Vedanta Desikan
Swamy Desikan.jpg
Swamy Sri Vedanta Desikan as in Kanchipuram with lions on two sides
Personal
Born
Venkatanathan

1268 CE
Thoopul (Thiruthanka) (present-day Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu, India)
Died1369 CE
ReligionHinduism
PhilosophyRamanuja's Vishistadvaita
Religious career
GuruSri Kidambi Appullar alias Sri Aathreya Ramanujachariar
Literary worksSri Sthothra Nidhi, Sri Paduka Sahasram, Rahasya Granthams, Sri Desika Prabandham, Kavyams
HonorsSarvathanthra Swathanthrar, Kavitharkiga Simham, Vedanthachariar
Quotation

Srimathe Nigamantha Maha Desikaya Namah: (श्रीमते निगमान्त महादेशिकाय नमः)

Vedanta Desikan (1268–1369[1]), also rendered Vedanta Desikar, Swami Vedanta Desikan, and Thoopul Nigamaantha Desikan, was an Indian polymath who wrote philosophical as well as religious and poetical works in several languages, including Sanskrit, Manipravaḷam (a Sanskritised form of literary Tamil), Tamil and Prakrit.[2] He was an Indian philosopher, Sri Vaishnava guru, and one of the most brilliant stalwarts of Sri Vaishnavism in the post-Ramanuja period.[3] He was a Hindu devotee, poet, Master of Acharyas (desikan) and a logician and mathematician. He was the disciple of Kidambi Appullar, also known as Athreya Ramanujachariar, who himself was of a master-disciple lineage that began with Ramanuja.[4] Vedanta Desikan is considered to be avatar (incarnation) of the divine bell of Venkateshvara of Tirumala by the Vadakalai sect of Sri Vaishnavism. Vedanta Desikan belongs to Vishwamitra/Kaushika gotra.[5]

On the occasion of 750th anniversary of the life of Vedanta Desikan, the Indian postal department unveiled a stamp to commemorate the great philosopher's life and highly valued works. The stamp was unveiled by Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India in May 2019.

Early life

Desikan was born in the year 1268 CE, to a pious couple named Ananta Suri and Totaramba, who named him ‘Venkatanathan’. When he was five, his maternal uncle, Kidambi Appullar, took him to attend a spiritual discourse of Nadadhoor Ammal, a revered Sri Vaishnava scholar of that time. As soon as Ammal saw the divine radiance of the child, he stopped his discourse, and hugged Venkatanathan affectionately.

When Ammal told the audience that he had forgotten where he had stopped his discourse, it was Venkatanathan who reminded him immediately, to the astonishment of the assembled scholars. Deeply impressed, Ammal blessed him and predicted that Venkatanathan would become the main torch-bearer for Sri Vaishnavism.

When Desikar turned seven, Kidambi Appullar accepted Venkatanaathan as his disciple, and taught him arts, sciences and scriptures. By the age of 20, Desikar became famous for his mastery over poetry, logic, linguistics, science, Vedanta, debate, and allied arts.

Even though Desikar was multi-faceted and famous, he lived a humble and simple life with the support of his wife, Thirumangai. He undertook a vow called uchhavritti, whereby he depended wholly on the Supreme Lord for his household needs by accepting grains and vegetables donated by disciples voluntarily, without actively seeking it.

Desikar stayed in several cities and towns through his life such as Thiruvaheendrapuram, Kanchipuram, Srirangam, Sathyagala, and Melkote. He also travelled widely all over India on foot. There exist several anecdotes regarding the life of Desikan furnished by his followers.[note 1]

Literary works

Desikan composed many different works in languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Manipravalam (a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil)[note 2]

He composed over a hundred works in the following genre:

• 28 devotional poems in Sanskrit such as the Hayagriva-stotram, Kamasika-ashthakam and Gopala-vimshati

• 24 devotional poems and treatises in Tamil such as Gitartha-sangraham and Charama-sloka-churkku

• 11 philosophical treatises such as Shata-dushani, Mimamsa-paduka and Tattva-Mukta-kalapam

• 10 commentaries on the works of previous acharyas such as Stotra-Ratna-bhashya, Chatus-shloki-bhashya and Tatparya-Chandrika

• 5 narrative poems such as his magnum opus, the Paduka-sahasram, and the epic poem called Yadavabhyudaya which rivals the decorative poetry of Mahakavi Kalidasa's works, and the Hamsa-sandesha

• 32 esoteric texts revealing the hidden meanings of prappati-marga such as Srimad Rahasya-traya-saram, Paramapada-sopanam, Amrita-ranjani and Amrita-svadhini

• 1 drama named Sankalpa-suryodayam

• 13 works on arts and sciences such as Bhugola-nirnayam and Silpartha-saram

• 4 works that codified religious rites and practices such as Sri-Vaishnava-dinasari and Bhagavad-aradhana-vidhi

Desikan composed his poems in various poetic metres. Vedic literature is written in the form of hymns set rhythmically to different metres, called ‘chandas’. Each metre is governed by the number of syllables specific to it. Poets are expected to conform to these norms in their compositions. Desikan has employed 22 metres in the 862 verses he composed on presiding deities of various temples in India. The following are some of the compositions of Vedanta Desikan that provide a glimpse of his mastery over poetry, logic, grammar and philosophy[note 3]:

Hayagriva Stotram: a hymn on Hayagriva, the God of Learning, who bestows real knowledge to the reciter, banishing the darkness of ignorance from within him.

Abheethistavam: a prayer to Ranganatha for relief from different types of fear, ultimately seeking and being bestowed refuge at the lotus feet of God

Achyutha Satakam: a hundred verses in praise of Devanatha, in which Desikan expresses his passionate love in the form of a bride

Bhagavat Dhyana Sopanam: twelve stanzas that describe the steps for meditating upon the deity of Srirangam, Ranganathaswamy

Dasavatara Stotram: describes the ten important incarnations of God to protect the world and uphold the principles of dharma or righteousness

Daya Satakam: a hundred verses eulogising the mercy or daya of the deity of Tirumala. The work is divided into 10 decads, each portraying different qualities of the personified mother, Dayadevi. It commences with the short anushtab metre. Each successive decad employs a more complex metre, till it culminates in decorative poetry

Garuda Dandakam: A complex stotram composed in the Dandakam meter style, and has 108 aksharas in every padam. It is believed that Desikan composed it when a snake charmer challenged him to summon the mighty Garuda.

Sri Stuti: a prayer to Sridevi, the Goddess of Fortune that is said to have been composed when a bachelor was sent to Desikan, seeking financial help for his marriage. Since Desikan himself lived a life of voluntary poverty, he took him to the temple of the Goddess Perundevi, Kanchipuram and sang Sri Stuti. This culminated in a shower of gold coins, solving the financial problems of the young bachelor.

Sudarshanasthaka: eight verses set in the rare ‘dhritichhandas; metre praising the holy discuss-weapon of Vishnu, wielded by God to protect the virtuous

Kamasikasthaka: A prayer of eight verses to Narasimha, who assumed a man-lion form to slay the demon Hiranyakashpu, and protect his devotee, Prahlada.

Nyasa sutras: Texts composed by Desikan which extract the essence of the sharanagati doctrine of self-surrender. These are the Nyasa Dasakam, Nyasa Vimsathi and Nyasa Tilakam.

Vairagya panchakam: five verses that describe the importance of renunciation or vairagya. The word ‘dhana’ or wealth, occurs eleven times, each with a different contextual meaning.

Hamsa-sandesha: is a lyric poem of 110 verses, reminiscent of Kalidasa's Meghadhuta. It describes Rama sending a message via a swan to his wife Sita, who was abducted by the rakshshasa king, Ravana.

Yadavabhyudaya: an epic poem of 24 cantos describing the destiny of the Yadava Kings, the dynasty in which Krishna appeared. It is on par with the Kalidasa's work called Raghuvamsa, which describes the dynasty of the Raghu kings, in which Rama appeared.

Paduka Sahasram: a thousand and eight verses spread over 32 divisions called paddhatis, on the holy sandals of the deity Ranganatha. Desikan was challenged by another scholar to compose 1000 verses in a night, and he completed this work in three hours. Verses in one section form pictorial patterns with the arrangements of the letters used.

Tamil works: Vedanta Desikan's Works in Tamil are numerous, out of which two are noteworthy: Paramathabhangam, where he describes and refutes 15 schools of philosophy, and Aharaniyamam, where he describes the correct types food to be consumed by a Vaishnava.

Tributes

Desikan on a 2019 stamp of India
Desikan on a 2019 stamp of India

Sri Vaishnava texts record how the goddess Lakshmi, known as Ranganayaki in the holy town of Srirangam, personally conferred on him the title of ‘Sarva-tantra-svatantra’ or master of all arts and crafts. It is also believed that Rangantha who is the presiding deity of Srirangam, awarded the title of ‘Vedanta Desikan’, meaning: the supreme teacher of the conclusion of all knowledge. This was done because God is believed to have been immensely pleased when Desikan debated with differing scholars and established the supremacy of the path of loving surrender, or prapatti-marga.

He received other titles such as ‘Kavitarkika-kesari’ and ‘Kavitarkika-simham’, the lion amongst poets; and ‘Ramanuja-daya-patram’, the recipient of Ramanuja's causeless mercy, given in a laudatory verse composed by the famous Brahma Tantra Svatantra Swami.

In Sri Vaishnavism, a thanian is a laudatory dedication in verse composed about an acharya by another acharya who is the subject's pupil, and someone whom the subject greatly admired.[citation needed] The thanian of Desikan is:

ramanuja-daya-patram j~nana-vairagya-bhushanam |
shrimad-venkata-natharyam vande vedantadeshikam ||

This thanian was composed by brahmatantraswatantra jeeyar of Parakala Mutt on the day of star of Hastham, the star of Varadharaja Perumal of Kanchipuram in the Tamil month of Avani. It is recited before starting Divya Prabandham[6][better source needed] — the works of Alvars – by Vadakalayars. It translates as "I salute the great Venkata Natha also called Vedanta Acharya and Lion among poets and logicians and who was well adorned by both Knowledge and discretion and who well deserved the grace of Athreya Ramanujar who also had the same name."[citation needed]

A Vaḻi Thirunamam is a set of salutary verses that are chanted in temple, marking the closure of the day's Divya Prabandha Chanting. The salutary verses are sung to ensure that these temples and the practices as established by the acharyas and Ramanuja would be followed forever. Vedanta Desikan's Vaḻi Thirunamam is chanted in most of the Vadakalai Divya Desams all over India.[note 4]

References

  1. ^ College, F.X.C.P.C.T.B. (2001). Hindu God, Christian God : How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-19-803169-7. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  2. ^ "Veṅkaṭanātha | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  3. ^ Raman, Srilata (2020). "Reflections on the King of Ascetics (Yatirāja): Rāmānuja in the Devotional Poetry of Vedānta Deśika". In Goodall, Dominic; Hatley, Shaman; Isaacson, Harunaga; Raman, Srilata (eds.). Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: Essays in Honour of Alexis G.J.S. Sanderson. Gonda Indological Studies. Vol. 22. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 194–213. doi:10.1163/9789004432802_010. ISBN 978-90-04-43266-6. S2CID 225367594.
  4. ^ Iyyangar, V.R. (1981). Venkatesa and Vedanta Desika Dayasatakam: With Meaning and Commentary by V. Rangaswamy Iyyangar. Rangaswamy Iyyangar. p. 4. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  5. ^ Mudumby Narasimhachary (2004). Śrī Vedānta Deśika. Sahitya Akademi. p. 9.
  6. ^ venkat. "desika_life_history_for children". Sri Vaishnava cyber satsangh. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  1. ^ Several anecdotes and stories of Desika's life illustrate various aspects of his character: his unflinching faith in prapatti-marga as revealed by Ramanuja, his scholarly sophistication, his mastery over scores of arts and sciences, his immeasurable humility, and his unparalleled spirit of detachment and renunciation. Vedanta Desikan chanted the Garuda Mantra given to him by his guru, Appullar, at a place called Thiruvaheendrapuram. Sri Vaishnavas believe that Garuda appeared before Desikan and awarded him a sacred mantra in praise of Hayagriva, who is the abode of all knowledge. Pleased with his devotion, Hayagriva appeared before Desikan and blessed him with the nectar flowing from his mouth. It is believed that God resided on the tip of Desika's tongue, and all his writings and works are therefore specially blessed by God. In the year 1327, Srirangam was invaded by Malik Khafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji, who wanted to loot the temple and destroy its deities. Desikan hid the main meity of the temple behind a newly built wall and placed a duplicate deity in the front. The smaller festival deity was smuggled out by Pillai Lokacharya and his men, and carried to Tirupati, where it was worshipped secretly for many years. Back in Srirangam, Desikan wanted to protect rare manuscripts like the Sruti-prakasha, a commentary on the Sri Bhashya of Ramanuja. Desikan and the sons of the author of Shrutiprakasha hid amongst the dead-bodies of thousands of Sri Vaishnavas killed by the marauding invaders. They escaped with the rare manuscripts to present-day Karnataka. Twelve years later, General Gopanna of the Vijayanagara Empire, defeated the invaders and restored the city of Srirangam to its previous glory. Vedanta Desikan came back to Srirangam, and established the rituals and ceremonies for worship in the temple, which are still in vogue today. In particular, he established the chanting of the Tamil compositions called the divya-prabandhams, and installed statues of the twelve Alvar saints for worship in the temple. A few admirers of Desikan, feeling sympathy for Desika's voluntary poverty and abstinence, decided to mix gold coins along with the rice that went to his house as alms. Desikan handed the alms to his wife, who promptly showed him the coins. Desikan informed her that they were worms that had got mixed with the rice, and separated them using a blade of grass, and threw them out without touching them. A few envious scholars wanted to insult Desikan. They strung a few shoes just outside his door. When Desikan came out of his house the next day, the shoes hit his head. The watching scholars felt that Desikan would become angry at being insulted. Instead, Desikan exclaimed in great joy, “Oh, what good fortune do I have that the sandals of the great devotees of God have blessed me by touching my head?”.
  2. ^ Sanskrit Stotras Abheeti Sthavam Achyuta Sathakam Ashtabuja Ashtakam Bhagavad Dhyaana Sopaanam Bhoo Sthuthi Dasaavataara Stotram Dayaa Sathakam Dehaleesa Sthuthi Devanaayaka Panchaasath Garuda Dhandakam Garuda Panchaasath Godhaa Sthuthi Gopaala Vimsathi Hayagriva Stotram Kaamaasika Ashtakam Nyaasa Dasakam Nyaasa Tilakam Nyaasa Vimsathi Paramaartha Sthuthi Raghu Veera Gadhyam (aka) Mahaveera Vaibhavam Saranaagathi Deepikai Shodasa Aayudha Stotram Sree Sthuthi Sudharsana Ashtakam Vairaaghya Panchakam Varadaraaja Panchaasath Vegaa Sethu Stotram Yathiraaja Sapthadhi Kavya Granthas Subjashithaanivi Yaadhavaabhyudhayam Paduka Sahasram Hamsa Sandhesam Samasya Sahasri (Luptham-Lost) Tamil Prabandams Amrita Ranjani Adhikaara Sangraham Amudhaswaadhini Parama Padha Sopaanam Para Matha Bhangam Mey Nonbu Maanmiyam Adaikkalap Pathu Artha Panchakam Sri Vaishnava Dhinasari Tiruchchinna Maalai Panniru Naamam Tiru Mantira Churukku Dvaya Churukku Charma Sloka Churukku Gitaartha Sangraham MumManik Kovai Navaratna (aka Navamani) Maalai Prabhandha Saaram Aahaara Niyamam Pandhu (Luptham-Lost) Kazhal (Luptham-lost) Ammaanai (Luptam-Lost) Oosal (luptham-Lost) Yesal (Luptham-Lost) Prakrit Works Achchuta Satakam Drama Sankalpa Suryodhayam Rahasya Granthas (Esoteric Works) Sat Sampradaaya Pari Suddhi Tattva Padhavi Rahasya Padhavi Tattva Navaneetham Rahasya Navaneetham Tattva Maatrukai Rahasya Maatrukai Tattva Sandhesam Rahasya Sandhesam Rahasya Sandhesa Vivaranam Tattva Ratnaavali Tattva Ratnaavali Prathipaadhya Sangraham Rahasya Ratnaavali Rahasya Ratnaavali Hridhayam Tattva Thraya Sulakam Rahasya Thraya Sulakam Abhaya Pradhaana Saaram Rahasya Sikhaamani Anjali Vaibhavam Pradhana Sathakam Upakaara Sangraham Saara Sangraham Muni Vaahana Bhogam Madhura Kavi Hridhayam (Luptham- Lost) Parama Pada Sopaanam Para Matha Bhangam Hasthigiri Mahatmyam Rahasya Thraya Saaram Saara Saaram Virodha Parihaaram Nigama Parimalam (Lutham-Lost) Thiru Mudi Adaivu (Luptham- Lost) Vedanta Granthas Group 1: Tattva Mukthaa Kalaapam Adhikarana Saaraavali Satha Dushani Nyaya Parisuddhi Seswara Mimaamsa Mimaamsa Paaduka Group 2: Nikshepa Raksha Sat Charitha Raksha- containing (i) Sudharsana Paancha Janya Vidhi, (ii) Oordhva Pundra Dhaarana Vidhi, (iii) Bhagavan Nivedhitha Upayoga Vidhi Rahasya Rakshaa Group 3: Dramidopanishad Taatparya Ratnavali (A commentary on Nammalvar's Tiruvaymoli) Dramidopanishad Saara (A shorter version of above) Vyakyana Granthas Sarvaartha Siddhi Tattva Teekha Chatus Slokee Bhashya Stotra Ratna Bashya Gitaartha Sangraha Raksha Taatparya Chandrika Isaavaasyopanishad Vedaartha Sangraha (Luptam-Lost) Rahasya Raksha (aka) Gadhya Thraya Bashya) Adhikarana Darpanam Anushtana Granthas Bhagavad Aaraadhana Vidhi Yagnopaveetha Prathishta Hari Dina Tilakam Vaishnava Dinasari Miscellaneous Granthas Bhoogola Nirnayam Silpaartha Saaram Stheya Virodham Chakaara Samarthanam Vaadhi Thraya Khandanam Vaisvadeva Kaarika Guru Paramparaa Saaram Dathi Panchakam Yamaka Ratnaakaram Daasa Deepikaa Nigantu Vedaartha Sangraha Vyaakhyaanam Saara Dheepam Tattva Sikhaamani (Luptham-Lost)
  3. ^ Appaya Dikshitar, the great medieval scholar appreciated Desikan by composing a verse in Sanskrit: evam vichintyas sarvatra bhavaah santi pade padhe kavi tarkika simhasya kavyeshu laliteshvapi "Even in the simple and soft compositions of this lion of poetry and lion of logic, there is poetic excellence evident at every step he took, and indeed in every word he wrote.”
  4. ^ "Vanja Para Samayam Mattra Vandhon Vazhiye Mannu Pughaz Bhoothooran Manamuhappon Vazhiye Kanja Thirumangai Ughakka Vandhon Vazhiye Kaliyanurai Kudi Konda Karuththudayon Vazhiye Senjol Tamil Maraigal Thelindhu Uraippon Vazhiye Thirumalai Mal Thirumaniyay Sirakka Vandhon Vazhiye Thanja Parakadhiyay Thantharulvon Vazhiye Than Tamil Thoopul Thiruvenkadavan Vazhiye!!! Nanilamum Than Vaala; Naan maraigal Thaam Vaala Maanagaril Maaran Marai Vaazha Gyaniyargal Senniani Ser Thoopul Vedantha Desikane Innum Oru Nootrandirum!!! Vazhiyani Thoopul varum Vedathasiriyan Vazhiyavan Paadhara Vindha Malargal Vazhiyavan Kodhila Thal Malarai Kondadi Kondirukkum Theethilla Nallor Thiral!" The meaning of the Tamil Verses are as following: "May Your grace live long; for you have changed many unrighteous paths to the righteous path May Your grace live long; for you have lived a life as pleasing to Sri Ramanujacharya May Your grace live long; for you have given joy for great men with your service May Your grace live long; for you have been an embodiment of the words of Thirumangai Alwar May Your grace live long; for you have presented the Tamil Vedas the Divya Prabandams very clearly May Your grace live long; for you have proved your incarnation of being the Divine bell of the Lord of Seven Hills May Your grace live long; for you are blessing us with the path of Salvation May Your grace live long; for you are the Lord of Seven Hills whom came to elaborate the Tamil Verses" "May our Swami Desikan live for one more century, for the well-being of the Worlds ( The Earth, the worlds above Earth, the worlds below Earth and the Eternal world), for the well-being of Vedas, for the sacred text of Nammalvar's Thiruvaimozhi to present glorious in sacred Srirangam; Oh Swami Vedanta Desika, the dusts from your holy feet are being worn by the great Gyanis to get betterment in their Spiritual life; May You live one more century for our sake!" "May Your grace live long; the grace of Swami Desikan who was born in Thoopul, who has no equivalent in knowledge; who is our greatest Philosopher; Long live His Lotus Feet! Long live the sacred men who are divine and pious always meditating and celebrating the grace of this Aacharya and who are staying away from all sorts of evil deeds and who are always surrounded with the good and sacred deeds!"

Further reading