|Sri Vedanta Desikan|
Swamy Sri Vedanta Desikan as in Kanchipuram with lions on two sides
Thoopul (Thiruthanka) (present-day Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu, India)
|Titles/honours||Sarvathanthra Swathanthrar, Kavitharkiga Simham, Vedanthachariar|
|Guru||Sri Kidambi Appullar alias Sri Aathreya Ramanujachariar|
|Literary works||Sri Sthothra Nidhi, Sri Paduka Sahasram, Rahasya Granthams, Sri Desika Prabandham, Kavyams|
|Quotation||Srimathe Nigamantha Maha Desikaya Namah: (श्रीमते निगमान्त महादेशिकाय नमः)|
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Vedanta Desika (Swami Desikan, Swami Vedanta Desikan, Thoopul Nigamaantha Desikan) (1268–1370) was a Sri Vaishnava guru and one of the most brilliant stalwarts of Sri Vaishnavism in the post-Ramanuja period. He was a poet, devotee, philosopher and master-teacher. He was the disciple of Kidambi Appullar, also known as Aathreya Ramanujachariar, who himself was of a master-disciple lineage that began with Ramanuja. Swami Vedanta Desika is considered to be avatar (incarnation) of the divine bell of Venkateswara of Tirumalai by the Vadakalai sect of Sri Vaishavites.
Swami Vedanta Desika makes some oblique autobiographical references in his works, such as in the prologue to his Sankalpa Suryodayam. Prathivadhi Bhayankaram Annangaracharya (1300–1400), a junior contemporary of Desika and a disciple of his son, Kumara Varadhacharya(nayana varadacharya), gives some details about Desika's parentage, education etc. in his Saptati Ratna Maalika.
Swami Vedanta Desika was born in the Kali yuga year 4370, which corresponds to 1268 CE. His birthplace was Thoopul, near Kanchipuram. He was named Venkatanatha and belonged to the Vishwamithra gotra (lineage). He was educated and trained by Kidambi Appullaar, a scholarly maternal uncle who was a direct disciple of Nadadoor Ammal (grand-nephew of Ramanuja). Appullaar also initiated Venkatanatha into Brahmacharya Upanayanam (the sacred thread ceremony) at the age of seven and then to the Sri Vaishnavaite school of philosophy through Panchasamskara and made him master the Vedas, Divyaprabandam, Puranas and Sastras.
By the age of 20 Swami Vedanta Desika was a great scholar without peer in the history of Vaishnavism. He married at the age of 21 to Tirumangai (also known as Kanakavalli) and by the age of 27 he was an Acharya. Desika was conferred the title of Sarva Tantra Swatantra (one with the capacity for independent thinking and originality in any field), by Ranganayaki and with the title Vedantacharya by the Lord of Sri Rangam Sri Ranganatha.
After becoming an acharya, Desika left for Thiruvaheendrapuram (near Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu) in accordance with the orders of Appullar. He spent some years there, meditating on Garuda and had the darshan of Hayagriva; from then on, Lakshmi Hayagriva became his personal deity. He composed numerous literary works in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil and Manipravalam. He also made pilgrimages to Kanchipuram, Tirupati, Brindavan, Ayodya and Badrinath, during which he promoted Ramanuja's philosophy through discourses and literary works. After many years of wandering from place to place, Desika returned to Srirangam and settled there.
Desika ascended to the paramapadam in 1370, aged 101. Prior to his ascent to paramapadam he had arranged for the continuance of the "Guru Parampara" by initiating his primary disciple, Brahmatantraswatantra, and his son, Kumara Varada Desika into the Acharya tradition.
Swami Vedanta Desika's writings include devotional works on deities and Acharyas, treatises on Vishishtadvaita, commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, secret doctrines of Vaishnavism, Tamil poems, epic poems and allegorical dramas in Sanskrit, dialectical works such as Satadushani directed against rival religious schools, treatises on daily life and several other miscellaneous treatises. His gloss on the meanings of the Vedas, reconciling the teachings of the Alvars and the Prasthanatrayi, created history because it exposed the Divya Prabhandham of the Alvars to a much wider audience and elevated it to a status equivalent to that of the Vedas in the eyes of the Tamil Vaishnava people.
StOtra grantams (works of divine hymns of praise)
During his stay in Kanchipuram, Swami Vedanta Desika visited several shrines, composing lyrics on their deities.
Swami's works include:
28 Stotra Granthams; 5 Kaavya Granthams (out of which one is lost i.e. Samasya Sahasri); 1 Naataka Grantham (Sankalpa Suryodayam); 32 Rahasya Granthams; 11 Vedantha Granthams; 10 Vyaakyana Granthams; 4 Anushtaana Granthams; 13 Miscellaneous Granthams (various subjects); 24 Prabhandams in Tamil (out of which 5 are lost).
Hamsa-Sandesha ("The Message of the Swan") is a medieval love poem set in southern India. Lovesick Rama, the epic hero, petitions a swan to carry a message to his beloved Sita, who has been abducted by the demon king, Ravana. As the swan's route winds through South India, it honors the land which Rama and Sita made sacred, whose beautiful landscape and peoples it describes in full. The Swan shoots like an arrow across the ocean to the island of Lanka and there he sustains the pining and near-suicidal Sita with his message. But more than this, the poet also pays deep homage to Kālidāsa's "Cloud Messenger".
Paaduka Sahasram ("1008 Verses on the Sandals of the Lord") is considered to be Desika's magnum opus. He claimed to have written it in one quarter of a night as a challenge, with the two preceding quarters being devoted by him to yoga and yoga-nidra (=sleep induced by yoga and resulting in intuition).
Paduka Sahasram has 32 "Padhadhi"s. Reading each padhadhi everyday, thereby completing in 32 days. Many believed to have achieved their wishes by completing this exercise. Doing parayana of paduka sahasram helps to attain moksha. Wonderful language, chitra-padams were used in these slokas. Mainly sung on the padukas of Rama, Ranganatha and Krishna, praying for attaining Moksha.
Defence and recovery of Srirangam
In about 1312 A.D, during the Muslim invasion of Srirangam by Malik Kafur, the General of Allauddin, Sultan of Delhi and in 1323 A.D during the invasion of Ulugh Khan there was a great commotion. Fear gripped the minds of everyone as to what might happen to the temple and the Lords Archa murthis. To inspire his fellows, Swami Vedanta Desika composed the poem "abhIti stava". The Acharyas deliberated under the guidance of the centenarian Master, Sudarsana Bhattar.
It was decided that one group under Pillai Lokacharya (who was equally advanced in age) was to take the Utsava Murthi and his consorts covered up in a palanquin to Tirupati. The party under Sudarsana Suri was to stay put at Srirangam, after erecting a stone wall in front of the Sannidhi of Moolavar to cover him from the sight of the marauders. Swami Vedanta Desika took Sudarsana Bhattars two sons and the manuscripts of sthutha Prakaasika (the elaborate commentary on Sri Bhashyam chronicled by Sudarsana Bhattar during the Kalakshepams of Nadadur Ammaal) to safety at ThiruNarayanapuram via Satyagalam. But, before he could do that, the Muslim army attacked them and massacred many of them. Swami hid himself with his wards in the midst of corpses and spent the night. In the morning, they moved towards Satyagalam village in Karnataka en route to Tirunarayanapuram.
After the sack, his old classmate Vidyaranya visited to assess the situation. Later, Swami Vedanta Desika's mantra-disciple, the Brahmin Gopanarya was among the three generals deployed by the founder of the fledgling Vijayanagara empire to recover the south from Muslim forces led by the Madurai sultanate. Gopanarya, inspired by a dream involving Vishnu according to legend, vowed to restore Srirangam. Having first captured Gingee, he temporarily housed the Srirangam idols moved back from Tirupati. Then, having defeated the formidable horse archers of the enemy, he reinstalled the idols in Srirangam , and invited back Swami Vedanta Desika.
In Sri Vaishnavism, a Thanian is a laudatory dedication in verse composed about an acharya by another acharya who is the subject's pupil and someone whom the subject greatly admired. The Thanian of Desika is:
"rAmAnuja-dayA-pAtraM j~nAna-vairAgya-bhUShaNaM |
shrImad-venkaTa-nAthAryaM vande vedAntadeshikaM ||"
This Thanian was composed by brahmatantraswatantra jeeyar of Parakala Mutt on the day of star of Hastham, the star of Varadharaja Perumal of Kanchipuram in the Tamil month of Avani. It is recited before starting Divya Prabandham — the works of Alwars by Vadakalayars. It translates as "I salute the great Venkata Natha also called Vedanta Acharya and Lion among poets and logicians and who was well adorned by both Knowledge and discretion and who well deserved the grace of Athreya Ramanujar who also had the same name."
Swami Vedanta Desika's son, Kumara Varadacharya, composed a Thanian on Swami. This is recited before reading the Sri Bhasya of Ramanuja and any Sanskrit stotra of Swami Desika by the Vadakalai sect. In ITRANS, it is:
"shrImAn venkaTa-nAthAryaH kavitArkika-kesari |
vedAntAcharya-varyo me sannidhattAm sadA hridi ||"
The meaning of this verse is "the great lion of poets and the great preceptor of Vedanta (that Swami Venkatanatha was) should reside in his heart always." It is good to note that, Sri Kumara Varadhacharya was a great scholar and has also composed "Pillai Anthathi" in Tamil and "Sri Desika Managalam" in Sanskrit, on Swamy Vedanta Desika. These two works are chanted in most of the Vadakalai Divya Desam till today.
"Seeronru Tooppul Thiruvenkata mudaiyan
par onra chonna pazhamozhiyul- OronRuVanerap PomaLavum Vazhvu ||"
thane amaiyadhO Dharaniyil Vazhvorkku
The meaning of this verse composed is, "For a person who desires to ascend up to the Heavens, even a single statement of the great Acharya, Tooppul Tiuvenkadamudaiyan (Vedanta Desika) uttered by him for the benefit of humanity would be sufficient to lift him up to his desired goal".
Vazhi Thirunamam is a set of salutary verses chanted in temples to mark the closure of the day's Divya Prabandha chanting. They are intended to ensure that these temples and the practices as established by the acharyas and Ramanuja will be followed for ever. The Vazhi Thirunamam for Desika is:
"Vanja Para Samayam Mattra Vandhon Vazhiye Mannu Pughaz Bhoothooran Manamuhappon Vazhiye Kanja Thirumangai Ughakka Vandhon Vazhiye Kaliyanurai Kudi Konda Karuththudayon Vazhiye Senjol Tamil Maraigal Thelindhu Uraippon Vazhiye Thirumalai Mal Thirumaniyay Sirakka Vandhon Vazhiye Thanja Parakadhiyay Thantharulvon Vazhiye Than Tamil Thoopul Thiruvenkadavan Vazhiye!!!
Nanilamum Than Vaala; Naan maraigal Thaam Vaala Maanagaril Maaran Marai Vaazha Gyaniyargal Senniani Ser Thoopul Vedantha Desikane Innum Oru Nootrandirum!!!
Vazhiyani Thoopul varum Vedathasiriyan Vazhiyavan Paadhara Vindha Malargal Vazhiyavan Kodhila Thal Malarai Kondadi Kondirukkum Theethilla Nallor Thiral!"
The meaning of the Tamil verses is:
"May Your grace live long; for you have changed many unrighteous paths to the righteous path May Your grace live long; for you have lived a life as pleasing to Sri Ramanujacharya May Your grace live long; for you have given joy for great men with your service May Your grace live long; for you have been an embodiment of the words of Thirumangai Alwar May Your grace live long; for you have presented the Tamil Vedas the Divya Prabandams very clearly May Your grace live long; for you have proved your incarnation of being the Divine bell of the Lord of Seven Hills May Your grace live long; for you are blessing us with the path of Salvation May Your grace live long; for you are the Lord of Seven Hills whom came to elaborate the Tamil Verses"
"May our Swami Desikan live for one more century, for the well-being of the Worlds ( The Earth, the worlds above Earth, the worlds below Earth and the Eternal world), for the well-being of Vedas, for the sacred text of Nammalvar's Thiruvaimozhi to present glorious in sacred Sri Rangam; Oh Swami Vedanta Desika, the dusts from your holy feet are being worn by the great Gyanis to get betterment in their Spiritual life; May You live one more century for our sake!" "May Your grace live long; the grace of Swami Desikan who was born in Thoopul, who has no equivalent in knowledge; who is our greatest Philosopher; Long live His Lotus Feet! Long live the sacred men who are divine and pious always meditating and celebrating the grace of this Aacharya and who are staying away from all sorts of evil deeds and who are always surrounded with the good and sacred deeds!"
- Sri Vedanta Desika: Makers of Indian Literature by M. Narasimhachary, Sahitya Academy, 2004.