The hoary tradition of Vaishnavism boasts of innumerable scholars and savants who had distinguished themselves through dedicated service to the propagation of its tenets and through their benign role as authentic spiritual guides (acharyas) to the seekers of liberation through self-surrender (saranagati). To this class of illustrious men of erudition belonged Vangipuram Navanitam Srirama Desikachariar of Oppiliappan sannidhi (in Tamil Nadu), who was reverentially and endearingly called `Navanitam Swami'.
Born in 1901, Srirama Desikachariar hailed from a family of great scholars with a lineage traceable to Vangipuram Achan, a direct disciple of Ramanuja. One of his ancestors, Venkatacharya, had written a scholarly commentary on Chandogya Upanishad, titled `Chandogya Navanitam' about 300 years ago,. From then on, `Navanitam' has come to be used by the descendants as a prefix to their names.
A Madras University diploma holder in Sanskrit (Siromani) and in Tamil (Vidwan), Srirama Desikachariar was a teacher by profession and, even while in service, had his tutelage in the spiritual realm under his father, Krishnamachariar, from whom he learnt the Vaishnavite scriptural texts in the traditional manner. An acknowledged authority on Vaishnavism and a spiritual Guru (preceptor) for a large circle of disciples, Krishnamachariar had published several sacred works, including the Mahabharata. Quite a few of the works, such as a commentary on the Upanishads by Rangaramanujamuni (17th century) and `Nayamayukhamalika' of Appayya Diskhitar, which were available till then only in palm leaves, found its way into print because of his efforts. For his part, Srirama Desikachariar had done monumental service to the cause of Vaishnavism by editing several of the works of Vedanta Desika, with lucid commentaries, explanatory notes, annotations and so on. Among them were: Desika Stotras, Desika Prabandha, Rahasyatrayasara, Hamsasandesa and Sillarai-rahasyas. Remarkable indeed was his contribution to the popularisation of Vedanta Desika and his works. He was also a regular contributor to religious magazines like `Nrisimha Priya' and `Ranganatha Paduka'.
The work Srirama Desikachariar cherished most was the Suprabhatam (with) prapatti and mangalam he composed in Sanskrit on his favourite deity at Oppiliappan Koil (near Kumbakonam), one of the 108 Divya Desas and a popular prarthana sthala, and it is being recited in the temple as part of the daily routine of rituals in the temple.
Recipient of numerous awards and titles - Vidya Visarada, Nyaya Vendata Pravina Darsana Dhurandhara, to cite just a few -Srirama Desikachariar got recognition for his erudition in Sanskrit from the Government of India in 1975 when he was honoured with the President's award. Apart from teaching the Vaishnavite scriptural works in the traditional manner, he reached out to the masses by travelling to remote villages and performed religious rites such as panchasamskara to thousands of disciples who flocked to him. His disciples always marvelled at the facile and exemplary manner in which he used to clarify even abstruse metaphysical points.
To mark the birth centenary of Srirama Desikachariar (he passed away at the age of 81), which was heralded with a function in Pondicherry this time last year, celebrations were held every month throughout the year by his disciples in different parts of Tamil Nadu.
As a grand finale, a two-day celebration will be held, quite appropriately, at his native place, Oppiliappan Koil, on August 15 and 16. Eminent scholars like Srivatsankachariar and Yajnavaraha Thathacariar, besides numerous disciples and admirers, will participate in the function. A commemoration volume and a set of three audio cassettes, titled ``Tiruppavai - a simple exposition'' by Srirama Desikachariar's son and disciple, V. N. Gopala Desikachariar - himself a scholar and spiritual Guru in the footsteps of his father - are slated for release on the occasion.
Last modified on Friday, May 16, 2003.