A friend of mine, Mahesh has launched a beautiful website on Sri Vaikhanasa Aagamam called “Sri Vaikhanasa Vaibhavam.” Please visit his sites at: http://thiruman.com/Sri%20Vikanasa%20Acharyan%20Homepage/index.html and http://vaikhanasam.wordpress.com/
Sri Vikanasa Aachaariyan with Bhrigu, Marichi, Kasyapa & Atri
The Vaikhanasas originated as a group of ascetics. In the Manava Dharmasastra, Manu discusses vanaprastha, forest-dweller, the third of the four asramas, stages of life, and mentions a “Vaikhanasa rule.” Other ancient authorities support this reference, so it seems there was a Vaikhanasa ascetic community before the common era. They are also mentioned in the Narayaniya, which is a late section of the Mahabharata of uncertain date but probably no earlier than the third century CE. Surviving Vaikhanasa sutras are no older than the fourth century CE. Inscriptions from perhaps the eighth century CE identify Vaikhanasas as temple priests, and from the end of the tenth century they are prominently mentioned in South Indian inscriptions.
Tirumala, a temple governed by the Vaikhanasa agamas
Vaikhanasas were the priests of Vaishnava temples. They were not merely ritual priests, but were trusted with administering the temples and their lands. With the rise of the Shri Vaishnavas the Vaikhanasas declined in their temple role. Ramanuja, leader of the Shri Vaishnavas and the first organizer of temple administration at Srirangam Temple, replaced the Vaikhanasa system of worship with the more liberal Pancaratra system, expanded the fivefold division of temple servants into tenfold, and gave an important part in ritual to sudra, lowest caste, ascetics. This change spread to other Vaishnava temples. However, the Vaikhanasas continued to be important. Today Vaikhanasas are the chief priests in more than half of the Vaishnava temples in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and parts of Karnataka (including Thiruvallikeni, Tirumala, Mannargudi, Srivilliputhur, and many others). Their present day temple activities are worthy of attention, as are their efforts to work for community integrity which is threatened by increasing social and technological changes…
Adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaikhanasas