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Re: The term "Srivaishnava"

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_alum.calberkeley.org)
Date: Mon Oct 09 2000 - 15:38:48 PDT

Kasturi Varadarajan writes:
>    I am under the impression that the term "srivaishnava" transcends 
> caste boundaries. That is, one can be a srivaishnava irrespective of 
> the varna that one belong to. Is this correct?
> 
>    I know that in practice caste plays a big part but I thought that
> at least the term is free of caste connotations.

Kasturi,

Yes, when properly used, the term "srivaishnava" refers to anyone
in the tradition of Sri Ramanuja. We find the term used to denote
a Dalit devotee in the 13th century text 'vArttAmAlai'. Today as
well, the members of Sri Ramanuja sampradAya who are not brahmins
proudly call themselves Sri Vaishnavas.

However, in many circles, the word "bhAgavata" is a codeword for
a person in the Sri Vaishnava tradition who is not a brahmin. Hence,
in Kanchipuram, Sriperumbudur, Srirangam, Tiruvallikkeni, etc., where 
these devotees are present in large numbers, we hear brahmins often
speak of "our people" and the "Sri Vaishnava gOshTi" as opposed to
the "bhAgavata gOshTi".  The expression "He is a bhAgavata" really
means "He is not a brahmin but belongs to Ramanuja sampradAya". 

Others commonly hold the opinion that "Vaishnava" refers to a
devotee of Vishnu of any caste, but "Sri Vaishnava" refers to
a brahmin devotee. Their verbal usage follows this opinion.

In the final analysis, this is divisive. At least in the Prabandham
gOshTi, it is my hope that some day Sri Vaishnavas of all stripes
and genders can gather together and recite the sacred poems of the
Alvars, which by their very design sought to demolish distinctions
among devotees.  I do not anticipate this happening in my lifetime.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,
Mani



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