Saturday, April 30, 2022

Chapter-wise content of my new book "Ramanuja Itihasa: Decoding the identity of Krimikantha Chola and the Muslim invader at Melukote"

The book “Rāmānuja Itihāsa: Decoding the identity of Krimikaṇṭha Chola and the Muslim invader at Melukote” is set on a detective tone to resolve two historical mysteries in Rāmānuja’s life that have far reaching implications for our understanding of the history of the medieval Cholas and the unrecorded earliest incursion of Islamic iconoclasts into southern India in the 11th century CE after the death of Mahmud of Ghazni.

Spread out into 12 chapters, the substance of this book is being presented here chapter-wise. The book was released on Rāmānuja Jayanti, on 6th May, 2022 at Sriperumbudur, the birth place of Rāmānujācārya. The hardcopy of the book can be obtained from me by writing to

For Ebook links refer here: Jayasree Saranathan: Published my book “Rāmānuja Itihāsa: Decoding the identity of Krimikaṇṭha Chola and the Muslim invader at Melukote” 

Chapter 1: Primary and secondary sources of evidence on Rāmānuja’s history

The chapter begins with a brief comparison of the traditional Indian method with the more recent western method of historical research. The admissibility of the traditional hagiographies as primary or secondary sources of evidence for historical research is established by both the systems, with the Indian system offering greater scope for layers of scrutiny that are found missing in the modern method. Rāmānuja’s history being the basis of this book, four texts written by his contemporaries and two secondary texts are scrutinized for their appropriateness as evidences after resolving the controversies, particularly in the case of one, where opinions differed among Vaiṣṇavite scholars. The chapter also authenticates Rāmānuja’s birth date as CE 1017.

Chapter 2: Persecution of Rāmānuja and others

This chapter is about the circumstances leading to Rāmānuja’s exit from the Chola country. While all the hagiographies of Rāmānuja state that his disciple impersonated him when summoned by the king, to protect Rāmānuja and facilitate his quick exit from the country, no historian is ready accept that Rāmānuja faced any threat, though they have no misgivings in blaming the riots for the death of the king, as a consequence of Rāmānuja’s exit. This chapter uncovers the defects in this version while narrating the sequence of events leading to the persecution of the disciple and the teacher of Rāmānuja who went to meet the king. The eyes of the two were plucked by the king’s order that caused the teacher, aged 105, lose his life. Not aware of these developments Rāmānuja left the country along with his disciples. The year of this event is established as CE 1078.

Chapter 3: From Srirangam to Tonḍanūr

This chapter traces Rāmānuja’s journey from Srirangam to Tonḍanūr (near Mysore) in Karnataka. The first break-through in this research comes from an inscription in a rocky cave called Pāndava Kallu near Nāgamaṅgala, where Rāmānuja meditated for some time. This was supposed to be the place where Pāndava-s stayed during their exile. From there Rāmānuja moved to Śāligrāma and then to Tonḍanūr where he cured the daughter of the King, Viṣṇuvardhana and won the Jains in a debate in the Manḍapa of the Narasimha temple. All the temples were in ruins and without deities when Rāmānuja arrived at Tonḍanūr. The controversies about whether he converted Jain Basadi-s to temples and Jains to Vaiṣṇavism are resolved in this chapter.

Chapter 4: From Tonḍanūr to Melukote

This chapter covers the events at Tonḍanūr, prominent one being the construction of a dam across a narrow gap between two hills to stop mountain currents. It resulted in the formation of a tank, called Toṇṇūr Kere today. Six hundred years later, the bund was destroyed by Tipu Sultan on coming to know that a Ghazi lying in a tomb on the side of the tank was a follower of Mahmud of Ghazni and that his martyrdom was made worthless by Rāmānuja by having successfully got back the looted property (Deities of Melukote). Rāmānuja was perhaps the one and only person in the entire history of struggle against the invader-Muslims to have got back the looted treasure without any bloodshed. Unable to bear that historical feat of that frail old ascetic, Tipu went about destroying all monuments associated with Rāmānuja.  The Toṇṇūr bund was broken causing instant floods that wiped out considerable population of Tonḍanūr. The temple of Yoga Narasimha where Rāmānuja used to spend most of his time was destroyed by Tipu where he installed the tomb of the Ghazi.  The loot at other temples and the complete destruction of the Maṭha of Rāmānuja by Tipu seemed as though Rāmānuja was posthumously persecuted. Getting back to the trail of Rāmānuja, the chapter narrates the entry of Rāmānuja into the nearby hill of Melukote in CE 1099 where he discovered the main mūrti of Tirunārāyaṇa buried near a tank. Epigraphic evidence is produced to show that he brought the priest from Srirangam with the help of Vikramāditya-VI, a friend of Viṣṇuvardhana’s father, to conduct the worship for the deity.

Chapter 5: Muslim invasion at Melukote

The missing deities at Tonḍanūr and Melukote indicating pillage by the raiders, this chapter traces their identity from the evidences gathered around the ‘fanatic follower’ buried at Tonḍanūr. Two of them who entered India along with Syed Salar Masud, the nephew of Mahmud of Ghazni managed to cross Mālwa that had a friendly treaty with Masud, and came along the west coast of Karnataka and Konkan with a small army, plundering the temples on the way. The Persian chronicle giving this information stops at Kannur in Karnataka as the destination of the two and the death of Mir Bakhtiar in a fight with the local army. The tomb of the follower of Mahmud found only at Tonḍanūr, the rest of the story is gathered from the evidences at Tonḍanūr and Melukote. The iconoclasts had turned to Tonḍanūr on their return journey. In the scuffle with the locals, one of them, Mir Bakhtiar was killed. He was buried by his partner, Sulutanu-e-Salateen who decamped with the spoils and reached Delhi. The complete silence of the Hoysala history for 20 years corresponding to this time goes to prove that they were the worst hit by this raid. The attack on Mālwa by the Hoysaḷa-s after this period is understood to be a revenge on the Bhoja-s for letting the ruthless attackers a safe passage. The route taken by the intruders and the Hoysaḷa-s are illustrated to show that they are similar.

Chapter 6: Proof of Delhi visit

This chapter establishes the trip to Delhi by Rāmānuja to recover the looted deity. With the old Hindu saint asking for just one mūrti, stolen by one among them in the past, the custodian of the plundered wealth identified as Dillīṣa of Turkish origin in the hagiographies, didn’t mind allowing him take it back. But this mūrti happened to be the playmate of the daughter of this chief. She followed Rāmānuja to get it back but fell dead after seeing the deity consecrated in the temple. This chapter brings to the fore the numerous evidences from folk songs and literary works on the veracity of this account and the performance of marriage festival between this girl and the deity since Rāmānuja’s time, that left an imprint in the marriage traditions of the nearby villages. The downtrodden people who helped Rāmānuja on his return journey were honored with titles and rights that continue even today, testifying Rāmānuja’s Delhi visit.

Chapter 7: The identity of Krimikaṇṭha Chola

With Rāmānuja continuing his exile in Melukote and the persecutor king still in the Chola throne, this chapter focuses on establishing the identity of this king. It is proved that Kulottuṅga- I was not the persecutor. He had taken in charge of the temple at Srirangam only after Rāmānuja left. Rāmānuja’s name missing from the list of the Srikāryam of the temple produced by historians is shown as counter proof of their claim. The literary evidences on the presence of a king are discussed. That king was Adhirājendra, a direct heir to the throne. The historical blunder of historians in assuming that this king died in CE 1070 that led to the coronation of Kulottuṅga- I (not a direct heir) is disproved by an inscription of Adhirājendra appearing in CE 1071. The elevation of Kulottuṅga- I was in tune with the practice since the days of Rājarāja- I to have a co-ruler. Kulottuṅga was a co-regent with his base at Kānci.

Chapter 8: The myth of the death of Adhirājendra

This chapter focuses on refuting the arguments of historians that Adhirājendra died early and that he was a weak ruler. Inscriptions are listed to prove that Adhirājendra was a powerful warrior who brought victories in Ceylon and Kadāram (modern Kedah). He had his presence in Kālahasti too, that was the epicenter of a feud between Vaiṣṇavas and the followers of Śiva to convert Lord Venkateśwara of Tirupati into Skanda! Rāmānuja successfully thwarted that attempt. Only after this incident, he was persecuted. The chapter continues to present evidences to show that Kulottuṅga ruled from Kānci after the death of a Chola king in a riot. This death is reported by Bilhana in Vikramānkadeva Carita on the life of Vikramāditya-VI, and is given as evidence for the death of Adhirājendra by historians. But this death happening in 1070 is no proof for Adhirājendra’s death but the death of a co-regent, Rājamahendra, the brother of Adhirājendra’s father. The lists of all the kings given in various inscriptions of three kings before Adhirājendra are furnished to prove that Rājamahendra was a co-regent who suddenly disappeared from history. The lists of kings found in the Tamil literary works starting from Kulottuṅga I to three generations after him are also shown to establish that Kulottuṅga I succeeded Rājamahendra as a co-ruler from Kānci throne.

Chapter 9: Kulottuṅga- I succeeded Rājamahendra at Kānci

This chapter discusses the background of the riot at Kānci resulting in the death of Rājamahendra in the riot. By this time (1070) all the heirs to the Chola throne from the family of Rājendra- I were dead in different wars. The world knows only one side of the story of the Chola-s of the 10th and 11th century as successful in territorial expansion and overseas victories. But the price they paid for this was heavy in terms of loss of all eligible heirs in various wars. Only Rājamahendra and Adhirājendra survived, between whom the former was killed in a sectarian riot at Kānci. Rājamahendra’s Vaiṣṇavite leanings led to his death in the brewing clash between two sections identified as ‘right-handed’(Valaṅgai) and ‘left-handed’(Idaṅgai) - where the right-handed were Viṣṇu worshipers and the left-handed were heretics worshiping Śiva in unorthodox ways. With Adhirājendra continuing in the main throne, Kulottuṅga, the son of the daughter of the Chola family was sent as co-regent to Kānci at a very sensitive time in history which mainstream historians failed to sense. 

Chapter 10: Idaṅgai, Kāpālika, Kālāmukha influence on persecution

This chapter outlines the socio-political struggle between the two sects, Valaṅgai and Idaṅgai since the time of Rājarāja- I, with each section trying to influence the king. The origins of the two are traced from multitude of evidences starting from Mahābhārata. Valaṅgai had 18 divisions corresponding to 18 groups of Yādava-s who accompanied Krishna from Mathura to Dwaraka. They migrated to South India at the decline of the Harappan culture around 1500 BCE and expectedly were devotees of Viṣṇu. They formed influential agricultural and warrior class rising up in socio-political hierarchy from the time of Rājarāja- I. The stone workers among them settled down in Kānci. There was a second wave of migration around the beginning of the Common Era when 96 sects of heretics from the Indus region were sent by the Śatakarṇi-s to the Chera land, i.e., Kerala. They grew into 98 sects and spread across many places of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. They were predominantly traders and weavers. A substantial number of them settled down at Kānci. Mutual enmity started growing between them and the Valaṅgai wherever they co-existed. We find disparaging references to Idaṅgai sects in the commentaries of Ādi Śankara and Rāmānuja to Brahma Sutras. Rāmānuja naturalized them into the main stream by making them shed unorthodox ways and follow Vaiṣṇavism. This invited the ire of certain Idaṅgai sects who were influential with Adhirājendra. Adhirājendra was initially neutral but perhaps on seeing the murder of his uncle Rājamahendra, started siding with the Idaṅgai. In contrast, Kulottunga who basically had Idaṅgai origins was neutral to both. Choice of Kānci as his base was perhaps aimed at appeasing the Idaṅgai who had dominant presence there. These intricacies are discussed in this chapter to bring forth the background causes for persecution. The sectarian feud had continued in the British period and exists in pockets even today though the origins are forgotten.   

Chapter 11: Date of return of Rāmānuja

The chapter establishes the date of return of Rāmānuja to Srirangam in the year CE 1111. Since all the hagiographies state that Rāmānuja returned only after the death of the persecutor king, it is understood that Adhirājendra died in this year. The unique name, Krimikaṇṭha that he came to acquire is a reference to the disease he suffered, i.e., throat cancer. The first inscription of Kulottuṅga I from Gangaikonda Cholapuram appears only in this year which happened to be his 41st regnal year. Viṣṇuvardhana’s lone inscription appears at Srirangam only in this year indicating that his men had escorted Rāmānuja back to Srirangam. This is a rare inscription giving his regnal year (15th) by which we are able to construct his regency. Vikrama, the son of Kulottuṅga- I was recalled to Gangaikonda Cholapuram in the same year to take up co-regency. In the same year the king of Kannauj, a friend of Kulottuṅga- I visited Gangaikonda Cholapuram, presumably to grace the occasion of the crowning of Kulottuṅga- I.

Chapter 12: Removal of Lord Govindarāja at Chidambaram

Back to Srirangam Ramanuja went about introducing norms of temple worship in all the Viṣṇu temples. When he was in Tirupati, Vikrama’s son Kulottuṅga- II who was ruling from the Chola throne destroyed the shrine of Viṣṇu in the temple of Natarāja at Chidambaram. Contemporary panegyrics are cited to prove that the Mūlavar Mūrti of Viṣṇu was thrown into the sea by the king. The Idaṅgai roots of the author of these eulogies authenticate the rise of Idaṅgai influence on Kulottuṅga- II at that time. The chapter gives the background details of all these and also the consecration of the processional Mūrti in Tirupati.

Epilogue: Curious Continuities from Mahābhārata

Rāmānuja’s entire life was a series of struggles against heretics and the two powerful Chola kings, Adhirājendra and Kulottuṅga- II. History of the period between these two kings can be re-constructed ONLY from the traditional hagiographies of Rāmānuja using multiple cross references. This book exactly does that besides hinting at numerous connections between north and south India, unrecognized so far. The impressions gained from a field trip by the author to the places associated with Rāmānuja is compiled in this section to show the similarities in iconography and hydrological features between the Harappan regions including Dwārakā and Tonḍanūr, originally known as Yādavapura, the city of Yādava-s in Karnataka. This section is a starting point for further research in corroborating Pāndava connection to South India during their exile and the migration of the Yādava clan since then, that seemed to have accelerated at the decline of the Harappan regions 3500 years ago.  

Appendix: Idaṅgai – Valaṅgai

A brief note on the two sects is given. The clashes continue even today between individual castes though the origins of this conflicting mentality traced to Idaṅgai – Valaṅgai distinction is now forgotten. Unfortunately, it is re-phrased as clashes between Caste Hindus and Dalits. A genuine and impartial research into Idaṅgai – Valaṅgai enmity is needed to bring out all the details.


The Mausoleum built by Tipu Sultan on the temple of Yoga Narasimha Swamy at Tonḍanūr, after destroying it 


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Early Tamils traced their ancestry to Rama (My article in Organiser Magazine)

Not many have known about the wealth of information available in Tamil sources – both literary and epigraphic – giving valuable inputs related to Rama. Foremost among them is the claim by the Cholas that Rama was their ancestor! The second-most important information pertains to the time period of Ramayana. The third set of inputs establishes beyond doubt the location of Lanka of Ravana in present-day Sri Lanka.

Rama, the ancestor of Cholas

Chera, Chola and Pandya are the three ancient Tamil dynasties of which the Cholas belonged to the solar dynasty starting from Surya, Manu and Ikshvaku. One often comes across the reference to ‘Manu-Neeti’ as the hallmark of the Chola kings in their inscriptions. A Chola king is remembered as ‘Manu Neeti Chola’ for having given the highest punishment to his son, the crown prince, for having killed a calf under his chariot. Though it was done unknowingly, the Chola king did not hesitate to punish his son by getting a chariot run over him and kill him. None knows the name of this king as anything other than ‘Manu Neeti Chola’, for being a just ruler. Only the Buddhist chronicle Mahavamsha gives his name and describes his sense of justice in the context of the death of this king in a war in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. Though an invader to their domain, in recognition of his unparalleled sense of justice, his mortal remains were cremated with honours and a monument raised, which was worshiped by the kings of that country, reports Mahavamsha in the 25th chapter. 

The sense of righteousness running in the lineage of Manu, it is no wonder that Rama became an epitome of Dharma, to be emulated by any king wishing to follow the right path. If any  king is related to Rama in the remote past, would he lose any opportunity to boast off his filial connection with Rama? We do find evidence for such claim by the Chola king Veera Rajendra, the grandson of Rajaraja Chola -I, engraved in the Pillars of  Bhagavati Amman temple at Kanyakumari. While giving the detailed list of his forefathers starting from Brahma and then Manu, the king has written that in the family of Rama was born a king named Chola who ventured southward and founded the Chola dynasty in Poompuhar – the place deduced from the description.

Verse 26 of the poetically written inscription in Sanskrit, stands out among every other description about Rama, by having addressed the tough events in Rama’s life and how he stood beyond personal considerations. For the curious reader, here is the verse as reported in Travancore Archaeological Series (1921):

Continue to read here:  Early Tamils traced their ancestry to Rama