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Updated: Aug 21, 2023

The little girl of Thirukolur queried, “advaitam vendrēno emperumānārai pola?”

One day in Srirangam, as was his wont, our Rāmānuja (emperumānār), singing Pasurams in praise of Perumal, started for his Mādhukaram (Bhikshai). Just then, some vehicles carrying big sacks stopped in front of him.

In one of the vehicles, one person was seated. He was Yagyamūrthi, an Advaita Sannyāsi highly knowledgeable in the Vedas, great scholar of Upanishads, and had won many debates. On seeing Rāmānuja, he got down from the vehicle and asked, “Are you Rāmānuja?” Rāmānuja answered, “Adiyēn (Yes, it is me).“

Yagyamūrthi said “I have heard that you have many sishyas in Srirangam, I want to have a debate and establish that Advaitam is ideal. These sacks that you see contain all of the palm leaf manuscripts I have written.”

Rāmānuja replied, “If that is Arangan’s wish, then I am ready.” Yagyamūrthi says, “If I lose, I will place your paduka (wooden sandals worn by acharyas) on my head, add your name to my name and accept your Vaishnava philosophy. If l win, what will you do for me?“ Rāmānuja says, “Vaishnavam as explained by Āzhwārs and great Āchāryas like Nāthamuni and Ālavandhār will never go wrong. If I lose, it will be my personal folly only, so I will no longer talk about Vaishnavam.”

At Karutthurai Mandapam, in front of Thāyār’s Sannidhi, both scholars gathered and sat in two groups. The debate and discussions went on for 16 days, with both participants on an equal footing.

As of the 17th day, it seemed like Yagyamūrthi was winning. Gleeful that his victory was near, he asked Rāmānuja, “Make arrangements for my victory celebration tomorrow!” Rāmānuja felt very sad, and was worried that his defeat may pose an obstacle to Sri Vaishnavam. He prayed to Kānchi Pērarulāla Perumāl, offered thaligai to Him and went to bed without eating anything.

In Rāmānuja’s dream, Kānchi Varadan appeared and revealed, “As a result of this debate, you are going to gain a good shishya. Seek guidance from Swāmi Ālavandhār’s granthas.”

Rāmānuja woke up immediately, his mind was clear. He went to the temple in the morning, prayed to Lord Varadan and took Swami Ālavandhār’s granthas along with him.

On seeing the confidence on Rāmānuja’s face,

On seeing the confidence on Rāmānuja’s face, Yagyamūrthi understood that Perumāl and Thāyār are on Rāmānuja’s team. Immediately Yagyamūrthi fell at Rāmānuja’s feet and accepted defeat, “Please forgive me. When Perumāl and Thāyār themselves are on your side, I don’t even stand a chance”.

Rāmānuja lifted up Yagyamūrthi and embraced him. Rāmānuja took him along for darshan of Namperumāl and Ranganāyaki Thaayar, accepted him as his student and gave the name ‘Arulāla Perumāl Emperumānār’ to Yagyamūrthi.

I am sure you are curious to know what took place in the 16-day debate, just as I am.

A Vaishnava is one who is clear that Sriman Nārāyana is supreme. Attaining him is the prime principle of Vaishnavam. With the help of the 4 Vedas and 10 Upanishad, 3 ideologies to reach the Supreme were established. These 3 ideologies laid out a definite path to attain Brahman but there are differences in all 3.

Let’s look at 2 of the ideologies.

First, is Advaitam by Sri Ādi Shankara, which teaches “Parambrahmam Sathyam”. Perumāl's presence is everywhere, but because of ‘Yogamāya” (materialistic illusion) we don’t realise it. Ignorance is the main cause of not realising the presence of ‘parabrahmam’, but ‘dhyānam’ (focus) can make it possible.

Second is ‘Vishishtādvaitam '' by Sri Rāmānuja, which accepts “Parabrahmam Sathyam”along with the concept that the Jīvātmā (living being) is a part of the Paramātmā. Jīvātmā came from Paramātmā. In this Jīvātmā, both the body-called achith and ātmā (soul) -called chith have relation with Bhagavān. The ātmā directs the body to perform functions. Thus, despite being two different things, they work together. To attain Paramātmā, Bhakti (Devotion) and ‘Sharanāgati’ (surrendering to the supreme) are the two paths.

“I do not have the bhakti, knowledge, vairāgya and resolve to establish the Vedic philosophy. So what rights do I have to live in Thirukōlur? “asked Thirukōlur Pen Pillai.

Ramanuja says, “You have explained everything very precisely, O child. Sriman Nārāyana is definitely the Supreme. He is the cause of all beings. After Pralayam (The Great Deluge) everything created by Him goes back inside Him.”

Thirukolur Pen replies, “So Perumal is the reason we all are born, He is present everywhere, He runs things and rules every place, He is the ultimate power, the Almighty Lord, and He is Sriman Nārāyana.”

Ramanuja applauds, “Absolutely! Next, whom are we going to learn about? ”

“Arulāzham kandēno Nallānai pola?”

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