Ramanuja (1017?-1137?) was an Indian philosopher and religious teacher of devotional Hinduism. He belonged to the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism, members of which worship mainly the god Vishnu. Ramanuja understood Vishnu to be the supreme creator, all-powerful, perfect, and full of love and concern for humanity. Vishnu has many forms.
Ramanuja believed that Rama, the righteous king, was the greatest of these Vishnu forms. Ramanuja also believed that each soul retained its individual identity after death, although it was dependent on God and very near to God. The powerful rulers of Tamil Nadu in southern India worshipped the god Shiva. These rulers taught that when a person died his or her soul merged with the supreme being or God. As a result, they persecuted Ramanuja for his different religious beliefs.
Ramanuja was born in southern India into a scholarly Brahmin family. When Ramanuja was just a boy his father died. Later, Ramanuja made an unhappy marriage. He finally left his wife to become a holy man, practising self-denial. He made a long pilgrimage to the holy places of northern India before returning to Shrirangam in Tamil Nadu. There, Ramanuja gathered as many as 74 disciples to carry his teachings far and wide. Shrirangam is now a famous pilgrim site.
Ramanuja opposed the priests' claim that they were the only people divinely authorized to teach the scriptures and to perform holy ritual. He boldly preached to people of all castes and of no caste. He welcomed into his order everybody who wished to join. He encouraged the education of women, and preached equality of the sexes in social and religious matters.
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