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 (in English Our Perumal) and addressing shatakopan as nam azhvar.
Sri Desika’s original name was Venkata natha. His parents have choosen this name since Desika was born on a sravanam day, which is the birth star of Thiruppathi perumal, Lord Srinivasa.
Sri Desika was born in the year 1268 CE(Common Era) about 130 years after Bhagavad Ramanuja attained parama padam.His parents were Sri Ananthasuri and Smt Thothaaramba.He was born in a place called Thoopul near Kanchi puram.Swami desika’s parents were childless for long time and one day Lord Srinivasa of Seven Hills,Thiruppathi has ordered them to go for a pilgrimmage to Thiruppathi.
Those days there were no buses or trains to travel so Sri Anatasuri and his wife walked from Kanchipuram to Thiruppathi and climbed the Hills and had the darshan of the Perumal.That night they were resting in a Mandapam near temple. The Lord Srinivasa appeared in their dream as a small vaishanva boy and gave smt Thothaaramba a golden bell and she swallowed the bell in the dream. Next day the archakas did not find the bell in the perumal sannidhi and they were worried and started searching for it. Perumal told in a heavenly voice that the bell has been given to Smt Thothaaramba and she will deliver a son who will be a great scholar like Bhagavad Ramanuja, who will firmly re establish the supremecy of our srivaishnava sampradayam. To remind us this incident, even today there is no bell in the perumal sannidhi.Only the huge bell suspended in the front hall is used while doing thiruvaradanam.
Birth and Younger days:
After some time sri Desika was born. He was named as Venkatanatha by his maternal uncle Sri Appullar. Sri Appullar is his acharya too. When Sri Desika was a small boy of five years old he was taken to Kanchi Varadarajar Temple where one acharya was giving lecture on Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashyam. Sri Appullar and the young boy desika went and prostrated to this scholar and he has stopped the lecture and blessed them. Sri Appullar and desika was about to leave and the acharya wanted to continue his lecture but he forgot where he has stopped. Although desika was mere a boy of 5 years he reminded Sri Nadadhur Ammal the vaishanva scholar who was giving lecture and every one assembled there were astonished at the brilliance of Desika at this tender age. Sri Nadadhur ammal blessed Sri Desika and he told every one that Sri Desika will be a great scholar who will firmly establish the supremecy of our sampradayam following the footstep of Bhagavad Ramanuja. He also instructed Sri Appullar to teach desika all vedas, divya prabandham and other sastras. Even today we can see a painting in the varadaraja temple reminding us this incident.
At the age of 7, after upanayanam Sri Appullar started teaching the Vedas, Sastras,Sri bhashya and divya prabandham. He was surprised at the brilliance of swami desika as he has grasped in no time what ever taught to him.The elders were wondering whether Sri Desika is the combined re incarnation of earlier acharyas like Ramanuja,Natha muni and Alavandar. At the age of 20, Sri Desika has mastered all the sastras and became a scholar.
At the age of 21, Sri Desika was married to a beautiful girl called Thirumangai or Kanaka valli.Sri Appullar taught Desika the sacred Garuda mantra. Sri Desika has started his family life as ordered in the Sastras. He was strictly performing all the duties required by a Srivaishnava and living on uncha vritti.ie their daily supply of rice and vegetables will be given by his disciples.A brahmana was supposed to do Veda adhyayanam and teach every one in the village.They will not go to work as we do these days.Their needs will be taken care by his students who learn from him.This is the system which was in place 500 years back in India.
Desika in Thiruvaheendra puram:
After the death Sri Appullar Swami desika wanted to chant the garuda mantra taught to him for many days without food and sleep to receive the blessings of the divine bird Garuda on which Sri Narayana travels. It is said in Scriptures that the Garuda is Veda swaroopi. Desika went to Thiruvahendra puram and climbed the small hill there and started chanting the mantra. Garuda was pleased with the devotion of Desika and blessed him with Hayagreeva mantra and instructed him to chant the Hayagreeva mantra continously to receive the blessings of Haygreeva. Then Lord Hayagreeva appeared before desika and blessed him with the nector flowing from HIS mouth. Lord Hayagreeva took the seat of Swami Desika’s tip of the tounge as prayed by desika. Also Hayagreeva gave an idol of himself for desika’s daily worship. This idol or vigraha is still being preserved in the Devanatha temple in Thiruvaheendra puram. Swami desika composed famous Haygreeva stotram, Devanayaka panchashat in sanskrit and achchutha shatakam in Prakriut and Mummanikkovai and Nava mani maalai in Tamil.
Swami desika had a special liking to this divya desam and he came once again after touring to Kanchi, Srirangam,Thiruppathi and other shrines in North India. We will see these incidents later.
Desika in Kanchipuram:
Sri Desika came back to Kanchipuram and composed various stotras explaining the concept of prapatti or surrender.The stotras are Nyasa vimshati,Nyasa dashakam and Nyasa tilakam in sanskrit and Adaikkalappaththu and artha panchakam in Tamil.
Swami desika was mesmorised at the beauty of Varadha raja perumal of Kanchi and composed fifty slokas on HIM.He also wrote stotras of various perumals visiting the temples in and around Kanchi puram.
In the Year 1317CE,in the Tamil month of AvaNi, Sri Varadha raja perumal blessed swami desika with a son who was name as Varadhacharya. His birth star was rohiNi which is the same as that of Lord Krishna.His son followed the footsteps of Swami desika and shined as his father.
Swami desika then went to Thiruppathi and here he composed the beautiful stotra called Daya shatakam. Lord Srinivasa has blessed swami desika conferring the title Vedantaacharya.Then swami desika went to Badri,Ayodhdhi, kaasi,Nepal and other places in North India on foot to visit the temples over there.
Sri Desika in Sri rangam:
All the Srivaishnava acharyas have special love to Srirangam lord Sri Ranganatha. Sri Ramanuja stayed here for long years. Swami desika was asked to come to Sri rangam by other acharyas, for a debate to prove the correctness of Our sampradayam which is strictly in accrodance with the scriptures. Swami desika came to Srirangam and on the way he halted at Sri Perumpudhur the birth place of Bhagavad Ramanuja and composed a stotra on Sri ramanuja to seek his blessings to win in the debate. This slokam is called Yatirja saptati which glorifies all our acharyas and Sri Ramanuja in particular.
In Sri rangam the debate with schloars of other sampradayam went for 7 days and finally Sri Desika demolished every argument of the opponents. The scolars who have debated with Sri Desika have accepted the defeat and become his disciples. This discussion has been compiled as Satha dhudhaNi.
Lord Ranganatha was pleased with their beloved child Sri Desika’s intelligence and conferred him the title of “ Vedanta Desikan” Sri Ranga naayaki thaayaar conferred the title of “ Sarva tantra swatantrar” which means that he is master of all arts, crafts. The other acharyas assembled there were pleased with this and declared that Sri desika is indeed deserved of this honorory titles.
Swami’s visit to Melkote, Karnataka.
In the year 1327, Srirangam city was invaded by Muslims. Malik kafur the General of Allauddin, Sultan of Delhi came to Srirangam to rob the temple and kill the satvic devotees. Fear gripped in the minds of every one and they afraid how to preserve the glory of the temple. It was decided that Swami desika will travel to Karnataka along with the manuscripts of Sri Bhashya commentry along with the sons of Sri Sudarshana bhattar, a great acharya who wrote commentry for Sri Bashya. Other acharyas left to Thiruppathi with the idol of Ranganatha. The temple was closed and many bhagavathas were killed by the brutal invaders and even Swami desika has to hide among the corpses (dead bodies) for one night before travelling to Karnataka.
Swami desika while at Karnataka composed a stotra called “abhithi sthava” praying to Sri Ranganatha to restore the glory of Sri rangam. Swami was crying for the death of many acharyas and bhagavathas by the ruthless invaders.We can even see the place where he stayed in Karnataka and here the vigraham of Swami desika is unique as he is in standing posture as if he was on his toes ever ready to travel back to Srirangam.
After 12 years when the muslims were thrown out of Srirangam Swami desika came back to Srirangam.