Doctrines Tenkalai means "southern culture" and is the one half of the Shri Vaishnavas. The other half is the Vatakalai, the "northern culture."
The groups differ in two important aspects. The Tenkalai places more emphasis on Tamil scriptures, while the Vatakalai emphasises Sanskrit scriptures. The major difference involves doctrine, the relation of divine grace to human response. Both the Tenkalai and Vatakalai believe in the primary role of grace in salvation and state that devotees should surrender first to Shri and then to Vishnu. To the Vatakalai this act of surrender gives Vishnu a pretext or occasion to save the soul. Pillai Lokacarya, the great teacher of the Tenkalai, maintained that it was presumptuous to think that this surrender could influence one's salvation. To him, surrender was the acknowledgement of what Vishnu had already done for that person. The Tenkalai have given the names "monkey-hold" and "cat-hold" to describe the two viewpoints. The Vatakalai theology compares the soul to a baby monkey clinging to its mother, in contrast to Tenkalai theology which uses the analogy of the soul being like a kitten picked up by the scruff of the neck by its mother with no effort involved on the kitten's part.
Commentaries by Manavala Mamunikal (1370-1443), the leading theologian of the Tenkalai, on Pillai Lokacarya's Rahasyam, Eighteen Secrets, a collection of treatises on the esoteric teachings of the gurus, are an important source of Tenkalai doctrine (for other doctrines see Shri Vaishnavas).

History The split into the Tenkalai and Vatakalai came gradually. For the early history before the split see the entry on Shri Vaishnavas.
The most important figure in the Tenkalai is Pillai Lokacarya (1264-1369). He came from a sixth generation of disciples of the philosopher Ramanuja, and his family were learned in Tamil and Sanskrit. He was born only after Nampillai, his father's guru, ordered his father to give up his ascetic chastity. His name Lokacarya means "teacher of the world," one of Nampillai's titles.
Pillai Lokacarya lived all his life in the great temple of Srirangam. When the temple was raided by Muslims in 1309, tradition says that he walled in large images and took the smaller images to a village for their safety. He never married, devoting himself to the worship of Vishnu-Narayana and to teaching and scholarship. He taught especially on salvation through grace. Even if devotees do not follow fully the ritual, wisdom, and devotion criteria of the scriptures, they can still attain salvation by surrendering to Shri and Vishnu. Or if this is not possible, they can surrender to a guru. This was the main aspect of the teaching of Pillai Lokacarya, which overall was Ramanuja's Visistadvaita Vedanta, common to all Shri Vaishnavas.

Symbols The importance of images can be seen in how Pillai Lokacarya safeguarded the icons of Srirangam Temple when the Muslims raided. Srirangam Temple is one of the largest temples in the world and is filled with symbolism (see Shri Vaishnavas).
Because of the central importance of the doctrine of grace and surrender to Goddess and God or guru, ritual and devotion are performed by the devotee to please God and not to obtain merit.

Adherents These are numbered in millions and are concentrated in southern Tamil Nadu, though are numerous in all the states of South India.

Main Centre
 Srirangam Temple, Tamil Nadu, South India.