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Vadakalai Iyengar
Vadagalai thiruman kappu 1
Regions with significant populations
Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh
Brahmin Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit
Om symbol.svg Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Vadama, Madhwas, Thenkalai

Vadakalai, meaning Northern school or Northern culture, are a subsect of the Sri Vaishnava Iyengar community of Hindu Brahmins. In Sanskrit the Vadakalai are referred to as Uttara Kalārya.[1] Vadakalais are followers of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika.[2][3][4]

Ethnicity and origin[edit]

Vedanta Desika, the Vaishnavite Acharya and philosopher, founded the Vadakalai sampradaya[5] based on the Sanskritic tradition.[6]


Thenkalai insignia

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

  • Parakala – They are mostly followers 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.

Religious Mark[edit]

Caste symbol of Vadakalai Iyengars

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).[15] 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.

Religious practices and tradition[edit]

The Vadakalais being followers of the Sanskrit Vedas,[16] always championed the cause of purity of the vedic tenets.[17] In addition, Vadakalais also give the Tamil works of the Azhvars, namely Divya Prabandham their due. Scholars' names are usually prefixed with the honorific Ubhaya Vedanta, meaning proficient in Vedic and Prabandha works.

The Vadakalai Iyengars believe in practising Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga along with Prapatti, as means to attain salvation.[18] Vedanta Desika emphasizes the practise of the three yogas in his work Rahasya Trayasarah, where he describes Karma and Jnana yogas to be prerequisites of Bhakti yoga.[19]

The sect follows the set of rules prescribed by the Manusmriti and other Dharma Shastras.[20][21]

Mutts (monasteries), and places of significance[edit]

The Vadakalais are generally followers of the Ahobila Mutt, Parakala Mutt, Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam and Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam.[22][23] Among these, Parakala Mutt is more than 700 years old, and the oldest.[24][25] The Ahobila Mutt is a 600+ year old monastic order, and the second oldest.[25][26][27] Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam is a 300+ year old organisation,[28] which came into existence by the 18th century,[29] while Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam is 100+ years old.[30]

Traditionally, places of high importance with significant Vadakalai populations included Kanchipuram, Kumbakonam, Tiruvallur, Mysore and Kurnool district.[1][31][32][33][34][35] However, today much of the people have moved to the big cities.

Differences with Thenkalai Srivaishnavas[edit]

Sectarian differences between Vadakalais and Thenkalais were non existent during Ramanuja period, the differences of opinion cropped up later.These opinions merely opined to strengthen the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya but not to inequate either Thenkalai or Vadakalai (neither Vedanta Desika nor Pillai Lokacharya had an intention to belittle each other).Though existing with two opinions the mutual respect and recognition for both existed till a certain point of time until the British Rules/ Court System came to existence. This led to the formation of Fanatics in both the sects as Power and control were distributed among them. Both the Tenkalai sampradaya and Vadakalai sampradaya are the strong pillars of the Sri Raamaanuja Sampradaya.None of the 18 differences which formed the two sects can actually be proved or disproved by either of the sects.

The Vadakalai follow the doctrines of Vedanta Desika and Ramanuja , while the Thenkalai follow the doctrines of Manavalamamunigal , Pillai Lokacharya and Ramanuja . Vadakalai Iyengars sport the U naama, rather than the Thenkalai Y naamam.[36] Compared to the Thenkalai Iyengars who thrived in Srirangam, their tradition developed around Kanchi. [16]

Notable people[edit]


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