Early Life – “Ammalacharya”
Sri Varadaguru later came to be known as Nadadoor Ammal, was the son of Devaraja Mahadesikan. He was born on the full moon day of Chitra month with Chitra nakshatra. (Some researchers have come to the conclusion that he was born during 1165 A.D. the corresponding Tamil year being ‘Parthiva’). Varadaguru was well-trained by his erudite father in all faculties, and the father decided to teach Sri Bhashyam to his son. On an auspicious day Devaraja Mahadesikan commenced the teaching with the invocation of the song which began with the words ‘Akhila Bhuvana’. The young Varadaguru stopped his father with a question, ‘Why should Emperumaanar choose the word ‘Akhila’ instead of words like ‘sakala ‘nikhila’, when all of them denote the same meaning? The happy and surprised father, however, answered his son that Udayavar’s choice of word was to begin his magnum opus with the first alphabet representing Lord Narayana Devaraja, at the same time knew well that he being old did not have enough strength to appease the intellectual hunger of his boy. So he decided to send him to Engal Azhwan of Thiruvellarai. Engal Azhwan, called so by Ramanuja himself, had helped Nadadoor Azhwan in scribing the work as Koorathazhwan had become blind. Engal Azhwan had a good training under Thirukkurukaippiran Pillan and had retired to Thiruvellarai to spend his life in solitude.
An interesting episode between the master and disciple is illuminating. At Thiruvellarai, Varadaguru found out Engal Azhwan’s residence and tapped at the door. The teacher asked “Who is that?” The student replied, “I am Varadan, Kanchi Nadadoor Devaraja Mahadesikan’s son.” The teacher replied,” Whoever it is come after “I”die. The perplexed Varadan returned home and asked his father. The father explained that the word “I” denotes ego or ahamkara and the teacher had only asked him to shed off his ego and then approach him. Moreover according to Srivaishnava tradition, there is no “I” or “me”, there is only the beautiful word ‘adiyen’.Varadan realized his mistake and prostrated before Engal Azhwan who adopted him not only as disciple but also as his beloved son. Both of them traveled together, worshipped the arca forms in the temples and finally reached a small hamlet Kollagonda, near Srivilliputtur.Engal Azhwan wrote a commentary to ‘Vishnu Puranam’ and in course of time reached his heavenly abode. As an obedient son, Varadasuri performed all funeral rites and at Thiruvellarai installed the arca form of his Acharya.It can be seen in this image form, Varadaguru is seated at the feet of his master. He has also shown his deep Acharya Bhakti in the dhyana sloka of his work Tattva sara. Varadaguru gave the responsibility of looking after the arca forms at Thiruvellarai to Engal Azhwan’s daughter’s family. Later they came to be known as ‘Ammalacharyas’. Having done his duty to his guru, Varadaguru returned to Kanchipuram.
At Kanchi, Varadaguru began his Sri Bhashya teaching near ‘Kachi vayththan Mantapam’ the eastern side of the temple sanctum sanctorum. He chose this spot because this was the place where the Lord Himself sowed the seeds of Sri Bhashya, as answers to the six questions postulated by Sri Ramanuja by Thirukachchi Nambigal.The answers are:
1) I, Consort of sri is Brahman
2) Jivas are different from each other, they are different from Me. Hence my philosophy is ‘Bheda’ or differentiation.
3) Surrender or Saranagati is the best and simple means to reach Me.
4) Those who surrender to Me need not necessarily think about Me in the last moments.
5) Liberation or Moksha is only possible after shedding the mortal body.
6) Sri Periya Nambigal must be the Guru to Ramanuja.
Varadaguru made several pilgrimages and won in debate, Sivasular, a Saivite at Sethu, Ananda Madhavacharya at the court of the Chola king and the fanatic Kumbisutan before the king of Kasi. The Kasi king honoured him by placing him on the Sarada Peeth. Varadaguru composed ‘Hetirajastavam’ and saved a possessed Brahmin. After his pilgrimage, he returned to Kanchi and continued his Sri Bhashya Upanyasa. His sweet rendering and excellent discourse attracted many disciples like Appullar alias Atreya Ramanuja, Vadakku Thiruveethipillai, and Sudarshana Suri, the great grandson of KoorathAzhwan.
These students used to listen to his lecture attentively and by their pertinent questions, now and then got clarification from their learned master. But Sudarshana Suri alone would remain quiet; he had no questions to ask. His mates discarded him as dud. One day, as usual, the students had assembled in the lecture hall. But the teacher was not willing to begin the lecture since Sudarshana Suri had not turned up. The other students compelled the master to begin the discourse saying that the presence or absence of the stone like Sudarshana Suri during the discourse was one and the same. The master regretted to hear these words and knowing Sudarshana Suri’s deep scholarship, decided to prove it to the class. During the course of the lecture, the Acharya asked Sudarshana Suri to explain a simple phrase. To everyone’s surprise Sudarshana Suri not only gave the literal meaning but also the in depth meanings given by his master in the previous occasion. The teacher himself did not expect this. But Sudarshana Suri told him that he had a habit of scribing the content of the discourse every night on palm leaves and presented the script to Varadaguru. It was ‘Shrutaprakashika’- the illuminations of what he had heard, and hence the name, this Shrutaprakashika is the commentary to Sri Bhashya. Later Sudarsana Bhattar elaborated and completed it in 36,000 grantas. In its survival, Shrutaprakashika saw many vicissitudes in the national scene, including the invasion of Maliq Gaffor. Sri Swami Desikan did a remarkable service to protect the script by feigning death and lying like a dead man among corpses.
Varadaguru becomes Ammal
Varadaguru had the deepest Bhakti to Varadraja. One night when he was worshipping the deity in an ecstatic mood, the priest brought very hot milk to the Lord as Nivedana. Varadaguru was deeply distressed that such hot milk would burn the tender tongue of the Lord! He stopped the priest from offering the hot milk and began cooling it down until it was warm enough to be drunk. The Lord himself was moved by the Vatsalya of Varada and called him ‘Amma’ – my mother! From then onwards Varadaguru became Nadadoor Ammal. After this episode, in a dream one night, Lord Varadaraja commanded Ammal to erect a Mantapam for His Vasantotsavam. Accordingly Ammal fulfilled the Lord’s desire, just as a mother would fulfill the wishes of her son in spite of difficulties.
Once Ammal and his disciples undertook a pilgrimage to Tirumalai hills. Their graceful personality and behavior attracted all. Kandavaran, the leader of the Lada race was annoyed and irritated to see them. He decided to disturb them. With his mantric power he made the disciples unconscious. Ammal meditated and chanted the Sudarsana mantra and his own composition ‘Hetipungavastotram’ and broke the spell. The angry Kandavaran called Ammal for a debate and when defeated surrendered to the Acharya himself. The benevolent guru not only excused him but also made him a Srivaishnava by offering him Panchasamskaras.With the money offered by Kandavaran, Ammal established a beautiful village and named it ‘Ladagraharam’. Then he continued his journey. On the way, the Lord himself came as a young Brahmachari and appeased the hunger of the pilgrims with curd and rice. At the same time, there was a big commotion in the temple as the silver vessel with the naivedyam had suddenly disappeared. Lord Venkateswara Himself announced to the temple authorities that He Himself fed his dear Ammal and his disciples and that they should receive Ammal with all temple honours.
Benediction to Sri Vedanta Desikan
Ammal continued his Sri Bhashya Pravachana at the ripe old age of hundred. Appullar, one of his disciples, had gone to visit his sister Totaramba at Thoopul.
When he returned to Kanchi, his five year old nephew, Venkatanathan also accompanied him. As soon as he reached Kanchi, he went to see his beloved teacher. At that moment, Ammal was lecturing on Sri Bhashyam referring to the portion there on the importance of Vishnu Puranam. He was explaining the greatness of its author Parasarar, by explicating the opening phrase of a hymn, ‘Patayi Parasarasatam’.The teacher stopped his discourse abruptly when Appullar and his nephew prostrated before him. Ammal was attracted by the beauty of the child. On enquiry Appullar told him that the child was born after his sister’s pilgrimage to Thirumalai hills, when she dreamt of swallowing the big bell of the temple. No wonder the child had a divine look. Ammal blessed the child and tried to pick up the discourse from where it stopped. He could not get the link, nor could anyone present guide him. To everyone’s surprise, little Venkatanathan prattled the Prakrit phrase and thus reminded the Acharya. Ammal’s joy knew no bounds and he understood that the child was an incarnation. He blessed the divine child with all his heart and soul that he would establish the Vedanta creed and be a terror to the religiose and their false arguments. Since he was very old, he asked his disciple Appullar to be Venkatanathan’s guru and teach him Sri Bhashya. That Ammal’s grace alone had made the ordinary Venkatanatha into Vedanta Desika has been repeatedly stated by Sri Desikan himself in his works like Adhikarana Saravali, Tattva mukta kalaapam, Nyaya Sidhdhanjanam and Tatvatika. The same sloka with which Ammal blessed Swami Desikan has been included by Sri Desikan in his Sankalpa Suryodayam. Sri Desikan’s son also has recorded in the Mangalasasanam of his father about this benediction of Nadadoor Ammal.
Works of Nadadoor Ammal
The following nineteen works have been given by Ammal
2) Prapanna Parijatam
4) Annika Choodamani
5) Aradhana kramam
6) Prameya Saram
8) Jnana saram
9) Jayanti Nirupanam
10) Hetiraja Stavam
11) Rahasya Sangraham
12) Chaturlakshana Sangraham
13) Paratattva Nirnayam
14) Dramidopanishad Sangraham
15) Sri Bhashya Sangraham
16) Prataranusadeya Slokas
17) Paramartha Slokadvayam
18) Paratvadi Panchakam
19) Yatilinga Samartanam
Ammal and After
After a long life of one hundred and ten years, Ammal departed to his heavenly home on the Shukla paksha Panchami of the Masi month, Yuva year (1275 A.D.). Nadadoor Ammal had four sons, Sri Varadavishnu, Sri Devaraja, Sri Sudarshanar and Sri Hethisa.
The biography of Sri Nadadoor Ammal has been complied from two works, Varadadesikabhyudayam and Varadadesika VaibhavaPrakasika. The author of these two works, Mimasa Vallabhar says that the former Kavya with eight sargas is an abridged form of Charya dipam of Hemamali Desikar. Both the authors are descendents of Nadadoor Ammal. Mimamsa Vallabhar has nine works on Nadadoor Ammal alone:
1) Varadadesika Suprabhatam
2) Varadadesika Dandakam
3) Varadadesika gaddyam
4) Varadadesika Panchashat
5) Varadadesika Ashtotra Shatanama Stotram
6) Varadadesika Vaibhava Prakasika
7) Varadadesika Sambhavana kramam
8) Varadadesika Prabhava deepam