Sri Ramanuja’s parents were Asuri Keshava and Kantimati, both from aristocratic families. Ramanuja was born in 1017 AD in Sriperumbudur, in South India. At a very young age, he was exceptionally intelligent; he knew Sanskrit grammar (vyakarana), literature (sahitya), and all the deep conclusions of the Vedic scriptures.
He is the incarnation of Lakshmana. The word ‘anuja’ means ‘younger brother’. Rama-anuja refers to the younger brother of Lord Rama; therefore, he is Ramanuja. In Kali-yuga, he is the acharya of the Sri (Lakshmi) sampradaya. He was a disciple of Yamunacharya.
At the age of 16 Ramanuja was married to Rakshakambal. Four months after his wedding, Ramanuja's father was struck with a severe illness and died. Upon the death of his father, Ramanuja became head of the household and decided to move to Kanchi, a holy city famed for its scholars and magnificent temples.
In Kanchi there lived a scholar named Yadavacharya, who was renowned for his scholarship in the doctrine of adwaita-vedanta, nondualism. No one could surpass him in his ability to explain Shankaracharya's commentaries on Vedanta-sutra. Ramanuja enrolled in Yadava's school and engaged in the study of Sanskrit and Vedic literature. Although not at all convinced by the Shankarite conception, Ramanuja learned his lessons well and soon became one of Yadavacharya's favorite students. However when Yadavacharya came to know of Ramanujacharya’s philosophy, he planned to murder him.
Thinking of tricking Ramanuja, Yadavacharya told him that he was going to travel with all his students for preaching, and that Ramanuja should also accompany them. Ramanuja, who was innocent, didn’t understand his teacher’s intentions.
Then, when they were all in a very deep forest, they decided that this would be the time to murder him. Govinda, his cousin-brother, told him of their plan, and urged him to quickly flee from there. In the middle of the night, Ramanuja escaped. He passed through the dense forest. It was difficult for him to find his way, especially at night. The Lord, seeing His dear devotee in such a state, appeared in the form of Bharadraja and, holding a lantern in His hand, showed Ramanuja the way. Sri Ramanuja crossed the forest and found that he was standing outside his village.
After some days, out of compassion for Yadavacharya and with a desire to deliver him, Ramanuja again began studying under his guidance. After some years, Ramanuja converted Yadavacharya to Vaishnava philosophy, whereupon his teacher became his disciple. After leaving Kanchi, Ramanuja went to Srirangam and became a disciple of Yamunacharya. When Yamunacharya passed away, Ramanuja commenced his role as acharya of the Sri Sampradaya in Srirangam.
When Sri Ramanujacharya officially became the acharya, he strongly began preaching the cult of Sri Yamunacharya. In South India, two impersonalist sects are very prominent: Shaiva and Shankaracharya. Shankaracharya’s followers subscribe to the Vedanta sutras like "sarvam kalvidam brahma" and "tat tvam asi." They think themselves impersonal Brahma (God), and they think everything comes from Brahma. The Shaiva School considers Lord Shiva to be the ultimate truth, and they want to merge into him. This is the basic difference between the two. Sri Ramanujacharya refuted and defeated all impersonalism by his very strong and effective preaching.
Interpreting the Vedas to draw a particular conclusion, Shankara established the doctrine of non-dualism, adwaita-vedanta, stating that all living entities were on an equal level with God. He prominently stressed those texts which afforded an answer to the rationalistic atheism of the Buddhists, yet the teachings of Shankara were not wholly theistic, and thus a further unveiling of the ultimate reality was destined. That destiny was fulfilled through Sri Ramanujacharya.
Ramanuja's Literary Contributions:
- Vedartha-Sangraha – A treatise presenting the tenets of Visistadwaita, a reconciliation of different conflicting srutis.
- Sri Bhashya – A detailed commentary on the Vedanta Sutras.
- Gita-Bhashya – A detailed commentary on the Bhagavad-gita.
- Vedanta-Dipa – A brief commentary on the Vedanta Sutras.
- Vedanta-Sara – Another brief commentary on the Vedanta Sutras and meant for beginners.
- Saranagati-Gadya and Sri Ranga-Gadya – Manuals of self-surrender to Lord Vishnu.
- Sri Vaikuntha-Gadya – Describes Sri Vaikuntha-loka and the position of the liberated souls.
- Nitya-Grantha – A short manual intended to guide the Sri Vaishnava devotees.