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Some thoughts about the origin of srivaishnavism

From: Srinath Chakravarty (
Date: Tue Jan 05 1999 - 14:59:04 PST

Dear fellow members:

     I was rather intrigued by the discussion that arose in regards
to the speech by Sri. ART. swAmigaL during the recent NAMA conference
here in Dallas, TX.  Although I was unable to attend this event, the
recent bhakti postings have enabled me to relive some moments from
the conference and I profusely thank those responsible.  In my humble
opinion, with no disrespect to Sri. ART. swAmigaL, Sri. Dileepan is
correct in stating that the origins of SriVaishnavism as a philosophy
date back much further than Sri. RAmAnujAchAriar. In fact, considering
that Vedic references to SriVaishnavism are well  known to every 
AchAryAr in our sampradAyam, I wonder if Sri. ART. swAmigaL simply 
intended to address a very general audience.   

     Many of you are aware that vishishTAdvaita is also referred to
as bodHAyana-siddHAnta, i.e., having originated from the ancient 
philosopher BudhAyana.  Sri. SrinivAsachArya, a Srivaishnava scholar
from the 17th. century A.D. describes in the preface to his work 
yatIndramatadIpika, that there has existed an ancient school of Vedic
thought in support of vishisTAdvaita, to which budHAyana and his
spiritual descendants such as Tanka and Dramida belong.  The
srivaishnavite AchArya tradition (as separate from the AzhwAr tradition) 
from budHAyana down to nAthamuni and rAmAnujar, derives from the same 
school.  We know about rAmAnujar's epic journey to Kashmir, with a 
mission to obtain the text of the then only extant copy of bodHAyana's 
commentary on the brahma sUtras from the King's court.  During his 
gurukulavAsam, rAmAnujar supposedly entered into a dispute with his 
teacher over the meaning of the phrase "satyam jnyAnam-anantam brahmA" 
contained in taittriyopanishad, as to whether it meant that the 
universal soul IS truth, knowledge and endlessness [advaitic], or 
whether the universal soul HAS ATTRIBUTES of truth, knowledge and 
endlessness [vishisTAdvaitic].  Certainly vishishTAdvaita springs from 
Upanishadic thought, and has been appropriately referred to as 
"pan-organismal monism" by Sri. A.S. Raghavan, author of an explanatory 
book on its philosophy.  The upanishads delve into the inner self, and 
vishisTAdvaitic scholars have richly derived from these scriptures over 
millennia.  May this glorious tradition continue forever, and remain as 
endless as it is without beginning.

       One must however, distinguish between vaishnavism and 
SRIvaishnavism, and also consider the aspect of religion versus 
philosophy while discussing this matter.  Vaishnavism as a religion has 
Vedic origins, and is also enshrined as a tradition in the 
Vishnu-puranas.  Many Hindus from all parts of India and from various 
sects are Vaishnavite by faith, but the distinction of SRIvaishnavaite 
applies only to a particular sect of South Indian Brahmins (referred to 
of course, as iyengar) whose patron saint is Sri. rAmAnujar.  In this 
context, one may consider the SRIvaishnavas as subscribers to the school 
of vishistAdvaitic philosophy, as well as followers of vaishnavite 
religious practices originating from their AzhwArs and AchAryas.  In 
fact most of the vaishnavite temple rituals in
South India derive completely or largely from the stipulations of
Sri. rAmAnujar and his spiritual successors.  My point here is that the 
word SRIvaishnava did not apply to any particular group of people until 
the time of rAmAnujar.  In that vein, the AzhwArs and the AchAryas 
preceding rAmAnujar would not be SRIvaishnavas.  Not that they weren't 
srivaishnavite in their bhakti and in their siddHAnta, but that the 
appellation of SRIvaishnava was not used until a Brahminical sect was 
defined as such. I have heard from elders that the term SRIvaishnava was 
used by rAmAnujar in order to distinguish this particular sect from 
other vaishnava communities within Hinduism.  This is where I could see 
Sri. ART. swAmi's point of view [overlooking of course, his reference to 
primitiveness and such].


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