Posted in Clans

The Kidambis

While the Srivaishnava traditional history and commentaries reveal several preceptors with the surname ‘Kidambi’, and the earliest among them being Kidambi Aacchan– one of the principal disciples of Ramanuja and the one who prepared food for him, very little is known about the background and history of this lineage of Srivaishnavas. Of the little we know about them (as learnt from hearsay, having met people from Kooram and Thirupputkuzhi), it appears that the Kidambis lived in a place near Kanchipuram, are closely associated with people from Kooram, and have been, at some point of time, associated with the divya desam of Thirupputkuzhi. This group of people, to this day, continue to be predominantly associated with the Thenkalai sect and are svayamacharya purushas. Another section of the Kidambis today, belonging to Vadakalai sect, and owing affiliation to Ahobila Mutt and other institutions, appears to have formed from later-day adoptions/conversions, possibly after the warring Vadakalais broke from the mainstream, established a theology for themselves, and hijacked Desika and his maternal uncle Kidambi Appullar into their fabricated Guru Parampara.

In the absence of conclusive information, I am amazed how people like Malolan Cadambi come up with spurious claims about the origin of this group of Srivaishnavas. His article cites no references and appears to be nothing more than fiction. Or possibly, he translated the fictitious claims of someone else.

As Malolan puts it, the most common variant of this surname is ‘Kidambi’ (others being Kilambi and Kadambi). He is also right in tracing these people to descendents of Atri Rishi and hence they all belong to the Athreya Gothra. However, he is wrong in associating these people with the Rig Veda. Most of the Kidambis I know belong to the Apastamba Sutra recension of the Taittariya branch of the Krishna Yajur Veda.

Further Malolan attempts to do a reconstruction of the origins of this group from the derived surname ‘Kadambi’ and stretches his imagination to associate these people with some “water suppliers” from the Vegavathi river (ghatam + ambi). Thereby, out of nowhere, he comes to a conclusion that these people were engaged in tirtha kainkaryam to Yatokthakari perumal in Kanchipuram. He further states:

Ghatambi, eventually, due to lingustics evolution morphed into Kidambi, and when descendants of this family started migrating, Kidambi, became Kadambi/Cadambi in Karnataka due to influence of Kannada, which refers to the pitcher as ‘koda’ or ‘cada’, and hence the ‘Ghatambis’ came to be called the Kadambis/Cadambis. In the Andhra Region, they came to be called as Kilambis.

These are utterly baseless claims and his article is not worth reading beyond this point.

The Vegavathi river is a non-existent entity today and even a trace of this river could not be located in Kanchipuram. We have no idea when this river ran dry or changed its course. There is no conclusive proof to believe that this river existed in the times of Ramanuja and Desika, although the latter has referred to this river in a couple of his stotra works as a historical fact. To say the Kidambis carried water to the temple of Yatokthakari from this mysterious river has no basis.

Around the 13th-14th century, a group of Srivaishnavas, hailing from the villages of Kooram and Kidambi, are supposed to have embarked on a trip to Thiruppullani to worship Jagannatha Perumal and have a holy dip in the Setu. On their return, they seem to have settled down in a village called Karappankadu, where they consecrated a temple for Lord Varadaraja that exists to this day. With the passage of time, some of these people appear to have migrated to nearby villages, forming the ‘Pancha Gramams’ around Mannargudi that we see today – Karappankadu, Serankulam, Nammankurichi, Peravurani and Puliyakkudi/Selperi. Some of these Srivaishnavas also appear to have settled down in Srirangam and in the dhivya desams around Trichy. Incidentally, all these Srivaishnavas entirely belong to the Thenkalai sect today.

The modern common variant ‘Kidambi’ should have come from Keezh-Ambi (or Kilambi, as it is transliterated in English), a village that exists to this day between Kooram and Thirupputkuzhi. This village, adjacent to the Musaravakkam village, has Srivaishnavas belonging to the Athreya Gothra and Apastamba Sutra. This village is proximate to the dhivya desam of Thirupputkuzhi. Considering that the Kidambis were a migrant group among Srivaishnavites, the Kilambi name could have morphed itself into its modern variant ‘Kidambi’. So, in all probability, the modern-day Kidambis should have hailed from this village only.

This migration, and the absence of male successors in their family could have led some Kidambis lose their svayamacharya status with time. That could explain why some Kidambis today have the thiruvadi sambandham of Thirumalai Anantanpillai and Cholasimhapuram Doddayachariar among other acharya purusha lineages.