Millions of devotees throng the Tirumala Hills practically round the clock throughout the year. As the rush of pilgrims increases day by day, Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams is hard put to finding ways and means of accommodating them and arranging darshan without long wait. As they move towards the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Venkateswara, how many will remember that there was a time, just a thousand years back, when the Hills were deserted with not much of human habitation in sight? Ask any sri vaishnavite to name the man of the millenium. Pat will come the reply, Saint Ramanuja.
Ramanuja (1017-1137 A.D.) had visited the Hills thrice. His maternal uncle, Peria Thirumalai Nambi gave him discourses on the Ramayana for several months at the Hills. The temple and the surroundings were in bad shape and worship was not organized regularly. Ramanuja was inspired by the Holy Hymns of the Alwars singing the glory of the Lord of the Seven Hills. He called an assembly of the Acharyas, 74 in number and posed them the question whether any one of them will take up the task of serving the Lord on the Hills on a day to day basis. Everyone was hesitating, fearing the hard life up the Hills what with tigers, malaria and the forests. There was Anantharya, a strong and silent devotee in the gathering. He rose to his feet and prayed, ” Beloved acharya ! Bestow the blessing of serving the Lord of the Seven Hills on this humble self. With your grace, I will be happy to undertake this service.” Ramanuja was mightily pleased and embracing Anantharya, declared before the congregation, ” Anantharya, You are truly the man (Aanpillai).” Anatharya chose to settle down on the Hills in fulfillment of the command of the Guru and went on to lay the garden of flowers, dug up the lake and named it after Ramanuja. Anantharya was so much obsessed with zealous personal service to the Lord that on one occasion, he hit with a crowbar a young man who was trying to help his wife in laying the garden. Anantharya was chasing him when the young man disappeared into the temple. The priests found blood oozing from the chin of the Lord as Anantharya entered the sanctum sanctorum. He applied camphor on the chin and prayed for forgiveness. The crowbar can even today be seen at the entrance to the temple as a memento to the dedicated devotion of Anantharya. The camphor is distributed as prasad (sri padarenu).
Anantharya was actually born in Siruputtur near Mysore and drawn towards Ramanuja by his magnetic personality. During the second visit up the Hills, Saint Ramanuja went round the garden laid down by Ananthasuri and was delighted to find the garden thick with vakula, patala, punnaga, shenbaga and other flower bearing fragrant trees, the bunches of flowers hanging from the branches, entertaining the ears of pilgrims with strains of music poured forth by bees and all kinds of plumaged birds. Saint Ramanuja remembered, how on the first occasion, he had given the call to Ananthasuri at the time of discourse on Nammalwar’s hymns referring to the Lord as residing in flower bedecked Venkata Hills (sindhupoo maghizhum thiruvengadam). He called Anantharya and declared in the august presence of Peria Thirumalai Nambigal, “O Anantharya! Having nursed thee, I now reap the fruit.”
Anantha Suri was some sort of a chronicler. His Venkatchala Ithihasamala represents to Tirupati what Koil Olugu is to Srirangam. The Holy triumvirate of Saint Ramanuja, Anantharya and Peria Thirumalai Nambigal at a conference at the third visit of Ramanuja set up the Pedda Jeeyangar Mutt to regulate the vaikanasa agama form of worship. The saint began his Sri Bashya with an invocation to the Lord as Brahmani Srinivasa. This was a free Sanskrit rendering of Nammalwar’s famous hymn addressing the Lord as “Alarmelmangai Urai Marba.”
Epigraphs TT 171, 173 and 175 on the Tirumalai Hills show Ananthalwan’s dedication to Saint Ramanuja. His word was gospel to him. Whatever was dear to Ramanuja was dearer to Ananthalwan. He prays to Ramanuja to bless him with the noble spirit to imbibe the teachings of Nammalwar. His devotion to Andal was so great that on one occasion he was seen diving deep down the Srivilliputtur temple tank to search for the remnants of holy turmeric if any used by Andal. He composed the Ramanuja Chatusloki showing how Srirangam, the Tirumalai Hills, Kanchi and Melkote were dear to Ramanuja. His Gotha Chatusloki is a work of great art, rich in lines whose depth of thought, warmth of feeling, glow of imagery and grace of phrases will ring for centuries in every land where the glory of Andal is cherished.
Bhattar, the successor to Saint Ramanuja at Srirangam, once sent a disciple to Ananthalwan to ascertain who a true Vaishnava was. Ananthalwan told the Brahmin from Srirangam, “A true Sri Vaishnavite is like a crane, like a cock, like salt. He will be like You.” Bhattar later on explained the four different ideas of Ananthalwan. The Srivaishnava ignores ordinary mortals and awaits the arrival of a true Gnani so that he may surrender to that Mahatma through devotion to service. Not for him the different parts of the Vedas which are not always of universal appeal. Like the cock picking up the good grains from the chaff, the Vaishnava will swear by the Dravida Veda of Nammalwar. Just as the salt dissolves itself in food and becomes useful thereby, the Srivaishnava effaces himself in Bhagavath, Bhaagavatha and Acharya Kainkarya. Like the Brahmin from Srirangam, he is free of ego or arrogance, always humble and devoted to the Srivaishnava clan.
Ananthalwan’s final sacred gift to the pilgrims visiting the Hills was the shrine for Ramanuja. The image was presented to Ananthalwan by Saint Ramanuja Himself on request and was consecrated after the Saint shuffled off his mortal coil. Consecration may be later in time but the image itself is more ancient than those in Sriperumbudur, Srirangam and Thirunarayanapuram.
Ananthalwan rebukes Nanjeeyar for taking to Sannyasa. For him liberation is attained by service to the community. Indeed Ananthalwan advises his disciple Vaishnava Dasa to spend his wealth for the upliftment of the poor and the down trodden if he is to aspire for the grace of Lord Venkateswara.
Ananthalwan joined eternity with the Lord on the sacred Thiru Adi Pooram day. Even today, Lord Venkateswara visits the garden and bestows honours on the Magizha Tree.
The satari at the main sanctum sanctorum is known as Sadagopa in remembrance of Nammalwar. The one in the Ramanuja shrine is known as Ananthalwan.
The Vaishnava community always held religious beliefs as filling too vital a function in sustaining individual morality and morale and social order and control. Ananthalwan belonged to a different clime and a different age, but it was not blind faith but faith married to reason.