Posted in Siddhantham

The Thenkalai Srivaishnava or Southern Ramanuja Religion

In this blog entry, I am attaching (inline) a note written by the venerated scholar Yogi Parthasarathy Iyengar. This article was read out in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in the year 1893 – the conference which is well known in India for the participation of Swami Vivekananda. This note is supposed to be a high-level summary of Pillai Lokacharya’s ‘Srivachana Bhushanam’ and hence provides a gist of the Thenkalai philosophical position. Though Yogi Parthasarathy Iyengar was urged by his friend and close aide Rev. Dr. Miller (Principal of Madras Christian college then) to attend the conference along with Swami Vivekananda, Parthasarathy Iyengar refused to cross the seas for religious reasons.


The Visishtadvaiti theology recognizes five elements in religion: the Lord (Paramatma); man (Jivatma); objects of the soul’s endeavor (Prapya); divine grace, the means to the attainment of the highest goal (Upaya); and obstacles to be overcome (Virodhi). The height of religious knowledge is the thorough comprehension of these five elements in the five subdivisions into which they are divided.

I. The Lord has five manifestations: Supreme manifestation, as the beautiful, refulgent, omnipresent Lord, “gracing the highest heaven (Para);” operative manifestation, as the Impartial Absorber, as the Illuminator, and as the Unhindered (Vyuha); distinctive manifestation in his avatars, as Rama, Krishna, etc. (Vibhava); pervasive manifestation, the divine presence in the believer’s heart and soul (Antaryami); and worship-manifestation in all existing things (Archa).

II. Souls are of five classes: The eternals, “the commander of hosts,” and his fellow angels or gods (nithyasuris or nithya mukthars); the released, i.e. redeemed souls enjoying the blessedness of heaven (mukthatmas); the bound, i.e. the men plunged in the delusions of sense (samsaris); the self-satisfied, they who have risen to the perception of the soul by means of knowledge-dis­cipline, and are thus content without going on to the vision of God (kaivalyarthis); and the god-satisfied or salvation-seekers, those who are desirous of being saved from selfishness or self-sufficiency (mukukshus).

III. The goal of endeavor is five­ fold: Virtue or duty; wealth and its right use; delight in sense-objects and
in the pleasure of the celestial worlds; enjoyment of self in freedom from the consciousness of pain, or in the consciousness of self alone; and God­ satisfaction, which has eleven stages, culminating in the enjoyment of God in eternal bliss.

IV. The means to the attainment of the goal are: Works (Karma); knowledge (Gnana); holy love (Bhakti); faith (Prapatti); and the teacher’s grace (Acharya Abhimanam).

V. The obstacles are: Self-essence; sovereignty; the soul’s goal; means; and attainment. This theology looks upon man as essentially a mutable spiritual monad dis­tinct from the body, eternal from the eternal operation of divine grace, having knowledge and bliss, and intended for’ God’s service alone.

The body is mortal and ever-changing, the breeder of endless woe, the source of endless delusion. The body and the material world fall under twenty-four categories, spirit constitutes the twenty-fifth category, and the supreme Deity the twenty-sixth and highest. Relatives and worldly ties are obstacles to Godward progress, encourage selfishness, and prevent the acquisition of spiritual knowledge. Those who pursue the objects of sense or of any form of selfish knowledge or delectation are enemies to the service and communion of God, and are hopelessly bound in the wheel of rebirth.

Gods other than the Lord of All are merely his offspring, holding posts which he has assigned to them, and are to be regarded as ignorant and impotent. Through their pride they sometimes defy God, and are bloated with self-conceit of their own worth, and mislead the world. Our prophets and saints, who have known and joined the omnipresent Lord, are by the Universal Mother (Lakshmi) sent in mercy as guides to the aspiring soul. They are the fosterers of divine wisdom, who have left all else, loving God alone. For them alone the devout soul should live; they are his brethren in faith, and mark the goal of aspiration. Our apostles and sages have by reasoning and preaching fostered and preserved for all ages the glorious light of divine truth brought into the world by the prophets. Their histories are given in the Guru-parampara-prabhava.

The teacher is the object of special reverence. The disciple should serve him most faithfully as lord and master, from gratitude for conversion, instruction and guidance. God is only to be reached through the teacher. The stages of growth are: serving God through the teacher, serving saints on earth according to the will of the Lord, and serving the teacher according to the will of the saints. The teacher should be loved with exclusive love and devotion, being identified with every other goal. God’s unconditional election includes that of a teacher who is divinely chosen to be protector and mediator. The teacher himself is to take no glory, but attribute all to his own teacher.

Ramanujacharya is venerated as a saviour, and still more is Krishna, identical with Rama and an incarnation of God. Faith consists in trusting him; it has no limits. It is the true method of salvation, for which all other means should be abandoned. He who trusts in the Saviour, simply abandoning himself to him without effort of his own, will, by God’s free grace, without regard to merit, be led through all stages of progress, from the abandonment of hatred to the service of God and the godly. The good deeds of him who does not so trust appear sins to God, while the very sins of him who trusts may appear virtues.

The Vedanta, in teaching other ways of salvation, is simply prescribing God hidden under these other ways. They are prescribed to those who have not risen high enough to be able or willing to use faith.

The Universal Mother, Lakshmi, the Sakta or personal energy of Vishnu (the latter identified with the Supreme Deity), is lady and goddess of the worlds, and the mediatrix (Purushakara Bhoothai) between God and the soul. She checks sin and stirs up divine mercy and love for sinners. In her incarnation as Sita, the bride of Rama, she is especially to be venerated as our lady of mercy and grace. She is the beloved of the Lord, incarnate in Rama. She converts the soul by her mercy and the Lord by her beauty.

The God of all is the universal Creator who pervades and sustains the whole universe. He is the God of life, causes enmities to cease, awakens love and dispenses salvation at his own good pleasure and by his sovereign free grace.

The Veda is the Word of God, and of binding authority. Its meaning is determined by the law books, the sacred biographies, the sacred histories. The most authoritative are the sacred biographies. The greatest of these is the Ramayana, which sets forth the glory of Sita; the other sacred biog­raphy is the (Maha)Bharata, which sets forth the glory of Krishna the Saver, who went as messenger. The Krishna Yajur-Veda, and the works of Ramanujacharya, the founder of our religion, are especially venerated. Among our chief sacred books are the text and Telugu* commentaries of the Dra­midupanishad, the Pancharatra, the Periya Tiru-Mali (Periya Thirumozhi), the Perumal Tiru-Mali (Perumal Thirumozhi), and the Sri Vachana Bhushana, the masterpiece of Pillai Lokacharya. Our metropolis is in Sri Rangoon (Srirangam).The Tengalai form of Vaishna­vism, with which this paper deals, is widely prevalent in Southern India, while its other division, called the Vadagalai, which differs in its doctrine of grace and other particulars, is principally confined to the North.

(1) Emphasis/Corrections made by me to the original draft are marked in colour.
(2) * – Refers to the Manipravalam Commentaries of ‘Bhagavad Vishayam’ brought out in Telugu script in the year 1875.