The two feuding Vaishnavite sects – Vadakalai and Thenkalai Iyengars – came to blows on Saturday in an annual dispute over the hymns to be sung before the deity at the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram. The dispute took a violent turn when dozens devotees had gathered to witness the deity being taken around the streets, and one group objected to the singing of the ancient Prabandham hymns. Members of both groups were caught on camera pushing, shoving, and hitting each other in front of the procession.
According to one report in The Hindu, Thirumangai Azhwar, was taken in a procession around Varadaraja Perumal, the stallion-mounted presiding deity. When the Thenkalai group began reciting hymns from the Divya Prabhandham, a collection of verses written by the 12 Alwars in Tamil, it angered the Vadakalai groups who were also present. The main difference between Vadakalai and Thenkalai sects of the Iyengar community is the language in which their prayer books are written. While the Vadakalai sect focuses more on Sanskrit-based traditions and the commandments of Vedic literature, the Thenkalai sect focuses on Tamil-based traditions and the edict espoused in the Alwar literature.
In the past, the two sects have sparred over how the namam (caste-mark) on the forehead of Lord Venkateshwara’s idol in Tirumala should look – ‘U’ shaped namam for Vadakalais and ‘Y’ shamed namam for Thenkalais.
In October last year, the Madras High Court restrained the Devarajaswamy Devasthanam in Kanchipuram from reciting the Tamil Prabandham, a collection of verses revered by the Thenkalai sect of Iyengars, written in Tamil. However, admonishing the two sects, the court had observed, “Temple is a place of worship where anybody can pray. Unfortunately, as there is difference between Vadakalai and Thenkalai of Iyengar community, the issue is yet to attain finality. As long as this globe exists in the orbit, their differences would not be resolved. Instead terming themselves as ‘human being’, they should first know how to be ‘being human’.”