Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ramanuja is a history -2 (The Muslim king at the time of Ramanuja)

Part 1 - Modern vs Traditional methods

The major event in the life of Ramanuja was to have gone to Delhi and got back the utsava murthy of Melkote (Ramapriyan) from Dilleesha. Yatiraja Vaibhava, the primary source of evidence that we described in Part 1 says that he searched for the murthy in the house of Dilleesha’s daughter (Dilleesha-sutā) and found it there. The text also says that the daughter of the Delhi king came to Him (after he brought back the murthy) and disappeared inside Him! So it was not just about the Delhi king, his daughter was also there who found her end at Melkote.

The identity of the Delhi king is ‘Turushka’ (Turk) in all later texts. The earliest reference to this comes in ‘6000 padi Guruparampara Prabhavam’ (6000 Padi - from now onwards) composed within 100 years of Ramanuja’s exit from the world. The author was ‘Pinbazhagiya Perumal Jeer, a disciple of Nampillai who in turn was the direct disciple of Nanjeer, who lived in the times of Ramanuja . 6000 Padi refers to him as belonging to Melkote. So everything recorded in this text must have come from the first hand information transferred by Nanjeer to Nampillai. This text gives the identity of the Delhi king as Turushka and refers to a battle at Thondanur between a Turushka and Vittala Raya in which Vittala Raya lost his fingers. He was Vishnuvardhana who patronised Ramanuja during his stay at Thondanur and Melkote. 

One may be tempted to dismiss these texts as unreliable, but the inscriptions uncovered so far substantiate some of the references in these texts as true and therefore historical. For example in the quote from Yatiraja Vaibhavam given above, the 100th verse begins by saying that Ramanuja ‘took the white mud and wore it’. This is nothing but the ‘thiruman’ that Vaishnavites wear on their forehead. Ramanuja ran out of stock of the Thiruman mud and found them in enormous quantities at Melkote. An inscription dated to the end of the 13th century CE refers to the discovery of Thiruman by Ramanuja.[i] Records show that thiruman mud of Melkote was transported to far off places like Banaras in the 19th century. [ii]

An inscription of the Hoysalas dated at 1259 CE mentions that the sacred earth was found by Emberumānār at Melkote.[iii]  Though this refers to the Thirumaṇ deposits, the name Emberumānār establishes a historic truth. There is an event behind that name[iv] and the name appearing in the inscription is evidence for the authenticity of Guruparampara texts that they had recorded only historical facts.

Ilaiyā ɻvan is another name for Ramanuja.  An inscription found at the Lakshminarayana swamy temple at Tonnur (Thindanur) mentions one Thiruvaranga dasar who called himself as the servant of ‘Ilaiyā ɻvan’ – an obvious reference to Ramanuja. The relevant passage from the Archaeological Survey of Mysore[v] is produced below.

The name of Thiruvarangadasar appears in many inscriptions of the 12th century.  His name being aligned with one of the earliest names of Ramanuja (Ilaiyā ɻvan),  it is inferred that he was likely to be  a direct disciple of Ramanuja and hailing from Srirangam. He seems to have taken over the administration of the temple and related issues after Ramanuja left Melkote. 

Names of two more disciples of Ramanuja appear in the inscriptions at Thondanur. One is Uttama Nambi whose name finds mention in the record of 1196 CE. This name also appears in 6000 Padi and his lineage was engaged in serving the Srirangam temple for generations. 

Another disciple is Kulasekhara Dasar whose name is found in the inscription dated at 1223 CE[vi].  His name also appears in the Tamil chronicle called "Periya Thirumudi Adaivu" as a direct disciple of Ramanuja.  

An inscription found at Melkote and dated at 1544 CE “mentions in unequivocal terms that in the Yatiraja matha at that place Ramanuja had resided”.[vii]

With this kind of epigraphic evidence for Ramanuja’s presence at Melkote and his different names, each with a history behind it, we cannot simply brush aside the other hither-to-unsubstantiated-by- epigraphy events as myths. The Turkish presence in Delhi or in North India during Ramanuja’s times cannot be a myth. To show that Turkish rulers lived in north India at Ramanuja’s times, we must first establish Ramanuja’s times at Melkote. His entry into Karnataka also must be ascertained without an iota of doubt to arrive at the upper limit of the period of loss of the Murthy of Melkote. Certainly no one looted the temple while Ramanuja was in Karnataka. Melkote was much closer to Thondanur, the initial place of stay for Ramanuja.

Melkote hill was very much visible from Thondanur. Any loot at the temple would not have gone unnoticed for those in Thondanur.

View of Melkote from Thondanur lake
Picture courtesy here

Therefore it is logical to say that the loot had taken place before Ramanuja arrived at Thondanur.
The exact date of Ramanuja’s stay in Karnataka is needed to be done to ascertain the ruler at Delhi and the date before which the loot at the temple had happened.

Date of Ramanuja’s entry into Karnataka.

According to traditional Vasihnavite texts Ramanuja left Srirangam in the year, Kālayukti. Koil Ozhugu, an authentic chronicle of the Ranganatha Swamy temple of Srirangam found to be supported by epigraphic evidences as well, says that Ramanuja left Srirangam in the year Kālayukti. Kālayukti is the year next to Pingala, the birth year of Ramanuja. That means Ramanuja crossed Kālayukti in his 2nd year, 62nd year 122nd year! The first and last are ruled out. The only plausible date is his 62nd year.

There exists an epigraphic evidence for Ramanuja’s presence in Kālayukti year in a place called Nagamangala in Karnataka not far away from Thondanur.  It is in grantha script engraved in a stone pillar called ‘Pandava kallu’. Kannada version of the same inscription is found in a cave adjacent to this pillar. Though the date of inscription is not known, it does give an important date in the life of Ramanuja, that is, Kālayukti. The reference is reproduced below.[viii]

This inscription gives 3 important Panchanga features enabling us recreate the sky map of that day. They are Kalayukti year, the sun in Cancer (Sravana) and Sukla Dwitiya (2nd day of brighter half of lunar month. The horoscope generated for these features match well with inferred year of entry of Ramanuja. It is shown below.  

The date is 19th July 1078! Ramanuja was running his 62nd year of age. This is the year he had left Srirangam.

This inscription throws up new evidence on Ramanuja’s route to Thondanur from Srirangam. This place Nagamangala does not find mention in any Vaishnavite texts. But he has visited this place in the same year during his sojourn that finally ended at Thondanur. From the month found in the inscription it appears that his visit to this place had happened earlier in his sojourn. 

Sravana (Aadi in Tamil) is the 4th month and within the 3 preceding months, he was forced to move out of Srirangam.  According to 6000 Padi he had an eventful time at Saligrama debating with the Jains and initiating many into Vaishnavism. He was stationed at Saligrama for a considerable time. This makes it possible to infer that he visited Nagamangala first, after he left Kollegal. and before reaching Saligrama. 

The presence of a pillar called "Pandava kallu" in this place suggests a hidden and forgotten history of a visit of Pandavas during exile. Perhaps this feature attracted Ramanuja who was wandering in the same exile mode, to go over there and meditate on the Pandavas and his Inner God. The legend of Melkote that Krishna worshiped the God there adds legitimacy to Pandava Kallu as a monument of a true event in Panadavas' life. 

Ramanuja's name is connected with the temple of Saumya Keshava Swamy at Nagamangala. Local legend says that he consecrated the Vijaya stambha of this temple. This is supportive of his earlier connection to this place revealed by the inscription.

The route of Ramanuja is drawn as a further proof of the reliability of the texts, particularly the 6000 Padi ,that was composed after gathering all inputs from Ramanuja’s Thondanur – Melkote stay by his immediate successors. This route is plotted by this writer taking the inputs from 6000 Padi and inserting Nagamangala also, supported by the inscription above.

Ramanuja walked along the banks of the river Cauvery and reached the slopes of Nilgris near “Paala Mala”. This took 6 days for him. Billigiri Ranga Hills also known as BR Hills was originally known as White Hills in Kannada. Paala could be a corrupt form of Paal, meaning milk, a reference to whiteness. Sathyamangalam in that region could be reached from Srirangam by walking along the riverside. This distance of 195 km can be covered in 40 hours of walk at the rate of 6-7 hours of walk every day.

From there Ramanuja had reached ‘Kollaik kaḷam’, (கொள்ளைக் களம்)  today’s Kollegal. There was a Brahmin Agrahara there. 6000 Padi further narrates his movement to Sāligrāma and from there to Thondanur. It is here we find a deviation as indicated by the epigraphic evidence. From Kollegal he had gone over to Nagamangala and done penance there. From there he has gone to Sāligrāma where many events took place. The factual nature of the route, the locations and the time (year) are excellent proof of the historical nature of the events narrated in 6000 Padi.

The next test of evidence is in establishing the factuality of the date of Ramanuja’s entry into Melkote. Almost all Vaishnavite texts on Ramanuja’s history say that he entered Melkote in Bahudhānya year. In the 60-year scheme, this is the 20th year from Kālayukti which means Ramanuja was running 82nd year then! The ripe age of this Mahapurusha is something difficult to stomach for the modern researchers as it was at this age or little after that Ramanuja had undertaken his trip to Delhi! So we need some epigraphic evidence to prove that the literary evidence is perfectly true.  

Ramanuja entered Melkote in the month of Thai (Pushya / Capricorn) in Bahudhānya year. This information is repeated in most Vaishnavite texts. On this day he discovered the Moolavar murthy (Thirunarayanan) covered with ant-hill and a well grown Thulsi plant standing on it. This day is celebrated every year as an Utsav in the temple at Melkote. The star of this festival is Punarvasu. The utsav on this star is proof of a continuing tradition of the actual date of entry of Ramanuja.

The only available record as of now is a temple manual called “Udaiyavar Niyamanappadi”, created by Ramanuja himself on temple-rules and available with his signature affixed on it. Author K.S.Narayanacharya claims to have seen it personally.[ix]

The following diagram incorporates the three panchanga features, Bahudhānya, Pushya and Punarvasu present on the day of Ramanuja’s entry into Melkote.

The date happens to be 14th January in 1099. This means Ramanuja had spent 20 years in Thondanur  and the close-by regions and entered Melkote in the 21st year of his stay in Karnataka. He was running 82nd year then!

Immediately after consecrating the Moolavar, Ramanuja started looking for the Utsava murthy. On coming to know that it was in Delhi in the custody of the ruler of Delhi, he had undertaken the journey. The ruler being a Turushka, this implies that Turkish rulers were there in 1099 CE!

Muslim presence in North India 

General opinion is that Ghaznavid Empire ended before this date. Mahmud of Ghazni died in 1030 CE but his descendants continued to be present in North West India. Though they lost considerable parts of their empire in the west, they didn’t stop raids across northern India from their locations at Punjab and Lahore. One of the descendants Ebrāhīm ruled for 40 years and was in power until 1099 CE. That was the year Ramanuja discovered the murthy of Thirunarayanan!

 There was change of the ruler at the capital Gazna with Masʿūd III taking over the reigns. Their locations of power in north India must have been on a subdued mood on this year or immediately after that. It seems Ramanuja had taken advantage of this.
 Masud III was also like his predecessors. Encyclopaedia Iranica says the following about him: [x]

Masʿūd III was an enthusiastic warrior whose armies were active in India against the infidels. It seems that Masʿūd, like the rest of his dynasty, employed the spoils of war and the temple treasures of India to beautify his capital Ḡazna and to construct gardens and palaces (Bosworth, Later Ghaznavids, pp. 35, 87-89).”

This description shows that looting of temples had been there even after the death of Mahmud of Ghazni and had continued throughout the 11th century – sometime when Melkote also had been ransacked. Modern historians would ask why there is a ‘contemporary silence’ in the Hindu records of that period. This was raised by historian  Romila Thapar referring to destruction at Somnath temple. Another historian Meenakshi Jain’s reply to her holds good for the ‘silence’ of Hindu history at Melkote barring, the Vaishnavite Guruparampara texts and Yatiraja Vaibhavam, making them the only historical chronicles on the Turkish loot at that part of India in the 11th century. She says,[xi]

The fact is that the Turkish intolerance of imagery deeply preoccupied Hindus. Medieval Hindu historiographical works, temple hagiographies (mahatmyas), site histories (sthala puranas), dharma nibandhas and even inscriptions, all bear witness to the experience of cultural disruption and desecration of the sacred by the Turks. Islamic iconoclasm layat the heart of the psychological rejection of the Turks (turushkas) and is central to the remembered medieval past of the Hindus.”

The state of affairs at Melkote when Ramanuja entered that place, the absolute deserted look and the dense woods around are testimony to the complete wipe-out of the little population that was thriving there centred around the temple. There was none from Melkote to tell the story of what happened. Not even Vittala Raya, the Jain ruler of that region seemed to have known about the fate of the temple. It was as though only with the entry of Ramanuja, people had come to know of the temple for the first time. This means the generation that witnessed the holocaust at Melkote and in the surrounding plains was gone and with them the memory of the destruction also gone. It must be borne in mind that Thondanur in the plain nearby had only 156 houses with a population of 566 people in the year 1876. It must have been much less 800 years before that.

The people at the temple must have buried the Moolavar murthy and tried to escape with Utsava murthy. Meenakshi Jain continues in her review to say that there were procedures to bury the image in times of danger. In her own words,  

Medieval Hindu literature grapples with the searing issues raised by Islamic iconoclasm. In the Ekalinga mahatmaya, the sage Narada enquires of the God Vayu how an image of God could be destroyed by Muslims if it was indeed God himself. Vayu responds that just as the demons had tried to harm Gods, so the Yavanas had a natural tendency to destroy divine images. Though they had the capacity to retaliate, the Gods understood that their conflict with the demons was eternal and that each was fated to suffer setbacks, for periodic dissolution of the world was part of the natural order. The Vimanarcanakalpa, a medieval priestly handbook of the Vaisnava Vaikhanasa school, lays down ritual procedures for burying images in times of danger.”

The loss of Utsava murthy at Melkote seems to have happened due to the complete annihilation of the protectors of the Murthy and destructors fleeing away with the loot. The people of the temple town and the temple priests, upon sensing the invading iconoclast had hurriedly buried the Moolavar and tried to flee with the utsavar. The hillock was at a disadvantage for the fleeing people who could have been easily circled around by the barbaric invaders. Nobody lived to tell the truth, it appears. But God revealed Himself when the time came.

He revealed Himself to Ramanuja when the attention of all the generals of Ghaznavid stationed at various locations of North India was on Ghazni, the capital city. Ramanuja’s trip to Delhi happened at a time when most of them were expected to have gone to Ghazni or been lax in dealing with an old ascetic asking for just one idol from the heaps they have collected over the blood of many and by breaking temples.

When Ramanuja went and asked for just one idol, the ruler of Delhi did not mind. According to 6000 Padi, he was surprised to see an aged ascetic coming to see him asking for the murthy. He just allowed him to pick it out from the piles he had collected. This casual attitude could also be attributed to an important reason. If the idol was looted by that ruler himself, he would not have felt like giving it back. But if it was looted by somebody else and got into his treasury, he would not have had any special thought about it. It was not got by risking his own life or by showing his own ‘valour’.

This logic coupled with the prospect of the destruction at Melkote having happened some time before Ramanuja’s presence there, takes us back in time to mid-11th century CE. Who came to Melkote and went away incognito? Would not the Lord who revealed Himself reveal this too?

He did! We will see that in the next part.

[i] Dr R.Vasantha (1991), “The Narayanasvami temple at Melkote”, published by Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore. Page 41

[ii] B.Lewis Rice, Epigraphica Carnataka, Vol III, Page 20.

[iii]  Coelho, William (1949) “Hoysala Vamsa”, page 288.

[iv] When Ramanuja proclaimed “Tirumantra” to everybody in contravention to the order of his teacher, the teacher Goshti Purna, reveled at the compassion of Ramanuja in revealing it to others and embraced him calling hiby m “Emberumanar”, meaning “our own God”.

[v] Nindi Punj, ‘Archaeological Survey Of Mysore Annual Reports 1905 1909 A Study Settar S. Vol 2’ Page 60

[vi] Dr R.Vasantha (1991), “The Narayanasvami temple at Melkote”, published by Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore. Page 128

[vii] Dr R.Vasantha (1991), “The Narayanasvami temple at Melkote”, published by Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore.

[viii] Narayanacharya K.S, “Ramanuja Melkote & Srivaishnavism”

[ix]  Narayanacharya K.S, “Ramanuja Melkote & Srivaishnavism”. Page 75.

[xi] Meenakshi Jain, 2004 “Review of Romila Thapars “Somanatha, The Many Voices of a History”



Dear ma'am,
Could you please throw some light on the Chola persecutor of Sri Ramanuja? Who was the emperor who forced the acharya into exile? Your account points out to Kulothunga I as a logical deduction based on contemporaniety for 1078ad. What was Ramanuja and srirangam mutt role in the Chola disturbances in 1067 ad? My last question when did ramanuja return to srirangam after the exile? I opine it's between 1118 ad and 1122 ad. Could please pinpoint the exact year and date?

jayasree said...

Kulonthunga 1 did not persecute Ramanuja. The identity of Kirumi kantha chola will be discussed in the 5th part which is the last part in this series. I am preparing the 4th part now which will address your other question on when Ramanuja returned to Srirangam.