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jAti in SriVaishnavism

From: Mohan Sagar (
Date: Mon Jan 20 1997 - 21:35:56 PST

Mr. Sridhar writes:

>Sri PiLLailokacharyar (to name
>one thenkalai acharya who minces no words when he talks of
>Naicchyanusandhaanam visavis the Supreme Lord) says thus:
>manassukku theemaiyAvadu swaguNathaiyum bhagavat bhAgavatha doshathaiyu
>dOsham ninaiyAdozhigiradhu guNambOle uNDAyiRukkavonnu
>doshamuNDenRu ninaikkil adhu paradosham anRu swadosham
>To think of oneself in superior terms is a dosham.  Further, to find fault
>or even non-qualifying states in others is swa-dOsham. When time ought to be
>spent in ridding one of one's own state of nescience (and the Acharya feels
>there is not enough time in a lifetime to achieve this), it is hardly
>meaningful to indulge in wondering about the states of evolution (or lack of
>them) for others.

>I would like to state that, in my view, retaining yagnyopaveetham or doing
>sandhya vandanam does not constitute objectionable varNashrama dharma.  It
>is when we judge people without awareness of their guNas and Karma (as Sri
>Mani pointed out with respect to the thirumagisai alwars-brahmins incident)
>that we fall prey to the human tendency (Vasana) to hold oneself in a
>relatively superior position.

Mani and I have been continuing on the subject of caste outside of this
forum, and have come up with similar conclusions.  Indeed,
Manalavalamamunigal, in his commentary on Sri Vachana Bhushanam (verses 276-
278) states:

---begin Mumme's translation---

Performance of dharmas appropriate to varna and ashrama with the idea that
they are done for the sake of others is desired.  But those performed with
the idea that they are one done for own's welfare is not desired...If they
(prapannas) did not perform them in this way, harm would come to souls who
are creatures of Lord's the extent that they provide for
loka-sangraha and the elevation of disciples and sons, these should be

---end quote---

Consequently, a prapanna should conform to caste only to the extent that it
provides an example for others, and not for the purposes of pomp or, in some
cases, fatalistic self-degradation.  It is important to note, also, that the
actions to which one should conform should only be those conducive to
loka-sangraha.  So, those caste policies dealing with harsh punishments to
non-Brahmins hearing the Veda, or which prejudge and place individuals into
some heirarchy are to be discarded in favor of a more moderate approach.  I
should also state that the use of caste for selfish political motivations,
as is done by many in India today, would also go against the approach
propogated by the Srirangam Acharyas.  It is a delicate balance, maintaining
one's caste dharmas while not judging the castes of others.  But, I think it
certainly is not without precedent, and would be conducive to our
understanding that jAti, while important from cultural levels and in the
maintenance of the social order, would not have any role in judging or
qualifying a Bhagavatha.  

Mani and I continued our conversation with the example of the traditional
Varna Dharma concepts of not eating with members of the lower castes, and
not allowing the shadow of the members of other castes to fall upon Brahmins: 

>            To respond to your question on both of the varna dharma
>            concepts of avoiding the shadow of lower castes and not
>            eating with them,  I would concur that these would not all
>            be conforming to the values of Bhagavatha dharma. The
>            passage that I quoted fromSVB stated that only those caste
>            duties that were of service to the Lord, in that they were
>            done out of lokasangraham should be followed by a prapanna.
>            I believe that the feeding of people, especially the poor,
>            would be more than conducive towards lokasangraham.
>            In addition to this, though, caste purificatory concepts
>            seem to be traditionally required where rituals are viewed
>            as being for the purpose of propitiation, i.e, traditional
>            brahministic vedic thought.  As a prapanna recognizes that
>            his/her individual actions are not for this purpose, but for
>            the purpose of kainkaryam, such purificatory rites, other
>            than those of cleanliness and personal hygiene, would seem
>            unnecessary to the performance of such duties.  After doing
>            some additional reading in our tradition,  it has become
>            quite apparent to me that the propogators of our philosophy
>            were rational, pragamatic people who did not want the
>            superstitionalism of caste based ideology to interfere with
>            the simple devotionalism to the Lord.  Consequently, I do
>            not think that they would have thought very highly of the
>            separation of caste groups, other than the reasons of
>            allowing those of orthodox diet to maintain such, as I
>            suggested in my previous note.
>            However, traditional ceremonial eating is a way of
>            expression of unity and communalism in many religions.  Take
>            for example, the Jewish Sader, or the Islamic breaking of
>            the Ramadan fast.  The same holds true in our own community.
>            You may be familiar with the history of an Ekangi known as
>            Kandadai Ramanuja Iyengar (both the Kandadai name and the
>            Iyengar title were conferred upon him by his guru,) who
>            lived in the 15th century.   He was responsible for the
>            establishment of feeding centers called Ramanuja Kootams,
>            where food was readily provided to all initiated members of
>            the SriVaishnava Community, irrespective of caste.  Some of
>            these Kootams are still operational today, and still follow
>            this tradition of providing traditional foods to those of
>            our communities.
>            Another example of this approach to communal dining was
>            clearly visible to me during SrimanNarayana Jeear's stay in
>            our home last summer.  After the Jeear was provided with the
>            meal, all others, irrespective of caste were served food by
>            the Jeear's priests, all of whom came from learned Thengalai
>            Brahmin families.  The honor of being served in the kitchen
>            was limited only to SriVaishnavas, but our Naidu friends
>            were allowed in as well.

SrimanNarayana Jeear's four day visit to Denver was quite the learning
experience for me, for it gave me the opportunity to see this delicate
balance of orthodoxy tempered with devotionalism in action.  I will share
this further in the next posting.

Daasanu Daasan,