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From: KESHAVA PRASAD (103020.541_at_compuserve.com)
Date: Sun Feb 25 1996 - 10:47:02 PST
OM NAMO NARAYANAYA ! SALUTATIONS TO ALL VISHNU BHAKTAS / PRAPANNAS: I have had the privilege and honor of enrolling myself as a dasa among the Bhakti/Prapatti group of members recently. I have been receiving the Bhakti digest regularly and have been reading everyone of them with great interest. I have seen a variety of topics and styles of writing. letters and articles vary greatly in length and breadth of knowledge exhibited and the contents vary significantly in the amount of words, references, original texts, etc., used. Believe me some of them are over my head ! I note that Sri V. Sadagopan, Sri Sampath Rengarajan, Sri Jagannath Bharadwaj, Sri Parthasarati Dileepan, Sri Vijay Srinivasan are some of the prolific writers and frequent contributors to the forum. I appreciate the wealth of information they have been able to dish out on the topics that have been and are being discussed. Being new to the forum and with minimum knowledge about the Srivaishnava Sampradaya and heritage, I am at a loss to know where to begin to learn. I am sure there are a few like me who are eager to learn but are being dealt too much at once to be able to handle. Also, there may be a few changes that can be made to the forum which will make it more fulfilling to a wider audience and encourage larger participation in the discussions so that we have more views on the table. Therefore, May I make the following suggestions for Sri Mani Varadarajan to consider for implementation: 1) Create topics or categories of discussion: Suggested categories are: a) Chronology and Life histories of Acharyas / Azhwaars b) Works of our great Acharyas and commentaries, contemprary or otherwise. c) Compositions of Azhwaars and their adoptation in practice of Srivaishnavism. d) Sthalapuranas e) Teachings of Scriptures such as Upanishads f) Teachings of the Bhagavadgita g) Analyses of celebrated scriptural events such as Banishment Of Sita, etc. h) Ritualistic practice of Srivaishnavism including daily rites such as Sandhyavandana & Bhagavaradhana; Congregational performances such as Homa, Yajna and Samprokshana; Traditional and / or customary kriyas such as Upanayana and Sraaddha, and so on. i) Organizational matters, publications, societies, fund raisers, etc. 2) Allow and encourage contemporary analogies to historical events and their significance in our daily lives. 3) Start a discussion on social reformations that were seldom contemplated in our religion. 4) Start reaching out especially for the members of the younger generation who can benefit most from this forum and who can help perpetuate our Srivaishnava sampradaya. Such categorization will help I believe, in channeling our thoughts and keep us focused at any time as long as a discussion stays in the chosen category and will also provide continuity for others to join in the discussion no matter where the discussion was left off or picked up again over a period of time. One can not help but notice that the above categorization is not in any way unique but has evolved from what has already been brought forth for discussion in the Bhakti / Prapatti forum. It just brings a touch of order to these discussions. To help launch the first step towards such an effort, I would like to post the following chronology of SRIVAISHNAVISM as documented by Swami Harshananda of Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama of Bangalore. This documentary falls into the first category stated above and merits some consideration. It will also serve as an introduction to Srivaishnava sampradaya to some of us who have not the benefit of formal education in Srivaishnava religion or philosophy when we grew up. We knew that we were born into Srivaishnava families but did not know what it all meant in a sense that would appeal to the analytical minds of men and women who are serious about what is preached and what is practised. SRIVAISHNAVISM THROUGH THE AGES Srivaishnavism, the religion, and Visistaadvaita, its philosophy, are of hoary antiquity. In his introductory verse of "SRIBHASYA" (the commentary on the "BRAHMA SUTRAS"), SRI RAMANUJA traces this philosophy to the "UPANISADS", which was well guarded by the later Acharyas like VYASA, BODHAYANA, TANKA, DRAMIDA, GUHADEVA, KAPARDIN, BHARUCHI and others. According to the traditional belief that obtains among Srivaishnavas, the religion of Srivaishnavism was first taught by the Lord NARAYANA Himself to LAKSHMI, His divine Consort, who in turn, communicated the same to VISVAKSENA. From him, it was handed over to a series of teachers headed by SATHAKOPA. THE AALVAARS (AAZHWAARS): Aalvaars were Srivaishnava saints of the Tamil country who lived between the sixth and the ninth centuries A.D. The word "AALVAAR" literally means one who is immersed in divine love. They are twelve in number: POYGAI, PUDAM, PEY, TIRUMOLISAI, NAMMALVAR, KULASHEKHARA, PERIYALVAR, TONDARADIPPODI, TIRUMANGAI, MADHURAKAVI AND AANDAL. Theirs was a religion of ecstatic love for God. Hence, neither caste nor sex was any barrier to their attaining to that state. Coming to the historical times, it was these Aalvaars who first propagated the religion and the philosophy of Srivaishnavism through their songs. These songs, called the "NALAAYIRA PRABANDHAM", combine in themselves rare poetic beauty and high philosophical tenets, couched in a simple language. NAMMAALVAAR, the author of the famous "TIRUVAIMOLI", is by far the greatest among them. He is called the KUTASTHA by the later Acharyas of Srivaishnavism, because the fundamental doctrines of this faith as current today, were taught by him. THE AACHARYAS: The Aalvar movement was more emotional in nature than metaphysical. The Aalvars were great devotees of the Lord Vishnu. They believed in the impermanence of the worldly enjoyments and in the acquisition of liberation by union with Him. They taught more by example than by precept, though they propagated the philosophy of Visistaadvaita in their songs. Hence, it was left to the Aacharyas beginning with NATHAMUNI, who succeeded the Aalvaars, to put the system on a firm footing, basing it both upon the Sanskrit scriptures and the Tamil teachings of the Aalvaars. The Aacharyas were very orthodox Brahmanas, versed equally in Sanskrit and Tamil, who passed through the different stages of orthodox life and discharged their duties so as to serve as an ideal for their followers. Apart from expounding the philosophy of Visistaadvaita, they also laid down various rules for the proper observance of festivals, fasts, vows and customs. They were thus the makers of modern Srivaishnavism. It is not surprising, therefore, that they in turn have become objects of worship like the Aalvaars whom they themselves apotheosized. The first of thge Aacharyas was RANGANATHA MUNI, popularly known as NATHAMUNI (A.D. 824-924). He was at once an erudite scholar, ayogin, and a devotee. It was he who first collected all the "PRABANDHAMAS", edited them with proper introductory verses, popularized them by setting them to music, and made them sung in temples. It was, again, he who gave these Prabandhams the status equal to that of the VEDAS in temple festivals. The various reforms brought about by Nathamauni necessitated the creation of the post of a universal Aacharya whose authority was law in religious worship and whose advice was a guide to temples and house-holders. It was but natural that when such a post was established, the choice should fall on Nathamuni himself. Since this office was combined with the management of the SRIRANGAM temple, it was easy for the Aacharyas to revolutionize and recognize the Srivaishnava religion by introducing the necessary reforms first in that temple, which is one of the most important shrines of VISHNU and a stronghold of Srivaishnavism. Nathamuni was succeeded by PUNDARIKAKSA and RAMAMISRA for two short periods. Then came YAMUNACHARYA (A.D. 918-1038), who was the grandson of Nathamuni himself. It was he who, endowed with great scholarship and insight, first attempted to put the Vissistaadvaita philosophy on a firm foundation. He wrote competent works in Sanskrit defending it, and established the orthodoxy of PANCHARATRA SCHOOL, whose authority is accepted as equal to that of the SRUTIS by the Visistaadvaitins. "SIDDHITRAYA" and " AAGAMAPRAAMANYA" are his two important works, in addition to the "GITARTHASANGRAHA". It was his cherished desire to write a commentary on the "VEDANTA-SUTRAS" according to the Visistaadvaita, just as SANKARA had done according to the Advaita philosophy. But he died before he could attempt it, and the task fell on Sri RAMANUJA (A.D. 1017-1137) to achieve it, and achieve it he did ! There is more where this came from. May be next time. PAAPOHAM PAAPA KARMAHAM, PAAPATMA PAAPASAMBHAVA. TRAAHIMAAM KRIPAYA KRISHNA SHARANAGATA VATSALA ! LAKSHMINATHA SAMARAMBHAM NATHA YAMUNAMADHYAMAM ASMADACHARYA PARYANTHAM VANDE GURUPARAMPARAM. ADIYEN: KESHAVA B.PRASAD.