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responses to the conversion question

From: Srinath Chakravarty (
Date: Thu Jan 21 1999 - 18:12:14 PST

Dear bhaktas:
    I sincerely thank those who took the time to respond to the various 
quesions that I had about proselytization and certain religious 
practices.  Although I haven't perused the archives for
previously occurring discussions about caste etc., Mani is correct
in stating that debates of this nature are mostly futile.  As a matter 
of fact I apologize if my statements appeared to be indicative of that 
kind of discussion; certainly not my intent.  Well what WAS my intent in 
inquiring about conversion, brAhmaNism, etc?... simply to try and 
understand better, "the nature of our faith".  Dear fellow 
Srivaishnavas, I take a lot of pride in belonging to this sampradAyam 
and perhaps I acted like one often does with one's own parents, i.e. 
critcize them in the hope that they will measure up to our regard and 
esteem.  I am quite a believer in the paradigm of "purity by fire", that 
the true test of an entity's qualities is how it responds to extreme 
situations.  Here, the entity was Srivaishnavism, and the questions that 
I was raising about it were rather extreme, as some of you will attest 
    The ensuing responses have enlightened me a lot.  I was seeking 
really, a concrete definition of sorts, with regard to our faith.  There 
are reasons for this, and please feel free to comment/criticize about 
them.  In this day and age, the survival of any community/faith requires 
that it gain recognition in the larger sphere of human society.  Today's 
world of several nations, peoples and faiths will never pay attention to 
social constructs that aren't well defined.  Why do I seek such a 
definition?  Because I want for Srivaishnavism to 
survive and flourish as long as possible.  Why do I "root" for it so 
much?  Because it is mine, and my ancestors', and all the way back to 
our patron saints and beyond.  Besides, it is an integral part of my 
personality and value system [and of all of us, I'm sure].  And what is 
this "definition" about?  Well right now in my mind, it is about 
recognition by peoples and governments world wide, much like other 
religions and communities have gained during this century.  I'm not sure 
if Srivaishnavism has been given this consideration even in its home 
country, let alone elsewhere.  I feel that a sound definition of what 
comprises our faith and its institutions is the first step toward 
ensuring its survival.  For instance, the mundane questions of who's 
part of it and who's not, and then again, who can join, and how... and 
if so, then what about the roles of the different adherents, etc.  If we 
shy away from even descriptions of these things, how can we expect the 
fundamental constructs of our faith to stand the test of time?
    I feel it is time for "glasnost" or openness.  There is no reason 
why we cannot candidly state that thondarkulam is open to one and all, 
but certain duties and responsibilites within its spectrum are based on 
ancestry and lineage, as prescribed by orthodox texts.  The best 
scenario of course, is to completely do away with the hierarchy and 
adopt a reformist, unorthodox approach.  I am not the community's 
visionary leader, saint, AchAryan or jeer to propose any such 
restructuring.  But if it facilitates "definition" of who we are and 
what we believe in, then it must be done by the powers that be.  Mani 
had mentioned in an earlier posting, that proper explanation of 
Srivaishnava rites and rituals is imperative to ensuring their 
appreciation by the younger generation that has been raised in North 
America.  As someone raised in India until age 18, I wish to say also, 
that I have strongly felt the "void" caused by lack of definition of my 
faith, in the increasingly political/communal society that surrounded 
me.  But it does not surprise me.  I consider the Hindu religion itself, 
to be not well defined in terms of institutionalism, sacred texts, and 
and organized priesthood.  Therefore to some extent, our specific "lack 
of definition" is inherited from the religion which it is part of.  
Enough said, I suppose... and no doubt I will have left behind a trail 
of confusing statements but again I'm sure they are well within the 
premises of our discussion group.  If not, do forgive me fellow members, 
and please respond at your convenience.


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