History of The Hebbar Sreevaishnava Sabha

The Iyengar community traces its philosophical origins to Nathamuni, a Sri Vaishnavaacharya who lived around 900 CE. Nathamuni was influenced by Nammalvar and other alvars (Sri Vaishnava poet-saints of southern India) and he introduced their philosophy into temple worship. Nathamuni's efforts were formalised into a religious system of lifestyle, practice and worship by Ramanuja who propounded the philosophy of Visishtadvaita.

Demographics

Iyengars are present in large numbers in the Chola Nadu region of Tamil Nadu, regarded as the traditional home of Tamil Brahmins. Besides Cholanadu, Iyengars are also present in large numbers in Chennai, Srirangam and Kanchipuram, as well as in South Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Iyengar tradition originated with Ramanuja in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Following persecution from the Cholas, Ramanuja migrated to modern day Karnataka where he received royal patronage from the Hoysalas. Today, Iyengars are distributed all over Tamil Nadu with a majority of them, however, residing along the Cauvery Delta, as well as in the states of Karnataka (Melkote, Mysore and Bengaluru) and Andhra Pradesh.

Language and dialect

Main article: Iyengar Tamil

The mother tongue of most Iyengars in Tamil Nadu is Tamil. They speak a dialect that is almost identical to Brahmin Tamil, differing only in the degree of Sanskritization. Scholars have often refused to recognise this as a separate dialect, regarding it only as a sub-dialect of Brahmin Tamil.

However, Iyengars in Karnataka speak a dialect that has a significant Kannada substrate, which has descended from medieval Tamil. Iyengars in southern Andhra Pradesh speak both Tamil and Telugu.

Subgroups

Vadakalai caste symbol

Thenkalai caste symbol

Iyengars are divided into two sects: the Vadakalai and the Thenkalai. These are also known as "Northerners" and "Southerners", respectively.

The sampradaya of the Vadakalai Iyengars was founded by Vedanta Desika, the Vaishnaviteacharya and philosopher, based on the Sanskritic tradition.

The Thenkalai Iyengar sect rejects the caste system and has accepted Shudras into its fold. The Thenkalai sect "... is more liberal and so shapes the doctrine of the system as to make them applicable to Sudras also." The sect was founded by PillaiLokacharya, and holds ManavalaMamuni to be their most significant leader.

The principal difference between the sects is their philosophy relating to the theory of surrender to God. The Vadakalais believe that human effort is a contributory factor to moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of reincarnation), along with divine grace, whereas the Thenkalais assert primacy to the Tamil Prabhandams and maintain that liberation comes primarily through grace. Vadakalai Iyengars believe that it is necessary to offer obeisance/prostration to God multiple times, while Thenkalai Iyengars believe that it is enough if you offer obesaiance/prostration to God once. This is the reason as to why a Vadakalai Iyengar is often seen prostrating four times, while Thenkalai Iyengars are seen prostrating only once. These variations are called markatakishora and marjarakishora in Sanskrit, referring to litter of monkey and cat. The Vadagalaisect relies on the fact that young one of a monkey always hugs its mother; otherwise the mother would not carry it. This explains the fact that one must always cling on to God to seek his blessings. On the contrary, the Thengalaisect relies on the fact that young one of a cat never hugs its mother, as the mother always would carry it. According to them, this explains the fact that it is enough if one cling on to God once to seek his blessings as the duty to protect you becomes his burden.