Ramanuja was a Hindu theologian, philosopher, and scriptural exegete, born in a Tamil Brahmin family in the village of Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. He is also known as Sri Ramanujacharya, Udayavar, Ethirajar (Yatiraja), Emberumannar and Lakshmana Muni. He is seen by Sri Vaishnavism as the most important acharya (teacher) of their tradition who followed Nathamuni and Yamunacharya, and by Hindus in general as the leading expounder of Vishishtadvaita, one of the classical interpretations of the dominant Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.
The traditional biographies of Ramanuja place his life in the period of 1017–1137 CE, yielding a lifespan of 120 years. Any chronology depends crucially on the major historical event mentioned in the traditional biographies: the persecution of Srivaishnavas under the Chola king Kulothunga and Ramanuja's subsequent years of exile in Melkote, in Karnataka.
In 1917, T. A. Gopinatha Rao proposed a chronology based on the traditional lifetime of 1017–1137. He identified the Chola king with Kulothunga Chola I , and dated the exile to Melkote from 1079 to 1126 CE (Rao 1923 cited in Carman 1974:45). However, this would extend the period of exile to 47 years, and in any case, Kulothunga I wasn't known for being an intolerate Shaivite.
A different chronology was proposed by T. N. Subramanian, an official in the Madras government . This chronology identifies the Chola King with Kulothunga Chola II, who reigned from 1133–50 and was - also arguably - known for his persecution of Vaisnavites. It puts Ramanuja's exile from c. 1137 to 1148. Subramanian's hypothesis is aided by a fragment from the late Tamil biography Rāmānujārya Divya Caritai, which states that Ramanuja completed his most important work, the Śrībhāṣya, in 1155–56. Nevertheless, temple inscriptions in Karnataka indicate the presence of Ramanuja and his disciples before 1137. Carman (1974:45) hypothesizes that the traditional biographers conflated two different visits to Mysore into one. This later chronology has been accepted by several scholars, yielding a tentative lifetime of 1077–1157.
By the 5th century, the South Indian religious scene was diverse, with popular religion existing alongside Vedic sacrifice and non-Vedic traditions like Buddhism and Jainism. Indeed, the title character of the 6th century Tamil Buddhist epic Manimekalai is advised at one point to study the various Hindu schools of philosophy, such as Sankhya and Vaisheshika as well as Buddhism, Ajivika, Cārvāka, and Jainism. It was in this context that fears of a Buddhist or Jain takeover spurred a large Hindu revival that reached its peak in the 7th century and continued nearly into the 2nd millennium.
The popular aspects of this revival took the shape of several mystical and passionate bhakti movements, represented on the Sri Sampradaya side by the twelve alvars. The alvars came from a variety of social strata; their ranks include shudras and one woman. The intense devotionalism of their poetry and insistence that caste and sex are no barrier to a relationship with the Divine is uncharacteristic of classical Vedic thought, which laid a strong emphasis on the performance of the social and religious duties proper to one's place in the social structure. Some of these were collected into a definitive canon known as the Nālāyira Divya Prabandha ("divine composition of 4000 verses"), by Nathamuni in the 10th century, and came to be seen as a source of revelation equal in authority to the Vedas in the Śrīvaiṣṇava community.
On the philosophical side, this period saw the rise of the Vedanta school of philosophy, which focused on the elucidation and exegesis of the speculative and philosophical Vedic commentaries known as the Upanishads. The Advaita, or non-dualist interpretation of Vedanta was developed in this time by Adi Shankara and later by Maṇḍana Miśra. It argued that the Brahman presented in the Upanishads is the static and undifferentiated absolute reality, and that the ultimately false perception of difference is due to avidyā, or ignorance.
The goal of proving the Vedantic legitimacy of the popular conception of a personal deity and a genuine personal identity essentially characterizes Ramanuja's project, and the Advaitin school presents a natural object for his polemics. It is this synthesis between the classical Sanskrit writings and the popular Tamil poetry that is the source of one of the names of Ramanuja's system: Ubhaya Vedānta, or "Vedanta of both kinds."
In dealing with the lives of the Vedantic teachers, there is little in the way of actual history, and it is thus necessary to make reference to the many hagiographical works—both in verse and prose—that form a major genre in both Sanskrit and South Indian vernaculars.
The earliest such hagiographies in prose is the Ārāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāva (not to be confused with the well-known commentary on the Divya Prabandha of the same length, also commonly referred to as the "Six Thousand"). This was written by Piṉpaḻakiya Perumāḷ Jīyar in the 13th century in a highly Sanskritized dialect of Tamil known as Maṇipravāla. Perhaps earlier was a Sanskrit work of poetry, the Divya Sūri Carita or Acts of the Divine Sages, probably written in the 12th century by Garuḍavāhaṇa Paṇḍita, a contemporary disciple of Ramanuja's.
In later times, a number of traditional biographies proliferated, such as the 16th or 17th century Sanskrit work Prapannāmṛta and, following the split of the Śrīvaiṣṇava community into the Vadakalais and Teṉkalais. The Muvāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāva or the "Three Thousand" Splendor of the Succession of Teachers by Brahmatantra Svatantra Jīyar represents the earliest Vadakalai biography, and reflects the Vadakalai view of the succession following Ramanuja. Ārāyirappaṭi Guruparamparāprabhāva, or "Six Thousand" Splendor of the Succession of Teachers referred in the previous paragraph represents the Tenkalai biography.
Ramanuja was born Ilaya Perumal in a Brahmin family in the village of Perumbudur, Tamil Nadu, India. His father was Asuri Keshava Somayaji Deekshitar and mother was Kanthimathi.
Legend goes that on hearing the vow, the three fingers on the corpse straightened.
Ramanuja accepted Yamunacharya as his Manasika Acharya and spent 6 months being introduced to Yamunacharya's philosophy by his disciple, Mahapurna although he didn't formally join the community for another year. Ramanuja's wife followed very strict brahminical rules of the time and disparaged Mahapurna's wife as being of lower subcaste. Mahapurna and his wife left Srirangam. Ramanuja realized that his life as a householder was interfering with his philosophical pursuit as he and his wife had differing views. He sent her to her parents' house and renounced family and became a sanyasin.
Ramanuja started travelling the land, having philosophical debates with the custodians of various Vishnu temples. Many of them, after losing the debates, became his disciples. Ramanuja standardized the liturgy at these temples and increased the standing and the membership of the srivaishnava school of thought. He wrote his books during this time.
Ramanuja, who was a Srivaishnavite, has faced threats from some Shaivite Chola rulers who were religiously followers of Shiva. Ramanuja and a few of his followers moved to the Hoysala kingdom of Jain king Bittideva and queen Shantala Devi in Karnataka.
According to historian Alkandavilli Govindāchārya, Bitti Deva and his chief queen Shantala Devi had a sick daughter. She was possessed by an evil spirit and the Vaishnavite saint Ramanuja is said to have cured her. After this episode it is said that Bitti Deva embraced Vaishnavism. But from his inscriptions in the Hassan district, his daughter by one of his queens called Shantala Devi, died during his reign.
He treated all the people as equal without considering their castes. At those time low caste people were prohibited inside the temples. He lead the low caste people into the temples in many places. Due to these, he is praised as a Social reformer.
Ramanuja may have written 9 books. They are also referred to as the nine precious gems, the Navaratnas.
Harold Coward describes Ramanuja as "the founding interpreter of [Sri Vaisnavite] scripture." Although a collator and interpreter rather than an original thinker, there was originality in his method of synthesising the Tamil and Sanskrit texts.
Ramanuja's thiruvarasu is the Ramanuja shrine (sannidi) located inside the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple (periyakoyil or simply koyil) Srirangam, Tamil Nadu within the temple complex, where he attained his Acharyan Thiruvadi (the lotus foot of his Acharya).The Body of the saint(thirumeni) is placed inside the Sri Ramanuja shrine in "Padmasanam" (folded leg posture). It is anointed with chandan (sandalwood paste) and saffron (kungumappoo) twice a year. His shrine is open to the general public for darshan. Acharya Sri Ramanuja is believed to be the titular administrator the Srirangam temple.
Meaning: Let the most Magnificent instruction of Sri Ramanuja increase and pervade through all countries at all times, without any hindrance.