vaTakalai and ten2kalai (3)

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Wed Jun 16 22:06:24 UTC 1999

Paul Younger's paper, "Singing the Tamil Hymnbook in the Tradition of
Ramanuja The Adyayanotsava Festival in Srirangam", (pp.12-109 - 12-128,
proceedings of the 1981 International Tamil Conference in Madurai ) also
brings out the language-based origin of the terms vaTakalai and ten2kalai.

Younger says, "In other festivals of the temple the Tenkalai priests and the
Vatakalai priests appear to be roughly equal in number and when they go in
procession with the image of the deity the Tenkalais go before the image of
the deity chanting Tamil hymns while the Vatakalais come behind chanting
Sanskrit hymns. This arrangement is widely followed in Srivaisnava temples
where both groups are represented, and it is generally thought to date back
to the fourteenth century -- when the priesthood split into two groups with
the Tenkalai or "Southerners" wanting to emphasize the Tamil hymns and the
doctrine of pirapatti or surrender, while the Vatakalais or "Northern sect"
wanted to emphasize Sanskrit and the need for devotion or bhakti to be
manifest in self-discipline... Most accounts of the origin of the dispute
tace it to differing theological emphases among the followers of Ramanuja who
were based respectively in the temples of Sri Rangam (Tenkalai) and
Kancipuram (Vatakalai) between the time of his death (1137?) and the Muslim
invasions (1313-23)...The heart of the Vatakalai argument was that their
teaching had the authority of the Veda, the revealed Sanskrit
scripture...While all the Srivaisnavas agreed that Ramanuja's system
continued to make temple worship essential, the Vatakalais contended that
there should be greater emphasis on the Sanskrit Veda in the light of the
teachings of Ramanuja himself. This emphasis, if followed, would have given
less attention to the Tamil hymns  and their characteristic teaching of
devotion  as abject surrender or pirapatti, and would have allowed for a
lesser role for the goddess Lakshmi as an intermediary between the soul and
the highest Lord, and for the saints. Tenkalais of the fifteenth century
recognized the need to ackknowledge the authority of the Veda, but they felt
that the heart of Ramanuja's contribution had been that it maintained the
traditional system of worship while providing it with intellectual support
through the introduction of a particular form of Vedic interpretation."

S. Palaniappan

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list