ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Religious Movements and Social Change

Sri Vaishnavism and Social Change by Kandadai Seshadri; K P Bagchi and Co, Calcutta, 1998; pp xi + 179, Rs 240.

This work gives an interesting account of the history of Sri Vaishnavism in south India and provides an introduction to the study of social change inspired by Sri Ramanuja. Having taken this first step, it gets bogged down in too much detail on the precedents to the rise of Sri Vaishnavism till Ramanuja and its sectarian disputes soon after. That account is quite well informed but takes up about a third of the book though it is just an introduction to the subject of social change.

For example, space is given to preliminary questions like (i) why Sankara has claimed far more attention in the west as well as in India and (ii) how much of the researched writing on Sri Vaishnavism, like that of Carman is all about Ramanuja’s philosophy and theology and not on his other activities. Yes, Sankara has received more attention for several reasons but particularly because he was the first to inaugurate Vedanta using Buddhist built logic and Upanishadic sources. The early researchers on Sri Vaishnavism like Carman were naturally led to concentrate on Ramanuja’s philosophy rather than any social change he tried to inaugurate. Later researchers like Walter Neeval (Jr) have tried to relate its popular origins in the Alwar corpus to philosophical refinements just edging on to social change. But these marginal issues should have been dealt with far more briefly. Similarly, much attention is given to (a) the origins of the two sects, tenkalai and vadakalai; their later litigation about their right to manage temples and (b) the mark made by Vaishnavites in the professions, e g, the mathematical genius Ramanujam. Here again the relevance to social change is marginal. The tenkalais with their strong orientation to the more popular Tamil sources were a little closer to non-brahmins but not to the extent of intermarriage. Their persistence in hanging on to the temples, ignoring court injunctions cost them dear as they fell backward in education.

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