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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 18

EXILE FROM SRIRANGAM

At that time Śrī Rangam was a part of the dominions of the Chola king, Koluttunga I, who had made his capital at Kānchīpuram.

Although the Cholas had become devoted to Lord Nārāyaṇa in the time of Yamunacharya, Koluttunga was a great devotee of Lord Śiva and an avowed enemy of all Vaiṣṇavas.

It was his desire that all the devotees of the Lord give up their faith and surrender to Lord Śiva alone. Lord Śiva is the most powerful of the demigods, but still he is not on the level of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Thus all the Vaiṣṇavas refused to abandon their worship of Lord Viṣṇu, which satisfies the conclusion of all Vedic literature.

Koluttunga was well aware that Yatiraja was the greatest Vaiṣṇava ācārya in India, and he reasoned that if he could induce him to worship Śiva, then the other devotees would also abandon their faith.

Even if Rāmānuja would not agree to give up his worship of Lord Nārāyaṇa, the king felt that he would still be able to establish the supremacy of the worshippers of Lord Śiva by putting him to death.

Accordingly, he sent messengers to Śrī Rangam to invite Rāmānuja, along with his guru, Mahāpūrṇa, to come to Kānchīpuram for an audience with the king.

Little suspecting Koluttunga's evil intentions, Yatiraja agreed to go with them, and entered the āśrama to make his preparations for the journey.

Kureśa, however, was considering the matter deeply, and after a while he said to Rāmānuja:

"I feel certain the king wants you to come to Kānchīpuram simply to put an end to your life. Please do not go there.

While you are living and preaching the true religion of devotion to the Lord, the entire earth is benefiting. For fallen souls like myself, who are scorched by the miseries of material existence, you are the only refuge.

Let me go in your place. You take these white clothes of the grihastha āśrama, while I put on the dress of a sannyāsi and go with the king's men. In this way you may still be able to escape from their clutches."

Yatiraja considered Kureśa's words for a few moments and then agreed to the proposal.

Dressing himself in his disciple's clothes, he left the āśrama unseen and made his way quickly to the forest to the west of the city. Govinda and the other devotees also left the city one by one and joined Rāmānuja in the forest.

KUREŚA AT THE COURT OF KING KOLUTTUNGA CHOLA

In the meantime, Kureśa, adopting the dress and daṇḍa of a sannyāsi, presented himself along with Mahāpūrṇa before the king's men, who then escorted the two Vaiṣṇavas to Kānchīpuram, completely taken in by the trick.

Mahāpūrṇa was also fully aware of the danger they faced, but he was now so old that he could not leave Śrī Rangam with the other devotees and was perfectly happy to leave this world if that was the will of the Lord.

When they arrived at the palace, Kureśa and Mahāpūrṇa went before the king, who welcomed them with respect and saw to it that they were properly accommodated.

Koluttunga had good reason to respect Rāmānuja, for the ācārya had delivered his sister from an evil ghost when the king was just a boy of eight years.

However, this memory did nothing to alter his intention of either forcing Yatiraja to renounce the Lord or else taking away his life.

After a few days, the king assembled all of his Śaivite paṇḍitas and called for the two devotees, still believing Kureśa to be Yatiraja.

When Kureśa and Mahāpūrṇa entered the assembly, Koluttunga addressed them in a respectful way:

"O holy men, please be seated. We have invited you to our city just to hear auspicious talks on spiritual topics. All the scholars of my court are assembled here, eager to converse with you, for your reputation has spread far and wide.

Now please tell us, what is the duty for men like us?"

"O King and paṇḍitas," replied Kureśa unflinchingly, "Lord Viṣṇu, the saviour of all the worlds, is the Supreme Lord of all others. Therefore the duty of every man, whatever his position in life, is simply to worship Him with love and devotion. There is nothing more than this."

On hearing these defiant words, King Kotuttunga flew into a rage and spoke angrily to Kureśa:

"I had heard that you were a great scholar and holy man. But now I see that you are an imposter, for you worship Viṣṇu instead of Śiva, who is the Lord and destroyer of all the worlds.

Now you must give up this foolishness. Hear from these great scholars the real conclusion of all the scriptures and then become a devotee of Lord Śiva. If you are obstinate and ignore their pure teachings, then surely neither of you will live to see another dawn."

Immediately the court paṇḍitas began to present their false conclusions, using fallacious arguments to try to prove that Śiva was the Supreme Lord. However, by dint of their vast knowledge of the scriptures, Kureśa and Mahāpūrṇa were easily able to refute all their arguments.

Eventually the king became completely exasperated and cried out:

"Enough of this wrangling! If you want to save your lives, then acknowledge that there is none greater than Śiva"

To this Kureśa mockingly replied, "Why even Drona is greater than Śiva"

This was a play on words, for Śiva and Drona were also the names of units of weight - and, of the two, the drona was the heavier.

In speaking these words Kureśa knew perfectly well that he was bringing his death inevitably closer, but he considered it his great fortune to be able to sacrifice his life in order to save that of his guru. The devotee of the Lord is known as abhaya, fearless, because he fully takes shelter of Lord Hari.

Thus Kureśa was not in the least disturbed by Koluttunga's dreadful threats, but within his mind he began to pray:

"O Lord Hari, seeing the mercy that you are now bestowing on me by allowing me to serve Yatiraja in this way, I can partially realize the meaning of Śrī Yamunacharya's statement: namo ’nanta-dayaika-sindhave - I offer obeisances unto You, the unlimited ocean of mercy.

Even this mighty king and his proud scholars know nothing of Your unlimited glories, but You have revealed them to such an insignificant person as myself just to increase my humility and surrender. What greater good fortune could I ever hope to achieve!"

KING KOLUTTUNGA'S CRUELTY

Seeing that Kureśa's reply was intended to ridicule them, Koluttunga and all his paṇḍitas were filled with rage.

The king ordered that the two Vaiṣṇavas be arrested and bound. When this had been done, he told his courtiers:

"Take these two blasphemers from our presence and put out their eyes. They deserve to die for the words they have spoken in our presence, but because Rāmānuja once saved my sister from a ghost, I will spare their lives."

Following this cruel order, the king's men took Kureśa and Mahāpūrṇa to a secluded place, and, after subjecting them to various tortures, they plucked out their eyes.

Despite the intense pain he was forced to undergo, Kureśa was undisturbed at heart, and he prayed to Lord Nārāyaṇa for the forgiveness of his tormentors. He rejoiced that he was able accept these great sufferings on behalf of his spiritual master.

When the king's men had finished with Kureśa, he stood before them with folded hands and said, "May Lord Nārāyaṇa bless you for allowing me to serve my guru in this way."

On hearing these words and seeing the calm demeanor Kureśa was exhibiting, even those cruel-hearted men were filled with awe.

They called to a beggar who was sitting nearby, and, giving him money for expenses, ordered him to lead the two devotees safely to Śrī Rangam.

However, the atrocities that Kulottunga's men had committed were too much for the frail body of Mahāpūrṇa to bear. Lying down on the road, he rested his head on the lap of Kureśa and said to him:

"You must go alone to Śrī Rangam, for I can tell that the time has now come for me to leave this world.

There is nothing to lament over in this, for my mind is fixed on Śrī Yamunacharya and I am longing to be reunited with that great soul. When you meet again with my beloved disciple, Rāmānuja, offer millions of obeisances at his feet on my behalf."

Having said this, Mahāpūrṇa gave up his life, meditating on the feet of his guru.

Not long after he began these cruel persecutions, King Koluttunga became afflicted with an incurable disease and died a short time later. For one who causes distress to the Lord's devotees everything is inauspicious.

The son of Koluttunga, who was named VikRāma, then began to rule over the kingdom of the Cholas. Although his father had been such an ardent Śaivite, VikRāma Chola later on became an initiated disciple of Rāmānuja and learned from him the path of devotion to Lord Viṣṇu.