Posted in Acharya, Alavandar

Know your Acharyas – Part IVA – Alavandar

As it was discussed in the previous post in this series, the advent of Alavandar, which had been foreseen by his predecessors; an advent destined to inaugurate a system of thought which was thenceforward to grow, amplify and vivify the nascent religious sense in man. Alavandar signified literally “He who has come to reign” i.e., to reign in a system of religious thought, which was to glow in man’s heart uplifting him to God in love.

As Alavandar grew, he was duly performed the sacred rites of anna-praasana, chaula and upanayana and the life of the student began in earnest. Alavandar would attend the school for a day and stay away at home. Questioned by his fellow students as to the cause of his absence, he would tell them: “You are learning the same things again and again.” Questioned by his parents, he would say: “They are reading the same thing over and over; but I have learnt it all already.” A precociously clever boy thus, Alavandar was; and he was excused regular attendance at school. He finished his student’s career rapidly; and the next stage of life, wedlock, was duly entered into. By this time the end of Isvaramunigal, his father, drew near, and he bid farewell to all with the consoling reflection of having left a model son for the service of the world. The noble son had all the sacramental routine for his departed parent strictly gone through; and now set out to fulfil his own vocation.

Grammar, logic, philosophy and allied subjects were taken up. And he studied them assiduously under Mahabhashya Bhatta. There was at this time an Aakkiyazhvaan, residing in the court of the monarch of the country as pundit and royal chaplain. He was thus, in his own opinion, the head of all the literary men in the country, from whom he assessed tributes as a recognition of his suzerainty. The tribute was dasbandham or one-tenth of the income of each learned man. A demand for this was sent out to Mahabhashya Bhatta, who thereon was troubled in mind. On Alavandar inquiring and being told all the circumstances of Bhatta’s discomfiture, he received the demand-notice and tore it into pieces in the presence of the royal messengers who had conveyed it. They returned and narrated the occurrence to Aakkiyazhvan, who again sent men to Bhatta to know whether it was a new poet or a man of letters, who had dared so to affront him only to be snubbed again.

Aakkiyaazhvan had felt his pride already piqued and enquired with rage “Is there a scholar to oppose me?” He cried frantically, and appealed to his king for protection and redress against the insult he had received. He was not Mahabhashya Bhatta, but an insolent boy of his party, who had thus insulted him, was of course the report of the men. The king now despatched some messengers with a written command to the boy to come to his presence; but the proud boy as unceremoniously destroyed the royal mandate, and let the messengers depart. The king was duly told of the indignity so offered. He reflected a moment and thought to himself that it must be no ordinary person who could command courage to slight even royalty; he would therefore send envoys with escort and letters – a formal invitation – to the extraordinary boy to come and grace the royal court with his august presence. This was appropriate to him, and so the boy accepted the invitation and arriving, alighted in the royal hall of audience with all honours paid. All assembled to receive the curious visitor. Aakkiyazhvaan of course was present to witness the prodigy, of a boy come in this style, and feverishly fearing what the next event would prove to be. His fears were well-founded however, for it was like a bomb bursting before him, when a scrap of paper was thrown by the distinguished visitor before the royal pandit. It was at once a gauntlet and challenge. The scrap contained this famous verse:-

Find, if you will, than me a second soul,
Who wots entire all Vedic dogmatics,
In all the stretch from Um(a) -tread Himalay,
To Rama’s bridge –the joy of Sita’s soul
Or east to west, which mountain ranges bound,
With sun and moon in turn, their crests adorning.

On reading this, Aakki’s wrath grew: turning to the king: “My royal patron!” implored he, “permit me to argue this boy out of his intolerable vanity, and crush him before you all.” The king gently asked the boy if he was capable of standing a combat such as his pandit would give. “Most certainly, your Majesty! Give me leave,” answered he, “but you will not be capable of judging between us and deciding as between the winner and the loser; nor can we own to you our mutual victory or defeat. Appoint, pray, judges versed in the matters of our contention.” “Well said,” agreed the king and selected fit umpires to adjudge the issues of the intellectual contest pending. It was an unparalled and exciting scene. And so the king and his consort both took their seats to watch the interesting proceedings.

The queen saw the boy and with her keen insight and penetration decided to herself that he was going to be the victor. “My Lord! She said, addressing the king, “if this boy wins not, throw me to the dogs.” “If he wins,” exclaimed the king in his turn, “I will part with half my kingdom for him.”

Aakki spoke:” Vain stripling! No drawn contest between us is needed. A mere trick suffices to put thee down before this august assembly, “witness you all!” he said to the assembly, and turning to Alavandar said: “if thou, proud boy, should say ‘yes’ in any matter, I will prove the ‘ no’ of it; and vice versa, ‘yes’ to thy ‘no’; and the winner in the end shall touch the head of the loser with his foot.” “Agreed,” promptly retorted Alavandar; and without further ado, made three short statements and challenged Aakki to negative them if he could.

Listen, proud pedant, to these and disprove if you can:

(1) Thy mother is not a barren woman;
(2) This king is paramount;
(3) This queen is a good wife.

Aakki was simply stupefied, as he could not dare to disprove these facts; and therefore kept helplessly silent.

They now entered the arena of literary debates; and here also Aakki was beaten. Alavandar addressing his opponent said: “As for the victor touching the head of his victim, 0 Pundit! for that was our agreement – I shall desist from so base an act, though agreed to by thyself and in consideration of thy grey hairs and thy eminent status as Guru in the Royal household.” On bearing this declaration, the learned assembly applauded Alavandar’s attainments and noble demeanour and worshipped him with the honours of a Brahma-ratha (a triumphal procession, etc.).

The Queen was overjoyed to find that her insight had not belied her as to the results of the combat and drawing the conqueror boy-hero to her exclaimed: ‘Ennai Aalavandheero?’ i.e. ‘ Did you come to fulfil me’? Alavandar thus means: “He who came to fulfil” i.e., (1) Fulfil his spiritual mission on earth, and (2) Fulfil the queen’s prevision of his success.

The monarch, true to his promise, invested Alavandar with half his kingdom. In royal bliss thus did Alavandar and his holy wife, who by this time joined him, remained.

(To be continued)

Reference: The Life of Ramanuja by Alkondavilli Govindacharya, S. Murthy & Co., Madras, 1906

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