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Re: Vaikanasa srivaishnava

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Fri Jul 06 2001 - 17:00:29 PDT

suderson writes:
> adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan.
> anantha pranAmama to all bhAgavathAs.
> I am told that vaikanasa srivaishnava do not undergo
> panchasamskara. The archakas in tirumala also belong
> to to the same sect / cult.
> Can some one through more light about the vaikanasa
> srivaishnava sampradaya. Is it different from
> emberumanar darisanam?
> dasan
> Suderson

Dear Suderson,

You are correct -- vaikhAnasa vaishnavas are not formally
affiliated with the tradition of Ramanuja.  They also do not
follow the pAncarAtra Agama which dictate the ritual of
samASrayaNam or panca-samskAra.  As their name indicates, they
follow the vaikhAnasa Agama, which is a different set of
Vaishnava ritual texts. The vaikhAnasa Vaishnavas trace
their guru-paramparA to Vikhanas Muni. In fact, in the place
of 'SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH' which is characteristic of 
all Sri Vaishnava correspondence, they typically write
'SrImate vikhano munaye namaH' (or some variant).  Their
doctrines claim origin from Atri, Bhrigu, Kasyapa, and
Marici, four rishis who according to their texts were
taught directly by Vikhanas Muni, an incarnation of 
Vishnu. The vaikhAnasa Vaishnavas are strictly hereditary -- 
one must be born (or adopted) into a vaikhAnasa family to be 
considered a vaikhAnasa Vaishnava.

As you are aware, the pAncarAtric rite of panca-samskAra 
establishes a formal link between the initiate and an acharya
of the tradition of Ramanuja.  The vaikhanasas as stated above
do not have such a ritual, and do not formally have a connection
with Ramanuja.  However, while they are not branded with the
insignia of Vishnu, they believe that Vishnu himself comes
to the womb in the third month of pregnancy and brands the
child with the sankha and cakra. This is known as 'garbha-samskAra'
and is dictated once again by the vaikhAnasa texts.

The vaikhAnasa texts are overwhelmingly concerned with 
the details of temple ritual and largely do not contain 
philosophy. Most of the philosophical teachings are similar
to the pAncarAtra, including a parallel five-fold manifestation
of Vishnu.  They also have a notion of the 'nishkala' form
of Vishnu -- the formless, primeval Vishnu which is perceived
only by the highest of yogis and which is beyond even Brahma --
and the 'sakala' form, which is figured, divisible, and emanated.
It is in this form that Vishnu responds to devotion and meditation.
There is also 'sakala-nishkala' combination of the two, which is
found in the sAlagrAma. (These details may also exist in some
pAncarAtra texts).  

People often confuse vaikhAnasas with Sri Vaishnavas because
of their similar outward resemblance.  While the vaikhAnasas
are strict vaishnavas, they do not revere the Alvars and they do not 
even follow Ramanuja's Sribhashya the same way we do. Many people 
also assume that the Tirumalai temple (Tiruvengadam) is a Sri Vaishnava 
shrine.  In fact, the shrine is a vaikhAnasa one with strong 
Sri Vaishnava association, but is not really a Sri Vaishnava shrine.  
Due to the influence of Periya Tirumalai Nambi (uncle of Ramanuja), 
Ramanuja, Tirumalai Anandaan Pillai, the Sri Vaishnava influence 
increased over the years.  The shrine took a more pAncarAtric tilt 
(more festivals, recitation of Alvar paasurams, etc.) after the utsava 
mUrti of Lord Ranganatha took refuge along with the Srirangam priests 
in the 13th century. The cross-pollenation has led to the mixture of 
vaikhAnasa with Sri Vaishnava touches we have today.

Note that there are no shrines to the Alvars on Tirumalai beyond the
dhvaja stambham, and even the shrine to Ramanuja is a rather
late one. Apparently the vaikhAnasa Agamas do not permit the
installation of idols of human beings inside their temples. The 
shrine to Ramanuja is a remarkable exception.

Tirumalai is the purest example of a vaikhAnasa temple we have today.
There are many other vaikhAnasa temples in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere,
(Tiruvallikkeni, and Vaanamaamalai for example) but most of them have 
been significantly influenced by pAncarAtra practices due to the 
surrounding Sri Vaishnava community, so much so that the temples
are virtually indistinguishable from pAncarAtra temples in style
(the rituals may vary somewhat). In addition, many temples that
were once vaikhAnasa were converted to pAncarAtra during Ramanuja's
days, mostly because of a more liberal ritualistic attitude.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,


           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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