The Iyer-Iyengar Marriage Divide

Iyers and Iyengars both belong to the Tamil Brahmin fold. They differ in their basic philosophies. You’ll find that across all religions, there’s a chasm and schism thriving on the relative priorities given to scriptures and saints. While Iyers place more importance on the Smirti, that’s scriptures, the Iyengars put more emphasis on Acharyas or teachers. This is also the core difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and Protestants and Catholics in Christianity. The former fundamentally regards scriptures as the only guide while Catholics emphases more on the Pope, saints, and prophets.


In the context of Tamil Matrimony and laws, the Iyer and Iyengar schism isn’t a Shiva versus Vishnu thing. It’s mainly about two houses of philosophies: Advaita Vedanta and Vishishtadvaita. The priorities of Smriti and Acharya also comes into play here.

  • Depending on the tradition: Iyers are followers of the Smarta Tradition, which is a more liberal aspect of Hinduism. The worship contains five key divinities, namely, Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha and Surya. Adi Shankara is the main Guru and the school of Advaita is the main philosophy. There’s no difference between humans and God as per this philosophy. The illusion called Maya creates your souls differently from the Brahman. The tradition’ goal is to pierce this screen of illusion and comingle with the Universe in unity. Jnana or knowledge is the preferred path.
  • The Iyengar route: They follow the tradition of Sri Vaishnava, which is more stringent kind of Hinduism. The worship mainly centers on the pantheon of Vishnu. Iyengars are followers of Ramanuja. Their core philosophy is Vishishtadvaita. This philosophy entails three entities, namely God and both living and non-living things. The objective of the jivas is to merge with the Parabrahman (creator) primarily through the route of devotion or Bhakti.
  • Appearance: Their core philosophy reflects through their appearance as well. Iyers sport the three-mark Tripundra. These are forehead markings comprising ash, which signifies that all eventually burns and perishes in the end and that we need to transcend beyond the worldly illusions of Maya. On the other hand, Iyengar put the Sricharanam, which are the Lord’s feet on the forehead. It reminds a true Srivaishnavite about the feet of God and thus spends the entire life in devotion. You have two different sects in this tradition who wear it slightly differently from one another.
  • Holy text and holy teachers: Smarta’s main concern is with the Smriti scriptures. They respect their teachers too, but the Srivaishnavites remain unrivaled in their respect and devotion to their acharya. For the latter, their teachers often rank higher than Gods.
  • Holy temples: Smartas celebrate their 275 odd temples, which are called Padaal Petra Sthalam. They’ve been glorified after their gurus. Srivaishnavites celebrate 106 temples, which are known as Divya Desam. Their acharyas glorify them. Both have intersections in Chidambaram and Kanchi. The former’s devotion towards their temples is unsurpassed by the latter.

This has a direct impact on Tamil Matrimony and the way a marriage is followed and performed. Even the languages mark a difference. Smarthas entail more of Sanskrit in their prayers and speech.

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