Doctrines Vatakalai means "northern culture" and is the one half of the Shri Vaishnavas. The other half is the Tenkalai, the "southern culture."
The Vatakalai places more emphasis on Sanskrit rather than Tamil scriptures. The doctrinal split between the Vatakalai and Tenkalai was over divine grace and whether humans can influence this. The Tenkalai believe in the "cat-hold" theory while the Vatakalai believe in the "monkey-hold" theory. This symbolic illustration was conceived by the Tenkalai. The kitten and the baby monkey represent the soul. The baby monkey has to hang on to its mother as she leaps from tree to tree, while the kitten is picked up by the scruff of the neck. The baby monkey has a choice whether to hold on or let go, but the kitten has no choice whatsoever. Vedanta Desika was a great Vatakalai teacher who said that prapatti, surrender, gave Lord Vishnu a pretext or occasion (vyaja) to save the soul. On the other hand, the kitten of the Tenkalai shows that the individual can contribute nothing to their salvation.
Both the Vatakalai and Tenkalai believed that surrender to Shri was equally efficacious, since she is able to intercede with Lord Vishnu. The Goddess is also seen as a powerful influence within the guru. To Vedanta Desika, however, ritual and devotion played an important part in gaining salvation.

History The split into the Vatakalai and Tenkalai came gradually. For the early history before the split see the entry Shri Vaishnavas.
Vedanta Desika (1268-1369), the most important Vatakalai scholar, lived to be one year short of a hundred. He was a contemporary of the Tenkalai scholar Pillai Lokacarya, who was born in 1264 and died in the same year as Vedanta Desika.

Symbols There was a gradual move in emphasis from a secret yoga passed on to a small group of disciples to a community oriented worship of Vishnu and his consorts incarnate in images. These images involved ritual worship in temples, with much use of symbolism.
A story told of Ramanuja illustrates this change. Ramanuja was taught the five aspects of Yamuna's teachings by five of Yamuna's disciples. One of these was to teach Ramanuja the secret mantra, sacred utterance, of the community, and he made Ramanuja come to him eighteen times before swearing him to silence and telling him the mantra. The next day Ramanuja went on to the balcony of the temple and shouted the secret mantra to the Shri Vaishnavas down below. The teacher told Ramanuja he would go to hell for this, but Ramanuja cheerfully replied "But because of their connection with you these souls will be saved !" The teacher was impressed with this concern for others and recognised Ramanuja as the successor of Yamuna and the new leader of the Shri Vaishnavas.

Adherents There are millions of Vatakalai, especially in northern Tamil Nadu, and also in Andhra Pradesh and other states of South India.

Main Centre
 Tirupati, the all-India pilgrimage centre, Andhra Pradesh, India.