Friday, April 30, 2010

Sri Ramanujacharya's Saranagati Gadyam: Dimensions of Lord Hari's Benevolence

Bhagavad Ramanujacharya (AD 1017-1137), the great scholar, philosopher, social reformer, and reviver of Vaishnavism in Tamil Nadu has written a total of nine works, all in Sanskrit. Sri Ramanujacharya focused on the doctrine of surrender to Lord Narayana as per the Vedic texts, as a means to reach Him and be in His eternal service. It is said that this Acharya went to Srirangam and pleaded with Lord Ranganatha (name of Lord Vasudeva at Srirangam) to offer this supreme fruit of liberation cum eternal service to Him in the spiritual world to those who take refuge under him (Ramanujacharya) during the Acharya's time and for ever after that. Sri Ramanujacharya himself wrote down, in prosaic style, the manner in which he surrendered to Lord Ranganatha, in three different texts: Saranagathi Gadyam, Sriranga Gadyam, and Vaikunta Gadyam. These three texts expound on the finer points of the doctrine of surrender. Together, they are known as the "Gadya Trayam (gadya trayam)", which means "The Prosaic Trilogy".

 Lord as Ranganatha (main deity, known as periyaperumAL in Tamil) and namperumAL (utsava deity) in Srirangam

In the Saranagathi Gadyam, Bhagavad Ramanujacharya pleads with Sri Narayana by enumerating the latter's divine attributes. The divine attribute of audArya (Generosity, Benevolence, or Magnanimity in English), which is the current subject matter for us, has been invoked by Sri Ramanujacharya in two key places. We are going to understand these two instances with the help of extant commentaries written by later Acharyas of the Ramanuja tradition.

Bhagavad Ramanujacharya

Two commentaries to the Gadya Trayam are available today. The first one is authored by Sri Sudarsana Suri -- the author of the celebrated Sruta Prakashika, a sub-commentary on the Sri Bhashya of Bhagavad Ramanuja Acharya. It is written in Sanskrit. The other commentary is by Sri Periya Vachan Pillai, the celebrated commentator of the entire 4000 Divya Prabandhas, written in chaste Manipravala (maNipravALa) style (a style of writing that combines both Sanskrit and Tamil). The two commentaries explain the divine attribute of benevolence by exploring its manifoldness and detailing its dimensions. It is indeed an enjoyment to read the commentaries of these two great Acharyas at these two instances of interest to us.

(1) The first instance of "audArya": 

Here, Sri Sudarsana Bhattar gives three definitions for this divine attribute of the Lord:
A. While giving generously, the Lord does not think that He is giving to some stranger. He thinks thus: "This person who has come to me is verily my own son. So he has the right to obtain and enjoy all these from me."
B. The Lord does not maintain accounts of what was given and how much was given by Him. He just gives.
C. Even though He gives everything graciously, He is not satisfied if He doesn't give more. (Sri Sudarsana Bhattar cites the instance of Draupadi here).
Sri Periya Vachan Pillai says: "aashritaruDaiya apEkSitangaLai tAnE irandu koDukkai", meaning: "(the nature of) granting what His devotees want, with mercy and compassion." This Acharya cites here the following three verses from scriptures: 
A. Yajur Veda, Khata Shakha, 7-5-36: "ya AtmadA baladAH", meaning: "The Supreme Person (The Lord) who grants even Himself as well as all the means to enjoy Him."
B. Ramayana (Ayodhya Khanda 16.27): Not only does He give Himself in the manner explained above, but He even greets and pleases those who came to Him before giving. Poet Valmiki Bhagavan says thus in this citation: "atha madhyama-kakSyAyAM...sametya pratinandyaca", meaning -- "Then, that Prince, the Best of men, met His friends in the middle chamber. He saw all the people who came there to behold Him, approached nearer to them, greeted them and mounted the excellent chariot."
 C. Gita 7.18: "udArAs sarva evaite j~nAnI tvAtmaiva me matam". In this verse, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that He considers the man of wisdom (j~nAnI) to be verily His supporter. Thus, Lord Krishna is so generous that He celebrates those who come to Him for some benefit as "ones who gives support and strength to Him"!

(2) Second instance of "audArya":

Acharya Sri Sudarsana Bhattar writes "as explained before" here, but Sri Periya Vachan Pillai opts to give an additional dimension of the Lord's generosity. This Acharya says that when the Lord grants what His devotees desire, He conducts Himself as if some desire of His own is met! Even though He is of infinite generosity and does everything for the devotees, He feels within Himself thus: "I have not done enough for my children".

Sri Periya Vachan Pillai cites here the Mahabharata verse (Udyoga-Parva, 47-22: "govindeti yadAkrandat...hRdayAnnA pasarppati") which says that Lord Sri Krishna constantly recalls the incident when Draupadi called Him for help, as if He still has not fulfilled her wish, even though He did save Draupadi from being disgraced. He still recalls her call for help even after the Pandavas won the great war against the Kauravas and got back their kingdom. The Acharya also quotes Nammazhwar's Periya Thiruvandadi (periya tiruvandAdi), verse 53, which says: "Oh Lord, You are constantly under the thought about what you will do next for your devotees" ("unnaDiyArkku enseyvEnenRE irutti nI").
Lord Krishna protects the honor of Draupadi

Thus, great Acharyas, including Sri Adi Sankaracharya as we saw in the last two posts, have elaborated on Supreme Lord Narayana's generosity and magnanimity in many different ways, for us to contemplate upon. We will continue further in the next post.


[1] Thanks- for providing freely downloadable books on the works of Srivaishnava Purvacharyas.

[2] Humble prostrations to Sri Puttur Krishnaswamy Iyengar (Sri Sudarsanam Swamy) for the voluminous books published for the benefit of all mankind. I found this kind Swamin's Gadyatraya Bhashyam book (containing Sri Sudarsana Bhattar's and Sri Periya Vachan Pillai's commentaries) immensely helpful in writing this article. The book can be downloaded here.

[3] The genesis of the idea for this article was a google search on "ஔதார்யம்" that resulted in stumbling upon this beautiful blog posting in Tamil. Many thanks to the author of this blog!

[4] Valmiki Ramayana translations on the web:,

[5] A version of the Mahabharata verse quoted in the article can be found in the form of verse 21 on this page.


  1. your post is very good. I belong sri Vashinavte family .I want to have gadya trayam commentary books in telugu

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Sorry for the late response. Please approach Sri Vaishnava Sri Chennai office, as they may be of help in getting the books in Telugu.

    Your servant.


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