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Re: purattaasi kEttaithanil puvi uthitthOn vaazhiyE!

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Wed Sep 28 1994 - 11:18:37 PDT

Parthasarati Dileepan writes:
> Digressing a little bit, until the time of the fifth azhagiya singar, Sri
> Sarvathanthra Svathanthra Sri SadagOpa yatheendhra mahaa
> dEsikan, (1493-1499) there was no thenkalai and vadakalai
> separation [1].  The rivalry perhaps reached its peak about 30/40
> years ago.

Actually, historical accounts indicate that the rivalry reached
its peak after the British arrived, sometime in the 17th and 18th
centuries, when some ambitious people realized that they could
get control of temples and get temple honors through the
British-introduced court system.

There was a tremendous court battle over most of the major
ksetras, especially the Triplicane Parthasarathy Svami Temple.
In places where the temple was controlled by Thengalais,
prominent Vadagalai members of the surrounding community rose to
challenge their authority, and vice versa. Often, court cases
were filed simply over how the ThirumaN would look on the Lord's

This is quite unfortunate, since at its heights, such acrimony
was motivated not by any doctrinal or intellectual difference. It
was essentially a fight for power and prominence.

> With less and less people taking interest in spiritual matters it is
> ever more important for Sri Vaishnavaas every where to act
> consistent with the teachings of our ethiraajaa.  With this objective in
> mind, I would like to learn more about what separates these two
> groups.  I request knowledgeable members to contribute.

The differences are, in my opinion, overemphasized. There was
never a ban on intermarriage between the two subdivisions, so
they never became two individual castes.  They worship at all the
same temples, irrespective of which sect has authority at that

Historians say that the deep division that you've witnessed is a
product of lesser minds a century or two after Manavala Mamuni's
death.  Certainly, there were differences in emphasis on grace,
karma, etc., and surrender (prapatti), but the greatest teachers
on either side had no intention of causing a split.  In fact
Vedanta Desika says in one of his works that "In the tradition of
Yatiraja (Ramanuja), there is no division; there is only a small
difference in opinion."  Similarly, Manavala Mamuni (the main
post-Ramanuja acharya for Thengalais, who lived a century after
Desika) quotes Desika in his works and refers to him very
respectably as "abhiyuktar".  I believe this term was used only
for respected members of one's own community.

As for the differences themselves:

> Dr. Radhakrishnan, ex-president of India, captures the essential
> difference between the two groups in his "monkey theory" and "cat
> theory" [2].  In the case of monkey, the baby monkey has to cling
> onto the mother, i.e. action is required from the jeeva for salvation
> => vadakalai.  In the case of cat, the cat carries its kitten in its
> mouth, i.e. no further action is required after prapatthi => thenkalai.
> Is this correct?  I was under the impression that no further action
> is required after prapatthi, thenkalai or vadakalai.

The cat/monkey analogy is of late origin, and is apparently used
more by non-Srivaishnavas than Srivaishnavas themselves! It is
highly misleading and trivializes the subtle differences between
the two conceptions of SaraNaagati.

First, let me go into the origin of the doctrinal differences,
and then I'll deal briefly with the differences themselves.  One
recent author, instead of using the words "Thengalai" and
"Vadagalai", used the terms "Srirangam Acharyas" and "Kanchi
Acharyas", since a difference in opinion existed long before the
"---galai" words came to prominence.

There are several reasons for this difference. First, Ramanuja
never definitely put down his words on the nature of SaraNaagati.
Since Ramanuja's words were always final, it may have been part
of his genius to leave this unresolved since it was such an
intensely personal matter.  At any rate, there were two sets of
Srivaishnava scholars left after Ramanuja passed on. One group,
located in Kanchi (where Desikar later grew up), became known
for its vast Sanskrit scholarship, probably because Kanchi was a
great center of Sanskrit learning of all sorts.  People of all
religious traditions lived there, and debate between Srivaishnava
and non-Srivaishnava was probably very active and
prominent. Hence, the greater of use of Sanskrit and Sanskrit
ideas by the "Kanchi Acharyas", the Northerners, and eventually
the "Vadagalai".

The other group was located in Srirangam, essentially a purely
Vaishnava center.  Here, popular Vaishnavism was more prominent
than Sanskrit-oriented debate with other schools. Hence, there
must have been great occasion for public lecture (Katha
Kaalakshepam, Upanyaasam, etc) of the Prabandhams and general
bhakti literature, as opposed to the abstruse Sanskrit Vedanta.
Therefore, there was greater usage of the Tamil Prabandham,
language and more radical metaphors (when viewed from a Sanskrit
perspective), as befits expositions of the Azhvar literature,
which are more 'anubhavam' (experience) than doctrine.  This is
probably also why there are more Thengalais (of all castes) than

Naturally, with this difference in geography, intellectual
climate, and language came some differences in emphasis.  The
Kanchi Acharyas, carefully guarding the doctrine of karma, etc.,
emphasized the need of the individual soul to actually perform
the act of surrender to the Lord, with its associated attitudes,
etc.  The Srirangam Acharyas, taking many of the words of the
Azhvars and the stotra literature to heart, emphasized the
greatness and overwhelming grace of the Lord to "save His own",
and therefore spoke more of the *attitude* than the act. The
Srirangam acharyas felt that *performing an act* of surrender was
an act of self-exertion, which was not in line with the
individual soul's svaroopa as being completely dependent on the
Lord. Furthermore, they felt that such an *act* was 'amaryaada',
i.e., was disrespectful, since (i) the soul was offering itself
when it in actuality eternally belonged to the Paramaatma, and
(ii) not even the physical act of surrendering can force the Lord
to save the soul.  He saves the soul on His own initiative; rest
assured that He *will* save you, but don't try to force Him.

Therefore, there is no separate 'prapatti' or 'SaraNaagati' for
Thengalais, like there is for Vadagalais.  Thengalais also do not
admit bhakti-yoga as a separate means, with the idea that it is
only prapatti (which is essentially realizing the nature of one's
soul) that "achieves" moksha. (Thengalai Acharyas would probably
even object to my usage of the word "achieve".)

So this is the distinction. Naturally, many other beliefs follow
from this difference, but what is outlined above is primary.  The
concept of caste, etc., was much more liberally interpreted in
the Thengalai acharyas' works in consequence, but it appears that
such doctrines did not have a lasting impact on the
community. Orthodox Thengalai Brahmins are as staunchly casteist
as any Vadagalai that I know.

Sorry for this overlong mail. I have been intrigued by the
difference between the two subsects, so I tend to ramble. Please
forgive me.