Vittalraya becomes Vishnuvardhana
Ramanuja went to Tondanur, the capital or a capital outpost of the Hoysala Ballaka Kings of the Jain persuasion ruling at Dvara- samudra or Helebid. Vithala Deva-Raya was the king. Tondanur was the head quarters.
He had a daughter whom an evil spirit had taken possession. The King had called many physicians and magicians to treat her, but it was all in vain, and he was very grieved. There was a good man in the town by name Tondanur-Nambi, who lived by alms. He used to frequent the palace, and one day finding the queen, Santala-Devi in grief, asked her the cause thereof.
She explained her daughter’s condition, who was possessed by devil because of which she became insane and did all antic things. Tondanur-Nambi said, “Noble Queen, may I tell you that a great and holy man, by name Ramanuja, has arrived at our town. I have become his disciple; and I have learnt that he once treated a similar case to that of your daughter, and succeeded in delivering a princess from an evil spirit-a Brahma-rakshas. If you will get him to see your daughter with his gracious eyes, I have hopes of a speedy cure for her.”
The queen was overjoyed at this revelation and communicated it at once to her royal spouse. He said “Lady, if Ramanuja will cast the devil out of our daughter and restore her to a sense of shame, we shall fall at his feet and accept him as our guru.”
In the mean while, the king intended to give a feast to his caste- men, the Jains who abounded in the country. The queen however warned her husband thus, “Lord, you give a feast no doubt, to your castemen, the Jains. But they will reject your invitation on the score that you lack a finger of your hand.” “How can they dare refuse a king’s invitation?” said the king irritated, and consulted his kinsmen about it. They said, “King, the Turushka emperor of Delhi, captured you and your country; and set a mark on you to show that you had lost your independence and sovereignty, by depriving you of a finger. But our custom does not allow us to eat in the house of a finger-less man. Did you forget, you are called Bitti-deva, or the finger-Lord? We refuse to eat in your house.” This greatly incensed the king and vowed vengeance against them.
The queen approached Bitti-Deva and said, “Lord, why are you concerned thus? Let us dissociate ourselves from their community and join the Vaishnava ranks by becoming disciples of Ramanuja. Have you forgotten what our Nambi told us about him? And is not our mad daughter also to be set right?” Well said, we shall at once send for Ramanuja,” said Bitti-deva, and sent out men to invite Ramanuja to his palace.
But when the men delivered their message to Ramanuja, who had camped outside the town limits, he told them he would not plant his foot in kings’ cities. Nambi was there at the time. He rose and falling before Ramanuja, pleaded thus, “Holy Sire, we pray to you not to be so determined, but enter the king’s house. He will be an invaluable gain to our faith. Melukote or Tiru-Narayana-puram, about which you have been dreaming, is situated in this king’s dominions. Your desire is to restore this old and forgotten place of worship. To do this we want a king to advocate the cause. So we earnestly pray you not to reject the king’s overtures. Enter his house and shower on him your graces.”
Ramanuja was won by this persuasion and immediately made his entry into the city and the king’s mansion. Bitti-deva was elated with joy, and as the holy sage advanced, he ran to him and threw himself at his feet. Ramanuja made kind inquires, and entering the royal apartments was told the sad plight in which the king’s daughter was.
He commanded his disciples to have the girl brought before him and sprinkle her with the water made holy by the washing of his feet. This they did. And lo, the evil spirit left her; she was no more crazy but returned to a sense of shame, ran into the inner apartments and shrouding herself in garments, returned and fell before Ramanuja, saying: “Holy Saint, you are no ordinary mortal. You are a celestial being descended from heaven. Else I should not have recovered. Praise be to you. I bow to you.” Vitthala-Deva was simply carried out of himself on witnessing these miracles, and needless to say, at once became a disciple of Ramanuja, and devoted himself to his service for ever. Ramanuja bestowed on him the name of Vishnu-Vardhana-Raya.
Ramanuja’s Celestial Nature – Jains’ Defeat
The Jains rose in revolt against Ramanuja. It is said that a body of 12,000 of them marched to Ramanuja, who had taken his abode in Lord Nrisimha’s temple at Tondanur, and demanded of him that he should first argue with them on religion and philosophy, before he interfered with their king.
Ramanuja seeing this tremendous onslaught of an infuriated crowd, thought to himself thus, “In order to escape from lightning, I have courted thunder; fearing the scorpion, I have fallen a victim to the fangs of a cobra; breaking away from fetters, I have thrust myself into stocks. What is the way now?”
Nambi, finding his guru thus embarassed, said, “Holy Sir, you are no ordinary mortal. Is not it needed while at such a crisis to reveal your true celestial nature? May not all men realize your greatness and be saved?” Ramanuja, saying, “Let it be so then,” retired into an ante-chamber in the temple, and commanding a curtain to be hung up between him and the crowd, became a thousand headed serpent, and argued with the Jain disputants in a thousand ways, vanquishing them completely.
This incident is memorialized to this day by means of a painting of Ramanuja, over-shadowed by the thousand heads of Sesha, on a wall in the Nrisimha temple, existing to this day in good repair in Tondanur (called Chaturvedi-mangalam.) Most of them embraced the Vaishnava faith by becoming the disciples of Ramanuja.