Simple Guide to SrivaishNavam - Introduction

SrImathE SatakOpAya nama:
SrimathE rAmAnujAya nama:
Srimadh varavaramunayE nama:
Sri vAnAchala mahAmunayE nama:

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SrIman nArAyaNan, for the upliftment of the samsAris (bound souls), out of his causeless mercy, reveals the SAsthram (vEdham) to brahmA during Srushti (creation). vEdham is the ultimate pramANam for vaidhikas. A pramAthA (AchAryan) can determine the pramEyam (emperumAn) only through pramANam (SAsthram). Just like emperumAn has akila hEya prathyanIkathvam (opposite to all bad qualities) and kalyANaikathAnathvam (abode of all auspicious qualities) which differentiate emperumAn from every other entity, vEdham has the following important qualities (that differentiate it from other pramANams):
  • apaurushEyathvam -  not created by any individual (at the outset of every creation, emperumAn  teaches vEdham to brahmA who in turn propagates the same). Hence errors of individual's sense-perception etc., are absent.
  • nithyam -  it is eternal - with no beginning and no end - it is revealed time and again by emperumAn who is fully cognizant of the contents of vEdham.
  • svatha prAmANyathvam - all vEdha vAkyams are self-sufficient, i.e., we dont need anything more to prove the validity of the same
While vEdham is just one vast body of scripture, vEdha vyAsa, considering the limited capacity of human intelligence in the future, divided the vEdham into rig, yajur, sAma and atharva vEdhams.
vEdhAntham is the essence of vEdham. vEdhAntham is the collection of upanishadhs which talks about the intricate details about emperumAn. While vEdham talks about the process of worship, vEdhAntham talks about bhagavAn who is the object of worship. There are many upanishadhs, but the following are considered as the most important:
  • aitharEya
  • bruhadhAraNyaka
  • chAndhOgya
  • isha
  • kEna
  • kata
  • kaushIdhiki
  • mahA nArAyaNa
  • mAndukya
  • muNdaka
  • prashNa
  • subhAla
  • svEthasvathAra
  • thaiththriya
brahma sUthram that is compiled by sage vEdha vyAsa is also considered to be part of vEdhAntham since it is the essence of upanishadhs.
Since, vEdham is anantham (endless - huge) and vEdhAntham is very complicated and the capacity of human intelligence is limited (which can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations), we have to understand vEdham/vEdhAntham through smruthi, ithihAsam and purANams.
  • smruthi is the collection of dharma SAsthrams which are compiled by great sages like manu, vishNu hAritha, yAgyavalkya, etc.
  • ithihAsams are the collection of SrI rAmAyaNam and mahAbhArtham - the two great epics. SrI rAmAyaNam is considered as the sharaNAgathi SAsthram and mAhAbhAratham is considered as panchamO vEdham (fifth vEdham after the rig, yajur, sAma and atharva vEdhams).
  • purANams are the collection of 18 main purANams (brahma purANam, padhma purANam, vishNu purANam, etc) and many upa (minor) purANams which are compiled by brahmA. Of these 18 purANams, brahmA himself declares that when he is in the mode of sathvam (goodness) he glorifies vishNu, in the mode of rajas (passion) he glorifies himself and in the mode of thamas (ignorance) he glorifies Siva, agni, etc.
Even with the existence of all of these, instead of gaining true knowledge through SAsthram and looking out for the true goal, samsAris were still engaged in materialistic aspirations. emperumAn then personally descended as many avathArams, only to see many disrespecting him and even fighting with him. Realizing that he should prepare a jIvAthmA to help the samsAris (like a deer is used to capture another deer by a hunter), he picked a select few jIvAthmAs and gave them blemishless divine knowledge. These jIvAthmAs became to be famously known as AzhwArs (ones who are immersed in bhagavath anubhavam). They are headed by nammAzhwAr (prapanna kula kUtasthar/vaishNava kulapathi) and are said to be 10 in number - poigai AzhwAr, bhUthaththAzhwAr, pEyAzhwAr, thirumazhisai AzhwAr, nammAzhwAr, kulaSEkara AzhwAr, periyAzhwAr, thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr, thiruppANAzhwAr and thirumangai AzhwAr. madhurakavi AzhwAr (disciple of nammAzhwAr) and ANdAL (daughter of periyAzhwAr) are also added into AzhwArs goshti at times. AzhwArs who were fully blessed by emperumAn preached the divine knowledge to many. Still, since they were immersed in bhagavath anubhavam their focus was on mangaLAsAsanam to emperumAn.

emperumAn, wanting to uplift more jIvAthmAs from samsAram, divinely arranged the appearance of AchAryas starting with nAthamunigaL and ending with maNavALa mAmunigaL (SrI varavaramuni). bhagavath rAmAnuja who is an avathAra visEsham (special incarnation) of Adhi sEshan, appears right in the middle of our AchArya paramparai and he leads this SrIvaishNava sampradhAyam and visishtAdhvaitha sidhdhAntham to great heights. Following the works of great rishis parAsara, vyAsa, dhramida, tanka, etc., he firmly establishes the visishtAdhvaitha principles. He establishes 74 AchAryas as simhAsanAdhipathis and instructs them to bring SrIvaishNavam to everyone who has the desire to learn about emperumAn and gain true knowledge. It is due to his great deeds and him being the ultimate saviour of all, this smpradhAyam became to be popularly known as SrI rAmAnuja dharSanam. Subsequently, He re-appears as maNavALa mAmunigaL to propagate the dhivya prabandhams and their meanings fully. periya perumAL accepts maNavALa as his own AchAryan in SrIrangam periya kOyil and completes the AchArya rathnahAram which started from him. After the time of maNavALa mAmunigaL, his main disciples, famously known as ashta dhik gajangaL (eight elephants) headed by ponnadikkAl jIyar further propagate the SrIvaishNava sampradhAyam everywhere. Subsequently, many AchAryas appear in this sampradhAyam and continue the great work of our pUrvAchAryas.

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

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