Today, the 11th of February 2012 – Swami Koorathazhwan thirunakshatram
Life History of Sri KoorathAzhwAn (Kuresar)
Life at Kanchi
The story of Kuresan’s life has been told many times over the centuries. Nonetheless it is a life-story of such nobility and inspiration that it will bear repetition this year on his “tirunakshatram” and in all years to come.
So here is a sketch of the life-story of Kuresan:
Kuresan hailed from the hamlet of “Kura” (or “kooram”) near Kanchipuram. He belonged to the clan of the Haritas and to a well-to-do, land-owning and Propertied family that lived in peace with its neighbours and friends. Kuresan had a gem of a person in his young and comely wife, AndAlammA. They lived a happy and contented life in Kura. They were both known in Kanchi for their unstinting philanthrophy and kindness. They were both ardent devotees of Kanchi Varadan, the presiding deity of the holy city. Meeting Sri Ramanuja
Early in his life, Kuresan came under the spell of RamanujAchArya who at that time was living in Kanchi. It was the time when Ramanuja was slowly emerging as the propagator of a new school of thought. He was spreading a whole new philosophy quite different from the sterile monism of Advaita which people at that time were growing weary of. Bands of disciples and followers were already growing around Ramanuja.
Kuresan quickly became a disciple of RamanujAchArya.The two took to each other easily and warmly. Under Sri.Ramanuja’s guidance, Kuresa was soon initiated into the rigorous study of the ancient Vedic scripture and more especially the “meemAmsa-sutrA-s”.
A strange bond of kinship developed between master and student over the years they spent together in Kanchi.
In his mid-life, due to a variety of personal and social reasons, Ramanuja took to “sannyAsA” and was called away by the community of SriVaishnavas in SriRangam to rally them all into a cohesive force there against the onslaught of religious bigotry waged by the Saivite State at that time.
Thus, in deference to the commandments of his elders in SriRangam like Mahapurna, and Kanchipurna in Kanchi, Ramanuja decided to migrate to SriRangam. He left Kanchi for good never to return in future except for brief visits.
Kuresan’s close relationship with Ramanuja thus drew to a close. Seeing off his guru Ramanuja to SriRangam, Kuresan returned to his hamlet of Kura and commenced his living his life as before. But Lord Varadarajan and his Consort Perundevi thAyyAr had other plans for Kuresan.
Departing to Srirangam
With the departure of his guru Ramanuja to SriRangam, Kuresan and his wife AndAlamma returned to their good, uneventful lives in Kura.
One evening, after they had completed their daily routine of feeding the poor at dusk, they retired for the day. They clanged the big brass doorway to their home shut.
This clanging of the brass door was so loud in the quiet of the night that it was heard some distance away in Kanchi. Lord Varadaraja and Perundevi thAyyAr too were a little startled by it. ThAyyAr queried the Lord as to the cause of the gong reverberating through the night air. The Lord turned to his chief priest, Kanchipurna or Tirukacchi-nambi (also one of the several mentors of Ramanujacharya) and asked,”Pray tell Us, wherefrom this sound of the night, O Sire?”.
Kanchipurna replied,”Lord, it is the doorway of our dear Kuresan’s home being shut for the day after the daily alms-giving.”
The Lord and Perundevi-pirAtti, very pleased to know of Kuresa and his piety and charity, commanded that Kuresan be brought to their Presence. Kanchipurna hastened to Kura to beckon Kuresan to Kanchi.
At Kura, when Kuresan came to know from Kanchipurna the purpose of his visit, he became extremely indignant with himself. “What?! Did the clanging of my doorway disturb the Lord and His Consort in Kanchi?! What a conceited wretch am I that I should let my charity be announced thus to the whole world! What a vain sinner am I!”.
The incident seemed to rudely awaken Kuresan out of a strange spiritual torpor. He realized that a choice in life had been staring him in his face but which he had been subconsciously avoiding all the while since Ramanuja’s departure: Either he could continue to live in Kura and lead a life of pious, vain but ineffectual charity or, he could pursue his guru Ramanuja to SriRangam and serve him in his life’s great mission.
Kuresan made his choice instantly!
He dispatched Kanchipurna back to Kanchi. He told his wife AndAlammA to immediately renounce all their wealth and belongings and to join him in migrating to SriRangam and wedding themselves forever in the service of SriRamanuja.
It was a turning point in the life of Kuresan.
The same night husband and wife walked out of their homes with nothing but the clothes they wore. They set out for SriRangam by foot.
Along the way, Kuresan and AndAlamma had to journey through jungle infested with wayside brigands. AndAlamma was mortally afraid of nocturnal robbers and made no secret of her fears to her husband. WHen he heard of his wife’s anxieties Kuresan quickly replied,”AndAl, watching your agitation I suspect that your fears are founded in something you have not fully disclosed to me. I asked you to renounce all our belongings back in our village of Kura. Have you renounced everything? I mean really EVERYTHING?”.
When questioned so intensely by Kuresan, AndAlamma had no choice but to confess,”My Sire, I did renounce everything save for this little golden goblet which I secreted in the folds of my saree. I thought I would need it during the journey to serve you some beverage and relieve you of weariness”.
Kuresan looked at the golden goblet that his wife pulled out from her saree-folds and then mildly chided her,”My dear woman, when I wanted you to renounce everything I meant this little goblet too!”.
So saying Kuresan took the vessel from AndAlamma’s hands and threw it away into the night and deep into the forest shrubbery.
“There now!”, he said turning to his wife, “There now, my dear wife, has been cast away the source of all your fears”.
Kuresan and AndAlamma were received into Srirangam with great joy and fanfare by SriRamanujAchArya. He welcomed them as if they were his own children, put them up in his quarters and quickly settled them into the life and society of Srirangam.
Kuresan started a new chapter in his life in SriRangam as one of the closest disciples of SriRamanuja. He assisted Ramanujacharya in all aspects and affairs of his ministry… the temple of SriRanganatha and the SriVaishnava community. He was Ramanuja’s aide in scriptural study, disputations and exegesis. He was at his beck and call. He tended to his minutest needs. He was his factotum. His amanuensis. His valet. His eyes and ears. His conscience keeper. His alter ego….
Kuresan soon became his Master’s faithful shadow.
Helping Ramanuja to write Sri BhAsyam
In SriRangam Kuresan soon became his Master, Sri.Ramanujacharya’s faithful shadow.
Ramanuja was by that time the acknowledged leader of a great movement in the religious and social history of India. His following was large and growing in numbers. His new philosophy, called VisishtAdvaitA was attracting universal attention and numberless adherents.
Yet Ramanuja knew that unless his new philosophy was institutionalised into a system, the newly founded school of thought would soon wither away. To that end, therefore, Ramanuja set about writing down the principles of what later came to be known as “ramanuja darsanam”… the philosophical system of Ramanuja. Ramanuja was assisted greatly in the task of systematizing his philosophy by 4 principal disciples who formed the “inner circle”. They were Kuresan, DAsarathi, DevarAt and EmbAr. All 4 were closely involved with their Master in the daily study of scripture, the Vedanta sutras, the ‘tiruvoimozhi’ and in the formulation of ideological and polemical attacks on Advaita, Jainism and Buddhism.
Master and disciples over many years of deep study and refinement, began to slowly build, brick by brick, the architecture of VisishtAdvaita until they were sure that they could proceed with the raising of its superstructure.
Ramanuja at last decided to record his commentary on the Brahma-sutras of Vyasa …. the kernel of Truth contained in the vast body of Vedic knowledge.
It was Kuresa whom he appointed as his amanuensis. Ramanuja told him,”Kuresa, begin writing down my “bhAshya” as I dictate it, but should you find anything I say to be at variance with what we have all agreed is the considered position of our new system you should immediately cease writing. By this way I may know where to stop dictating and review our positions.”
Kuresan agreed. And thus began the stupendous task of writing the great Sri-bhAshya of Sri.Ramanuja.
In the course of dictation one day, Ramanuja stated that the distinguishing attribute of the atomic soul (“jeeva”) is its cognitive power. At this point Kuresa put his writing-quill down and ceased writing. He dumbly looked up at his guru.
The guru RamanujachArya looked at Kuresan and suddenly flew into a temper. The many years of work done and the strain of many days of hard intellectual labor had taken the toll of the ageing guru and his nerves were frayed. When Kuresan stopped writing indicating thereby that his Master was probably straying from right reasoning, Ramanuja mistook it as an affront and flew off the handle.
“Sir, if you mean to write the “bhAshya” on the “vyAsa-sutras” you may do so”, thundered Ramanuja at Kuresan. He then kicked him and stomped out in a fit of rage.
Other disciples who had gathered there were shocked. They began to commisserate with Kuresan who however politely told them,”My friends, I am but a chattel of my guru. He can do what he wants with me or treat me any way he wishes.”
After a while Ramanuja reflected upon the incident. And he realised that Kuresan was right in finding fault with his dictated passage.
The definition of the “jeeva” as a cognitive entity was no doubt a good but not valid definition in as much as the most essential characteristic of the soul viz. its allegiance or leigeship to God (‘seshatva’) was a serious ommission. Defining the soul as possessing cognition and bliss without stressing that it was the sole property of God, the Universal Spirit, was like defining light without any reference to the sun. Ramanuja quickly realised that if his original defintion of the jeeva had gone unchallenged by Kuresan then the very superstructure of VisishtAdvaita’s theology would have proceeded to be built on thin air.
Ramanuja grew repentant. He beckoned his Kuresan and told him, “My son, you are absolutely right! Now please write down the true nature of the soul as that which is God’s … and let us proceed with the rest of the work”.
In such manner, did Kuresan and Ramanuja proceed to compose the great standard works of “sri-sampradAyam” that have come down to posterity — “sri-bhAshya”, “vedanta-deepa”, “vedanta-sAra”, “vedArtha-sangraha” and “gita-bhAshya”.
Traveling to Kashmir to acuire BrahmasutrAs
In Srirangam, although Ramanuja and Kuresan succeeded in the stupendous task of systematising an exciting and epochally new philosophy, they both knew that the “sri-bhAshyA” still needed a final coat of brilliant polish…. the polish of irrefutability… before it could go into and earn an unchallenged place in the annals of Vedantic history.
Ramanuja knew that in order to lend irrefutable authority to his commentaries on the “brahma-sutras”, he badly needed to consult with ancient texts and treatises that could be actually shown to expressly affirm some of the the fundamental postulates and theses of VisishtAdvaita.
Ramanuja knew he must access an ancient parchment or document called “boddhAyana vrutti” — a rare exegetical treatise on VyAsa’s “brahma-sutras” incorporating the insights of other great ‘bhAshyakAr-s’ of a distant past like Dramida, Guhadeva, Tanka and Bharuchi. The “boddhAyana vrutti”, Ramanuja learnt, was lying somewhere in a musty library in the royal library of the then king of an obscure Kashmiri state.
Daunting as the task appeared to him, Ramanuja decided that he must have access to the “vrutti”. To that end he, at the advanced age of about 60 odd years, decided that he would undertake a “digvijayam” of the country — an All-India tour by foot — which would not only take him to Kashmir in pursuit of the “vrutti” but also enable him to propagate his message throughout the vast land through establishment of several “ramanuja- koodam-s” and “mutts”… his pontificial centres.
Ramanuja with his disciples thus set out from Srirangam on their formidable expedition. Kuresan was with him.
The expedition sojourned through vast provinces — Tirupati, then south to the Malabar areas, up north along the western coastal belt of India to the eastern regions of Puri, Kasi, NaimishAranyam, Varanasi, Salagrama in Nepal, the West to Dwaraka, Pushkaram and to Bhatti (near Lahore) and finally into the Himalayan districts of Kashmir.
In the court of the King of Kashmir, Ramanuja was told that before they gave him access to their library he would first have to prove his credentials as a philosopher genuinely propagating a new school of thought.
Ramanuja not only put forth his exposition of the new VisihtAdvaita but also engaged the royal pundits in debate to show them the inadequacy of their own monism.
The King was pleased and freely gave permission for Ramanuja and Kuresan to access the archives in the royal library. The royal pundits however were none too happy about the King’s generosity and played malicious mischief to frustrate Ramanuja. They held that, notwithstanding the royal assent, Ramanuja would not be permitted to take the “vrutti” out of the library precincts.
Ramanuja and Kuresa then began to study the “vrutti” within the library premises itself. Then the pundits came up with another plot to frustrate them. They held that Ramanuja would not be allowed to take down any notes from the “vrutti”.
So Ramanuja and Kuresan proceeded to memorise vast portions of the “vrutti”.
The pundits seeing that Ramanuja and Kuresan were thwarting them at every point finally plotted murder. It was then that Ramanuja decided that enough was enough and decided to leave Kashmir…
The expedition slowly wound up and returned south to SriRangam.
In spite of the disappointment faced in Kashmir, Ramanuja however, as it turned out, suffered no loss at all! For, back in Srirangam, when Kuresan and he sat down to complete the “sri-bhAshya” by incorporating authentic references to the “boddhAyana vrutti”, Kuresan by the sheer power of his prodigious memory was able to instantly and accurately recall vast passages from the “vrutti”— word for word! The commentary of Ramanuja on VyAsa’s “brahma-sutrA-s” — the labour of so many, many years — quickly progressed to its conclusion.
It turned out to be a real miracle of miracles!
Ramanuja finished his immortal “sri-bhAshyA” with a sense of utter fulfillment thanks to the “vrutti” and even greater thanks to the daring enterprise and phenomenal memory of his chief disciple, Sri.Kuresan!
Birth of Parasara Bhattar and Vyasa Bhattar
After his great expedition all across India to propagate his fresh Vedantic theology and to also secure the “boddhayana vrutti”, Ramanuja settled down in SriRangam once again to consolidate the position of Srivaishnavism. His fame had now spread far and wide over the country. His disciples and followers were now legion. SriRangam and the temple of Lord Ranganatha became the capital city of SriVaishnavites.
Ramanuja, at that point of time in his life, had indeed fulfilled much of his promise to his own guru, YamunachArya, who had on his death-bed entrusted him with the life-mission of
(1) writing a fresh, new commentary on the “brahma-sutrA-s” based on the philosophical premises of the “bhakti” tradition handed down from the times of NammAzhwAr through Nathamuni and
(2) to propagate the same through the devotional literature of the ancient AzhwArs known as the ‘Tamil Vedas’ or the 4000 verses of the “nalayira divya prabhandam”.
At that point of time, Ramanuja’s most beloved disciple, Kuresan, however was not a fulfilled man. His wife, AndAlamma and he still went childless.
In SriRangam Kuresan had so thoroughly become involved in the ministry of SriRamanuja that he had very little time to devote to family affairs. His wife AndAlamma too was a very devout lady and too good a soul to rebel against what had become her hard lot in life.
Kuresan earned his daily bread by the traditional means prescribed for a Vedic “grahasta” (householder) viz. “unchavratti” or the practise of going around one’s neighbourhood begging for daily alms and ekeing out a living solely by such means. Kuresan begged from day to day. Nothing was accumulated… be it food or clothes…nothing more was collected than what Kuresan considered as sufficient to satisfy the wants of his family in the space of a single day…
One day it rained heavily and the time for going around on his “unchavratti” came and passed. Kuresan and Andalamma went without any food that day except for a sip of the holy water offered to the household deity. They skipped supper too. Kuresan was unmindful of his hunger since he kept reciting the “tiruvoimozhi” throughout the rainy day, but AndAlamma deeply felt the pangs of pain… pain, not of her own hunger, but the pain of watching her husband starve.
It was evening then and just at that moment the temple bells of the Srirangam temple gonged. It was the signal to indicate that Lord Ranganatha was being offered his evening “naivEdyam” or worshipful food. When AndAlamma heard the temple gong she bit her lips in tears. She couldn’t help silently muttering,”O Ranga, when your devotee Kuresan goes starving on a day like this, how are you able to enjoy your feast?”.
The piercing cry of Andalamma’s pain was obviously heard by the Deity, for Ranga that same night appeared in the dream of one of His temple-officials, one Sri. Uttama-nambi whom He commanded: “Go forth immediately with my food-offerings to the house of my devotee Kuresan for he has eaten nothing this day! Tell him that We send him our meal and our blessings!”.
Uttama-nambi woke up startled and drenched in cold sweat.
Gathering himself up and summoning all temple staff including pipers, drummers, stewards and ceremonial carriers, he marched in a great procession in the middle of the night to Kuresan’s house, carrying trays of food that had previously offered as “naivEdyam” to Lord Ranganatha.
When the procession reached Kuresan’s home Uttama-nambi recounted to him Lord Ranga’s commandment in his dream and begged Kuresan to accept the Lord’s offering of food.
Kuresan was too dumbfounded to react!
AndAlamma however gently advised her husband to accept the temple offerings. “This food has been sent by our Lord Ranga Himself, and we must accept it and rejoice!”, she said.
His job accomplised, Uttama-nambi returned to his abode, utterly relieved that he had carried out Lord Ranga’s express orders without further ado.
Back home at Kuresa’s place, he suspected that the midnight offer of food by Lord Ranga had something to do with his wife. So Kuresa queried AndAlamma who after much persuasion confessed to what had happened, of how she had shared her anguish with Ranga over the plight of Kuresan going without a morsel of food on that rainy day.
“My dear woman”, chided Kuresan gently,”what have you done! What have you done! You have tested Divinity’s compassion for a mere morsel of food to fill this sinner’s belly!”.
All the same that night, Kuresan and AndAlamma ate the temple food-offerings of Lord Ranganatha and went to bed happily.
That same night, Ranga appeared again in a dream, but this time in Kuresan’s sleep and announced,”Kuresa, We trust that our offering of food has pleased you. Our offering was not merely to satisfy your pangs of physical hunger but to meet your desire or greater hunger for the love of children! What you and AndAlamma have just eaten are the seeds of two little children to be born to you! They will Our Own Children! They are blessed indeed! Rejoice in them as you would rejoice in Our Own Presence amongst you!”. Ranga vanished and Kuresan excitedly woke up Andalamma to tell her all about the dream.
A year later, two beautiful boy babies were born to Kuresan and Andalamma! Their hearts burst with joy.
The news of the birth of Kuresan’s boys reached Ramanuja and he was transported with joy!The grand old “AchAryA” himself performed the “nAma-karanam” for Kuresan’s 2 boys naming them “VyAsa-bhattar” and “Parashara-Bhattar”!
The latter boy became later in life one of the tallest “AchAryA-s” in the SriVaishnava pantheon of post- amanuja stalwarts! Parashara Bhattar came to be acknowledged by posterity as the natural heir to all of Ramanuja’s spiritual kingdom!
Thus indeed, had Kuresan, through his offspring, Parashara Bhatta, performed yet another great service or “kainkaryam” to his beloved guru: He gave unto the venerable RamanujachArya’s arms his fledgling spiritual heir… one who would carry on unbroken the grand tradition of “sri-sampradAyam” for all times to come!
Meeting Kirimikanda Chozhan
By the time SriRamanuja was a septuagenarian, his stature as a giant of an “AchAryA” in the Vedantic galaxy of India became secure. Sri Vaishnavam had reached its pinnacle of development around that time.
While the followers of Ramanuja were multiplying by the day, he also began to make a few enemies. The growing influence of SriVaishnavism once again stoked the malevolent fires of religious bigotry in the land. Amongst some sections of the Saivite population which at that time was concentrated around Gangai-konda- sozha-puram… near Chidambaram … hatred of SriVaishnavaism and of Sri.Ramanuja began to flare up.
The King of ChozhanAd at that time was a tyrant who was also a Saivite fanatic. His name was Krimikantha Chola of the clan of the Kollutunga kings. This tyrant was hell-bent on rooting out Vaishnavism in his kingdom and the best way to do that, he thought, was to destroy Ramanuja.
He issued royal summons to Ramanuja to appear in his court for the ostensible purpose of engaging him in scholarly debate with his own royal pundits. The real intention however was to coerce Ramanuja to recant from SriVaishnavism and if he refused … to have him murdered in cold blood.
Ramanuja’s followers got wind of the king’s evil designs and promptly dissuaded Ramanuja from going to Gangai- onda-sozha-puram. Fearing for their Master’s safety, the disciples of Ramanuja persuaded him to flee from the land of the Cholas.
Kuresan then volunteered to go as Ramanuja’s proxy and respond to the royal summons.
With great reluctance Ramanuja thus left Srirangam with a small band of acolytes and fled to the distant but salubrious land of Melkote or Tirunarayanapuram.
Ramanuja lived in exile there for 12 long years… a difficult period in life for the aged AchArya.
In Melkote Ramanuja however once again re-built his pontifice from scratch. He consecrated a temple of Lord SampathkumAran. He developed a colony of devout SriVaishnavas from amongst the local residents. In good time, Melkote became a thriving centre of Sri vaishnavism second only in glory to Srirangam when Ramanuja had lived there.
One day a Vaishnava member who had travelled very far, and for many days, from Srirangam arrived in Melkote and sought audience with Ramanuja.
The “AchAryA” rushed to meet the visitor from Srirangam, eager to know tidings from his beloved city of Lord Ranga from where he had been so abruptly and violently uprooted by medieval bigotry.
“Pray tell me quickly how fare my beloved SriRangam, my beloved mentors and my dearest disciples?”, asked Ramanuja.
The visitor replied, “All fare well in the city of Srirangam, Sire, except that you are sorely missed by everyone.”
After a few more inquiries and a pregnant pause Ramanuja asked,”And how is my disciple Kuresan?”.
It was then that the visitor, in a voice choked with pent-up emotion, began to narrate to Ramanuja details of the grim fate that had befallen Kuresan at the hands of the Chola tyrant, Krimikanta Chozhan.
Loosing his eyes for Lord Ranganatha
After a few more polite inquiries about the affairs of Lord Ranganatha’s temple, and after a long, pregnant pause Ramanuja asked the Vaishnava visitor from Srirangam,”And how is my disciple Kuresan?”.
It was then that the visitor, in a voice choked with pent emotion, narrated to Ramanuja details of the grim fate that had befallen Kuresan at the hands of the Chola tyrant, Krimikanta Chozhan.
This is what the gentleman related to Ramanuja who began listening with rapt attention:
“Sire, after your departure from Sri Rangam, Sri.Kuresan and Sri.Mahapurna were summoned to the royal court at Gangai-konda-sozha-puram.
At the court the King thrust a written declaration in their faces which read:”Nothing higher than Siva exists”, and commanded them both to affix their signatures to it without protest.
Kuresan refused. He launched into a long and magnificent recital of authoritative texts and sources from the Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis and Puranas that proved that Narayana was the Supreme Principle and none was higher than He and hence He was the only object fit for worship and contemplation.
The Chola King was incensed. Thrusting a writing-quill into Kuresan’s hands he commanded Kuresan again to forthwith sign the declaration swearing allegiance to Siva. “If you refuse we shall have your eyes pulled out here and now!”.
On hearing this Kuresan flew into a greater rage.
He grabbed the quill from the King’s hands and said, “But let me save you the trouble, you tyrant, for I shall pluck out my eyes by my own hand! These eyes that have set sights on a sinner such as thee have no further use for me!”.
So saying Kuresan plunged the sharp writing-quill into his own eyes,and extracting ball from socket threw his eyes on the floor at the King’s feet!
The sudden and violent act of martyrdom of Kuresan struck terror into the hearts of all assembled there!
The cruel King remained unfazed! He turned next to Mahapurna and commanded him to sign the declaration of apostasy. The elderly Sire too flatly refused, upon which the vengeful King ordered his courtiers to
overpower Mahapurna and gouge out the old ‘AchAryA’s’ eyes without further ado!
And so was it done without much ado!
Blood streamed out of the eyeless cavities of Mahapurna and the poignant agony caused may be better imagined than described.
Kuresa being younger compared to Mahapurna, and of stronger will, somehow took hold of Mahapurna and both managed to totter out of the palace with blood and gore trailing them.
Bearing their pain with a superhuman effort they trudged some distance to the outskirts of Gangai-konda – hozha-puram where they were met by Mahapurna’s daughter, the poor girl, AttulAzhAy-piratti. The girl had come all the way from Srirangam looking for them. When she saw her father thus, his face now eyeless and disfigured beyond recognition, she screamed her heart out in shock.
Mahapurna being in his declining years, and on meeting his daughter, now collapsed by the roadside. He could proceed no further on the road from the Chola capital to the city of SriRangam. The pain became unendurable.
He lay down with his head resting on Kuresan’s lap and his feet resting on his daugter’s and told them that his mortal end was nearing.
Kuresan’s heart broke and he began to wail aloud,”O Sire, what cruel fate has befallen us and you especially! Your birthplace is Srirangam and your God is Ranga and your disciple is the great Ramanuja himself! And yet to think that your death should be ordained in a wayside field on the outskirts of Gangai-konda-chozha-puram! Does this cause you grief?”.
The old Mahapurna then told Kuresan,”My dear Kuresa, my beloved AtullAzhAy! Have you not heard that wherever a Vaishnavan may chance to die, there God is present with him, even as Rama was present while Jatayu passed away from this world in the wilderness of a jungle?
“And have you not heard, O Kuresa, that the best place to die is on a SriVaishnavan’s lap or house? Am I not blessed therefore, O Kuresa, to have you cradle me in your lap as I now breathe my last? Do not gireve!
“Also if not dying on the soil of Srirangam is a cause of grief, all posterity would think that death in SriRangam is the only thing in life worthy of attainment! How ridiculous! No! Our rule is that a good soul which has surrendered or performed “prappati” to God may meet its death anywhere and yet be sure of God beside it!
“And besides, where am I dying here now? Is this not the land where my great gurus like Nathamuni and Kurugai-kaval-appan also died? So should I not consider myself fortunate that I die like them? Grieve not!”, said the venerable Mahapurna.
He then expired, O Sire, with his thoughts firmly fixed on his guru Yamunacharya.
Sire, just then a band of SriVaishnavas happened to pass by. They lent Kuresan a hand and together they solemnly performed for Mahapurna the special last rites, the “brahma-mEdha” for the great soul.”
When Ramanuja heard the above account of the visitor from Srirangam he sobbed uncontrollably. His sadness knew no bounds.
Ramanuja remembered that he owed so much to his mentor Mahapurna. It was for Ramanuja’s own sake that the old Master had to give his life! Alas, Ramanuja could not be at his side at the time of his death to perform obsequies like the son Mahapurna never had!
“In death, as in life, O my dearest Master Mahapurna”, thought Ramanuja silently, ” I remain eternally in debt to you, Sire! How shall I ever repay thee?”. Ramanuja wept like a child.
In sadness there was however a tinge of happiness too for Ramanuja. “At least my Master did not die abandoned!”, thought Ramanuja, “At least, he was tended to in his last moments by none other than my own dearest disciple,Kuresan!”.
Thus did Kuresa perform one more poignant deed of “kainkaryam”: Kuresa performed the ‘antima-samskAram’ for his guru’s guru!
Returning back to Srirangam
After Mahapurna’s cruel death at the palace of the Chola king at Ganga-konda-sozha-puram, and after he had himself been violently blinded for life, Kuresan returned to SriRangam.
Life in Srirangam without the benign presence of his “achAryA” Ramanuja soon became unbearable for Kuresan. In the meanwhile, all the stalwarts of the times began to pass away, one by one.
Goshtipurna, a great mentor of Ramanuja passed away. Tirumalai-AndAn and Tiruvaranga-perumAl-araiyar were next to pass away. The news came to Kuresan that SriSaila-purna in Tirupati, the maternal uncle of Ramanuja and his mentor too, had expired. And finally the news came from Kanchi that Ramanuja’s most beloved mentor, Sri.Kanchipurna too had passed away. Kuresan had spent many years of his life in the company of Kanchipurna in Kanchi and in his passing away Kuresan felt a deep and painful void.
The city of Lord Ranga took on the forlorn and eerie appearance of a ghost town in Kuresan’s eyes. Ramanuja was in exile, the leading lights of the SriVaishnava movement were all dying one by one around Kuresan, the SriVaishnava movement had suffered a setback, and Vaishnavas everywhere lived in constant fear of the ugly bigotry and fanaticism of those times. Suddenly, Kuresan began to feel extremely lonely and abandoned in life….
One day the blind Kuresan tottered through his way from home to the temple of Ranganatha to have ‘darshan’ of the Lord there and to unburden his heart in the presence of God of all the untold grief and loneliness that had piled up within it.
The temple guards however stopped him at the gates and told him,”Blind man, we have instructions from the King to let people in only if they swear that they willingly renounce RamanujachAryA as their guru. If you denounce your guru you can enter the temple of Ranganatha. If you won’t this holy temple is out of bounds for you!”.
Kuresan told them, “Sires, please tell your King that Kuresan is prepared to forsake Lord Ranganatha in this world and even in the next. But denounce Ramanuja…he never will!”
The blind Kuresan then hobbled back to his home and told his wife, “AndAl, call the children and pack up to leave Srirangam. We shall live here no more.”
Kuresan and his family left the holy city of SriRangam and trudged away to the town of TirumAlirunjolai (near Madurai).
They settled down there and lived in exile as complete recluses for many, many sad years. Meeting Sri Ramanuja
After living in exile in Melkote for a decade and more, a time came in history when Ramanuja was at last in a position to return to SriRangam.
The Chola tyrant, King Krimikantha, died of a deadly tumour that grew inside his neck. After his death, the fanatic fringe of Saivism in the kingdom quickly lost its militant edge and the land of the Cholas again reverted to sanity and its high civilization.
Krimikanta Chola’s successor was his son who turned out to be a wise king utterly unlike his father. He discouraged religious bigotry in his kingdom and allowed freedom of faith and worship amongst all his subjects.
Taking leave of his vast following in the Mysore regions of Tirunarayanapuram, and at the ripe old age of around 100, SriRamanuja finally decided to return in triumph to his holy See in SriRangam.
The centenarian’s re-entry into Srirangam was a historic moment in the annals of SriVaishnavism.
A great gathering of SriVaishnava laity and orthodoxy lined the streets of SriRangam to welcome their beloved leader as he came in majestic procession with his disciples. Pagaentry and fanfare, excitement and expectation was rife in the air. Vedic chants and loud “prabandhic” recitation filled the air as Ramanuja’s great procession wound its way slowly from the outer ramparts of the Srirangam city into the inner courtyards of the temple of Lord Ranganatha.
It was the grand return of the Hero of SriVaishnavism to reclaim the papal throne that was rightly his!
After worshipping inside the temple of Lord Ranganatha, Ramanuja went out again into his beloved city of SriRangam to loud cheers ot the population. The street sights and smells, the people and their children, were all familiar to him…
He remembered the glorious days of the past …. a happy and eventful past that had been peopled by so many of his dearest gurus, mentors and disciples….and so many, many wonderful memories…
Ramanuja’s first stop in Srirangam was to call on the house of his most beloved disciple, the blinded Kuresan….
Having earlier learnt that his guru Ramanuja was returning to SriRangam, Kuresan and his family, exiled in Tirumalirunjolai for several years, had made the greatest haste in themselves returning to their homestead in Srirangam to await their Master’s arrival.
Someone rushed ahead of Ramanuja’s procession to tell the blind Kuresan that Ramanuja was himself heading straight towards his home after worshipping at the temple. Kuresan’s heart leapt with joy. He immediately asked his family to lead him out onto the street outside his home. There he eagerly awaited his guru’s arrival.
When Ramanuja arrived, the Master and the disciple faced each utterly transfixed… In each other’s presence they suddenly lost themselves in a flood of distant recollections… of their young days together back in Kanchi, of their times in Srirangam composing the “sri-bhAshya”, their travels together across India to Kashmir and back …. and the many battles they had together fought and won against ideological adversaries like Advaitins and “mAyAvadins”, Jains and Buddhists….
Tears welled up in the Master’s eyes as he looked at Kuresan who, being eyeless, was unable to vent or shed the tears of utter joy that seemed to inundate his breast.
Kuresan tottered forward and fell at Ramanuja’s feet and clasped them both tightly to his eyeless and scarred face. He lay there motionless and speechless for several moments.
A great hush of silence descended on the large crowd collected there! It stood dumb witness to probably the most poignant moment ever in the entire history of the SriVaishanavite movement.
Ramanuja was himself speechless for a while as tears shook his now frail body and rolled down his aged cheeks. Then the old, wizened “AchArya” bent down and lifting Kuresa to his feet held him to his bosom tightly.
“My child, my child,” whispered Ramanuja to Kuresan,”what have thee done! What have thee done! You have given your eye… the eye of faith… for the sake of Our faith!”.
When he heard his Master’s familiar voice again for the first time after 12 long years Kuresan became simply overwhelmed. But with effort, he somewhat composed himself, recovered quickly and finally replied,
“My Master, if I had to lose my eyes it was but in atonement perhaps for some sin I may have committed! Perhaps I may have once happened to pass by some good SriVaishnavan and may have said to myself “How clumsily this man has applied his “urdhvapundhram” on his forehead! Hence, Sire, my punishment is rightly deserved!”.
Ramanuja said, “My beloved Kuresa! You and sin?!! Never! Rather, my child, it is is all my sin for which you have atoned all these years!”
“But let the past be bygone, Kuresa, come with me now! You and I have lots of unfinished work yet to do!”.
So saying Ramanuja proceeded to his own monastery in Srirangam, personally leading his blind but happy Kuresan by hand…..
All the crowds gathered there in SriRangam that day watched in wide-eyed fascination as the old RamanujachArya led the blind disciple to his papal headquarters …. It was indeed the perfect and most appropriate picture that anybody could have witnessed on that most magnificent occasion —- the picture of “enlightenment” lovingly leading the “blind”….
Remained his Guru’s faithful shadow
At the age of well over 100 years, after his triumphant return to Srirangam from Melkote, Sri.RamanujachArya with the help of Kuresan, once again set about resurrecting Sri Vaishnavism and restoring its soaring spirit to former glory.
In the 10 odd years of Ramanuja’s exile away from SriRangam, and under the rule of the bigoted despot Krimikantan Chola, the temple of Srirangam had fallen upon ill-fated days; many centers of worship belonging to the faith had been vandalised too; Vaishnava associations, libraries, schools and trusts had all been systematically looted and destroyed as well. Corruption, indiscipline and laxity of faith had also set in amongst many SriVaishnavas.
Kuresan ably assisted his guru in setting right all the wrongs of the SriVaishnava faith. Together they worked tirelessly to bring order, vigour and rectitude back to their faith. It was during this time that RamanujachArya composed his famous work called “Nithya”…. a practical manual to be followed in SriVaishnava “perumAl” temples for daily conduct of rituals and a compendium of administrative matters. The “Nithya” is a very valuable manual in use even today in most “perumAl” temples most notably, in the famous temple of Tirupati- tirumala.
Thanks to Ramanuja, SriVaishnavism once again began to flourish in the land where once people had been frightened to even utter the holy name of “NARAYANA”!
Kuresan despite his great physical handicap shirked no duty or “kainkaryam” that was thrust upon him by his centenarian guru, SriRamanujachArya. Even in those last years of life on earth, as always, he remained his guru’s faithful shadow!
In the SriVaishnava tradition, Ramanuja is regarded as an “avatara” of the great Lakshmana of the ‘Ramayana’ whose extraordinary life of service and dedication (“kainkaryam” and “shraddhai”) to Lord Rama was divine legend. It is said that Rama found no better way of repaying his debt to Lakshmana other than to take ‘avatar’ again as Kuresan during Ramanuja’s time on earth and reverse roles i.e. to do unto Ramanuja the same yeoman service that he had been blessed to receive from Lakshmana in an ancient age of the past!
Such was the celebrated “kainkaryam” Kuresan rendered to his guru that the SriVaishnava faith did not hesitate to confer the sacred hood of Rama’s “avatara” upon him!
Going back to Sri Vaikunta to receive his Guru Sri Ramanuja
Kuresan worked tirelessly at Srirangam all his life for his guru Ramanuja who was by then more than 110 years old and also for the cause of SriVaishnavaism which had by then become firmly established as a distinctive shool of Vedantic thought and practice in India.
Kuresan too had aged considerably. His sons, Parashara and Vyasa Bhattar had quickly grown to be stripling lads who showed great promise as future leaders of the Sri Vaishnavism fold. His wife AndAlamma too had grown into an old but graceful lady.
One day blind Kuresan went all by himself to visit Lord Ranga in the temple. After offering worship Kuresa continued to linger behind in the presence of the Lord. The Deity was a little surprised and asked Kuresan,”You seem to have something to say to Me, Kuresa?”.
Kuresan replied,”No my Lord! I linger here so that I may sing your praise to my hearts content!”.
Ranga was pleased and said,”Kuresa, you have pleased me today! Ask of me any favour you want!”.
Kuresan quickly replied,”O Ranga, you have bestowed me with every blessing and gift in life! There is nothing that I lack! What can I ask thee further?”.
The Deity however pressed Kuresan,”No, once more ask, and ask for more, if not for yourself, then ask for the love that I bear towards my beloved spouse, Ranganayaki, and towards my Ramanuja!”.
Kuresan then had to ask for something, so he asked that he be released from his mortal body and be merged in the Lord’s Feet. The Deity however demurred and said,”Ask me anything but that, Kuresan!”.
Kuresan said he had nothing else to ask of God. So Ranga finally relented and said,”Let it be so then! What you have asked of me, Kuresan, shall be boon for not only thee but also a boon conferred upon everyone that has any sort of kinship with thee!”.
On receiving the supreme blessing from the Deity of Srirangam, Kuresan walked out of the temple with his head held high in pride! He felt like a crown-prince who was about to be coronated in the Kingdom of God! He went home with his spirit soaring!
Meanwhile news of Kuresan’s encounter with Lord Ranganathan quickly reached Ramanuja who was in his monastery. When the old AchArya heard of the incident he was startled! He stood up immediately, and throwing his upper garment in the air, let out a low whoop!
The old achAryA’s behaviour was so unusual that a disciple who was standing close-by asked him what the matter was. Ramanuja replied,”My faithful one, do I also not bear kinship with my Kuresan! My salvation too is now assured by the boon that Ranga has granted my Kuresan!”.
It was an ironic but wonderful reversal of roles! Usually it is by the guru’s intercession that God’s grace is fetched for a disciple. But here in the case of Kuresan and Ramanuja, it was the Master who was benefiting from the disciple’s stock with the Almighty!
The old pontiff then left his Mutt and made his way to the quarters of Kuresan in the other part of SriRangam. Kuresan was waiting for his guru.
When the Master met Kuresan he said,”What have you done,Kuresan?! You have gone and done a deed without even consulting me your guru?”.
Ramanuja’s tone was a bit remonstrative and a bit accusatory too. So Kuresan kept silent.
“Why do you not speak, Kuresa? What was your purpose in going to our Lord Ranga and begging Him to let go of thee far in advance of someone like me here who is so far gone in age? Do you wish to be gone ahead of me, my dear Kuresa? Why?”.
Kuresan spoke in soft tones, “My Master, my most Holy Sire! My sole purpose was to preserve the order of prededence in “parama-padam”…. in God’s Kingdom.”.
“Don’t speak to me in riddles and conundrums, Kuresa! I am your Master, speak plainly with me!”, gently chided Ramanuja.
“Sire, in the “pasuram” “muDiyuDai” it is said that our elders in heaven who preceded us come out of the gates of “parama=padam” to welcome their younger brothers when it is the latter’s turn to arrive there…. and then the elders usher the young ones into God’s Presence. Sire, but this I consider as being of improper order! It is the younger ones who should always go first and prepare in Heaven to receive and welcome their elders. That is the order of precedence I wish to preserve! Hence, Sire, I go in advance so that I may welcome my Master when he arrives there in good time!”.
When Ramanuja heard Kuresan’s stirring words his whole body shook with tremors of emotion. His spirit melted.
“My most beloved Kuresan, you forget the rule in Heaven that all differences and distinction between elder and young, between wise and ignorant, between saint and sinner simply disappear there! And yet you Kuresan, who has served me here so devotedly as a disciple, wish to perpetuate in Heaven too the same relationship that existed between you and me here on earth! O, my dearest Kuresa, is there anybody to match you in this world! Kuresa, my beloved child!”.
The aged Ramanuja could not contain his tears and rushing forward took hold of his disciple and embraced him.
“Kuresa, my Kuresa, my dearest son, you are my very soul! How can I part with thee? You say you want to leave this old man behind alone in this world! Can you not be kind-earted to this Master of yours of so many years? Take me too with you, my son, to the Kingdom of God! Why do you want to leave me behind to suffer the pangs of separation? While I am yet here upon this earth, how can you be so anxious for Heaven, O Kuresa? Tell me, how can you enjoy “parama-padam” without me?”.
On hearing his old guru’s wrenching words, Kuresan heart was torn to shreds by emotion. He was stunned into a poignant silence. After a moment Kuresan meekly replied,
“My Master, my Great Sire, in the depth of my thoughts for the miseries of earthly existence, I completely forgot the point that you have raised! Pray forgive me please, SIre, please pardon for me my thoughtlessness even in the presence of God!”.
Ramanuja then said,”If Ranga can grant you a boon such as that which you asked him, Kuresa, surely He can grant me one too! So I will go right now to His temple and ask him to stop you here on earth for my sake!”.
So saying the old and bent Ramanuja turned and walked a few paces towards the temple of Lord Rangantha…. but then after a short distance paused abruptly and reflected aloud:
“The Will of God is unalterable! What audacity on my part to go and force Him to change it! No! Let me submit and be resigned to the Divine Inevitable!”. So saying the old guru retraced his steps towards Kuresan.
Ramanuja now faced Kuresan and spoke in a clear voice:
“Kuresa! When you are gone how shall I live without thee? Alas, God in “parama-padam” has attracted thee, even though our Ranga here has all attractions too! So then yet have you decided to sever yourself from Ranga here! Happy is the God in “parama-padam” and happy His celestials to claim thee as one of their own! Luckless are we all going to be here, yes luckless Ranga too, who will no longer have thee amongst us….”.
“But Kuresa, I am an old and fading man now, let me not change your mind and disturb thy plans! Be it all as thou wishest! All Hail to you, my dearest Kuresa! Go now, go now and proceed to the Blessed Kingdom of God and rule there in eternal Peace and Happiness!”.
So saying Ramanuja gathered the blind Kuresan in his arms and smothered him with love, stroking his head and shoulders as if he were a but mere a child.
“Kuresa, in this moment when you have to depart from me, I salute thee now, my son!”. It was moment of divine pathos.
Kuresan had no words left in him! Such was his stupefied condition of being that he simply lay motionless in the arms of his great “achAryA” who clasped him in his arms as if he were a tiny infant!
After a while Kuresan disengaged himself slowly and simply fell at Ramanuja’s feet like a log of senseless wood. The old guru then bent down and raised his disciple and wiped away his tears. “Go now, my child, go now quickly to the Lord! Thou hast now my leave to depart!”.
So saying the aged and venerable Ramanuja turned and slowly made his way to return to his monastery in the other part of SriRangam.
It was at that moment that a most excellent and poignant prayer (“tanian”) in euphonious Sanskrit sprang spontaneously to Kuresan’s lips and which even to this day all devout followers of SriRamanuja recite in their homes daily and at all times:
“yO nityamachutha padAmbhuja yugmarugma vyAmOhatas-tadi-tarANi trNAya mEnE asmath gurOr bhagavatOsya daiyaiyaka sindOhO rAmAnujasya charanow sharanam prapadyE !”.
“The Holy Feet of My Master, Ramanuja, are my sole refuge! For He is an Ocean of Mercy! And for Him all else is dross other than the supreme wealth that is the Feet of God!”
Kuresan passed away peacefully after a few hours in the presence of his loving family, AndAlamma and their two young sons Vyasa and Parashara Bhattar. All of Srirangam gathered and performed all the due obsequies and honours that one so great a soul as Kuresan richly deserved. Ramanuja had many disciples. But there never was one like Sri.Kuresan….
Article Source: Sri Sampath Kumar