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The period after Ramanuja witnessed important changes in the Sri Vaishnava fold. Differences arose in the interpretations of the doctrine, particularly of the theory of surrender. This led to differences in observances and rituals. Finally this resulted in a schism among the Sri Vaishnavas during the end of the 13th century. The Sri Vaishnavas became sharply divided into two sections, the northern and the southern. The leader of the northern school was Vedanta Desika) and the leader of the southern school was Pillai Lokacharya. Henceforth each school hd its succession of Acharyas.

Vedanta Desika (1269 - 1370): Most learned scholar and the foremost Vaishnava devotee and Acharya of medieaval India, next only to Ramanuja himself. He was a great teacher, expositor, debater, poet, philosopher, thinker and defender of the faith of Vaishnavism. His writings number more than a hundred. He brought to the Tamil prabandhams of the Alvars a status equivalent of the vedas. He was adept in the philosophies of both Sanskrit and Tamil. His paduka-sahasram, a poem of 1000 verses in Sanskrit in praise of the sacred sandals on which the Lord's golden feet rest, is a classic example of supreme devotion and superb poetry.

Pillai Lokacharya (1264 - 1327): The southern sect of Vaishnavism founded by him holds that the Grace of the Lord is spontaneous, and therefore, the main path to salvation is total passive surrender, a prayerful approach , a belief in Him as the ultimate refuge and also a further belief that there is no other way to salvation. This school built up a remarkable Tamil literature to which it ascribed an importance equal to that of the Vedas.

In the 4000 songs of the Alwars many refer to particular deities of the various Vaishnava temples and the latter are thus sanctified. It may be the other way also. The temples are already sanctified and that is why the Alwars refer to them! For instance the Srirangam temple is mentioned by almost all of them. Such temples as are referred to in the prabandhams number 108. These are called the 108 divine locations (divya-deSams). Two of them are really divine locations, because they are in the world of Vaikuntha, the heavenly abode of the Lord. Of the remaining 106, the Tamil country claims 84. It includes the Varadaraja temple of Kanchipuram, sung by one of the earliest Alwars, and which now houses the 16th century marriage hall of 96 monolithic pillars, built by Vijayanagara Kings; the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, Chennai, which is the only shrine among all the 108 where Lord Krishna is seen with His entire family and here it was that Venkateswara of Tirupati manifested Himself as Krishna and that accounts for the deity's name Venkatakrishnan; Srivilliputtur, the holiest of the holies, the birthplace of Andal, which has one of the tallest of temple towers; and Trivikrama temple in Tirukoilur, where the very first meeting took place between the first three Alwars in the first half of the first millenium C.E. and this is where the first prabandham originated.

Finally a distinguishing feature of Vaishnavism and therefore of all Vaishnava temple frescoes is the focus on the various avatars, particularly the most important ten avatars of Vishnu. Two of these are most well-known, namely, Rama and Krishna. The remaining are:

matsya (fish) kurma (tortoise), varaha (boar) , Nara-simha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parasurama (the warrior with an axe), Buddha, and Kalki (yet to happen).

Another distinguishing feature of all Vaishnava temples is the provision of special altars for the two greatest devotees of mythological times: Garuda and Hanuman.

Garuda is the King of Birds. He is the divine Eagle. He is the bitter enemy of the serpent-world. He is the eternal carrier (Vahana) of Lord Vishnu and as such is His most intimate devotee. His emergency service to the Lord at a crucial moment in the story of Rama's war with Ravana's army, is a memorable event. He is called Peria-tiruvadi, in the Tamil religious world, because, as the greatest devotee of the Lord He is to be worshipped by us devotees as the Lord's Lotus Feet. Tiruvadi means 'auspicious feet'. Peria stands for 'senior' - to distinguish him from the junior Tiruvadi - 'siria-tiruvadi' - who is Hanuman, the monkey-God. Hanuman is the well-known devotee of Lord Rama. He is the hero, next only to Rama himself, of the Ramayana. Orthodox opinion will classify him as the foremost devotee of the Lord and to be worshipped as such as a God in his own right and as an ishta-devata (favourite deity). He is the one deity worshipped and revered throughout the Hindu world without exception of caste, sect, school, or region. He is therefore installed even in Siva temples also and also in every roadside Vinayaka temples. In this sense Hanuman is a Divinity for divine integration. It is believed that by worshipping him, one gets Intelligence, Strength, Fame, Courage, Fearlessness, Good Health, Alertness and Talent for Speech. All these attributes coexist in Hanuman. Not only that. In addition he had modesty and humility and his devotion was not blind, crude or dogmatic. He is the purest of the pure without an iota of lust in his mind. In these days of scientific advancement though we need a lot of Grace from the Lord, what we all need is the culture of modesty and humility. Lord Hanuman will grace us with that humility.

Before we conclude we must mention the modern Krishna-Consciousness movement, which has turned out to be one of the greatest Vaishnava schools now. Opulence, potency, fame, beauty, knowledge and dispassion are only some of the infinite qualities of the Supreme Personality that is Krishna. Each one of them is possessed by Him in infinite extent to the absolute degree. Not a leaf moves without the Will of Krishna. He is the Absolute Brahman. This declaration of the scriptures is the solid foundation for the movement now known the world over as Krishna Consciousness, named as such by Srila Prabhupada, its founder. Remaining faithful to the disciplic succession, this goes back to the days of Chaitanya. Prabhupada created a whole new international community of the young and old, male and female, scholars and laymen, all of them fully versed in the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita and the Bhagavatam and all of them fully convinced that no man-made system can cure the ills of the world, it is only the eternal reality of Krishna that will do it. The logical conclusion is the unceasing chanting by this ocean of devotees, singly and collectively, of the classic mantra:

hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare;

hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare hare.

It is now the most popular mantra the world over.

Srila Prabhupada (1896 - 1977 C.E.) was one of the foremost spiritual leaders of the twentieth century. The remarkable challenge that he undertook and successfully accomplished was the transformation of the most materialistic youth of the times - not just a few, literally thousands of them - into the most godly personalities with the loftiest of spiritual and ethical ideals. This miraculous achievement has no parallel either in the past or in the present and very probably there would be none in the future. This happened to be a marvel of just twelve years, precisely the last twelve years of his 82 years of life. It was all due to the fact that Prabhupada was an open book as an exemplary devotee of God, who would have been placed among the greatest of the Alwars if only he had lived in ancient times. His unflinching and uncompromising devotion to the Supreme Transcendental Personality of Krishna made all this possible. He has left behind him more than 60 substantial books and a larger number of Krishna temples strewn almost in every part of the globe. He has also left a legacy of spiritual consciousness and devotional life which will live as long as the memory of Krishna lives. He is the Lord's Gift to humanity at large.

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Copyright. V. Krishnamurthy October 12, 2000

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