All about Sri Yamunacharya with translation of top 6 Slokas

Brief Biography of Sri Yamunacharya

Among the great Vaishnava Acharyas, Sri Yamunacharya, also known as Alavandar, occupies a unique place. He has made a substantial contribution to Visishtadvaita philosophy and established the pre-eminence of Sriman Narayana through his philosophical works and hymns.  Sri Yamuna’s “Stotraratna” occupies a special place in the devotional literature as it shows philosophical ideas in sublime poetic language. 

The ‘Strotraratna’ consisting of 65 verses conveys the basic ideas of Visishtadvaita philosophy like the relations of the individual self to the Supreme and His Consort, the place of the triple path of karma, jnana and bhakti, and the means for His Divine Grace. Above all, it emphasizes the supreme significance of Prapatti or ‘surrender’ to achieve salvation.  Considered as a rare jewel among hymns, the ‘Stotraratna’ calls upon surrendering the Lotus Feet of Lord Narayana.

Sri Yamunacharya was born in 953AD in Viranarayanapuram of Tamil Nadu not far from Cuddalore.  He was the son of Ishwara Muni and the grandson of Sri Ranganatha Muni known popularly as Nathamuni.  It is said that Nathamuni and his family members were going on a pilgrimage in North India.  As the conception took place on the banks of the river Yamuna, Sri Nathamuni gave the child the name Yamuna who later on became Sri Yamunacharya. Sri Ishwara Muni died at a young age.  On the death of his son, Nathamuni rejected the world and became a hermit. 

The education of young  Yamuna was left to  Bhasya Bhattaraka.  The Yamuna was a brilliant student and excelled in all branches of studies. Yamuna’s Teacher and all the others were under the rulership of a Pandyan king.  The chief preceptor and religious disputant in the court were Vidvajjanakolahala.  As his very name indicated, he threw all the learned people into turmoil, as he used to harshly conquer them in scholarly debates. 

The Defeat of Sri Yamunacharya’s Teacher

Yamuna’s Teacher was one of those who had been defeated in the debate.  He was therefore required to pay a tribute to the king and the pandit. Yamuna’s Teacher fell into debt in the payment. On a particular occasion, the attendants from the court came with force to collect the dues and the teacher was away.

The Yamuna, on behalf of the teacher, refused to pay.  When the attendants susceptible to attach the property, Yamuna raised the issue that he would have to be defeated in a debate. The Yamuna was all twelve years at that time. The attendants duly reported the matter to the king.

The king said that the Yamuna was free to challenge the chief preceptor and that he was welcome to come to the court. When the attendant came back to inform the Yamuna about this, Yamuna said that this was no way to invite him. They should raise a palanquin and carry him with due honor, as he was, after all challenging the royal preceptor. 

When this was reported to the king, he was amused that a twelve-year-old upstart should behave like this. But admiring his pluck, the king agreed. The palanquin, with a follower of attendants, arrived. The Yamuna boarded the palanquin, with all confidence. He was accompanied by the entire village.  When he got down from the palanquin, he made a striking, good-looking character who walked with self-confidence.

The king and the queen both saw this striking challenger. They had a wager. The queen said that if the challenger lost, she would embrace Saivism and become the bonded – slave of the king, all her life. The king said that if the challenger won, he (the king) would part with a portion of his kingdom to the challenger.

The Yamuna challenged Vidyajjanakolahala and convincingly defeated him in the philosophical and religious debate. The king parted with a portion of the kingdom. The Yamuna was now fully engrossed in the administration of his kingdom. The Yamuna was lost in enjoying royal splendor. Nathamuni came to know about this, it made him sad, and wanted his grandson to be weaned away from his royal enjoyments and to take to the spiritual path.

Nathamuni entrusted the job to his disciple Pundariakasha (Uyyakkondar) and then breathed his last. Even Uyyakkondar, who was quite old, entrusted this work to his disciple, Srirama Misra, and passed away. Sri Rama Misra was also known as Manakkal Nambi found that the king was always surrounded by the countries, pandits, and attendants that he could not even get an audience.

 Sri Rama Misra hit upon a plan.  The green leaves of a plant called in Tamil “tutuvalai” make a person develop ‘satva’ habits when the leaves are cooked and eaten. Manakkal Nambi became the friend of royal cook and told him that these leaves have the supreme quality of increasing the longevity and intelligence of whosoever takes it. The cook who was fond of Yamuna regularly gave this dish to him.

The king began to like the dish. As part of his plan, Nambi stopped delivering these leaves. The cook could not get an alternate source. The king noticed the absence of the dish and sent it to the cook. The king said that the supplier had stopped coming. The king wanted the supplier to be produced before him. Manakkal Nambi got the audience, which he had been unable to secure earlier.

After promising to resume the supply, Nambitold the king that there was a great treasure bequeathed by the latter’s ancestors which was available to be taken, in case the king was interested. The king who was planning some expeditions required money and anxiously asked Nambi to take him to the treasure. Nambi insisted on the king learning the Gita from him before taking possession of the treasure.  Yamuna’s Gitartha Sangraha embodies this teaching he received from Nambi. Nambi said that the treasure was behind seven gates, that it was guarded by a great snake, and if the king desired to secure the treasure, he would have to come alone. 

The king agreed. Manakkal Nambi took the king to Srirangam.  They went past the seven gates and when the Yamuna saw the great  Lord reclining on  Adisesha the serpent which was guarding the treasure ! he fell prostrate before the Lord and became a  saintly person.  He became Yamunacharya.

When the Yamuna  had  gone  to  the  court  of  the  Pandyan king  and  defeated  Vidvajjanakolahala,  the queen  hailed  him  as  “Alavandar – Enter  the  Savior.”  That is how the Yamuna became known as  Alavandar and his stotra as  Alavandar Stotra.  In addition to this great work, which is a  cornerstone of devotional literature,  Yamuna has written Chattussloki, Siddhi, Traya,  Purusha Nirnaya which has become extinct,  and  Agama Pramanya.

Stotra Ratna of Sri Yamunacharya

The Stotra Ratna is a work of  65 slokas, written by Sri Yamunacharya, also known as  Alvandar.  It is very highly praised in  Vaishnavaite literature and hence this  Alavandar Stotra is known only as  Stotra Ratna – a jewel among the stotras. It is a priceless jewel in the devotional literature and expounds on the doctrines of Vaishnavism.

The later pillars of  Vaishnavism, Ramanuja,  Parasara Bhatta,  Vedanta Desika, and others derived their inspiration from this work.  It is said that a  recital of these slokas by  Mahapurna,  used to always cast an irresistible spell on  Ramanuja.  Sloka  11  in the  Stotra Ratna used to cast a  magic spell on  Ramanuja.  It is this same sloka that weaned away  Ramanuja’s cousin  Govinda known as  Embar from  Saivism.  Inturn,  Yamuna derived inspiration across in mellifluous  Sanskrit, is what had been stated in the  Divya Prabhandham.

Significance of Stotra Ratna of Sri Yamunacharya

The  Stotra Ratna,  the hymn of  65 slokas,  is a  benchmark in  Vaishnavite literature.  It greatly influenced  Bhagavan Ramanuja.  This stotra brings out the essential teaching that the Lord is the means,  the end, and the goal of human endeavor.  It also brings out the significance of the  Dvayamantra

The sloka brings out the efficacy of  ‘prapatti’  in attaining liberation.  The supremacy of  Lord Vishnu is highlighted in many a  verse,  including and indicating how the entire universe evolves out of him and is absorbed by him.  The sovereignty of the Lord is impressed on us by showing  His compassion,  His beatific form, and  His eternally benevolent activities. 

This hymn is the centerpiece of the concept of the Supreme Being and the concept of  Surrender to him.  These slokas are a very rare jewel among devotional poems.  This exquisite poem of  65 slokas contains the essence of the  Visishatadvaita philosophy.  Sri Yamunacharya elucidates the fundamental concepts regarding  God and the soul which describes the qualities of the Lord and  His unparalleled glory.  Above all,  this splendid slokas sets forth the concept of prapatti or wholehearted surrender to  Lord Sriman Narayana most appealingly and authentically.

Shri Yamunacharya image
Sri Yamunacharya: Credits: We Sources

Selected Slokas from Sri Yamunacharya Stotra Ratna

Sloka 1.

“Namo  achintyadbhutaa  klishta

janaa  vairagya  rasaye

naathaaya  munaye  agaadha

bhagavad bhakti sindhave.”

Translation of the Sloka

“Obeisance to Saint Nathamuni, whose devotion is like an ocean, whose depth cannot be measured, who is an unfathomable ocean of divine love,  who  is  the  embodiment  of  knowledge  and  renunciation,  which  are  marvelous,  and  have been  so  easily  acquired  but  are  beyond  our  comprehension.”

Summary of the Sloka

Sri Yamunacharya is offering obeisance to his grandfather  Sri Nathamuni.  In the introduction,  we have seen who is  Nathamuni.  He is the person who weaned away  Sri Yamuna to the spiritual path.  What sort of a  person is  Nathamuni? 

This sloka explains his knowledge is not like that of others;  his  ‘vairagya’  (renunciation)  is not like that of others;  his devotion is not like that of others.  They are all  “achintya”  beyond one’s comprehension.  They are marvelous  (‘adbhuta’).  They are  “aklishta”  easily acquired i.e.,  innate.  Sages like  Vyasa,  Parasara, and others also had knowledge and renunciation.  But,  they were acquired through severe penance. 

In the case of  Nathamuni,  as in the case of  Alwars,  they were conferred by the Lord himself and therefore acquired with ease. Sri Nathamuni  is  like  a  deep  ocean  of  divine  love  “agadha  Bhagavad sindhave.”  It is not possible to so easily assess the depth of the ocean.  It is not possible to disturb or agitate the ocean. 

The devotion of Sri Nathamuni is of the same nature.  It is possible to glean two meanings from this sloka.  One may say that he was an ocean as far as devotion to the Lord is concerned or one can say that he had within him,  the ocean called divine love.  It may be mentioned that devotion  (divine love)  has been separately referred to, to emphasize that devotion is the product of jnana and vairagya.

This is precisely what the Lord had said in the  Srimad Bhagavad Gita  (Chapter 12).  The Lord had explained the path of knowledge and the path of devotion to the manifest and the unmanifest.  Arjuna has a  doubt.  He asks the Lord  “Those devotees,  whoever integrated,  those who meditate on you and those again,  who meditate on the  Imperishable and  Unmanifest – which of these have,  greater knowledge of  Yoga?  The Lord  replies  “Those,  who,  ever  integrated  with  Me  and  possessed  of  supreme  faith,  worship  Me,  focusing  their  minds  on  Me – these  are  considered  by  Me  the  highest  among  the  Yogins.”

Sloka 2

“Tasmai  namo  madhujidanghri  sarojatattva

jnana  anugraaga  mahima  atisayaanta  simne

naathaaya  naathamunaye  atra  paratra  chaapi

nityam  yadiya  charanau  saranam  madiyam.”

Translation of the Sloka

“Obeisance  to  that  master,  Nathamuni,  whose  feet  are  my  eternal  refuge  in  this  and  the  next  world  and  who  represents  the  farthest  landmark  of  that  surpassing  greatness  which  consists  of  the  true  knowledge  of  the  lotus  feet  of  the  vanquisher  of  Madhu  and  intense  love  for  them.”

Summary of the Sloka

In the previous sloka,  Sri Alavandar had paid obeisance to  Sri Nathamuni.  Since in  Vaishnava Sampradaya,  the principal acharya after  Nammalwar is  Sri Nathamuni,  Yamuna continues to offer salutations to him.  The lotus feet of  Nathamuni is the refuge in this world and the next world. Sri Nathamuni has perfect spiritual knowledge about the Lord and hence is himself a  “complete”  person.  He had personally experienced the love and affection of the Lord. 

The Lord had come to reside in him.  Hence,  Sri Alavandar is paying obeisance,  both before and after obtaining liberation. A  doubt  may  arise  as  to  the  appropriateness  of  paying  obeisance  to  the  feet  of  the  Acharya,  both  before  and  after  obtaining  liberation  “atra paratra chapi.”  Should not the refuge,  after obtaining the liberation,  be with the Lord?  The answer is two-fold.  Firstly,  it is common to refer to those who have obtained liberation from this world as persons who have attained the feet of the  Acharya.  Secondly,  the  Bhagavathas are to be worshipped in preference to the  Bhagavan.

Sloka 3

“Bhooyo  namo  aparimita  achyuta  bhakti  tattva

janana  amritaabdhi  parivaaha  subhair  vacobhih

loke  avateerna  paramaartha  samagra  bhakti –

yogaaya  Naatha  munaye  yaminaam  varaaya.”

Translation of the Sloka

“Obeisance  again  to  Nathamuni,  the  best  among  those  who  know  and  who  practice  divine  love,  by  whose  holy  precepts,  which  are  the  overflow  of  the  boundless  nectarine  divine  love,  the  world  has  benefited.”

Summary of the Sloka

Sri Alavandar  is  paying  obeisance  once  again  to  the  crown  jewel  among  the  sages  “yaminaam varaaya.”  Why?  Because,  Sri Nathamuni,  by his precepts  “Srisuktis”  made  Bhakti Yoga to shine in this world.  These precepts are like the torrential flow of the ocean of divine love,  a  love that has no limits.  A full tank has the sluice opened so that the bunds may not be breached by the rushing waters. 

This  is  called  “parivaha.”  Thus,  by calling the holy precepts “bhakti parivaha”  we are being reminded that if we do not imbibe this divine love and if we do not practice it,  then this body is compared to a  tank that will be breached  (that is,  destroyed). It is believed that the precepts of  Nathamuni referred to here are  (perhaps)  what were recorded by  Nathamuni in his great work  “Nyaya Tattva”  or the  Yogarahasya which have become extinct today.  In those days,  the works must have been current and the Yamuna has referred to them.

Sloka 4

“Tattvena  yah  cid – acid  isvara  tat  svabhaava

bhoga  apavarga  tad  upaaya  gatir  udaarah

sandarsayan  niramimita  puraana  ratnam

tasmai  namo  munivaraaya  paraas

Translation of the Sloka

“Obeisance  to  Sri Parasara,  who  wrote  the  gem  among  the  Puranas,  the Vishnu Purana,  and  who  in  his  large-heartedness  explained  chit,  achit,  Isvara  (the  tattva  traya),  the  Jiva’s  worldly  enjoyment,  liberation,  the  method  of  achieving  it  and  the  path  taken  by  the  Jivas.”

Summary of the Sloka

In the earlier slokas,  Alavandar had paid obeisance to  Sri Nathamuni.  Here he pays obeisance to  Parasara who retold the  Vishnu Purana.  Among the  18 Mahapuranas,  it is a  gem  (“Purana Ratnam”).  It states things with clarity and luster.  The  Tattvatraya – chit,  achit, and  Isvara are explained in the  Purana. Why does  Sri Yamuna pay obeisance to  Parasara?  Parasara was the grandson of  Vasishta. 

Due to the enmity between  Vasishta and  Vishvamitra.  Vishvamitra arranged to see that all the one hundred sons of  Vasishta were devoured by Rakshasas.  When  Parasara came to know that his father had been killed by a Rakshasa, he went about exterminating all the Rakshasas. Vasishta interceded and told his grandson that the Rakshasas,  in general,  had not killed his father,  that he was showing excessive wrath, and that it was only the foolish who displayed their passions in this manner.  He advised  Parasara that anger eats into one’s asceticism and that pious people should show asceticism. 

Parasara accepted the advice and  Vasishta were gratified.  At that time,  Pulastya,  father of the Rakshasas arrived there and blessed  Parasara that he would master all the branches of knowledge.  Since  Parasara had not killed all of his  (Pulastya’s)  sons he conferred a  boon.  He said that he would be the author of the  Purana and  Samhitas.  Thus,  when  Maitreya asked  Parasara to tell him about the creation of the  Universe,  Parasara replied that he would completely retell the  Purana,  that the Universe had sprung from  Vishnu,  that the creation,  maintenance,  and destruction of the Universe is done by  Vishnu,  as  Vishnu is the Universe.  This is the reason why the Yamuna pays obeisance to  Parasara.

Sloka 5

“Maata  pitaa  yuvatayas  tanayaa  vibhutih

sarvam  yadeva  niyamena  mad  anvayaanam

adyasya  nah  kulapater  vakulaabhiraamam

srimattadanghri  yugalam  pranamaami  moordhnaa.”

Translation of the Sloka

“I  lay  my  head,  in  reverence,  at  the  effulgent  feet  of  Nammalvar,  the  pristine  chief  of  the  line  of  Prapannas,  bedecked  with  the  beautiful  “vakula”  flowers,  whose  feet  are  the  all  in  all,  the  father,  the  mother,  the  wife,  the  son  for  all  my  community,  those  who  came  before  me  and  for  those  who  will  come  after  me.”

Summary of the Sloka

As great as the  Vishnu Puranam is the  Tiruvaymozhi of  Nammalvar – the adherents of  Dravida Vedas would even rate it higher than  Parasara’s work.  It contains the essence of the  Vedas.  While offering salutations to  Nammalvar,  Yamuna calls him “adyasya Nah kulapateh” – he is the primordial head of our family.  The Yamuna elevates him to the stage of the gotra sages,  who head the various families. 

For all the “prapannas” who pin their faith solely on  God’s spontaneous grace and look upon him as the highest goal as also as the means for  “prapannas”?  They are all the  Vaishnavas who happened to be born earlier and who are to be born later. There is also an interpretation,  where under,  the words  “adyasya Nah kulapateh”  are interpreted as referring to the Lord.  Since the feet of the Lord rest on the Sathari  (Sri Sathagopa),  the concluding words  “anghri yugalam”  refer to  Sri Nammalvar

This may also be correct,  as there is a  reference to  “vakula”  flowers.  Nammalvar  is  also  called “vakulabharanar.”  Sri Yamuna shows his great humility.  It is not just obeisance he is offering.  He  uses  the  words  “moordha pranamami.”  I  offer my salutations by bowing my head.  Anyone who surrenders,  with all his limbs,  will undoubtedly reach  God earlier.

Sloka 6

“Yan  murdhni  me  sruti  sirassucha  bhaati  yasmin

asman  manoratha – pathassakalas  sameti

stoshyami  nah  kuladhanam  kuladaivatam  tat

paadaaravindam  aravinda – vilocansya.”

Translation of the Sloka

“I  shall now sing the glory of the lotus feet of the Lord,  whose eyes possess the glow of the red lotus.  The  feet  of  the Lord  will  adorn  my  head  and  will  be  the  crest  of  the  Vedas,  the  feet  whereunto  my  surging  love  converges  in  its  entirety  and  which  constitutes  my  treasure  inherited  through  successive  generations,  the  feet  which  are  the  tutelary  deity  and  ultimate  destination  of  our  whole  clan.”

Summary of the Sloka

Having paid obeisance to the great ones, Nathamuni,  Parasara, and  Nammalvar in the previous slokas,  Sri Yamuna pledges himself to sing the glory of the feet of the Lord.  These feet are described as the perennial bliss of the author and his entire clan. What does  Sri Yamuna mean by referring to the feet,  which are adorning one’s head?  When one prays to the Lord,  one looks at the feet of the Lord and prays. 

The feet of the Lord would then rest on the head of the supplicant and would continue to shine.  In the same manner,  the feet of the Lord adorns the crest of the  Vedas,  referring to the glory of the  Upanishads.  Sri Yamuna calls the feet both the ‘kuladhanam’ and  ‘kuladaivatam’ the treasure which has been inherited through successive generations and the tutelary for families of forefathers. In this context,  we may refer to two stanzas,  in two other great works.  Sri Vedanta Desika  writes  in  Sloka  two  of  Sri Bhagavad Dhyana Sopanam :

“…… the  lotus-like  feet  of  Sri Ranganatha,  which  bear  the  unbounded  fragrance  of  the  Vedas,  which  are  saluted  by  the  Brahmas,  with  their  heads  bent down,  which  manifested  on  the  golden  banks  of  the  Kaveri,  filled  with  swans  and  which  are  lovingly  fondled  by  the  lotus-like  hands  of  Lakshmi  and  Bhudevi, is reflected  in  the  well  of  my  thoughts…”  While  Sri Yamuna says that the feet are the crest of the  Vedas,  Sri Vedanta Desika says that they bear the unbounded fragrance of the  Vedas.

Sri Narayana Bhattathiri  in  his  ‘Narayaneeyam’  say  in  Dasaka 100 :

“ O Lord,  Thou ocean of mercy,  O Krishna,  O Lord of  Guruvayur!  May  Thy  feet  which  are  the  most  charming  of  your  limbs  to  the  lordly  sages,  and  to  Thy  devotees,  the  feet  which  are  the  tender  sprouts  of  the  celestial  tree  which  showers  on  them  their  desired  objects  grant  me,  seated  as  they  always  are  in  my  heart,  the  prosperity  of  complete  bliss  supreme,  dispelling  all  my  distress.”  Sri Yamuna  calls  the Lord  “Aaravinda vilochana.”  He says that the eyes glow the red lotus.  In  the  ‘Narayaneeyam,’  Bhattathiri  describes  the  eyes  as  follows :

“May  Thy  pair  of  eyes,  O Lord,  be  cast  on  me,  who  am  helpless – those  eyes  charming  with  great luster and  of  the  shape  of  the  wide  petals  of  a  red lotus,  of  very  lovely  pupils  and  cooling  the  world  with  their  charming  glances  of  mercy.”  In the  Sundara Kanda,  Sita is bemoaning her fate.  She  suffers  pangs  of  agony  that  she  is not  able  to  see  Lord Ramachandra  while  others can see  Him  and  have  the  good  fortune  to  feast  their  eyes  on  His  eyes,  which  are  like  “blossoming  petals.”

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