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Brahmins/Sri Vaishnavas/Iyengars

From: V. Sadagopan (
Date: Thu Aug 03 1995 - 19:53:52 PDT

 Manjula: here are some observations to get the discussion rolling on your
Your questions were: (1) What is the difference between Brahmins and Sri
Vaishnavas? (2) What is the difference between Iyengars and Sri Vaishnavas?
Followers of Vaishnavism are Vaishanavas. Vaishnavism is a broad-based
universal religion , which is open to one and all independent of Caste , creed,
gender,  and scholarship of the individual. The qualifications to be a true
Vaishnava has been described beautifully by Narasimha Mehta in his song
"Vaishanava Jana Tho", a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi.There  are prescribed
religious duties for Sri Vaishnavas.(Vaishnavas and Sri Vaishnavas are equal in
meaning. The word Sri is added for auspiciousness in the Vaishnava
Paribhasha(Colloquliasm) . It is also a matter of respect accorded by others to
Vaishnavas, which you alluded to in your note. . , 
Sri Vaishnavas can come from any caste (e.g) Alvars. Kulasekara was a
Kshatruiya. Thirumangai was also a Kshatriya by birth. Nammalwar was not a
Brahmin. Thirumazhisai Alwar was a Siva Worshipper  earlier. Thondaradipodi,
Periyalwar were Brahmins. The common things that tie them are the observance of
the sacraments of Vaishnavism and the observance of the religious duties of
Vaishnavas.DR.S.M.S.Chari"s well-written book "Vaishnavism, Its philosophy,
theology and religious discipline" will be very helpful to you to gain a
perspective on the details of Vaishnavism. Chapters 8 and 13 are brilliant
summaries of  two important doctrines of Vaishnavism. Chapter 8 deals with
Vishnu and Goddess Sri. Chapter 13 deals with the important subject of Prapatti.


Bhagavt Kainkarya and Bhagavata Kainkarya are the two types of worship. The
first is the service to the Lord without expectation of rewards(Nishkama Karma
described in Bhagavat Gita.) The Panchakala Prikriya or the five fold daily
religious duties can be folded in to the Bhagavat Kainkarya. 

The second type of Kainkarya is known as Bhagavata Kainkaryam or service to
Godly men and women.Bhagavata Kainkarya is recognized as one of the supreme
virtues of a true Vaishnava. The reasoning is as follows: True devotees of
Vishnu  (the Bhagavatas) are very dear to the supreme Lord, Vishnu(Sriman
Narayana). Any service rendered to his dear Bhagavatas are therefore most
pleasing to Vishnu. DR. Chari has quoted in support of this view a passage  from
Padmottara Purana:" Of all the types of worship, the worship to Vishnu is great;
Greater than that is the service to Bhagavatas." Service to Bhagavatas can take
many forms: providing food, shelter, clothing et al.Bhagavata apachara or
offence to Bhagavatas is to be avoided at all costs, since, it brings the wrath
of Bhagavan. 


Out of his infinite mercy, Acharya Ramanauja has suggested 5 Kainkaryas to suit
the competence and convineience of the Vaishanvas; (1) study of Sri Bhashya, the
commentary on Brahma Sutras (2)  for those, who find it difficult, study of the
Naalaiyra Divya Prabhandam (3) for those , who can not do that, services to
Vaishnava divya desams and Abhimana sthalas thru provision of Food, Flowers or
lighting of lamps (4) For those, who can not afford that  the mantra Japa of
Dwayam, the sacred Mantram on Narayana and Sri Devi. (5) For those, who feel
they can not follow any one of the above four Kainkaryas, The company of
Vaishnavas is recommended as  a last resort. Ramanuja's prescriptions cover the
entire world of Literate scholars in Sanskrit and Tamil as well as illiterate
masses, who have embraced Vaishnavism. No one is thus left out. 


Brahmins are one of the members of the four Varnas described by Krishna Bhagavan
in Bhagavad Gita. The divisions in to four categories as Brahmins, Kshtriyas,
Vaisyas and Sudras was based on the allocation of complimentary duties of the
four Varnas. Brahmins were assigned the study of Vedas and protection of them.
Vaisyas took care of Commerce, Kshatriyas  ruling of the land and Sudras for
other  duties not covered bty the members of the  first three Varnas.
No one is superior to the other  among the four Varnas in the eyes of the Lord.
All are his children.

Vaishnavas are Vishnu dasas, who devote their entire life to the service of
Bhagavan or Bhagavatas . The Vishnu Dasas , who happen to be Brahmins by Birth
are identifiable as Iyengars. There  are Tamil Nadu Iyengars and Mysore Iyengars
known as Mandayam Iyengars. Iyengars some time concentrated in Agraharams and
the Name of Iyengar Street In Kumbakonam came from that. Tattachars are famous
residents of that street once.

Brahmins can be Iyengars, Iyers and Raos. Veda Adhyayanam and performance of
Yagas and Yagnas and intrepretation of Sacred scriptures were their  assigned
duties. The late Paramacharya of Kabnchi has made a  distinction between
Brahmanas and Brahmana Bandhus. He has  described the latter as the one born of
Brahman parents, but not observant of the duties assigned by the Sastras and
Vedas to Brahmins.

Hope these comments are helpful.