Śrī Vaiṣṇavism | Sri Vaishnavism


1. Śrī Vaiṣṇavism

Śrī Vaiṣṇava Saṁpradāya or Śrī Vaiṣṇavism is a denomination within the Vaiṣṇavism tradition of Hinduism:

The name is derived from Śrī referring to goddess Lakṣmī as well as a prefix that means "sacred, revered", and god Viṣṇu who are together revered in this tradition.

The tradition traces its roots to the ancient Vedas and Pañcarātra texts and popularized by the Āḻvārs in their devotional poetry called Divya Prabandham.

The founder of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism is traditionally attributed as Nāthamuni of the 10th century CE, its central philosopher has been Rāmānuja of the 11th century who developed the Viśiṣṭādvaita ("qualified non-dualism") Vedanta sub-school of Hindu philosophy.

Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition split into 2 sub-traditions around the 16th-century called:

a) Vaḍakalai (school giving Veda the first preference) and
b) Teṅkalai (school giving Divya Prabandham the first preference).

The most striking difference between Śrī Vaiṣṇavas and other Vaiṣṇava groups lies in their interpretation of Vedas:

While other Vaiṣṇava groups interpret Vedic deities like Indra, Sāvitrī, Bhaga, Rudra, etc. to be same as their Purāṇic counterparts,

Śrī Vaiṣṇavas consider these to be different names/roles/forms of Lord Nārāyaṇa, citing solid reasons thus claiming that the entire Veda is dedicated for Viṣṇu worship alone.

Śrī Vaiṣṇavas have remodelled Pañcarātra Homas like Sudarśana Homa, etc. to include Vedic Sūktas like Rudram in them, thus giving them a Vedic outlook.

2. Etymology

The name Śrī Vaiśṇavism is derived from 2 words, Śrī and Vaiṣṇavism:

In Sanskrit the word Śrī refers to goddess Lakṣmī as well as a prefix that means "sacred, revered", and god Viṣṇu who are together revered in this tradition.

The word Vaiṣṇavism refers to a tradition that reveres god Viṣṇu as the Supreme God. The followers of Śrī Vaiśṇavism are known as Śrī Vaiṣṇava (श्रीवैष्णव).

3. History

The tradition traces its roots to the primordial start of the world through Viṣṇu, and to the texts of Vedic era with both Śrī and Viṣṇu found in ancient texts of the 1st millennium BCE, particularly in the Purāṇas, Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā.

The historical basis of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism is in the syncretism of 2 developments:

The first is Sanskrit traditions found in ancient texts such as the Vedas and the Āgama (Pañcarātra),

and the second is the Tamil traditions found in early medieval texts (Tamil Prabandham) and practices such as the emotional songs and music of Āḻvārs that expressed spiritual ideas, ethics and loving devotion to god Viṣṇu.

The Sanskrit traditions likely represent the ideas shared in ancient times, from Ganga river plains of the northern Indian subcontinent,

while the Tamil traditions likely have roots in the Kāverī river plains of Southern India, particularly what in modern times are the coastal Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu region.

The tradition was founded by Nāthamuni (10th century), who combined the 2 traditions, by drawing on Sanskrit philosophical tradition and combining it with the aesthetic and emotional appeal of the Bhakti movement pioneers called the Āḻvārs.

Śrī Vaiṣṇavism developed in Tamil Nadu in the 10th century, after Nāthamuni returned from a pilgrimage to Vrindāvan in north India (modern Uttar Pradesh).

Nāthamuni's ideas were continued by Yamunacharya, who maintained that the Vedas and Pañcarātras are equal, devotional rituals and bhakti are important practices.

The legacy of Yamunacharya was continued by Rāmānuja (1017-1137), but they never met.

Rāmānuja, a scholar who studied in an Advaita Vedanta monastery and disagreed with some of the ideas of Advaita, became the most influential leader of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism. He developed the Viśiṣṭādvaita ("qualified non-dualism") philosophy.

Around the 18th century, the Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition split into:

a) Vaḍakalai ("northern culture", Vedic) and
b) Teṅkalai ("southern culture", Bhakti).

The Vaḍakalai placed more emphasis on the Sanskrit traditions, while the Teṅkalai relied more on the Tamil traditions.

This theological dispute between the Vedic and Bhakti traditions traces it roots to the debate between Śrīraṅgam and Kanchipuram monasteries between the 13-15th century.

The debate then was on the nature of salvation and the role of grace:

The Bhakti-favouring Teṅkalai tradition asserted that Viṣṇu saves the soul like "a mother cat carries her kitten", where the kitten just accepts the mother while she picks her up and carries.

In contrast the Vedic-favouring Vaḍakalai tradition asserted that Viṣṇu saves the soul like "a mother monkey carries her baby", where the baby has to make an effort and hold on while the mother carries.

This metaphorical description of the disagreement between the 2 sub-traditions, first appears in the 18th-century Tamil texts, but historically refers to the foundational ideas behind the karma-mārga versus bhakti-mārga traditions of Hinduism.

4. Reverence for the Goddess and God

Along with Viṣṇu, and like Śaivism, the ultimate reality and truth is considered in Śrī Vaiṣṇavism to be the divine sharing of the feminine and the masculine, the Goddess and the God:

Śrī (Lakṣmī) is regarded as the preceptor of the Śrī Vaiṣṇava Saṁpradāya:

Goddess Śrī has been considered inseparable from god Viṣṇu and essential to each other, and to the act of mutual loving devotion. Śrī and Viṣṇu act and cooperate in the creation of everything that exists, and redemption.

According to some medieval scholars of Śrī Vaiṣṇava theology Śrī and Viṣṇu do so using "divine knowledge that is unsurpassed" and through "love that is an erotic union".

But Śrī Vaiṣṇavism differs from Śaivism, in that Viṣṇu is ultimately the sole creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe while Śrī Lakṣmī is the medium for salvation, the kind mother who recommends to Viṣṇu and thereby helps living beings in their desire for redemption and salvation.

In contrast, in Śaivism, the Goddess (Śakti) is the energy and power of Śiva and she is the equal with different roles, supreme in the role of creator and destroyer.

The prefix Śrī is used for this tradition because they give special importance to the worship of the Goddess Lakṣmī, the consort of Viṣṇu, who they believe to act as a mediator between God Viṣṇu and man.

5. Viśiṣṭādvaita

Śrī Vaiṣṇavism's philosophical foundation was established by Rāmānuja, who started his Vedic studies with Yādava Prakāśa in an Advaita Vedanta monastery.

He brought Upaniṣadic ideas to this tradition, and wrote texts on qualified monism, called Viśiṣṭādvaita in the Hindu tradition.

His ideas are one of 3 sub-schools in Vedanta, the other two are known as Ādi Śaṅkara's Advaita (absolute monism) and Madhvācārya's Dvaita (dualism).

Rāmānuja's Viśiṣṭādvaita asserts that Ātman (souls) and Brahman are different, a difference that is never transcended. God Viṣṇu alone is independent, all other gods and beings are dependent on Him.

However, in contrast to Dvaita Vedanta philosophy of Madhvācārya, Rāmānuja asserts "qualified non-dualism", that souls share the same essential nature of Brahman,

and that there is a universal sameness in the quality and degree of bliss possible for human souls, and every soul can reach the bliss state of God Himself.

While the 13-14th-century Madhvācārya asserted both "qualitative and quantitative pluralism of souls", Rāmānuja asserted "qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls.

The other philosophical difference between Madhvācārya's Vaiṣṇavism Sampradāya and Rāmānuja's Vaiṣṇavism Sampradāya has been on the idea of Eternal Damnation:

Madhvācārya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned,

while Rāmānuja disagreed and accepted the Advaita Vedanta view that everyone can, with effort, achieve inner liberation and spiritual freedom (mokṣa).

Śrī Vaiṣṇava theologians’ state, that the poems of the Āḻvārs contain the essential meaning of the Sanskrit Vedas.

According to Śrī Vaiṣṇavism theology, Mokṣa can be reached by devotion and service to the Lord and detachment from the world.

When Mokṣa is reached, the cycle of reincarnation is broken and the Soul is united with Viṣṇu, though maintaining their distinctions, in Vaikuṇṭha, Viṣṇu's heaven.

Mokṣa can also be reached by Total Surrender and Śaraṇāgati, an act of grace by the Lord.

God, according to Rāmānuja's Śrī Vaiṣṇavism philosophy, has both soul and body; all of life and the world of matter is the glory of God's body.

The path to Brahman (Viṣṇu), asserted Rāmānuja, is devotion to godliness and constant remembrance of the beauty and love of Personal God (saguṇa Brahman, Viṣṇu), one which ultimately leads one to the oneness with Nirguṇa Brahman.

Rāmānuja accepted that the Vedas are a reliable source of knowledge, but critiqued other schools of Hindu philosophy, including Advaita Vedanta, as having failed in interpreting all of the Vedic texts:

He asserted, in his Śrī Bhāṣya, that previous schools selectively interpret those Upaniṣadic passages that support their monistic interpretation, and ignore those passages that support the pluralism interpretation:

There is no reason, stated Rāmānuja, to prefer one part of a scripture and no other, the whole of the scripture must be considered on par.

One cannot, according to Rāmānuja, attempt to give interpretations of isolated portions of any scripture. Rather, the scripture must be considered one integrated corpus, expressing a consistent doctrine.

The Vedic literature, asserted Rāmānuja, mention both plurality and oneness, therefore the truth must incorporate pluralism and monism, or qualified monism.

6. Texts and scholarship

Śrī Vaiṣṇavism philosophy is primarily based on interpreting Vedanta, particularly the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad Gītā, the Brahma Sūtras and Mahābhārata.

The Vaiṣṇava Āgama texts, also called the Pañcarātra, have been an important part of Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition.

Another theological textual foundation of the tradition is the Tamil bhakti songs of the Āḻvārs (7-10th century).

The syncretic fusion of the 2 textual traditions is sometimes referred to as the Ubhaya Vedanta, or Dual Vedanta.

The relative emphasis between the two has been a historic debate within the Śrī Vaiṣṇavism tradition, which ultimately led to the schism into the Vaḍakalai and Teṅkalai sub-traditions around the 18th century.

7. Nāthamuni

Nāthamuni collected the poems of Nammāḷvār, in the form of Divya Prabandham, likely in the 9th century CE, or the 10th century.

One of his lasting contributions was to apply the Vedic theory of music on all the Āḻvār songs using Sanskrit prosody, calling the resulting choreography as divine music, and teaching his nephews the art of resonant bhakti singing of the Āḻvār songs. This precedence set the guru-śiṣya-Paramparā (teacher-student-tradition) in Śrī Vaiṣṇavism.

Nāthamuni's efforts to combine the Vedic knowledge and Āḻvār compositions also set the precedence of reverence for both the Vedas and the Āḻvār bhakti ideas.

Nāthamuni’s scholarship that set Āḻvār songs in Vedic meter set a historic momentum, and the liturgical and meditational songs continue to be sung in the modern era temples of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism, which is part of the service called cevai (Sanskrit: Seva).

Nāthamuni is also attributed with 3 texts, all in Sanskrit. These are:

1. Nyāya Tattva,
2. Puruṣa Niraya and
3. Yogarāhasya.

The Yogarāhasya text, states Govindāchārya, is a meditational text, includes the 8 limb yoga similar to that of Patañjali, but emphasizes yoga as "the art of communion with God".

The Nyāya Tattva text survives only in quotes and references cited in other texts, and these suggest that it presented epistemic foundations (Nyāya) including the philosophical basis for the Hindu belief on the existence of "soul" (Ātman), in contrast to Indian philosophies such as Buddhism that denied the existence of soul.

Nāthamuni, for example asserts,

    If "I" did not refer to the true self, there would be no interiority belonging to the soul. The interior is distinguished from the exterior by the concept "I".

The aspiration: "May I, having abandoned all suffering, participate freely in infinite bliss", actuates a person whose goal is liberation to study scriptures etc.

Were it thought that liberation involved the destruction of the individual, he would run away as soon as the subject of liberation was suggested... The "I", the knowing subject, is the inner self.

    — Nyāya tattva, Nāthamuni, ~9-10th century

8. Yamunacharya

Yamunacharya was the grandson of Nāthamuni, also known in Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition as Ālavandār, whose scholarship is remembered for correlating Āḻvār bhakti theology and Pañcarātra Āgama texts to Vedic ideas.

He was the Āchārya (chief teacher) of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism monastery at Śrīraṅgam, and was followed by Rāmānuja, even though they never met.

Yamunacharya composed a number of works important in Śrī Vaiṣṇavism, particularly:

1. Siddhitrayam (about the nature of Ātman, God, universe),
2. Gītārthasaṅgraha (analysis of the Bhagavad Gītā),
3. Āgama Prāmāṇya (epistemological basis of Agamas, mapping them to the Vedas),
4. Mahā Puruṣa Nirṇayam (extension of Nāthamuni’s treatise),
5. Stotra-rātnam and
6. Catuślokī (bhakti Stotra texts).

Yamunacharya is also credited with Nitya Grantha and Māyāvāda Khaṇḍana:

The Nitya Grantha is a ritual text and suggests methods of daily worship of Nārāyaṇa (Viṣṇu).

The 10th century Māyāvāda Khaṇḍana text, together with Siddhitrayam of Yamunacharya predominantly critiques the philosophy of the traditionally dominant school of Advaita Vedanta in Hindu philosophy, but also critiques non-Vedic traditions.

9. Rāmānuja

The Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition attributes 9 Sanskrit texts to Rāmānuja:

1. Vedārthasaṅgraha (literally, "Summary of the Vedas meaning")
2. Śrī Bhāṣya (a review and commentary on the Brahma Sūtras),
3. Bhagavad Gītā Bhāṣya (a review and commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā),

and the minor works titled:

4. Vedanta Dīpa,
5. Vedānta-sāra,
6. Śaraṇāgati Gādyam,
7. Śrīraṅga Gādyam
8. Vaikuṇṭha Gādyam), and
9. Nitya Grantham.

Some modern scholars have questioned the authenticity of all but the 3 of the largest works credited to Rāmānuja; the following texts are considered as authentically traceable to RāmānujaŚrī Bhāṣya, Vedārthasaṅgraha and the Bhagavad Gītā Bhāṣya.

Rāmānuja's scholarship is predominantly founded on Vedanta, Upaniṣads in particular.

He never claims that his ideas were original, but his method of synthesis that combined the Vedic ideas with popular spirituality is original.

Rāmānuja was the culmination of the movement started from the Vedas, nourished by the Āḻvārs, Nāthamuni and Yamunacharya.

Rāmānuja himself credits the theories he presents, in Vedārthasaṅgraha, to the ideas of ancient Hindu scholars. 

The 11th-century scholarship of Rāmānuja emphasized the concept of Śarīra -Śarīrin, that is the world of matter and the empirical reality of living beings is the "body of Brahman",

everything observed is God, one lives in this body of God, and the purpose of this body and all of creation is to empower Soul in its journey to Liberating Salvation.

10. Post Rāmānuja period authors

After Rāmānuja several authors composed important theological and exegetical works on Śrī Vaiṣṇavism. Such authors include:

Parāśara Bhaṭṭar, Nadadoor Ammal, Engal Āzhvān, Sudarśana Sūri, Piḷḷai Lokācārya, Vedanta Deśika, Maṇavāḷa Mamunigal, Vadakku Thiruvīdhi Piḷḷai (also called Krishnapāda Swāmī), Periyavāchān Piḷḷai, Nāyanār Āchān Piḷḷai, Azhagiya Maṇavāḷa Perumāḷ Nāyanār, Raṅgarāmānuja Muni.

11. Organization

The Śrī Vaiṣṇavism tradition has nurtured an institutional organization of Mathas (monasteries) since its earliest days, particularly from the time of Rāmānuja.

After the death of Yamunacharya, Rāmānuja was nominated as the leader of the Śrīraṅgam Matha, though Yamunacharya and Rāmānuja never met.

Amongst other things, Rāmānuja is remembered in the Śrī Vaiṣṇavism tradition for his organizational skills

- and the lasting institutional reforms he introduced at Śrīraṅgam, a system paralleling those at Advaita monasteries of his time and where he studied before joining Śrīraṅgam Matha.

Rāmānuja travelled and founded many Śrī Vaiṣṇavism Mathas across India, such as the one in Melukote.

The Śrī Vaiṣṇavism tradition believes that Rāmānuja started 700 Mathas, but historical evidence suggests several of these were started later.

The Matha, or a monastery, hosted numerous students, many teachers and an institutionalized structure to help sustain and maintain its daily operations.

A Matha in Vaiṣṇavism and other Hindu traditions, like a college, designates teaching, administrative and community interaction functions, with prefix or suffix to names, with titles such as Guru, Āchārya, Swāmī and Jīyar.

A Guru is someone who is a "teacher, guide or master" of certain knowledge. Traditionally a reverential figure to the student in Hinduism, the guru serves as a:

"counsellor, who helps mould values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who helps in the spiritual evolution of a student."

An Āchārya refers to either a Guru of high rank, or more often to the leader of a regional monastery. This position typically involves a ceremonial initiation called Dīkṣā by the monastery, where the earlier leader anoints the successor as Āchārya.

A Swā is usually those who interact with community on the behalf of the Matha. The chief and most revered of all Vaiṣṇava monasteries, are titled as Jeer, Jīyar, Jeeyar.

The Śrī Vaiṣṇavism Mathas over time, subdivided into 2, those with Teṅkalai (southern) tradition and Vaḍakalai (northern) tradition of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism.

The Teṅkalai-associated Mathas are headquartered at Śrīraṅgam, while Vaḍakalai Mathas are associated with Kanchipuram.

Both these traditions have from 10th-century onwards considered the function of Mathas to include feeding the poor and devotees who visit, hosting marriages and community festivals,

farming temple lands and flower gardens as a source for food and worship ingredients, being open to pilgrims as rest houses, and this philanthropic role of these Hindu monasteries continues.

In the 15th-century, these monasteries expanded by establishing Rāmānuja-kūṭa in major South Indian Śrī Vaiṣṇavism locations. The organizationally important Śrī Vaiṣṇavism Matha are:

Teṅkalai tradition:

1. Śrīraṅgam
2. Vanamamalai
3. Tirukkurungudi

Vaḍakalai tradition:

1. Parakala
2. Ahobila
3. Andavan

12. Teṅkalai and Vaḍakalai sub-traditions

The Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition has 2 major sub-traditions:

1. Vaḍakalai ("northern") and
2. Teṅkalai ("southern").

The term Northern and Southern sub-traditions of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism refers respectively to Kanchipuram (the northern part of Tamil country) and Śrīraṅgam (the southern part of Tamil country and Kāverī river delta area where Rāmānuja wrote his Vedanta treatises from).

These sub-traditions arose as a result of philosophical and traditional differences in the post Rāmānuja period:

The Vaḍakalai emphasized on the Sanskrit texts such as Vedas and Pañcarātras (Tantric), while the Teṅkalai emphasized on bhakti texts such as the Prabandham of Āḻvārs.

From the early days, the Śrī Vaiṣṇavism movement grew with its social inclusiveness, where emotional devotion to personal god (Viṣṇu) was open without limitation to gender or caste, a tradition led by Āḻvārs in the 7-8th century.

Rāmānuja philosophy negated caste:

Rāmānuja, who led from the Śrīraṅgam temple welcomed outcastes into temples and gave them important roles in temple operations,

with medieval temple records and inscriptions suggesting that the payments and offerings collected by the temple were shared regardless of caste distinctions.

Scholars offer divergent views on the relative approach of the 2 sub-traditions on caste and gender:

Some say that Teṅkalai did not recognize caste barriers and were more liberal in assimilating people from all castes, possibly because this had been the tradition at Śrīraṅgam from the earliest days of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism.

In contrast, others say that it was Vaḍakalai who were more liberal and who did not recognize caste barriers, possibly because they were competing with the egalitarian Vīra-Śaiva Hindus (Lingayatism) of Karnataka.

Both schools believe in initiation through Pañca Saṁskāras:

This ceremony or rite of passage is necessary for one to become a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Brahmin. It is performed by both Brahmins and non-Brahmins in order to become Vaiṣṇavas.

The Teṅkalai tradition brought into their fold artisanal castes (Śūdras) into community-based devotional movements, and some scholars say:

"it can almost be said that the Teṅkalai represented the anti-caste tendencies
while the Vaḍakalai School championed the cause of purity of the Vedic tenets

The Teṅkalai held that anyone can be a spiritual teacher regardless of caste.

The Vaḍakalai tradition, states other scholars, were the liberal cousin of Teṅkalai and therefore more successful in gaining devotees, while in southern Tamil lands Śaivism prospered possibly because of "Teṅkalai school of Vaiṣṇavism being narrow and orthodox in approach".

The Vaḍakalai School not only succeeded in northern Tamil lands, but spread widely as it inspired the egalitarian Bhakti movement in north, west and east India bringing in Bhakti poet saints from "entire cross section of class, caste and society".

13. Teṅkalai tradition ("southern") - Maṇavāḷa Mamunigal

The Ranganathaswamy Temple, Śrīraṅgam belongs to the Teṅkalai tradition and is considered as one of the important temples of Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition:

All the Sthalathārs and Āchārya Puruṣas there are descendants of 74 disciples appointed by Rāmānuja and belong to Teṅkalai Saṁpradāya without any exceptions.

13.1 Characteristics

The Teṅkalai place higher importance to Tamil ślokas than Sanskrit, and lay more emphasis on worship of Viṣṇu.

The Teṅkalai accept prapatti as the only means to attain salvation. They consider Prapatti as an unconditional surrender.

The Teṅkalai follow the Tamil Prabandham, and assert primacy to rituals in Tamil language.

They regard Kaivalya (detachment, isolation) as an eternal position within the realm of Vaikuṇṭha (Viṣṇu's 'eternal abode' or heaven), though it only exists at the outer most regions of Vaikuṇṭha.

They further say that God's seemingly contradictory nature as both minuscule and immense are examples of God's special powers that enable Him to accomplish the impossible.

According to Teṅkalai, exalted persons need not perform duties such as Sadhyāvandana; they do so only to set a good example. They don't ring bells during worship.

Teṅkalai forbid widows to shave (tonsure) their head, quoting the Parāśara Smṛiti. While Vaḍakalai support the tonsure quoting the Manu smṛiti,

13.2 Demographics

The Teṅkalai trace their lineage to Mudaliyandan, nephew of Rāmānuja.

The Teṅkalai are followers of philosophy of Piḷḷai Lokācārya and Maṇavāḷa Mamunigal, who is considered to be the reincarnation of Rāmānuja by the Teṅkalai.

All the main preceptors of Śrī Vaiśṇavism and their descendants, before and after Rāmānuja belong to Teṅkalai tradition.

14. Vaḍakalai ("northern") - Vedanta Deśika

14.1 Characteristics

The Vaḍakalai are followers of Rāmānuja and Vedanta Deśika, who founded the Vaḍakalai Saṁpradāya based on the Sanskrit tradition.

They lay more emphasis on the role of Lakṣmī i.e. Śrī, and uphold Sanskrit Vedas as the ultimate "pramāṇam" or authority, although Ubhaya Vedanta is used to infer from and establish the doctrine of Viśiṣṭādvaita.

The Vaḍakalai infer that all of the Āḻvārs compositions are derived from Vedas, and one would always have go to the ultimate source to reference and defend the doctrine.

Vaḍakalai lay emphasis on Vedic norms as established by Rishis and all preceptors.

The Vaḍakalai ardently follows the Sanskrit Vedas, and the set of rules prescribed by the Manu smṛiti and Dharma Śāstras. The sect is based on the Sanskrit tradition, and the set of rules prescribed by the Manu smṛiti and other Dharma Śāstras. In Sanskrit the Vaḍakalai are referred to as Uttarā Kalārya.

Traditionally, the Vaḍakalai believe in practising Karma yoga, Jñāna yoga and Bhakti yoga, along with Prapatti, as means to attain salvation. Also, they consider Prapatti as an act of winning grace.

The Tilāk (Ūrdhva Puṇḍra) mark of the Vaḍakalai men is a symbolic representation of Viṣṇu's right foot:

Since Viṣṇu's right foot is believed to be the origin of the river Ganga, the Vaḍakalai contend that his right foot should be held in special veneration, and its sign impressed on the forehead.

They also apply a central mark (Śrīchurnam) to symbolize the goddess Lakṣmī (Viṣṇu's wife), along with the Thiruman (Ūrdhva puṇḍra).

The Ūrdhva-puṇḍra which is vertical and faces upwards denotes that it helps one in reaching Vaikuṇṭha (the spiritual abode of Lord Viṣṇu), and is also considered to be a protection from evil.

Vaḍakalai women apply a red central mark only, symbolizing Lakṣmī, on their foreheads.

14.2 Guru Paramparā

The Vaḍakalai sect traces its lineage back to Thirukurahi Piran Pillan, Kidambi Acchan and other direct disciples of Rāmānuja, and considers Vedanta Deśika to be the greatest Āchārya of the post Rāmānuja era.

14.3 Demographics

Traditionally, places of high importance with significant Vaḍakalai populations included Kanchipuram, Kumbakonam, Tiruvallur, Mysore and Kurnool district. However, today much of the people have moved to the big cities.

In Vrindāvan, the Jankivallabh Mandir of Keshighat is a prominent Vaḍakalai Śrī Vaiṣṇava monastic institution and is associated with the spiritual lineage of the Ahobila Mutt.

In Rajasthan the Jhalariya Mutt is one of the most prominent Mutts and its branches have spread over to the neighbouring regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra.