Bhagavad Ramanuja was born in 1017 CE, which corresponded to the sashti-samvatsara year of Pingala year of Pingala in the nakshatra (constellation) of Ardhra (thiruvadhirai) in the Tamil month of Chittirai in the tithi of shukla panchami (the fifth day of the bright moon). He appeared in the clan called Harita to Aasuri Keshava Somayaaji and Kantimati, the sister of the famous Sri Vaishnava preceptor, Srimad Periya Thirumalai Nambi. After birth, he was named Lakshmana or Ilaya Perumal by his maternal uncle.
Before Ilaya Perumal turned sixteen, he had already a profound mastery of the Vedas and other shastras (scriptures). He married a noble lady named Thanjamaambaal (Rakshakaambaal) when he was seventeen. After his marriage, he moved to Kanchipuram wherein he was enrolled in a school of Advaita Vedanta headed by a scholar named Yadava Prakasha.
After seen Ramanuja’s keen intellect, sharpness, and grasping powers, Yadava Prakasha felt threatened. He felt that his reputation and that of his school may be overshadowed by Ramanuja’s fame, and planned to kill him after convincing him to accompany him on a pilgrimage to Kashi.
Having learnt the nefarious designs of Yadava Prakasha from his cousin and classmate Govinda, Ramanuja discontinued his trip to Kashi and decided to head back to Kanchipuram. On the way back, when he was lost in the forests, Lord Varadaraja and Perundevi Thayar Themselves came disguised as a hunter-couple to guide him back to the city of Kanchipuram.
Srimad Yamunacharya (Alavandar), who had come over to Kanchipuram around that time, blessed Ramanuja with his divya-kataksham (divine glance). He made the prophetic statement: aam .- mudalvan evan, translated as ‘Yes, he is the champion of our sampradaayam.’
Through another great teacher and master, Thirukkachchi Nambi he obtained the six finer truths of the sampradayam. These six truths, known as aru-varthaigal were spoken directly by Lord Varadaraja to Thirukachhi Nambi to pass on to Ramanuja.
He was awarded initiation into the Sri Vaishnava fold through pancha-samskaram (the five divine sacraments) from Periya Nambi at Madhurantakam, after which he studied Vedanta under Peria Nambi’s shelter.
Disassociating himself from samsaric afflictions, he got initiated into the ascetic order directly from Sri Varadaraja Perumal who proclaimed him to be Yatiraja: the king amongst ascetics.
Later Ramanuja moved to Srirangam, accompanied by his disciples such as Kuratthazhwan and Kidambi Achan. Lord Ranganatha personally asked him to manage the temple administration and awarded him the title ‘Udaiavar’. The administrative rules and guidelines set up by Udaiavar are still followed in the Srirangam temple today.
With an earnest desire to learn the esoteric mysteries of the three sacred Sri Vaishnava mantras, the ashtakshari, dvayam and charama-slokam, he approached the illustrious Thirukottiyur Nambi (Srimad Goshti Pura) a total of eighteen times. He was rejected every time, and finally awarded the divine mysteries on the condition that he would not share it with unqualified persons, and that if he broke the rule, he would go to the hellish realms.
After receiving the divine benedictions from Thirukottiyur Nambi, Ramanuja immediately went to the top of the temple tower, and invited all his disciples who had assembled there to understand the esoteric truths from him. Initially, Thirukottiyur Nambi displayed anger at what Ramanuja had done. When Ramanuja replied that he did not mind visiting the hellish realms as long as the rest of humankind was benefited by the secrets of prapatti, Thirukottiyur Nambi’s heart melted.
Intensely moved by Ramanuja’s limitless compassion, he embraced him and asked, “Ivar , emperumaanaaro?”. This meant: is he my master? Thirukottiyur Nambi also declared that from that day that the Sri Vaishnava tradition would become known as Ramanuja darshanam.
Ramanuja toured the northern regions of India, and obtained the rare manuscripts of Bodhayana-vritti at Kashmir. He authored delectable works like Sri Bhashyam (the main Sri Vaishnava commentary on Bodhayana’s Brahma Sutra), Vedanta Saram, Vedanta Deepam, Vedartha Sangraham and other great works, and fulfilled the desires of Alavandar.
It was Goddess Saraswati herself who had named Ramanuja’s commentary on the Brahma Sutras as Sri Bhashyam after listening to it with rapt attention. Out of great delight she also embellished Ramanuja with the title ‘Sri Bhashyakara’, and gifted him a deity of Sri Lakshmi Hayagriva.
Ramanuja performed ritual surrender or sharanagati at the divine lotus feet of Sri Ranganatha and Sri Ranga Nayaki on the day of Panguni-uthiram. On this day, the Srirangam temple observed Serthi-utsavam (when the Deities of the Lord and the Mother are worshipped together. Ramanuja composed and recited the Gadya-trayam at this festival, a brilliant work of prosody that demonstrated to the world that prapatti was the ultimate means of salvation. He authored a work called Nityam which described the different rites for worshipping the deity form of the Lord (bhagavad-aradhana). He instructed his disciple Pillan to write a commentary on Nammazhwar’s Thiruvaimozhi, known as the Aaraayirappadi. He named him Thirukkurugaippiraan Pillan and his commentary on the Thiruvaymozhi as Bhagavadvishayam.
During his stay at Srirangam, the Shaivite king Kulothunga Chola tried to kill Ramanuja. His most ardent disciple Kurathazhwan advised Ramanuja’s disciples to escape with Ramanuja, while he disguised himself as Ramanuja and went to meet Kulothunga with Peria Nambi. The king ordered their eyes to be removed, after which Peria Nambi departed for paramapadam.
Ramanuja and his disciples decided to stay at Melkote (Thirunarayanapuram) near Mysore. After defeating several Jain scholars in debates, he was helped by King Vishnuvardhana to build the temples of Belur and Melkote. Once he visited the palace of a Delhi sultan (cheiftain) to retrieve the utsava-murti of the Melkote temple. He stayed in Melkote for 32 years before returning back to Srirangam after the death of Kulothunga Chola.
Finally, Ramanuja appointed 74 simhasanadhipatis or crown bearers of Srivaishnava sampradayam as his successors, and ordained them to propagate Sri Vaishnavism all over the world.
For Sri Vaishnavas, Emperumanar is thus the prapyam, the fruit of attainment, and also prapakam, the means of attainment of that fruit. He is the acharya and the kulapati of the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya.