Sri Vaishnavism

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Sri Vaishnavism
Srirangamlong view.jpg
Srirangam temple
Regions with significant populations
India, Nepal
Vaishnavism (Hinduism)
Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavat Gita, Brahma Sutra, Pancharatra (Agama), Tamil Veda[1][2]
Sanskrit, Tamil

Sri Vaishnav Sampradaya or Sri Vaishnavism is a denomination within the Vaishnavism tradition of Hinduism.[3] The name is derived from Sri referring to goddess Lakshmi as well as a prefix that means "sacred, revered", and god Vishnu who are together revered in this tradition.[4][5]

The tradition traces its roots to the ancient Vedas and Pancaratra texts in Sanskrit and the devotional love of the divine (bhakti) popularized by the Alvars with Tamil texts, songs and music.[6][7][8] The founder of Sri Vaishnavism is traditionally attributed as Nathamuni of the 10th century CE,[9] its central philosopher has been Ramanuja of the 11th century who developed the Vishishtadvaita ("qualified non-dualism") Vedanta sub-school of Hindu philosophy.[10][11] Tradition is based on the Vishistadvaita vedanta philosophy derived from Sanskrit Veda and Tamil Divya Prabandham. The tradition split into two sub-traditions around the 18th-century called the Vadakalai (sect giving Sanskrit Veda the first preference) and Thenkalai (sect giving Tamil Divya Prabandham the first preference).[12][13]


The name Srivaishnavism (IAST: Śrīvaiṣṇavism) is derived from two words, Sri and Vaishnavism. The word Sri (Tiru in Tamil) refers to goddess Lakshmi as well as a prefix that means "sacred, revered", and god Vishnu who are together revered in this tradition.[3][5] The word Vaishnavism refers to a tradition that reveres god Vishnu as the supreme god.[14] The followers of Srivaishnavism are known as Srivaishnava (IAST: Śrīvaiṣṇava, श्रीवैष्णव).[15]


Mythological origins[edit]

The tradition traces its roots to the primordial start of the world through Vishnu, and to the texts of Vedic era with both Sri and Vishnu found in ancient texts of the 1st millennium BCE particularly to the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.[7][13]

Historical origins[edit]

The historical basis of Sri Vaishnavism is in the syncretism of two developments. The first is Sanskrit traditions found in ancient texts such as the Vedas and the Agama (Pancaratra), and the second is the Tamil traditions found in early medieval texts (Tamil Prabandham)[16] and practices such as the emotional songs and music of Alvars that expressed spiritual ideas, ethics and loving devotion to god Vishnu.[17][7][8] The Sanskrit traditions likely represent the ideas shared in ancient times, from Ganges river plains of the northern Indian subcontinent, while the Tamil traditions likely have roots in the Kaveri river plains of southern India, particularly what in modern times are the coastal Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu region.[18]

The tradition was founded by Nathamuni (10th century), who combined the two traditions, by drawing on Sanskrit philosophical tradition and combining it with the aesthetic and emotional appeal of the Bhakti movement pioneers called the Alvars.[9] Sri Vaishnavism developed in Tamil Nadu in the 10th century, after Nathamuni returned from a pilgrimage to Vrindavan in north India (modern Uttar Pradesh).[17]

Nathamuni's ideas were continued by Yamunacharya, who maintained that the Vedas and Pancaratras are equal, devotional rituals and bhakti are important practices.[9] The legacy of Yamunacharya was continued by Ramanuja (1017-1137),[19] but they never met.[20] Ramanuja, a scholar who studied in an Advaita Vedanta monastery and disagreed with some of the ideas of Advaita, became the most influential leader of Sri Vaishnavism.[21][22] He developed the Visistadvaita ("qualified non-dualism") philosophy.[9]

Around the 18th century, the Sri Vaishnava tradition split into the Vatakalai ("northern culture", Vedic) and Tenkalai ("southern culture", Bhakti).[12][13] The Vatakalai placed more emphasis on the Sanskrit traditions, while the Tenkalai relied more on the Tamil traditions.[23] This theological dispute between the Vedic and Bhakti traditions traces it roots to the debate between Srirangam and Kanchipuram monasteries between the 13th and 15th century.[12] The debate then was on the nature of salvation and the role of grace. The Bhakti-favoring Tenkalai tradition asserted, states Patricia Mumme, that Vishnu saves the soul like "a mother cat carries her kitten", where the kitten just accepts the mother while she picks her up and carries.[12] In contrast the Vedic-favoring Vatakalai tradition asserted that Vishnu saves the soul like "a mother monkey carries her baby", where the baby has to make an effort and hold on while the mother carries.[12] This metaphorical description of the disagreement between the two sub-traditions, first appears in the 18th-century Tamil texts, but historically refers to the foundational ideas behind the karma-marga versus bhakti-marga traditions of Hinduism.[24]

Reverence for the goddess and god[edit]

Along with Vishnu, and like Shaivism, the ultimate reality and truth is considered in Sri Vaishnavism to be the divine sharing of the feminine and the masculine, the goddess and the god.[25] Sri (Lakshmi) is regarded as the preceptor of the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya. Goddess Sri has been considered inseparable from god Vishnu, and essential to each other, and to the act of mutual loving devotion. Sri and Vishnu act and cooperate in the creation of everything that exists, and redemption.[25] According to some medieval scholars of Srivashnava theology, states John Carman, Sri and Vishnu do so using "divine knowledge that is unsurpassed" and through "love that is an erotic union".[25] But Sri Vaishnavism differs from Shaivism, in that Vishnu is ultimately is sole creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe while Sri Lakshmi is the medium for salvation, the kind mother who recommends to Vishnu and thereby helps living beings in their desire for redemption and salvation.[25] In contrast, in Shaivism, the goddess (Shakti) is the energy and power of Shiva and she is the equal with different roles, supreme in the role of creator and destroyer.[26]

The prefix Sri is used for this sect because they give special importance to the worship of the Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, who they believe to act as a mediator between God Vishnu and man.[25][27]



Main article: Vishishtadvaita

Sri Vaishnavism's philosophical foundation was established by Ramanuja, who started his Vedic studies with Yadava Prakasha in an Advaita Vedanta monastery.[21] He brought Upanishadic ideas to this tradition, and wrote texts on qualified monism, called Vishishtadvaita in the Hindu tradition.[28][29] His ideas are one of three subschools in Vedanta, the other two are known as Adi Shankara's Advaita (absolute monism) and Madhvacharya's Dvaita (dualism).[28]

Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita asserts that Atman (souls) and Brahman[note 1] are different, a difference that is never transcended.[30][31] God Vishnu alone is independent, all other gods and beings are dependent on Him.[32] However, in contrast to Dvaita Vedanta philosophy of Madhvacharya, Ramanuja asserts "qualified non-dualism",[33] that souls share the same essential nature of Brahman,[33] and that there is a universal sameness in the quality and degree of bliss possible for human souls, and every soul can reach the bliss state of God Himself.[30][34] While the 13th- to 14th-century Madhvacharya asserted both "qualitative and quantitative pluralism of souls", Ramanuja asserted "qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls", states Sharma.[35] The other philosophical difference between Madhvacharya's Vaishnavism Sampradaya and Ramanuja's Vaishnavism Sampradaya,[note 2] has been on the idea of eternal damnation; Madhvacharya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned, while Ramanuja disagreed and accepted the Advaita Vedanta view that everyone can, with effort, achieve inner liberation and spiritual freedom (moksha).[37][38]


Śrīvaiṣṇava theologians state that the poems of
the Alvars contain the essential meaning of
the Sanskrit Vedas.

— John Carman and Vasudha Narayanan[39]

According to Sri Vaishnavism theology, moksha can be reached by devotion and service to the Lord and detachment from the world. When moksha is reached, the cycle of reincarnation is broken and the soul is united with Vishnu, though maintaining their distinctions, in Vaikuntha, Vishnu's heaven.[40] Moksha can also be reached by total surrender and saranagati, an act of grace by the Lord.[23]

God, according to Ramanuja's Sri Vaishnavism philosophy, has both soul and body; all of life and the world of matter is the glory of God's body.[22] The path to Brahman (Vishnu), asserted Ramanuja, is devotion to godliness and constant remembrance of the beauty and love of personal god (saguna Brahman, Vishnu), one which ultimately leads one to the oneness with nirguna Brahman.[22][29][41]

Comparisons with Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Ramanuja accepted that the Vedas are a reliable source of knowledge, then critiqued other schools of Hindu philosophy, including Advaita Vedanta, as having failed in interpreting all of the Vedic texts.[42] He asserted, in his Sri Bhasya, that purvapaksin (previous schools) selectively interpret those Upanishadic passages that support their monistic interpretation, and ignore those passages that support the pluralism interpretation.[42] There is no reason, stated Ramanuja, to prefer one part of a scripture and not other, the whole of the scripture must be considered on par.[42][43] One cannot, according to Ramanuja, attempt to give interpretations of isolated portions of any scripture. Rather, the scripture must be considered one integrated corpus, expressing a consistent doctrine.[42] The Vedic literature, asserted Ramanuja, mention both plurality and oneness, therefore the truth must incorporate pluralism and monism, or qualified monism.[42]

This method of scripture interpretation distinguishes Ramanuja from Adi Shankara.[43] Shankara's exegetical approach Samanvayat Tatparya Linga with Anvaya-Vyatireka,[44] states that for proper understanding all texts must be examined in their entirety and then their intent established by six characteristics, which includes studying what is stated by the author to be his goal, what he repeats in his explanation, then what he states as conclusion and whether it can be epistemically verified.[45][46] Not everything in any text, states Shankara, has equal weight and some ideas are the essence of any expert's textual testimony.[43] This philosophical difference in scriptural studies, helped Shankara conclude that the Principal Upanishads primarily teach monism with teachings such as Tat tvam asi, while helping Ramanuja conclude that qualified monism is at the foundation of Hindu spirituality.[42][47][48]

Comparisons with Protestant Christianity and Buddhism[edit]

John Carman, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School, states that some of the similarities in salvation ideas in Sri Vaishnavism and Protestant Christian doctrines of divine grace are striking.[49] Both accept God as a personal concept, accept devotee's ability to relate to this God without human intermediaries, and accept the idea of sola gratia – salvation through faith by the grace of God alone, such as those found in Martin Luther's teachings.[49] While both Sri Vaishnavism and Protestant Christianity accept a supreme God and shares ideas on the nature of salvation, they differ in their specifics about incarnation such as Jesus Christ being the only incarnation in Christianity, while Sri Vaishnavism accepts many incarnations (avatar) of Vishnu.[50] Christian missionaries in 19th century colonial British India, noted the many similarities and attempted to express the theology of Christianity as a bhakti marga to Hindus, along the lines of Sri Vaishnavism, in their mission to convert them from Hinduism to Christianity.[51]

Similar teachings on the nature of salvation through grace and compassion, adds Carman, are found in the Japanese scholar Shinran's text on Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, even though non-theistic Buddhism and theistic Sri Vaishnavism do differ in their views on God.[49]

Texts and scholarship[edit]

Main article: Vishishtadvaita

Sri Vaishnavism philosophy is primarily based on interpreting Vedanta, particularly the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras and the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata.[7][52] The Vaishnava Agama texts, also called the Pancaratra, has been an important part of Sri Vaishnava tradition.[9][53] Another theological textual foundation of the tradition are the Tamil bhakti songs of the Alvars (7th to 10th century).[11] The syncretic fusion of the two textual traditions is sometimes referred to as the Ubhaya Vedanta, or dual Vedanta.[11] The relative emphasis between the two has been a historic debate within the Sri Vaishnavism tradition,[1] which ultimately led to the schism into the Vatakalai and Tenkalai sub-traditions around the 18th century.[12][13]


Main article: Nathamuni

Nathamuni collected the poems of Nammalvar, in the form of Divya Prabandham, likely in the 9th century CE,[54] or the 10th century.[9] One of his lasting contributions was to apply the Vedic theory of music on all the Alvar songs using Sanskrit prosody, calling the resulting choreography as divine music, and teaching his nephews the art of resonant bhakti singing of the Alvar songs.[54] This precedence set the guru-sisya-parampara (teacher-student-tradition) in Sri Vaishnavism.[55] This style of education from one generation to the next, is a tradition called Araiyars, states Guy Beck, which preserved "the art of singing and dancing the verses of the Divya Prabandham" set in the sacred melodies and rhythms described in the Vedic texts.[55]

Nathamuni's efforts to syncretically combine the Vedic knowledge and Alvar compositions, also set the precedence of reverence for both the Vedas and the Alvar bhakti ideas. Nathamuni's scholarship that set Alvar songs in Vedic meter set a historic momentum, and the liturgical and meditational songs continue to be sung in the modern era temples of Sri Vaishnavism, which is part of the service called cevai (Sanskrit: Seva).[54][56]

Nathamuni is also attributed with three texts, all in Sanskrit.[54] These are Nyaya Tattva, Purusha Nirnaya and Yogarahasya.[57] The Yogarahasya text, states Govindacharya, is a meditational text, includes the eight limb yoga similar to that of Patanjali, but emphasizes yoga as "the art of communion with God".[57] The Nyaya Tattva text survives only in quotes and references cited in other texts, and these suggest that it presented epistemic foundations (Nyaya) including the philosophical basis for the Hindu belief on the existence of "soul" (Atman), in contrast to Indian philosophies such as Buddhism that denied the existence of soul.[58][59] Nathamuni, for example asserts,

If "I" did not refer to the true self, there would be no interiority belonging to the soul. The interior is distinguished from the exterior by the concept "I". The aspiration, "May I, having abandoned all suffering, participate freely in infinite bliss", actuates a person whose goal is liberation to study scriptures etc. Were it thought that liberation involved the destruction of the individual, he would run away as soon as the subject of liberation was suggested... The "I", the knowing subject, is the inner self.
Nyayatattva, Nathamuni, ~9th-10th century, Translator: Christopher Bartley[59]


Main article: Yamunacharya

Yamunacharya was the grandson of Nathamuni, also known in Sri Vaishnava tradition as Alavandar, whose scholarship is remembered for correlating Alvar bhakti theology and Pancaratra Agama texts to Vedic ideas.[60] He was the Acharya (chief teacher) of Sri Vaishnavism monastery at Srirangam, and was followed by Ramanuja, even though they never met.[20] Yamunacharya composed a number of works important in Sri Vaishnavism, particularly Siddhitrayam (about the nature of Atman, God, universe), Gitarthasangraha (analysis of the Bhagavad Gita), Agamapramanya (epistemological basis of Agamas, mapping them to the Vedas), Maha Purushanirnayam (extension of Nathamuni's treatise), Stotraratnam and Chathusloki (bhakti strota texts).[60]

Yamunacharya is also credited with Nitya Grantha and Mayavada Khandana. The Nitya Grantha is a ritual text and suggests methods of daily worship of Narayana (Vishnu).[61] The 10th century Mayavada Khandana text, together with Siddhitrayam of Yamunacharya predominantly critiques the philosophy of the traditionally dominant school of Advaita Vedanta in Hindu philosophy, but also critiques non-Vedic traditions.[62]


Main article: Ramanuja
Ramanujacharya embracing an icon of Lord Varadaraj (Vishnu)

The Sri Vaisnava tradition attributes nine Sanskrit texts to Ramanuja[63]Vedarthasangraha (literally, "Summary of the Vedas meaning"[note 3]) Sri Bhasya (a review and commentary on the Brahma Sutras), Bhagavad Gita Bhashya (a review and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita), and the minor works titled Vedantapida, Vedantasara, Gadya Traya (which is a compilation of three texts called the Saranagati Gadyam, Sriranga Gadyam and the Vaikunta Gadyam), and Nitya Grantham.

Some modern scholars have questioned the authenticity of all but the three of the largest works credited to Ramanuja; the following texts are considered as authentically traceable to Ramanuja – Shri Bhashya, Vedarthasangraha and the Bhagavad Gita Bhashya.[63][65]

Ramanuja's scholarship is predominantly founded on Vedanta, Upanishads in particular.[64][66] He never claims that his ideas were original, but his method of synthesis that combined the Vedic ideas with popular spirituality, states Anne Overzee, is original.[66] Ramanuja, wrote his biographer Ramakrishnananda, was "the culmination of the movement started from the Vedas, nourished by the Alvars, Nathamuni and Yamuncharya".[66]

Ramunaja himself credits the theories he presents, in Vedarthasangraha, to the ideas of ancient Hindu scholars such as "Bodhyana, Tanka (Brahmanandin), Dramida (Dravidacarya), Guhadeva, Kapardin and Bharuci".[66][67][note 4] The 11th-century scholarship of Ramanuja emphasized the concept of Sarira-Saririn, that is the world of matter and the empirical reality of living beings is the "body of Brahman",[note 5] everything observed is God, one lives in this body of God, and the purpose of this body and all of creation is to empower soul in its journey to liberating salvation.[69][70]

Post Ramanuja period authors[edit]

After Ramanuja several authors composed important theological and exegetical works on Sri Vaishnavism. Such authors include Parsara Bhattar, Nadadoor Ammal, Engal Azhwan, Sudarshan Suri, Pillai Lokacharya, Vedanta Desika, Manavala Mamunigal, Vadakku Thiruveedhi Pillai (also called Krishnapada Swamy), Periyavachan Pillai, Nayanarachan Pillai, Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Nayanar, Rangaramanuja Muni.[citation needed]


The Sri Vaishnavism tradition has nurtured an institutional organization of matha-s (monasteries) since its earliest days, particularly from the time of Ramanuja. After the death of Yamunacharya, Ramanuja was nominated as the leader of the Srirangam matha, though Yamunacharya and Ramanuja never met.[20] Amongst other things, Ramanuja is remembered in the Sri Vaishnavism tradition for his organizational skills and the lasting institutional reforms he introduced at Srirangam, a system paralleling those at Advaita monasteries of his time and where he studied before joining Srirangam matha. Ramanuja travelled and founded many Sri Vaishnavism mathas across India, such as the one in Melukote.[71][72] The Sri Vaishnavism tradition believes that Ramanuja started 700 mathas, but historical evidence suggests several of these were started later.[73]

Left: The Parakala monastery of Sri Vaishnavism
Right: A Vishnu temple attached to Ahobila monastery.

The matha, or a monastery, hosted numerous students, many teachers and an institutionalized structure to help sustain and maintain its daily operations. A matha in Vaishnvaism and other Hindu traditions, like a college, designates teaching, administrative and community interaction functions, with prefix or suffix to names, with titles such as Guru, Acharya, Swami and Jiyar.[74]

A Guru is someone who is a "teacher, guide or master" of certain knowledge.[75] Traditionally a reverential figure to the student in Hinduism, the guru serves as a "counselor, who helps mold values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who helps in the spiritual evolution of a student."[76]

An Acharya refers to either a Guru of high rank, or more often to the leader of a regional monastery.[77][78] This position typically involves a ceremonial initiation called diksha by the monastery, where the earlier leader anoints the successor as Acharya.[77][79] A Swami is usually those who interact with community on the behalf of the matha. The chief and most revered of all Vaishnava monasteries, are titled as Jeer, Jiyar, Jeeyar, or Ciyar.[73]

The Sri Vaishnavism mathas over time, subdivided into two, those with Tenkalai (southern) tradition and Vadakalai (northern) tradition of Sri Vaishnavism.[80] The Tenkalai-associated mathas are headquartered at Srirangam, while Vadakalai mathas are associated with Kanchipuram. Both these traditions have from 10th-century onwards considered the function of mathas to include feeding the poor and devotees who visit, hosting marriages and community festivals, farming temple lands and flower gardens as a source for food and worship ingredients, being open to pilgrims as rest houses, and this philanthropic role of these Hindu monasteries continues.[81] In the 15th-century, these monasteries expanded by establishing Ramanuja-kuta in major South Indian Sri Vaishnavism locations.[81] The organizationally important Sri Vaishnavism matha are:

Thenkalai and Vadakalai sub-traditions[edit]

The Sri Vaishnava tradition has two major sub-traditions, called the Vadakalai ("northern") and Thenkalai ("southern").[23][82] The term northern and southern sub-traditions of Sri Vaishnavism refers respectively to Kanchipuram (the northern part of Tamil country) and Srirangam (the southern part of Tamil country and Kaveri river delta area where Ramunuja wrote his Vedanta treatises from).[12][13][83]

These sub-traditions arose as a result of philosophical and traditional differences in the post Ramanuja period. The Vatakalai relied stronger on the Sanskrit texts such as Vedas and Pancaratras (Tantric), while the Tenkalai emphasized bhakti texts such as the Prabandhas of Alvars.[23][84]

From the early days, the Sri Vaishnavism movement grew with its social inclusiveness, where emotional devotionalism to personal god (Vishnu) was open without limitation to gender or caste, a tradition led by Alvars in the 7th to 8th century.[85][86] Ramanuja philosophy negated caste, states Ramaswamy.[87] Ramanuja, who led from the Srirangam temple welcomed outcastes into temples and gave them important roles in temple operations, with medieval temple records and inscriptions suggesting that the payments and offerings collected by the temple were shared regardless of caste distinctions.[88]

Scholars offer divergent views on the relative approach of the two sub-traditions on caste and gender. Raman states that Tenkalai did not recognize caste barriers and were more liberal in assimilating people from all castes, possibly because this had been the tradition at Srirangam from the earliest days of Sri Vaishnavism.[88] In contrast, Sadarangani states that it was Vatakalai who were more liberal and who did not recognize caste barriers, possibly because they were competing with the egalitarian Vira-Shaiva Hindus (Lingayatism) of Karnataka.[89]

The Thenkalai tradition brought into their fold artisanal castes (Shudras) into community-based devotional movements, and writes Raman, "it can almost be said that the Tenkalai represented the anti-caste tendencies while the Vadakalai school championed the cause of purity of the Vedic tenets."[88] The Tenkalai held, adds Raman, that anyone can be a spiritual teacher regardless of caste.[88]

The Vadakalai tradition, states Sadarangani in contrast to Raman's views, were the liberal cousin of Tenkalai and therefore more successful in gaining devotees, while in southern Tamil lands Shaivism prospered possibly because of "Tankalai school of Vaishnavism being narrow and orthodox in approach".[89] The Vadakalai school not only succeeded in northern Tamil lands, she adds, but spread widely as it inspired the egalitarian Bhakti movement in north, west and east India bringing in Bhakti poet saints from "entire cross section of class, caste and society".[89]

Thenkalai sect ("southern") - Manavala Mamunigal[edit]

Thenkalai Sri Vaishnava urdhva pundram


The Thenkalais place a higher important to Tamil shlokas than Sanskrit, and lay more emphasis on worship of Vishnu. The Thenkalai accept prapatti as the only means to attain salvation.[90] They consider Prapatti as an unconditional surrender.[91] The Thenkalais follow the Tamil Prabandham,[92] and assert primacy to rituals in Tamil language.[93] They regard kaivalya (detachment, isolation) as an eternal position within the realm of Vaikuntha (Vishnu's 'eternal abode' or heaven, though it only exists at the outer most regions of Vaikuntha. They further say that God's seemingly contradictory nature as both minuscule and immense are examples of God's special powers that enable Him to accomplish the impossible.

According to Thenkalais, exalted persons need not perform duties such as Sandhyavandanam; they do so only to set a good example. They don't ring bells during worship. Thenkalais forbid widows to shave (tonsure) their head, quoting the Parashara Smriti.[94] while Vadakalais support the tonsure quoting the Manusmriti,[95]

Guru parampara[edit]

Sri Kanchi Prativadibhayankar Jagadguru Anantacharya Gaddi Swamiji, the spiritual preceptor of Tridandi Swami Vishwaksenacharyaji

The Thenkalai trace their lineage to Mudaliandan, nephew of Ramanuja[96] The Thenkalai are followers of philosophy of Pillai Lokacharya and Manavala Mamuni,[97][98] who is considered to be the reincarnation of Ramanuja by the Thenkalais.[note 6] He appointed eight exalted scholars of Vishishtadvaita, commonly known as "Ashtadiggajas":[citation needed]

  • Jagadguru Swami Vasudevacharya, the Mahant of Koslesh Sadan, Ayodhya
  • Erumbi appa
  • Appillai
  • Appillan

In modern times, Sri Prativadibhayankaram Annangaracharya Swami (1891-1983), or "Kanchi swami," has been the most renowned representative of the Thenkalai lineage.[citation needed]


Vijayraghav Mandir of Ayodhya, one of the most famous Thenkalai Sri Vaishnava establishments of the holy city

The best-known Thenkalai monasteries are Vanamamalai mutt and Sriperumpudur mutt in Kanchipuram district, Tirukkoilur mutt in Viluppuram district,[99] Tirumala Jeeyar Swamy Mutt, Yadugiri Yatiraj Mutt of Melukote, Emar Matha of Puri, Sriranga Narayana Jeeyar Mutt of Srirangam, Vadi Kesari Azhagia Manavala Jeeyar Mutt of Kanchipuram.

Vanamamalai Jeeyars, from the lineage of the first Vanamamalai Jeeyar, established Sri Vaishnava Mutts throughout India, including the Jeeyar Swamy Mutt at Puri and the Uttara Totadri Mutt at Vibhishan kund of the holy city of Ayodhya. Vanamamalai Mutt is an ancient Sri Vaishnava Mutt established by Ponnadikkal Jeeyar (born Azhagiya Varadar)[note 7] under the orders of Manavala Mamunigal. Ponnadikkal Jeeyar was the first and foremost disciple, and this mutt is one of the most important mutts of Sri Vaishnavas.

The Tirupati Pedda Jeeyar Mutt was established in the year 1057, when Ramanuja came to Tirupati, and established a Mutt there in order to ensure proper systematization and standardization of the rites & rituals followed in the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, and to safeguard it from Non-Vedic influences. For supervising the stipulated practices he appointed a Jeeyar as the representative of his Vedic faith. The first Jeeyar was Sri Tiruvenkata Pedda(Periya) Jeeyar. The Jeeyar is the overseer of all religious practices at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. Later on Manavala Mamunigal acted as the Jeeyar of the temple, and served for a brief period of three years. During his regime the Chinna Jeeyar Mutt was established. The Chinna Jeeyar is usually considered to be the successor to the Pedda Jeeyar.

Koil Annan took over Govardhan Gaddi, founded by Nathamuni and situated at Govardhan near Vrindavan, at the instruction of Manavala Mamunigal. Since then his successors have been in control of this institution. The famous Ranganathji temple of Vrindavan was built mid 19th century by three wealthy merchants Radhakrishna, Govinda and Lakshmichand Seth from Mathura. It was handed over by them to their spiritual preceptor Sri Rangadeshika Swamiji of Koil Kanthaadai Annan's lineage.

Sri Rangadeshika Swamiji (born 1809) popularized Sri Vaishnavism throughout North India in the 19th century. His spiritual successors still adorn the trustee board of the Ranganathji temple. The Vijayraghav mandir and Asharfi Bhavan of Ayodhya are of his lineage. The Balaram Dharma Sopan of Khardaha in Kolkata is a subsidiary Mutt of the Vijayraghav mandir.

Swami Vishnuprapannacharya established the Nagoriya Mutt in Rajasthan in the 17th century, he was a contemporary of Ghanshyamacharya of Ahobila Mutt , the founder of Jhalariya Mutt, which was also established around the same time.

Notable Thenkalai people[edit]

Vadakalais ("northern") - Vedanta Desika[edit]

Vadagalai thiruman kappu 1
Parakala Mutt painting of Vedanta Desikan with Brahmatantra Swatantra Jeeyar


The Vadakalais are followers of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika,[112][113][114] who founded the Vadakalai sampradaya[115] based on the Sanskritic tradition.[116] They lay more emphasis on the role of Lakshmi i.e. Sri, and uphold Sanskrit Vedas as the ultimate "PramaaNam" or authority, although Ubhaya Vedanta[note 8] is used to infer from and establish the doctrine of Vishishtaadvaita. The Vadakalais infer that all of the Alwars compositions are derived from Vedas, and one would always have go to the ultimate source to reference and defend the doctrine. Vadakalais lay emphasis on Vedic norms[note 9] as established by Rishis and all preceptors.

The Vadakalai ardently follows the Sanskrit Vedas,[92] and the set of rules prescribed by the Manusmriti and Dharma Shastras.[117][118] The sect is based on the Sankritic tradition,[119] and the set of rules prescribed by the Manusmriti and other Dharma Shastras.[120][121] In Sanskrit the Vadakalai are referred to as Uttara Kalārya.[122]

Traditionally, the Vadakalais believe in practising Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga, along with Prapatti, as means to attain salvation.[123][124] Also, they consider Prapatti as an act of winning grace.[91]

The Tilak (Urdhva Pundra) mark of the Vadakalai men is a symbolic representation of Vishnu's right foot. Since Vishnu's right foot is believed to be the origin of the river Ganges, the Vadakalais contend that his right foot should be held in special veneration, and its sign impressed on the forehead. They also apply a central mark (Srichurnam) to symbolize the goddess Lakshmi (Vishnu's wife), along with the thiruman (urdhva pundra).[125] The Urdhva Pundra which is vertical and faces upwards denotes that it helps one in reaching Vaikunta (the spiritual abode of Lord Vishnu), and is also considered to be a protection from evil. Vadakalai women apply a red central mark only, symbolizing Lakshmi, on their foreheads.

Guru Parampara[edit]

Sri Balmukundacharyaji Maharaj of Jhalariya Mutt, Didwana, Rajasthan

The Vadakalai sect traces its lineage back to Thirukurahi Piran Pillan, Kidambi Acchan and other direct disciples of Ramanuja, and considers Vedanta Desika to be the greatest Acharya of the post Ramanuja era.[112][126][127]

The Vadakalai community consists of the following groups, based on the sampradaya followed:

  • Narasimhacharya established a temple of Dwarkadhish in Varanasi on the spot where Lord Krishna slew the tyrannical ruler of Poundradesh with His Sudarshanchakra.
  • Acharya Swami Madhavacharyaji, who defeated the founder of Arya Samaj Dayananda Saraswati in a theological debate.
  • Hariramacharya established Jhalariya Mutt in Rajasthan
  • Ramdas Ramanujdas Achari, a disciple of Swami Balmukundacharya of Jhalariya, founded the Jagannath Mandir at Strand Road, Kolkata
  • Periya Andavan Sri Srinivasa Mahadesikan;
  • Parakala – They are mostly followers Brahmatantra Swatantra Jeeyar of Parakala Mutt, Mysore. Founded in 1399 by Brahmatantra Parakala Jeeyar, the peetadhipathis of this mutt are the preceptors of the royal family of Mysore Kingdom, Wadiyars. This has stayed as a royal mutt of the kings since then, and is a mutt for all Iyengars under this category.[citation needed]

Other lineages include:[citation needed]

  • Srimad Sakshat Swamy (Srimad Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadeshika Swamy); wrote the 24,000 padi (elaborate commentary on Tiru-Arayirappadi).
  • Uttara Saraswadhani, Swami Desika sahasra namam
  • Srimad Srinivasa Mahadesikan Seyyanam, Srimad Sri Ranganatha Mahadesikan Vathirayiruppu and Srimad Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan Vazhuthur
  • The Munitraya Sampradaya of the Vadakalai sect, which belongs to the Rahasyatraya parampara of Pranatharthiharan, who was also known as Kidambi Achan. Their Sri Bhashya and Bhagavatvishaya parampara is the same as that of the rest of the Vadakalais.
  • Swami Janardanacharya, a successor of Swami Gopalacharya, was the Guru of Devraha Baba. The Sugriv Qila temple at Ayodhya belongs to this Guru parampara.

Prominent Mutts[edit]

Traditionally, places of high importance with significant Vadakalai populations included Kanchipuram, Kumbakonam, Tiruvallur, Mysore and Kurnool district.[122][136][137][138][139][140] However, today much of the people have moved to the big cities.

Vadakalai Mutts like Parakala Mutt, Ahobila Mutt, Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam and Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam have been prominent centers for the dissemination of Vadakalai Sri Vaishnavism:[99][141]

  • The Parakala Mutt was founded by the first Brahmatantra Swatantra Jeeyar of Parakala Mutt more than 700 years ago in Kanchipuram. The Mutt relocated to Tirumala and was granted special patronage by the Temple. Parakala Mutt's Hayagreeva Temple lies on the North Mada Street of the Temple in a prominent position. They moved to Mysore at the then Wadiyar King's request and since then, the supreme pontiffs of the Mutt have been the Guru of the Wadiyars (Royal House of Mysore) and have been the recipients of their patronage.[citation needed]
  • Ahobila Mutt was established by Adivan Shathakopa Jeeyar about 600 years ago in Ahobilam. Adivan Shatakopar was a disciple of Nadadoor Ammal's successor Ghatikashatam Ammal.[citation needed]
  • The Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam and the Sri Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam were founded by Srinivasa, Ranganatha and Vedanta Ramanuja (not to be confused with Ramanuja), three disciples of Sri Thirukkudandai Gopala Desika who lived in the early 18th century.[citation needed]
  • Sri Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam was established by Sri Poundarikapuram Andavan (1847-1934).[citation needed]

In Vrindavan, the Jankivallabh Mandir of Keshighat is a prominent Vadakalai Sri Vaishnava monastic institution and is associated with the spiritual lineage of the Ahobila Mutt. The present Azhagiya Singar has visited this well known institution in the past as well as recently. It is presently headed by Swami Sri Aniruddhacharyaji Maharaj.

In Rajasthan the Jhalariya Mutt is one of the most prominent Mutts and its branches have spread over to the neighbouring regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Sri Swami Balmukundacharyaji was a distinguished scholar and renowned Acharya of this Mutt.

Notable Vadakalai people[edit]

Centres of Pilgrimage - Divya Desams[edit]

Main article: Divya Desams
Srirangam rajagopuram

The works of the Alvars mention the presence of 108 Divya Desams which are of utmost spiritual importance to Sri Vaishnavas. Each of these Divya Desams are centres of pilgrimage and have arisen from the presence of a particular temple dedicated to Lord Narayana that was glorified by one(or more) of the 12 Alvars. 105 Divya Desams are in India, one(Muktinath temple) is in Nepal, while two are beyond the earthly realm. The foremost Divya Desam is Srirangam , the place chosen by Lord Ranganatha( Narayana ) Himself as his earthly abode for the entire Kaliyuga. According to the SriRanga Mahatmyam, as a result of Brahma's tapas, the glittering SriRanga Vimanam sprang from the depths of the Milky ocean (Paarkadal). The expression 'Sriranga Vimanam' is used to denote the turret as well as the oval shaped sanctum beneath it, containing the image of the reclining Ranganatha( Narayana ). The turret, the sanctum and the image form a single whole and are inseparably associated with one another. The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple of Srirangam is the largest Vishnu temple in the world.

108 Divya Desams
North/South[Andhra Pradesh]/West India&Nepal Malai Nadu Madurai Kanchipuram Chennai

1. Tirumala-Tirupati - Andhra Pradesh
2. Ahobilam - Andhra Pradesh
3. Muktinath, Saligramam Nepal
4. Naimisaranya - Uttar Pradesh
5. Mathura - Uttar Pradesh
6. Gokul - Uttar Pradesh
7. Devaprayag - Uttarakhand
8. Tirumala - Andhra Pradesh
9. Badrinath temple - Uttarakhand
10. Ayodhya - Uttar Pradesh
11. Dwarka - Gujarat

12. Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple Thiruvananthapuram
13. Thirukatkarai
14. Moozhikkalam
15. Tiruvalla
16. Thirukadithanam
17. Sengunroor
18. Thiruppuliyoor
19. Thiruvaaranvilai
20. Thiruvanvandoor
21. Thiru naavaay
22. Viththuvakkodu

23. Thirumeyyam
24. Thirukoshtiyur
25. Koodal Azhagar Temple
26. Azhagar Kovil
27. Tirumogoor
28. Srivilliputhur
29. Tiruththangal
30. Thiruppullani

31. Tirukkacchi
32. Ashtabujakaram
33. Tiruvekkaa
34. Tiruththanka
35. Tiruvelukkai
36. Tirukalvanoor
37. Tiru oorakam
38. Tiru neeragam
39. Tiru kaaragam
40. Tirukaarvaanam
41. Tiru parameswara vinnagaram
42. Tiru pavala vannam
43. Tiru paadagam
44. Tiru nilaaththingal thundam
45. Thiruputkuzhi

46. Thiruvallikeni
47. Thiruneermalai
48. Thiruvidandai
49. Thirukadalmallai
50. Thiruninravur
51. Thiruvallur
52. Thirukkadigai

Mayiladuthurai and Sirkazhi Thanjavur Trichy Tirunelveli Kanyakumari

53. Thiruvazhunthoor
54. Thiruindaloor
55. Kazheesirama Vinnagaram
56. Thirukkavalampadi
57. Thiruchsemponsey
58. Thiruarimeya Vinnagaram
59. Thiru Vanpurushothamam
60. Thiruvaikunda vinnagaram
61. Thirumanimadam
62. Thiruthevanartthogai
63. Thiruthetriyambalam
64. Thirumanikkoodam
65. Thiruvellakkulam
66. Thiruppaarththanpalli
67. Thalai Sanga Nanmathiyam
68. Thiruchsirupuliyoor
69. Thiruvali-Thirunagari

70. Thiruccithra kootam
71. Thirukkannangudi
72. Thirunagai
73. Thiru Thanjai
74. Tirukkoilur
75. Thirukkoodaloor
76. Thiru Kavith Thalam
77. Thiru Adhanoor
78. Thirupullabhoothangudi
79. Thirukkudandhai
80. Thiruccherai
81. Thirunandipura Vinnagaram
82. ThiruNaraiyoor
83. Thiruvinnagar
84. Thiruvelliyangudi
85. Thirukkanamangai
86. Thirukkkannapuram
87. Thirukkandiyur

88. Sri Rangam
89. Thirukkozhi
90. Thirukkarambanoor
91. Thiruvellarai
92. Thiru Anbil
93. Thirupper Nagar
94. Thiruvanthipuram

95. Thiruvaramangai
96. Thirukkurungudi
97. Srivaikundam
98. Thiruvaragunamangai
99. Thiruppulingudi
100. Thirukkurugoor
101. Thirutthulaivillimangalam
102. Thirukkoloor
103. Thirukkulandhai
104. Thentirupperai

105. Thiruvattaru
106. Thiruvanparisaram

Vinnulagam (Outside the Earthly realm)

107. Thirupaarkadal
108. Thiruparamapadham


In Nepal the propagation of Sri Vaishnavism has mostly taken place through the initiative of the Vanamamalai Mutt and Sri Prativadibhayankar Swamiji's Guru parampara. The process had initially taken place from Muktinath, which is the most important Vaishnava pilgrimage in Nepal and later on spread to other areas. Yogiraj Swami Kamalnayanacharya's temple at Jhapa is at present an important centre of propagation of Sri Vaishnavism. Several Sri Vaishnava Mutts have grown up around the Muktinath temple and it serves as a rallying point for the Sri Vaishnavas of Nepal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brahman is the metaphysical ultimate unchanging reality in Vedic and post-Vedic Hinduism, and is Vishnu in Sri Vaishnavism.
  2. ^ These two Vaishnavism traditions are respectively called the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya and the Brahma sampradaya.[36]
  3. ^ This work is predominantly about the Hindu scriptures called the Upanishads which Ramanuja held as the essence of the Vedas.[64]
  4. ^ The texts of most of these scholars is lost to history.
  5. ^ Brahman is the Vedic concept of metaphysical unchanging reality.[68]
  6. ^ He is also known by many other names, such as Azhagiya Manavala Mamunigal, Sundhara Jamatara Muni, Ramya Jamatara Muni, Ramya Jamatara Yogi, Varavaramuni, Yathindhra pravanar, Kanthopayantha, Ramanujan ponnadi, Soumya jamathru yogindhrar, Koil Selva manavala mamunigal etc. He also has the titles Periya Jeeyar, Vellai Jeeyar, Visthavak sikhamani, Poi IllAtha Manavala Mamuni.
  7. ^ Also known as Vanamamalai jeeyar, Vanadri yogi, Ramanuja Jeeyar, Ramanuja muni.
  8. ^ The Sanskrit Vedas and the Dravida Veda, the composition of Alwars, which are held in equal esteem
  9. ^ Also known as anushtaanams


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Further reading[edit]

  • Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dallapiccola
  • The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation, and Ritual (Univ of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.A. 1 January 1994), by Vasudha Narayanan
  • Understanding Hinduism, (ISBN 1844832015), by Vasudha Narayanan

External links[edit]