Who is an AyyangAr?


Generally, visishtadvaithis (those who follow Visishtadvaitham) or Srivaishnavaite Brahmins are called AyyangAr. Let us see how this term came to denote them. We can split the term as Ayy+anga+ar; i.e ay (pronounced as I in English) is the shortened form of ainthu or five; anga refers to the five items or segments each containing in itself five elements thus making a total of 5 times 5 or 25. The 25th principle in our philosophy refers to the chEthanan; so we can say that a chEthanan is rightly called ayyangAr.

Let us now see briefly, what are the major five segments and the other five elements in each of them. The five major segments are:

2. pancha kAla parAyaNam
3. samskAram
4. artha panchakam
5. bara samarpaNam.

1. panchAngam: Srivaishnavites are enjoined to start all their rituals or karmas with sankalpam (vow) and conclude with sAdhvika thyAgam (sacrificial offering to God). In the sankalpam or invocatory statement at the beginning, we need to mention and follow for that particular day, its

thithi (the religious date-order from amavAsya/ pournNami, prathamai,…. to chathurdasi : 15 in all),
the day of the week (in Sanskrit, such as bhAnu vAsara, sOma vAsara etc. 7 in all),
the star (asvini to rEvathi, 27 in all),
yogam (sidhdha, amirtha, maraNa: 3 in all),
karaNam (11 in all).

We know about these five elements for any particular day only from our panchAngam or almanac. Hence it is important for us to see the panchangam daily as soon as we get up in the morning. We are aware that it is difficult for common people like us to remember the 3 yogams and 11 karanams which are always changing in some order; hence our ancestors prescribed that we state this as Sri Vishnu yOga and sri Vishnu karana. Thus we see that the first major segment ayyangArs need to know about is the panchAngam.

2. next comes pancha kAla parAyaNam. Our ancestors divided a day into five periods; these are:

a. Abigamanam, b. upAdhAnam, c. Ijyai, d. svAdhyAyam and e. yOgam.

We are to follow the prescribed duties assigned to each of these five periods as each has a different purpose and work to perform. However, in a lighter vein we may state that in the mechanical present day, no one finds time to perform these five duties and there is dearth of time and so instead of being pnacha kAla parAyaNam (five time duties), this has become panja kAla parAyaNam (time-drought duties). So the second major segment is pancha kAla parayaNam or doing the five duties as prescribed for the five periods of the day.

3. samskAram: there are several rituals or ceremonies prescribed to be performed, from the time a human being is conceived in mother’s womb, till its death. Of these, the one called pancha samskAram is the one which makes one a Srivaishnavaite. This is performed as per the usual custom and practice in vogue in each family. This consists of

a. thApam, b. Pundram, c. dAsya nAmam, d. Manthram and e. Yagnam.

a. thApam: this is the process of having the figures of the wheel (sudharsana chakram) and the conch (pAncha janyam) embossed on one’s right and left shoulders respectively. These metallic symbols are heated in a sacred fire and when tolerably hot, the preceptor or the AchAryan embosses the image on our shoulders as mentioned above.

b. pundram is the process of the preceptor teaching us about wearing the 12 sacred marks of white (thirumaN) and red/yellow (sri chUrNam) in the 12 prescribed places in our body by drawing vertical lines hence called dwAdasa or twelve, urdhva or vertical and pundram or marks). The preceptor tells us where and how to wear these. There are slokas telling us how to do/ remember this : panniru nAmam by Swami Desikan; the sanskrit sloka beginning with chathus…).

c. dAsya nAmam: the preceptor gives us a name adding dAsa after our usual name; this indicates: dAsa asmi or I am the servant of the lord and I am not independent; if one’s name is Krishnan, he will thereafter call himself Krishna dAsan)

d. manthram: this is the process of learning from the preceptor, the rahasya thryam (the holy secret triad) of thirumanthiram, dwayam (the two liner) and sarama sloka (the final sloka).

e. yagnam: this is the way thiruvArAdhanam (sacred offerings to God) is to be performed; the preceptor teaches us this and after this we start doing this in our daily pooja.

As mentioned before, it is only after a Srivaishnavaite undergoes saAsrayaNam, that he becomes an ayyangAr. It is only after this that he becomes fit for doing bhagavadhArAdhanam or worshipping god In the prescribed manner.

4. artha panchakam: those who seek for eternal salvation or attain moksha are known as mumukshus. Srivaishnavas are mumukshus and are enjoined upon to learn/ know/ understand five aspects. These are:

a. our destination or goal of reaching the paramAthmA
b. the one who reaches there/ attains that, i.e. the jeevAthma
c. the way to attain/ achieve it
d. forces which are inimical to our attaining the above objective, i.e. our past sins
e. the fruit of our attaining that goal or paramAthmA.

a. paramAthmA: is the one who creates, preserves and when the time comes, destroys and He does it in his divine play or game. He has limitless knowledge, happiness, the one without any blemish or bad qualities, one with boundless good aspects. He is the one desired target for the entire world, is perennial or endless, with His own beautiful image and form. He has for His body the twin vibhUthis of leela and nithya vibhudis. He never is away even for a moment from his divine consort, pirAtti. He is the guide, master and the one who appoints for everything. He is the one whom we aspire to be with in the moksha world. This is all what we have to know as the first aspect to know about the paramAthma.

b. jeevAthmA or the one who is the complement of what we saw above, i.e. jeevAthmA is also a happy form, a miniscule, not independent but with servitude as his attitude, the one who is borne by and the one who is appointed and the one who has none but the lord as his boss/ master. The jeevathma is of three kinds: bhakthar, nithyar and mukthar. Bhakthas are those who because of their acts of sins and good deeds are born again and again in various forms including the grass, the stone or the mankind. Mukthas are those who because of their following what is laid down by the sAstras and hence are relieved from the trials and tribulations undergone usually by the family people and hence they rejoice in the thought about the company of the lord. Nithyas are those (such as VishvaksEnar, garudan et al) who do not have family ties and worries and hence are able to enjoy the blissful company of our lord and having the blessing of living for ever in His world. This is the knowledge we have to have about jeevAthma.

c. the way to reach/attain Him: to reach our lord in Vaikuntam the ways are only through devotion and surrender. We cannot do bhakthi yOga or the path of devotion and hence prapathi or surrender is the only way to reach Him. This is the knowledge we need to have about the way to attain Him.

d. the obstacle due to our past sins, to reach Him: not worshipping is the chief sin. By not obeying what the sAstras have ordained and by following courses exactly opposite to the prescribed rules due to ignorance, habits, desire to do so etc. due to these sins, human beings are born and die again and again. If we know this, it is the fourth important element.

e. the fruit/ benefit of attaining Him: after our life leaves our body, our soul travels through what is known as the archirAdhi marga or the heavenly path to reach Sri vaikuntam and there do for ever and ever, our sacred duties to our lord. This is the fifth element of artha panchakam.

5. prapaththi: when once the jeevAthma becomes aware of the artha panchakam it endeavors to discard its past sins of not thinking about god, nor following His path; so it starts eschewing its past evil ways as jeevathma is scared of the three types of sins (praraptham, sanchitham and AgAmi) : those which come from earlier births, those which we commit now and to overcome this, the way is to seek salvation by going to a preceptor and doing prayaschitham or expiation and does baranyAsam or barasamarpaNam. This is called prapaththi, which, again, has five elements:

a) AnukUlya sankalpam
b) prAthikUlya varjanam
c) mahAvisvAsam
d) kArpaNyam
e) kopruthvavaraNam.

a) AnukUlya sankalpam: To make a vow to god that he will thereafter do everything as prescribed by Him is what this means. He does the prescribed duties and rituals with the 3 types of thoughts always in him; these are:
he does everything only to please our lord and not for his own pleasure;
karthru thyAgam or the consciousness that he does everything not because it is by him but because it is by Him,
mamatha thyAgam i.e. the god gets things done and phala thyAgam or the fruit of whatever we do is for the lord and not for us.

This feature is called the sAthvikathyAgam and he should always think that he will do everything that gives happiness to our lord.

b) prAthikUlya varjanam is to make a vow that he will not act against His will or dictates and not to do what are proscribed by the sAstrAs

c) mahAvisvAsam is the abiding unswerving faith in Him that Sriman Narayana will deliver us at the end of this life and take us into His fold and hence not seeking other lesser gods to satisfy our petty needs and desires.

d) kArpaNyam is the consciousness knowledge that we do not have the capital (to invest) in the form of bhakthi yOgam and hence eschew/ give up ahnkara, mamakara (the proud and vainglorious I and ME of everything we do) and hence with this humility, bow before Him for his grace.

e) kopruthvavaraNam is the plea we make to our lord expressing our inability to do bhakthi yoga and hence pleading for his grace and pity to give us salvation from the cycle of births and deaths and to retain us for ever with Him.

‘Aar’ in Tamil is added at the end of any word as a mark of respect. If we, the jeevAthmA observe all the 25 aspects stated above, then the 25th letter of ‘ma’ or jeevAthmA practicing the above 25 attributes/aspects, becomes fit to be called ayyangAr. As these are all possible by us, let us all make a determined effort to live as real ayyangArs by following whatever is ordained for us and live happily in this world and the other world and not be merely namesake ayyangArs!

by U.Ve. Sri Urupattur Rajagopalachariar Swamin
English translation (with AchArya anugraham) by Santhanam Iyengar

Courtesy: Sri Rangaraj Ramaswamy

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  1. Very interesting and informative information . Although few people are aware of this through Kalakshebams, it is nice to make the awareness through popular sites like this. keep up the good work.


  2. The article is good giving the essence of Sri Vaishnav Philosophy. However prapatti I think is available for all devotees of Lord narayana, irrespective of caste and perhaps to all living beings.I would like to know whether I am correct?

  3. An erudite and a respectable attempt to attribute significance for the title ‘Ayyangar’ , no doubt.

    But the real root cause of the term comes from the Telugu ways of addressing the vaishnavite scholars as ‘Ayyanu Garu’.

    During the period of Udayavar the sholars were addressed as ‘Mudaligal’.

    Mudali, Ayyan are all Tamil terms for addressing respectable leadersand schoilars.

    Even during the time of Vedanta Desika,(740 yeras ago) his son was known as Nayinachariar, not as Nayina Ayyangar.
    During the 15, 16 and 17th centuries when the Vijayanagaram kingdom was reigning, the vaishnavites from Kanchipuram, notably the thathacharyas were occupying key royal positions as Rajagurus.

    As they came to be respectfully referred as Ayyan Garu by the rest of the Telugus, thje name became more wide spread to refer as vaishnavites and by corollary the nonvaishnavite brahmins were as Ayyars.

    The author is welcome to contadict this factual position if he can quote from works of Desikan or Udayavar or other Purvacharyas to substantiate his point.

  4. Learning is never ending. Today I learnt this (though most of know but not this much in detail) for which I am thankful.
    Very knowledgeable information.
    Thanks once again


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