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As I discuss in this question, the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member) is divided into two sub-sects, Thenkalai and Vadakalai. Now each of these sub-sects has a bunch of Mathams belonging to it, and each Matham is headed by a Sri Vaishnava Acharya, just like the four Shankaracharya Mathams in Advaita. Most Sri Vaishnavas belong to one of these Mathams; for instance my Dad's family belongs to Vanamamalai Matham and my Mom's family belongs to Ahobilam Matham. But there are some Sri Vaishnavas who don't belong to any Matham at all, known as Swayamacharya people. For them their father functions as their Acharya. Swayamacharya people are rare; usually only the families descended from famous Sri Vaishnava Acharyas are Swayamacharya people. For instance my maternal grandmother comes from the Swayamacharya family of Agnihotram Tathachariar, a descendant of Nathamuni, the founder of Sri Vaishnavism.

Now I have noticed a pattern among Swayamacharya people, or at least among Vadakalai Swayamacharya people. Most of them seem to belong to Munitrayam. For those who don't know, the term Munitrayam, which means "the three sages", refers to three Vadakalai Acharyas who were all disciples of Gopala Desikan, an 18th century Vadakalai Acharya. The most prominent of the three is Ranga Ramanuja, the Sri Vaishnava commentator on the Upanishads. In any case, two Vadakalai Mathams, Sri Rangam Andavan Ashram and Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashram, trace their Guru Parampara to Munitrayam. But my question is, what is the connection between Swayamacharyas and Munitrayam?

Most Vadakalai Swayamacharya people I know belong to Munitrayam, and it's not just anecdotal evidence; this Wikipedia article says the same thing:

Munitraya – Followers of Srimad Andavan of Andavan Ashramams, and Swayamacharyas.The Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam, Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam, and most of the present-day Vadagalai 'svayam-acharya purusha' families are directly connected to this acharya parampara, and follow the worship and ritual patterns outlined by Sri Gopalarya Mahadesikan.

But how can Swayamacharyas be connected to the Munitraya Parampara? By definition the Guru Parampara of a Swayamacharya is just his line of biological ancestors. For instance if you look at my maternal grandmother's relative Agnihotram Tathachariar, his guru was his father, whose guru was his father, etc., all the way back to Nathamuni. So where would Munitrayam enter the picture? Or is it that Swayamacharya people don't trace their Guru Parampara to Munitrayam, but rather they just "follow the worship and ritual patterns" of Munitrayam as Wikipedia suggests? I'm not even sure what these worship and ritual patterns are, but if that's the case what is the reason why so many Swayamacharya people follow Munitrayam? Is there some historical event or circumstance which led to this?

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TLDR: This is not tracing the Samasaryana Guru Parampara but the Prapatti Guru Parampara

Long version:

By definition the Guru Parampara of a Swayamacharya is just his line of biological ancestors.

This definition is not strictly correct. The Svayamacharya tradition is not strictly passed from father to son but from "current elder/spiritual leader/Acharya in family" to "next spiritual leader/Acharya of family". It may have been common at some point of time for every person in the family to take on the Acharya role but even in ancient times, grandfathers initiated grandchildren. Typically when an existing elder Acharya is alive, it is not common for another to initiate (unlike in Upanayanam when it is always the father who imparts the Savitri).

Sometimes when the current Acharya of a family is no more and there isn't a qualified or willing person anymore to take on the position of Acharya, the initiation of the next generation of family members happens through a different Acharya. This could be a grihasta or a sannyasi/mathadhipati.

Several svayamacharya families have thus migrated from PanchaSamskaram/initiation through an elder of their own family to another prominent Acharya. Some such Acharyas are Sri Parakala Math Jeer, Sri Ahobila Math Jeer, Srimad Andavan of Periashramam, Srimad Andavan of Poundarikapuram Ashramam, Navalpakkam Sampradayam Acharyas, Kozhiyalam/Uttamur Parampara Acharyas etc.

Even though svayamacharya families may choose to get initiated by a family member, when it comes to Prapatti/Bharanyasam they tend to go to a well respected Acharya for this purpose. For Vadakalais Prapatti is significantly more important than Samasrayanam for obvious reasons. This point will be key in answering your question.

Now there are a few ways in which one way in which people trace their Guru Parampara:

  1. Samasrayanam / Pancha Samskaram
  2. Bharanyasam / Prapatti
  3. Rahasya Kalakshepam
  4. Sribhashya Kalakshepam
  5. Gitabhashya Kalakshepam
  6. Bhagavad Vishaya Kalakshepam
  7. Other kalakshepams

Typically 2,3 tend to be identical and 4,5 tend to be identical. That is, Rahasya Kalakshepam and Prapatti go together usually and Sribhashyam and Gita Bhashyam tend to be learnt from the same acharya. Of course there are exceptions but mostly this is the case.

Now coming to the lineage of Munitraya Sampradayam, the Guru Parampara emphasis is on Rahasya Kalakshepam / Prapatti. Many of the Acharyas in this parampara underwent Samasrayanam in their family but resorted to a different Acharya for Vedanta Kalakshepam, Rahasya Kalakshepam and ultimately Prapatti. In particular the greatness of Sakshat Svami, Gopala Desikan, Vazhuttur Andavan and Periyandavan was so influential that they were approached by many many svayamacharya parampara leaders for performing Prapatti. (Source: Natteri Sri Rajagopalachariar's lectures on this page. The recordings with the suffixes 75-85 cover the period between Saakshaat Swamy and Periandavan. He also refers to a book by Amma Sathram Seshachariar titled "Acharya Paramparaa Prabhaavam" that discusses the time period from Sakshat Svami through Vazhuttur Andavan but unfortunately I have not been able to obtain a copy of this book so far and Natteri Svami is now in SriVaikuntham.)

Some recent examples:

Srimushnam Srimad Andavan was initiated by his uncle but performed Prapatti under Tirukkudanthai Andavan. Srimad Mysore Andavan in purvashrama underwent most kalakshepams under Abhinava Ranganatha Parakala Svami but came by walk all the way from Mysore to Srirangam for the sole purpose of performing Prapatti under Tirukkudanthai Andavan. Srimad Mysore Andavan in purvashrama came from very dire financial circumstances and it is credit to His Guruparampara bhakti that He undertook such an arduous trip for Prapatti. It would have been extremely easy for Him to do it at Parakala Math.

Most of the current existing Prapatti Paramparas other than Ahobila/Parakala Maths can trace their Prapatti Guruparampara to Periyandavan or other Acharya in the Munitraya tradition.

This is also why Munitraya Sampradayam traces the pre-Svami Desikan Guru Parampara (Daily Thaniyan recital) as follow: Ramanuja -> Kidambi Achan -> Ramanuja Pillan -> Rangaraja Pillan -> Nadadur Ammal -> Kidambi Appullar -> Svami Desikan because that is the route in which Rahasya Kalakshepam / Prapatti was passed on.

Note: Nadadur Ammal's samasrayana tradition plays no role here. He probably was initiated through his family (Nadadur Azvan vamsam).

When Sribhashya Kalakshepam takes place, the Thaniyans recited would go in this order Ramanuja -> Pillan -> Engalazhvan -> Nadadur Ammal -> Kidambi Appullar -> Svami Desikan.

Hope this clarifies.

  • Can you cite sources for the statement "In particular the greatness of Sakshat Svami, Gopala Desikan, Vazhuttur Andavan and Periyandavan was so influential that they were approached by many many svayamacharya parampara leaders for performing Prapatti." That is the key point in your answer. I want some source that discusses the fact that lots of Swayamacharya people (or maybe all) went to Sakshat Svami, Gopala Desika, Vazhuthur Andavan, and Periyandavan for Bharanyasam/Prapatti. – Keshav Srinivasan May 1 '18 at 19:42
  • By the way, is there a single Vadakalai Swayamacharya family that didn't do this? That is, a family that still does not belong to any Matham but does not belong to Munitrayam in its Bharanyasa Parampara? – Keshav Srinivasan May 1 '18 at 19:46
  • I'm not completely sure but I think the current Nadadur Parampara may be exclusively Svayamacharya for both Samasrayanam and Prapatti for a few generations. I will try and find out. – hashable May 1 '18 at 19:49
  • OK, and let me know if you find a source for the notion that large numbers of Swayamacharya people took Prapatti from the Acharyas between Sakshath Swamy and Periyandavan. – Keshav Srinivasan May 1 '18 at 20:18
  • Do you have a link to the relevant lecture of Natteri Sri Rajagopalachariar? – Keshav Srinivasan May 2 '18 at 1:25

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