The Vaikhanasas, a group of Brahmanic priests in the Visnu temples of south India, can look back on a long and turbulent history, that is characterized by the effort of claiming their status against rivaling priests.Central to this monograph is a controversy, ongoing for centuries, as to what makes a person eligible to perform the rituals in Visnu temples: does birth or an initiation create the ideal intermediary between the god and humans? Since the 14th century CE the discussion in the relevant Sanskrit texs centers around the question of whether the Vaikhanasas priests must undergo an initiation including a branding on the upper arms, or whether their particular prenatal life-cycle ritual visnubali makes them eligible to perform temple ritual. As hereditary temple priests the Vaikhanasas’ own stance is explicit: they are Visnu’s own children, preordained for temple service already before birth. In addition to the textual perspective, three instances of local conflicts from the 19th/20th centuries about the question of whether the Vaikhanasas require an initiation are analysed in their contexts. Furthermore, three examples of present day performances of the crucial ritual visnubali are presented and interpreted in the light of the relation between text and performance and from the perspective of the acting priests’ ritual competence. The book also contains a DVD with some of the video-coverage of the three visnubali performances.