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Tantra – Agama – Part four – Vaikhanasa continued

Continued from Part Three

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 paramparapantha (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 padechatush 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

1. http://www.hdgoswami.com/gallery/essays/item/the-daivika-catustayam
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.

2. http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/vaisn/vaimp_cu.htm
with transliteration in English ]

Vaikhanasa Philosophy

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 -PurushaSatyaAchyuta 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-beraSnapana-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-beraKautuka-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-beraSnapana-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.

Symbolisms

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-beraDhruva, 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

Srinivasa PerumaL Moolavar

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

ATMA SUKTA

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. Nyasa  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 ||

Taruna-alaya

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.

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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

http://www.srihayagrivan.org/ebooks/031_sva_v1p1.pdf

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)

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra

 

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Tantra – Agama – part Three – Vaikhanasa

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Vaikhanasa

43.1.  Among the Vaishnava Agamas that glorify Vishnu as the Supreme Principle, and as the Ultimate Reality, to the exclusion of other deities, the Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra are prominent. Some say, Vaikhanasa is the older tradition that is rooted in the orthodoxy of the Vedic knowledge. The Pancharatra, in contrast, is regarded relatively less conservative, a bit more liberal and closer to the Tantra ideology.

There are several explanations to the term Vaikhanasa.

Vanaprastha

44.1. According to one interpretation, Vaikhanasa is the ancient word for Vanaprastha (life of a forest dweller or hermit). Vanaprastha, according to the scheme of man’s lifespan as developed during the later Vedic age*, is the third stage (ashrama) in a man’s life. It is the stage prior to and in preparation for Sanyasa the last stage of total withdrawal from the world.

Although Vaikhanasa-s are not directly  mentioned in the Rig-Veda, there are references to them in the Anukramani Index to RV hymn at 9.66 , which is addressed to ‘Indra, Pavamana and one hundred Vaikhanasa’ ( RV_9,066.23c indur atyo vicakṣaṇaḥ). And, the RV hymn 10. 99 is addressed by Indra to ‘Vamra Vaikhanasa’. There are also reference to Vamra Vaikhanasa in Jaiminiya Brahmana at 3.99 and 3.215, which say that  : Puruhanma vaikhanasas loved animals , underwent austerity . He Visualized the Jagata saman (hymn) – (Vaikhanasam bhavathi jagatam sama ) and  (Vaikhanasa va etani samany apasyan)

 Here , Vaikhanasa hermits are said to be dear to Indra. Vaikhanasa quote extensively from Rig-Veda in which Indra is the principal deity. In the later times, Indra merged with Vishnu.

 There are several references to Vaikhanasa-s in the Ramayana. At end of the Ayodhya-kanda while they were departing to the forest clad in bark–garments , it is said, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana adopted the ways of the hermits and vow of ascetic life (Vaikhanasam margam) – Rama –rakshamanau tato Vaikhanasam margam asthitah saha Lakshmanah –R. 2.57-58. Later in the Ayodhya kanda, the ways of living of the Vikhanasa hermits are described in detail. And again, in the Khishkinda–kanda there is a reference to the ascetic groups of Vaikhanasa-s and the Valakhilya-s (Tatra Vaikhanasa Nama Valakhilya maha-rishayah-R.4.40.60)

 In all these references, the Vaikhanasa-s are described as forest-dwellers, ascetics following a pristine way of life dedicated to Indra/Vishnu/

The Varnashrama system expanded  by Dharmashastras, mention that after fulfilling his family responsibilities and social obligations, say at the age of sixty or thereafter; and  at the end of his well-lived family-life , a man retires into forest , along with his wife (sa-pathnika), to lead a peaceful and contemplative  life of a recluse , away from the  worldly conflicts and its snares. The two live like trusted old friends; and, lead   a happy, contented and tranquil life. It is the fulfilment of the long journey they travelled together. As his sense of detachment ripens, the man finally accepts sanyasa; and,the wife returns home, to the family of her sons.

44.2. Vanaprastha, in its concept, is not an end by itself; but is deemed as a step to reach man’s highest aspiration, the liberation. The characteristic of its ascetic mode of life is detachment and contemplation.  Yet; it is the stage of life marked by selfless friendship, open-heartedness, mellow glowing wisdom and compassion towards all, including strangers , animals and plants. It is the maturity of life when positive attitudes and social virtues ripen.  Vanaprastha is not distracted by motives of personal gain (artha) or desire for pleasures (Kama). But, he does not lead a harsh and an arid life of self-mortification. That is because; he views the body and spirit as equal expressions of the divine. Vanaprastha stage is conceived as a well balanced rounding off to a worthy life.

[* Prof. PV Kane in his monumental History of Dharmashastras (pages 417– 419) explains the concept of ashramas (in the sense of different stages in man’s life) is not found either in the Samhitas or in the Brahmanas. According to him, a germ of the idea occurs in an obscure form in Aittereya Brahmana (Ait. Br. 33. 11), which decries a person who moves away from life and the world: ‘what (use is there) of dirt, what use of antelope skin, what use of (growing) the beard, what is the use of tapas? O! Brahmanas! Desire a son; he is a world that is to be highly praised.’ The idea appears again in Chandogya Upanishad (Ch. Up. 2. 23. 1). And it comes out a  little more clearly in Jabalopanisad and in Svetasvataropanisad (VI. 21)  which speaks of those ‘who had risen above the mere observances of asramas’. The concept of man’s life span spread over a well-knit scheme of four stages (ashramas) was fully developed in Dharmashastras of Manu (Manu 6. 1-2; 33 etc).

The theory of asramas was truly an idealist concept. Owing to the exigencies of the times, the conflicts of interests and distractions of life, the scheme could not, even in ancient times, be carried out fully by most individuals. And it surely has failed in modern times, though the fault does not lie with the originators of this concept. ]

44.3. The later texts and Puranas elaborated on the scheme and devised sub-classifications under each stage (ashrama). For instance, Srimad Bhagavata (15.4) classifies the third stage – Vanaprastha- into four types Vaikhanasa; Valakhilya; Audumbara; and Phena.

 Vaikhanasa valakhilyau-dumbarah phenapa vane  Nyase kuticakah purvam bahvodo hamsa-niskriyau II

44.4. Following that sub classification, the Gaudiya-Kanthahara, a twentieth century text ascribed to Atulakrsna Datta of Gaudiya Vaishnavas tradition explains Vaikhanasas as those hermits (Vanaprastha) who retire from active life and live on half-boiled food (ardha-pakva-vratya). Similarly Valakhilya is one who discards the stock of food he has with him (purva ancita anna tyagah) the moment he gets a fresh stock of food (nave pane labdhya); Audumbara is one who lives on what he gets from the direction towards which he walks (prathamam disam pasyanti) after sunrise (prathar uttha); and, Phenapa lives on fruits (phaladbhir jivantah) that drop from the trees on their own accord (svayam patitaih).

44.5. However, what is interesting is that Vaikhanasa-smarta-sutra, a division of the primary text of Vaikhanasas (Vaikhanasa Kalpa Sutra) does not mention a category of hermits called as Vaikhanasa.

Apparently, the perceptions on the stages of man’s life had undergone a huge change between the period of Kalpa Sutras and the period of the later Puranas.

[Incidentally, Vaikhanasa is also the name of mythical group of saintly hermits who were slain at Muni-marana (death of sages) by one Rahasyu Deva-malimlud (Panchvimshathi Brahmana: 14.4.7).

vaikhānasā vā ṛṣaya indrasya priyā āsaṃs tān rahasyur devamalimluḍ munimaraṇe ‘mārayat taṃ devā abruvan kva tarṣayo (?) ‘bhūvānn iti tān praiṣam aicchat tān nāvindat sa imān lokān ekadhāreṇāpunāt tān munimaraṇe ‘vindat tān etena sāmnā samairayat tad vāva sa tarhy akāmayata kāmasani sāma vaikhānasaṃ kāmam evaitenāvarundhe stomaḥ  ]

**

45.1. As regards the question of equating Vaikhanasa directly with Vanaprastha stage of life, Professor PV Kane clarifies; there is nothing in the Vedic literature expressly corresponding to the Vanaprastha. And the germ of the idea of equating Vanaprastha with Vaikhanasa might have arisen at a later stage in the Sutras.

45.2. Max Muller in his commentary on the Laws of Manu mentions that Manu (4.21)   refers to the Sutra of Gautama which talks of the hermit in the forest who ‘may subsist on flowers, roots, and fruits alone’. Max Muller, however, asserts that it may not be correct to simply straightaway translate hermit as Vaikhanasa, because    the term Vaikhanasa doesn’t merely mean a hermit. Vaikhanasa here has to be understood,  he says, as referring to only those hermits who are   ‘abiding by the Vaikhanasa opinion’ (vaikhanasamate sthithah). And he explains: ‘here the term Vaikhanasa denotes a shastra or a sutra promulgated by Vaikhanasa, in which the duties of hermits are described in detail’. He reminds: Manu’s discussion on Vanaprastha also mentions a Vaikhanasa –rule (Manava Dharmashastra: 6.21).

45.3. In support of his argument, Max Muller cites Haradatta the commentator of Apastambha and Gautama (3.2) who opines: ‘the Vanaprastha is called Vaikhanasa because he lives according to rules (sutra) formed and taught by Vaikhanasa’.

He also mentions of Kullaka Bhatta (6.21), another commentator of Manu, who says that Vaikhanasa were a distinct group who were rooted in their own doctrine (Vaikhanaso vanaprasthah taddarma – pratipadaka –shastra – darshane – sthitah)

Tandya Mahabrahmana (14. 4. 7) says: ‘Vaikhanasa sages were the favourites of Indra (vaikhanasa vaa rushyah Indrasya priya aasan).

45.4. Max Muller states that Baudayana does refer to a Vaikhanasa sutra and gives a short summary of its content in the third chapter of the third prashna of his Dharmashastra. He describes Vaikhanasas as a group that abides Vedic authority (śāstra.parigrahaḥ sarveṣāṃ brahma.vaikhānasānāmBaudayana Dharmasutra: 3.3.17-18). Baudayana also describes the forest dwelling hermits as those who devotedly tend sramanakagni – (vaikhānaso vane mūla.phala.āśī tapaḥ.śīlaḥ savaneṣu udakamupaspṛśan śrāmaṇakena agnim ādhāya^agrāmya – Baudh 2.6.11.15)

Sramana

46.1.  It needs to be  mentioned ;  a distinguishing feature of Vaikhanasa, as given in the early texts , is their pre-occupation with tending a sacrificial fire known as sramanaka-agni ( instead  of tretagni which is  usually  tended by  householders). It appears, sramanaka-agni was no ordinary fire. But, it was the fire born out of Vedic rituals; and was one with the worshipper (Agnim apy atma-sat krtva).

46.2. The term Sramana, in the ancient context, referred to a mendicant who leads a life of restraint and discipline (tapo-yoga); but continues to be in Vedic fold tending sacrificial fires with a sense of duty and not by desire to gain material rewards. And, the terms Sramana and Sramanaka came to be equated with Vaikhanasa and their scriptures.

46.3. Haradatta, the ancient commentator also talks about kindling the sramanaka-agni (sramanakena agnim adhya); and says it followed the doctrine of the  Vaikhanasas (vaikhanasam shastram sramanakam ). The Sramanaka method of invoking sramanaka-agni perhaps involved icon – worship along with the usual fire rituals. That perhaps distinguished the Vaikhanasas from the other hermit (Vanaprastha) groups.

[Some say; the Vaikhanasa (Sramanaka) prescription of the abstract worship of one fire (ekagni) perhaps led to the doctrine of ekayana; and to the formation of ekantinah group (or Bhagavatas).]

Disciples of Sage Vaikhana

47.1. It is said; Vaikhanasa is the name of a community as also the name of the philosophy they follow. It is also said; Vaikhanasa community derived its name from its founder (a manifestation of Brahma or Vishnu): sage Vaikhanasa of Angirasa gotra, affiliated to Krishna-Yajurveda -shakha. He is credited with organizing    worship of Vishnu in  image form (samurtha-archana), which, in effect  , was the transformation of the Vedic mode of  worship through  ‘shapeless’(amurtha) ritual-fire . The feature of his teaching, while it is rooted in the pristine Vedic tradition, is that it extolled a strong devotion towards Vishnu and worship of Vishnu icon.  Vaikhanasa, perhaps, was amongst the earliest Vaishnavas mentioned in the Narayaniya section of Mahabharata. They are described as peaceful, benign (soumya), self possessed, (bhavitathmanam), highly evolved (utcchyante) and satttvic in their food- habits (Mbh. Shanthi parva).

[An interesting interpretation of the term Vaikhanasa is derived from the root khanana   meaning ‘digging into’.  According to Ananda –samhita ( ascribed to Marichi ) the task of : ’digging into or deeply  inquiring  into  the meaning of the Vedas and related texts , for the benefit of all mankind ‘ was  accomplished by  the founder sage of this spiritual   heritage  ( parampara ); and , therefore he was aptly addressed as Vaikhana: (Khananam –tattva -mimamsa – nigama-arthanam   khananad iti nah srutam) .]

47.2. Thus, the term Vaikhanasa includes in itself several shades of meaning: the forest-dwelling hermit in the third stage of his life; a great sage who was the founder of Vaikhanasa tradition, an incarnate Brahma or Vishnu; and, the set of the sutras named after him. Perhaps the earliest hermits following this tradition were all of these. But, in the later stages, the followers of the tradition identified and distinguished themselves as disciples of Vaikhana the adept in Vishnu-worship (Vishnu – puja – visharada) and those guided by the instructions of Vaikhanasa -kalpa – sutra, which in all its aspects is devoted to Vishnu.

Sri Vikanasa Acharyan6

Principles of Vaikhanasa tradition

48.1. The Vaikhanasas are distinguished by their uncompromising devotion to Vishnu as the Vedic God par excellence; and, are rooted in the faith that Vishnu who pervades all existence (vyapanath Vishnuh) alone is worthy of worship. The early Vaikhanasas retained Vishnu in his pristine Vedic context; and preferred the expression ‘Vishnu’ over ‘Narayana’ or ‘Vasudeva’ (although they are synonyms), because Vishnu is the one that occurs in the Vedas. They steadfastly held on to the Vedic image of Vishnu; and, also clung to the Vedic orthodoxy.  They remained faithful to Vedic principles and traditions. And, proudly asserted that they are the surviving school of Vedic ritual propagated by the sage Vaikhana; and above all, they are the children of Vishnu.

48.2. The Vaikhanasa tradition asserts that it is the most ancient; and traces its origin to Vedas.  Vishnu, they declare, who is the Supreme god adored by the Vaikhanasas is not only a Vedic god, but is also the very personification of Yajna (Yajna-purusha).  Their principal text calls upon its followers:  that after the customary offerings made to Agni, Vishnu must be worshipped morning and evening, for that means the worship of all gods (Girhya – smarta- sutra: parshna 4, khanda 10).  That is because; all gods reside in Vishnu.

49.1. The teachings of sage Vaikhana provide for worship of the Supreme Being having attributes (sa-kala) and also for worship of  the one without attributes (nis-kala); with form (samurtha) and without form (amurtha).

The Yajna, the worship of the divine through fire, is a-murta; while the worship offered to an icon is sa-murta. According to Vaikhanasas, though yajna might be more awe-inspiring, archa (worship or puja) the direct communion with your chosen deity is more appealing to ones heart, is more colourful and is aesthetically more satisfying.

As regards the term formless (nis-kala), it is explained, suggests a state of pure-blissful- existence (satchidananda rupi), beyond the intellect (achintya) and wondrously lustrous (tejomaya) that abides in one’s heart lotus (hrudaya pundarika).

Sakala, on the other hand, is when the Godhead is visualized as an icon, a human form with distinct features, seated in a solar orb (arka-mandala) or in sacred- water pot (jala-kumbha) or as worship worthy icon (archa-bera).The Vishnu’s Sakala form for contemplation (dhyana) and worship (pranamet) is four-armed (chaturbhuja) holding four ayudhas : conch, disc, mace and lotus  (shanka, chakra, gadha and padma);  beaming with blissful countenance dear to look at (saumyat –priya – darshanh) ;  having rosy pink complexion (shyamala) ; and,  wearing yellow silk garments (pitambara).

Along with icon form of Vishnu, the text suggests techniques for visualising contemplating and worshipping the most adorable form of Vishnu. It also elaborates on four aspects of Vishnu as: Purusha, Satya, Acchuyta, and Aniruddha.

49.2. Vaikhanasa view point is that icon-worship was an integral part of Vedic culture; and it was not a later innovation. It says; Godhead is described by the performers of Vedic Yajnas as Yajna-Purusha; and as Vishnu by those who know the final import of the Vedas (Vedantins). Vaikhanasa regard themselves as those who moved from the first stage of Vedas to its final import (Vedanta); and therefore are the Vedantins. The ancient smriti- kara Bahudayana (Dharma – sutra: 3.3.17) calls Vaikhanasas as a group that abides Vedic authority (shastra parigrahas sarvesham vaikhanasam).

49.3. Vaikhanasas assert, their method of worship is indeed truly Vedic. It was explained; when Bhagavata-purana (11.27.7) speaks of three varieties of worship (tri -vidho – makhahah) : vaidika, tantrika and misra (mixed), the vaidika refers to the Vaikhanasa mode of worship.

49.4. Further, the Agamas are regarded as Vaidika, because they accept the ultimate authority of the Vedas and employ Vedic mantras in all types of rituals. The worship practices at home as described by the Vaikhanasa –Grihya-sutra closely follow the vidhi-s prescribed in Bodhayana–Grihya–sutra, Apastamba sutra, and Atharvaveda- parishistha. They are also said to resemble mantra prashnas of Taittariyakas and Brahmana of Sama-vedins. And, these perhaps represented the earliest surviving textual references on icon-worship.

50.1. The householder was required to perform regularly a group of five sacrifices (pancha-maha-yajna). These were the sacrifices rendered to gods (deva); the ancestors (pitr); animals, birds and elements (bhuta); fellow beings (manushya); and, Veda- study (Brahma). These were, however, not Yajnas proper, But, were meant as means for developing the sense of detachment and compassion towards all  .

50.2.  Sage Vaikhana observed that ‘Vishnu is the very essence of existence (sat), consciousness (chit) and bliss (ananda); and, he can be attained either by Yajnas or by icon-worship. If one does not perform Yajnas then one must contemplate on Vishnu who is the very personification of Yajna. And, one must worship Vishnu, the Supreme god, constantly with devotion, in his home or in a temple. That will surely lead to the highest realm of Vishnu’ (Vaikhanasa – grihya –sutra: 4.12.8-11).

50.3. Following that, the concept of Yajna was re-defined. The Yajnas and icon worship were regarded as complimentary; and the icon worship was not viewed as distinct from or contrary to Vedic rituals.  It was explained that Yajna which involves offering through Agni is, in fact, the worship of formless God (amurtha-archana). But, Yajna is by itself Vishnu (yajno vai Visnhuh). In converse, it meant that worship of Vishnu icon was also a Yajna (samurtha-bhagavad-yajna), which in turn was the worship of all gods (sangathi deva- pujanam yajnah). The two forms of worship are not essentially different.   Therefore, the rewards of the Yajna are also obtained by worshipping and meditating upon the icon of Vishnu (murtha-archana). It was  also explained  that worship of Vishnu is in effect the worship of all gods as the whole existence resides in him (vishnau-nitya-archa sarva deva-archa bhavathi: Vaikhanasa – grihya –sutra: 4.10.1).

50.4. Thus, the Vaikhanasa teachings provide both for worship the form-less (amurtha-archana) through performance of yajnas and for worship of Vishnu through his image, with equal dedication and devotion. This dual spiritual heritage, blended harmoniously, underline the twofold character of Vaikhanasa worship -tradition (archana- sampradaya).

51.1. The characteristic of Vaikhanasa view point is that the path way to final emancipation is not devotion alone, but worship of icon (samurtha-archana) performed with devotion (bhakthi) and sense of absolute surrender (prapatthi). It says, devotion may at times be a passing mood, but worship-sequences (kriya-yoga, upasana) rendered with utmost diligence when combined with devotion leads to fulfilment of human aspirations.

A sense of devotion envelops the mind and heart when the icon that is properly installed and consecrated is worshipped with love and reverence. By constant attention to the icon, by seeing it again and again and by offering it various services of devotional worship, the icon is invested with divine presence and its worship ensures our good here (aihika) and also our ultimate good or emancipation (amusmika).

And therefore, ‘archa with devotion is the best form of worship, because the icon that is beautiful will engage the mind and delight the heart of the worshipper’.   That would easily evoke feeling of loving devotion (bhakthi) in the heart of the worshipper. The icon is no longer just a symbol; the icon is a true divine manifestation enliven by loving worship, devotion, and absolute surrender (parathion). And, Vishnu is best approached by this means.

The very act of worship (archa) is deemed dear to Vishnu. It points out that such upanasa is the same as Vedic Yajna; nay but is superior to Yajna Worship (bhavad-samutha-archana) is indeed more effective and purposeful than mere knowing scriptures.

The major thrust of Vaikhanasa texts is to provide clear, comprehensive and detailed guidelines for Vishnu worship. The Vaikhanasa texts are characterized by their attention to details of worship-sequences. It is not therefore surprising that Vaikhanasas describe their text as ‘Bhagava archa-shastra’.

51.2. The icon worship (archana) is held by Vaikhanasas as being superior to all other modes of worship because it includes in itself the special attitude of devotion (bhakthi), the offerings (huta) to god, recitation of mantras, repetitions of the sacred mantra (japa) and meditation upon the glory of god (dhyana). The Vaikhanasa texts hold the view that icon-worship is best suited for the present age of Kali. The well made icon of Vishnu pleases the eyes; delights the heart; engages the mind; fills the worshipper with loving devotion; and, blesses with a great sense of joy and fulfillment.

That is the reason the texts advise that icon worship must be resorted to by all, especially by those involved in the transactional world.  In these  texts, the Nishkala aspect continues to be projected as the ultimate, even as they emphasize the relevance and importance of the sakala aspect. The devotee must progressively move from gross sthula to the subtle sukshma.

51.3.  Yes; Vaikhanasas valued icon worship very highly; but, at the same time they did not give up performance of Yajnas altogether. They learnt to combine the two streams of worship harmoniously. The Vaikhanasa tradition represents the passing stage of transformation from pure Vedic Yajna-Yagas to their combination with icon-worship.

Antiquity

52.1. The Vaikhanasas as a group of religious practitioners are of great antiquity. It is likely they were a separate forest dweller community that existed some time before the beginning of the Common Era.  According to Max Muller, ‘the ancient Vaikhanasa Sutra which is an important portion of the sacred law preceded Manu Smriti’.

52.2. Max Muller opines that the work of Vaikhanasa must be extremely ancient. And, it is not advisable to assume that it had any connection with Vaikhanasa sutrakarana a sub division of the Taittiriyas which is one of the youngest schools adhering to Krishna Yajur Veda.

52.3. Dr. Nagendra Kumar Singh in his Encyclopaedia of oriental philosophy and religion (page 891) observes: it is likely that the Vaikhanasa literature documents the community’s transition from a Vedic School of ritual observance to a School of those engaged in religious performances; and particularly in devotional worship of Vishnu-icon (archana).

53.1. The scholars cite many internal evidences that go to suggest the antiquity of the Vaikhanasa tradition. It is said; the Vaikhanasa worship practices carried out within the inner and surrounding shrines mention only five avatars of Vishnu: Kapila, Varaha, Nrsimha, Vamana/Trivikrama and Hayashirsha (Hayatmaka). There is no mention of the ten Avatars (dashavatara-s) in the core Vaikhanasa texts. Perhaps, the concept of dashavataras was then yet to be developed, evolved and elaborated.

53.2. Atma Sukta hymn is unique to the Vaikhanasa mode of worship. It seeks to evoke in the worshipper his identity with Vishnu in his cosmic form as Purusha. It’s composition having a typical mix of Vedic and classic features suggest that it dates back to the late Vedic era; and, is definitely older than the Puranas. This hymn mentions only three Avatars explicitly: Varaha, Kapila and Hayashirsha. It identifies the Varaha the boar that blesses (varado) with the upward breath (udana); Sage Kapila the personification of penance (tapasam ch murthim) with the spreading breath (vyana); and the horse-headed Hayashirsha with the downward breath (apana).

53.3. Similarly, there is no mention of Vibhavas or Avatars such as Vasudeva and his Vyuha (group) of Vrishni clan of Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha et al, as in the Pancharatra tradition .This again suggests that Vaikhanasa is older than the Pancharatra, perhaps on account of its Vedic associations.

54.1. Further, the association of Kumara and Kaumara – mantra with Vaikhanasa tradition is also interesting. The Kaumara – mantra: Om aghoraya mahaghoraya nejameshaya namo namah (as provided in Vaikhanasa –samhita, mantra –prashna: 5.49) is said to represent the earliest form of the tantric school Kaula –vidya. It is also said; Vaikhanasa were the earliest to adopt the tantra technique of worshipping Vishnu icons.

54.2. We find that the later Vaikhanasa Grihya sutra include practices of  praying to Guha or  Kumara while conducting certain life-cycle–rituals (samskaras) of the child . For instance; the Vaikhanasas invoke ‘Guha’ , Kumara for blessing the infant during its namakarana ceremony (naming the infant) – bhushane–-Shanmukham Aavahayami. The newborn is blessed with mantra: ‘be invincible (sarvatra-jayo bhava) like Kumara, son of Shankara’ (Shankarir iva sarvatra-jayo bhava: Vaikhanasa smarta sutra 3.19.20). Invocations are also made to protect the child from Kumara-grahas, the spirits that seize the children below the age of five.

Kumara is also invoked while the Vaikhanasa – child is taken to Kumara temple for its first outing – Pravasagamana. The father takes the prasada, the flowers that adorned Kumara, and places it on the child’s head saying: ‘I give you the flowers with which the Gurus worshiped Kumara (sesham gurubhih supujitam pushpam); may you be protected ‘ (Guhasya sesham gurubhih supujitam pushpam dadami –sya Shammukham).

After the above Samskaram; it is indicated that a ritual food sharing  is arranged; where, the Vaikhanasas will partake the meal along with other Vaikhanasas . Such ‘kumara bhojanam‘  is also performed during Upanayanam of the boy.

54.3. Interestingly, the ashtottara-shata-namavali of Sri Venkateshvara, calls the Lord: ‘karttikeya-vapudharine namah’. Correspondingly, Markandeya  one of the oldest Puanas names Kumara as ‘Vasudeva-priya’, the one who is dear to Vasudeva. Kumaraswamy is a member of the parivaram (entourage) of Vishnu. Further, Vishnu and Kumara are said to have an ‘understanding’ and recognition of each others might.

54.4. The Vaikhanasa association with Kumara (unlike in other Vaishnava tradition), even to this day, suggest the faint memory of its origin in the tantric traditions of the distant past. Some say; the Vaikhanasa practice of reciting  Vedic mantras along with Tantra-related rituals suggests its emanation  from the oldest phase of worship in the Chaitya-s , the earliest form of temples. Although the Vaikhanasa mode of worship may have evolved and changed over the long periods, its core is indeed very ancient; and is much older than other temple-traditions.

Vaikhanasa Literature

Vaikhanasa -Kalpa –sutra

55.1. Each of the four divisions of the Vedas has its own special Kalpa sutra. They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division. Generally, the set of Kalpa sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal yajnas); Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct and ethics); and Sulba-sutra (relating to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha). Thus, Kalpa sutras by their nature are supplementary texts affiliated to the main division of a Veda.

55.2. Vaikhanasas belonging to Taittiriya division of Krishna–Yajur Veda are perhaps the only group that rely heavily on their Kalpa sutra. Vaikhanasa -Kalpa –sutra is the primary text;   the basic and authoritative scripture of the Vaikhanasa tradition. And, all other definitive texts, manuals, traditions, beliefs and practices are derived from this source. It, in essence, provides the necessary framework, code of conduct for a Vaikhanasa in his spiritual, personal, family and social life. The text is intended to guide him in all spheres of life.

55.3. Vaikhanasa -Kalpa –sutra is ascribed to the ancient Sage Valkanas who is said to have received it from Brahma or Vishnu. It has come down to us in oral traditions; and its age is rather uncertain. But surely, its origins are in the very distant past. Some scholars date it around the third century of the Common Era.

56.1. The Vaikhanasa – kalpa – sutra is indeed a group of four texts. The whole set of texts is spread over thirty two prasnas (chapters). Its three main segments include: Vaikhanasa- srauta-sutra (21 chapters);   Vaikhanasa – grihya – sutra or smarta sutra (7 chapters); and, Vaikhanasa-dharma –sutra (3 chapters)And, in addition there is a chapter named Vaikhanasa- Pravara – sutra.

56.2. As may be seen, the Vaikhanasa-kalpa-sutras (page 29) consist of 32 chapters. Among them are 7 Grihya sutras; 3 Dharma sutras; 21 Srouta sutras ; and , 1 Pravara sutra . But, it does  not contain a Sulba-sutra of their own. That might be because of the secondary position assigned in this tradition for performing Yajnas.  Instead , they have Pravara-sutra that deals with genealogy of the seers who initiated families (vamsha) into Vaikhanasa tradition. However, the matters relating to Sulba –sutras are covered under its two other sections (srauta and grihya).

Please also see An Introduction to Vaikhanasa Kalpa Sutra by Sri Animeshnagar

Vaikhanasa – srauta – sutra

57.1. The Vaikhanasa- srauta-sutra deals with all types of ritual-actions which need to be carried out daily (nitya) and occasionally (naimittika), in addition to several types of yajnas (yaga-yajna). There is also a section on purification rituals (prayaschitta) to take care of minor or major lapses in conduct of rites or in personal behaviour. The srauta – texts are not however held in highest regard because the rituals are motivated by desire (kamya) to acquire something or the other.

Vaikhanasa – grihya – sutra or smarta sutra

58.1. In order to preserve the Vedic affiliation, a Grihya-sutra was essential.  The Vaikhanasa –grihya –sutra or smarta sutra emphasizes devotion to Vishnu or Narayana. It  provides the main framework for Vishnu –worship ; prescribes rules governing life in household and also the rules for installation (prathista) and worship of Vishnu’s image at home (grharchana bimba prathista archana), in a shrine or in the yajna mantapa pavilion; and, for introduction of divine power (shakthi) into the image before its worship. The icon which is divinely auspicious (divya-mangala– vigraha) should be sculpted according to the prescriptions of Shilpa-shastra (shilpa –shastrokta –vidanena). The text prescribes that the icon of Vishnu must be duly installed at home (tasmad grihe param Vishnum prathistya) and should be worshipped daily – morning and evening- (saayam –prathya) after performing the customary homas. It also discusses, in detail, about other religious observances.

58.2. The text includes invocation of four aspects of Vishnu: Purusha, Satya, Achhuta and Aniruddha. The invocations prescribed here  involve two mantras: one of eight syllables – ashtakshari mantra-   (Om namo Narayanaya) and the other of twelve syllables – dwadashakshari mantra – (Om namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya).These mantras are of great importance and of  sacredness in Vaishnava traditions ; and are regarded as divine sacraments (daivika).

58.3. Vaikhanasa – smarta – sutra is perhaps the only text of its kind to prescribe a ceremony for entering into the hermit stage of life (Vanaprastha).  It describes ways of the hermits devoted to Vishnu and practicing Yoga involving  ten external observances, niyama (bathing, cleanliness, study, ascesis, generosity etc) ; and ten internal observances , yaama ( truthfulness, kindness, sincerity etc) .

58.4. Vaikhanasa – smarta – sutra also teaches yogic paths leading to Brahman without qualities* (nishkala). It contrasts actions with desire (sa-kama) seeking fruits of action in this world and in the next, with actions without desire (nis-kama) performance of prescribed actions with a sense of duty and without expectations. The desire-less action (nis-kama) is of two kinds: activity (prvrtti) and disengagement (nivrtti) .Here, ‘activity’ signifies yogic practices which procure yogic-powers, but not leading to release from samsara the series of births. Disengagement (nivrtti), in contrast,   relates to the way of yogis who are solely intent upon realizing Supreme Self and to attain union (yoga) of the individual self with the Supreme Self.

[*This view point as the primacy of Brahman without attributes (nir-guna) and with attributes (sa-guna) differs significantly from the position taken by the later Vaishnava Vedanta School of Vishistadaita.  ]

Samskaras

59.1. Vaikhanasa – grihya – sutra deals in particular with eighteen life-cycle-rites (samskaras) which are meant to cleanse the body and mind of one born in the Vaikhanasa lineage ; and attune  him  to be fit for rendering  service to Vishnu . The rituals range from niseka (ritu –san – gamana first mating in the proper season) and garbhadana (impregnation) to samavarthana (return from study) and pani-grahana (marriage). In effect, it prescribes   rites ranging from before-birth and ending with death and cremation (jatakaadi – smasananta).

[It is said; there was another text (Vaikhanasa-grihya- parishistya-sutra) which supplemented the main Grihya-sutra textIts passages are quoted in other Valkanas texts. But, it is not available at present.]

59.2. Grihya-sutra emphasizes the significance of pre-natal samskaras.  These are directly linked to the marriage and birth in a Vaikhanasa family. The related samskaras are meant to define and lend specific identity to a Vaikhanasa. The inherited identity is beyond the scope of discretion. One has to be a born-Vaikhanasa (janmathah). Initiation or conversion into Vikhanasa sect is ruled out. Pre-natal -life-cycle –rituals (garbha-samskara), thus, become one of the distinguishing features of the Vaikhanasa community. This and the rituals of Vishnu-Bali are important for their identity.

Vishnu–Bali

60.1. Of the five parental samskaras, the one symbolic ceremony, in particular, has developed into an essential characteristic of the Vaikhanasas; and up to the present day, it plays an important role in defining their specific identity. This is a samskara performed in the eighth month of pregnancy following Pumsavana and Seemantha (parting of the hair) meant for the benefit of the pregnant woman and the foetus growing within her. And, this is known as Vishnu–Bali (or garbha-chakra samskara) prescribed to be performed during the bright-half of the eighth of pregnancy (garbhaadhady-astame masyeva shukla pakshe).

60.2. The significance of the offering (Bali) to Vishnu is that, while  even as the un-born  is inside the mother’s womb , as  fetus,  it acquires the status of a Vaishnava (garbha-vaishnavesti), a  Vishnu devotee (garbha vaishnavatava siddyarthyam) . The ceremony involves offering  the pregnant woman a  cup of payasam in which the insignia of Vishnu- chakra is dipped. The infant the moment it is born is deemed a Vaishnava by birth (garbha-Vaishnava – janmanam), not needing any initiatory rites (diksha) or branding. In the case of such male offspring, he automatically becomes eligible to render temple worship-rituals. As it is often said;’ they indeed are Vihṣṇu’s children, protected by Vishnu and preordained for temple service even before birth’.

Vishnu-Bali and the significances attached to it illustrate the concern of the Vaikhanasa community to distinguish themselves as Vaidikas who are different from other Vaishnava sects, particularly the Pancharatras, and also to assert their premier position as born-priests not needing any other sort of vaishnava-diksha.

Vaikhanasa – dharma – sutra

61.1. A Vaikhanasa, a born-priest (janmathah – archaka) is guided by Vaikhanasa- Grihya sutra and Dharma –sutra , which are within the orthodox Vedic culture. The Vaikhanasa – dharma –sutra also deals with religious life; and the conduct, duties and responsibilities in different stages of life (asramas). They also detail the eight-fold system of yoga (ashtanga –yoga) and related spiritual practices.

Works of the four sages: Vaikhanasa Shastra – Agama – Samhita

62.1. Sage Vaikhanasa is said to have taught his doctrine to his nine disciples: Kashyapa; Atri; Marichi; Vashista; Angira; Bhrgu; Pulasthya; Pulaha; and Kratu. Among these, four rishis viz. Atri, Bhrgu, Kashyapa, and Marichi composed a set of texts, based on the philosophy expounded by Sage Vaikhanasa, detailing various aspects of worship, conduct in personal life and several other disciplines. The collection of these texts along with Vaikhanasa’s original instructions constitutes the core of the Vaikhanasa literature.

Sri_Vikhanasa_Maharishi

62.2. Vimanarchana –kalpa (1001.1) a prose work which elaborates on worship of Vishnu–icon ,  ascribed to Marichi talks about  the doctrine taught by Sage Vaikhanasa to his four chief disciples: Bhrgu, Kashyapa, Atri and Marichi .The disciples who received the knowledge from their Master expanded upon his philosophy and teachings. And, they produced four classes of texts: Bhrgu (Tantras); Kashyapa (Adhikaras); Atri (Kandas); and Marichi (Samhitas). The four sets of texts together ran into four lakh granthas; each grantha being 32 letters composed in anustubh chhandas (metrical form).

62.3.  Vimānārcakakalpa of Marichi mentions thirteen works attributed to Bhrgu:

Khilatantra; Puratantra; Vasadhikara ; Chitradhikara ; Manadhikara ; Kriyadhikara ; Archanadhikara ; Yajnadhikara ; Varnadhikara ; Prakirnadhikara ; Pratigrihyadhikara ; Niruktadhikara ; and , Khiladhikara.

Kashyapa is said to have composed three Samhitas consisting  64,000 verses: Satyakanda; Tarkakanda; and, Jnanakanda.

Atri is credited with   four works spread over 88,000 verses composed in anustuph chhandas: Purvatantra; Atreyatantra ; Vishnutantra; and, Uttaratantra.

The set  of eight Samhitas (1, 84, 000 granthas) composed by Sage Marichi form the Vaikhanasa Samhita (samhita-ashtaka).The titles of the eight Samhitas are said to be : Jaya ; Ananada; Samjnana  ; Vira  ; Vijaya; Vijita; Vimala ; and Jnana  Samhita.

[Having said this, let me also mention that there also alternate lists of the texts attributed to these four Rishis.]

62.4. The collection of four lakh granthas, spread over  128 books,  came to be known as Vaikhanasa Shastra (chatur-laksha grantham pradadur etad  Vaikhanasam shastram ). They are also collectively  known as Vaikhanasa Agama.

62.5. All these four classes of texts acknowledge that the Vaikhanasa- kalpa – sutra handed down by their Master Sage Vaikhana is their primary source; and it is the Authority for the Vaikhanasa sampradaya.

63.1. Although the Kalpa –sutras of Vaikhanas provided the inspiration and the substance for the later Vaikhanasa writings, a distinction is drawn between the Sutra (of Valkanas) and the Shastra (by his disciples).

Kalpa –sutra is different in its approach from its Shastra or Agama texts. There is a marked difference between the environment of Kalpa-sutra period and that of the Agama shastra. The Kalpa-sutra belongs to a period when Yajnas and related rituals  as prescribed in Yajur Veda , the Brahmanas etc were still being performed fairly  regularly .But, by the time of the Agamas,  the age of the Yajnas was fading out; and the prescriptions of the srauta section of  Kalpa –sutra were  also losing the  focus of attention. However, the Grihya –sutra section (which deals with domestic rituals) based on the Smritis and which is also known as Samarta –sutra was still relevant, and it was gaining greater importance.

Transition:  Veda – Kalpa –Agama

64.1.  We see here a transition from Vedas to Kalpa and then on to the Agama. The worship of Agni (homa-puja) which  was  the focus of attention in the  Vedic  period   was   translated  by the Kalpa  into  the  worship  of  Vishnu  in  the  iconic form (bera-puja).  Vishnu was a prominent Vedic god; and in the Brahmanas Vishnu came to be regarded as the very personification of Yajna (yagno vai Vishnuh) . Following that, the Kalpa Sutra said, the worship of Vishnu is indeed equivalent to the performance of Yajna.The kalpa- sutra therefore prescribed worship of Vishnu in the household along with the customary ritual-fires. The Agamas thereafter not only transformed the Vedic Yajna ideology (amutha-archana) into worship of Vishnu, but also extended it into worship of icons installed in temples (samurtha-archana). Though the Vedic rituals gradually gave place to worship of Vishnu-icon, the Agama did not entirely give up Vedic rituals.

64.2. The archana (service to the images) detailed in the Vaikhanasa Agama represents the community’s transition from a Vedic School of ritual observance to a Bhagavata tradition emphasising bhakthi towards Narayana and worship of Vishnu/Narayana idol installed at the temples. The Kalpa-sutra always addressed their Supreme deity only as Vishnu; and, Vaishnava ideology was evident. The use of the term Narayana was not yet prominent. But, by the time of the Agamas, the names Vishnu and Narayana came to be used alternatively.

64.3. And, when Vaikhanasa Agama was composed it had to comment on  details which the Kalpa sutra did not contain;  or elaborate on details which were only suggested by Sage Vaikhanasa. The requirements of Agama appear to have necessitated the composition of Shastra-texts by the four sages, to compliment the Kalpa-sutra handed down  by their master.

64.4. Together with the Kalpa Sutras, the Vaikhanasa –samhita are traditionally taken to be the cannon of the Vaikhanasas (Vaikhanasa-shastra or Vaikhanasa-Bhagavad-shastra).

65.1. Vaikhanasa-Bhagavad-shastra or Vaikhanasa-Agama, in many ways, compliment the Vaikhanasa-kalpa – sutra. It also elaborates on certain issues that the Kalpa –sutra did not touch upon.It is said; the Kalpa –sutra of Vaikhanadid not deal with temple-worship at all; and, even the worship at home was discussed rather briefly. But, his disciples realizing the importance of worshipping Vishnu in temples and having in view the greater good of all mankind, elaborated on this aspect following the broad principles for worship at home as mentioned in the Kalpa –sutra. And, that, it is said, resulted in Vaikhanasa- Agama.

65.2. The Vaikhanasa tradition frequently avers to its Vedic affiliation and Vedic authority. But, in its living practices it is mostly about temple-rituals.  The texts now classed under Vaikhanasa Agama are primarily ritual texts (prayoga shastra); and they contain elaborate discussions on various aspects concerning temples as also instructions on practical aspects of worship-procedures. The jnana-paadas of Vaikhanasa Agama texts are brief as compared to discussion on rituals.

[It is said; initially, the Vaikhanasa texts did not generally employ the term Agama to describe themselves.  They were known as ‘VaikhanasaBhagavad-shastra’ or as ‘Daivika-sutra’. However, the term Vaikhanasa-Agama came into use in later times in order to distinguish them from other Agama traditions.]

Subjects dealt by the four classes of texts

66.1. The four classes of texts produced by the four disciples of Sage Vaikhanasa may be considered as different streams of the same tradition or School handing down the same ritual doctrine and practices, but with slight variations when it comes to the details of ritual – sequences, circumstantial descriptions of the same set of procedures or ceremonies.  But, the texts attributed to the four sages, in the main, are in agreement as regards their content and the disposition of the topics dealt with. They even tend to quote each other.

66.2. The main tantras pertaining to the installation and worship of idols are in Bhrgu, Atri, Kashyapa and Marichi Samhitas.  They deal with building a shrine to Vishnu (karayathi mandiram); making a worship-worthy beautiful idol (pratima lakshana vatincha kritim); and worshipping everyday (ahanyahani yogena yajato yan maha-phalam). The texts  primarily refer to ordering one’s life in the light of values of icon worship (Bhagavadarcha), to usher in a sense of duty, commitment and responsibility.

The Bhrgu, Atri and Marichi Samhitas in particular go into different aspects of architecture of Vaikhanasa Vishnu temples, while other fragments cover Chitra karma or painting of pictures of deities.

66.3. The Vaikhanasa-tantra texts (ascribed to Bhrgu) broadly deal with (i) karshana (construction of shrines); (ii) prathishtha (installation of idols of gods); (iii) puja (worship of the idols); (iv) snapana (the abhisheka or bathing of idols); (v) utsava (festivals and processions); and , (vi)  prayashchitta (expiatory rites relating to errors in rituals ).

66.4. Atri’s   Kandas also cover these topics at great depth in addition to the design of temples. Kashyapa’s Adhikaras are mainly in the form of sutras. Apart from these; the Kashyapa gives a description of the world; a classification of the good (auspicious) and evil elements; the appeasement of the ominous, causes of welfare and defeat; directions for construction of houses; the donations of village; plans for  towns and villages; etc

67.1. The Agamas combine two types of instructions: one providing the visualization of the icon form; and the other giving details of preparation of icon for worship. This is supplemented by prescriptions for worship of the image and the philosophy that underlies it.

When the four classes of texts are put together, in regard to the subjects relating to construction of temples, mainly, the following are discussed:

the types of shrines; inspection of temple-site; preparatory ploughing on that site; the deposit of the temple-embryo; the construction of a provisional miniature temple (bala-alaya) for Vishnu and his attendant deities during the time when the main sanctum is under construction or when an evil omen or a damage has occurred; temple architecture; collection  of materials (stone and wood); construction of the temple proper; iconography of Vishnu images and of other deities; preparation of the clay for modelling the image;  the measures of the image , ornaments etc;  sculpting of the images; the measure and other characteristics of the frames and their construction; consecration and installation of of the icon;  the oblation into five fires; the sequence of daily worship in the temple;  occasional festivals, celebrations (uthsava) ; etc.

As regards the topics related to worship at the temple, the following stages are described:

entering the temple; duties of the assistants (such as the water fetcher and others); meditation and personal preparation of the priest; bathing of the image ; preparations and worship of the minor deities ; invocation of Vishnu; worship of Vishnu; various details about the flowers to be offered or to be avoided ; details about the elements of daily worship; various details about the consecration and worship of Avatars; extensive bathing on special occasions or to regenerate the divinity of the image; the festival; the atonement or correction of errors (pryaschitta) etc

67.2. In the next part let’s continue with the Vaikhanasa literature and then go on to Vaikhanasa philosophy and its preoccupation with temple –worship.

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 Vaikhanasa Continued in Part Four

References and Sources

1. A Companion to Tantra by S C Banerji ; Abhinav Publications (2007)

2. Tantra: its mystic and scientific basis by Lalan Prasad Singh ;Concept Publishing Company (1976)

3. Tribal roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari ; Sarup & Sons (2002)

4. The Tantric way by Ajit Mukherjee and Madhu Khanna ; Thames & Hudson (1977)

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)

6. The Perspective of the Tantras By K. Guru Dutt

http://yabaluri.org/TRIVENI/CDWEB/theperspectiveofthetantrassept45.htm

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas04.htm

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar

http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Evolution-of-Tantra-1.aspx

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra

 

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