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proselytization and srivaishnavism

From: Srinath Chakravarty (
Date: Wed Jan 20 1999 - 17:29:12 PST

Dear bhaktas:
   I gratefully acknowledge the sincere responses to my questions and
comments in the earlier message titled "on the nature of our faith".
As a matter of fact, several related disussions have occurred in 
previous bhakti postings as pointed out by Mani.  I should make it a
point to dig into the archives more often, especially now that we have
the new search feature added to it.
   I read in the archives about the Srirangam acharyas Vs the Kanchi
acharyas and I liked that description very much.  It is perhaps true,
that what began as different learning environments in those two ancient 
cities may have eventually led to an unprecedented split in
the ranks, fostered by over-zealous disciples during the centuries that 
followed.  Later the impact of British administration, coupled with the 
recourse to legal wranglings by Srivaishnavas over the control of 
temples [having economic implications] served to polarize
the community even further.  Well, I'm sure there is more to this 
odyssey but the discussion certainly added to my knowledge.    
   Some members did agree with me on a couple of other things that I'd 
mentioned, such as the issue of vadamozhi, and about proselytization.
Let me dwell on this proselytizing matter once more, for in my mind it
has some very fundamental implications.  Mani writes that anyone, 
irrespective of age, gender or faith can convert to Srivaishnavism by 
undergoing samASrayaNam through an AchAryan.  Now that raises some 
questions in my mind.  Firstly, should I consider myself as one born 
into the Srivaishnava community, since both my parents were 
Srivaishnavite?  Also, since I have not undergone samASrayaNam yet, 
should I be considered a non-Srivaishava?  Further, my parents had not
undergone samASrayaNam at the time of my birth.  In that vein, I could 
not have been born a Srivaishnavan.  In any case, if the possibility of 
being "born" a Srivaishnavan does not exist, then the argument is
moot.  If so, then I am not a Srivaishnavan because neither could I be  
born into the faith, nor have I been indoctrinated into it as of now.
   Perhaps Mani intended to say [and this is speculation on my part] 
that samASrayaNam can convert a non-Srivaishavan to Srivaishnavism, by 
embracing them into the thondarkulam.  That may be a recourse for me, if 
the previously mentioned considerations are true.  So then, the faith is 
truly universal, isn't it... since any human being can convert to it 
through samASrayaNam.  Well, wait a minute.  We know that unlike the 
advaita matams, OUR AchAryas continue to bear the identifiers of 
brAhminhood, such as Shikha and yagnyopavEtham.  In theory, any member 
of the thondarkulam can rise to the level of an AchAryan and occupy the 
peetham of the mutt.  So we could have AchAryars devoid of brahminical 
externals, if they were not brahmin to begin with.  Mani says that 
brahminhood is an entirely different matter.  Certainly, because there 
is no conversion to it [as far as I know, but surely I do have a lot to 
    So here is THE question: Do the mutts require swAmis to perform 
certain brAhminical rituals, and if so, could it be possible to bestow 
brahminhood upon one that wasn't so born, in order to fulfill the 
requirement?  A community is truly egalitarian, if just about any of its 
members could ascend to prominence irrespective of their origins.
Is Srivaishnavism so?  Regardless of the answer, there is a related
question... how many non-brahmin Srivaishavites do we know of [other 
than certain AzhwArs]?  And of course, no one has yet ventured an 
estimate of the total number of adherents to Srivaishnavism today...
    I will end here, and hope to hear from some of you with regard to 
these doubts that I have.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge with me
so far.


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