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From: Lakshmi Srinivas (lsrinivas_at_yahoo.com)
Date: Tue May 04 1999 - 09:17:50 PDT

--- narayan jagan  wrote:

> If Ramanuja belonged to the vadama subset of brahmins,then was he an 
> iyer?.One of my
> iyer friends argued with me that afterall we required only an iyer to
> revive 
> vaishnavism.

Well, I think you have mixed up at least three terms: 

1. Iyer : This is a modern appellation. There is no epigraphic evidence to
show that such a term was in use at the time of Sri Ramanuja. (12th
century)
2. Vaishnavism: I am not clear what exactly you mean by this term. As far
as I am concerned, there was no great need to 'revive' it. It was not in
any danger. Well, Sri Ramanuja's unprecedented success at establishing the
Sri Sampradaya endangered him personally, due to sectarian jealousies
prevailing at that time, e.g.,  Krimikantha cOza etc..
3. You seem to imply that the term "Iyer" denotes Saiva or at least
non-Vaishnava. 

>He claims that none
> of the great philosophers and leaders of vaishnavism were vaishnavas
 > by  birth but only smarthas.Even the brahmin alwars were not 
> vaishnavas but only saivaites or iyers who follow siva.

It is true that Sri Ramanuja, Sri Desika and Sri Manavala Mamunikal , by
"caste" if you insist, belonged to the Vadama Smartha community. This just
means that they are vaidika brahmins and they belong to the northern
subsect. These people were mostly situated around the TonDaimanDalam area,
although Sri Manavala Mamunikal hailed from kiDAram in Tirunelveli Dt..
Vadama as opposed to Brihatcharanam or Ashtasahasram ("eNNAyirattavar")
sects. Periya Nambi, for example,  belonged to the Brihatcharanam subsect.


Take the case of Brahmin AlwAr's: most of them came from  Vaishnava
families. PeriyAlwar who was a pUrvasikhA (munkuDumi) brahmana says:  

entantai tantai tantai tammUttappan  EzpaDikAltoDanki 
vantu vazivazi    AtceykinROm                             (TiruppallANDu
verse 6)

This just means that he belongs to a family that for many generations have
been staunch Vishnu worshippers. Sri Ramanuja himself was a great
worshipper of Lord Varadaraja of Kanchi. Sri Nathamuni and Sri Alavandar
were Chief priests at the SriRangam temple. 

>The whole concept of vaishnavism started only recently
> and 1000 years back  none of the brahmins were vaishnavs i.e iyengars >
but only iyers.

Vaishnavism has been there since the Vedic times, if you mean devotion to
Vishnu by the term Vaishnavism. 
> The concept of iyengars was started only by ramanuja.Is it  true? 

Iyengar is a caste appellation of recent times (16th century or so). For
example, KandADai RAmAnuja AyyangAr who figures in a major way in the
history of Tirumala was not even a Brahmin. Likewise PeriyavAccAnpiLLai,
the prince among commentators, was a purvasikha brAhmana, not a piLLai as
your friend might think ;-)))
 Sri Ramanuja however was a Vedantacharya (teacher of Vedanta) and founder
of our Sampradaya. Followers of this sampradaya are called SriVaishnavas. 
>He also claims that vedas and shastras speak only about the 
> greatness of the vibuthi and not thiruman or the srichornam and
therefore > tha smarthas are superior and  they are true brahmins

It is clear that your esteemed friend neither knows the vedas nor the
shastras nor has he used his eyes and looked at the foreheads of Vadama
Iyers. Most Iyers of Vadama sub-sect until recently used to wear gobi
chandanam than vibhuti. 

Please also understand that traditionally most Vadama Iyers are most
comfortable worshipping Sriman Narayana than other gods. There are very
few exclusive Siva worshippers among Iyers (ananyArhasEshatvam is a
concept developed and documented at length by Sri Alavandar). 

To be sure there are some like Sri U Ve Caminatha Iyer but then his
father's personal name is Venkatasubbu Iyer and his own given name is
Venkataraman. He says in his "En carittiram" that their kuladeivam was the
Lord of Venkatam. But you must realize that his father was a ganam
musician and he himself spent all his life hunting down palm leaf
manuscripts, so both Father and Son spent considerable amount of time with
Saiva Vellala Pillaimar. His Father's patrons were mostly Pillai's. Again
MahaVaidyanatha Iyer might be cited as an exclusive Saiva. But please
remember he also was a musician. There are compulsions of patronage. 

This kind of arguments (i.e., Iyer/Iyengar type arguments) start mainly
because some Iyers do not understand their own background very well i.e.,
they worship both Siva and Vishnu and perhaps other gods too. Also
because, their is inadequate understanding of SriVaishnava sampradaya. 

In this understanding Iyers and Iyengars are seen as two sides of the same
coin, one as Siva worshippers and the other as Vishnu worshippers. It
should be realized that Iyers have never been exclusive Saivas as Iyengars
have been exclusive Vishnu worshippers. 

Also, the term SriVaishnava includes not just Brahmins but all those
Vaishnavas who belonged to the sampradaya. For example, when Sri
Ramanuja's body was  taken for burial at SriRangam, there were 700 jIyars
(i.e., Sannyasins) chanting the bhrguvalli, brahmavalli, nArAyaNAnuvaka
(viz., the Vedas), 9000 SriVaishnavas wearing the sacred thread on their
shoulders and 12,000 devotees without the sacred thread were chanting the
hymns of the Alwars. (vide GuruparamparaprabhAvam)

So you can see your friend's just quoting a set of "attaipppATTi kathai"
i.e., old wives' tales ;-)))

Please tell your friend all these points. If he does not listen, please
request him to correspond with me directly. If he does not do that, you
have no recourse but to hit him on the head with a blunt object ;-)))

Lakshmi Srinivas. 










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