Ramanujacharya, the main exponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy, was born in Tamil Nadu in a small village of Sri Perumbudur, formerly known as Bhutapuri to a Brahmin family. There is conflicting evidence in establishing the precise years of Ramanuja’s life. The popular belief is that he lived between 1017 A.D to 1137 A.D, giving Ramanuja a life span of 120 years. It is difficult to verify though it is being debated. What is more important is the philosophy that he propagated that is unique and different from Advaita (non-dualism) and Dvaita (dualism).
Ramanuja’s parents were Kesava Perumal Somayaji Dikhsita and Kanthimathi Ammal. He was named Ilaya Perumal as a child. At the age of 16 years, Ramanuja married Rakshakambal and after a short while, he went to study the scriptures under the guidance of Yadava Prakasha, a prominent scholar in Adi Sankara’s non-dualistic philosophy.
Ramanuja started differing in opinion to that of his guru, Yadava Prakasha’s interpretation of Adi Sankara’s philosophies and subsequently, rejected the non-dualistic philosophy.
Yadava Prakasha, seeing the intellectual challenge that he faced with Ramanuja, plotted to murder him. However, Ramanuja’s cousin, Govinda, informed Ramanuja of the scheme to kill him and he left the hermitage immediately.
Another guru, Yamunacharya (also known as Alavandar of Srirangam), learnt that a student had left the hermitage and rejected the views of Yadava Prakasha. He knew that Ramanuja’s interpretation of the scriptures were similar to his own. Yamunacharya, sent one of his disciples to bring Ramanuja to Srirangam. Unfortunately, before Ramanuja reached Srirangam, Yamunacharya passed away. Saddened by this loss, Ramanuja returned to Kanchipuram after promising to satisfy the three unfulfilled desires of Yamunacharya. They were:
• compose a commentary on Upanishads, Vedanta Sutras and Bhagavad Gita,
• compose a commentary on Nammalvar’s Tiruvaimozhi, and
• the name of Parasara, the author of Vishnu Purana and father of Vyasa, should be commemorated by giving it to a person worthy to bear it.
Ramanuja was then initiated and educated into the Sri Sampradaya by Mahapurna, a learned scholar in Sri Vaishnavism. Ramanuja decided to take renunciation at the age of 32 and was initiated into the monk order. Ramanuja returned to Srirangam, studied and received tutelage under the disciples of Yamunacharya. Ramanuja wrote all of his works exclusively in Srirangam. He started writing commentaries on many of the scriptures.
During his lifetime, Ramanuja restored many temple rituals to the Vaishnava tradition, including Sri Ranganatha Swami Temple at Srirangam. He was a great social reformer and converted many to Sri Vaishnavism. He had thousands of disciples.
It is believed that Ramanuja breathed his last breath resting himself on a disciple’s lap while listening to the recitation of the Divya Prabandham, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses composed by the 12 Alvar saints.