service like protecting you from sun and rain?
  32. Like Garuda, did I carry the lord to various places?
  33. Like nampudayaandid I give the benefit of singing one prayer to God so that the Brahmarakshas is liberated?
  34. Like the first three Aazhvars (poygaiazhvar, bhoothathuaazhvar and Peyaazhvar) did I took shelter from rain in a very small room In Thirukovalur?
  35. Like sage Valmiki did I get two kings(Lava and Kusha) to nurture?
  36. Like ThondarAdi podiYaazhvaar did I present the lord with two garlands(one of flower and another of words)
  37. Like Tiru Kachchi Nambi, was I lucky to converse with Lord of Kancipuram?
  38. Like Thirupanazhvar who was carried inside the temple on the shoulders by the temple priestdid I merge with the body of God?
  39. Like sage Vasishta did I tell Dasaratha to send Rama and Lakshmana along with sage Viswamithra?
  40. Like KongilPiratti, did I get the slippers of Ramanuja for worship?
  41. Like KuravaNambi of Kuravapuram near Thirupathi, did I worship you with flowers made of mud?
  42. Like Gajendra, did I call you, “Oh Adhi moola (primeval source )”?
  43. Like Kubja in Mathura, did I offer you sandal paste to apply?
  44. Like flower merchant Sudhama in Mathura, did I offer flowers to you?
  45. Like Bharatha did I stay in the same place where your sandals were kept?
  46. Like Lakshmana, did I follow Rama like a slave for the way?
  47. Like Guha, did I leave Rama on the other shore of the Ganges?
  48. Like Jatayu, did I fight with Ravana?
  49. Like Vibheeshana did I cross the ocean and approach Lord Rama?
  50. Like Sabari, did I save the sweet fruits for offering to Rama like Sabari?
  51. Like Prahlada, did I say that “Narayana is here also”?
  52. Like the Dhadhipanda the curd merchant to save Krishna, did I tell that “baby Krishnais not here”?
  53. Like Lord Rama, did I go to the forest?
  54. Like Hanuman, did I say to Rama, “I have seen her and have come back”?
  55. Like Draupadi, did I leave both hands holding my Sari and raised them up to call Krishna?
  56. Like VadugaNambidid I say, that I did not go to see Ramanuja saying that milk is boiling
  57. Like Ramanuja, did I hug and embrace the idol of the lord Selvapillai, when the God came out of the room of the Mohamedan princes?
  58. Was I made to stand in the same place by Rangaraja, when Idayathoornambi became old but wanted to see him daily?
  59. Like sage Natha muni, did I go to a long distance in search of two men and a lady with a monkey, thinking that they were Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman?
  60. Like Maruthiyaandan did I bring the news from Sri Rangam to Ramanuja that the tyrant Chozha king is no more?
  61. Like Koorathaazhvaan,did I say that he did not want even to see Lord Ranganatha unless his relation with saint Ramanuja is recognized?
  62. Like Saint Ramanuja did I argue and win over followers of Advaitha?
  63. Did I do to the depth of grace of the Lord when he termed SrimanNarayana a devotee as the emperor among good people (NallanChakravarthi) when he cremated a corpse just because he was Vaishnava?
  64. Like Alavandar, did I go to see AnathaPadmanabha swami at Trivandum due to command of God?
  65. Like DeivaVariyandan did I who was left behind pining for meeting my AcharayaAlavandhar?
  66. Like Amudhanaar (PeriyaKoilNambi) did I write Andathi at the command of his Guru who did not want to be praised?
  67. Did I say favourable words to support Rama and stop the war to Ravana like his grand fatherMalyavan?
  68. Did I say that lord Vishnu is a thief like the great devotees who were world teachers?
  69. Did I say that all great devotees of Vishnu are like ocean and all their words are sound of the ocean, like periyaNambi who was referring to MaraneriNambi?
  70. Did I always surround Saint Ramanuja and was with him being convinced that he is God?
  71. Did I develop a very strict relation with Ramanuja like ThirukoshtiNambi , who made Ramanuja take a vow that he would not teach what he learnt to others?
  72. Did I get the divine grace from Saint Ramanuja like his follower who cannot speak?
  73. Like Thirunaraiyooraar did I sacrifice my body to protect the Archaroopa of God in Thottiyam?
  74. Like King Uparichara, did I say that all beings are like me and have the right to live?
  75. Did I like ThirumalaiNambi, say that I searched all over the mountain but could not see a being inferior to me?
  76. Did I jump into Cauvery from the boat to die when the river was in floods so that I can save sage Nampillai?
  77. Like Singan of Kashi, who worshipped the lord with lotus flowers, did I pray to the Lord and summon him?
  78. Like ParasaraBhattar did I win over great scholars by his power of words?
  79. Like Embar did I remove the thorn from the tongue of the snake by putting my hand in its mouth?
  80. Did I show my other shoulder to a hit by a belt when by mistake the belt of the man clearing the crowd hit my other shoulder?
  81. Like Bhagvar, did I like Bhagvar go to another Ghat to do the morning prayers as I was doing it in the service of Narayana and others were doing it because of their caste?

Each of her point was a nuance of Vaishnava philosophy of which Ramanuja is the father-figure.  These questions and stories around are revered as profound Bhakti principles in Tamil literature.  While raising those aspects, she proves that she was nothing, and lower in grade, for which reason, she has to go from that sacred place.

After hearing her 81 points, Ramanuja was surprised and granted her the admission in his school of VishishthaAdvaita and deviates from his Sanyasi rule to accept the food cooked by her at residence. 

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.


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