Vaikhanasa Literature- continued
68.1. Vaikhanasa-kalpa –sutra ascribed to Sage Vaikhanasa and the various texts collectively called Vaikhanasa Shastra composed by his four disciples are together taken to be the cannon of the Vaikhanasa tradition. Scholars date these texts as being around third or fourth century. But, the next significant reference to Vaikhanasas appears in the inscriptions dated around ninth century (during the time of Raja Raja Chola). The developments, if any, within the Vaikhanasa tradition between the period of the Vaikhanasa Shastra and the ninth century are rather hazy and virtually unknown. It was only after this period that a number of significant texts were produced detailing temple and domestic rituals. The authors of these texts were mostly the temple priests serving at the major Vishnu temples following the Vaikhanasa mode of worship.
68.2. The reasons for recording those texts appear to be two-fold. One, to prescribe in detail and to establish temple–worship sequences and procedures; and, the other to assert and defend the identity of the Vaikhanasa tradition in the face of the challenges it was facing from the Sri Vaishnava sect that was beginning to gain ascendancy.
68.3. By about the 11th century, Sri Vaishnavas established themselves as the dominant sect among the Vaishnavas. And, their way of worship (pancharatra) took charge of most Vaishnava temples in South India, and made it open to a larger participation by larger segments of the community. As a result of this development, the Vaikhanasas, rooted in orthodoxy, appeared to have been increasingly marginalized as temple priests. In order to distinguish themselves and to assert their identity as hereditary temple ritual-specialists following the pristine Vedic practices they interpreted certain pre-natal rituals (say, Vishnu –Bali) to serve as the boundaries of their group. Those set of rituals and the texts that highlighted the superiority of Vaikhanasa parampara, pantha (tradition) and its siddantha (ideology) attempted to transform the self perception of a close knit group of priestly class placed in a fluid historical and local setting.
69.1. The Vaikhanasas scholars of this period strove to define and defend their unique identity through their highly specialized practices; and, by means of their texts on temple worship rituals and the domestic rituals. Among these, Nrsimha Vajapeyin, Bhatta Bhaskaracharya, Anantacharya and above all Sreenivasa-makhin are prominent.
69.2. Nrsimha Vajapeyin (described as the disciple of Varadacharya and son of Madhavacharya) is held in high regard as a great scholar well versed in Vedic srauta rituals (he having performed the Vajapeya yajna), in Vaikhanasa temple worship-rituals, and in Tantra-mantra-shastra. His Bhagavad-archa-prakarana details the daily worship procedures at the temple. He also prepared an elaborate and an excellent gloss on the seven chapters of Grihya-sutra, three chapters of Dharma-sutra and on the one chapter of Pravara-sutra. Nrsimha Vajapeyin’s gloss provides main framework for the elaborations in the later texts. It also lucidly presents the significant aspects of temple-worship sequences, in concise form.
69.3. His disciple, Bhatta Bhaskaracharya wrote commentaries on Daivika and Manusha sutras ; and, also on Khila (appendix) mantras of Rig-Veda.
69.4. However, the most prolific writer among them was Sreenivasa-makhin (also known as Sreenivasa Dikshita or Sreenivasa-adhvari) hailed as ‘the Vedanta Deshika of Vaikhanasas’. He enjoys a preeminent position in the Vaikhanasa lore. It is said; he was the son of Govindacharya and Rukminiyamma of Vaikhanasa Brahmin family of Kaushika gotra. He was born at Venkatachala (Vrsagiri), the present Tirumala. Sreenivasa-makhin served as the priest in the temple of Sri Venkateshwara on the Tirumala hills. He is said to have lived after Nrsimha Vajapeyin, Bhatta Bhaskara and Anantacharya. And, his period is said to be around the 11-12th century.
69.5. Sreenivasa-makhin in his famous work Dasha – vidha – hetu-nirupana , the descriptions of the tenfold reasons (or arguments why Vaikhanasas are superior) outlines the situation of the Vaikhanasas as obtaining and provides the strategies to establish the superiority of Vaikhanasas over rival traditions, the Vaishnava sects in particular. Dasha-vidha-hetu-nirupana, perhaps, came about as a reaction to the perceived threats from the more aggressive Pancharatra sect, which at that time was gathering strength and gaining ascendancy.
70.1. Dasha-vidha-hetu- nirupana emphasized the merits of Vaikhanasa tradition, highlighting its distinctive features and merits; demarcated Vaikhanasa from the rival traditions, particularly the Pancharatra; and put forth elaborate reasons why Vaikhanasa is superior to other traditions.
70.2. At the commencement of the text (2.5-9) Sreenivasa-makhin presents in abstract form ten reasons why Vaikhanasa is superior to other traditions:
- (i) Vaikhanasa-sutra is established by Sage Vaikhana an incarnate Vishnu who is the cause of the world;
- (ii) it is the first among all the sutras;
- (iii) it follows the ways of Sruti (Vedas) in all its ritual-actions;
- (iv) it encases all its ritual-actions in Vedic mantras;
- (v) it has niseka as its first life-cycle ritual;
- (vi) it prescribes eighteen kinds of bodily life-cycle rituals (samakaras) that purify body and mind ;
- (vii) it presents unity of ritual-actions and their associated components ;
- (viii) it is accepted by Manu and other Sutra-kaaras;
- (ix) it extols the absolute supremacy of the glorious Narayana who is the only cause of the entire universe; and
- (x) those who ardently follow the Vaikhanasa dharma as expounded in its sutra are dearest to the adorable Narayana.
akhila jagat kāraṇa bhūtena vikhanasā praṇītatvāt. sarva sūtrāṇām āditvāt. sarva karmasu śruti mārgā anusāritvāt. samantrakasarvakriyā pratipādakatvāt. niṣekasaṃskārādi matvāt. aṣṭādaśa śārīrasa ṃskāraprati pādakatvāt. sāṅga kriyākalāpa vattvāt. manvādyaiḥ svīkṛtatvāt. akhila jagad eka kāraṇa bhūta śrīmannārāyaṇa eika paratvāt. etat sūtrokta dharmānuṣṭhāna vatām eva bhagavat priyatama tvopapatteś ca. iti.
70.3. Sreenivasa-makhin cites, in support of his arguments, passages from various Grihya and Dharma sutras, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishads, Puranas and various other texts that are generally held in acclaim. He says the worship at home (griha-archa) which is done for securing individual and family welfare; and worship in temple (alaya-archa) which is done for the good of the whole community are both important. But, for icon-worship the temple is said to be the most suitable place.
70.4. The central issue that runs through Dasha-vidha–hetu-nirupana is establishing the eligibility (adhikara) of the Vaikhanasas, gained by birth, to act as temple- priests (archaka) in Vishnu temples – mukhyādikāriṇāṃ vaikhānasānāṃ, to worship on behalf of the devotees, and to mediate between god and the devotees. Sreenivasa-makhin argues that the Vaikhanasa worship of the deity installed in temples is for the good of all (sarve janah): the individual, the community (loka), the state (rastra), the glory of the ruler (rajan) and the welfare of the ruled (praja). It prays for timely rains, for abundance of food, the well being of the animals (dvi pade, chatush pade) and of the whole of nature. The worship of the deity installed at the temple is thus benign (soumya) and beneficial/auspicious (Sri Kara) to all. It contributes to the spiritual uplift of all the worshiping devotees. This worship is regarded as Kriya-yoga.
70.5. Sreenivasa-makhin explains that the Vaikhanasa tradition accommodates those who prefer to worship the form-less (amurtha-archana) through yajna, as also those who worship Vishnu through his icon (samurtha-bhagavad-yajna). It is explained; the two are not substantially different. Yet; according to Sreenivasa-makhin, in the present age of Kali the Agama inspired worship is most suitable, since the srauta and smarta rituals are beyond the capability of most of the people. He however adds; the temple must be properly constructed; the and the icon appropriately installed in it; and it should be effectively consecrated. The worship should be carried out with single-minded devotion by priests well trained in conducting worship –sequences.
71.1. Among the other Vaikhanasa texts, the significant ones is, Archana – navanita (the essence of worship) by Keshavacharya who also prepared a gloss (vritti) on Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, from the standpoint of view of Lakshmi-vishitadvaita. As mentioned earlier, Bhaskara Bhattacharya a disciple of Nrsimha Yajapeyin wrote commentaries on Daivika and Manusha sutras. And, Prayoga –vidhi on procedural aspects of icon worship by Sundara-raja, a writer of later period, is well known.
71.2. One work that includes much of the older material is the renowned Vaikhanasa-mantra-prashnam (daivikacatustyam) or Mantra Samhita. This book contains all the Vedic mantras needed in temple –worship rituals. Most of these are taken from Yajurveda .The first half (Ch. 1 – 4) contain mantras of Grihya Sutra. The second half called daivikacatustyam (Ch 5 – 8) includes portions relating to temple-ritual taken from the handbooks of the four rishis: Atri, Bhrigu, Kashyapa and Marichi.
[ For Vaikhanasa Mantra Prashna you can go to
and download the translation by Resnick, H. J. (1996). The Daivika-catustayam of the Vaikhanasa-mantra-prasna: A Translation. Published Ph.D. dissertation. Harvard University: Cambridge, Massachusetts.
with transliteration in English ]
72.1. Vaikhanasa is essentially a religious system that preaches worship of Vishnu-icon with devotion and a sense of complete surrender. Its texts are primarily ritual texts (prayoga shastra) containing elaborate discussions on various layers of temples-worship-sequences and their significance; as also instructions on practical aspects concerning yajnas and domestic ritual procedures. The major thrust of Vaikhanasa texts is to provide clear, comprehensive and detailed guidelines for Vishnu worship. The jnana-paada segment of Vaikhanasa Agama texts is , therefore, rather brief as compared to discussion on rituals. It does not go about setting out a detailed philosophical doctrine of its own. However, Vaikhanasa, Surely, prescribes its way of life (dharma) and its outlook (darshana) on God, Man and the relation between the two; and the ways that lead Man towards God.
72.2. During the medieval periods, the Vaikhanasa scholars, most of whom were temple-priests, provided a philosophical basis for worshipping Vishnu icons installed in temples; and to harmonize icon-worship with the Vedic practices of performing Yajnas. These works derive their authority from the Kalpa-sutra of Sage Vaikhana and the Vaikhanasa Shastra texts composed by his four disciples.
72.3. Sreenivasa–makhin, a Vaikhanasa Acharya, produced several works bringing out the characteristic features of Vaikhanasa philosophy. Among his works of this genre, the better known are: Lakshmi-vishistadvaita–bhashya; Vaikhanasa–mahima-manjari; and paramathmika-Upanishad-bhashya.
Another author who attempted a clear presentation of Vaikhanasa philosophy was Raghupathi-Bhattacharya (also known as Vasudeva). His work Mokshopaaya-pradipika spread over twelve chapters discusses the nature of Brahman, the ways of attaining Brahman in his manifest form through worship rendered with intense devotion and a sense of absolute surrender (prapatti-purvaka-bhagavad-aaradhanam). Raghupathi-Bhattacharya explains the Vaikhanasa doctrine employing the terms of Samkhya ideology. And, his work is seen by some as an attempt to bring about a sort of rapprochement between Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra traditions.
73.1. Sreenivasa-makhin in his Lakshmi – vishistadvaita- bhashya, which is a commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma sutras, states that Vishnu alone is the highest Reality (eka eva para-tattvah).
Both the authors, Sreenivasa – makhin (Tatparya chintamani) and Raghupathi Bhattacharya, explain that Brahman (Narayana) the Paramatman is of dual nature. He is visible and invisible; perfectly bright and pure; immutable. He is both nishkala (devoid of forms and attributes) and sakala (with forms and attributes). The two aspects, truly, are one; and are inseparable. The former aspect (nishkala) is all-inclusive. It pervades everything, in and out, like ghee in milk, oil in sesame seed, fragrance in flower, juice in the fruit and fire in the wood. It has the nature of space (akasha) in which everything resides; and which resides in everything. That precisely is the nature of Vishnu (vyapanath Vishnuh) who permeates the entire existence. Because of being extremely subtle, he cannot be described as real or unreal.
73.2. Vimanarchana-kalpa ascribed to Sage Marichi mentions that Vishnu may be approached in one of the four ways: recitation / repetition of the sacred name of Vishnu (japa), attentive repetition of prayer; huta, sacrifice; arcana, service to images, or dhyana, yogic meditation. Of the four, the Marichi Samhita says, archana leads to the realization of all aims.
73.3. Further it is said; the worship of the Vishnu can be either internal (antaryaga) or external (bahiryaga). The Grihya sutras explain: the Godhead is formless –nishkala; perfectly pure and bright filled with lustre tejomaya; beyond comprehension achintya; and is of the nature of pure existence, consciousness and bliss sat-chit-ananda; and abides in the heart-lotus- hridaya-kamala – of the devotee.
But, because of the limitations of the human mind the worship of Brahman –without form, nishkala, is beyond the capability of us who live ordinary lives. The human mind finds it easier to deal with forms, shapes and attributes than with the formless absolute. And therefore, when an icon is properly installed and consecrated; and it is worshiped with love and reverence, a sense of devotion arises from within and envelops the mind and heart of the worshiper. By constant attention to the icon, by seeing it again and again and by offering it various services of devotional worship, icon that is beautiful will engage the mind and delight the heart of the devotee. Enlivened by loving worship, devotion, and absolute surrender (parapatti) , the icon will no longer be just a symbol. The icon invested with love and devotion will be transformed into a true divine manifestation. And, its worship ensures our good here (aihika) and also our ultimate good or emancipation (amusmika). The archa with devotion is therefore the best form of worship. And, Archa is dearer to Vishnu.
73.4. That is the reason, though the nishkala aspect is the ultimate, the worship of Vishnu-icon (samurtha-archana) with devotion is recommended as the best way for all, especially for those involved in the transactional world. Yet, the devotee must progressively move from gross sthula towards the subtle sukshma.
74.1. Vishnu’s visista (aspected) nature becomes manifest when the devotees churn him within their hearts by contemplation and devotion. It is like igniting fire by churning the wood. And, like sparks that fly from the burning fire, Vishnu shines forth in varieties of forms. He appears variously, to satisfy the aspirations of the devotee. Vishnu who is all-pervasive now becomes manifest in all his splendour. This is the Sakala aspect of Vishnu. The devotees must visualize, invoke and worship his divine form (divya mangala vigraha).
74.2. When Vishnu is visualized as a worship-worthy icon, he usually is imagined in a human form with distinguishable features (sakala). Vishnu’s form, seen in mind’s eye, for contemplation (dhyana) and worship (archa) is four armed, carrying shanka, chakra, gadha and padma. His countenance is beatific radiating peace and joy (saumya), delight to behold soumya-priya-darshana, his complexion is rosy pink wearing golden lustrous garment (pitambara). To meditate upon a beautiful image of Vishnu with a delightful smiling countenance and graceful looks is the greatest blessing.
75.1. Sreenivasa-makhin in his Lakshmi-vishistadvaita – bhashya, explains that Vishnu the highest Reality (eka eva para-tattvah) is distinguished by Lakshmi (Lakshmi – visista- Narayanah). Isvara associated with Lakshmi (Lakshmi visita isvara tattvam) is Vishnu. Lakshmi (Sri) is not as an independent reality (tattva) but is an aspect that is inseparable from Vishnu (Srisa or Narayana), like moon and moonlight. Vishnu’s power (maya) and splendour is Sri (Lakshmi); and, she is mula-prakrti the original source of energy and power (shakthi) that enlivens all existence. She is the cause of all actions by all beings.
75.2. Vishnu is Purusha and Lakshmi is Prakrti; the whole of existence proceeds from the union of the two. And, Purusha abiding in Prakrti experiences the qualities that result from Prakrti. The Vaikhanasa, therefore, calls its ideology as Lakshmi-visita-advaita (the advaita, non-duality); and its doctrine of Isvara associated with Lakshmi as Lakshmi visita isvara tattvam.
[The Lakshmi-Visita-advaita varies significantly from the philosophical and religious positions taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.]
75.3. As said; Lakshmi is inseparable from Vishnu. The non-duality (advaita) refers to the unity of Vishnu with Lakshmi. The Ultimate Reality is Vishnu with Sri. Those devoted to him are Vaishnavas. The sakala aspect is the excellent form of Vishnu in association with Lakshmi (Sri) who is Prakrti the shakthi of Vishnu. For the purpose of devotion and worship, the sakala aspect is brilliant. For, in his sakala form, Vishnu responds most gracefully to devotional worship and contemplation.
76.1. Sreenivasa –-makhin explains that in the Pranava (Om-kara), O-kara represents Vishnu; U—Kara, Lakshmi and Ma-kara, the devotee. The Om-kara binds the three together. Lakshmi (U-kara) bridges the transcendental Narayana the Supreme Self and the individual soul (pratyagatma). In other words, Lakshmi leads the devotee to the grace of Narayana.
76.2. If Vishnu (purusha) grants release from the phenomenal fetters (Mukthi), Lakshmi (Prakrti) presides over bhukthi the fulfillment of normal aspirations in one’s life. The two must be worshiped together.
76.3. Therefore, the worship of Narayana alone or the worship of Lakshmi separately is not suggested. The proper worship is the worship of Narayana with Sri or Lakshmi as his aspect (visista).
77.1. Further, the Vaikhanasas evolved the theory of the five aspects (swarupas): of Godhead: Vishnu as sarva vyapin, the one who pervades all existence and in whom everything resides; as Purusha the pure consciousness, the principle of life; as Satya, that which sustains the universe; as Acyuta the time-invariant aspect of all matter; and, as Aniruddha the ultimate constituent of all existence.
[If Vishnu is considered as the primary deity Adi-murti, then the four aspects are regarded as components of that single unit. This is the notion of chatur-murti. If on the other hand, Vishnu is also counted along with the other four, then we have the pancha-murti concept. But, the first four forms of icons, chatur-murti, are regarded important.]
77.2. According to Vaikhanasa ideology, the four aspects of Vishnu -Purusha, Satya, Achyuta and Aniruddha– are the four stages of emanations of Vishnu. In this scheme; Purusha is identified with Dharma (virtue); Satya with Jnana (wisdom); Acchuta with Aishvarya (sovereignty); and Aniruddha with vairagya (dispassion).
77.3. In the Vaikhanasa temple layout, the four aspects of Vishnu are visualized as four deities located around the main icon of Vishnu: Purusha to the East; Satya to the South; Acchuta to the West; and, Aniruddha to the North (pragadi chatur – dikshu).
77.4. The four virtues or planes of Vishnu are also regarded the four quarters (pada) of Brahman: aamoda, pramoda, sammoda and vaikuntaloka (sayujya) . The highest of which is parama pada, Vaikunta the abode of Vishnu (Vishnod paramam padam).
[The Vaikhanasa regard the icon worship as the royal way for achieving emancipation from the worldly confines; and for leading the individual to Vishnu’s grace. Its faith is that when the individual jiva that frees itself from the fetters of the transactional world enters into the sphere of Vishnu vishnuloka through four successive stages; each stage being designated a plane of Vishnu-experience Vaishnava-ananda. The first stage is aamoda where the jiva experiences the pleasure of residing in the same plane as the Godhead is Vishnu (saalokya)- associated with Aniruddha. The next stage is pramoda where the jiva experiences the great delight of residing in proximity to with the Godhead Maha-vishnu (saamipya)-associated with Acchyuta. The stage higher than that is saamoda where the jiva experiences the joy of obtaining the same form as the Godhead sadaa-Vishnu (sa-rupya) –associated with Satya. The highest plane is vaikunta loka where the individual jiva experiences the supreme joy of union with the Godhead Vyapi-narayana (sayujya) – associated with Purusha.]
78.1. In the Vaikhanasa temple, the immovable (Dhruva-bimba or dhruva-bera) main idol that is installed in the sanctum and to which main worship is offered (archa-murti) represents the primary aspect of the deity known as Vishnu (Vishnu-tattva). The other images in the temple which are worshiped each day during the ritual sequences are but the variations of the original icon (adi-murti). These other forms are emanations of the main idol, in successive stages. And, within the temple complex, each form is accorded a specific location; successively away from the Dhruva bera.
78.2. Just as the Vishnu of Rig-Veda takes three strides (trini pada vi-chakrama Vishnuh), the main idol (Dhruva – bera) installed in the temple too takes three forms which are represented by Kautuka-bera, Snapana-bera and Utsava-bera.
The Kautuka-bera (usually made of gems, stone, copper, silver, gold or wood and about 1/3 to 5/9 the size of the Dhruva-bera)receives all the daily worship(nitya-archana); the Snapana-bera (usually made of metal and smaller than Kautuka) receives ceremonial bath (abhisheka) and the occasional ritual- worship sequences(naimitta-archana); and, the Utsava-bera (always made of metal) is for festive occasions and for taking out in processions . To this, another icon is added . This is Bali – bera ( always made of shiny metal) taken out , daily , around the central shrine when food offerings are made to Indra and other devas, as well as to Jaya and Vijaya the doorkeepers of the Lord ; and to all the elements.
78.3. And, on occasions when a movable icon is used for daily worship, special rituals, and processions and for food-offering, it is known as Bhoga-bera.
These five forms together make Pancha bera or Pancha murti.
78.4. And again it is said, Purusha is symbolized by Kautuka bera; Satya by Utsava bera; Acchuta by Snapana bera; and Aniruddha by Bali bera.
78.5. To put these together in a combined form:
The main idol (Dhruva-bera) which is immovable represents Vishnu (Vishnu-tattva).
Purusha symbolized by Kautuka-bera is an emanation of the Dhruva-bera. Kautuka-bera is next in importance, and is an exact replica of the Dhruva-bimba. it is placed in the sanctum very close to Dhruva bera.
Satya symbolized by Utsava-bera (processional deity) emanates from Purusha represented Kautuka-bera. And, Utsava-bera is placed in the next pavilion outside the sanctum.
Achyuta symbolized by Snapana-bera emanates from Satya represented by Utsava-bera. Snapana-bera receives Abhisheka, the ceremonial bath; and, it is placed outside the sanctum in snapana-mantapam enclosure.
Aniruddhda symbolized by Bali-bera emanates from Achyuta represented by Snapana-bera. The food offerings are submitted to Balibera. And, it is placed farthest from the Dhruva-bhera residing in the sanctum.
These different icons are not viewed as separate or independent deities; but are understood as emanations from the original icon, Dhruva–bimba.
79.1. The symbolisms associated with the four murtis (chatur-murti) are many; and are interesting. As said earlier; the four are said to compare with the strides taken by Vishnu/Trivikrama. The main icon represents Vishnu who is all-pervasive, but, does not move about. When the worship sequences are conducted, the spirit (tejas) of the main idol moves into the Kautuka,-bera, which rests on the worship pedestal (archa-pitha). This is the first stride of Vishnu.Again, at the time of offering ritual bath, the Tejas of the main idol moves into the Snapana-bera which is placed in the bathing-enclosure (snapana-mantapa). This is the second stride taken by Vishnu. And, the third stride is that when the Utsava-bera is taken out in processions. This is when the tejas of the Main idol reaches out to all.
79.2. In Marichi’s Vimana-archa-kalpa the five forms, five types of icons, the pancha-murti (when Vishnu is also counted along with the other four forms) are compared to five types of Vedic sacred fires (pancha-agni): garhapatya; ahavaniya; dakshinAgni; anvaharya; and sabhya. These in turn are compared to the primary elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space). And, the comparison is extended to five vital currents (prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana).
79.3. Further it is explained; the Vaikhanasa worship-tradition retained the concept of Pancha-Agni, but transformed them into five representations of Vishnu (pancha –murthi): Vishnu, Purusha, Satya, Achyuta and Aniruddha. And, that again was rendered into five types of temple deities as pancha-bera: Dhruva, Kautuka, Snapana, Utsava and Bali.
[The Vaikhanasa concept of five forms of Godhead parallels with that of Pancharatara which speaks of: Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Antaryamin and Archa. Of these, Para is the absolute form, the cause of all existence and it is beyond intellect. Vyuha are the emanations from Para for sustaining creation. The Vyuha, in turn, assumes five worship-worthy forms: Vishnu, Purusha, Satya, Achyuta and Aniruddha. Vibhava represent the Avatars for destroying the evil, uplifting the virtuous and maintain balance in the world. Antaryamin is the inbeing who resides as jiva in all creatures. And, Archa is the most easily accessible form; the form which protects the devotees and eliminates their sorrows. This is the form that is worshiped in the temples.]
Vaikhanasa –Temple context
80.1. The earliest Vaikhanasas are projected as a group of hermits affiliated to Krishna Yajurveda – Taittiriya Shakha, having their own Kalpa-sutra and deeply devoted to worship of Vishnu. They are not referred to as professional temple-priests. And, of course, there is no mention of temples either. But, by about the ninth century (during the time of Raja Raja Chola) they are largely identified as a community of temple priests. Thereafter, they gain prominence not only as ritual-specialists who worship Vishnu on behalf of others but also as administrators of temples and managers of its estates.
80.2. But, the history of the Vaikhanasas during the intervening period (that is, between the time of Kalpa sutra, before 3rd or 4th century, and the time of the inscriptions) is rather hazy. Though the Vaikhanas texts of the later period claim that they derive their authority from the Kalpa-sutra and also make frequent references to Vedic passages, they are mostly temple ritual-manuals elaborating upon details of worship sequences carried out in temples.
80.3. And, it is not clear, how the followers of a Vedic branch rooted in Vedic rituals turned into a community of temple priests.
81.1. After they were established as temple priests, the Vaikhanasas produced many texts on temple –rituals as also prescribed domestic rituals for governing the conduct of their followers. Through these texts and ritual practices they aimed to distinguish themselves from other ritual traditions as also from other Vaishnavas.
81.2. The Vaikhanasas make a clear distinction between the worship carried out at home (griha-archana) and the worship carried out as a priest at a temple (alaya-archana) for which he gets paid. The worship at home performed dutifully is motivated by desire for spiritual attainments (Sakshepa); and it is for the upliftment of self (atmartha). And, on the other hand, while he carries out worship at the temple, as a priest, he is not seeking spiritual benefits for self, but is only discharging his duty (nirakshepa).Here, he conveys the prayers of the worshipping devotees to the god installed at the temple; and offers worship on their behalf (parartha). It is mainly for the fulfilment of the desires of those who pray at the temple.
This distinction seems to have come about following the proliferation of temples and with the advent of temple-worship-culture. Rig Vedic culture was centred on home and worship at home. And, the worship at temple appears to have come as a departure from the practice of worship at home. It was seen as an act of devotion and also as duty
81.3. The Vaikhanasa treat the worship at home (atmartha) as more important than worship at the temple. A Vaikhanasa-priest is therefore required to worship the deities at his home, before he sets out to temple to conduct worship there (parartha) as a priest employed by the temple management.
81.4. There is an alternate explanation offered to the term parartha. It is said; the term ‘parartha’ which ordinarily means worship on behalf of others, truly is ‘parartha-yajna’, that which is concerned with what is ‘superior’ or ‘excellent’; and that which prays for the well-being of the entire community. Worshiping divine images installed in temples is like the sun which illumines the entire world, while worship at home is like a domestic lamp. And, parartha worship leads to final liberation.
82.1. Having said all that, it also needs to be mentioned that the status of temple-priests in the Indian context has always been an uncomfortable issue and a dicey proposition. The standing of a temple priest is high insofar as he acts as an intermediary between devotees and god; and offers worship on behalf of the devotees. However, the social rank of the priestly class among orthodox Brahmins is not high. That is perhaps because, their practice of accepting payment for worship god is rather looked down; and is not considered virtuous. Further, their practice of receiving gifts which are ritually ‘polluting’ is also not viewed with favour. The implication is that, while the priest accepts the gifts he also takes upon himself the impurities of the giver.
82.2. Traditionally, a person who receives remuneration for worshipping a deity is not held in high esteem. The old texts sneer at a person “displaying icons to eke out a living.” That perhaps led to a sort of social prejudices and discriminations among the priestly class. But, with the change of times, with the social and economic pressures and with a dire need to earn a living, a distinct class of temple-priests, naturally, crystallized into a close knit in-group with its own ethos and attitudes.
82.3. Devalaka is a term used in the old texts as a derogatory reference to a person who is ‘desirous of money’, and who is hired to perform worship. Sreenivasa –makhin argues vigorously why the term ‘Devalaka’ should not be slapped on the hereditary Vaikhanasa temple priests. He draws a distinction between a Devalaka and an Archaka who is guided by Vaikhanasa- Grihya sutra and Dharma –sutra.
82.4. Sreenivasa –makhin does not question the traditional definition of Devalaka and its negative import. But, he provides an alternate interpretation to the term to mean: ‘one who carries out acts not prescribed by Sruti or Smrti; or acts in a way contrary to their spirit’. Following that interpretation, he excludes Vaikhanasas from the scope of the term Devalaka, for the reason that Vaikhanasas are indeed the ‘servants of god’ and are born for the sole purpose of offering worship to Vishnu. Their loving devotion (bhakthi) towards Vishnu is free from pride or greed. He worships Vishnu according to Vedic traditions; and, is not motivated or distracted by material or personal desires. These indeed are the prime characteristics of a true Vaikhanasa–Archaka.
When a Vaikhanasa priest accepts remuneration for his priestly duties, it is just incidental to his main purpose of his life. And, therefore, a Vaikhanasa priest worshipping Vishnu in temple and accepting remuneration there for, cannot in any manner be equated with a Devalaka (Dasha-vidha-hetu-nirupanam; 65.5-6).
82.5. Further, Sreenivasa–makhin explains: Vaikhanasa, a born-priest (janmathah – archaka) is guided by Vaikhanasa- Grihya sutra and Dharma –sutra, which are within the orthodox Vedic culture. He undergoes several samskaras (life-cycle-rituals) , follows the Vedic mode of performing yaja-yagnas , and tends to sacred – fires such as aupasana-agni at home and observes sandhya, ishti, charu-homa etc, all through his life. He dedicates his life to worship of Vishnu. The Vaikhanasa Archaka serves in a temple not because it is a means of livelihood, but, primarily because he regards it as the fulfilment of the very purpose of his existence. The worship of Vishnu, for him is more than mere duty (as detailed in Tatparya Chintamani of Sreenivasa-makhin while commenting upon Vaikhanasa- Grihya –sutra: 3.14).
82.6. He remarked; an Archaka need not be a scholar. More than book learning, what is more important is his devotion to the deity of his worship and his commitment to his calling. An Archaka renders a sacred service to the society as a mediator between the god and the worshipping devotee. He deserves respect and good care.
82.7. The guidelines that Vaikhanasas texts frequently refer to are neither static nor closed systems. The Vaikhanasa tradition like any other tradition did absorb innovations and modifications that arose in the context of changing times and circumstances. The causes for change may have arisen either from within the system or from outside events. And, therefore, whatever might have been the past understanding, one should recognize that in the present-day the temples are public places of worship and the priests are professionals trained and specialized in their discipline; and they do constitute an important and a legitimate dimension of the temple-culture. There is absolutely no justification for looking down upon the priestly class or their profession, for the mere reason they now receive remuneration.
83.1. The Vaikhanasa community is regarded orthodox for yet another reason. They consider the life of the householder as the best among the four stages of life. Because, it is the householder that supports, sustains and carries forward the life and existence of the society. There is not much prominence for a Yati or a Sanyasi in this scheme of things. They decry a person seeking salvation for himself without discharging his duties, responsibilities and debts to his family, to his guru and to his society.
83.2. The Vaikhanasa worship is considered more Vedic, the various and mantras / suktams from the Vedas are in Sanskrit and there is a greater emphasis on details of worship rituals and yajnas. Depending on the ritual being performed, various panca suktam or sets of five suktams are recited. For instance; the pancha-suktams could be Vishnu, Purusha, Narayana, Sri and Bhu suktams; or, Vishnu, Nrusimha, Sri, Bhu and Ekakshara suktams. There is also another set of ten suktas (dahsa suktam): Rudra, Dhruva, Durga, Ratri, Saraswatam, Viswajit, Purusha, Aghamarshana, Godana and Atma suktams. The set of fifteen suktas (pancha-sutams + dasha suktams) together make ‘Panca dasha suktam’.
Among these suktas, the Atma sukta (SrI Vaikhanasa Mantra Prasna, 5.120.1-12 ) is particularly unique to the Vaikhanasa paddathi of worship
84.1. Although the Vaikhanasa try to distance themselves from Tantra, there are many ritual sequences in their worship practices that derive inspiration from Tantric ideology. In fact, the worship sequences conducted at the temple are a combination of several elements: Vedic practices together with its mantra; Tantra ideology and its techniques; Agama concept of divinity and its elaborate (Upachara) worship sequences; and the popular festivities (janapada) and processions (Utasava) where the entire community joins in celebration, singing, dancing, playacting, colourful lighting, spectacular fireworks, offerings of various kinds etc.
84.2. The tantra, practiced within the privacy of the sanctum, says that the communication with the divine is not possible unless the worshiper identifies himself with the worshiped (sakshath vishnu rupi). It is said; one cannot truly worship god unless one realizes the divinity within (naadevo bhutva devam pujayet). The mantra that is recited by the Vaikhanasa priest, in that context, is the famous Atma-sukta. This a significant step based in the Tantra ideology, where the worshiper regards his body as a Yantra in which the deity resides; and as belonging to the deity (tasyaivaham ). He then invokes divine presence in himself, evoking his identity with Vishnu, and transfers the Vishnu in him to the idol to be worshiped. This is a deeply intimate Tantric process that is special to the Vaikhanasa mode of worship. The priest conducts these symbolic sequences in the privacy of the sanctum, with the notion that he and Vishnu are indeed one; and that he as the priest has an enduring divine presence within him.
84.3. As a prelude to worship per se, the worshiper literally breathes life into the deity. The idol is transformed to divinity itself. The worshiper does this by extracting the power or the luster (tejas) of the divinity residing in his heart by means of inhalations and exhalations (ucchvasa and nishvasa), and investing it upon the deity. At the same time, the worshiper draws the presence of the Highest Spiritual being (paramatma) into his own individual being (jiva).This process symbolizes invoking (avahana)the divine residing in ones heart, extracting it (bahir agatya) and transferring it with ease (sukham thistathu) in to the deity in front (asmin bimbe).The transferred Tejas stays in the deity until the worship is formally concluded.
84.4. Invoking the deity (avahana) through reciting the Atma –sukta, arousing the divinity within him by the ritual sequence of nyasa (placement of divine presence in the structure of the icon as also in the worshiper) is a very important worship ritual based in Tantra ideology. Nyasas collectively called bhagavad-aaradhana adhikara-yogyata-siddhi confer on the worshiper the competence to worship the deity.
85.1. Atma-sukta is a collection of nine verses in tristubh chhandas (Vaikhanasa samhita: mantra prashna: 5.49; SrI Vaikhanasa Mantra Prashna, 5.120.1-12 ). It is unique to Vaikhanasa worship sequence. The hymn is called ‘Atma-sukta’ not only because it commences with the words “ātmātmā paramāntarātmā mahy-antarātmā yaś cātirātmā satano ‘ntarātmā vyāveṣṭi (the self of the self) ’, but also because it concerns transforming the individual self into cosmic Self. Here, the meditation on Vishnu’s nish-kala aspect is followed by a request to Vishnu to assume his sa-kala form within the idol so that the devotee may submit his worship.
The purpose of Atma-sukta is to invoke the presence of Vishnu who is the Purusha the Cosmic person, in the worshiper, and transfer that Tejas into the idol. It is meant to enlarge the consciousness of the worshiper so that he may identify himself with the object of his worship in its cosmic aspect (sa-kala). The recitation of Atma-sukta is followed by the hymn Purusha –sukta (balam āsuraṃ yat satataṃ nihantā brahmā buddhir me gopa īśvara).
85.2. The worshiper, initially, beseeches the deity and avers: ‘I am thine’ (tavevaham); and finally identifies himself with the deity: ‘I am you’ (tvamevaham) and says ‘we are never apart’.
85.3. Towards the end of the Atma-sukta the worshipper declares that in his pure heart-lotus (vimalahrutpundarIka), the Yajna vedi (altar), sanctified by goddesses Savitri and Gayatri, enters (pravishta) Vishnu in his cosmic aspect (sakala) along with Lakshmi (sa-Lakshmi) in all his glory. May my virtuous merit (punya) provide Vishnu the space to reside.May he receive the worship offered (Kriyadhikaram)
SavitrI GayatrI maryada vedI | hrutpundarIka vimale pravishta: sakala: salakshmI: savibhutikango | yatsava punyam mayyadhishtanamastu || 8 ||
May the essence of all the gods reside in me; may the essence of all the great sages reside in me; may I become the personification of the fruits of all the austerities (tapo-murti) and of all the virtuous deeds (punya-murti).
savasham devanamatmaka: | savasham muninamatmaka I stapo murtiriha punyamurtirasan || 9 ||
86.1. A unique feature of Vaikhanasa temple construction is the erection of a Taruna-alaya. That is, before the construction of the main temple is undertaken a mini-sized temporary temple (termed as Taruna-alaya) is built for Vishnu on the construction site. The main temple to be constructed is termed as Bala-alaya. The mini temple (Taruna-alaya) is intended to gather spiritual power while the construction is in progress.
86.2. Vimanarchana Kalpa ascribed to Sage Marichi says that the Taruna-alaya should be built in the north-east/north-west (Indra) direction of the main temple site in the same premises. The symbolic temple could a small one (say, within 100 s.ft in area).
Vaikhanasa-alaya-nirmana -vidhi also recommends that a Taruna-alaya should be built first. And, if that requirement is satisfied then the auspicious Bala-alaya which comes up is termed ‘samurtham’. If on the contrary, the prescription is not followed, the Bala-alaya would be called ‘harakam’.
86.3. The basic idea of the Vaikhanasa faith is that when Vishnu is worshipped in a temple according to the Vaikhanasa scriptures , regularly, at least once each day, it will ensure the prosperity (sarva-sampathkari) of the whole world.
In the next part of the article let’s talk about the other major Vaishnava Agama viz, The Pancharatra; and also about its apparent differences from the Vaikhanasa.
Continued in Part Five
References and Sources
1. A History of Indian Literature: Epics and Sanskrit religious literature… By Jan Gonda
2. Vishnu’s children: Prenatal life-cycle rituals in South India By Ute Hüsken; Harrassowitz Verlag . Wiesbaden (2009)
3. Sri Vaikhanasa Bhagavad Sastram by Shri Ramakrishna Deekshitulu
4. Agamas and the way of life Dr. V. Varadachari, 1982. Agamas and South Indian Vaishnavism. Chapter X pages 407-426.
5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)