On 5th February 2022, PM Narendra Modi is inaugurating the Statue of Equality at Muchintal near Hyderabad in Telangana. The 216-feet tall Statue of Equality commemorates the 11th-century Bhakti Saint Sri Ramanujacharya, who promoted the idea of equality in all aspects of living including faith, caste and creed. The Statue is made of ‘panchaloha’, a combination of five metals- gold, silver, copper, brass, and zync, and is among one of the tallest metallic statues in sitting position in the world.
The statue is mounted on a 54-ft high base building named ‘Bhadra Vedi’, which has floors devoted to a Vedic digital library and research centre, ancient Indian texts, a theatre, an educational gallery detailing many works of Sri Ramanujacharya. The statue has been conceptualised by Sri Chinna Jeeyar Swami of Sri Ramanujacharya Ashram.
Sri Ramanujacharya worked tirelessly for the upliftment of people with the spirit of every human being equal regardless of nationality, gender, race, caste or creed. The inauguration of the Statue of Equality is a part of the 12-day Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi Samaroham, the ongoing 1000th birth anniversary celebrations of Sri Ramanujacharya. On this occasion, it becomes necessary to remember the saint who transformed the Vaishnav tradition of devotion ten centuries ago.
Ramanujacharya had put a strong foundation of the Bhakti Marga
Ramanujacharya is also known as Bhagvad Ramanuja. He was born in 1017AD in a Tamil Brahmin family in a village Sriperumbudur which is presently in the Tamilnadu state. His mother’s name was Kanthimathi. Keshava was his father. In 120 years of his life, he went on to put the strong foundation of Bhakti Marga, which continued to inspire the devotional movement that spread across the Bharata in centuries to come.
Ramanujacharya is the pioneer of the Vishishtadvaita (qualified monism) doctrine of the Vedanta philosophy. After being initiated by Vidyavrata Sanskara rituals at the age of eight, he joined a local traditional Gurukul to study Vedic scriptures. Ramanujacharya continued his pursuit of knowledge even after his marriage. He moved to Kanchipuram where he studied in the Advaita Vedanta school of thought under the guidance of his master Yadav Prakash.
Ramanujacharya had studied and contributed to Vedanta philosophy
As the name of the school suggests, it was one of the schools following the Advaita philosophy as defined by Adi Shankaracharya. To put it in simpler terms, the basic principle of this Vedanta doctrine is that Brahman (the God or Ishwara) and Atman (oneself, devotee) are one and the same. The physical reality that separates Atman from the notion of this oneness is called ‘Maya’. ‘Maya’ is a Sanskrit word that literally means ‘that which is not.’
Ramanuja frequently had disagreements with his Guru while interpreting Vedic texts especially the Upanishads with this postulate of the Advaita. So he separated from his Guru Yadav Prakash. After this, he continued his journey in the direction of discovering the new meanings of Vedic literature on his own. Departed from his Guru, he started working as a priest in the Varadaraja Perumal Temple of Kanchipuram.
What is Vishishtadvaita as defined by Ramanujacharya?
It was only in the Varadaraja Perumal Temple that Ramanujacharya started teaching that ‘Moksha is not necessarily contemplating the Brahman or getting liberated from the birth-death cycle as understood by many others, but it is an experience of joy that results from devotion, praise, worship, and contemplating the divine perfection.’
Ramanujacharya had put forth that ‘though the God and his devotee have separate existences, the elixir of their cosmic oneness can certainly be experienced and this is a very personal experience for oneself. Therefore, all the differences amongst the humans on the basis of caste or gender should be straightaway discarded and everyone be equally regarded.’ It is this teaching of him due to which his statue being inaugurated by Narendra Modi is named as the statue of equality.
Ramanujacharya was the greatest social reformer of his times
When initiated in the Vaishnava school of thought, Ramanujacharya had received his Deeksha from Kanchipurna Swami, a Shudra disciple of Yamunacharya. Here it is notable that Yamunacharya himself came from a royal family leaving behind his kinglihood and was revered as the one who has given up everything when at the peak of prosperity. Not to forget that all this has happened in Tamilnadu, the home state to Periyar Ramaswami who unfortunately found himself from the other end of the thought process and encouraged and preached caste-based hatred amongst people under the garb of social justice and reforms.
Even while bearing the responsibility as the descendent of his Guru, Ramanujacharya had opened the doors of the Vaishnava doctrine for everyone barring the differences of caste, gender, economic class and social background. Ramanujacharya connected people with a single common thread of Bhakti. This is why attempts were made to kill him.
As mentioned by Vishwanath Mukherji in the thirteenth volume of his series ‘Bharat Ke Mahan Yogi’, Ramanujacharya had taken and completed three vows while being initiated as a Vaishnav devotee. One of them was to bring the ‘Brahmasutra’ scriptures in front of the common masses in a way they would better understand them. This is why he went on to write commentaries on Vedic scriptures.
Ramanujacharya had followed another Saint of his times, Swami Goshthipurna, to receive sacred mantras from him. Ramanujacharya was denied the mantras 18 times as he was always accompanied by at least two of his own disciples. He could receive these mantras only when he met Swami Goshthipurna in solitude and was advised to keep them secret. But as soon as he came out to meet the people, he started chanting those mantras aloud. The reason behind this as told by Ramanujacharya himself was ‘there is no greater salvation than sharing the divine knowing with the ones who are deprived.’
Writings of Ramanujacharya
Through conversations with his disciples, devotees and his colleagues, Ramanujacharya realized that any philosophy cannot be sustained by merely making disciples and preaching to people. For this, it is necessary that the texts of earlier scholars should be rewritten so that the whole philosophy can be accessible to the common masses. To give effect to this idea, Ramanujacharya started writing the commentary of ‘Brahmasutra’. It is known as ‘Sri Bhashya’. Ramanujacharya composed other texts named ‘Vedantadeep’, ‘Vedantasar Sangrah’, ‘Geetabhashya’, ‘Nityaradhana-Vidhi’ and ‘Gadyatraya’. After the writing works of these texts was over, Ramanujacharya left for a tour of Bharat.
Uniting the nation through the Bhakti movement
In his Bharat tour, Ramanujacharya went on to establish Vishnu temples and muths at 108 different places. He had also visited the farthest situated Sharada Peeth of Kashmir for getting references of some scriptures needed for his next writing. Worshipping of Vishnu incarnations Lord Rama and Lord Krishna in north India have a great influence on Ramanujacharya.
During his times, Ramanujacharya had ensured that every single temple and the muth has qualified teachers who teach Vedanta philosophy to everyone who approached with the intent of learning. These schools made sure that the Sanatan (Hindu) faith in the people manifests as a personal bond between the individual and his deity experienced and lived in one’s daily practice rather than becoming a blind cult. Ramanujacharya left the body in 1137 CE only after consecrating his own Prastar Murti (actual live replica) at Sriranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam in Tamilnadu. This life-size murti has been an inspiration for many devotees.
Impact of Ramanujacharya and the Bhakti movement he initiated
The standardization of the rituals in the Bhakti movement has come from the southern part of the nation. Other great philosophers of Bhakti namely Nimbarkacharya, Madhvacharya and Vallabhacharya also hail from the Deccan. They are either contemporary to Ramanujacharya or from the following centuries. Therefore it is well said that भक्ति द्रविडे उपजी, उत्तर लाए रामानन्द, परगट कियो कबीर ने, सात धर्म नौ खंड which means ‘Bhakti first appeared in the southern part of the nation, Ramananda (14th generation of Ramanujacharya’s disciple) expanded it in the north and Kabir revealed the deepest of the secrets of Bhakti to the world.’
From Meerabai and Narsi Mehta in the west to Ramkrishna Paramhans and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the east, the effects of the Bhakti movement on the nation have marked their remarkable and longlasting impression. Warkari movement in Maharashtra which is still alive with annual gatherings of more than 25 lakh pilgrims at Pandharpur has drawn almost all its philosophy from Ramanujacharya’s teaching. Bhakti literature by eminent Marathi Saint poets is the similar philosophy of personal bond between the deity and the devotee as told in the regional language of common masses.
In the Islamic invasions that followed, it was this personal bond of individuals with their deity which made it difficult for the religiously motivated invaders to preach to people and inspire them to convert to their faith, because it is always a tough task to convert every individual separately than to bring a whole lot of people into the religion at once. With people of all castes being covered under the umbrella of the profound Bhakti philosophy, conversion became an uphill task for the Islamic invaders. It, therefore, becomes evident that there were fewer willful conversions and more forced conversions as the Islamic rule spread in the medieval centuries.
Statue of Equality
To honour the great philosopher Ramanujacharya, in 2017 – the year of his 1000th birth anniversary, Vaishnava ascetic Chinna Jeeyar came up with the idea of erecting Ramanujacharya’s 216 feet high statue to commemorate his teachings. It is built on an approximately 35-acre site near Hyderabad in Telangana. The statue is surrounded by 108 small temples called Divyadesam. On the walls and pillars of these temples, the life of Ramanujacharya is inscribed.
The complex also includes a library and research centre. On the upper floor, there is a temple in which a 120kg gold idol of Ramanujacharya is established and consecrated for performing daily rituals. The grand 216 feet statue is made of Panchaloha, which is five metallic elements viz. gold, silver, copper, brass and zync. There are 5 lotus petals, 27 Padma Peetham, 36 elephants, and 108 steps have been made to reach the statue. Along with an Omnimax theatre and Vedic school on the premises, this monument becomes a state of the art ancient knowledge centre in the new India. On 5th February 2022, on the occasion of Basant Panchami, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is inaugurating the statue of equality.