Although Ramanuja had taken sannyasa and become a great saint, he could not forget his cousin Govinda, who had become a great devotee of Lord Shiva and was staying at Kalahasti at the behest of Yadava Prakasha when he was a mayavadi. Moreover Ramanuja was grateful to Govinda for having saved his life when Yadava Prakasha was planning to kill him. Yadava Prakasha accepted Vaishnavism but Govinda was still practicing the mayavada philosophy, which he had learnt under Yadava Prakasha. Ramanuja wanted to bring Govinda to the Vaishnava fold. Ramanuja wrote a letter to his maternal uncle Srishailapurna, who was serving Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala hills, and sought his help. Immediately after receiving Ramanuja’s letter, Srishailapurna set out to Kalahasti which is situated near Tirumala, along with a few of his disciples to bring Govinda to the Vaishnava fold.
After making some initial inquires, Srishailapurna sat with his disciples beneath a tree on the path which Govinda used to take to fetch flowers for Lord Shiva’s worship and started to give discourses on scriptures to his disciples. Govinda, who was a very inquisitive seeker, started listening to Srishailapurna’s discourses which were loaded with the descriptions of the Supreme Lord’s glories. Govinda was captivated by the logical explanations given by Srishailapurna and felt like embracing Vaishnavism. But, as he was already recognized as a great scholar by the mayavadis, he desisted from doing so. After the discourse got over, Govinda went to gather flowers in the fields and Srishailapurna followed him. Even as Govinda started plucking flowers Srishailapurna asked him why he was gathering flowers. Govinda said, “Dear Sir, I am a devotee of Lord Shiva and I gather flowers for his worship every day.”
Srishailapurna said, “Being captivated by the glories and auspicious qualities of Lord Narayana, Lord Shiva has renounced everything and has made the burial ground his home. He smears his body with ashes to show that he is completely renounced and is always engrossed in chanting the holy names of Lord Rama. Being a detached soul, will he enjoy the fragrance of flowers? All the flowers are meant for the service of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who is the cause of all causes and is worshipped by Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva.”
Govinda replied, “How can you differentiate between Lord Shiva and Lord Narayana? Both are one and the same. There are many passages in the scriptures that say that Shiva is a manifestation of Lord Vishnu.”
Both Srishailapurna and Govinda entered into a debate which lasted for a few hours. At the end of the debate, Govinda was confused and began reconsidering his beliefs. He returned to the temple to continue his services. Next day, Srishailapurna disguised himself as a mayavadi sannyasi and started watering the leaves of a plant. Being amused with the actions of the sannyasi, Govinda asked, “Swami, why are you watering the leaves instead of watering the roots? If you water the roots, the nourishment will automatically reach the leaves.”
Srishailapurna seized the opportunity and said, “When Narayana is the basis of everything and sustains everything, why are you worshipping the demigod instead of the Supreme Lord? Don’t you know that one attains everything and appeases everyone just by worshipping Lord Narayana?”
Govinda, who was hesitating to shed his mayavada garb, could no longer control himself. He rushed towards Srishailapurna and fell at his feet. Govinda requested Srishailapurna to accept him as a disciple. Srishailapurna lifted Govinda and revealed his identity to him and helped him to recollect the relationship that he shared as his maternal uncle. Govinda accompanied Srishailapurna to Tirumala and began studying the Vaishnava scriptures while staying with him.
We shall reveal more about Ramanuja in the next post.