Siddhi Traya – Saṃvatsiddhi (Part 1)

Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ


The line of our early Āchāryas, also known as Sampradāya Pravartaka Āchāryas, is crowned by the appearance of Rāmānuja. Yet, Rāmānuja’s great contributions were not possible without the foundations laid by his great preceptor Yāmunāchārya.

Scholars have found that Rāmānuja’s opus magnum, his comment on the Brahma Sūtras called Śrī Bhāṣya, extensively quotes and paraphrases points made by Yāmunāchārya in his three short philosophical works:

  • Saṃvatsiddhi, a work that proves that the world we perceive is real (and not essentially an illusion, as argued by the Advaita school).
  • Āthmasiddhi, a work that proves the existence of the Āthma (which is also seen as not actually existent by the Advaita school).
  • Īśvarasiddhi, a work that proves the existence of Īśvara, a God that has attributes of a person (and is not a completely impersonal and abstract entity as put forward by the Advaita school).

Probably because the essence of these works is contained in the Śrī Bhāṣya, the fact that the above works by Yāmunāchārya were preserved in a rather incomplete manner and have seen little attention in the last centuries has not bothered the Śrī Vaiṣnava community much. Our interest in these works was kindled when we came across a book about Saṃvatsiddhi by an Austrian Researcher [1], which is only available in German. There is a whole series of books and articles about the early texts of our Sampradaya published in German by a scholar named Gerhard Oberhammer and his PhD candidates / research assistants. We have already mentioned and used these books to provide additional background to the translation of Yāmunāchārya’s Chatuḥślōkī.

We share the general reluctance amongst Hindus in considering academic opinions on our religion. This is because a lot of research is made with a certain hyper-sceptic rationalist-atheist mindset, which is not at all receptive for the deep meanings and subtleties our spiritual heritage has. However, reading the works of Oberhammer, we cannot find that he (or his affiliated researchers) follow such an agendea. Their aim is to shed light on the theological and philosophical genesis of our lineage and they do so in a respectful way.

The book on Saṃvatsiddhi we found seeks to reconstruct as much of the content as possible. This is done by looking for references from the existing fragments to lost parts of the text, as well by comparing the text to sections of the Śrī Bhāṣya with similar content. Since Rāmānuja has build on Yāmunā’s works and likely had them in complete form, the Śrī Bhāṣya could contain glimpses into the lost parts of Saṃvatsiddhi.

Text structure

Here is the general structure of the text, as far as can be inferred / reconstructed from the available palm leafs.

Lost: Mangala verses / saluations to Yāmunāchārya’s Āchārya Rāma Miṣra (Maṇakāl Nambi).
Section 1: The reality of the world
Lost: A detailed exposition of the opposing Advaita argument. The researcher infers that the early Advaita scholar Maṇḍanamiśra (around 700 C.E.) could be the main proponent of the views Yāmuna seeks to rebuke, as this scholar rejected the view that cognition via the senses can be a proper basis for difference, i.e. for non-advaitic standpoints.
Lost: Arguments leading the discussion from whether the world has any degree of reality to the question whether the world has an existence of its own, i.e. if it is in any meaningful way different from Brahman. Most likely, the opposing view is presenting the statement ekam eva advitīyaṃ brahma as reason why this is not the case.
Preserved: Argumentation of Yāmuna why „there is no world different from Brahman“ is not the proper meaning of ekam eva advitīyaṃ .
Preserved: Jaina and other arguments that the world is both nonexistuing and existing or neither of both
Partly preserved: Argumentation of Yāmuna that the Sāṃkhya view resolves this.
– Article part 1 ends here –
Section 2: The reality of the perceiver of the world
Lost: Arguments about the entity which perceives the word, leading to a discussion about tat tvam asi
Preserved: Yāmuna refutes the view that tat and tvam have an identical mode of being, hence the quest of making deductions about the world is meaningful – as there is a proper agent for that quest.
Section 3: The validiy of deductions about the world
Preserved: Yāmuna presents the view that it is possible to draw meaningful conclusions from observations of the world
Preserved: Presentation of advaitic / crytpo-Buddhist views that this is not possible
Preserved: Yāmuna refutes these views with side discussions on the nature and foundations of Avidiya, a core principle of Advaita teachings.
– Article part 2 (to be written) ends here –
Preserved: Presentation of orthodox Buddhist views on the impossibility of deductions on the world (essentially, that the world is resulting from consciousness and has no reality beyond that)
Partly preserved: Yāmuna pointing to logical inconstencies in this view. As Buddhists are not accepting the Vedas or Vedic sciences like Mīmāṃsā, the discussion here is purely based on logic. The surviving text breaks off at some point.
Preserved: Discussions around whether it would be possible to identify defects in the perception of the world according to Yāmuna’s arguments.
Lost: final conclusions, closing remarks

The current beginning and lost sections

All available palm leafs start with ekamevādvitīyaṃ tadbrahmetyupaniṣadvacaḥ (though some have some invocations prior to it) i.e. with an argument on the meaning of an important verse from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad:

सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् ।
तद्धैक आहुरसदेवेदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयं तस्मादसतः सज्जायत ॥ ६.२.१ ॥

sadeva somyedamagra āsīdekamevādvitīyam |
taddhaika āhurasadevedamagra āsīdekamevādvitīyaṃ tasmādasataḥ sajjāyata || 6.2.1 ||

You will find this part usually quoted as ekam eva advitīyaṃ brahma and this is also the subject of disucssion here.

The available text starts with a summary of the argument Yāmuna seeks to refute, called Pūrvapakṣa in the vedic science of logic and argumentation (Mīmāṃsā). Mīmāṃsā requires that before a Pūrvapakṣa, an exposition of the opposing argument is to be made (called Saṃśaya) and before that, a quotation of the vedic text on which the argument is made (called Viṣayavākya) is required.

So, at the very least, Saṃśaya and Viṣayavākya were lost. But shortly after the discussions about ekam eva advitīyaṃ brahma, Yāmuna refers to other arguments he has refuted in detail. Hence, the researcher concludes that a whole section with Yāmuna’s proposition, counter arguments, Yāmuna’s arguments against these arguments and his conclusion has been lost, which came before the lost Saṃśaya and Viṣayavākya on ekam eva advitīyaṃ brahma.

Within the text, the text breaks off at two instances, as it jumps to unrelated discussions from a consistent stream of arguments. Also at the end, the text stops without any concluding remarks. This means that besides start and end, also two sections of palm leafs from within the text were likely lost, as shown in the summary table above.

The researcher finds evidence that all existing palm leafs were all copied from a single source in bad shape, as they share certain strange / implausible words at some points, which could be explained as result of writers (who were focused on copying the words and not on their meaning) inferring words at places where the source palm leaf was unreadable. Also, there is a strange break and later contiuation of an argument in all existing palm leafs, which is likely the result of the order of source palm leaf being mixed up (there is no numbering).

Knowing that texts located in Śrī Raṇgam (and other temples) had to be taken out in a rush to save them from the destruction by Muslim invadors, it is not hard to imagine how a loss of palm leafs and the mix up of certain leafs could have happened.

Existing text (consolidated) and translation

Section 1: The reality of the world

subsection: does the world have a meaningful existence of its own?

We give a numbering of the verses for better orientation. As mentioned, the original text has no verse numbers.

ekam evādvitīyaṃ tad brahmety upaniṣadvacaḥ |
brahmaṇo ’nyasya sabdbhāvaṃ nanu tat prariṣadhati || 1
atra brūmo ‚dvitīyoktau samāsaḥ ko vivakṣitaḥ |
kiṃsvit tatpuruṣaḥ kiṃ vā bahuvrīhir athocyatām || 2

The statment ekam evādvitīyaṃ, this Brahman is one only, advitīyaṃ, made in the Upaniad, negates the existence of anything different from Brahman.
We respond to this: Which [Sanskrit] compound is meant with advitīyaṃ, shall we call it a Tatpuruṣa [Samas] or a Bahuvrīhi [Samas]?

pūrvasminn uttaras tāvat prādhānyena vivakṣyate |
padārthas tatra tad brahma tato ’nyat sadṛśaṃ tu vā || 3
tadviruddam atho vā syāt triṣv apy anayan na bādhate |
anyatve sadṛśatve vā dvirtīyaṃ siddhyati dhruvam ||

The ending part [of a word] is considered superior to the beginning (the scholar references grammarian Patañjali’s work Mahābhāṣya II.1.6 as a source for this statement). The subject of the word is the Brahman. Something different from him, similar to it, or something that is in opposition are all conceivable. In all three cases something other is not impossible. Both in difference and similarity, there is a second.

viruddhatve dvitīyena tṛtīyaṃ prathamaṃ tu vā |
brahma prāpnoti yasmāttat dvitīyena virudhyate || 5
ataḥ saprathamāḥ sarve tṛtīyādyartharāśayaḥ |
dvitīyena tathā spṛṣṭvā svasthāstiṣṭhantyabādhitāḥ ||

If Brahman is in opposition to a second, Brahman has a third to it or is the one, as there is only opposition to the second. [We have to keep in mind that Sanskrit has a distinct dual case, which is used in the statement].
So together with the one, all other groups of objects beginning with the third are not revoked, if they are in contact with the second.

nanu nañ brahmaṇo ’nyasya sarvasyaiva niṣedhakam |
dvitīyagrahaṇaṃ yasmāt sarvasyavopalakṣaṇam || 7
naivaṃ viṣedho na hy asmād dvidīyasyāvagamyate |
tato ’nyat tadviruddhaṃ vā sadṛśaṃ vātra vakti saḥ || 8

(Likely objection by the opponent) The negation (advitīyaṃ) includes everything different from Brahman, as the expression „a second“ means everything else by implication.
(Response by Yāmuāchārya) This is not the case. It does not exclude a second. This [Tatpuruṣa Samas] means here something different from him, something in opposition to him or something similar.

dvitīyaṃ yasya naivāsti tadbrahmeti vivakṣite |
satyādilakṣaṇoktīnām apalakṣaṇatā bhavet || 9
advitīye dvitīyārthanāstitāmātragocare |
svaniṣṭhatvān nañarthasya na syād brahmapadānvayaḥ || 10

If the meaning is „only that which does not have a second, this is Brahman“, the [Śruti] statements like satya would be no meaningful characterization. (Because Brahman would be mainly defined by an attribute (no second), not by his inherent properties).
Would advitīyaṃ just relate to the non-existence of a second object, the meaning of the negation particle would relate to itsself and not to the word Brahman.

dvitīyaśūnyatā tatra brahmaṇo na viśeṣaṇam |
viśeṣaṇe vā tadbrahma tṛtīyaṃ prathamaṃ tu vā || 11
prasaktaṃ pūrvavatsarvaṃ bahurvīhau samasyati |
brahmaṇaḥ prathamā ye ca tṛtīyādyā jagatrtraye || 12

brahma praty advitīyatvāt svasthās tiṣṭhanty abādhitāḥ |

In this case the not-having-a-second not is no attributive definition of Brahman, and if it would be a definition, Brahman would be a first or a third.
Everything (that was said in relation to advitīyaṃ being a Tatpuruṣa Samas) follows necessarily if we understand advitīyaṃ as Bahuvrīhi Samas. Because [Brahman is] free from a second, the first, third etc [group of things] which relate to Brahman in the threefold world, remain unchanged and uncanceled.

kiṃca tatra bahuvrīhau samāse saṃśrite sati || 13
vṛttyarthasya nañarthasya na padārthāntarānvayaḥ |
saty arthāntarasambandhe ṣaṣṭhī yasyeti yujyate || 14

And if we take the Bahuvrīhi for that part, the meaning of the Sama, if it has the meaning of a negation, has no sytactic relation to another word. (The scholar references Pāṇini II.2.24 as source of this rule). [Only] if a connection to another object esists, the Genitive „whose is“ is correct.

dvitīyavastunāstitvaṃ na brahma na viśeṣaṇam |
asattvānna hyasadbrahma bhavennāpi viśeṣaṇam || 15
tasmātprapañcasadbhāvo nādvaitaśrutibādhitaḥ |
svapramāṇabalātsiddhaḥ śrutyā cāpyanumoditaḥ || 16

The non-being of a second thing is neither Brahman nor an attributive defintion [of Brahman]. Because it is not, the non-being cannot be Brahman or his attributive defintion.
Hence, the reality of senses is not cancelled by this Śruti statement on „non-duality“, instead it is confirmed by the appropriate means of cognition [our perception] and confirmed by the Śruti.

tenādvitīyaṃ brahmeti śruter artho ‚yam ucyate |
dvitīyagaṇanāyogyo nāsīdasti bhaviṣyati || 17
samo vābhyadhiko vāsya yo dvitīyastugaṇyate |
yato ’sya vibhavavyūhakalāmātram idaṃ jagat || 18

The Śruti statement [ekam eva advitīyaṃ brahma] thus means that there is no second [object] to be mentioned besides him – in the past, present or future.
But only that is counted as second, which is at the same level as him or superior. As this world is but a tiny fragment of his unfolding – how could it cound as second to him?

dvitīyavāgāspadatāṃ pratipadyeta tat katham |
yathā colanṛpaḥ samrāḍadvitīyo ‚dya bhūtale || 19
iti tattulyanṛpatinivāraṇaparaṃ vacaḥ |
na tu tadbhṛtyatatputrakalatrādiniṣedhakam || 20
tathā surāsuranarabrahmabrahmāṇḍakoṭayaḥ |
kleśakarmavipākādyair aspṛṣṭasyākhileśituḥ || 21
jñānādiṣāṅguṇyanidher acintyavibhavasya tāḥ |
viṣṇor vibhūtimahimasamudradrapsavipruṣaḥ || 22

As the claim „the Cola king is the soverein over the world without a second“ has the purpose to exclude a [second] king with similar power, but not [the existence of] ministers, sons, wifes etc.
Similarly [the statement ekam eva advitīyaṃ brahma does not exclude] millions of Devas, Demons, Humans, Brahmās, Brahmāṇḍas, which are but a drop in the ocean of Viṣṇus power, unaffected by impurities, [good and bad] deeds and their results etc, lord of all and quintessence of the six qualities, knowledge etc and majestic beyond words.

kaḥ khalvaṅgulibhaṅgena samudrān saptasaṅkhyā |
gaṇayan gaṇayedūrmiphenabudbudavipruṣaḥ || 23
yathaika eva savitā na dvitīyo nabhaḥsthale |
ityuktā na hi sāvitrā niṣidhyante ‚tra raśmayaḥ || 24

Who would, if he counts the oceans, seven in number, with the help of his fingers, also count the droplets of foam and bubbles?
Also the existence of rays is not contested by the statement „there is just one sun and no second at the sky“.

yathā pradhānasaṅkhyeyasaṅkhyāyāṃ naiva gaṇyate |
saṅkhyā pṛthaksatī tatra saṅkhyeyānyapadārthavat || 25
tathā, pādo ’sya viśvā bhūtāni tripādasyāmṛtaṃ divi |
iti bruvan jagatsarvamitthambhāve nyaveśayat || 26

As a number that is existing separately is not counted is within a set of numbers or an object different from that we seek to count, also the [Śruti] teaching „all beings are one-fourth of him; his otherthree-fourths, immortal, in heaven“ (Rig Veda 10.90.3 (Puruṣa Sukta)) includes the whole world in its so-being.

tathā, etāvān asya mahimā tato jyāyastaro hi saḥ |
yatrānyan na vijānāti sa bhūmodaram antaram |
kurute ’sya bhayaṃ vyaktamityādiśrutayaḥ parāḥ || 27
meror ivāṇur yasyedaṃ brahmāṇḍam akhilaṃ jagat |
ityādikāḥ samastasya taditthambhāvatāparāḥ || 28

Similarly, other places in Śruti teach „so grand is his majesty, he is indeed more powerful than this [world].“, „Where you cannot recognize anything else, there is the highest being“, „If he makes a difference, fear is recognised by him“. Also places like „Of the brahmāṇḍa (a complete universe with heavens, mid-worlds like this one and hells) this world is like an atom to mount Meru. All of this relates to everything being in his being.

vācārambhaṇamātraṃ tu jagat sthāvarajaṅgamam |
vikārajātaṃ, kūṭasthaṃ mūlakāraṇameva sat || 29
ananyat kāraṇāt kāryaṃ pāvakād visphuliṅgavat |
mṛttikālohabījādinānādṛṣṭāntavistaraiḥ || 30

Being Modification, the moving an unmoving world is just based on the word. The immutable root-cause is being. The effect is not different from the cause, as the spark is not different from the fire.

nāśakad dagdhum analas tṛṇaṃ majjayituṃ jalam |
na vāyuścalituṃ śaktaḥ tacchaktyāpyāyanādṛte || 31
ekapradhānavijñānād vijñātam akhilaṃ bhavet |
ityādivedavacanatanmūlāptāgamairapi || 32

brahmātmanā’tmalābho ‚yaṃ prapañcaścidacinmayaḥ |
iti pramīyate brāhmī vibhūtirna niṣidhyate || 33

By the abundance of different examples like of clay, iron, seed and by statements in scripture like „by the swelling of its power, fire could not burn gras, water could not sink it, wind was unable to shake it“. „By the recognition of a highest everything else would be known“. (The first point likely refers Chandogya Upanishad section 6.1, verse 4 (yathā somyaikena mṛtpiṇḍena …) while the second refers to the story of Agni not being able to ignite a blade of grass and Vayu not being able blow it away told in Kena Upanishad part 3 beginning with verse 16. ) By these texts and authoritaive texts based on them it is recognised that this world, which us made up of spiritual and non-spiritual things, gets its being from Brahman being their self. Hence, the power of Brahman to bring things into being is not negated.

tanniṣedhe samastasya mithyātvāllokavedayoḥ |
vyavahārās tu lupyeran tathā syādbrahmadhīr api || 34
vyāvahārikasatyatvān mṛṣātve ‚py aviruddhatā |
pratyakṣāder iti mataṃ prāgeva samadūduṣam || 35

Negating this would make everything untrue and destroy the meandingful use of words – both in worldy and Vedic context. The same would be true for the perception of Brahman. The teaching that perception and other means of knowledge are untrue while not in conflict with the perception of the world has already been refuted.

ataś copaniṣajjātabrahmādvaitadhitadhiyā jagat |
na bādhyate vibhūtitvādbrahmaṇaś cety avasthitam || 36

Hence we conclude that perception via the senses is not canceled by the Upanishad statement that Brahman does not have a second. Instead, it is the unfolding of the creative power of Brahman.

Subsection: discussion of claims that the world does not actually exist

nanu sattve prapañcasya nāstīti pratyayaḥ katham |
asattve vā kathaṃ tasminnastīti pratyayo bhavet || 37

But if the world is existing, how can the idea „it exists not“ come about? And vice versa, if the world is non-existing, how can the idea „it does exist“ come about? One thing that is existing and non-existing is impossible.

sadasattvaṃ tathaikasya viruddhatvād asambhavi |
sadasatpratyayaprāptaviruddhadvandvasaṅgame || 38
tayor anyatarārthasya niścayābhāvahetutaḥ |
sadasattvaṃ prapañcasya jainās tu pratipedire || 39

Because of the occurance of this conflicting pair of statements, which is generated by the idea of existing and non-existing, a decision [which one is correct] cannot be made, and hence the Jainas claim that the world is existing and non-existing.

sattvaprāptiṃ puraskṛtya nāstīti pratyayodayāt |
sadā sattvaṃ prapañcasya sāṅkhyās tu pratipedire || 40
sadasatpratyaya prāptaviruddhadvandvasaṅkaṭe |
virodhaparihārārthaṃ sattvāsatatvāṃśabhaṅgataḥ |
sadasadbhyām anirvācyaṃ prapañcaṃ kecid ūcire || 41

In contrast to this, the Sāṃkhyas always accepted that the world is everlasting because the idea „it exists not“ can only be formed after the existence was recognized. In order to resolve incompatibility in case of a narrow[ly defined] duality, which comes due to the ideas of existing and non-existing, some – because they discarded both parts of the statement – said that the world is neither existing nor nonexisting.

sattvāsattve vibhāgena deśakālādibhedataḥ |
ghaṭāderiti manvānā vyavasthāmapare jaguḥ || 42
tadevaṃ vādisammardāt saṃśaye samupasthite |
nirṇayaḥ kriyate tatra mīmāṃsakamatena tu || 43

Others insist that things like a pot are sepaerately existing and non-existing because of differences in space and time. But while the representants of the different schools wear each other out in arguments, we still come to a conclusion with the help of the teachings of Mīmāṃsa.

ghaṭasvarūpe nāstitvamastitvaṃ yadyabūbudhat |
syādeva yugapatsattvamasattvaṃ ca ghaṭādiṣu || 44
idānīm idam atrāsti nāstītyevaṃvidhā yataḥ |
deśakāladaśābhedād astināstīti no dhiyaḥ || 45

If one has with regard to the nature of the pot recognized that it exists and does not exist, a parallel occurrence and non-occurrence of the pot and other things could exist. Our concepts of „it exists“ and „it exists not“ are as follows: [We think] „now it exists here“ or „now it exists here not“, hence we have the idea about the pot etc that it exists or does not exist in distinctions of space and time.

ato deśādibhedena sadasattvaṃ ghaṭādiṣu |
vyavasthitaṃ nirastatvād vādasyeha na sambhavaḥ || 46
nanu deśādisambandhaḥ sata evopapadyate |
na deśakālasambandhādasataḥ sattvam iṣyate || 47

The Jaina teaching (that the world is existing and non exististing at the same time) is thus not possible and was refuted.
[Objection] The connection with factors like space and time is only possible for things in being. We do not assume that non-being things come into being due to connections with space and time.

sambadho dvyāśrayastasmātsataḥ sattvaṃ sadā bhavet |
asataḥ kārakaiḥ sattvaṃ janmanetyatidurghaṭam || 48
ādyantavān prapañco ‚taḥ satkakṣyāntarniveśyate |
uktaṃ ca – ādāvante ca yannāsti nāsti madhye ‚pi tattathā iti |
ato niścitasadbhāvaḥ sadā sann abhyuyeyatām || 49

Connections have two real substrates . Hence, something that exists is always existing. But that something non-being comes into being due to causal factors is utterly imposssible.
The world of senses with its beginning and end hence falls into the area of the being. Because it is taught „what does neither exist in the beginning nor the end, does not exists in between“. (This may refer to statements like Bhagavad Gīta Chapter 2. verse 16: „The unreal has no being, the real has no non-being. The essence of both is seen by the truth-seers“.)
Hence, that what is found to be being is always being.

asataḥ sarvadāsattvaṃ janyayogāt khapuṣpavat |
asattve na viśeṣo ’sti prāgatyantāsator iha || 50

That what is non-being is always non-being due to the impossibility of coming into being. On that what is non-being, there is no difference between a previous non-being and a permanent non-being.

With the next verse, the discussion jumps to the topic of the meaning of the mahavakya tat tvam asi. The scholar argues that this jump makes no sense from the perspective of the preceding discussion, hence it is an indication for a lost section of the Saṃvatsiddhi. We agree with him. The discusussion on tat tvam asi will be presented in Saṃvatsiddhi Part 2.

Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan


[1] Yāmunācāryas Saṃvatsiddhi – Kritische Edition, Übersetzung und Anmerkungen. Mit einem Rekonstruktionsversuch der verlorenen Abschnitte – Roqie Mesquita, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Wien 1988

Mudhal Āḻvārs – the first three Āḻvārs

Much has been written about the Āḻvārs, the 12 poetic saints whose poems form the very heart of the southern branch of Śrī Vaiṣṇavam, to which the koyil project is affiliated. This text deals with the first three Āḻvārs, who appeared shortly after another and who already indicate the spiritual directions on which later Āḻvārs like Nammāḻvār or Periyāḻvār will sing many wonderful words. In our tradition, the first three Āḻvārs are often adressed together als Mudhal Āḻvārs. Mudahl means „early“ in Tamil.

There is a century old debate on how ancient the Āḻvārs are. Our tradition has it that they are very ancient, academic research places them in the 7th to 9th century C.E. The problem with fixing the historical date of the Āḻvārs is that there is scant written evidence on anything in India before the 9th / 10th century C.E.. This is mainly due to the Muslim invaders burning down all universities, books and libraries they found. We have the impression that academic dating is based on the method of looking at references to temples and towns in the poems of the Āḻvārs and then concluding that temple X was built around year Y, therefore the author of the poem can be born a bit before Y at the earliest. The problem with this approach is that the present stone temples are often replacements / major renovations of older temples. Additionally, many temples newly build in the 9th to 11th century C.E. had likely predecessors made of wood and other perishable materials. The Āḻvārs usually address the deity and the surroundings of the temple, not the actual temple building. As example, we only see references to the island location and strong walls of Śrīraṇgam in Thirumālai, things like the thousand pillar hall or the beautiful golden Vimanas are not mentioned at all. So drawing extended inference from the present temple is a somewhat questionable approach to dating.

Overall, the amount of information we have about the lifes of the Āḻvārs is very limited. No wonder: the Āḻvārs and their works were nearly forgotten at the time of Nāthamuni, a predecessor of Rāmānuja, around the 9th century C.E. What we know was transmitted from Nammāḻvār, who appeared to Nāthamuni and via the descendants of Nammāḻvār’s disciple Madhurakaviāḻvār. The latter was able to extend his life for a very long time (he left his body probably only decades or a few centuries before the time of Nāthamuni), so he connects the time of the Āḻvārs with the time of the Āchāryas, which dawned with Nāthamuni. From Nāthamuni, the life stories of the Āḻvārs were handed down in the lineage of Āchāryas.

Poigai Āḻvār

Academics place Poigai Āḻvār in the 7th Century C.E., while tradition places his birth at about the end of the last age (Dvapara Yuga), at the time around 4.200 B.C.E. He was born in the Tamil month Aippasi, which is usually somewhere in October / November. This is the coldest month in South India, with temperatures sometimes not even passing 30° Celsius. Since he was born in the Dvapara Yuga, tradition holds that his lifespan was much longer than the lifespan of today’s people.

He was born in near the Yathothkari Perumal temple in a place called Thiruvekkā, which is in Kanchipuram, a city located about 50 km away from the eastern shore of Tamil Nadu, in the south west of today’s Chennai. He and the two Āḻvārs who appeared in the days after him (Bhūta Āḻvār and Pey Āḻvār) were actually not born by a human mother but appeared on flowers. Poigai Āḻvār was found in a small pond on a lotus bud.

Inside the Yathothkari Perumal Temple complex as it is today

There are some alternative names under which this Āḻvār is known. Poigai means small pond in Tamil and Āḻvār is a Tamil term meaning „immersed in devotion to god“. Common alternative names are Saro Yogi, which is Sanskrit and means „essential Yogi“; Saro Munīndar, which has has similar meaning and Kāsāra Yogi, which means „Yogi from the pond“.

Very little is known about his early years, other that he was very devoted to Srīman Nārāyaṇa from his early years and quickly gained tremendous spiritual knowledge. In his later years, he was living as a saint-hermit in secluded places in the forest, often wandering large distances on pilgrimage to temples to enjoy the nectar of the presence of the deities in this temple.

A pinnacle in his life was certainly the meeting with the other two early Āḻvārs, of which we shall report below after having introduced them. Before doing this, we shall give a bit of background about his time.

Even though people in the last age, Dvapara Yuga, were generally much more spiritual than in this age, we know from the conversation of Kṛṣna with his friend Arjuna known as the Bhagavad Gītā, which took place a few decades before the appearance of the Āḻvār, that a lot of spiritual understanding had been lost at that time. People were following all the religious codes and practices laid down in the Vedas and the Dharma scriptures, but they lacked an understanding of the essence, of what all this is about and what really is important and what not. This essence is given by Kṛṣna in the Bhagavad Gītā, but we may assume that the Gītā became commonly known later. Because people were generally attached to the formal, ritualistic aspects of the Vedic religion, Āḻvārs who had an intimate, loving and somewhat informal relation with Srīman Nārāyaṇa were mostly on their own.

Poigai Āḻvār left us one work called „Mudhal Thiruvandhadhi“, which is a divine poem with 100 verses in Tamil. Here is the first, introductory verse:

Vaiyam takaḷiyā vārkaṭalē neyyāka
veyya katirōṉ viḷakkāka – ceyya
cuṭar āḻiyāṉ aṭikkē cuṭṭiṉēṉ col
mālai iṭarāḻi niṅkukavē eṉṟura

Using the Earth as a vessel, the surrounding ocean as the ghee and the Sun with hot rays as the light,
I rendered the garland made of words, saying ‚remove the ocean of obstacles‘, at the divine feet of Him who has the Chakra with the bright red light. [Srīman Nārāyaṇa]

After the introduction of the next two Āḻvārs we will learn a bit more of the picture he uses of the earth as ghee lamp (lamp made from clarified butter, which is traditionally used in deity worship).

It is common in our tradition that each exalted personality within the tradition has a so called Thaniyan, a verse of praise that briefly summarizes the glories of the respective personality. This Thaniyan is recited whenever we recite works from him / her. Here is the Sanskrit Thaniyan of Poigai Āḻvār:

kāñcyām sarasi hēmābjē jātaṃ kāsārayōginam |
kalayē yaḥ śriyaḥpatayē raviṃ dīpaṃ akalpayat ||

I meditate on Kāsārayōgi who manifested from a golden lotus in the temple tank of Kanchi. He offered the Sun as a lamp for the Lord of Śrī.[which is Srīman Nārāyaṇa]

The Tamil Thaniyan goes like this:

kaidhai sēr pūmpoḻil sūḻ kachchi nagar vandhudhiththa
poygaip pirān kaviñyar pōrēṟu |
vaiyaththu adiyavargaḷ vāḻa aruntamiḻ nuṟṟanthādhi
padiviḷangach cheydhān parindhu ||

The foremost among poets- Poigai Āḻvār was born in the garden city of Kanchipuram. With utmost compassion to redeem the devotees on the earth and take them to the feet of the Lord, he composed the rare composition of 100 psalms in the Antaādhi style.

Bhūta Āḻvār

For this Āḻvār, we find a confusing variety of ways how his name is spelled, for example Bhūthathāḻvār, Budattazwar or Bhuthath Azhwar. The adjective bhūta means in Sanskrit purified, proper, fit. He is also known under the names Bhūta Yogi, Bhūthahvayar, Mallāpuravarādhīshar and Pudhathar. We are not aware on the exact meaning of the last three names.

He appeared the day after Poigai Āḻvār appeared. He was born in Mahabalipuram (also called Māmallapuram), a village at the eastern shore of Tamil Nadu in the south of Chennai – so about 50km in the east of Kanchipurnam, the place where Poigai Āḻvār appeared. Also Bhūta Āḻvār was not born but rather appeared on a flower – a Kurukkathi (Sanskrit Mādhavi) flower.

Similar to Poigai Āḻvār, very little is known about his life. It is said that he was also very devoted to Srīman Nārāyaṇa from his early years on and was living a life of solitude and pilgrimage to important temples of Srīman Nārāyaṇa, just like Poigai Āḻvār. And there was the meeting with the other two early Āḻvārs, of which we shall report after introducing the last early Āḻvār. He left us the Iraṇdām Thiruvandhāthi. Let us enjoy the 5th out of 100 verses:

Aḍi mūnṟil ivvulagam anṟu aḷandāy pōlum
Aḍi mūnṟirandavani koṇdāy paḍininṟa
Nīr ōda mēni nedumālē nin aḍiyai
Yār ōda vallār aṟindu

Oh Lord with the complexion of the blue ocean, aeons ago, you manifested to ask Mahabali for three steps of land. But You scarcely needed those three steps to traverse this universe. Who can comprehend the secret of Your Feet or presume to speak of Them?

The Āḻvār is referring to the story of Vāmana, an avatar of Śrīman Nārāyaṇa (Viṣṇu), who gained back the universe which was gained by a demonic king named Bali, or Mahabali, with a very interesting personality, using „legal“ means. Hence, Vāmana did not use force but rather a sort of trick to get back the universe, donating the underworld back to this king. The name of the birth place of Bhūta Āḻvār literally means „city of Mahabali“. There is some archeologic evidence that this city has been a major trade hub at in the ancient past (likely one of the main ports for the trade between India and the Roman empire) and much larger until an ancient flood submerged the largest part of the city. So it seems perfectly plausible that Bhūta Āḻvār heard many stories about Mahabali and Vāmana from his early childhood, which made him very attached to Vāmana.

Carving of Vāmana on a Temple in Rajasthan (source: Wikipedia)

Sanskrit Thanian

mallāpura varādhīśaṃ madhavī kusumōdbhavam|
bhūtaṃ namāmi yō viṣṇōrjñānadīpamakalpayat ||

I meditate on Bhūta Yogi who manifested from a mādhavi flower. He is the exalted lord of Māmallapuram. He offered the lamp of knowledge unto Lord Viṣṇu.

There is also a Tamil Thanian, but we do not have good sources or an authoritative translation of it.

Pey Āḻvār

Pey Āḻvār (also spelled Peialvar, Peyalvar or Pey Azhwar) appeared the day of after Bhūta Āḻvār’s appearance. As Bhūta Āḻvār and Poigai Āḻvār, he appeared on a flower – a red Lilly in Pey Āḻvār’s case, which was located at a well close to the Adi Keśava temple in today’s Chennai. Pey means possessed in Tamil, since Pey Āḻvār appeared like a person possessed by spirits to outsiders. This appearance is due to him being so attracted so Viṣṇu that he did not follow normal social customs. He is also known under the names Bhrantayogi, Mahathāhvayar and Mayilāpurādhipar. The adjective bhranta means confused, wandering, unsteady in Sanskrit. We are unaware what the other two names mean.

It is said that Pey Āḻvār served in the Adi Keśava temple by preparing Tulsi (Tulasī, holy basil, a plant very dear to Srīman Nārāyaṇa) and flower garlands in the temple. He also gave lectures and Pañca Saṃskāram (initiation) to the Āḻvār who appeared after him (Thirumaḻisai Āḻvār) at that temple.

He left us a work called Mūnṛām Thiruvandhādhi. Let us enjoy the 9th out of 100 verses

Kaṇṇum kamalam kamalamē kaittalamum
Maṇ aḻanda pādamum maṟṟavaiyē eṇṇin
Karumā mugil vaṇṇam kṝ kkaḍal nīr vaṇṇan
Thirumāmaṇi vaṇṇan tēśu

Can you conjure up a vision of a from that is a dark hue like a jet-black cloud, the azure ocean and a lustrous blue diamond? That is the beauty of the Lord’s form if one can visualize it, in which the eyes stand out like the crimson lotus, the hands and the feet which measured this earth are the same.


dṛṣṭvā hṛṣṭam taḍā viṣṇum ramayā mayilādhipam |
kūpe raktotapale jātam mahatāhvayaṃ āsraye ||

I surrender unto Pey Āḻvār who is the leader of Mylapore and was born out of a red Lilly flower in a well and who attained great bliss by having the divine vision of Srīman Nārāyaṇa with Srī Mahālakṣmī.

Mudhal Āḻvārs (the first three Āḻvārs together)

Quite often, we find that the first three Āḻvārs are adressed together under the name Mudhal Āḻvār. Mudhal in Tamil means first or initial. They are addressed together because

  • They were all born a day after each other in sequence – Poigai Āḻvār, Bhūta Āḻvār and Pey Āḻvār.
  • They were all what is called in Sanskrit ayonija – not born from a human mother.
  • They were attached to Srīman Nārāyaṇa right from their birth and were blessed him by enjoying divine bliss throughout their life.
  • At some point in their life, they met each other and from then onwards stayed together and travelled together to various holy places. Hence they are also called in Tamil „Ōṭit tiriyum yōkikaḷ“ – the wandering Yogis.

Let us now hear the story how they met each other. Once Poigai Āḻvār was visiting Thirukovilur. Thirukovilur is a small city with numerous temples about 130 km south of Kanchipuram. Poigai Āḻvār was roaming the streets of Thirukovilur, at the same time Bhūta Āḻvār and Pey Āḻvār had also come to visit the city.

Everyone who has visited tropical regions knows how heavy and suddenly it can start to rain there. Such a rain started and Poigai was looking for shelter. He found a narrow passage in the front portion of a house which is said to have belonged to the sage Mrigandu. He laid down, prepared to spend the night in this inhospitable and confined place. Sometime later, Bhūta too discovered the same place and finding someone already occupying the space, enquired whether there would be room for one more person. Poigai welcomed the stranger, saying that if there was space enough for one person to lie down, two could sit there.

Heavy rain in India

An hour or so passed and there came knocking another worthy, wet and drenched to the skin and seeking shelter in the passage. He too was welcomed by the other two, who thought that three could at least stand comfortably in the small space, which could seat two and provide a bed for one. The three Āḻvārs were thus standing in the pitch dark, sharing with one another their experiences of the Lord and His auspicious attributes.

All of a sudden, they felt rather tight pressed. They were standing comfortably earlier, they now felt that the available space had diminished, as if a fourth person, unknown to the other three, had entered the narrow passage and was crowding them. Apparently, someone had sneaked into the already constricted space without announcement and was standing with them.

As it was pitch dark and Poigai wanted to light a lamp. He used the whole earth as a lamp, the waters of the salty seas as oil and with the shining Sun as the light. Bhūta lit another lamp, with his love to the Lord als lamp, his devotion as oil and his mind as light.

With this, they could see and Pey Āḻvār eyes alighted on the glorious form of Srī Mahālakṣmī, adorning the broad chest of the intruder. In the first verse, first half of Mūnṛām Thiruvandhādhi, Pey Āḻvār describes what he saw:

Tirukkaṇṭēṉ poṉ mēṉi kaṇṭēṉ tikaḻum
arukkaṉaṇi niṟamum kaṇṭēṉ – cerukkiḷarum

The vision rose before me first, now at this very instant, of the divine Mother with my ocean like Lord.

From the presence of the Divine Consort, who does not leave Srīman Nārāyaṇa even for a fraction of a second, they realized that it was none other than Srīman Nārāyaṇa who had entered the passage and was squeezing the trio. Pey Āḻvār describes this in the second half of the first verse:

poṉṉāḻi kaṇṭēṉ puri caṅkam kaikkaṇṭēṉ
eṉṉāḻi vaṇṇaṉ pāl iṉṟu

Then I saw his brilliant Form radiant like the sun, with his sparkling discus deadly in battle in one hand and the curved conch in the other.

The three Āḻvārs, inspired by the grand spectacle of Srīman Nārāyaṇa glorious form in their midst, poured out their devotion in the compositions we already heard about, each a hundred beautiful verses each, brimming over with Bhakti.

These three compositions served as forerunners for the total of four thousand nectarine verses that were to be composed by the Āḻvārs, called Divya Prabandham. In general, Āḻvārs do not praise anybody than the divine mother Srī Mahālakṣmī and Srīman Nārāyaṇa. However, the first and foremost of the Āḻvārs, Nammāḻvār, refers to these three „pioneer“ Āḻvārs as „Pāley Tamiḻar, Isaikārar, patthar“, paying generous tribute to their devotion and the beauty of their compositions.

Each of these verses is flowing from their mouths as if they are clear stream of water. The three works which constitute the earliest poetical compositions contributed by the Vaiṣṇava saints of South India contain philosophical and theological ideas of Śrī Vaiṣṇavam.

It is said that Srīman Nārāyaṇa listened to the three compositions to the utmost pleasure and satisfaction. Then, after blessing them, he disappeared. From then on, they always went together to other temples, and on their way, the three Āḻvārs are said to have been blessed by having two special darshans:

  • The darshan of Srī Rāma and his companions from the Rāmāyana, like Sītā, Lord Rāma’s younger brother Śatrughna, Hanumān etc.
  • The darshan of Lord Veṅkaṭēśvara, the deity of one of the most important Viṣṇu temples in India. This temple is called Tirumala Venkateswara Temple and located in Tirupathi, about 130km north of the region where the Āḻvārs were born. The temple is on the Tirumala hill, which is itself a very sacred place. Because of this, the Āḻvārs walked to the hill but hesitated to step on it. Hence, Lord Veṅkaṭēśvara came down from the hill have his darshan at the place where they were. Some say that the old name of a pond at the hill – Āḻvār Theertham (nowadays usually called Kapila Theertham) – refers to this.

Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan

An introduction to Amalanādhipirān

Amalanādhipirān has been written by Thiruppānāḻvār, who had been born into a lineage of people called Pāṇars. Pāṇars usually lived as musicians. They were outside outside the Varna („caste“) system, but probably received some respect as by their musical abilities.

Unfortunately, there are severe misunderstandings when it comes to Varna. Our revered godbrother Venkatesh Rāmānuja Dāsan has cleared all misconceptions on Varna in this article.

The image of caste / Varna is often dominated by the impression that people from lower Varnas are supressed and exploited. While this is partially true, the second aspect of the Varna system is not seen at all: Somebody might be born as a child of Brahmins, but only training in recitation of Vedas and the compliance with the rules and regulations prescribed for Brahmins make him an actual Brahmin. If we meet an guy in some bar in Delhi with a glas of Whiskey, he is no Brahmin, no matter what his parents were. This is because the consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited for Brahmins. If his parents were Brahmins, he is only the relative of Brahmins. He is not qualified to do any ritual activity that is associated with being Brahmin. This is because there is a symmetry: The higher the status in the Varna system, the more rules and regulations a person has to follow. Ignoring these lets him fall to the status as a Śūdrā, i.e. a member of the lowest caste, not authorized to recite Vedas.

So if that person we meet looks down on people because of their Varna, we might righly call him a hypocrite. He can only consider the hierarchy implied by the Varna system with respect to other people if he himself follows the rules of this system! Higher status always means more rules and a higher standard of conduct.

Our Āchāryas have always pointed out that being born in a low Varna or even outside the Varna system (like Westeners) is a great blessing. While those born into high Varna have to follow numerous rites and duties, casteless people are free, we have no specific religious dutied assigned to them and still get the same liberation as somebody born as Brahmin. They can freely use their time to praise and enjoy the Lord – as done by Thiruppānāḻvār.

In this wonderful movie about the life of Rāmānuja, the most important scene from the life of the Āḻvār is shown from minute 7:30:

One day, the Āḻvār was immersed in singing songs to Viṣṇu, as he was so often. Standing there and singing, he blocked the way of a Brahmin called Lokasārangamunivar, who had fetched water for the daily rites in the Śrīraṅgam temple. As by the strict purity rules the Brahmin was adhering to, he felt unable to move close to the Āḻvār. So he threw a stone and injured the Āḻvār at his head. Awakening from his extasy, the Āḻvār apologized and moved out of the way. But (some say in a dream, others say in actuality) Lokasārangamunivar started to loose eyesight and found the doors of the temple Sannidhi locked, because he had hurt an elevated devotee of the Lord. Only after ignoring the purity rules, hugging the Āḻvār and begging his pardon, he regained eyesight.

It is told that Lokasārangamunivar had a dream of Lord Raṅganātha, the main deity of the Śrīraṅgam temple, who asked him to carry the Āḻvār to him, i.e. Raṅganātha. To understand this, it is important to note that before Rāmānuja, people outside the four Varnas were not allowed to enter temples, as their mere presence would damage the purity of the temple. So while living close to Śrīraṅgam and being a highly elevated devotee of Raṅganātha, the Āḻvār had never entered the temple. It is told that the Āḻvār composed Amalanādhipirān upon seeing Raṅganātha for the first time.

The verses convey that Thiruppānāḻvār had a good knowledge of the relevant texts and pastimes of the lord even though his formal status was rather low. There is an interesting dichotomy: The Āḻvār starts with praises of incarnations or pasttimes of the Lord, but his focus always moves back to the form of Raṅganātha. This interplay between a somewhat formal and an intimate mood has been has been taught and expanded upon extensively by our Āchāryas, beginning with Manavāḷa Māmunigaḷ.

A simple English translation and some glimpses on the esoteric meanings are available at

Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan

Chatuḥślōkī – four verses to the goddess

Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ


The name of our tradition (Śrī Vaiṣṇavam) already indicates that we worhship divine mother Lakṣmī, whose short name is Śrī. Other Vaiṣṇava lineages also worship a motherly mediator between Bhagavan and Āthmās (for example, Rādha in the Hare Krishna lineage), but it seems fair to say that the theology of the goddess is most highly refined in our lineage.

This fact has not escaped the attention of academic researchers. We find in Oberhammer [1] an examination of the oldest surviving fragments of teachings about Lakṣmī in our tradition. In this examination, Yāmunāchārya’s Chatuḥślōkī is highlighted as the oldest complete text on the worship of Lakṣmī in our lineage. Oberhammer notes his surprise that it already conveys a full theology of the goddess. In Dhavamoney [2] we find a theological analysis of Chatuḥślōkī. And there is of course also some commentary work on this work within our own tradition, for example by Periyavāccan Piḷḷai.

In the line of our teachers, Yāmunāchārya (Tamil name Āḷvandhār) is the 4th Āchārya after the start of the “new” teaching tradition with Nāthamuni. Nāthamuni probably lived around the middle of the 9th century C.E.. Yāmunāchārya (early 10th century) saw Rāmānuja from a distance, but died on the very day Rāmānuja came to him to become his disciple.

Yāmunāchārya left us other important Stotrams (hymns) beside Chatuḥślōkī and some smaller scientific works. Rāmānuja’s work focuses on scientific texts, i.e. texts on Vedanta topics in the classical form of Indian spiritual science treatises: thesis – criticism of thesis – answer to criticism – conclusion. It is said that Rāmānuja thus followed the wish of Yāmunāchārya, who wanted to write such works but could not do so because of his poor health and advanced age. Academic researchers pointed out an extremely close link between the thinking of these two great Āchāryas. They find that Rāmānuja precisely continued the lines set out by Yāmunāchārya – almost like one Āchārya in two bodies!

So let us immerse ourselves in a text that is about 1000 years old. A text which makes the glory of our divine mother Śrī shine so wonderfully that no comparable text has been written in this long time. We give a synthesis of the translation on our mother site [3] with the academic translations from [1], p.120 and [2]. We attempt to make the translation as literal as possible while preserving much of the beauty of the translation.

Honoratory verse (Thaniyan)

Written by Rāmānuja, this verse leads many works of Rāmānuja.

yat padāmbhōruhadhyāna vidhvasthāśēṣa kalmaṣaḥ
vastutāmupayā thō’haṃ yāmunēyaṃ namāmi tam

I worship Yāmunāchārya, through whose mercy all my defects have been removed and I awoke from false identification. I recognized my true nature as Sat, as eternal Āthmā, by meditating on the lotus feet of Yāmunāchārya.

Verse 1

kāntaste puruṣottamaḥ paṇipatiḥ śayyāsanṃ vāhanaṃ
vedhāthmā vihageśvaro yavnikā māyā jaganmohinī |
brahmeśādisuravrajaḥ sadyitas tvaddāsadāsīgaṇaḥ
śrīrityeva ca nāma te bhagavati brūmaḥ kathaṃ tvām vayam ||

Your consort is puruṣottamaḥ, the supreme being, (and, as for him) your bed and seat is the lord of serpents (Adiśeṣa),
Your vehicle is the Lord of the birds, the guardian of the Vedas (Garuḍa), your veil is Māyā, which blinds the world.
Brahmā, Īśa (Śiva) and their companions are your servants like the other gods,
Śrī is your name, oh sublime one, but how can words praise your splendour?

The divine mother Śrī thus shares the decisive insignia of the supreme being, which we commonly call Nārāyaṇa (Nāra* = human being, *ayaṇa = refuge).

Verse 2

yasyāste mahimānamātman iva tvadvallabho’pi prabhuḥ
nālam mātumiyattayā niravadhiṃ nityānukūlam svathaḥ |
tām tvām dāsa iti prapanna iti cha stoṣyāmyahaṃ nirbhayaḥ
lokaikeśvari lokanāthadayithe dānte dayām te vidan ||

Your greatness exceeds even that which can be measured by your beloved (Nārāyaṇa), just like his own greatness.
You are always most compassionate towards us and so I praise you without fear!
I am your servant, you are my refuge; I know that your love is only for the One (Nārāyaṇa), mother of the world, beloved of the ruler of the world, so I speak, for I know your grace.

While the universal ruler Nārāyana mostly takes on the role of the father, who rewards and judges according to merits and misdemeanors, the divine mother Śrī takes on the role of the mother, who sees only the good in beings and pleads for forbearance. So while we should treat Nārāyana with utter respect and be fearful to be punished for our shortcomings, fear is inappropriate towards mother Śrī.

Verse 3

īṣat tvatkaruṇānirīkṣaṇsudhā sandhukṣaṇādrakṣayate
naṣtaṃ prāk tadhalābhatastribhuvanaṃ saṃpratyanantodayam |
śryo na hyaravinda locanamanaḥ kāntāprasādādṛte
saṃsṛtyakṣaravaiṣṇavādhvasu nṛṇāṃ saṃbhāvyate karhichit ||

Through a trace of the nectar of your compassionate gaze, the three worlds are preserved.
Without it, they were in destruction, through your gaze they now blossom again and without limits.
Without your grace, so dear to the lotus-eyed (Nārāyaṇa), no happiness can be found, neither in the material enjoyment of Saṃsāra, nor in the meditation on the unmanifest (the experience of the blissful aspects of Āthmā, as practiced in many Yoga paths and Buddhism) nor in the path of Vaiṣṇavas (the aspiration of eternal service to Śrīman Nārāyaṇa).

Verse 4

śāntānantamahavibhūthi paramaṃ yadhbrahma rūpam hareḥ
mūrtam brahma thathopi tatpriyataraṃ rūpam yadatydbhutam |
yānyanyāni yathāsukaṃ viharato rūpāṇi sarvāṇi tāni
āhuḥ svairanurūparūpavibhavair gāḍopagūḍhani te ||

The form of Hari (Nārāyaṇa) is the highest Brahman, infinite, peaceful and immensely unfolded, also the embodied Brahman, his lovable, wonderful figure (i.e. the avatars he takes for his divine activities) and all the other forms of himself that He takes at will, all of these are deeply interwoven with your own glory.


ākāratrayasampannām aravindanivāsinīm |
aśeṣajagadīśitrīm vande varadavallabhām ||

I adore her, the beloved of Varadha Perumal, adorned by loving service and complete dependence on him. Only he enjoys her qualities, he in whom all things rest and from whom everything develops.


[1] Gerhard Oberhammer: Materialien zur Geschichte der Rāmānuja Schule VI; die Lehre von der Göttin vor Veṇkaṭanātha. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, 2002.

[2] Mariasusai Dhavamoney: Yāmuna’s Catusślokī: an analysis and interpretation. Indologica Taurinensia VOLUME III-IV (1975-1976), Proceedings of the „Second World Sanskrit Conference“ (Torino, 9-15 June 1975)

[3] Sri Vaishnava portal: chathu: SlOkI, based on the Tamil translation of the orgiginal text by U. VE. Pārthasārathy Aiyengār Swamy.

Adiyen Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan
Edition of the translation for a non-indian audience, integration of academic translations
Adiyen Sarathy Rāmānuja Dāsan
Adiyen Vangīpuram Satakōpa Rāmānuja Dāsan
Translation of the tamil translation into English

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Lakshmi_Shakunthala.jpg
Lakṣhmī, painted by Birgit Shakunthala Schnebel

Understanding Death and Karma

Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ

Whenever there is a chance, Mādhava is explaining essentials of Sanātana Dharma to his fellow Germans. Often, people respond by asking a variant of one of the following two questions:

As a Hindu, do you really believe that if something bad happens to a person, it is because he was evil in his previous life? Are you really so mean to think that it is his own fault?

As a Hindu, do you really believe that my pet was born as an animal because it has done bad things in its previous life?

Sometimes, people even quote documentaries from India or Nepal, where disabled people were insulted and thrown after with stones because their fellow citizens thought that they were bad persons in their previous life.

Mādhava then usually explains what he learned from Upanyasakars (religions speakers) and Āchāryas: That the idea of a simple mechanical link, of the kind: „killed father, will be blind with one leg in next life“ is false. It is true that all beings ultimately experience the fruits of their own actions, but the manifestation of these fruits is not straight forward. This is confirmed by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gīta 4:17, where he ends the verse with

gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ
Intricate is the the way of Karma.

Our Āchāryas emphasize that our innermost essence, our Jīva, has no beginning and no end. It is moving from one body to the next, producing complex interactions between lifes along the way. But what are authoritative statements which back this? And how to put all of this into a crisp explanation? Some references can be found in Bhagavad Gīta 2:12 and 2:13, where Kṛṣṇa briefly explains the way of the Jīva. In Bhagavad Gīta 4:19 and following verses, Kṛṣṇa explains how to get rid of Karma. What we do not find in the Gīta is a concise description of the workings of Karma.

Such a description is available in the Bṛihad-Āraṇyaka Upanishad. The fourth Brāmana of the fourth Adhyāya (verse 4.4.1 to 4.4.6 in modern technical counting) contain a concise description of the process of death, the nature of the self (Jīva) and of the workings of karma. The author learned about this section of the Upanishad in a recent answer on Quora by Rami Sivan, a very knowledgable but also somewhat controversal Śrī Vaiṣṇava with Western roots.

This part of the Upanishad is remarkably clear and easy to read. Here is the translation from „The Thirteen Principal Upanishads“ by Ernest Hume (1921), available at, refined with aspects of Rami Sivan’s translation from Quora, of Swami Krishnanadas Translation and the original Sanskrit text.


  1. When this embodied self (Jīva) comes to weakness and to confusedness of mind, as it were, then the prāṇās gather around him. He takes the prāṇā and descends into the heart. When the person in the eye (consciousness, main attribute of the Jīva) turns away from the sun, then one becomes non-knowing of forms.
  2. „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; „he does not see.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; „he does not smell.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; „he does not taste.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; „he does not speak.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; „he does not hear.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; “ he does not think.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre,“ they say ; “ he does not touch.“
    „He is becoming one with the centre“, they say ; “ he does not know.“
  3. Now as a caterpillar, when it has come to the end of a blade of grass, in taking the next step draws itself together towards it, just so this Jīva in taking the next step strikes down this body, dispels its ignorance and draws itself together.
  4. As a goldsmith, taking a piece of gold, reduces it to another newer and more beautiful form, just so this Jīva, striking down this body and dispelling its ignorance, makes for itself another newer and more beautiful form like that either of the fathers, or of the Gandharvas, or of the Devas, or of Prajapati, or of Brahma, or of other beings.
  5. Verily, this Jīva is Brahman, made of knowledge, of mind, of breath, of seeing, of hearing, of earth, of water, of wind, of space, of energy and of non- energy, of desire and of non- desire, of anger and of non-anger, of virtuousness and of non- virtuousness. It is made of everything. This is what is meant by the saying „made of this, made of that.“
  6. On this point there is this verse :

    Attached to the sense objects, longing for sense objects,
    the Jīva sheds the body, but it carries with it result of its actions.
    Attached, the Jīva leaves this body, and goes together with its actions.
    Those actions find their completion through experience.
    Then it happens again, it comes to the world for more actions.

    This is the fate of one who desires.


The first verses give us a description of the death process from a Vedic perspective. As life-energy, which is called prāṇā, is moved from the limbs to the center of the body, the heart chakra, the dying person begins to feel cold. We can see from the look of someone’s eyes whether he is still alive or if he is already dead and his travel has begun. The second verse emphasizes this by enumerating the different senses which stop working as they are drawn inwards with the prāṇā. People who were accompanying a dying person report that touch, the holding of a hand, is the last thing the dying person was able to do.

The third verse gives us a straight-forward comparison: the body is like a blade of gras and the Jīva is like a worm who stays on that blade of gras for a while and then moves to the next. In order to do so, it has to contract:

Source: Wikipedia

In the same way, the Jīva contracts those layers that follow it and then goes to the next body. However, we must not forget that these movements are ultimately not due to the inherent power of the Jīva. They are enabled by Brahman, the totality, God. In Bhagavad Gīta 9:6, Kṛṣṇa points out that he is the ultimate support of each and every aspect of reality. So while the Jīva does indeed contract and move, this is not an independed action, it is framed and enabled by Brahman.

In the fourth verse, it is emphasized that the new body will be better than the dying one. The Jīva can gain a fresh human body, after staying for a while in the realm of the forefathers (Pitru Loka), it can gain the body of a Deva or a body of any other being.

The fifth verse contains remarkable enumeration. In contrast to a large number of comparable enumerations in Vedic texts, the enumeration here is incomplete. For example, amongst the senses, taste and touch are missing. Among the elements, fire is missing. The author is not in the position to explain why this is the case – but we note that the senses of taste and touch produce the strongest desire, and the energy within the element of fire is the most obvious. Anger and desire are the very roots of our downfall and the door to our way up, as pointed out in Bhagavad Gīta 2:62ff.

The enumeration emphasizes that Jīva is Brahman, is the totality, it is all senses, all elements and the whole spectrum of possible moods. Statements like this and seemingly contradictory statements from other Upanishads have led to endless debates between Vedic philosophers. We outlined in our article on Śrī Vaiṣṇava philosophy that our tradition’s philosophy, Vishishtadvaita, perfectly resolves these apparent contradictions. Vishishtadvaita teaches us that Jīva is Brahman in the sense we call a person „Joe“ while in actuality, neither the fingers nor the hair nor the legs are Joe, Joe is the conscious being that inhabits the body of Joe. In the same way, Rāmānuja points out, is Brahman is the innermost essence of the Jīva, the Āthmā of the Jīva. Hence it is legitimate to call Jīva Brahman.

The 6th verse gives us the reason why we return at all to this world. Having stated before that the Jīva is Brahman, one could ask why Jīvas return to this world at all, why it moves from body to body like a worm between blades of gras. Isn’t its essence Brahman, the totality, the ultimate, God? Why is it so miserable then?

The verse points out that the problem is attachment. The Jīva has been attached to sense objects and acted due to that. Thus action is like an addiction, the Jīva can’t let go of its attachment to sense objects and, by extension, the actions initiated by this. The sanskrit word Karma simply means action, work, in a very practical sense.

This shows that Karma is by no means a trivial mechanism for punishment. It is the continuation of a basic approach to existence, which is shared by all beings: they act to enjoy. Be it a plant that grows in the direction of the sun, be it a deer that looks for the most tasty weeds, be it a human looking the „good life“ of barbeque, beer and Netflix binge watching or be it a Deva seeking heavenly maidens and worship by lower beings. Some actions might have good repercussions, others bad ones. The criterion is whethe other beings experience suffering or delight due to the action. Both will return to the Jīva in due time. In Patanjali’s yoga sutras , we read:

Sutra 3:23
The Karmic effects of ones actions are immediate or delayed. (…)

So, a proper answer to the above questions would be:

Karma is not a punishing menchanism, it is a side effect of actions and often produced unknowingly. Its effects can be delayed. A person does indeed experience bad things due to his or her past actions, but these might have been done long ago.
Likewise, a person that does not experience bad things right now should not assume that it does not have suffient bad karma – this karma is just not manifesting itsself now.

Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan

Tamiḻ Transliteration

Eine deutsche Erläuterung befindet sich weiter unten!

ENG: In the previous version of this article, we stated that there is no established standard for transliterating some „typical“ Tamil letters – i.e. letters that have no equivalent in Sanskrit. One of our readers, Keshavachari Ramanuja Dasan, pointed out that this is not entirely correct. There is ISO 15919, which standarizes the transliteration of all common Indian scripts.

We decided to apply this standard on our site, even though our mother site does not use it. This is because we find it less confusing for newcomers than the „vernacular“ transliteration used by many native speakers. They use for example „zh“, to represent the letter ழ, which sounds like „l“ but with a good pinch of „r“ mixed in. The „l“ in „Tamil“ is for example actually ழ – so natives often write „Tamizh“ which is obviously rather confusing for people without contact to Tamil speakers.

Below we give a reference table with Tamil letters, the way they are transliterated into the Roman alphabet at and at / according to ISO 151919.

DEU: In der ersten Version dieses Artikels haben wir festgestellt, dass es keinen etablierten Standard zur Transliteration von einigen typisch tamilischen Buchstaben gibt – also für Buchstaben, die es im Sanskrit nicht gibt. Einer unserer Leser, Keshavachari Ramanuja Dasan, hat darauf hingewiesen, dass das so nicht ganz korrekt ist. Es gibt die Norm ISO 151919, die die Transliteration aller in Indien gebräuchlicher Alphabete festlegt.

Wir haben uns entschieden, diese Transliteration zu verwenden, obwohl unsere Mutterseite das nicht tut. Wir machen es, da die Transliteration, die viele Muttersprachler verwenden, für Einsteiger ausgesprochen verwirrend ist. So wird beispielsweise „zh“ verwendet, um ழ zu transliterieren. ழ klingt wie „l“, aber mit Anklängen von „r“. Das „l“ in „Tamil“ ist beispielsweise eigentlich ein ழ, viele Muttersprachler schreiben daher „Tamizh“, was für uns natürlich recht verwirrend ist.

Unten befindet sich eine Referenztabelle mit der und der / ISO 151919 Transliteration für Konsonanten. / ISO 151919
ka, gaka, ga
nja (?)ṅa
gna (?)ña
Ta, thaṭa
ன, நnana

Finding Sanātana Dharma in the West

The problem

Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ

A problem so many Western converts to Sanātana Dharma (Hinduism) have is that outsiders like parents, relatives and colleagues – and in fact they themselves in dark hours of doubt – view their faith as very exotic for a person from the West.

On the surface, this is understandable. The whole expression of Sanātana Dharma as we find it today is deeply infused by the situation in India – by the plants, the weather, the geography – in every conceivable way. Here are two obvious examples:

  1. In the Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣna describes his glories with many comparisons. He says that amongst the months, he is Mārgaḻi (Tamiḻ) Māgaśīra (Sanskrit). This is mid-December to mid-January. For a person living in India, this makes perfect sense. This time has moderate temperatures and many celebrations – it’s the the most auspicious time of the year! A person from Northern Europe or Russia will not see this time as very attractive. It’s very dark, with 5-7 hours of daylight, nothing grows and the sky is usually grey and cloudy.
  2. Viṣṇu and his Avatars are blue as a rain cloud because rain has a very positive, graceful conotation in dry areas like India. Again, for a North European, this is not very intuitive – about half of the year is cold and wet for him anyway, no need for rain clouds!

So, for a person growing up outside of India, fully embracing Sanātana Dharma requires to a certain degree a reframing of the concepts he finds in Sanātana Dharma as lived in India – as he needs to make it fit to his environment.

In this respect, many seekers miss something very very helpful: They are not aware that Sanātana Dharma has already been in the West!

To see this, consider that Northern Germany, the area where the author lives, was christianized with threats and persuation around 1100 – 1200 years ago. The oldest settlements here are from the Neolithic period, so for some 10k years, the people living here were „pagans“. It is documented that Christianity initially failed to attract people. They went to church to avoid punishment but still worshiped their old gods in private. To make sure people don’t fully go back to their old pagan ways, many elements of the pagan religion were taken over into Christianity, while at the same time many traces of the „before“ were thoroughly erased.

Why is this important? Because that pagan religion was at least a cousin of Sanātana Dharma as we find it preserved in India today!

The elements imported into Christianity were rightly identified as pagan by the Lutherans. So, we don’t find them in the many branches of Lutheran Christianity, but we still find them in Catholicism – the „old“ variant of the Christian faith. So a simple equation would be

Catholicism – Lutheran Christianity = many elements we still find in Sanātana Dharma.

Distant echoes

A few months ago, the author went for a walk in an old Catholic village in the middle of Germany. Below are some impressions from wayside shrines that reminded him on this old heritage hidden in the Catholic faith.

St. Anthony – protector of travellers
Shrine of an archangel – for protection
Trees always accompany places of outside worship.
The Romans noted that the Germans often worshiped outside under trees.

More Detailed Comparisons

If we look at the minute details of Catholic practises, the link to practises in Sanātana Dharma is becoming ever more obvious:


In Catholicism, there is the old (and often dying) custom of processions. Usually, all four directions are covered during the year. As visible below, the sacramental bread is carried under a canopy during the procession. Note that in Catholic Christianity, the sacremental bread is considered to be the actual flesh of Christ, not just a symbol as in Lutheran theology. So, the priest is carrying Christ during the procession, accordings to Catholics!

Corpus Christi procession in Germany
Source: Wikipedia

We find a very similar practise in India. There, the movable deity from a temple, a proper form of Bhagavan, is carried under a canopy around the temple.

Procession at a South Indian temple

In India, horns are blown at the procession. In Europe, processions are usually accompanied by brass bands. Both in India and in many Catholic areas, there is the custom to create rich decorations with flowers, drawings and flags where the procession passes by.

Sacred water

Each Catholic church has a pot of „holy water“ close to the entrance. People entering the church are requested to make the gesture of a cross with that water for purification. During some services, the priest is additionally sprinkeling „holy water“ on the assembly for purification.

The sprinkling of water for purification is also well known in Sanātana Dharma. There, it is used to purify the utensils used during worship and to bath deities. This water is collected and consumed for purification.

Use of incents

Burning of Frankincense in a Catholic service in Germany. Source: Wikipedia
Burning incense at the Ganges. Source: Wikipedia

Both in Catholic services and in many rituals in Sanātana Dharma, incense is used.


It is well known that Christian churches have bells to call believers to the service. At the climax of a Catholic service – the „change“, where the sacred bread becomes the flesh of Christ – small bells are rung within the church as well as the main bells in the church tower

At the most important points of deity worship (Puja) in Sanātana Dharma, a bell is rung, too. When food is presented to the deities, some temples ring large, mounted bells.


The standard layout of a North European Catholic church is that the main entrance is in the West and the sanctum is the in East. While Indian temples do not generally share this orientation, churches and temples share another feature: The tower of a North European Catholic church is over the main entrance (churches in Italy and Spain sometimes have different layouts). Similarly, the Gopuram of an Indian temple is the highest temple tower and is the main entrance of the temple.

Divine specialists

The author’s grandmother was a devout Catholic. When she lost something, she prayed to St. Anthony in order to find it. When old farmers were seeking good weather for harvest, they prayed to St. John and Paul, saints who were said to be in charge of the weather. Old bridges in Chatholic regions are often accompanied by a figurine of St. Nepumuk, who is reponsible for briges. And there are many more saints who were prayed to for specific topics.

Figurine of St. Nepumuk at a (restored) old bridge in Germany.
Source: Wikipedia

Sounds familiar, right? Indeed, Catholic saints are the functional equivalent to Devas in Sanātana Dharma! In case of St. Nepumuk, even the name reminds on the name of the Godess of fertiliy and rivers he replaced: Nerpus – but maybe that’s just a coincidence.

The mother goddess

We Śrī Vaiṣṇavas worship divine mother Mahalakṣmī, who is inseparable from Nārāyaṇa (hence we always say Śrīman Nārāyaṇa, where Śrīman stands for Mahalakṣmī) and is the mediatrix between him and all conscious entities (Jīvāthmās, approx Souls).

We already mentioned that Catholics have a great reverence for saints. Amongst them Mary, the mother of Christ, is revered and loved the most by many Catholics. There are many dedicated shrines and churches for Mary. Here is one such shrine / altar from south Germany:

Shrine / altar for Mary, Augsburg Dom, Germany. Source: Wikipedia

Not only to us but also to many Lutherans, this worship of Mary seems to be a twisted variant of the worship of the mother goddess. Further proof is found when we look at Mary’s role in Catholicsism. Here is the Latin version of the second verse of „Ave Maria“, the most important prayer to Mary. Note that Latin is the reference language in Catholicism.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.

The interesting part is the second part: ora pro nobis peccatoribus. „Ora“ (verb orare) means speak or pray, „pro“ means for, „nobis peccatoribus“ means us sinners.

So Mary is asked to speak, to pray to God for the Catholic! Even though this is of course never stated as theological doctrice (Catholicism is monotheistic, right?), the word „ora“ invites the believer to take his trust into the mother goddess as mediatrix and project it into Mary.

Summing up

We have seen that Catholicism has numerous customs we also find in Sanātana Dharma. As mentioned, the reason for this is rather gruesome: Because people did not take up Christianity, which was forcefully imposed on them, many elements from their old religion were imported into Christianity and yielded what is now known as Catholicism.

The similarities we outlined proof that the „pagan“ religions practised in Europe were indeed relatives of Sanātana Dharma, and in our view the proof has much more force than any information on the pre-Christian era that comes to us via Roman historians.

So, when we from the West take up Sanātana Dharma as preserved on the Indian subcontinent, we should never forget that we are reconnecting with our ancient roots by doing so. While Indian culture is part of a continuum that stretches back many millenia, our roots in the ancient past of our continent were forcefully cut-off by the Christianization 1100-1200 years ago. While the insight of our Druids, Shamans and Wisemen is lost forever, the infinite grace of Śrīman Nārāyaṇa has preserved a highly refined and developed form of what they likely knew as Sanātana Dharma in Bharat, in India.

Thus, while there are indeed many things in Sanātana Dharma as we find it today that are specifically „Indian“, this must not distract us from the fact that below the surface of difference lies the unity of a universal religion practised from Spain to Japan and from Norway to Africa – the enternal natural way, Sanātana Dharma.

So, for a person from, say, Germany, a look at the fragments that come to him from the pre-Christian era is worthwile. Sometimes, he may find something that helps to bridge the gap between the local situation and statements in the texts of Sanātana Dharma.

Example: We noted above that Kṛṣṇa compares himself with the Indian month from mid-December to mid-January. In the pre-Christian era, this time was probably a festval for the godess Holda, who reminds us on our divine mother Mahalakṣmī and – coincidence or not – whose celebration is paralleled by the celebrations of Āṇdāl, avatar of Bhūdevi, which is in turn an avatar Mahalakṣmī, in India. In Europe, people barely went outside at that time because of the Wild Hunt. As the outside world did not fully belong to them during this time, people were staying inside to pray and contemplate.

So, for a pre-Christian European, Kṛṣṇa’s comparison to mid-December to mid-January would actually make a lot of sense! This time is cold and unfriendly on the outside, but very happy and contemplative within the house. Maybe modern day’s Christmas has recycled a bit of this mood.

Adiēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan

Spotting fake Āchāryas

Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ

Our tradition has a great history and is very diverse and de-centralized. This has induced quite a few people to falsely claim to represent (or even be an Āchārya in) our tradition. Being the diverse and de-centralized tradition we are, there is no central decision body nor a list of Āchāryas which could be used to check such claims.

However, it is fairly easy to spot fake Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas, so auxiliary means are usually not needed. This is because the lineage of our Āchāryas has set a crystal clear standard on how a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas behaves. As the behaviour of an Āchārya is very intricate and complex, we shall restrict outselves on rather obvious and simple points, which are easy to understand but should still suffice to spot 90%+ of all fake Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas.

As example we shall take the statement that Swami Vishwananda is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya as claimed on this webpage (as of November 2018):

In order to avoid being sued for copyright breaches (which is very easy under German law and the site is run by a German for profit limited liability company under German law) we shall not use quotations or screeshots from that respective website. Sorry. 

Following, we give a list of reasons why the claim that he is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya is utterly false. Note that each single point suffices to induce severe doubts that the respective person is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya.

Name & Titles

  • His name lacks any reference to a lineage: Śrī Vaiṣṇavas receive a spiritual name. This name is usually related to the birth name and is extended by Rāmānuja Dāsan, which means servant of Rāmānuja. If a Śrī Vaiṣṇava is installed as suceeding Āchārya, he uses a different name that usually relates to the lineage of Āchāryas he represents. For example, if the Āchārya hails from the lineage of Āchāryas that goes back to Embar, the cousin of Rāmānuja who followed him as the leader of our tradition, he is called „Embar Jeeyar Swami“.
  • His names‘ ending (–ananda) is extremely uncommon for a Śrī Vaiṣṇava. In fact, names like this are commonly used in the lineage of Śankarāchārya, i.e. in the Advaita tradition. This tradition has been our main opponent in debates for the last 1000+ years, as their  philosophical views differ considerably from the views of our tradition.
  • The title Paramahamsa (literally: „transcendent swan“) is not used by Vaiṣṇavas to address themselves. Paramahamsa is a honary title used for Sanyasis (renouncers). Other people may address such a person as Paramahamsa, but the humbleness of a Vaiṣṇava makes him abstain from addressing himself as such. The usage of Paramahamsa in the url of the website presenting him to the general pubic is thus inappropriate for a Vaiṣṇava.


There is no reference on who (which Āchārya) performed his initiation into our tradition. The Āchārya is extremely important for Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. His thaniyan (honorary verse) is recited every day, his picture is placed prominently in our homes and we feel grateful for him connecting us the the chain of grace started by Rāmānuja. So if we are initiated, we always state who performed the initiation, as this is central for us.

Reference to teachers far outside the lineage

Being committed to our lineage and having the rich body of literature and many pasttimes from Āḻvārs and Āchāryas, Śrī Vaiṣṇavas and Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas in particular do reference solely Vedic scriptures and the rich heritage of our tradition. Vishwananda cites Mahavatar Babaji as his guru. Mahavatar Babaji is a mythical figure cited by dozens of (often self-proclaimed) gurus and is usually seen as an avatar of Lord Śiva.

While we respect Lord Śiva as a great devotee of Śriman Nārāyana, our tradition strictly abstains from worshipping Śiva or in fact even associating with his devotees.

Outward appearance

Śrī Vaiṣṇavas follow the prescripions of the scriptures as closely as possible. While common devotees may compromise in some respects, particularly if they live abroad, an Āchārya is also teaching by example and is thus extremly strict in every way. This means in terms of outward appearance:

  • He wears Śikhā, i.e. his head is shaved except for a tuft of hair at the back of the head.
  • Having the title Swami, i.e being an ascetic renouncer, he does not wear any gold ornaments, pearls etc .
  • He does not wear sewn clothes. Instead, he wears a Dhoti and (in cold environments) a smaller piece of cloth to cover the upper body.
  • He wears Urdhva Pundra (also known as Thilak), and he wears it in the same way his Āchārya has prescibed it, i.e. there is no variation.

None of the above points applies to Vishwananda.

Charging disciples money for teaching

On the below webpage, a 7 part course by Vishwananda on the Śrimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) is offered for 225$ in total or 35$ pers session.

While it is suitable and common for disciples to give Dakshina to the Āchārya, this is always a voluntary contribution by the disciple and is not a pre-condition for listening to discourses. All of our Āchāryas have taught the highest wisdom free of charge. They may restrict discourses to close disciples in case of very confidential teachings, but such restrictions are never about money.

Missing references to teaching of previous Āchāryas

All of our Āchāryas make extensive refereces to the lifes and teachings of Āḻvārs and previous Āchāryas. We listened to a few random excerpts from Vishwanandas Youtube videos and found no such reference. For example, on the discourse on deity and statue (, should have some references to pasttimes from the Āḻvārs, where many beautiful incidences in the relation to temple deities happend. But there are none.

Update 2019-10-16

A follower of Vishwananda commented this article, citing that the website

as reference explaining Vishwanandas lineage (see comment section). However, as of 2019-10-16, the website (besides not confirming that he is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya) actually confirms a major point we see as proof that he is no Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya:

Mahavatar Babaji is called on a linked website as Satguru, meaning „true guru“. No Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya would state a guru so far out of our lineage as his true guru.

The website states that a person named Sri Vedavyasa Rangaraj Bhattar intiated Vishwananda into our Sampradāya. We might first analyse the name:

  • Vedavyasa is a honorary title, as it refers to Vyasa, the complier of the Vedas.
  • Rangaraj seems to be a name.
  • Bhattar is the traditional name-postfix of a temple priest, particularly in South India. So the person is either a temple priest or from a familiy of temple priests.

The last point makes us skeptitical. While our Sampradāya had some famous Āchāryas who had the name Bhattar (like Parāsara Bhattar), it has become increasingly uncommon since the Middle-Ages that an Āchārya is also temple priest – simply because being temple priest is a full-time job, with very limited time left to teach, as an Āchārya does.

Using Google’s options to find older websites, we struggle to find tangible traces of this person in the web from before 2017 (after that, websites linked to Vishwananda start to give the name). This does not necessarily mean much but it is still strange.

The best evidence is from the website of an ISKCON priest, where a person of the name Rangaraj Bhattar is stated as teacher: However, it seems unlikely that this person is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya, as the Śrī Vaiṣṇava and Gaudiya lineages are spiritual relatives but rarely mix.

We also find evidence of a Śrī Vaiṣṇava temple priest by the name of Rangarajan Bhattar, who serves at the Eri-Katha Ramar Temple. This temple is very special as Rāmānuja was initiated there. But we find no indication that this gentlemen is also an Āchārya.

Update 2021-01-25

In a Facebook discussion around Western Śrī Vaiṣṇavas who visited  Śrīraṅgam (and turned out to be followers of Vishwananda instead of „normal“ Śrī Vaiṣṇavas), a devotee from India commented

Vishwananda was initiated into Srivaishnavam by grandfather of present Sri Veda vyaasa bhatt swamy who is 37th descendant of Sri Kuresh , a close disciple of Sri Ramanuja.

Devotees from are aware that there is a Veda Vyaasa Bhatt Swamy in the line of Kuresha or Kūratāḻvān, as he is known in the Tamil land. He is an Āchārya living in Śrīraṅgam as a householder. However, devotees from that area couldn’t confirm whether the claim is correct.

Update 2022-12-09 (it gets even weirder)

We were informed about a blog post, where an ISKCON devotee provided the copy of a written conversation with Vishwananda – and there, Vishwananda gives his lineage. The blog post is here.

The parampara Vishwananda states is as follows

Peria Perumal Thiruvadikalay
Peria Pirattiyar Thiruvadikalay
Alhwar Emperumanar Thiruvadikalay
Koorathalwar Thiruvadikalay
Sri Ramanuja Acharya
Sri Parangusa Das
Srimath Yamuna Muni
Srimath Rama Misra
Srimath Pundarikaksha
Srimath Natha Muni
Srimath Satagopa
Sri Venkatarya Patha Saktham
Sri Ramakya Bhattar Swami
Sri Raghunatha Harithakula Bhushanam
Sri Veddhavyasotharam Srimath Rangaraja
Sri Vedhavyasa Raghunatha Bhattar Swami Kumarar
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Thiruvadikalay
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Swami Vishwananda

One immediate observation on this list is that the order makes no sense. The first two entries are the common names for Śrīman Nārāyaṇa and Śrī Mahālakṣmi in the Tamil land. Then comes a strange entry (see next paragraph) and then Kūratāḻvān. We already noted that Vishwananda’s Āchārya is possibliy from the lineage of Kūratāḻvān, which might be confirmed by Kūratāḻvān’s prominent place in the list

However, Kūratāḻvān was a disciple of Rāmānuja, whom appears in the list after Kūratāḻvān. The Āchārya of Rāmānuja was Periya Nambi (Tamil name) / Parangusa Dasa (Sanskrit name), who again appears again after Rāmānuja… this goes all the way to „Srimath Satagopa“, who is non other than Nammāḻvār. The proper place of Nammāḻvār in the Parampāra is before the early Āchāryas, not after!

Then we have the rather strange entry „Alhwar Emperumanar (…)“. Emperumānār means more gracefuly than the Lord (Emperumān) and is usually a name of Rāmānuja. The Śrī Vaiṣnava parampara states the divine commander in chief, Viṣvaksenā, as disciple of Śrī Mahālakṣmi – but we have no source calling him either Āḻvār or Emperumānār.

The only Āḻvār to whom this title could possibly be applied is Nammāḻvār. But Nammāḻvār is already in the list with the most common name for him, „Srimath Satagopa“. So either Nammāḻvār appears twice, „Alhwar Emperumanar“ is a very strange name for Viṣvaksenā or this name refers to some entity unkown in our Sampradāya.

A third strange point (besides that strange entry in the list and an order that makes no sense) is where his Parampara continues after Kūratāḻvān. Kūratāḻvān lived around the 11th century, so there is nearly 1000 years of lineage to be filled. Kūratāḻvān only had one major disciple by the name of Ranganātha Guru (Sanskrit name) / Thiruvarangaththu amudhanār (Tamil name) – after him, the line of Kūratāḻvān was only continued by householder Āchāryas. We only have a list of 6 Āchārya before the name of Vishwananda’s own Āchārya Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar. The main lineage of early Āchāryas continues from Rāmānuja’s cousin and disciple Embār, Manavāḷa Māmunigaḷ is the 7th Āchārya after Embār and we are still only in the 13th century.

So the Parampāra stated by Vishwananda

  • Has a very strange order
  • Contains one entry which is either an extremly uncommon name for Viṣvaksenā, a duplicate or a non-Sampradayic entity
  • Has a gap of > 700 years

Summing up, the quoted website does not state that Vishwananda is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya. Evidence that he has indeed been initiated at some point has been uncovered, but his own statements on his Parampara raise many questions.

Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan

Viṣṇu vs Kṛṣṇa

Recently, somebody asked on Quora

Do most Hindus, unlike followers of ISKCON, believe Vishnu is the supreme source, not Krishna?

An ISKCON devotee expressed the view that this is indeed true. Then Rami Sivan, a sometimes controversial Śrī Vaiṣṇava with Western roots, gave a detailed refutation of this view:

A good question which is often asked. Only ISKCON considers Krishna as the source of incarnations.

Most Vaisnavas and other Hindus don’t make any quantitative theological differences between Vishnu and His avataras.

The Vedas are the Supreme Authority – Krishna is not mentioned by name in any of the Veda Samhitas but in the Chandogya Upanishad he is mentioned once. Vishnu on the other hand is mentioned several times in the Veda Samhitas.

Now a parsing of Sanskrit terms is the key to understanding theology. There are three names which are considered as truly indicative of the Supreme Being — and they are considered as supreme because all three are indicative of All-pervasiveness – i.e. omnipresence of the Divine.

  1. nārāyana — which means the ground of all Being – the source of all manifestation of both the material universe and the individual selves.
  2. viṣṇu — which means that which pervades everything from within.
  3. vāsudeva — that which pervades everything from without.

I will now give you a sample of testimonies from the various Scriptures. There are hundreds of such testimonies.


nārāyaṇaḥ paraṃ brahma tattvaṃ nārāyaṇaḥ paraḥ |
nārāyaṇaḥ paro jyotir ātmā nārāyaṇaḥ paraḥ ||

Nārāyaṇa is the Supreme Reality designated as Brahman. Nārāyaṇa is the Highest. Nārāyaṇa is the Supreme Light (described in the Upaniṣads). Nārāyaṇa is the Highest. (Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad Anuvāka 13 Verse 4.)


eko nārāyaṇo devo devānāmīśvareśvaraḥ |
paramātmā paraṃ brahma janmādyasya yato bhavet ||

The lord Nārāyaṇa alone is the omnipotent almighty of all the gods. He is the Supreme Being. He is the Supreme Brahman. All this world originates from Him. (Garuda Purāṇa ch 1 vs 12 )


viṣṇor aṃśaṃ bhuvaṃ yāte ṛtavasca abhavat śubham |

When the portion of Vishnu became manifest upon the earth (as Krsna) the seasons became congenial. (VP. 5:2:4.)


yadośca dharma śīlasya nitarāṃ muni sattama |
tatrāṃśena avatīrṇasya viṣṇo vīryāṇi śaṃsanaḥ ||

You have also described the line of the noble and righteous king Yadu. In that dynasty Mahavishnu was incarnated by a part of His splendour. (SBh. 10:1:2)

saptamo vaiṣṇavam dhāma yam anantaṃ pracakṣate |
garbho babhūva devakyā harṣa śoka vivardhanaḥ ||

She bore that manifestation of Vishnu called Ananta in her seventh pregnancy, which was the cause of delight and fear to her at the same time. (SBh 10:2:5)

devakyāṃ deva rūpiṇyāṃ viṣṇuḥ sarva guhāśayaḥ |
āvir āsīd yathā prācyāṃ diśi indur iva puṣkalaḥ ||

Vishnu the resident in the hearts of all, was born of the divinely beautiful Devaki, like the full moon rising on the eastern horizon. (Suka) (SBh 10:3:8)

Then finally from the GOSWAMIS

“The omniscient great God of Vaikunta (viz. Sriman Narayaṇa) at once manifested Himself before me as Sri Krishna, the eternal son of Nanda and forthwith Sri Lakshmi Devi became Radhika followed by Bhudevi as Candravalli.”

Stated by Srila Sanatana Goswami in Sri Brhat Bhagavatamṛtam Part 2 Chap 4 (Vaikuṇtha nama) published by Gaudiya Maṭha

I hope this clarifies for you the orthodox position.

Vedanta vs Empiricism

Mādhava asked in the spring of 2018 on Quora:

Is Vedanta immune to criticism from Atheism/Empiricism because its position is radically subjective?

This question was based on listening to Aron Ra’s intelligent and very systematic refutations of American Evangelist Christian’s „proofs“ for the existence of God. Pondering how we followers of Vedanta would converse with a stout empiricist like Aron Ra, Mādhava came to the conjecture that the subjectivism inherent in Vedanta is the key difference to the Abrahamist’s position. Vedanta starts from the subjective observation, the occurrences in the field (Kshetra) to use the parlance of the Bhagavad Gīta.

Answer by Kratu Nandan (abbreviated)
It is true that Vedanta presupposes a Knower or Witness (subject) which alone is the common element in the ever-changing phenomena of the universe. It is therefore very easy to label Vedanta as ‘radically subjective’. However, it is not as simple as that.

On the contrary, Shankaracharya, in his Brahmasutrabhashya, has uncompromisingly stated that Brahmajnana (Knowledge of the final, underlying Reality of all phenomena) depends solely on the object (vastutantra) and not on the subject (purushatantra or kartrutantra). Evidently, this is out and out objectivity. Therefore Vedanta is not a weak system of philosophy that gleefully hides under the protective canopy of the ‘subjective’.

Vedanta remains objective, and yet remains immune to criticism from empiricism on account of its questioning, challenging and disproving of the conventional definitions and limits of the subject (vishayi) and object (vishaya). Instead, it is shown that the sense organs (indriya) themselves are objects of perception , as opposed to the empiricist’s idea of them being the subject.


What is more, Vedanta does not consider anything that appears and disappears to be real. Something real must always exist and should remain unaffected by time. Thus, the appearing and disappearing ego, along with its ‘subservient operatives’, are held to be an unreal. The true Knower is the one who perceives the presence and absence of ego, and is always unaffected by it.

Further on, Vedanta observes that what goes under the name of empirical knowledge of the objective world is defective and incomplete, as it is ‘mediate’ (paroksha). What is meant is that such knowledge is obtained, moulded, fashioned and shaped through the ‘medium’ of indriya, manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara, which themselves are unreal. Even taking for granted that they are real, the knowledge obtained through them is relative. We might find a peanut to be a tiny object, while an ant will find it huge. We may see a colourful world while an animal without colour perception will see it differently. Which of us can claim our own knowledge alone to be real?

It is therefore that according to Vedanta, the true knowledge of the objective world lies in getting rid of such media and knowing it directly. The term employed for such a knowledge is – ‘immediate’ (aparoksha). Such a direct perception is called aparokshanubhuti,and the one with such a knowledge is called aparokshajnani.

When through vichara (enquiry) the unreal ego is discarded, the trinity of known, knower and knowledge vanishes – and the Reality without any such distinctions shines as I – but without the ego. The Knower is non-different from Knowledge.


It is a grand Unity that cannot even be described as One, due to the lack of anything else besides It. It is perfect Silence.

There are at least two logical validations or paradoxes possible in this direction. One is that if the whole physical universe is one interdependent, interwoven system, why is our consciousness limited to our body alone? The other, as Swami Vivekananda points out, is that “motion is possible in comparison with something which is a little less in motion or entirely motionless”. If the universe is taken as a unit whole, it has to be motionless or unchangeable, for there is nothing else besides it with respect to which it changes. Yet, we see movement every moment..

Indeed, the ‘true validation’ of this lies in the Experience of this Unity for the individual concerned, and is verily subjective. The proof of such an experience for the onlookers lie in the conduct of such people. They do not escape any responsibility that life may bring. They completely take it up and execute it to perfection. Their compassion is unbound and universal. They do not transgress anything that is held ethical. The feeble feelings of empathy, love, compassion and responsibility that we, the ordinary people, feel are only pointers in that direction.

The reproducibility of such an experience is seen when such people instill similar feelings in the individuals they come in contact with, which is also subjective. Moreover, the deep sleep (that comes closest to aparokshanubhuti) in which the subject-object duality is suspended, though subjective, is a universal experience. The articulation of the deep sleep experience is universally corroborated, reproduced and validated in the words, ‘I did not know anything then’.

Finally, for that matter, the reproducibility of any empirical validation is also subjective, as the validation will have to be experienced by a validator, and is relative to him.

To conclude, Vedanta is not escaping the objectivity criterion. In an uncompromising, undying effort to grasp the objective, it discards what is wrongly held to be the subject, and finally declares the distinction of ‘objective & subjective’ and ‘God and the individual’ to be limited, relative and false.

I hope I made some sense in writing all this!

Ooh, I think we are getting confused by the words objective and subjective. If we take object in the Advaita sense as “the perceived”, yes, agree, then there is no issue.

There are two buts:

  • if we put on the hat of an empiricist, objective means perceivable for all, reproducible. He would not accept your conclusion as it can not be proven by the “objective (his sense of the word)” means of science. He might say that if everything beyond the perceiver is unreal, Advaita is pure religion as it does not allow for falsification.
  • Even tough many take Vedanta = Advaita, that’s not the case. In fact the lineage in which I received Deeksha, the Śrī Vaishnava Sampradāya, has very strong objections on Advaita which I share. As there are parts of the Upanishads which speak of difference between Jīvāthmā and Brahman and a real world, we cannot presuppose that everything beyond the perceiver is ultimately unreal / the same category of object (in the Advaita sense).

So, I think it’s not that easy. We cannot use the Advaita presupposition since this position is rejected both by empiricists and some Vedanta schools, so we can’t argue us as followers of Sanatana Dharma out from the criticism of empiricists this way…

Kratu Nandan

🙂 Thanks for your comments. As an academic student of physics, I understand it well enough. The solution lies in questioning the empiricists’ criteria.

  1. Vedanta does not deny the empiricists’ meaning that what is “objective” must be perceivable for all. It simply extends it by saying that anything that is objective should be “perceivable for all (all cognitive entities including animals) at all times”. Therefore, it should be perceivable to oneself at all times too. In other words, it should be time-space-independent. The only thing, Vedanta says, that is time-space-independent is the “perceiver”. The only constant in the ever changing phenomena is the witness of it. And no one can deny that he as a perceiver exists. Or does the empiricist say that his existence as a perceiver should be perceived by all to be true? Is not the perception of one’s own existence independent of other’s validation?
  2. If this criterion of time-space-independence be included, would falsification of the empiricists’ “means of science” based on it be allowed? If yes, then the empiricists’ “objective” will become a time-space-dependent religion. If not allowed, how can we take something to be objective if it isn’t perceived by all at all times? How can we agree upon something that we don’t even perceive or perceive only at certain times and places?
  3. Does the empiricist deny his own mind as an object of perception? Is it not “known” by him? Is his mind an object for any of thr five senses? If “perceivable for all” be the criterion, then his mind doesn’t exist, as it is not at all perceivable through senses for anyone, let alone all.
  4. Does the empiricists’ “all” include the other cognitive entities including animals?
  5. Do not the “all (other people who are equal validators)” form a part of his own experience? Do they exist outside his own experience? Does he or anyone at anytime have anything but their own experiences to rely on? Does anyone at anytime cognise anything but his/her own experience? Is the empiricist’s experience “perceivable for all”? If not, are those experiences objective by his own definition? If he admits they aren’t objective, how and why does he rely on them? Is not the criterion, “perceivable by all”, one’s own experience?
  6. Who will validate the “perceivable for all” criterion? Collectively by every single cognitive entity at the present moment? Or is it that “all” a hypothetical?
  7. Why does the empiricist limit his “perceivable by all” to the senses alone?
  8. Coming to interpretations of Vedanta as being many faced, yes. As a south Indian, I am more aware of it.But if you question the followers of each of those groups, they will say their’s alone is true. So, in the individual’s perception, there is only one Vedanta.
  9. I must say, with all due immense respects to all the great acharyas of all the sampradayas, none of them can even come close to addressing the empiricists ideas, but Advaita.

Finally, thanks for this question. It’s very desirable to engage in such thought processes.


1) I doubt that your fellow physicists or numerous non Advaita Acharyas would agree. From an empiricist‘s point of view, predictability and measureability suffices for objective existence. Requiring the permanence you outline already imposes the Advaita result of non-existence of reality.

5) & 6) This is presuposing Advaita Siddhānta. Empirically, we can easily demonstrate that you are not me and perceive differently.

9) : ) I would object to that, but that‘s kinda obvious, isn’t it?