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Rāmānuja Biography | Part 8

ACHARYA AT SRIRANGAM

While all these events were taking place in Kānchīpuram, the devotees in Śrī Rangam were still feeling the lack of an Ācārya to guide them. The ardent desire of all of them was that Rāmānujācārya come there and be their preceptor.

Mahāpūrṇa had stayed for some time in Kānchī with the intention of bringing Rāmānuja to Śrī Rangam, but, because he had left so abruptly, he was unable to do so.

When the news reached Śrī Rangam that Rāmānuja had taken sannyāsa, Mahāpūrṇa was very pleased and went into the temple of Lord Ranganātha. There, before the lotus-eyed Lord who reclines on His bed of Ananta-Śeṣa, Mahāpūrṇa began to offer fervent prayers, begging the Lord to bring Rāmānuja to Rangaksetra.

Hearing this impassioned plea from His pure devotee, Lord Ranganātha became compassionate and instructed Mahāpūrṇa:

"My child, you must send Vararanga, the sweetest singer, to Lord Varadarāja in Kānchīpuram. When Lord Varadarāja is pleased by Vararanga's bhajans and offers him a benediction, then he should ask that Rāmānuja be allowed to come here. Without Varadarāja’s permission, Rāmānuja will never leave His shelter."

DEPARTURE FOR Śrī RANGAM

Vararanga was the son of Yamunacharya. He was a renowned singer and had set to music the beautiful verses known as the Sahasra-giti.

Having received these instructions, Mahāpūrṇa sent Vararanga to Kānchīpuram after instructing him as to how he should accomplish his mission.

Every day in the temple of Varadarāja Vararanga would sing bhajans before the Lord in such an exquisite way that anyone who heard him would become struck with wonder and filled with ecstasy.

Eventually Lord Varadarāja became so pleased with Vararanga that He offered him a benediction in return for his services. Of course, Vararanga requested the Lord's permission for Rāmānuja to come to Śrī Rangam to be the ācārya of the Vaiṣṇavas there.

Rāmānuja was sorry to leave Kānchīpuram, particularly as this meant losing the association of Kānchīpurna.

But, at the same time, he was pleased at the prospect of being with the disciples of Yamunacharya. Thus it was with mixed feelings that he set off with Vararanga a few days later to make the journey from Kānchīpuram to Śrī Rangam.

All the people of Rangaksetra were delighted when Yatiraja arrived in their city, and the assembly of Vaiṣṇavas immediately installed him as the ācārya.

Lord Ranganātha was also very pleased to see this pure-hearted devotee in His temple, and He bestowed upon him two mystic powers - the ability to cure the sick and the strength to protect the devotees from illusion.

On hearing the news of Rāmānujācārya's coming to Śrī Rangam, many Vaiṣṇavas from the surrounding area came to see him; all were thrilled to hear his wonderful explanations of Vaiṣṇava philosophy.

DELIVERANCE OF GOVINDA

A short time after his coming to Śrī Rangam, Rāmānuja began to consider the position of his dear cousin, Govinda, who years before had saved him from Yadavaprakasa's murderous plot. He recalled Govinda's simplicity and affection and how he had always been a dear friend to all living entities.

While thinking of these things, a desire arose in Rāmānuja's heart to bring Govinda to the shelter of Lord Viṣṇu’s lotus feet.

As we have heard, ever since the fateful pilgrimage to Varanasi, Govinda had been a devout follower of Lord Śiva, residing at the holy place known as Kalahasti, which is a place of pilgrimage for all Śaivites.

Rāmānuja's uncle, Sailapurna, a disciple of Yamunacharya, was now living at Śrī Saila, just a short distance from Kalahasti. Therefore, Yatiraja decided to write him a letter, requesting him to somehow or other make Govinda into a devotee of Lord Viṣṇu.

When he received this letter, Sailapurna went to Kalahasti with his disciples and made his camp near a large lake there.

Every morning Govinda would come to that lake to bathe and gather flowers for his worship. When he came one morning and found a venerable Vaiṣṇava ācārya seated nearby discussing the scriptures with his disciples, he was intrigued. Being desirous of hearing all that was said, Govinda climbed up a nearby patali tree to pick some flowers.

As he listened to Sailapurna's words of devotion, Govinda's mind became more and more attracted to that saintly Vaiṣṇava.

When the discourse was completed and Govinda was walking away to take his bath, Sailapurna called out to him, "O holy man, may I know for whose worship you have picked those flowers."

On being told that they were an offering for Lord Śiva, he went on:

"But how could flowers such as these be desirable for one who has earned the name Vibhuti-Bhūṣaṇā by smearing himself with the ashes of material desires, which he has burned up knowing them to be the causes of material miseries.

Lord Śiva dances in the crematorium, being mad for the mercy of Lord Nārāyaṇa. These flowers should properly be offered to the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu, who is the reservoir of all auspicious qualities and from whom all this universe has come into being.

I am surprised to find an intelligent person such as yourself gathering flowers for the worship of Lord Śiva."

"Revered sir," replied Govinda, "in one sense I can see that your words are true, for no offering to the Lord ever benefits that Supreme Person, who is already the possessor of all things. What can I do for the great Lord Śankara, who is so powerful that he saved the entire universe by drinking an ocean of poison?

Yet still there is some purpose in making such offerings, for by so doing we are able to express our devotion to the Lord. It is the devotion that the Lord appreciates, beyond the meager offering itself."

"O Mahatma," said Sailapurna, "I am pleased by your devotion and humility. What you have said is true. What can we offer except self-surrender to that Personality, who in the form of a dwarf-brāhmaṇa took away all the possessions of the mighty demon king?

This complete surrender is the highest form of worship, and by the strength of such surrender Bali Maharaja was able to captivate Lord Vamanadeva.

Just try to understand something of the sweetness of the Lord's loving dealings with His devotees, of which you are depriving yourself by abandoning His worship for the sake of Lord Śiva."

"But why are you making a distinction between Viṣṇu and Śiva?" said Govinda. "Are they not both aspects of the one Godhead?"

When Sailapurna heard this statement of Govinda's, he realized that the young man was not only engaging in demigod worship, but was also influenced by the philosophy of the impersonalists.

Every morning Govinda and Sailapurna would meet by the lake and exchange words in a similar vein.

Gradually, by hearing the pure theistic philosophy from such a great saint as Sailapurna, Govinda's heart began to change and the desire arose within him to take shelter of the lotus feet of Lord Nārāyaṇa.

One morning he fell down like a rod in front of Sailapurna and begged him for initiation. So it was that Govinda gave up his worship of Lord Śiva and took to the path of undeviating devotion to the Supreme Lord, Śrī Viṣṇu.

After the initiation was performed, Sailapurna instructed Govinda to go to Śrī Rangam to reside with his renowned cousin, Rāmānujācārya.

However, Govinda's devotion to his guru was so great that he was unable to tolerate the feelings of separation that he was undergoing. Therefore, he soon returned to the city of Śrī Saila to render personal service to his spiritual master.