Thousand Years On, India Is Still Discovering The Man That Was Sri Ramanuja
If social emancipation is our goal, Sri Ramanuja should, without doubt, be our ideal.
Once I posted a comment on Indic social reforms at an internet forum. I said that Indic reforms are based on spirituality and are more harmony-oriented than conflict-oriented, and hence more successful. I cited Sri Ramanuja, Hindu philosopher and a stellar exponent of the Vaishnavism tradition, as a prime example.
A veteran Marxist journalist who ran the forum, dominated then by ‘secularists’, ridiculed me, saying that even after thousand years of Sri Ramanuja, social inequalities and disparities still exist, and hence Ramanuja had failed. What that journalist did not realise was that his own Marxist states have not just failed miserably in attaining their socialist utopia with all the state power at their disposal, but have also paid a huge, tragic human cost. Despite famines in Ukraine and China, coupled with merciless purges and torture, they are continuing with their propaganda and chasing the delusional socialist utopia.
On the contrary, Sri Ramanuja, with no state power, and with a few mendicants, could generate great awareness about the futility of social stratification that centuries after centuries have served to liberate communities in such large numbers with the least or no violence and in a sustained manner. It is a record near which no Western theory of human liberation could come close to. Yet, we look to the West for theories and references for human liberation!
Interestingly, the veteran Marxist himself comes from a traditional Vaishnavaite family. Many know that there is a Vaishnavaite dominance in Marxist movements and media. The reason may be that the Sri Vaishnavaite milieu in which these Marxists grew up, imparted to them, perhaps unconsciously, humanitarian values. Perhaps, these youths with typical Macaulay-Marxist education, reacted to the social inequalities by joining Marxist movements, not for a moment thinking what in the first place propelled them into social activism.
However, the ‘Marxist Vaishnavaites’ lost their humanity to ideology. Driven by their love for the marginalised, which arose from their Sri Vaishnava legacy, they embraced Marxism and then blinded by the ideology, have started supporting inhuman regimes like North Korea and China, and genocidal dictators like Stalin and Mao.
Perhaps, the Vaishnavaites lost in Marxism should now take the opportunity to introspect by celebrating Sri Ramanuja in his 1000th year. So far the academic left and the Marxist propagandists, if such a distinction does exist, have been using Marxist historiography to study Sri Vaishnavism. However, Sri Vaishnavism is a more holistic, complete and more humanistic and well-proved illustration for social emancipation. It is high time we study the deficiencies and deep core shortcomings of Western theories like Marxism in the light of Sri Vaishnavism.
Sri Ramanuja's bhakti is not just an emotional outpouring of love towards his deity - Vishnu. His love for Vishnu is rooted in the Vedanta of the qualified non-dualism. And the great acharya lived Vedanta. Today, looking from the point of view of hypocritical and perverted political parlance of socialist slogans, we tend to think of Sri Ramanuja as a great social revolutionary. It is that true his acts are revolutionary from our perspective. But for him and those around him, they flowed naturally from the Sri Vaishnava precepts, removing the pollutants resulting from social stagnation. The result has been invigorating for social emancipation without conflicts and hatred against any section of the society.
We find gender equality, eco-activism, social equality in almost all domains today, and consider them 'leftist'. Sri Vaishnavism has provided better proved algorithms to achieve positive results for such issues with no human tragedy through centuries of serving the divine.
When reading Indian history, we learn that Adi Sankara installed the four maths in the four corners of India to reassert and reinforce the spiritual unity of the country. But, what is left unsaid is the fact that but for Sri Ramanuja, the very existence of India would have ceased. It is said that but for Khalsa and the Maratha movement, the expansionist invaders would have swept across north India. But for Sri Ramananda’s Bhakti movement, the Khalsa and Maratha movement would not have appeared on the scene at all. But for Sri Ramananda, the Bhakti movement would not have flowered in north India at those crucial times of alien invasions. But for Sri Ramanuja we would not have had a Sri Ramananda.
While we talk a lot about Sri Ramanuja as a social reformer, we often forget this very important contribution of this saint - the very existence and integrity of India. In the Tamil Nadu where he was born, the land which seemed lost to pseudo-rationalist politics, there is now a timely rekindling of interest in Ramanuja. Amruvi Devanathan, a Singapore-based Tamil writer has come up with a novel which relates the life of Sri Ramanuja in first person narrative. It sheds light on essentially the philosophy of the saint. Though filled with philosophical intricacies, the book has proved to be a bestseller in Tamil.
Pa.Raghavan, a popular Tamil writer, who has carved a vast following of fans among youths, has brought out as a serial the life of Sri Ramanuja in a widely read Tamil newspaper Dina Malar. The 108-part series which appeared every day has been received enthusiastically by Tamil readers. All these may point to a timely revival of Sri Vaishnavism as a socio-spiritual movement in Tamil Nadu. If that materialises in this 1000th year of Sri Ramanuja, then what more joy can humanity hope for.
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