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Re: Caste difference in Sr Vaishnavas

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_alum.calberkeley.org)
Date: Mon Oct 09 2000 - 16:20:41 PDT

Bala Sundaram writes:
> Respected Swamis:
> 
> Is there a need still after Sri Ramanuja to integrate all varnas (castes 
> also) into one ghosti?

Dear Srimaan Balasundaram,

As Sri Rajagopal has correctly noted, there is a pressing need for
us to reevaluate how our tradition is being propagated. One of the
issues is how some of us (male brahmins, including myself) treat
others within the community.  As repeatedly emphasized in the 
works of the pUrvAchAryas, we must constantly strive to be bereft
of the threefold pride -- pride of birth, pride of wealth, and
pride of knowledge.

Many if not most of our pUrvAchAryas had a catholicity of vision
that matched Sri Ramanuja's. Such attitudes are vividly brought
out in some early texts, such as the jnAna-sAram, the 'bhagavad-
viSayam' commentaries on Tiruvaymoli, Sri Vachana Bhushanam,
vArttAmAlai, etc.  The problem is that not all of us are now 
living up to this integrative vision.

Differences in caste are one thing; these are natural as different
elements of society have evolved in different ways over the years. But 
whether such differences should be a basis for difference in respect
and treatment meted to devotees is an entirely different matter.

What Sri Rajagopal is saying is that people who are not male brahmins 
find it extremely intimidating to visit maThams, see acharyas, or 
learn more about the sampradAya.  Many such people, even if they
have a keen interest, are stymied when they try to find an acharya
willing to teach them intricacies and nuances of the traditional
commentaries.  The fact is that there is an inherent bias within
our community.

> Sometime ago I persuaded a friend of mine, who does not belong to the 
> Brahmin community, but a devotee of Sriman Narayana to undergo the 
> Samashryanam cremony with a famous Mutt head. He was administered the rite 
> separately after all the Brahmins devotess were finished with. There were 
> also some more differences, including the Mantra  upadesam. My friend asked 
> for the reasons for the different procedure, which I could not explain. Are 
> there different procedures in this sacred ceremony between those belonging 
> to brahmin caste and others?

There are different procedures depending on whether one has had 
Vedic initiation (upanayanam) or not.  There is a difference in
how the tirumantra (ashTAkshari) is imparted in the Vadagalai
tradition to those who have not had upanayanam. Basically, the
praNava or 'OmkAra' is given in a different form, as prescribed
by certain texts. 

I certainly do not have thorough knowledge of this rite, so I
can't say exactly why your friend was administered the rite separately.  
>From what I recall from my samASrayaNam experience, all (male brahmin,
other than brahmin, female) were administed the rite at the same time with
the same fire.  The practice may vary from acharya to acharya.  Some
may feel that the fire should be consecrated in a different way for
those without upanayanam. There is such a separate procedure mentioned
in the 'agastya samhita', a Pancaratra text, where the consecration is
done with smArta and tAntrika mantras instead of Vedic mantras.

In my samASrayaNam, the sacred fire was consecrated and purified by 
purusha-sUkta and SrI-sUkta homa, and other mantras.  The sacred
fire was then used to heat and consecrate the Sankha and cakra which
were them branded upon the shoulders of each of those assembled. 

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,
Mani

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           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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