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I have heard that Azhvaars are Sriman Narayana Bhakthas.They sung in praise of him.They are not Vishishtadvaitas. Later Srivaishnava Acharyas(Ramanuja and his disciples) wrote commentaries to Azhvaar works to suit Srivaishnavam and the same Acharyas included Nammazhvaar as an Acharya of Srivaishnava and Vishishtadvaita.

Source of the claim is a tamil video available in youtube

Update

Part one - https://youtu.be/9khzrGxuRnY?t=722

Part two - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGTU0cadupY

Few Questions I have based on the video

  • Is this a valid claim that Azhwars are only Bhagavathas whose Ishta devatha is Vishnu or can Azhwars called as Vishishtadvaitas?

  • As per the speaker of the video, only who undergone Panchasamskara under Ramanuja or his disciples are called Srivaishnavas. If this is true, can panchasamskara be equated to baptism in Christianity?

  • Yes, please add the video. In any case, Nathamuni was the founder of the Sri Vaishnava sect, and he lived after the time of the Alwars, so in that sense the Alwars were not Sri Vaishnavas. But Nathamuni based the Sri Vaishnava sect and the philosophy of Visistadvaita on the beliefs and principles embodied in the Alwars' poems. And also Nammalwar was the guru of Nathamuni. So in that sense the Alwars did believe in Sri Vaishnavism and Visistadvaita, although they wouldn't have used those terms; they would have called themselves Bhagavatas or followers of Pancharatra. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 6 '16 at 5:50
  • Also, the Sri Vaishnava sect gets its name from the fact that its Guru Parampara originates from Lakshmi. And Nathamuni's guru was Nammalwar, Nammalwar's guru was Vishnu's general Vishvaksena, and Vishvaksena's guru is Lakshmi. (And Lakshmi's guru is Vishnu.) – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 6 '16 at 5:54
  • @KeshavSrinivasan, I have added the video link with specific time where speaker starts to speak about Azhwars for another 10 mins in part one. I have added one more question based on the video. I belong to Srivaishnavam and aware of the details. I just want to verify if there claims by the speaker are true.If you could answer the questions, I would appreciate it. – blakcaps Nov 6 '16 at 13:59
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As per the speaker of the video, only who undergone Panchasamskara under Ramanuja or his disciples are called Srivaishnavas. If this is true, can panchasamskara be equated to baptism in Christianity?

A "samskara" is a ritual that can be thought of as an adornment. The Vedic Samskaras are the birth rites, naming ceremony, tonsure, investing the sacred thread, wedding, etc. PanchaSamskara is the performance of 5 specific samskaras simultaneously.

Baptism is also a "samskara" followed by some Christian traditions. Beyond that, there is nothing in common.

Just as there are differences in views on the effect of Baptism on a person in different Christian traditions, there are differences among Srivaishnavas on the effect of Panchasamskara.

Some view Panchasamskara both as a necessary and sufficient condition for Moksha. This is the view of certain Thengalai Schools. Others view it similar to the performance of the Upanayana (as a minimum qualification for the performance of certain tasks).

Whether it is a requirement for being considered Srivaishnava or not is a perspective. Would you say that a 5 year old child born in a Srivaishnava family that is devoted to Vishnu and wears the thiruman and recites Thiruppavai and Stotras but has not yet underwent Panchasamskara is a Srivaishnava or not? What about an unmarried adult woman who has performed Prapatti but not yet performed Samasrayana?

Is this a valid claim that Azhwars are only Bhagavathas whose Ishta devatha is Vishnu or can Azhwars called as Vishishtadvaitas?

With due respect to the gentleman in the video, his statements are a bit silly and uninformed.

Wondering if Azhwars were Vishishtadvaitins is similar to wondering if Badarayana (aka Vyasa) the author of the Brahmasutras was a Vishishtadvaitin, or if Yajnavalkya of the Upanishads was a Vishishtadvaitin. What would Ramanuja say?


Vishishtadvaita is a particular thesitic interpretation of the Upanishads. It can be thought of as a collection of ideas. Among others, the main principles of Vishistadvaita are the following:

  1. There are 3 fundamental entities in the Universe - cit (soul), acit (matter) and Ishvara (Supreme Lord)
  2. Ishvara aka Parabrahman is Sriman Narayana.
  3. Cit and Acit form the body of Parabrahmam (He is their indweller and pervader).
  4. Cit and Acit have no independent existence and are dependent on Isvara.
  5. Isvara is endowed with innumerable auspicious attributes.
  6. Isvara has no inauspicious qualities.
  7. Isvara sports in the creation/sustenance/destruction cycles of the Universe.
  8. Absolute surrender to Isvara by a soul is the way to exit the birth/death cycle. Isvara pledges so.

These principles were followed by many people all along from the Upanishadic times. There are many examples of such ideas in the Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Puranas, Pancharatra Agamas and commentaries on all of the above. In fact, these ideas are not just within the Vedanta school but also found in some followers of the Purva Mimamsa, Nyaya, Yoga etc. Nathamuni was the most renowned follower of the Nyaya and Yoga Schools integrated with Vishishtadvaita interpretation and Vedanta Desika's works on Purva Mimamsa (Sesvara Mimamsa, etc.) clearly show this.

Now coming to the Alvars, much of their work clearly contains the core Upanishadic ideas that form Vishishtadvaita. I will give a few examples since there are too many to list exhaustively.

  • Brahman is the one that has infinite auspicious attributes - "uyarvara uyarnalam uDaiyavan evan? avan" (Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 1.1.1)
  • All cit and acit derive their existence from Brahman - "naam avan etc." (Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 1.1.4)
  • Brahman pervades the entire universe (Antaryami Brahmana of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) - "paranthathaN paravaiyuL neerdhoRum parandhuLan" (Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 1.1.10)
  • Brahman sustains all the dieties. (Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 1.1.5)
  • All postures like standing etc. are controlled and sustained by Brahman. (Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 1.1.6)
  • Brahman is the indweller of the Universe just as the soul is the indweller of the body. "udalmisai uyirenak karanthenkum paranthuLan" (Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 1.1.7)
  • The Taittiriya Upanishad (forming the basis for the second Vedanta Sutra 1.1.2) says "Brahman is the one from whom proceed the creation, sustenance and destruction of the universe." Azhvars says this in many places such as:
    • Nammazhvar Tiruvaymozhi 1.9.1 - evaiyum yavarum thannuLLE aakiyum aakkiyum kaakkum, avaiyuL thanimuthal
    • Nammazhvar Tiruvaymozhi 10.5.3 - thaanE ulagellaam thaanE padaiththidandhu thaanE undumizndhu thaanE aaLvaanE
    • Tirumangai Azhvar Periya Tirumozhi 3.1.10 moovulagu unDu umizhndu aLandha
    • Poigai Azhvar Mudhal Tiruvandhadhi 2 - nI paDaiththu iDandhu unDu umizhndha pAr
    • Bhutat Azhvar Irendam Tiruvandhadhi 47 - jnALam aLaindhu iDandhu unDu umizhndha aNNal
  • In the beginning, only Brahman existed(Chandogya Upanishad's Sadvidya) echoed in Nammazhvar Tiruvaymozhi 4.10.1 - onRum dhEvum ulagum uyirum maRRum* yaadhumillaa anRu,* naanmugan dhannodu* dhEvar ulagOdu uyir_padaiththaan,* kunRampOl maNimaada needu* thirukkurugoor adhanuL,* ninRa aadhippiraan _niRka* maRRaith dheyvam naadudhirE.
  • The soul is caught in bondage caused by beginningless karma.
    • Thiruvaymozhi 2.6.8 (mAri mAri palapirappum pirandhu)
    • Also see Thiruvaymozhi 4.9.5, 3.2.2, 5.1.6, 2.6.5
  • The ethical issues of the Problem of Evil, Freedom of the soul, Free will and realted topics are all covered in Thiruvaymozhi 3.2.6, 3.2.7, 3.2.1, 5.1.5, 7.1.1, 3.5.10, 5.6.4, 5.6.10
  • Surrender is the path to liberation - Thiruvaymozhi 9.1.10, 6.10.10, 5.7.10, 6.3.10, 10.4.1
  • The core requirements of Prapatti being the concepts of Akinchanya (inability of the soul to pursue any other path to Moksha) and Ananyagatitva (not having any refuge other than Brahman) are demonstrated in thiruvaymozhi 6.10.10 (puhal onru illaa adiyen) and 7.10.8 (anRi maRRu onRu ilam nin sharaNe enRu) respectively.
  • Surrender will definitely beget Moksha - Thiruvaymozhi 9.10.5 (sharaNamaahum thanadhaal aDainthaarku ellaam maraNam aanaal vaikunTham koDukkum piraan)
  • Periyazhvar in Periyazhvar Thirumozhi 5.3.4 advocates Prapatti as a direct means to Moksha (un paadha nizhalaal matror uyrpidam naan engum kaanginrilen)
  • Periyazhvar in Periyazhvar Thirumozhi in 5.4.1 says God is the sole refuge and in 5.4.5 says that he has surrendered himself to the Lord (ennaiyum unnil iTTen)
  • Kulasekharazhvar demonstrates ananyagatitvam in Perumal Thirumozhi 5.5 - enguppoy uyken un iNai aDiye aDaiyallaal
  • Thirumangai Azhvar in Periya Thirumozhi performs prapatti to the Lord of Naimisharanya - un thiruvaDi aDaindhen naimishAraNyaththul endhaay. (1.6.1-9)

    All these are just a few examples of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta concepts being practiced by the Azhvars.

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