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Sri Sampradaya or Sri Vaishnavism is a Vaishnava sect within Hinduism. While its origin is lost in antiquity, its codification is generally traced back to around the 10th century when a collection of the devotional hymns and songs by Alvars was organized by Sri Nathamuni, who is considered to be one of the pioneers of the sect.[1]Nathamuni appeared as the pioneer who wrote Sanskrit works systematizing the Sri Vaishnava theology, largely in debate with Gauttama philosophy of Buddhism. He was followed by Yamunacharya a celebrated grand-teacher of Ramanujacharya.[2] Alavandar, like Ramanuja, focused both on philosophical debates like dvaita vs. advaita and bhakti prayers and the works attributed to him are in Sanskrit although he codified the heritage of the Tamil alvars. Works attributed to him are In this tradition Vishnu is believed to be the source of all avatars. Vishnu is the name of God in the whole Vaishnavism and he is also known as Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna and behind each of those names is a divine figure with attributed supremacy in Vaishnavism and each associated tradition believed to be distinct historically.[3] Name of the tradition is originating from Sri being the name of Lakshmi. Two different tilaka or pundra makings are worn by the representative of two different sect within the Sri Sampradaya following Ramanujacharya: Ten-galais and Vada-galais, both ascribing the markings to the footprint of Vishnu on the forehead. Some leaders or acharyas are strict Iyengar brahmanas and will only take renunciation of sannyasa at a very late age, while others live in a monastery, Matha (Eg: One in Kurnool district).[4]

The associated movement is sometimes called Sri Vaishnavism and is a Vaishnava sub-denomination of Vaishnavism centered around the famous Sri Ranganatha temple at Srirangam, and a philosophical system of thought culminating in the philosophy of Visishtadvaita espoused by Ramanujacharya.[5]

Followers of Sri Vaishnavism, as Vaishnavas, generally worship Vishnu as the supreme God.[6] The prefix Sri is used for this sect because they give special importance to the worship of the Goddess Lakshmi,the consort of Vishnu, who they believe to act as a mediator between God and man.[6] A major portion of Sri Vaishnava theology is based upon this tenet.[6]



Earlier sources do not mention Sri, the consort of Vishnu. Sri becomes part of Vishnuism at a later stage and apparently Sri was worshiped independently before her cult was integrated into Vaishnavism. Now she is considered inseparable from Vishnu, who carries the mark of sri-vasa, ineradicably representing Sri, his consort. In later Gaudiya traditions she is identified with expansion of Radha. This most prominent form of South Indian Vaishnavism is called Sri Vaishnavism, because of its strong emphasis on the role of Sri, drawing largely from alvars popular goddess roots.[7] Sri Vaishnavism is believed to have originated in the devotional hymns and songs of the said Alvars, a group of saints of the medieval Bhakti movement in South India. All such hymns and songs were organized by Nathamuni, who is considered as the first guru of the sect. His work was consolidated and expanded by Yamunacharya, who is believed to one of the grandsons of Nathamuni. Thereafter, Ramanujacharya continued to develop the theology of Sri Vaishnavism.


People belonging to Sri Vaishnavism follow Vishistadvaita philosophy, although it is not implied that every Sri Vaishnavaite has to be a Vishistadvaitin. Sri Vaishnavism is characterized by various distinct beliefs. One of them is the role of a guru or acharya as a mediatrix (purushakara) in the attainment of the paramapadam(a name given to Moksha). Also, the followers consider the 4000 divya prabandams (sacred hymns) written by the Alvars as Tamil Vedas, equivalent to the sanskrit Vedas. Due to such primacy given to divya prabandams and classical vedanta, Sri Vaishnavism is also called as ubhaya vedanta sampradayam (literally system of dual vedanta).

Sri Vaishnavas today

Iyengars, a subcaste of Tamil Brahmins, constitute most of the followers of this tradition. However, since the time of its inception, Sri Sampradaya has included people from all castes of the society. This is illustrated by the varied social classes of the Alvars..

There are many Srivaishnava classes in India other than Iyengars. A search in any Indian Matrimonial site would give an insight to culture north of the Vindhyas.


There are two primary subsects of Sri Vaishnavism: the Vadakalai, meaning the northern or sanskrit based descention and Tenkalai, meaning the southern or Tamil based descention. After continuing as a single sect for over three hundred years, the sect split into two major branches around the 14th century..

  • The Tenkalai tradition, which (according to proponents of this school) represents the continuation of the school of thought originally put in place by Ramanuja and a subsequent group of Acharyas (teachers) anointed by Ramanuja, also called Oran Vazhi (The tradition of one acharya), subscribes to the theory that God's grace is spontaneous and uninstiaged (nirhethuka), that much as a baby kitten has to make no effort when it is being transported by the mother cat, so also the human soul's liberation stems entirely from the efforts of the Supreme Lord. This is termed as marjara kishora nyaya, marjara meaning cat, kishora meaning baby and nyaya meaning logic. The Thenkalai tradition utilizes the out pourings of Azhwars and the works of heads of Srirangam pontificate Ramanuja through Nambillai, Pillai Lokacharya and Manavala Mamunigal as the substratum to support the philosophy. In this school of thought, God's grace is the sole determinant in the liberation of the human soul and provides equal importance to both the divya prabandams and sanskrit vedas. In the tenkalai tradition, Narayana (Vishnu) is the authority granting liberation, while Sri (Lakshmi) has the role of a mediatrix in recommending the fallen soul to be lifted by the grace of the Supreme. The Tenkalai school is also called (by the Tenkalais themselves)ramanuja sampradayam (ramanuja's school) and since Manavala Mamuni's time has had its headquarters in srirangam, often considered to be the primary divyadesam for srivaishnavas
  • The Vadakalai branch, which also traces its roots back to Ramanujacharya and a subsequent group of Acharyas following in Ramanujacharya's descention, subscribes to the theory of Markata-kishora nyaya, markata meaning monkey, kishora meaning young and nyaya meaning logic, that just as young monkeys have to cling to the bodies of their mothers, of their own accord, for safety, human beings endeavoring to seek God's grace should likewise actively cooperate and strive to come closer to God, and cling to Him for safety, that Moksha or liberation is possible only when human effort instigates the grace of the Supreme. This branch reinforces the primacy of Sanskrit Vedas as a source of revealed knowledge while at the same time acknowledging the authority of the divya prabandams (hence leading to it often being referred to as the Ubhaya Kalai), and stresses the performance of one's ordained Karma, commonly referenced as nitya (daily) and naimittika (event-based) karma. The Vadakalai sect has been headquartered at Kanchipuram, one of the seven holy cities of the Hindus. The most prominent exponent of this school after Ramanujacharya is Vedanta Desika of 13th century and hence this school is also called Desika sampradayam (Desika's school) to differentiate it from the Tenkalai school propounded by followers of Manavala Mamuni. On another key point of difference from the Tenkalai school, this school accords equal importance to Sri (Lakshmi) and Vishnu. Authority for such a view is traced back to the vedic exhortation "Iswarigm Sarva Bhootanaam" occurring in the Sri Suktam as well as to the Chatusshloki of Sri Yamunacharya.

Further reading

  • Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dallapiccola
  • The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation, and Ritual (Univ of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.A. January 1, 1994), by Vasudha Narayanan
  • Understanding Hinduism, (ISBN 1844832015), by Vasudha Narayanan


  1. ^ S.Rangarajan (Sujatha) and T.S. Sundararajan. "Sri Nathamuni, and the path of twofold scripture". Retrieved 2008-05-10.  
  2. ^ "Sri Ramanuja". p.15 ISBN 812601833X Retrieved 2008-05-10.  
  3. ^ Matchett, Freda (2000). Krsna, Lord or Avatara? The relationship between Krsna and Visnu: in the context of the Avatara myth as presented by the Harivamsa, the Visnupurana and the Bhagavatapurana. Surrey: Routledge. pp. 254. ISBN 0-7007-1281-X.   p. 4 p. 200
  4. ^ Monier Williams, M., Brahmanism And Hinduism, Kessinger Publishing, pp. 126–128, ISBN 141797396X,, retrieved 2008-06-27  
  5. ^ "Sri Vaishnavism Home Page". Retrieved 2006-09-24.  
  6. ^ a b c Swami Tapasyananda, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, pg. 53, Ramakrishna Mission
  7. ^ KLOSTERMAIER, Klaus K. (2007). A Survey of Hinduism. State University of New York Press; 3 edition. pp. 206. ISBN 0791470814. "There is not even a mention of Sri, the consort of Vishnu in the earlier sources..."  

External links

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