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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 14

ARRIVAL IN Śrī SAILA

Early the next morning Rāmānujācārya and his party left Astasahasra and set off for the city of Kānchīpuram.

At noon they arrived there and went immediately to pay their obeisances to Lord Varadarāja. They met with the renowned Vaiṣṇava saint, Śrī Kānchīpurna, and joyfully passed three days in his association.

They then travelled to the holy place known as Kapila Tirtha and on the same day arrived at the foot of the sacred hill known as Śrī Saila.

Yatiraja became filled with ecstasy there, thinking:

"This is the holy place where Śrī Hari Himself is residing along with His consort Lakṣmī. It would be a great offense for me to touch the Lord's holy abode with my feet, therefore I will remain here at the foot of the hill."

Thus he remained with his followers at the foot of Śrī Saila, offering constant prayers to Lord Nārāyaṇa.

In the meantime all the sadhus and devotees who lived at Śrī Saila came to see Rāmānuja.

When they heard of his resolution not to climb the hill for fear of committing an offense, they all submitted a petition:

"O pure one, if great souls such as yourself are unwilling to walk upon the sacred hill of Śrī Saila, then all the common people will act in the same way and even the priests will be afraid to go up to the temple.

Therefore please change your decision and agree to climb the hill. The hearts of pure devotees are the real temples of Śrī Hari, for He is always present where pure devotion is manifest. The places of pilgrimage become even more sanctified because they are visited by the great devotees."

MEETING WITH SAILAPURNA

Accepting the appeals of these holy men, Yatiraja changed his decision and set off with all his disciples to climb the hill.

The ascent is long and steep, and after some time Rāmānuja became fatigued due to hunger and thirst.

While they were resting by the side of the path, Rāmānuja's uncle, the Vaiṣṇava acarya Śrī Sailapurna, appeared there, having come to bring mama-prasāda and caranamrita from the temple at the top of the hill.

Seeing this saintly devotee performing such menial service on his behalf, Rāmānuja was a little disturbed and he said:

"Why are you behaving in this way? Why should such a learned ācārya as yourself take such trouble for a lowly person like me? Surely a boy could have been engaged to perform this service."

"I was thinking in this way, too," replied Sailapurna, "but after searching for someone suitable I could find no one less respectable than myself. For this reason I have come to you personally."

Rāmānuja was very satisfied to hear this reply from his uncle, for he could understand that humility is one of the Vaiṣṇava's most essential qualities. He then offered obeisances at the feet of Śrī Sailapurna and happily honoured the prasāda along with his disciples.

Being relieved from their fatigue, the party then continued up the hill until they reached the famous temple of Venkatesvara.

Having circumambulated the temple, Rāmānuja went before the Deity to offer prayers and obeisances.

On seeing the beauty of the Lord his heart became filled with devotional ecstasy, and tears began to flow down his cheeks. Quickly the symptoms of love of God overwhelmed him, and he passed from external consciousness, falling to the ground in a faint.

When he eventually regained his senses, the priests of the temple brought large quantities of mahā-prasāda both for Yatiraja and all of his disciples. All the devotees felt great happiness in seeing that holy shrine and remained at the temple for three days.

During this time Govinda, Rāmānuja's cousin, who was a disciple of Sailapurna, came there to join the party. The two devotees were delighted to see one another again and embraced each other in great happiness.

At the request of Sailapurna, Rāmānujācārya remained at Śrī Saila for the next year, and every day the aged ācārya would recite the Rāmāyaṇa to him, adding his own inspired explanations to the verses.

At the end of one year their study of the Rāmāyaṇa was complete and Rāmānuja considered himself highly fortunate to have been able to hear this scripture from such a learned devotee.

GOVINDA'S UNUSUAL BEHAVIOR

While he was staying at Sailapurna's āśrama, Yatiraja was astonished by the behavior of his cousin on a number of occasions.

One day he saw Govinda preparing his gurus bed, but he was shocked to see his cousin lie down himself upon the same bed.

Rāmānuja was disturbed to see such apparently disrespectful behavior and went at once to inform Sailapurna, who immediately summoned his disciple to his presence.

"Do you know what happens," he asked Govinda, "to one who sees fit to lie down on his guru’s bed?"

"One who lies down on the bed of his guru is certainly destined for hell," replied Govinda calmly.

"If you are aware of the consequences, then why do you act in such a way?" Sailapurna then inquired.

To this Govinda replied:

"Every day I lie down on your bed just to make sure that it is comfortable and that your rest will be undisturbed. If it ensures your comfort, then I am certainly willing to remain eternally in hell."

When Yatiraja heard his cousin's humble submission, he felt ashamed of his ignorance in misjudging Govinda and begged his forgiveness.

On another occasion Rāmānuja saw his cousin behaving in a manner that was totally bewildering.

He saw Govinda holding a snake in his left hand and repeatedly thrusting the finger of his right hand into the creature's mouth, causing it almost to die from pain.

After taking his bath, Govinda came to Rāmānuja, who inquired from him:

"Why were you acting in such a strange way with that snake? It was sheer madness, and only due to good fortune were you not bitten. By acting like a cruel child you not only placed yourself in great danger, but also caused needless suffering to the poor creature, which is now lying there almost dead."

"But my dear brother," replied Govinda, "while eating something that snake had got a thorn stuck in its throat and was writhing in pain when I found it. I was putting my finger into its mouth only to remove that thorn. Now it appears lifeless only because of exhaustion and will soon be fully recovered."

Yatiraja was both surprised and gratified to see Govinda's compassion on his fellow living beings, and after this incident his love for his cousin became even more profound.

RETURNING TO KĀNCHĪ

After thus passing one year at Śrī Saila, hearing the Rāmāyaṇa from Ācārya Sailapurna, Rāmānuja decided to return to Śrī Rangam.

When he came before Sailapurna to offer his respects before departing, that elderly disciple of Yamunacharya said to him:

"My son, having you with me here for this last year has given me great pleasure. Now if there is anything that you desire from me, just ask, and, if it is within my power, I will give it to you."

To this Rāmānuja replied, "O Mahātma, please give me your disciple Govinda. That is my only request."

Sailapurna assented at once, and so it was with great happiness that Yatiraja set off for Śrī Rangam in the association of his beloved cousin.

After travelling for several days they came to the city of Kānchīpuram, where Rāmānuja and Govinda had grown up together.

SAILAPURNA'S DEALINGS WITH GOVINDA

They first went to see Lord Varadarāja and then on to visit Kānchīpurna, the great devotee and old friend of Rāmānuja.

After describing to him Govinda's wonderful devotion to his guru, Rāmānuja finally begged Kānchīpurna:

"Please bless my cousin and make him even more devoted to his guru and even more merciful toward all living entities."

On hearing this Kānchīpurna smiled and said:

"The Lord always fulfils your desires. No harm can ever befall one who has your blessings."

But having observed a disconsolate look on Govinda's face, he added:

"Your cousin is suffering greatly due to feelings of separation from his beloved guru. Why don't you send him back to Śrī Saila, so that he can resume his service to Sailapurna, which is the delight of his life?"

Rāmānuja considered Kānchīpurna's words for some time. Then he went over to Govinda and instructed him to leave immediately and return to the shelter of his spiritual master.

Govinda was very pleased to receive this instruction and travelled quickly back to Śrī Saila by the shortest possible route.

However, when Sailapurna heard of Govinda's return, he did not so much as glance at him or call him to take prasāda.

Eventually the ācāryas wife, a kind-hearted lady, said to her husband, "You may or may not speak to Govinda, but you must at least feed him"

"It is not my duty to feed a horse that has been sold," replied Sailapurna. "He should take shelter of his new master alone."

When he heard these words, Govinda, who was standing at the door, understood his gurus mind and left at once to rejoin his cousin.

On arriving at Kānchīpuram, he went before Rāmānuja and bowed down at his feet, saying:

"From this day on you should never again address me as 'brother', for I have heard from the lips of Sailapurna that you are now my master."

RETURN TO Śrī RANGAM

Seeing Govinda's fatigue from his travels, Yatiraja had him bathe and then take prasāda. From that time on, Govinda rendered service to his cousin in the same meticulous way he had done for Sailapurna.

The party of Vaiṣṇavas remained for three more nights in Kānchīpuram and then travelled on to Astasahasra. There they stayed for the night with Yajnesa, Yatiraja's wealthy disciple who had previously been so disappointed.

The next day they continued on to Śrī Rangam and were warmly welcomed by all the inhabitants of that city.

GOVINDA'S SERVICE

Now realizing that his gurus intention had been to entrust him completely to the care of Rāmānuja, Govinda served his cousin with a contented heart.

Within a few days he had discovered all of his new master's requirements and rendered service to him so perfectly that all the other disciples were struck with wonder.

One day, while they were talking with Govinda, some of them elaborately praised the quality of his service.

On hearing this, Govinda surprised them by saying:

"Yes, my good qualities are certainly worthy of praise."

Shocked at hearing such proud words from a Vaiṣṇava, they reported the incident to Yatiraja, who called Govinda to him, saying:

"Although it is true that all the good qualities of a devotee are seen in your person, you should never allow this to make you feel arrogant or conceited."

To this Govinda replied:

"After many thousands of births, I obtained this human form of life, but even then I was going astray and falling from the path of true perfection.

It was your mercy alone that saved me from the darkness of delusion and therefore whatever good qualities others may see in me are due to you alone, for I am by nature fallen and low-minded.

Thus whenever anyone offers me words of praise, it is in actuality praise of yourself. For this reason I fully approve of such statements."

On another occasion, when several of Yatiraja's disciples were walking to the āśrama, they were shocked to see Govinda, who had not even finished his morning duties, sitting down outside the house of a prostitute.

Again Yatiraja summoned his cousin to ask him about his unusual behaviour:

"Why were you sitting at the door of a prostitute's house instead of attending to your morning duties," he inquired.

"That woman was singing the tales of the Rāmāyaṇa in such a sweet voice," came the reply, "and I was so captivated by hearing the pastimes of Śrī Rāmachandra that I could not bring myself to leave. For this reason my morning duties have been neglected"

On hearing this, everyone was filled with wonder to understand Govinda's simplicity and natural devotion.

GOVINDA'S SANNYASA

A few days later Govinda's mother, Diptimati, came to Rāmānujācārya:

"My child," she said, "Govinda's wife is now grown up and of a suitable age to bear children. Please ask him to perform his duty by perpetuating our family, for he will not listen to me.

When I raised the matter with him previously, he told me, 'You may bring my wife to me when I have completed my service to Yatiraja and have some free time.'

But up until this day he has never had any free time, being always absorbed in his service."

Rāmānuja then called for Govinda and instructed him that, as a householder, it was his duty to have children who could be trained as pure devotees:

"Purify your mind of the lower modes of nature," he told him, "and then live with your wife and raise a family."

Govinda, as always, accepted his cousin's order and went away to carry out his instructions.

However, a few days later Rāmānuja's aunt came to him again, complaining that Govinda still had not adopted the life of a grihastha.

When he was called to come before Yatiraja, Govinda explained the situation:

"O Master, you instructed me to purify my mind of the lower modes of nature and then to live with my wife and beget children.

However, I find that when my devotion to the Lord is completely pure, I cannot even think of family life or begetting children. Therefore it has now become very difficult for me to follow your instructions."

When he had listened to Govinda's submission, Rāmānujācārya was silent for some time. Then he said:

"Govinda, now that I understand the state of your mind, I consider that it is your duty to take sannyāsa immediately, for a person must accept the regulations of the status of life that is most suitable or him. This is the injunction of the scriptures. As you have attained complete mastery over the senses, you are quite fit to be a sannyāsi. "

Govinda was very pleased to hear his cousin's words and bowed down at his feet.

With the permission of Diptimati, Yatiraja began to arrange for the ceremony without delay. In the presence of the sacred fire, Govinda was offered the daṇḍa and Kamaṇḍalu and thus became a Vaiṣṇava sannyāsi.

With effulgent features and tears of ecstasy in his eyes, his pure appearance attracted the minds of all those present at the ceremony.

Out of great affection, Yatiraja gave his cousin the name Mananatha, meaning the controller of the mind, a name used by his own disciples to address him.

Thinking himself unworthy to bear the same name as his preceptor, Govinda refused to accept this name. So Rāmānuja translated it into the Tamil equivalent, 'Emperumanan', or Embar for short.

Later on when Rāmānuja founded an āśrama in Jagannātha Puri, he called it the Embar Math in honour of his cousin.