In those days the people from other religions and some scheduled castes and scheduled tribe communities were treated as untouchables and were supposed to stay away from the dwellings of the people of higher castes. They were supposed to subsist on scavenging and doing other odd jobs set aside for them by the higher castes. They were not even allowed to enter the mada streets (the roads around the temples) and were allowed to see the utsava deities when they were brought out of the temples from a distance. For the first time in the history of India, Ramanuja allowed the people of these communities to enter Lord Thirunarayana’s temple in Yadavadri, the present Melkote. Nearly thousand years before Mahatma Gandhi called the people of these communities as Harijans, Ramanuja had called them as Thirukulathar, which means the people from Mother Lakshmi’s community, and introduced various reforms to uplift them. Following the foot steps of Natha Muni and Yamunacharya, Ramanuja initiated aspiring devotees from these communities into Vaishnavism at Melkote. Natha Muni had disciples from different communities and Yamunacharya had initiated Maruneeru Nambi into Vaishnavism even though he was born in a Panchama Varna.
Ramanuja carefully selected some of his very good disciples to render worship to Lord Thirunarayana and the deity was being worshipped in accordance with the scriptures. According to Sri Narada Pancharatra Agama, the branch of Vedic scriptures that deals with deity worship, a temple should ideally have an utsava deity, which is an expansion of the main deity that is installed in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. As the main deity cannot be moved or taken out of the sanctum sanctorum, the utsava deities are taken out of the temples to participate in various festivities that are organized within the temple precincts and out side the temple as part of the rituals ordained in the scriptures. The utsava deities receive all the worship and services that are performed outside the sanctum sanctorum on behalf of the main deities, which are called dhruva bheri. As Lord Thirunarayana did not have an utsava deity, Ramanuja was concerned about it and was planning to get an utsava deity for the temple. Lord Thirunarayana appeared in Ramanuja’s dream and said, “My son, I am very pleased with your services. Our utsava deity form was taken to Delhi by an emperor called Emadh (Mohammed) and it is in the palace of the emperor. As our utsava deity is a live deity, gratify Me by bringing it back and worshipping it.”
Ramanuja woke up and became very happy. Ramanuja informed his disciples including Vishnuvardhana about the Lord’s orders and started preparations to leave for Delhi. Ramanuja carefully selected some very learned and devoted disciples to accompany him in his mission to bring the utsava deity of Lord Thirunarayana back to Melkote. After walking for many days and traversing through many kingdoms Ramanuja reached Delhi and met the Muslim king, who was ruling over Delhi and its surrounding areas. The king was impressed with Ramanuja’s learning, bodily complexion, conduct and attitude. The King asked Ramanuja to seek whatever he wanted. Ramanuja told the king that he had brought the utsava deity of Lord Thirunaraya na when he invaded south India along with him and requested the king to return the deity as it was very dear to him. The king asked Ramanuja to collect the deity from his warehouse, where the deities that were brought during his invasions were stored. Ramanuja accompanied the king’s trusted courtiers to the warehouse to collect the utsava deity. Ramanuja saw thousands of utsava deities that were brought from various temples across the country, but could not find the deity that he was searching for. Ramanuja felt dejected and retired to the quarters that were allotted to him by the king that night. Ramanuja requested the Lord to guide him in his mission and retired to bed that night.
We will reveal more about Ramanuja in the next post.