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Re: [Pre-Ramanuja status]

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Thu Jun 08 2000 - 11:18:57 PDT

Sri M.S. Hari wrote:
> Dear Sir,
> You have mentioned that {"Ramanujar himself was born into a VaDamAL famil=
> y =
> that followed Yajur Veda"}. May I request you to kindly quote authentic
> history or Sampradaaya vishayam with the actual quotations of our
> Aacharyas (preceptors) in this regard.

It is universally accepted that Ramanuja was a vaDama.
So were Kurattalvan, Desika, Maamunigal and many other 
acharyas of our sampradAya. This can be seen in periya 
tirumuDi aDaivu, guru paramparA prabhAvam (GPP) and other 
traditional biographies where the 'kulam' of each acharya 
is given. Periya Nambi, for example, was a bRhaccaraNa 
brAhmaNa, and therefore had trouble getting his daughter 
(or some other relation, I forget exactly) married to a 
relative of Alvan. The details are in GPP.

In those days, even within the Sri Vaishnava community,
there were distinctions between groups of brahmins. 
Such distinctions continue to exist in a minor away
in the Tamil smArta brahmin community.  Among Sri Vaishnavas
today, the only community difference among brahmins that
still persists is the cOzhiya/non-cOzhiya division, and
this too only in southern Tamil Nadu where cOzhiyas thrive.

For example, Sri U.Ve. Puttur Krishnaswamy Iyengar (the
publisher of the Divya Prabandham commentaries and other
sampradAya works) is a cOzhiya Sri Vaishnava brahmin and
very proud of it.  He does not tire of mentioning that
Sri Vaishnava stalwarts such as Peria-Accan Pillai,
Engal Alvan (Vishnucitta) and others also were cOzhiyas.

The real question is not whether Ramanuja was a vaDama,
which he most definitely was, but whether he was strictly
speaking a non-Sri Vaishnava before his contact with
Tirukkacci Nambi (and subsequently Periya Nambi). In my
opinion, his family were strict Vaishnava smArtas but
not necessary Sri Vaishnavas as we understand it today.
We should keep in mind, however, that the distinction
between Sri Vaishnava/smArta was *not* very apparent
in the old days (many vaDama families are as strongly
Vaishnava as Sri Vaishnavas to this day).

The evidence for this is as follows. Ramanuja was sent
after his upanayanam to study with Yadava Prakasa, an
exponent of Advaita (or perhaps bhedAbheda, but it
really doesn't matter). Why did his father send him
here, instead of to Alavandar? This philosophy is diametrically
opposed to the philosophical tradition espoused by 
Alavandar and the Sri Vaishnava acharyas. 
In fact, until Ramanuja came into contact with Tirukkacci 
Nambi, it appears that Ramanuja was totally unaware 
of Alavandar. This is despite the fact that Ramanuja's 
very maternal uncle was a disciple of Alavandar.

Furthermore, it is the custom in Sri Vaishnava household
for male brahmin children to have samASrayaNam very soon after 
their upanayanam. There is no reason to believe this was
different in those days.  However, we read of Ramanuja
taking samASrayaNam very late after his upanayanam, indeed,
after his Vedantic studies with Yadava Prakasa and his
subsequent estrangement from him.  Would a strict Sri
Vaishnava have postponed such a fundamental sacrament?  

Furthermore, we read in the GPP that Ramanuja learnt the Divya
Prabandham mUlam only after his contact with the sishyas of
Alvandar -- i.e., after he was well into his twenties.  This is
not the norm in a strict Sri Vaishnava household, when both boys
and girls learn Divya Prabandham as soon as possible, in many
cases even before upanayanam.

Further, there is no record of Ramanuja's paternal ancestors being
*Sri* Vaishnavas along the lines of Alavandar, etc.

All this leads me to the conclusion that Ramanuja, while coming 
from a strict vaidika Vaishnava family, did not come from a *Sri*
Vaishnava family. 

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan

P.S. Re: Hebbar and Mandyam Iyengars

We have to pause before concluding that *all* of these communities
in the mElnADu were converted smArtas and Jains. For one, I find
it hard to believe that such converts would start speaking Tamil
when their ancestral language would have been some form of Kannada.
Yet, we find all Sri Vaishnavas today speaking some form of Tamil.
I can believe there were *some* Jains and smArtas who were
converted and who subsequently joined the Sri Vaishnava community,
but it remains a question for resarch and debate.

One interesting thing to note is that Hebbar Iyengars in particular
used to prefer marrying Hebbar Iyengars, to the exclusion of
other Sri Vaishnavas as well. They followed this practice more
than other Sri Vaishnava subcommunities, to my knowledge. This
perhaps points to their origin as a converted community, which
would explain their preferring to marry people of their own,
and not even other Sri Vaishnavas.

Other mElnADu Sri Vaishnavas (such as the Hemmige Sri Vaishnavas,
of which I am one) believe that they were invited by a king
to settle in Karnataka, or that they came along with Ramanuja
or Desika in their sojourns in this area.  

mElnADu Sri Vaishnava Tamil is peculiar in that it contains
many archaic Tamil expressions which can only be found in 
the paasurams of the Alvars and the early writings of the
acharyas.  For example, we use the word 'kaDAram' for a 
small tank of water -- lifted straight out of Periyalvar's 'nIrATTam'.
We say 'tiruppiNDi' for 'kOlam', which I discovered being used
in the 'vArttAmAlai'. When this archaic Tamil is mixed with
Sanskrit and Kannada expressions, you get mElnADu Sri Vaishnava
Tamil, which is very peculiar and often unintelligible due
to accent and vocabulary to modern Tamil Sri Vaishnavas.

Old school buds here:

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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