Srivaishnavism aims at God-realisation within the framework of our normal wordly activities. The term Vaishnavism denotes the system developed by Sri Ramanuja where Vishnu & his consort Godess Sri(Lakshmi) are accepted as Supreme Being. Godess Lakshmi is the mother of the entire creation, being the consort of Lord Vishnu. Being inseparable from Him(Nityanapetam Sriyam), she acts as the mediatrix(purushakara) between man & God . She is also reckoned to be an Acharya or teacher in this tradition. This system of Sri Ramanuja is also therefore known as Sri Sampradaya. It is for reasons such as these that the system of Sri Ramanuja is called Srivaishnavism.
Sri Ramanuja is the systematiser of Srivaishnavism as it is followed today. Srivaishnavism is as old as Vedas. In the introductory verse of Sri Bhasya(the commentary on Brahma Sutras), Sri Ramanuja traces this philosophy to the Upanishads. It is believed that sage Vyasa, Bhodayana, Guhadeva & others have brought out this philosophy but their writings are not available except for the references by Sri Ramanuja.
Srivaishnavism denotes the religious aspect whereas Visitadvaita refers to the philosophy followed by this school. In this school, the first teacher is the Lord Narayana himself & his student was his consort Godess Lakshmi who communicated the same to the commander-in-chief Visvaksena. From him it was handed over to a series of teachers headed by Sathakopa(Nammalwar). Then came the lineage of Acharyas led by Sri Nathamuni who was bestowed upon with knowledge by Sri Nammalwar. His grandson Yamunacharya(Alavandhar) was next to follow with his disciple Sri Ramnuja & series of Acharyas like Sri Kuresa, Sri Nadadur Alvan, Sri Kidambi Accan, Tirukkurugaippiran Pillan who were followed by a hierarchy of Acharyas as listed in the Guruparampara.
The Sanskrit verse by Kurattalvan establishes link between the mortals and Sriman Narayana "Lakshminatha Samrambham nathayamunamadhyamam, asmadacharya-paryantham vande guruparamaparam"
The Alwars or Saints were more emotional in nature than metaphysical. They were the great devotees of Lord Vishnu(Nityas or Lords attendants) who left behind the knowledge of the absolute by propagating Visistadvaita in their songs(which is the collection of 4000 hymns popularly known as Divya Prabhandham). To succeed the Alwars were the Acharyas who were orthodox Brahmanas well versed in Sanskrit & Tamil. Apart from preaching & establishing Visitadvaita they also laid down the rules for the proper observance of festivals, fasts, vows & customs. These acharayas date back to days of Alwars with Nathamuni(824-924 AD) being the first of them. The reference to the Guruparamparai would list the succeding Acharyas with due mention to Sri Ramanuja(1017 - 1137 AD) who is referred to as the Paramacharya. It is well known that Sri Ramanuja synthesised and explained the various truths contained in the Brahmasutras in accordance to the spirit of the Vedas, Upanishads, Agamas, Itihasas, Puranas and the Divys Prabhandas. For this reason he is deemed to be the foremost propounder of the Visistadvaitha school which is therefore called "Ramanuja Darshanam', even though the philosophy was expounded during the times of his ancesstors like Sri Nathamuni and Sri Alavandhar. Sri Ramanuja with a vision then appointed seventy four Simhasanadhipathis (Heads) to carry the message of Visistadvaita
SriVaishnavam philosophy - Vishistadvaita
Any account of the history of Srivaishnavism should be deemed incomplete without a description of its philosophical tenets. It is now understood that this philosophy is much older than Sri Ramanuja, who only systematized it. This philosophy of Visitadvaitha is also referred to as "Ubahya Vedanta" since it accepts both the Sanskrit Prasthanatraya & Tamil Prabhandham.
In SriVaishnavam, appearing as an ordinary God in the Rg Veda, the earliest of Vedas and as one of the several deities, Lord Vishnu attained pre-eminence and came to be recognised as the Supreme Being by the time if the Itihasas and the Puranas.
This transformation of Lord Vishnu to be the Supreme can be traced in the following way :
Rg Veda : In the Rg Veda, Lord Vishnu is described as a young and most powerful god guiding Indra in his many wars against the Asuras and evil forces. The following epithets testify to His importance :
His highest abode is said to be fixed "like an eye in the sky" and always seen by the wise Nitya-Suries(Tad Visnoh paramam padam, sada pasyanti surayah) This means that NityaSurees keep their eye fixed on Vishnu forever
There is a spring of honey in his abode(Vishnoh pade parame madhva utsah)
He measured the entire universe with three great strides(Idam Visnuh Vichakrame, tredha nidadhe padam, samudhamasya pagum sure)
Although not expressed in so many words, the above statements signify, according to scholars, the supremacy of Lord Vishnu; for the spring of Honey is nothing but divine nectar or Amritha, which indicates that Vishnu’s abode is the place of immortality and His place is fixed(dhruva).
Yajur Veda : In the Krisha Yajurveda, Vishnu is described as the creator, protector and destroyer of everything in this universe. He is said to protect the sacrifices which came to occupy an important place in the ancient Bharata(India). In the Sukla Yajurveda, he is said to preside over the sacrifices. "Lord Vishnu has his abode in the orb of the Sun" says the Veda. Vishnu’s lifting of the earth as a Great Boar(Varaha Avataram) is referred to here : "Kolavaraha monrai Nilam Kotidai Konda Yandai". It is also stated that all other Gods like Agni, Vayu remain alert and discharge their duties due to the fear of Lord Vishnu "Bhisa asmad Vatah pavate bhisodeti Suryah bhisasmad Agnisca Indrasca Mrtyur-dhavati Pancama iti"
The Purusha Sukta: Here there is a description of a cosmic purusa, who by performing a sacrifice, became the cosmos itself. His consorts are Godess Hri(Bhudevi) and Godess Sri(Sridevi).
"Tat Purushasya Vishvam ajaanamagre, Hrischa te lakshmischa patnayau"
The Brahmanas: In the Aitareya Bhahmana, it is said that Agni is the lowest and Vishnu is highest among Gods :Agnir avamo devatanam Vishnuh Paramah. The Satapatha Brahmana refers to a Divinity called "Narayana" who perfromed a sacrifice for five days and nights and became great. The Taittiriya Aranyaka contains a reference to Lord Narasimha and Lord Vamana, the two important avataras of Lord Vishnu.
The Upanishads: The Upanishads(the final portion of the Vedas) contains references such as "Only Narayana existed in the beginning of the creation, neither Brahma or Shiva existed then".
- The Ithihasas (Epics):
The Ramayana : The first of the two epics, Ramayana contains many references to Sri Rama, the hero of the epic being none other than Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Being, who has his abode in Sri Vaikuntha. Lord Vishnu incarnated as Sri Rama, after heeding to the appeals of the celestials to destroy the demon King Ravana who was harassing the entire universe by his misdeeds and wild strength. Though born of human parents and thinking and behaving like a human being(atmanam manusam manye Ramam Dasarathatmajam "I consider myself a man, son of Dasharatha), Sri Rama(avatara of Vishnu) established the supremacy of Lord Vishnu by the following actions"
In the duel between Vishnu and Siva, as narrated by Parasurama, the former made the latter motionless by a mere ‘humkara’(frowning).
He sends Jatayu, the Vulture King to the supreme heaven and says "My friend, I permit you to go to the Upper regions("gaccha lokan anuttaman")
He pierces seven huge Sala trees with a single arrow, and with his toe tosses the hillock-like skeletal remains of demon Dundubhi, and also fells Vali, the victor of Ravana himself with just one arrow.
He grants Moksha to Sabari, the tribal women who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu who retained her life only for a glimpse of Him in his avatara as Sri Rama.
The Mahabharata : The second epic, Mahabharata has several instances where the supremacy of Lord Vishnu in his avatara as Sri Krishna is established.
Sri Krishna is born to Devaki, in His celestial form with four arms, Conch, Disc, et al and later on only, assumes the human form.
The soul of Sisupala, whose head was severed by Sri Krishna, enters the person of Sri Krishna, in the presence of all assembled kings.
Sri Krishna shows His cosmic form in the court of Dhritarasthra, when evil Duryodhana and his cohorts decide to bind Sri Krishna with a rope; the entire assembly with the exception of Bhimshma, Vidura and few others faint at this sight.
Sri Krishna saves Draupadi from being dishonoured, by giving his "Akshaya Vastra" when she was being disrobed by Dushyasana.
Sri Krishna shows His cosmic form to Arjuna in the battle field; expounds "Bhagavad Gita"(the essence of Upanishads) to him.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna declares himself as the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of the entire universe. In particular, in Chapter X & XI, Sri Krishna shows that the entire universe is but a fraction of His unbounded splendour and that everything amanates from Him and merges in His cosmic from.
Sri Krishna declares unequivocally that He is the goal of all existance and advises Souls to surrender to Him(Chapter XVIII.66). This is the summum bonum of all teachings and is called "Charmasloka" in the Srivaishnava Sampradayam " "Sarva Dharmaan Parityajya Maam Ekam Sharanam Vraja, Aham tva Sarva Papebyo Moksha Isyaami maa Sucha"
- The puranas: The Vishnu Purana: Sri Parasara, the author of the Vishnu purana establishes that Vishnu is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of this universe. This purana also states that all these activities are His play(Lila or Krida) and Vishnu is superior to the other Gods of the Trinity; Brahma and Shiva.
The Bhagavata Purana: In Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Krishna is declared to be Purna-Avatara- "Krishnastu Bhagavan Swayam", while the earlier Avataras are treated as Vibhava Avataras. He is said to possess all the six supreme qualities of perfection, "Bhaga" such as Jnana(Supreme Knowledge), Sakti(Supreme Potency), Bala(Supreme Strength), Aisvarya(Supreme Lordship), Virya(Supreme Virility) and Tejas(Supreme Splendour). As a avatara of Lord Vishnu, Sri Krishna establishes the twin qualities of Paratva.(transcendental character or Supremacy) and Saulabhya(easy accessibility) to a remarkable degree. Much more than in Ramayana, Bhagavatam contains numerous episodes testifying to Sri Vishnu’s Supremacy. Viz. Divine adventurous stories of Dhruva, Prahlada, Gajendra, Krishna’s sport with Gopi’s at Brindavan, the slaying of demoness Putana, Sakatasura, poisonous serpent Kaliya, Demon-King Kamsa, Emperor Naraka and others.
SRI and Vaishnavam philosophy - the link of this school with Sri
The Lord's consort Sri is regarded as the Mother of the Universe, also acts as a mediatrix(purushakara as referred in Sri Pillai Lokacharya’s Srivachanabhusanam) between man and God bringing man close to God and thirdly she is mentioned as the teacher(acharya) in the transmission of this tradition. This school of thought recently systematised by Sri Ramanuja Godess Sri occupies a important place.
In the Vishnu Purana, the author Sri Parasara glorifies Lord Vishnu who is the Supreme being always associated with Sri or Lakshmi as mutually inseparable, Whatever form the Lord may take, Sri joins him is a suitable form. In the Ramayana, Laksmi becomes Sita; in days of Sri Krishna avatara(Dwapara Yuga), Sri becomes Rukmini as understood in the couplet below :
"raghavatve abhavat sita, rukmini krishna janmani anyesu ca avataresu visnoresanapayini"
According to tradition, Sri has several connotations:
Srnati (nikhilan dosan)
She removes all sins.
Srinati (ca gunair jagat)
She nourishes the world by her virtues.
Sriyate (ca akhilair nityam)
She is resorted to by all beings forever.
She stays in the Highest abode.
She hears the petitions.
She makes the Lord hear.
In the Purusha Sukta, Lakshmi(Sri) and Bhudevi(Hri) are described as two consorts of Lord Vishnu "Hrishcha te Lakshmischa Patnyau..."
In the Sri Suktha, she is described as Godess of plenty, Charm and golden complexion, seated in the Lord’s Chest, hearing the cries od humanity, having a charitable disposition and keeping the Lord always in good humour to forgive the sins of men.
In the Chatuhsloki, a hymn composed by Yamunacharya(Sri Alavandhar), describes Sri as Godess of plenty, prosperity, compassion and supreme authority, all other Gods & Godesses as subordinate to Her, She stays in the Vaikuntha (Nitya-Vibhuti) along with Her Lord Vishnu, She is so great that even She Herself or the Lord does not know Her greatness in full. Without Her grace, none can aspire for any welfare in any of the world. She as an Acharya can even grant liberation through Her grace.
Many other Acharyas have sung hymns in praise of Lakshmi - Sriistava by Sri Kuresa, Sri Gunaratnakosa by Sri Parasara Bhattar and more. In the Saranagathi Gadya, Sri Ramanuja refers to Lakshmi as follows :
- Mother of the whole world
- Refuge of all the helpless
- Never separated from the Lord Asankheya-Kalyana
- Possessor of innumerable auspicious qualities
It is to Her that Sri Ramanuja makes Sharanagathi(Surrender) first requesting Her to bless him in his effforts to perform Saranagathi at the feet of the Lord, thus confirming Her role as the Purusakara(Meidatrix).
Sri Sita, who is none other than Godess Lakshmi, intercedes with Sri Rama and saves Kakasura (the deamon crow) from sure death even though the latter had grievously hurt her. Another instance is that when Hanuman wanted to kill the Raksasis who were tormenting and torturing Sri Sita in Ravana’s Asokavana, Sri Sita pleads to Hanuman and protects them from Hanuman’s wrath, She tells Hanuman that "a noble person must be kind even to the most abominable sinners, there is none in this world who does not err (na Kascin-naparadhyati)"
It has to be understood that periya piraTTi not just serves as purushakara, but also is the one who grants moksha to all along with NarayaNa. The divine couple together grant salvation, and the daya of the Lord arrives from Sri. PerumaL can get angry sometimes, but Sri isnt aware of Anger, and is filled completely of Daya and karuNe on the jivas.