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Re: Vadakalai and Tenkalai and other questions

From: Mohan R Sagar (
Date: Thu Apr 15 1999 - 21:40:02 PDT

Sugantha Jagannthan wrote:

>  respected sir I would like to know when the
> iyengar sect got split into vadagali and
> tengalai.What is the major difference betweenthe
> two other than the thiruman.I would also like to
> know about the history and the hereditery of
> iyengars fromsrimathy

For the sake of Srimathy and all other newcomers
to this forum, I thought that I would share a
brief layman's synopsis of this complex
discussion.  I would suggest that those wanting
more details to please check the archives of
Bhakti for postings from more erudite members of
this group.

First of all, the term "Iyengar" really does not
refer to a religious sect at all, but rather to a
subset of Brahmins who, by tradition, are
heriditary heirs to the religion of
SriVaishnavam.  While the Iyengar Community is
most certainly directly linked to this religion,
SriVaishnavam is, in its essence, completely
independent of the idea of  caste, and has
followers hailing from all communities.  And, with
increasing awarenes in the west, I am happy to
say, has started to include all races as well.  
So, when we speak of such things as Vadakalai or
Tenkalai, we should note that these belong to
SriVaishnavam as as a religion, and not to
Iyengars as a caste.  And, we must also be very
careful to not consider the two terms
(SriVaishnava and Iyengar) as being

However, with regards to Iyengars in particular,
we can probably surmise that all of them can trace
their ancestral roots or disciplic succession
(paramparai) back to the foremost achAryan of our
tradition, Sri Ramanuja, or one of his disciples.

The formal division of the tradition into the two
schools of  thought known as Vadakalai or Tenkalai
seems to have a fairly recent history, but it
seems that scholars cannot really agree as to
specifically when references to SriVaishnavam as
having two schools became established. However the
philosophical differences that have created this
division can generally be traced back to two 14th
century philosophers,  Swamy Vedanta Desika
(reputed to be the founder of the Vadakalai view),
and Swamy Pillai Lokacharyar (who, along with Sri
Manavalamamunigal, is reputed to be the founder of
the Tenkalai view).

Officially, there are 18 fundamental differences
between the two schools of thought (not including
the shape of the thiruman).  But, the one
difference that is perhaps most significant is how
the two schools interpret prapatti/saranAgathi,
the Path of Self-Surrender to the Lord.   Of
crucial concern are: what constitutes prapatti,
what are the qualifications for performing
prapatti,  and whether or not prapatti
necessitates a formal act on the part of the
individual.  The details of these issues are
rather complex, and indeed are only meant to be
taught by scholars.  So, I will not attempt to
address these further.

While it cannot be denied that the kalai
differences form a big part of SriVaishnava
discussion and debate, I feel that it is important
to note that most AchAryans, and many lay
followers, see these differences as being
relatively unimportant in comparison to the spirit
of devotion to Sriman Narayana and dedication to
Ramanuja's Vision (emperumAnAr darshanam) that all
SriVaishnavas share.

adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,