An Indian Riddle

Sri Vaishnavites are celebrating the millennium birth (avatara) of Ramanuja this year. Sri Ananda Padbanabacharyar has been sharing about the ‘avatara of Ramajuja’ on Podigai channel from 6.45am to 7.00 am from Monday to Friday. On November 18th and 19th he shared about Yamunacharya the grandson of Nathamuni. He shared one interesting incident to show the greatness of Yamunacharya.

There lived one great scholar who could not be defeated in any debate in the entire Chola kingdom known as ‘Vidhya dhana kolakalan’, or ‘Achi Azhvan’. He defeated several scholars and made them serve at his place. Yamunacharya was a young boy when he heard about it, and he went to challenge Achi Azhvan.


The Debate is Set

So, the king organized a debate in his palace and Yamunacharya came with pomp and show on an elephant with a great procession. When the king and queen saw him the king was surprised to see that Yamunacharya was a young boy while Achi Azhvan was a senior and reputed for his scholarship. (Since I missed the previous week I am not sure whether Yamunacharya was invited for the debated by the queen as was customary in those days). The queen assured the king that the boy would win.

The king promised the queen that if Yamunacharya wins he would give him half his kingdom to rule. On hearing this, the queen said that if Yamunacharya was defeated “she would never open her mouth to argue with him or disobey him on any matter, and would remain obedient for the rest of her life.” [This means that though he was a king, he was also a husband to the queen and so far she was arguing and fighting with him with her BIRTH RIGHT AS A WOMAN].


The Questions

When Achi Azhavan saw Yamunacharya, he took pity on him since he was only a young boy. Achi Azhavan warned him not enter the debate as he was sure of winning. But Yamunacharya challenged him and said he was ready. Considering his age, Achi Azhvan allowed Yamunacharya to ask him the first question.

The condition of the debate is that the one who is asks the question should give an answer if the opponent cannot give a proper response based on the tenants of the Sastra. Accepting Achi Azhvan’s courtesy, Yamunacharya said three statements:

  1. Tavam matha vandati = your mother is a barren woman
  2. Raja na sarva bhoman and na dharmavan = the king is not the enjoyer of absolute power viz., that he was not a chakkaravarthin and he is not ruling the country with dharma (which means he is an adharmi).
  3. Rani no pati vrata = the Queen is not chaste or she had affairs with others.

On hearing the three statements not only Achi Azhvan but the entire assembly was shocked and eagerly awaited Achi Azhvan’s response.


What were the answers?

Achi Azhvan accepted his defeat, saying that he could not refute these statements. But as per the conditions, he demanded Yamuna to prove his statements as true. Then Yamuna gave these explanations:

  1. Your mother is barren: According to the Sastras, a mother who has only one child is considered as a barren woman. As Achi had no siblings, his mother too is barren. There are terms like ‘Kakam (crow) vandi’ and ‘Kadali (banana) vandi’. As a crow gives only one egg in its life time and a banana gives only one stem of fruit, they too are considered as barren. Achi accepted this explanation.
  2. Raja is not dharmavan and not sarvabhuman. As the king inherits one-sixth of the adharma (sins of commission and omission) of his citizens, no matter how righteously (dharmic) he rules, there will be people who will do some adharma all the time. Since the king inherits one-sixth of their adharma the king too is not dharmic. Since his power and authority is limited only to kingdom, he cannot be a sovereign ‘Chakravartin’ as his authority won’t apply in his neighboring countries. Achi accepted this too.
  3. The queen is not chaste. According to the Sastras, every woman is first enjoyed by the Gandarvas and a few other devatas before she is given in marriage. Only after this can her husband have her as his wife. Since she has already lost her chastity, no woman, including the queen, can be claimed as chaste. Achi accepted this too.


The Winner

Then the king declared that Yamuna won the debated as per the agreement and gave half of his kingdom for him to rule. Then the queen came to Yamuna running and hugged him by saying, ‘You came to rescue me! You came to rescue me!’ (என்னை ஆளவந்தாய்). Therefore his name became ‘Alavandar’ ( ஆளவந்தார்) thereafter. Actually ‘alavandai’ means overruling or exercising one’s authority over someone. But considering the context I gave the meaning as ‘rescue’.

Here Sri Ananda Padbanabacharya concluded his story on Yamunacharya.

In my next post, I will share an alternate version of the story I wrote myself to show that Yamunacharya was actually wrong.