The Divya Desam Temples: A Premise for Analyzing the Srivaisnava Dispute in South India




Iyengar, Ramaseshan

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This thesis aims to analyze a semi-latent conflict in the Srivaisnava sect of Hinduism practiced primarily in South India. Specifically, the thesis will first look at the historical background of Srivaisnavism, from its early history in the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhakti movement to its philosophically formative stages under the reign of its strongest proponent, Ramanuja, to the metamorphic era in the twelfth century that led to its theological split into two separate streams of practice. The early historical context will touch upon the socio-religious context in India that led to the birth of Srivaisnavism. The thesis will study the causal factors that led up to the split of Srivaisnavism into two contending branches of Srivaisnava practice. This thesis will analyze, using the Divya Desam temples as its premise, the current dimensions of the Srivaisnava conflict. These temples are the single biggest topic of contention between the two Srivaisnava groups, thus, being the primary focus of conciliatory approaches that will be discussed in this paper. The paper will then look at the factors contributing to the very manifestation of the conflict and will compare the Srivaisnava conflict situation with other glaring examples of conflicts, and their resultant outcomes, in an attempt to further reiterate the importance of addressing this situation in the near future. In order to address a comprehensive intervention approach, this thesis will suggest a two-pronged intervention strategy. Starting with the judicial approach, this study will discuss the necessity for the involvement of legal research teams in analyzing the claims made by the two groups and the various religious institutions in order to better evaluate the current conflict scenario. The second approach suggested by this paper will involve both the religious leaders and the grassroots members of the Srivaisnava community alike. In this mediatory approach, the focus will primarily be on the Lederachian model of relationship building between the two groups and within the community. This approach will involve changes in deep-rooted narrative changes to influence the community members against discriminating against each other; development of common rituals, symbols and festivals for the two groups; progressive paradigm shifts to change the existent biases and prejudices. Although this approach may seem less pragmatic in the beginning, the paper will provide practical solutions aimed at driving the two groups towards the solutions devised in this mediatory approach.



Vaisnavism, Religious conflict, Temples, Hinduism, South India, Theology