Sri Ramanujacharya, who appeared in present-day India in 1017, is well known as Jagadacharya (spiritual guru/preceptor for the world), who has systematized Vishistadvaita Vedanta School (the other 2 well known Vedanta schools being the Advaita school of Adi Sankara and the Dvaita school of Madhva), and as the preeminent/central Acharya (Guru) of the glorious spiritual tradition called Srivaishnavam, of which the first Acharya (Guru) is God Himself.
Sri Ramanujacharya is also known as a social reformer because He called the so-called outcasts as Thirukkulathar (people of the sacred lineage) and took them into temples approximately 1000 years ago. He showered His grace equally on jivas (living entities) regardless of caste, creed, etc. He is also known for social welfare projects such as the Thondannur lake that He built and which still brims with water like in an ocean, even today.
What is not well-known is that Sri Ramanujacharya is a Savior who descended to this planet to rescue jivas (living entities) from the birth-death cycle (called samsāra) and deliver them into eternal loving service of God in Vaikuntha (called Moksha). Not content with showing a path (Bhakti Yoga, Prapatti/Saranagati) to His followers, He Himself became their deliverer. He is thus an Uttāraka (takes us across samsāra) and Uddhāraka (uplifter of jiva) Acharya. Thus, a Jagath Uttāraka/Uddhāraka Acharya, in English, a Savior/Saviour for the entire world, in short, a World Savior.
The chief reason the Saviorship aspect is not well-known is because it wasn’t to be cheaply and casually paraded out in the open but only divulged to those that have become interested in Vishistadvaita and/or Sri Ramanujacharya and approach one of the 74 successor seats that Sri Ramanujacharya established to propagate the Vishistadvaita philosophy and conduct.
But we now live in the information age. All sorts of information on all sorts of topics is now out in the open and if something is not out there in the open, it is deemed to not exist. Secondly, there are many saviors being propagated in India and all over the world. It’s imperative, then, that Sri Ramanujacharya’s saviourship must be widely propagated. Witholding information on the great refuge provided by Sri Ramanujacharya’s lotus feet, in this day and age, when most people are no longer tied strongly to erstwhile Mutts/Mathas and are looking for spiritual succour, would be considered cruel/heartless, which totally goes against what it means to be a Srivaishnava (follower of Sri Ramanujacharya). Also see, Why propagate?
Srimath Paramahamsa Ithyadi Sri Kaliyan Vanamamalai Ramanuja Jeeyar Swamivaru, the 30th peetadhipati (head) of the venerable Vanamamalai Mutt (a preeminent seat of Srivaishnavam) has ordered that Acharyabhimana (Savior’s grace) and Acharyanishta (self, oblated to service of Savior) which are the quintessence of Srivaishnavam, be widely propagated across the length and breadth of this planet.
We will take the opportunity of the sahasrabdi (millennium) celebrations in this year 2017, celebrating the 1000 years since Sri Ramanujacharya’s appearance, to propagate Sri Ramanujacharya’s uttārakathvam/uddhārakathvam (saviourship) far and wide.
Lord Krishna (God) descended over 5000 years ago and revealed Himself as the easiest and natural means (Saviour), via prapatti/saranagati (loving surrender), for a jiva (living entity) to escape the birth-death cycle (samsāra) and reach Vaikuntha (spiritual universe) and be in eternal loving service of God. The Lord revealed Himself to be directly the Savior in previous avatars (as Lord Rama, for example) as well.
There’s, however, an ultimate 5th “means” beyond Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Prapatti/Saranagati, called Acharyabhimana (Savior’s grace). From Artha Panchaka of Sri Pillai Lokacharya, translated by Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya, published in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1910 :
Acharyabhimāna is either resort to the Mediator by the aspirant for salvation, or resort to the saved by the Mediator Himself from His own free choice. This fifth Means of Salvation possesses the virtue of being within the nearest reach of mankind, as contra-distinguished from all the other Means [Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Prapatti/Saranagati] aforesaid. These no doubt prescribe God as the object for resort, but He is so beyond the reach of mankind’s senses, minds, and hearts, as to forbid His being used in the manner of other objects more accessible. This want is supplied by the Mediator, insomuch as he is tangibly present in the midst of mankind, as one of their own, and therefore so accessible and so within reach, that the work of salvation becomes for souls, so to say, a practical reality. This contrivance in the Scheme of Salvation has been devised by God Himself, in the manner of the mother feeling love for her child, and the Mediator, patent to all mankind, is the result. The Mediator sees his children as weak and helpless, incapable of shifting for themselves. He stretches his hand down to them, on the one side, to lift them up, and he stretches his hand up, on the other side, to present them to God as fit objects for His mercy and compassion. The function of the Mediator is thus twofold. He is the Mother who is ready to sacrifice her own comfort by voluntarily treating herself to medicine and regimen for the sake of saving the sick child, and he is the Servant who, by such act of self-sacrifice, performs a great deed that pleases his Master, God, who, of course, in the first instance delegated him, or deputed him, for this loving task. He submits to personal suffering in order to redeem the fallen. The Mediator, then, is the Ready Means, under the grace of which souls may take refuge and shape their conduct entirely at his sole bidding. The resort to a Mediator is both an independent Means and an auxiliary Means to the other Means aforesaid, just as God Himself, the Eternal, is both directly the Goal, and indirectly the Goal as the Spirit indwelling in all the lesser [divinities] of the Pantheon.
Further, in the article by Sri Yogi Parthasarathy Iyengar, a Srivaishnava Acharya, read out at Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893:
Ramanujacharya is venerated as a saviour, and still more is Krishna, identical with Rama and an incarnation of God. Faith consists in trusting him; it has no limits. It is the true method of salvation, for which all other means should be abandoned. He who trusts in the Saviour, simply abandoning himself to him without effort of his own, will, by God’s free grace, without regard to merit, be led through all stages of progress, from the abandonment of hatred to the service of God and the godly. The good deeds of him who does not so trust appear sins to God, while the very sins of him who trusts may appear virtues.
So, it was in the year 1017 that, Adi Sesha, an intimate servant of the Lord in Vaikuntha (spiritual universe), descended by the will of Sriman Narayana (God/The High Lord of Vaikuntham, the universal Father together with Sri, the universal Mother), as Sri Ramanujacharya, with the express purpose of propagating far and wide, the true purport of Veda/Vedanta as the systematized philosophy that later came to be known as Vishishtadvaitam, and to rescue the suffering jivas from the birth-death cycle into eternal loving service of God in Vaikuntha. Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya mentions in the preface to Gitabhashya 1898:
Sri Rāmānujāchārya, according to tradition, is no other than Ādi Śesha himself incarnated on earth as one of the Spiritual Saviors of mankind, according to the requirements of time, country and people. The tradition alluded to tells us:—
‘Anantaḥ prathamam rūpam, lakshmaṇaś cha tataḥ param,
Balabhadras tṛitiyas tu kalau kaśchit bhavishyati.’
I.e., He (Ananta or Śesha, the Symbol of Eternity) who became Lakshmaṇa (the brother of Sri Rama in the Treata-age), who became Balabhadra (the brother of Sri Krishna in the Dvāpara-age), became Śri Rāmānuja in the Kali-age.
A few of the instances in the life of Sri Ramanujacharya that establish His saviorship will now be briefly recollected.
Emperumanar (More merciful than God Himself)
Sri Goshtipurna, one of the preceptors (Gurus) of Sri Ramanujacharya, bestowed the title Emperumanar (more compassionate than God Himself)  after Sri Ramanujacharya disclosed the truths/meaning of one of the Rahasya traya (3 esoteric mantras/slokam in Srivaishnavam), to all, even accepting the possibility of Himself going to hell for unauthorizedly disclosing the truths, if all others would be saved from the birth-death cycle by receiving the truths.
From Ramanuja’s Greatness :
“Here are two Holy Names”, Kūrēsa often said, “namely, Nā-rā-ya-ṇa and Rā-mā-nu-ja, each is made up of four syllables. But Nārāyaṇa as denoting God, can both save [from the birth-death cycle] and damn [punish for our sins], but Rāmānuja as Saviour, can only save. In this consists our stay, strength and safety”.
Udayavar (Owner of both spiritual and material universes)
The name Udayavar (owner) was bestowed by Sri Ranganatha (God)  after Sri Ranganatha bestowed ownership of the Nitya (spiritual) and Leela (material) universes on Sri Ramanujacharya. Only those that own/control both the material and spiritual universes can deliver jivas (living entities) from the material universe (Leela vibhuti) to the spiritual universe (Nithya vibhuti). Per Charama upāya nirṇayam (Establishing the ultimate path for salvation) only God Himself, His dear devotee Saint Nammazhwar (who presented Sri Ramanujacharya’s murthy [image] as the future savior to appear) and Sri Ramanujacharya possess that power by virtue of owning/controlling both the material and spiritual universes.
Moksha for Tumbaiyur Kondi
From Ramanuja’s Greatness :
Lord Srinivasa [Balaji/God] confirmed this grant by His holy word also and to prove that this was not mere flattery, it is written that a milkmaid by name Tumbaiyur Kondi, was supplying curds to Ramanuja. When he was once on his way to Tirupati, the woman appeared and presented her bill for payment. Ramanuja commanded Kidambi-Acchan to give her food in the Math. She ate and coming to Ramanuja, prostrated to him and submitted to him that she had a favour to ask. He bade her ask it. She said: “Holy sire, desire not payment in coin for my curds, but grant me Moksha [eternal loving service to God in Vaikuntha (spiritual universe)] instead.” “But that power I possess not,” replied Ramanuja, “Lord Srinivasa alone can grant your prayer”. “Then give me written permit, sire, to take to the Lord” asked she. Ramanuja, over-come by her faith, gave her one. She forthwith ascended the Sacred Mount, but she had hardly reached the summit, before the Lord Himself met her on the way, and receiving the permit, gave her Moksha on the spot.
Securing Moksha for His sambandhis (followers)
On a Panguni Uthiram day in Sri Rangam, when both universal mother Mahalakshmi and universal father Sri Ranganatha (God) were seated together, Sri Ramanujacharya first performed Śaranagati (living surrender) to mother Mahalakshmi and then to Namperumal (Sri Ranganatha). Not satisfied with liberation from samsāra and eternal loving service in Vaikuntha just for Himself, Sri Ramanujacharya pleaded for the same for all of His followers to come forever. Namperumal was stunned by Ramanuja’s magnanimity and said “Granted!” .
Lord further asserts Sri Ramanujacharya’s saviorship in this episode of prapatti/saranagati (loving surrender) directly to Himself:
On another occassion, Kidambi-acchan repeated before the Lord the verse: Aparadha ….(Stotra Ratna), in which the expression agatim: ‘wayless’ occurs. “How dare you utter this,” interrupted the Lord, “when you have Ramanuja for your ‘way’”?.
Assertion of Moksha for His sambandhis (followers)
From Ramanuja’s Greatness :
Ramanuja was one day conducting his ministry in his congregation, taking up the Doctrine of God’s Free Grace to frail humanity, as illustrated by Ramayana. Vibhishana, though born among the demons (Rakshasas), was angelic in nature. He tried to dissuade his brother Ravana from his evil ways, but he would not listen so he severed himself swiftly from all connection with him, and soaring into the sky, crossed the ocean with four attendants and coming to Lord Rama, who was encamped with his army on the other shore, cried thus:-
‘O Rama,’ thus he cried, ‘in me, Vibhishan, Ravan’s brother, see. By him disgraced your aid I seek, Sure refuge of the poor and weak. From Lanka, friends, and wealth fly. And reft of all on You rely. On You, the wretch’s firmest friend, My kingdom, joys and life depend’. [Ramayana, VI, 19.]
‘I left my children and my wife And fly to Raghu’s son for life’. [Ramayana, VI, 17.]
And yet the Vanar-chiefs of Lord Rama said to Him:-
‘Rama! We wait your word: the order give And these your foes shall cease to live. Command us, mighty king, and all, Lifeless upon the earth shall fall’. [Ramayana, VI, 17.]
On hearing this, Dhanurdasa stood up and cried:- “Godsire, if Vibhishana, who left wife, children and all in order to seek refuge with Rama, deserved to be stoned by Rama’s Vanar-chiefs, how much more indeed do I deserve that treatment, – I, who have made no renunciation at all like Vibhishana!!”.
“Peace,” cried Ramanuja, “Listen to me, my son, I will unfold to you the secrets of salvation. Sri, the spouse of Lord Narayana, ever stands by Him as our Mother-mediator. She is the personification of the most exalted attribute of God, viz., Grace or Mercy. When our Lord through Sri is ever anxious to shower His mercy unstintingly on His erring children on earth, what fear is there for us? We have an unbroken chain of apostles, reaching down to us from God, of which the first link is God, and His Grace, Sri, the next. St. Sathagopa (Nammazhwar) is the next important link and he has declared in unmistakable terms that he has obtained Heaven (moksha). If he has won it, Nathamuni has won; if Nathamuni has won, Yamuna has won; Yamuna winning, my next guru above me, Mahapurna, has won. If Purna has won, I have surely won. When I have, you have all indeed won. Take comfort then from this thought. Dvaya Mantra, which I have taught you, declares, as you are aware, the indissoluble unity of God with His Grace, Sri and an unbroken chain binds God and His creatures in one bond, from which it is impossible to escape and stand aloof. With me goes my flock. What I share it undoubtedly shares. The areca tree is watered by the gardener, but the plantain trees round it take the moisture as well. I and my church are linked together for one testing. My destiny shall invariably be its destiny. When Vibhishana was after all allowed to approach Lord Rama, no separate invitation to the four Rakshasa-men, who companied with him, was needed, nor when the Vanar-chiefs wished to drive him away, did they think of driving those four persons separately. In other words, the four persons counted with Vibhishana as one, in gains or losses. Even thus counts my flock with me. Hence, son! you may rest assured that if Heaven [Vaikuntham / Spiritual Universe / Eternal Kingdom of God] is mine, it is yours without question. As St. Bhaktisara [Thirumalisai Alvar] has said; ‘the flock has even more merit than the shepherd,’ Satrughna has more merit in following Bharata, than Bharata, Lord Rama; St. Madhurakavi than St. Sathagopa; St. Andal than St. VishnuChitta, her father and so forth”.
74 Simhasan-adhipatis (Acharyas/Gurus)
Sri Ramanujacharya chose 74 of His innumerable followers, and conferred on them the title ‘Simhasan-adhipati’. He ordained that they, and after their time their successors, could perform panchasamskaram. . Anyone desirous of becoming a “Ramanuja sambandhi” (spiritually related to Sri Ramanujacharya) can take refuge at the lotus feet of any one of these 74 Sinhasanadhipatis (Upakāraka (beneficent) Acharyas) even today and undergo panchasamskara (5 sacraments of Srivaishnava faith). In becoming a “Ramanuja sambandhi” (spiritually related to Sri Ramanujacharya), one should acquire Artha Panchaka knowledge and must, under the guidance of Acharya, strive to adhere to the conduct specified in the Conclusion section , while avoiding the obstacles mentioned in the section on Virodhi Svarupa (Anti or Hostile Principles) , all the while conscious of the fact that it’s solely Acharyabhimana (Acharya’s grace/love) that saves us from the birth-death cycle, not our ability to acquire knowledge of Artha Panchaka or any other work for that matter, nor the act of undergoing panchasamskara itself. Acharyas’ instructions are to be followed to solely fulfill our own true nature (constitutional identity) of being an AchArya abhimAna nishtar (self, oblated to the service of Acharya/savior) and is not to be done as upAyam (means to an end).
Before returning to Vaikuntha, Sri Ramanujacharya granted the below 6 final instructions:
There are six ways by which you can usefully spend your days:
1. Read Sri Bhashya and teach it to others.
2. If that is above your level, read Tiruvaimozhi and make others read it.
3. If that is beyond your ken, build a hut in any holy land, and live there.
4. If that is impracticable, do services in a Temple.
5. If that is inconvenient, dwell ever on the profound truths contained in
the Holy Dvaya-Mantra.
6. If that also is difficult, take shelter or service under a holy man.
What we recollected briefly above are just a few of the highlights and verily drops in the ocean of Emperumanar’s Saviorship. The granthas (works) below capture more episodes in greater detail.
- Chapter 24 on Ramanuja’s Greatness from The Life of Râmânujâchârya (1906)
- charama upAya nirNayam (Establishing the ultimate path for salvation)
More information on Sri Ramanujacharya and the glorious spiritual tradition called Srivaishnavam that He systematized and propagated can be found on this page.
- Artha Panchaka of Sri Pillai Lokacharya, translated by Sri Alkondavilli Govindacharya, published in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1910 [pdf page 23]
- Sri Goshtipurna bestowed the title Emperumanar (more compassionate than God Himself) [pdf page 111]
- Ramanuja’s Greatness [pdf page 262]
- Udayavar (owner) was bestowed by Sri Ranganatha (God) [pdf page 92]
- Ramanuja’s Greatness [pdf page 250]
- Ramanuja’s Greatness [pdf page 259, simplified]
- Conclusion section of Artha Panchaka [pdf page 26]
- Artha Panchaka section on Virodhi Svarupa (Anti or Hostile Principles) [pdf page 24]
- kinchit.org 2017 Sahasrabdi calendar
- Sri Ramanujacharya’s six final instructions [pdf page 247]