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About Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam
Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam is an institution that is over three hundred years old, and belongs to the Sri Vaishnava tradition. It follows the teachings of vishishtadvaita, as propounded by Bhagavad Ramanuja and Srimad Vedanta Desika.
Founding of the Andavan tradition by the Supreme Lord Himself
Tradition ascribes the founding of the Munitraya sampradayam, to which the Andavan Ashramam belongs, to Srimad Thirukudanthai Desikan in the eighteenth century under the direct orders of Sri Aravamudan, the presiding Deity of the divya-desam temple of Thirukudanthai. The Andavan Ashramam was later established as an institution after Sri Ranganatha, the primal Deity form of the Lord at Srirangam, the most important of the 108 divya-desam temples sacred to the Sri Vaishnava tradition, awarded the title of ‘Andavan’ to the Founder of the institution, Srimad Vazhuthur Swami, who was a disciple of Srimad Thirukudanthai Desikan. Thus the Andavan Ashramam which belongs to the Munitraya sampradayam was established under the direct orders of the Supreme Lord Sriman Narayana, through two of His most important Deity forms: Sri Aravamudan of Thirukudanthai and Sri Ranganatha of Srirangam.
Sri Gopalarya Mahadesikan more famously known as Srimad Thirukkudanthai Desikan was born in 1700 CE, in the village of Rayampettai in the district of Thanjavur by the Grace of Lord Oppiliappan as the son of Sri Krishna Suri.
He became proficient in all scriptures at a young age. He was sent by his father to Srirangam to be a disciple of Sri Sakshat Swami who was Himself very famous from the day of His birth. In fact Lord Ranganatha instructed Sri Sakshat Swami in his dream to train Srimad Gopalarya Mahadesikan in the philosophical tradition propagated by Sri Ramanuja and Sri Vedanta Desika.
Therefore Srimad Gopalarya Mahadesikan, returned to Thirukkudanthai and started propagating the sampradayam (traditional religious doctrine) besides completing several books which were left unfinished by his acharyas.
At that time, Lord Ranganatha directed three illustrious persons in their dreams, Srimad Vazhuthur Swami, Srimad Vatthirayiruppu Swami, and Srimad Seyyanam Swami, to go to Srimad Gopalarya Mahadesikan and learn the traditional literature and esoteric mysteries of Srivaishnavism, and to spread it far and wide.
Sri Thirukkudanthai Desikan too had a dream that he should teach the divine mysteries of Sri Vaishnavism to these three persons. Thus the tradition was given the name ‘Munitraya’, or the tradition of the three great munis or saints, because of two reasons: first because of the three early founders of the tradition: Sriman Natha Muni, Srimad Yamuna Muni and Srimad Ramanuja Muni; and second because of the three great saintly disciples of Srimad Thirukkudanthai Desikan: Srimad Vazhuthur Swami, Srimad Vatthirayiruppu Swami and Srimad Seyyanam Swami, who are considered to be amsha-avataras (partial incarnations) of the three original munis.
Bestowing of the title ‘Andavan’ by the Supreme Lord
Srimad Vazhuthur Swami accepted the ascetic order of sannyasa, and came to be known as Sri Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan. When He was in Vazhuthur for more than 30 years, he performed mangalasasanam prayers every day at the temple of Sri Jagathrakshaka Perumal. It is well known to many that when the curtain was drawn in front of the Deities of the temple, Vazhuthur Swami used to have a direct dialogue with the Deity.
Later he moved to live and teach in Srirangam and used to award the sacraments of samashrayanam and bharanyasam to thousands of disciples at the shrine of Sri Ranganayaki in the temple. At that time, he was also known as ‘Srirangam Swami’.
Once, Srimad Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan Vazhuthur Swami, went to meet his acharya Srimad Thirukudanthai Desikan to seek his blessings.
Remembering the causeless compassion and grace of his preceptor, and the unpayable debts to the acharya, Srirangam Swami offered his prostrations at the feet of Srimad Thirukudanthai Desikan and sang one of the verses of Nammalvar from the Thiruvaimozhi which had been written in praise of Sri Aravamudan.
The verse had the sentence: theera vinaigal theera ennai andaai – thirukudanthai oora (Oh, resident of Thirukudanthai, you rule over me – andaai – by removing all those faults which cannot be erased!). Srirangam Swami used this verse as a reference to Srimad Thiukudanthai Desikan and repeated this verse over and over again, with tears brimming from his eyes.
At that time, Srimad Thirukduanthai Desikan immediately picked up his worthy disciple and uttered the words: ‘Neere emmai andavan! Neere nam sampradayathai aala vantha Andavan!” (You are the person who rules over me. Indeed, you are the person who has come to rule and guard over our sampradayam).
Later, he returned to Srirangam and proceeded to the temple to serve the Lord. As soon as he arrived, the Deity of Lord Ranganatha Himself came to the flag-pillar or the dvija-stambha at the temple to receive Vazhuthur Swami. Lord Ranganatha embraced him by calling out: “Emmai anadavane, varuga’, which translates as, “Welcome to He who rules over me as andavan’.
Vazhuthur Swami’s acharya and the Divine Lord, had both addressed him with the title of ‘Andavan’. Since then the acharyas of the tradition are known as ‘Andavan’, which is considered to be a title directly awarded by the Supreme Lord Sri Ranganatha Himself.
Thus it is accepted that the Andavan Ashramam and the Munitraya Sampradayam to which it belongs, were divinely founded under the direct orders of Sri Ranganatha and Sri Aravamudan.
Headquarters and branches
The main spiritual headquarters of the Andavan Ashramam is in Srirangam, where most acharyas of this lineage have spent their saintly lives. The administrative headquarters is in Chennai.
The institution has centres spread across India and the US, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Vrindavan, Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Tirupati, Kumbhakonam, Thiruvendipuram, Thiruvidanthai, Sriperumbudur and other places. The institution also runs the Andavan Arts and Science College affiliated to the Bharathidasan University in Srirangam.
The main symbol of worship in the Andavan tradition is centred around the divine sandals of Sri Ranganatha known simply as padukas or in its full form as Sri Ranganatha-divyamani-padukas . The primordial deity of this Ashramam is Rukmini-Satyabhama-Sametha Sri Venugopala Swami, who was worshipped by Thirukudanthai Desikan, and finally handed over to Srimad Thirukudanthai Andavan in the 1970s by the family which had been taking care of the Deity for many centuries.
The institution traces its roots to Srimad Vedanta Desikan through the famous Saakshat Swami, and to Bhagavat Ramanuja through his foremost disciples, Kidambi Achan and Kurathazhvan.
The Andavan Ashramam is a beacon of light in the Srivaishnava line, offering succour and refuge to millions of followers by enlightening them on the path of prapatti, the easiest means of attaining the Lord. It offers the following services:
01 — Spiritual services
The acharya, Srimad Andavan, awards initiation to followers through a ritual called samashrayanam, and conducts sacramental surrender or prapatti through a ritual known as bharanyasam. Thousands of devotees undertake vows of samashrayanam and bharanyasam everyday at the divine lotus feet of Srimad Andavan to get connected to the Sri Vaishnava tradition and attain the supreme benefit of attaining the shelter of the Supreme Lord.
02 — Educational Services
The Andavan Ashramam runs a higher educational institution offering graduate, post-graduate and doctoral degrees at Srirangam, called The Andavan College of Arts and Science. It also runs over veda-patasalas or centres of traditional learning at Srirangam, Tiruchanoor, Aurangabad and Thiruvaindrapuram . Students live and learn the ancient traditional sciences of India including Vedic chanting and the schools of philosophy such as nyaya, vedanta, tarka and mimamsa.
The Ashramam also conducts several upanyasams or lectures on vaishnava topics and, runs several sandhai classes for the recitation and chanting of Vedas, Divya-prabandhas and stotras. Private classes are also conducted in the higher realms of knowledge known as kalakshepam where traditional esoteric texts are taught to those who have committed themselves to the Sri Vaishnava fold through samashrayanam and bharanyasam.
03 — Festival Services
The Andavan Ashramam conducts regular festivals and utsavams in all its centres where shishyas and the general public participate for spiritual benefit. These include festivals such as Sri Jayanti, Rama Navami, Deepavali, Karthigai and Pongal, and also the birthdays or thirunakshatrams of the Alwars, acharyas and others. Many of the utsavams include the ritual bathing ceremony of the Deity known as thirumanjanam, the chanting of various Sanskrit and Tamil verses called seva-kalam, elaborate decorations of the Deity forms of the Lord known as alankaram, and distribution of blessed food known as prasadam.
In addition, the Ashramam also conducts dholai-festivas, where the presiding Deity of the Ashramam visits the houses of devotees on request to bless them.
04 — Community Services
The Ashramam is involved in funding and overseeing the repairs of many ancient divya-desam temples in India to preserve our ancient tradition and culture. Recently, they supported the renovation of the ancient Kurugai Kaval Appan temple near Jeyamkondan. The Ashramam contributes regularly to festivals and utsavams held at various divya-desham temples such as the annual brahmotsavam at the Oppiliappan temple in Kumbakonam.
Under the direct orders of Srimad Andavan, the institution also distributes free meals known as thadiyaradhanai in several locations every day including Tirupati, Srirangam and at all Veda Patasalas.
It also has over 200 cows in goshalas in Srirangam, Tiruchanoor and Mumbai, where many aging and ill cows are nurtured and cared for.
It also supports girls from poor families by donating the gold required for thirumamangalyam pendants for their weddings.
The Vice President of India, Sri Venkaiaha Naidu appreciated the Andavan Arts and Science College founded by HH Rangaramanuja Mahadesikan Srimushanam Andavan by saying: “Founded by His Holiness Srimad Andavan Swamigal, and inaugurated by the then President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma in 1996, this prestigious institution has been serving the cause of higher education for the past 23 years. The Srimad Andavan College, since its establishment, has been striving to build a thriving learning culture responsive to the needs of the community at large through affordable and value-based education. I appreciate the management for providing free transport and other student support services. I congratulate the Srimad Andavan College for dedicating itself to the spread of education to the downtrodden communities hailing from rural areas.”
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru E. Palaniswami, appreciated the previous pontiff HH Rangaramanuja Mahadesikan Srimushnam Andavan, and said: “Andavan Swamigal offered discourses by participating in several conferences. Apart from his spiritual works, Andavan Swamigal also undertook many social initiatives.”
In January 2015, the then Governor of Tamil Nadu Sri K. Rosaiah had said: “I laud the management of the Srimad Andavan college for adopting two villages in Trichy and for its unique initiative to prevent dropouts in schools and colleges.” This was in reference to the free bus-transport provided by the Andavan Ashramam to the children of poor villagers who could not afford to commute to the college.