Pancha samskaaram

srimathe ramanujaya nama:
srimad varavaramunaye nama:
sri vaanaachala mahamunaye nama:

We have seen the physical attributes of a Srivaishnava in the first article of this series.

Some one may ask "Why is the physical appearance is important? Why cant I be a srivaishnava without the physical appearance specified in the saastra?". It is possible for some advanced srivaishnavas in some rare cases but generally for everyone saastra recommends certain rules and regulations and we are suppose to follow them. A loukika example is - when a police man is properly dressed in his uniform, the law of the land gives certain capabilities to him. He cant ask "Well, I am a police man but why should I be dressed in my uniform when I am in duty?". There may be exceptions, but if he is not dressed as a police man he would not get the same respect (except from the ones who can recognize him as a police man). Also, we feel nothing indifferent if we have to dress up (uniforms, shoes, hanging ID cards) in a particular way for our work (because it provides us our livelihood) - but will question when the saastras instruct us to do the same thing for our svarUpam - such is the state now.

Let us move on to the next aspect.

A brief description of Srivaishnavam
Srivaishnavam is the eternal philosophy which centers around the supreme God Sriman Narayanan. He is full of auspicious qualities with many beautiful forms. He is the owner of both nithya vibhUthi (paramapadham - spiritual world - never changing) and leelaa vibhUthi (samsaaram - material world - ever changing). This is a tattva traya phiolosophy - i.e. there are three entities Isvara (God), chit (souls) and achit (matter). Isvara is the owner of both chit and achit. There are infinite number of souls in both spiritual and material worlds. This philosophy/siddhaantha is based on saastras (vedas, upanishads, ithihaasas, puraanas, paancharaatra agamam and azhwar/acharya srisookthis). The saastras are meant specifically for chit (souls) and saastras help a soul from leaving the material world (which is defined as asaasvatham - temporary and dhukkaalayam - place filled with sorrows by Krishnan in Bhagavad GIta) and reaching the spiritual world (vaikuntam - place where there is no sorrows - i.e., full of joy only). The process that initiates this journey of the soul from samsaaram to paramapadam is called pancha samskaaram which will be discussed in the next sections.

How do we become a Srivaishnava?
According to our purvaachaaryas, there is a proper mechanism through which one becomes a srivaishnava. This process is called "pancha samskaaram".
Samskaara means the process of cleansing or purifying. It is the process which transforms one from an unqualified state to a qualified state. It is by this process one first becomes a srivaishnava. Just like taking birth in a braahmana family makes it easy for some one to become a braahmana by going through the brahma yajna process, taking birth in a srivaishnava family makes it easy for some one to become a srivaishnava through the pancha samskaaram process. The beauty/distinction here compared to the braahmana family example is, one need not be born in a srivaishnava family to become a srivaishnava - because srivaishnavam is associated to the soul while braahmanyam is just associated with the body.

Pancha samskaaram
Pancha samskaaram or samaasrayanam is the process that is explained in saastras to prepare an individual to become a srivaishnava. The following sloka explains the parts of panch samskaaram - "thApa: pundra: tathA nAma: mantrO yAgas cha panchama:". The five activities which happen during the pancha samskAra are:
  • thApa (austerity) - shanka chakra lAnchanam - heated impression of shanka and chakra on our shoulders. This identifies that we are property of emperumaan - just like a vessel is marked with the symbols of the owner, we are marked with the symbols of emperumaan.
  • punDra (symbol) - dwAdasa urdhva pundra dhAranam - wearing of Urdhva pundram (Thiruman and SriChUrnam).
  • nAma (name) - dAsya namam - a new name given by the AchAraya (rAmAnuja dAsan, madhurakavi dAsan, srivaishnava dAsan).
  • mantra - mantrOpadesam - learning the secret mantra from the acharyan; mantra - that which relieves the chanter from grief - thirumanthiram, dwayam and charamaslokam which releases us from samsara.
  • yAga - dEva pUja - learning the thiruvArAdhanam process.
    Goals of Pancha samskaaram
  • As sAstrAs say, tattva JnAnAn mOksha lAbha: - by gaining knowledge about the brahmam, one gets mOKsha. By getting valuable knowledge from an AchAryA in artha panchakam (brahmam - God, jIva - soul, upAyam - means to attain God, upEyam - the result, virOdhi - hurdles which are stopping souls from getting the result) which is part of the mantrOpadesam, we become eligible to secure the ultimate goal - performing kainkaryam in nitya vibhUthi to Sriya:pathi.
  • While in the current life, performing kainkaryam to our AchAryan and Srivaishnavas (by doing in many possible ways) and ArchAvatAra emberumAn - through thiruvArAdhanam at home and divya dEsa kainkaryam.
So, as explained above, this philosophy of srivaishnavam is to leave this samsaaram to go to paramapadham to perform uninterrupted kainkayam to sriya:pathi (Sriman Narayanan).

Who can perform pancha samskaaram?
Srivaishnavam although is an eternal philosophy was rejuvenated by Azhwaars and Achaaryaas. Sri Ramanuja studied the saastraas and re-established the norms which were lost over time based on the instructions from his preceptors - Nathamuni, Alavandhaar, etc. He established 74 simhaasanaadhipathis (acharyas/spiritual teachers) and authorized them to perform pancha samskaaram to the individuals who understands this goal of life (leaving samsaaram to go to paramapadham). Anyone who comes in those lineages can perform pancha samskaaram. He (as well as Sri Manavala Mamunigal) established certain Mutts (Monastries) and jeeyar swamys (sanyaasis) whose lineages are also authorized to perform pancha samskaaram to individuals aspiring to become a srivaishnava. There is no distinction done based on caste, creed, nationality, sex, financial situation, family situation, etc - whoever desires to be put on the path of salvation can be included in this fold.

Is pancha samskaaram the beginning or the end?
It is common misunderstanding that, this process of samaasrayanam is a simple ritual and is the end. But that is completely wrong. This is the beginning of our journey in srivaishnavam. The ultimate goal is set (to leave samsaaram to go to paramapadham) and the process is given by our purvaacharyaas (which we will see in subsequent articles) - it is up to the individual to follow this process and accomplish the goal. This also brings in a wonderful relationship between acharya (master) - sishya (disciple). We will see the nature of this relationship in the next article.

So, so far, we have seen the physical attire of a srivaishnava, what is srivaishnavam and the process of panchasamskaaram.

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan