Updated: Mar 20, 2022
Desika is a Sanskrit word which means “Acharya”. In our srivaishnava sampradayam there are numerous acharyas starting from Nammazhvar to present day acharyas, it is only Swami desika is addressed respectfully as “Desika”. This is like calling srirangam perumal as nam perumal and addressing Shatakopan as Namaazhvaar.
Swami desika’s parents were childless for long time and one day Lord Srinivasa of Seven Hills, Tirupati has ordered them to go for a pilgrimage to Tiruppati.
The Lord appeared in their dreams in the garb of a Srivaishnava youth and handed over a small golden bell which Totaramba swallowed.
During an investigation ordered into the loss of the bell, the Lord appeared by Avesa (spiritual trance) on Tirumalai Nambi and told that He had himself presented the bell to the Ananthasuri couple and thenceforward, the small hand- bell need not be used in the Tiruvaradhana in the temple. Even today. when the Naivedyam is offered to the lord, it is the only the huge bell, suspended in the front hall that is being rung.
12 years after this incident, the Ganta of the Lord was born as Gantaavataara Aazhwar. The Avatara of Thooppul Kulamani was in the Kali yuga year 4370 which corresponds to 1268 AD 9I,e)Year Vibhava, month Purattaasi, on the Dasami day of Sukla Paksha, a Wednesday, in the constellation of Sravanam ( the same as that of Lord of Tirumalai).
Swami Desikan was born in Thooppul, near Tiruttangaa (Himavanam) adjacent to the temple of Deepa Prakaasar in Kanchipuram, the birthplace of Poigai Alwar. As he was born during the Theerthotsava of Tiruvenkadamudaiyaan, appullaar, his uncle named him "Venkatanathan".
After Abdapoorthi (the first birthday) he took the child to "Per aruLaLan Temple" at Kanchi, near Madras, India.
The Lord blessed the child to become the "beacon light" of "Srivaishnava Darsanam" like Ramanuja.
Swami Desika himself mentions this in his "Amritha Ranjanai", thus: "Anre Adaikkalam Konda Nam Athigiri Thirumaal".
The child had his choulam in the 3rd year and Aksharaabhyaasam in the 5th year.
One day, Swami Appullaar took the boy, who was then hardly 5 years of age, with him to the Eastern praakaaram of Lord Varadaraja temple to attend the Sri Bhashya Kalakshepam of Nadaadur Ammaal. Ammaal was so impressed with the captivating brilliance of the kid that he stopped the discourse to exchange pleasantries. Later, when he tried to resume the discourse, Ammaal was fumbling as to the context where he left off. Our Thooppul Pillai reminded him of the context. Ammaal was overwhelmed and took the boy on his lap, hugged him and blesssed him saying:-
"Pratishtapita Vedaantah Prati- Kshipta Bahir Mathaa Bhooyaah Traividyaa Maanyas Tvam Bhoori Kalyaana Bhaajanam"
Meaning - " You will establish Vedanta on a firm footing demolishing the misrepresentations of other faiths". Even today, one can see the painting of the scene of Ammaal blessing the boy on the ceiling in front of the Kachi Vaithaan Mandapam in the temple of Lord Varadaraja in Kanchipuram. He made Appullaar to initiate the boy in all the Sastras and other esoteric doctrines.
Swami Desikan's Studentship
Duly performing the Upanayanam at Garbhaashtamam(i.e.) at the age of 7.
Swami Appullaar initiated the boy into Veda Adhyayanam, Saamaanya Sastras, Sri Bhashya and various other scriptures. Swami Appullaar was surprised to notice that the boy was precociously so smart, as to grasp all that he was taught almost instantly ("Eka Sandha Graahi").
By the age of 20, Swami Desikan had become an unparalleled Vidwaan to such an extent that the elders wondered whether he was combined incarnation of Azhwaars, Sriman Nathamunigal, Swami Alavandaar, Udaiyavar, Pillaan, Aachaan, and other exponents, of our Sri Sampradaayam, who seemed to have entered Swami Desikan's Soul (Aavesha Avataaram). Swami Desikan himself says in Sankalpa Suryodaya, "Vimsati Abde Visrutha Naanaa Vidha Vidyaah".
Swami Desikan at Srirangam :
When some of the orthodox people objected to recite of 4000 Divya Prabandam in the temple, on the grounds that they included the works of Non -Brahmin Alwars, written in Dravida Baasha and Tiruvoimozhi in particular dealt with Kaama that was taboo for them. Swami argued with them and convinced them that the holy collects were equal to the Vedas since they contained all that was in the Vedas, that since they were in praise of the Lord, the language did not matter and that the Kaama spoken of was nothing but absolute devotion to the Lord . He re-instituted the practice of 'Adhyayana Utsava'- the ceremonial honoring of the Alwars.
Azhagiya Manavaala Naayanaar, brother of Sri Pillai Lokachaarya and our Swami Desikan, went to worship Lord Ranganatha. The Naayanaar was captivated by the feet of the Lord and wanted to compose a Stotra praising the same. Our Swami felt that the Divya Mani Paadukaas of the Lord were equally captivating and offered to compose a Stotram on the Sandals of the Lord. before daybreak the next day. But, he had slept almost till the small hours of the morning of the appointed day. When there was hardly a couple of hours to go before sunrise, the agitated disciples woke him up to remind him of his promise. Instantly, he commenced pouring out with bewildering rapidity an epic 'Paaduka Sahasram' and completed it well before daybreak. The 1,000 verses of this epic is an example of literary excellence and lofty thoughts- a wonderful masterpiece of how a single subject like the sandals could be expressed in so many different ways and yet hold up the imagination and interest of the audience!
Swami Desikan's last days
Having lived a full and rich life for 101 years and satisfied with his work on earth, Swami Desika cast his tabernacle of flesh, praying to Udaiyavar and Appullaar by placing their Paadukas on his head which he kept on the lap of Nainarachar and his feet on the lap of Brahma Tantra Svatantrarar, while his Sishyas chanted Tiruvoimozhi and Upanishads. He attained Paramapadam in Sowmya year in the month Kartigai in the asterism of Kartikai. In the Kali yuga year 4471 which corresponds to 1369 AD.
A number of 'Thaniyans ' (laudatory dedication verses) were dedicated to him.
(1) His son Varadacharya implores "the great lion of poetics and dialectics and the great preceptor of Vedanta (that Swami Venkatanatha was ) should reside in his heart always."
"Sriman Venkata Natharyah Kavitarkika Kesari | Vedantacharya Varyo Mey Sannidhattam Sadaa Hridhi ||"
Another thaniyan was by his disciple Brahma Tantra Swatantra which says:- " I salute the great Venkata Natha also called Vedanta Acharya and Lion among poets and logicians and who was well adorned by both Knowledge and discretion and who well deserved the grace of Srimad Ramanuja":
"Sri Ramanuja Daya Patram Gnana Vairaghya Bushanam | Srimad Venkata Natharyam Vande Vedanta Desikam ||"
Pillai Lokaachaarya, the aachaaryan of Tenkalai Sampradaayam lavished a praise on Swami Desika that " For a person who desires to ascend up to the Heavens, even a single statement of the great Acharya , Tooppul Tiuvenkadamudaiyan ( Vedanta Desika ) uttered by him for the benefit of humanity would be sufficient to lift him up to his desired goal
"Seeronru Tooppul Tiruvenkata mudaiyan Par onra chonna pazhamozhiyul | OronRu thane Amaiyado Dharaniyil Vazhvorkku Vanerap Pomalavum Vazhvu ||"
It is really intriguing to find that when all these leaders of the stature of Brahma Tantra Swatantrar and Pillai Lokaachaarya, have been honest in their approbation and lavish in their praise of this towering personality, some people try to totally black out any reference to Swami Vedanta Desika (while dwelling on Guru Parampara) as if he never existed or if he did, he was a persona- non- grata. This attempt is like that of the proverbial cat that closes its eyes and imagines that the world had disappeared!. This is also like an attempt to cover up the bright Sunshine in the sky with a handkerchief.
Others, grudgingly mention and that too very casually, perhaps, by way of concession - about this great Colossus who strode over the Srivaishnava firmament like the lion among poets and logicians and shines to this day and forever, as an unfailing source of inspiration and guidance to genuine Srivaishnavas.
Kavi Taarkika Simhaaya Kalyaana Guna Saaline | Srimate Venkatesaaya Vedaanta Gurave Namah ||
Swami Desikan's Sannidhi is present opposite to Sri Ranganaayaki thayar sannidhi, along with Sri Lakshmi Hayagrivar Sannidhi and Narsimhar Sannidhi