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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 19

YATIRAJA IN THE FOREST

Whilst his disciple was suffering at the hands of Koluttunga, Yatiraja had been able to escape from Śrī Rangam undetected. In the forest to the west of the city he met up with Govinda, Dāsarathī, Dhanurdasa, and his other followers.

Fearing pursuit by the king's officers, they proceeded quickly through the forest in a westerly direction, walking constantly for two days and two nights without food of any kind.

Eventually they lay down exhausted at the foot of a hill, their feet blistered and their bodies cut by the forest thorns. In a short time the whole party was asleep.

Near to where Rāmānuja and his disciples lay was a village inhabited by chaṇḍālas, men of very lowly birth.

When some of the villagers saw a group of brāhmaṇas sleeping near to their homes, they were very anxious to render whatever service they could to these holy men.

Therefore, without disturbing the sleepers, they collected large quantities of different types of fruits from the forest and stacked them all around where the brāhmaṇas lay.

Then they lit a fire nearby and stood waiting for the brāhmaṇas to awaken so that they could learn what had brought them to that remote region.

Eventually, Yatiraja and the others awoke refreshed from their sleep. When they saw the fruits, the fire, and the forest dwellers standing there ready to serve them, they could understand that Lord Nārāyaṇa was protecting them from the dangers of the forest.

They quickly bathed in a nearby river and then, after offering the fruits to Lord Hari, they satisfied their hunger by feasting on the prasādam.

From the words of the villagers Yatiraja came to understand that they had crossed the border of the Chola kingdom and were now safe from the pursuit of Koluttunga's men.

MEETINGS WITH VAIṢṆAVAS

When they were fully rested, Rāmānuja blessed the chaṇḍālas and continued with his party on their westward journey.

That afternoon they came to another village and were guided to the house of a brāhmaṇa named Śrī Ranga dasa.

When they arrived the husband was still out begging alms, but his pious wife, Celancalamba, considered herself fortunate to get this opportunity to render service to Vaiṣṇavas. She invited them into the house, seated them nicely and then immediately entered the kitchen to begin cooking.

A short time later Śrī Ranga dasa returned home and was also delighted to see so many Vaiṣṇava guests in his house, including the famous Rāmānujācārya.

When the cooking was completed, the food was offered to Lord Viṣṇu, and then the prasādam was distributed to the devotees, who all ate very heartily.

For two days they remained in the house of Śrī Ranga dasa, and just before leaving, Yatiraja gave initiation to both husband and wife.

When the Vaiṣṇavas continued their journey, Śrī Ranga dasa went with them as a guide. By evening they had reached a place known as Vahnipuskarini, where they remained for two days.

Then, taking leave of Śrī Ranga dasa, they continued on to the village of SalagRāma, where they stayed with a brāhmaṇa named Andhrapurna, who was a very renounced devotee.

Having seen his good qualities, Rāmānuja initiated Andhrapurna, who then became his personal servant. From that time on he always remained with his guru, desiring only to serve his lotus feet.

Andhrapurna told Yatiraja of a great devotee named Purna who lived in the village of BhaktagRāma, not far from SalagRāma. Passing through Nrsimha-ksetra, they then travelled to BhaktagRāma and remained for some time in the association of Śrī Purna.

CONVERSION OF KING VITTHALADEVA

The king of that region was known as Vitthaladeva, and he was a follower of the Jain religion.

For several years his daughter had been possessed by a ghost, despite all the efforts of the Jain priests to cast out the evil spirit.

When the king heard that a group of Vaiṣṇavas had come from the east and were residing in BhaktagRāma at the house of Purna, he invited them to his palace - hoping that they might be able to do something to help the princess.

Rāmānujācārya, as a pure devotee, was always filled with divine potency and thus able to drive out the ghost just by looking at the girl's face.

King Vitthaladeva was delighted and amazed to see how easily this devotee of Lord Viṣṇu had cured his daughter, and at once he became greatly devoted to Yatiraja.

Desiring to understand the teachings of the Vaiṣṇavas, he bowed down at the feet of the ācārya and begged him to reveal the true conclusion of the Vedas.

As Rāmānuja spoke about the glories of devotional service and pure love of God, the heart of the king was moved. He began to regret his adherence to the Jain philosophy, which is completely devoid of the spirit of love of God.

He called for all the Jain priests and paṇḍitas to come into the assembly so that they might hear from this great devotee and philosopher.

When Yatiraja began addressing the Jains, clearly explaining the position of the Personality of Godhead as the Absolute Truth, some of the audience began to jeer and make a disturbance, until they were ejected from the assembly on the order of the king.

When Rāmānuja had finished speaking, the leader of the Jains arose to attempt to refute the statements that had been presented there.

However, being unable to find any way to contradict the flawless logic of the Vaiṣṇava philosophy, the Jain immediately launched into a blasphemous attack on the followers of Sanātana-dharma, ignoring all the points that Rāmānuja had put to him.

King Vitthaladeva, a man of keen intelligence, was in no way taken in by the Jain's diversionary ploy and he spoke out:

"There is nothing so simple as speaking ill of others. You are a great scholar. Refute if you can, with precise arguments, the doctrine expounded by your opponent. Otherwise you must give up your false teachings and be initiated into Vaiṣṇavism"

The Jain could find no words to counteract Rāmānuja's presentation and was forced to shamefacedly resume his seat in the assembly. Several other Jain philosophers then attempted to establish their own opinions, but all to no avail.

Then the king stood up and addressed the assembly once more:

"Today you have all seen the most learned of our Jain scholars utterly defeated by this Vaiṣṇava ācārya.

What then is our present duty? To stubbornly adhere to doctrines which have been proven to be faulty or to accept and embrace the sublime teachings of loving devotion that we have heard so wonderfully presented?

Any sane man will admit that bliss is preferable to affliction and knowledge to ignorance. Therefore let all of us this day be initiated into the true faith by this great devotee and thus become blessed."

All but a few of the Jains accepted this proposal and were initiated as Vaiṣṇavas.

The king also accepted Yatiraja as his spiritual master and was given the name Viṣṇu-vardhana. From that time on this was the name by which he was always known.