You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : May 1999

Re: Iyer/Iyengar

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_best.com)
Date: Thu May 06 1999 - 12:45:47 PDT

Srimathy wrote:
> how  were our ancestors before the 16th century called?

As Sri Bharat pointed out, the term 'Iyengar' predates
the 16th century in the name Pillai Perumaal Iyengar.
However, it may not have been commonly and uniformly 
applied to Sri Vaishnavas.

One of the older terms for a follower of Ramanuja is
"Sri Vaishnava", which first finds mention in Ramanuja's
cousin Pillaan's commentary on the Tiruvaymoli. An older
word, not applied only to Sri Vaishnavas these
days, is "bhAgavata", indicating a follower of the
Pancaratra tradition.  In the philosophical literature,
our tradition is known as Visishtadvaita (after the 13th
century) or the rAmAnujIya siddhAnta.  

You ask an unrelated question:
> Who are suyamacharyas?

The term is "svayam AchArya purusha". "AchArya purusha"
is a learned, tradition person who administers the rite
of panca-samskAra (samASrayaNam) to others.  "svayam"
means "oneself".  So, the term "svayam AchArya purusha"
means "having an acharya from one's own".

svayam-AchArya-purusha is term used for people who do
not follow a maTham (Parakala, Ahobila, Vaanamaamalai, 
Andavan, etc.) and who also do not have an acharya
outside their family (mudaliyaandaan, kOyil kandAdai, etc.)

This term is used for Sri Vaishnavas who are descendants
of the original 74 disciples of Ramanuja, and who continue
to have association with learned members of their extended
family who administer the panca-samskAra (samASrayaNam) 
and minister to their needs.  Many of our most learned
acharyas came from "svayam-AchArya" families -- Desika,
Pillai Lokacharya, etc. This is because the concept of
a maTha and therefore a sampradAya based on the maTha
dates from the 14th century, much after Sri Ramanuja's
time.

Some notable svayam-AchArya families are Prativaadi Bhayankaram,
Tatacharya, Tirumalai Anandaanpillai, Nallaan Chakravarti, etc.
There are many scholars among these families even today,
as they have a strong sense of connection to the tradition
and maintain a certain level of scholarship.

Not all descendants of the 74 original disciples are still
considered "svayam AchArya".  At some point, some of the  
descendants drifted away from their traditional acharya or
did not have a strong scholar in their family, and consequently
became associated with some maTham or other swami.  So there
will be Sri Vaishnavas who bear the appellation "Kidambi",
"Vangipuram", "Tatacharya", etc., who at one point belonged 
to svayam AchArya purusha families, but who now follow
some other swami.

It should be pointed out that some people object to the
term "svayam AchArya purusha" (not the concept behind it)
with the feeling that only one person is truly a "svayam
AchArya", an acharya for himself -- the Lord.

Mani