Sri Nathmuni was the first well-known Acharya of the Sri Vaishnava school in the 9th Century CE. He was the first significant instructor to combine the teachings of Alwars’ Tamil hymns and Vedic Sanskrit texts. Nathmuni’s son, Isvaramuni, passed away at a young age while his wife was still expecting. Nathmuni took sannyasa after the passing of his son, and due to his extensive knowledge, he was given the name “Muni”. Nathmuni’s grandson later became famous as Yamunacharya.
Sri Yamunacharya was the most prominent representative of Sri Vaishnavism prior to Ramanujacharya. Since his father had passed away, and his grandfather had taken Sannyasa, Yamunacharya was raised by his mother and grandmother. He did well in his studies and quickly outperformed all of his classmates. His teachers admired him for his command of the texts.
Yamunacharya conquered a kingdom at the young age of twelve by using his wits. At that point, all other pandits had been turned foolish by the Pandya king’s royal pandita. He was well-known for being “Vidvajjanakolahal,” which is Sanskrit for “one who draws up a scholarly uproar.” The king held Vidvajjanakolahal in high regard. All pandits in the country were required to pay him an annual levy. Those who refused to pay had to argue with the royal pandit, where they would be humiliated and then punished. Everyone used to pay this tax on a regular basis without protest because they were afraid of losing their reputation as academics.
One day, a royal pandit disciple arrived at the guru of Yamunacharya’s ashram and demanded the tax. Yamuna’s guru was not present, and Yamuna himself rejected paying the tax since he felt it would be a disrespect to his guru. The message he sent with the disciple was that an insignificant follower of Bhasyacharya would like to engage the word-conquering royal pandita, Vidvajjanakolahal, in an open debate.
When the news of the twelve-year-old boy’s challenge came to royal pandit, he simply laughed. “All right”, he said, “Summon this scholar here and let us match the wits”. When the boy was brought before the royal court, seeing the boy’s beauty the queen was charmed. She instantly took his side while the king favored his own pandit. A wager was settled by the king and the queen. If the king’s pandit won the debate, the queen was to submit to the king’s every whim. But if the queen’s boy won the debate, the king would award Yamunacharya half his kingdom.
The young boy was first inspected by the royal pandit, who asked him a number of difficult questions regarding Sanskrit grammar, which Yamuna expertly responded to. Now it was Yamuna’s turn to examine the scholar. “I’ll give three maxims”, he said. If you can disprove them, I’ll concede defeat.
- Your mother is not barren
- The king is pious
- The queen is chaste
To refute the first maxim means to say that his mother is barren which means to deny his own birth.
For the second maxim, how could anyone dare to say that the king is impious?
Then the third proposal is to say that the queen is not chaste.
Unable to refute these, the pandit fought back, “How dare you propose things which are irrefutable. If you think these propositions can be refuted then refute them by yourself and be damned as an offender to the throne. Otherwise, admit your defeat and hang your head in shame”.
The pandit’s followers filled the arena with applause and the king felt confident that his pandit had successfully turned back the challenge of this impudent boy. But Yamunacharya was not finished, “I shall refute these propositions myself”, he said.
First I asked to refute that your mother is not barren. According to the laws of Manu Smriti, if a woman has no more than one child, she may be considered barren (eka-putro hy aputrena lokavadat). Since your mother has only one son, the proposal that she is not barren is refuted.
Now the second proposal: The king is pious, I asked you to refute this. The Manu Smriti states that the king assumes one-sixth of the results of pious or impious deeds of his subjects (sarvato dharmasad bhago rajo bhavati raksatah, adharmadapi sad bhago bhavatyasya hyaraksatah). Since this is Kaliyuga, the people in general are naturally impious and so the king must assume a heavy burden of impiety.
For the third proposal: The queen is chaste. With this the crowd became quiet. The queen herself blushed. The Laws of Manu state that a great king is representative of demigods. Agni—the fire god, Vayu—the wind god, Surya—the sun god, Chandra—the moon god, Varuna—the water god, Indra, Kuvera are all present in the body of the king. The queen therefore is wedded to more than just one man. When a woman is married to more than one man, how can she be chaste? And thus the third proposition was also refuted.
The crowd was astonished. The boy had undoubtedly defeated the royal pandita. The queen was jubilant and embraced Yamunacharya saying “Alabandaru” which means ‘ the one who conquers ‘. The court pandit was disgraced. The king, who had been defeated in his wager said, “My boy Alabandaru, now that you have defeated my royal pandit, Vidvajjanakolahal, his life is now yours. I commend him into your hand. As for yourself, I promised the queen to give you half my kingdom. Now that you have won, I humbly request you to accept half my kingdom as your reward. The king awarded Yamunacharya the place which is called Alavandara-Medu.
Moral of the story
There was a time when there was open discussion, the whole public could see it, and learn from it, and rewards and punishments were both completely fair.
Also, there are some people in the modern world who have advanced academic training, like Vidvajjanakolahal, but almost none, like Yamunacharya, who know how to use these Vedic texts to defeat the arrogant. Great Acharyas know their side and their opponent’s side so well that they can argue both sides.