KURESA OR Kurathazhwar was the foremost disciple of
The story of Kuresa's life has been told many times
over the centuries. Nonetheless, it is a life-story of such nobility and inspiration that it will bear repetition any number
Kuresa hailed from the hamlet of ``Kura'' (or ``kooram'')
near Kanchipuram. He belonged to the clan of the Haritas, to a wealthy, land- owning and propertied family. Kuresa was regarded
with great respect as the elder in his community. He and his wife, Andalamma, were renowned for their philanthropy and public
service. They were ardent devotees of Kanchi Varadaraja.
Early in his life, Kuresa came under the spell of Ramanujacharya
who at that time was living in Kanchi. It was the time when Ramanuja was slowly emerging as the propagator of a new school
Kuresa, although senior in age, became a disciple of
Ramanujacharya. He was soon initiated into a rigorous study of the ancient Vedic scriptures and more especially the ``meemamsa-
sutras''. A strange but strong bond of kinship developed between the young Master and the elderly student over the many years
they spent together in Kanchi.
In his mid-life, due to a variety of personal and social
reasons, Ramanuja took to ``sanyasa'' and was called away by the community of Sri Vaishnavas in Srirangam to rally them all
into a cohesive force there against the onslaught of religious bigotry waged by the Saivite State at that time.
Kuresa's close relationship with Ramanuja thus drew
to a close. Seeing off Ramanuja to Srirangam, Kuresa returned to his hamlet with his wife Andalamma.
One evening, after they had completed their daily routine
of charity - feeding the poor who had gathered at their doorsteps at dusk - they retired for the day. Kuresa banged the big
brass doorway to his home shut. This banging was so loud in the quiet of the night that it was heard some distance away in
Kanchi. On being told that the sound of the door closure was heard by the Lord, Kuresa said, ``What?! Did thatdisturb the
Lord and His Consort in Kanchi?! What a conceited wretch am I that I should let my charity be announced thus to the whole
world! What a vain sinner am I''!
It was a turning point in the life of Kuresa who decided
to renounce all his wealth and join Ramanuja in Srirangam where he and his wife were received with great joy.
Kuresa used to take down the dictation of `Sri Bhashya'
by Ramanuja. One day, Ramanuja stated that the distinguishing attribute of the atomic soul (``jeeva'') was its cognitive power.
At this point Kuresa put his writing-quill down and ceased writing. He looked up at his guru.
Ramanujacharya looked at Kuresa and flew into a temper.
``Sir, if you mean to write the ``Bhashya'' on the ``Vyasa-sutras'' yourself, you may do so!'', thundered Ramanuja at Kuresa,
and stomped out in a fit of rage.
After a while Ramanuja reflected carefully upon the
incident. And he realised that Kuresa was right in finding fault with his dictated passage. The definition of the ``jeeva''
as a cognitive entity was an essential but not sufficient description in as much as the most important characteristic of the
soul viz. its allegiance or leigeship to God (`seshatva') was a serious omission.
Ramanuja realised that if his original definition of
the jeeva had gone unchallenged by Kuresa then the very superstructure of Visishtadvaita's theology would have proceeded to
be built on a wobbling premise. Ramanuja grew repentant.
He told Kuresa ``My son, you are absolutely right! Now
please write down the true nature of the soul as that which is God's... and let us proceed with the rest of the work.''
In Srirangam, although Ramanuja and Kuresa succeeded
in the stupendous task of systematising an exciting and epochal new philosophy, they both knew that the `Sri Bhashya' still
needed a final coat of brilliant polish.... the polish of irrefutability... before it could go into and earn an unchallenged
place in the annals of Vedantic history. Ramanuja knew he must access an ancient parchment or document called ``Boddhayana
vrutti'' - a rare exegetical treatise on Vyasa's ``Brahmasutras'' incorporating the insights of other great commentators of
distant past. The ``Boddhayana vrutti'', Ramanuja learnt, was lying somewhere in a musty library in the royal library of the
then king of an obscure Kashmiri State.
Daunting as the task appeared to him, Ramanuja went
to Kashmir in pursuit of the ``vrutti''. The King gave Ramanuja and Kuresa permission to access the archives in the royal
library. The royal pundits however, were none too happy and created many obstacles. Ramanuja was not allowed to take the vrutti
or notes out. Kuresa, endowed with a photographic memory, memorised the whole book. Back in Srirangam, Kuresa and Ramanuja
completed the ``Sri Bhashya'' by incorporating authentic references to the ``Boddhayana vrutti'', the growing influence of
Sri Vaishnavism once again stoked the malevolent fires of religious bigotry in the land. Amongst some sections of the Saivite
population which at that time was concentrated around Gangaikondachozhapuram, near Chidambaram, hatred towards Sri Vaishnavism
and of Sri Ramanuja began to flare up.
The King of Chozhanad at that time was a Saivite fanatic.
His name was Krimikanta Chola of the clan of the Kollutunga kings. He was hell-bent on rooting out Vaishnavism from his kingdom
and the best way to do that, he thought, was to destroy Ramanuja. He issued royal summons to Ramanuja to appear in his court
for the ostensible purpose of engaging him in a scholarly debate with his royal pundits. The real intention however was to
coerce Ramanuja to recant from Sri Vaishnavaism and if he refused ... to have him murdered.
Ramanuja's followers dissuaded him from going to Gangaikondachozhapuram.
Kuresa volunteered to go as Ramanuja's proxy and respond to the royal summons. With great reluctance, Ramanuja left Srirangam
with a small band of acolytes and fled to Melkote or Tirunarayanapuram where he lived in exile for 12 long years... a difficult
period in life for the aged Acharya.
It was at Melkote that Ramanuja heard about what had
happened to Kuresa and Mahapurna. In the court, the King said, ``Nothing higher than Siva exists'', and commanded them to
agree to it. Kuresa refused. He contended that Narayana was the Supreme Principle and none was higher than He.
The Chola King was incensed. He commanded Kuresa again
to swear allegiance to Siva. ``If you refuse, we shall have your eyes pulled out here and now!'' On hearing this Kuresa flew
into a rage. ``Let me save you the trouble, you tyrant, for I shall pluck out my eyes with my own hand! These eyes that have
set sight on a sinner such as you have no further use for me!''. So saying Kuresa plunged the sharp writing-quill into his
own eyes. Mahapurna too suffered a similar fate but died a little later.
One day, the blind Kuresa tottered on his way from home
to the temple of Ranganatha to have the `darshan' of the Lord. The temple guards, however, stopped him at the gates saying,
``We have instructions from the King to let people in only if they swear that they willingly renounce Ramanuja as their guru.''
Kuresa told them blandly, ``Please tell your King that Kuresa is prepared to forsake Lord Ranganatha in this world and even
in the next. But denounce Ramanuja, never!'' The blind Kuresa then took his wife and children and lived at Tirumalirunjolai
(near Madurai) till Ramanuja's return.
King Krimikanta died of a deadly rash in his neck. After
his death, the fanatic fringe of Saivism in the kingdom quickly lost its militant edge and the land of the Cholas again reverted
to sanity. Krimikanta Chola's successor turned out to be a wise king. He discouraged religious bigotry in his kingdom. Ramanuja
then decided to return to Srirangam.
At the age of well over 100 years, after his triumphant
return to Srirangam from Melkote, Sri Ramanujacharya with the help of Kuresa, once again set about resurrecting Sri Vaishnavism
and restoring its soaring spirit to its former glory. The temple of Srirangam had faced ill- fated days; many centres of worship
belonging to the faith had been vandalised too; Vaishnava associations, libraries, schools and trusts had all been systematically
looted and destroyed as well. Corruption, indiscipline and laxity of faith had also set in amongst many Sri Vaishnavas.
Kuresa ably assisted his guru in setting right all the
wrongs of the Sri Vaishnava faith. Together they worked tirelessly to bring order, vigour and rectitude back to their faith.
Kuresa passed away peacefully in the presence of his
loving family, Andalamma and their two young sons Vyasa and Parasara Bhattar. All of Srirangam gathered and performed all
the due obsequies and honours that one so great a soul as Kuresa richly deserved. Ramanuja had many disciples. But there never
was one like Sri Kuresa...
M. K. SUDARSHAN