E. The Vyuha
Para–Vasudeva and Lakshmi
13.1. As mentioned earlier, the central doctrine of the Pancharatra Agama is that the Absolute, the Brahman, out of loving- compassion, voluntary assumed bodily forms so that the devotees may gain access to his subtle form. He manifests himself in five-fold forms: Para or the supreme form of his transcendent being; Vyuha or the group of his forms called Vyuha-Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha brought together in worship and adoration as a complete body of divine power, and who represent the cosmic consciousness, intellect, mind, and the ego respectively; Vibhava or his glory seen through his incarnations or Avatars; Archa or his presence manifest in his idols and images worshipped by devotees; and as Antaryamin or his immanent presence within the Universe.
13.2. Para–Vasudeva represents the Pancharatra ideology of the transcendental form (para) of Narayana the supreme principle abiding in the highest realm paramapada. He is visualized as pure and resplendent like a clear crystal; and as the divinely auspicious charming form (divya mangala vigraha). Para is the highest form and is referred to as ‘the first form’,’ the best of the Purushas’ and ‘the Highest Light’ etc. Para –Vasudeva is endowed with countless auspicious virtues (ananta kalyana guna), which include the important six ideal attributes: wisdom or gnosis (jnana), sovereignty (aishvarya), energy (sakthi), strength (bala), valour (virya) and splendour or glory (tejas).His other notable attributes are gambhirya (grandeur, majesty), audarya (generosity or benevolence), karunya (compassion), souseelya (chaste manners)and vaathsalya (affection).
13.3. Lakshmi (Sri) as energies intimately associated with Para –Vasudeva; and is regarded as the composite aspect of his transcendental form. While Para Vasudeva is pure consciousness, Lakshmi as creative energy is the cause of the material world. It is said, Lakshmi at his behest, that is by the power of his will (iccha sakthi), differentiates herself into the power of action (kriya sakthi) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti). Out of her three powers the next phase of emanations (vyuha) proceeds.
It is also explained that Lakshmi and Vasudeva are two aspects of the One reality. Within Para Vasudeva’s unity He implies She; and She implies He. Para Vasudeva is pure consciousness while Devi Lakshmi is his expression of “I-ness”. She is the thought within his consciousness; She is the energy that manifests His glory. She exists because of Him; and He depends on her to manifest all that he intends. Lakshmi is Vasudeva’s power to intend an act (kriya-shakthi); She is also the power to bring this act into being (bhuthi – shakthi).As conscious intent She is Agni –the fire; and as fruitful act She is Soma – the life-juice that feeds the fire (meaning all that sustains life). Just as fire produces liquid and liquid produces fire, She brings forth everything into being. Whenever we speak of Him acting, we understand the actor in fact is She. The Bhagavatas address the Supreme Being as the Unity of He and She; as the Father and Mother of all existence. Some scholars say that in the ancient Tamil poetry, the term Tirumal (Tiru = Shri; Mal = Mahat the Great One) means the Majestic Devi with the Great One, suggesting the essential unity of Lakshmi and Vasudeva. [See Denis Hudson’s Book]
13.4. The later Pancharatra texts mention, in addition to Lakshmi, two other consorts – Bhu-devi and Nila-devi – who too are regarded as energies associated with Narayana. The three Devis are said to also represent the three aspects (gunas) of nature (prakriti): Lakshmi (satva –white); Bhu (rajas –red) and Nila (tamas –dark). She is also the Maha-Maya the transcendent and magical creativity.
Emanation – Shristi
14.1. The appearance of gunas in Lakshmi and Narayana sets in motion the process of emanation, the vyuha. The term Vyuha stands for structure or group or groups of persons. In the Vyuha emanation, Narayana manifests himself as five heroes of the Vrishni-yadava clan:Vasudeva-Krishna; his brother Sankarshana; Samba (son of Krishna –Jambavathi); Pradyumna (son of Krishna -Rukmini) and Aniruddha (son of Pradyumna).These five are together known as ‘heroes of a family’; and, the Bhagavata cult came to be known as ‘the doctrine of heroes’ (vira-vada). However, with Samba having been omitted from the group, the other four Vrishni heroes were revered as chatur-vyuha, the four essential aspects of Vishnu. Initially worship was offered to them individually; and later they were worshipped together in group.
14.2. Some scholars of the Pancharatra School try to explain why the Vyuha was composed by the relatives of Vasudeva – Krishna. They say when Narayana appeared on the earthly plane as Krishna, some of his attributes too took form as persons surrounding him. While Krishna, they say, is the complete manifestation those around him were sparks of the divine essence. Yet, Krishna and Vrishni heroes all originated from the same source, Narayana.
It is said; the gods are to be celebrated by their name, form, glory of their achievements and together with their friends (sthutistu naama rupena karmana baandhavena cha: Brihad-devatha -17)
15.1. Para is the undifferentiated Vasudeva while Vyuha is the stage of differentiated creation. Among the four Vyuha forms, the Vyuha-Vasudeva is regarded the most complete representation of Para-Vasudeva or Narayana. He is the embodiment of the ‘para’ nature of Narayana and is endowed with the six gunas in full measure. He is the source of other three Vyuha forms and is the creator of the second Vyuha, Sankarshana. Vasudeva says ‘the four Vyuha forms rest in me’ (chatur murti dharo hyam).
15.2. The chatur vyuha is compared to a pillar (visaka yupa) having four nodes (parva) bearing four resplendent lights, each light at a different height and each facing a different direction. The brightest of the four lights, at the top, glowing like a gem is Vyuha-Vasudeva the pure effulgence; it is all brightness. The other three lights, at the lower level, shining not-so-brightly, represent Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. The light at the second level glowing red like a ruby is Sankarshana; the next one below that burning yellow like gold is Pradyumna; and the light at the lowest level dark like a rain bearing cloud is Aniruddha.
The Vyuha structure, attributes and functions
16. The structure, the symbolisms and the functions assigned to each vyuha-murti is not only elaborate but also very interesting.
It is explained; Vasudeva as the Supreme (para) and Vasudeva as formation (Vyuha) differ only in relation to the beings produced. It is said; the Supreme Being Para-Vasudeva cannot be seen within space-time, just as an embryo cannot see the mother in whom it resides. But Vyuha-Vasudeva as a formation can be seen just as the infant can see its mother soon after birth. Sadhana the devotional way of disciplined and dedicated life is the means to see and experience Vasudeva as the formation Vyuha.
Vasudeva, as formation, re-produces his body, its content and actions, in three specific re-arrangements of himself in sequence. The primary Vasudeva changes into the formation of plougher Sankarshana. He then changes into the pre-eminently mighty Pradyumna. He thereafter changes into the formation of unobstructed Aniruddha.
The four Vyuha forms are in essence the four aspects of Para-Vasudeva from whom they all originate. They represent the four dimensions of the created universe; and regulate the cosmic order, rta.
The emanation of the four Vyuhas follows a certain sequence. The Vyuha Vasudeva is the first emanation. From him arises the second Vyuha: Sankarshana who in turn gives rise to the third Vyuha: Pradyumna. The fourth Vyuha, Aniruddha, is produced by Pradyumna.
In this process of emanation Para-Vasudeva remains unaffected, unchanged and ‘rests in his nature ‘.The other Vyuha forms are the differentiated aspects of the Para.
This evolution in stages is compared to lighting one lamp from another. Para- Vasudeva is also compared to a seed that holds in its womb the entire tree, but grows and flourishes richly into a visible form, over a period of time.
- The Vyuha –Vasudeva white in colour like fresh snow or cow’s milk complete in all aspects (kala) has four arms representing four stages in the evolution and dissolution of the universe: creation or emergence (sristi), maintenance (sthiti), dissolution (samhara) and emancipation (mukthi).
Sankarshana who was dragged out of Vasudeva’s body (akrasya tu svakaad dehaath) too is complete in all the four aspects (chatuskala).He is red in colour. And, he produced Pradyumna
The four armed Pradyumna bright like burnished gold represents universal soul (vishva-atma).He in turn produced from half of his body (dehaardha) Aniruddha dark in colour, the master of yogis.
The alternate names assigned to the four forms are Paramahamasa or Purusha for Vyuha-Vasudeva; Vyoma or Satya for Sankarshana; Naada or Achyuta for Pradyumna; and Hamsa or Narayana for Aniruddha.
Vyuha-Vasudeva represents Purusha (the all inclusive cosmic person); Sankarshana the Prakrti (individual soul or the material manifestation); Pradyumna the Manas (consciousness and mind) and Aniruddha the Ahamkara (the ego or the individual identify).
The four Vyuha forms are also said to represent the four states of consciousness; Vyuha-Vasudeva represents Turiya (the state beyond all states); Sankarshana the Shushupti (dreamless sleep); Pradyumna the Svapna (dream state) and Aniruddha the Jagrat (wakeful state).
Each Vyuha form is associated with a Yuga (a great period or an era). Vyuha-Vasudeva is associated with Krita-yuga; Sankarshana with Treta-yuga; Pradyumna with Dwapara-yuga; and Aniruddha with Kali-yuga.
Among the Dashavataras (the ten avatars of Vishnu) Vyuha-Vasudeva is associated with Vamana and Vasudeva-Krishna; Sankarshana with Matsya, Kurma, Parushuarama, Sri Rama and Kalki; Pradyumna with the Buddha; and Aniruddha with Varaha and Nrusimha.
When Vyuha forms are depicted on the Vimana of a Vishnu temple, the Vyuha-Vasudeva is placed on the East, Sankarshana on the South; Pradyumna on the West; and Aniruddha on the South face of the Vimana.
The Vyuha-Vasudeva who virtually is Para Vasudeva himself, is complete and endowed with all the six divine attributes (shad-guna): wisdom or gnosis (jnana) , sovereignty (aishvarya) , energy or potency (sakthi), strength (bala) , valour (virya) and splendour or glory (tejas)
The six attributes (gunas) are grouped into three sets. The first set comprising the first three gunas (jnana, aishvarya and shakthi) is said to be in the ‘plane of rest’; the second set comprising the latter three gunas (bala, virya and tejas) is said to be in ‘the plane of activity’; and the third set comprises three pairs of two each : jnana and Bala; aishvarya and virya; the third pair being shakthi and tejas. The scheme of grouping in the third set is such that a guna each from the first set is paired with a guna from the second set. (Please refer to the table appended).
The Vyuha forms are thus significant both in spiritual and in physical planes.
- It is said that all the six divine attributes (shad-guna) are present in Vyuha-Vasudeva, in full measure. He is the pure aggregate of the six supreme qualities; but they rest in him undifferentiated and un-manifest.
However, only two each of those gunas appear dominantly in each of the other three Vyuhas. The dominant gunas in Sankarshana are: jnana and Bala; in Pradyumna: Aishvarya and Virya; and in Aniruddha: Shakthi and Tejas.
It is clarified that it should not be construed that all six attributes are not present in each of the other three Vyuha forms (Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha). But, it is implied that two specific gunas are dominant or explicit in each of those three Vyuhas, while the other four gunas are present in them in seed or potent form.
- It is said, while Vyuha-Vasudeva represents Dharma, rta the cosmic order, the other Vyuhas are each assigned two distinct types of functions: one related to creation and the other related to guiding the jivas on the path to salvation.
As regards the creation- functions, it is said, that with Sankarshana (Bala) creation assumes an embryonic form; through Pradyumna (Aishvarya) the duality of Purusha and Prakrti makes its appearance; and Aniruddha (ShakthI) enables the body and soul to grow.
[There are various versions of this concept. For instance, Lakshmi Tantra mentions the function of Aniruddha as creation; of Pradyumna as preservation; and of Sankarshana as destruction.]
As regards guiding the souls, Sankarshana (jnana) teaches the ‘siddantha’ the governing principles (ekantika –marga); Pradyumna (virya) helps its translation into practice (tatkriya); and Aniruddha (tejas) brings about the fruit of such practice (kriya phala), which is liberation.
The Vyuha context
17.1. There are arguments among various schools including the Vaishnavas on the Vyuha-concept. All agree with possibility of Vasudeva Parama-purusha manifesting himself in several forms in order to be accessible to the aspirants. However, some, notably Parashara Bhattar (12th century CE), point out that Vyuha- Vasudeva is virtually the Para_vasudeva in full measure. And, wonder if there was a need or relevance for Para-Vasudeva to replicate as Vyuha-Vasudeva –murti. They remark, it would suffice if the Vyuha is restricted to three forms: Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.
17.2. The Vyuha concept appears to be ancient and much older to that of the Avatars. It also appears to be better structured and function- oriented. Each Vyuha form has a designated position, specific aspects and defined functions. The Vyuha manifestations are actively associated with the processes of creation, evolution and maintenance of the world and the world-order. They also protect and guide the devotees on the path to salvation. In other words, Vyuha is a dynamic group which is closely associated with the functions of the world and expresses itself eloquently.
17.3. In the Pancharatra tradition which recommends icon worship (Archa) in the place of rituals like Yajnas, the approach to the divine is graded. And, in its hierarchy of divinities, the Vyuha murtis are ranked higher than the Avatars. The Vyuha murtis are regarded celestial beings while Avatars are those who descended to the earthly plane. The devotees, it is said, attain to or gain approach to the Vyuhas only after worship of Vibhava forms (Avatars) such as Sri Rama and others. A devotee contemplates on the subtle form of Vasudeva only through worship of Vyuha murtis.
17.4. In comparison, the Avatar concept appears rather nebulous. Avatar is the Vibhava form of emanation, the pragmatic stage, in which the God makes himself visible (avirbhava) descending to the earthly plane, for a specific purpose. And, only a handful of such Avatars are the major ones (purna), most others being either partial (amsha) or in passing (avesha). The recognition of an Avatar appeared to have come about as a response to the then popular sentiments. Each tradition follows its own interpretation of Avatar; the number of recognized Avatars too varies from School to School. For instance the Pancharatra Samhita lists as many as thirty-nine Avatars, while the Bhagavata – Purana mentions twenty-two Avatars; and the most recognized Avatars are ten. The legends connected with those Avatars also vary. Their virtues or position in the pantheon are often vague.
18. The Vyuha concept is one of the most significant features of the Vaishnava traditions, particularly of the Pancharatra. In its schema of cosmology, Para is the undifferentiated Vasudeva while Vyuha is the stage of differentiated creation closer to the beings. The Vyuha influence is wide spread across its various texts of philosophy, theology and Shilpa (temple architecture).For instance, Sri Parashara Bhattar (c.12th century) in his celebrated commentary on Vishnu-sahasra-nama observed that the Vishnu-names from 1 to 122 glorify Vishnu’s transcendental form Para; the next set of names from 123 to 146 expound the Vyuha forms; and then the stotra moves on to Vibhava (Avatars), Archa and other attributes.
The Vyuha in turn gave raise to twenty-four classical forms of Vishnu, the names of which are recited each day with devotion and reverence by most Hindus. Of the twenty-four secondary Vyuha (Vyuhantara), the first twelve (Dwadasha murti) are regarded more important.
We shall talk about the Dwadasha murti in the next post.The following is the brief iconographic description of the Vyuhas, in summary.Vyuha murtis are manifestations of Para-Vasudeva, the chief of the Vyuha (adyaksha); and, therefore their general features follow that of Vasudeva. The Agama texts of the Vaishnava persuasion (Vishvaksena Samhita, Isvara Samhita, Vishnudharmottara and Padma Samhita) as also the Shilpa texts such as Rupamandana carry elaborate descriptions of the Vyuha-murtis. The texts prescribe that icons of the four Vyuhas be installed separately. It is also mentioned that Vyuha -Vasudeva be depicted in standing posture (sthanaka); Sankarshana in seated posture (aasana); Pradyumna in resting or leaning posture; and Aniruddha in moving posture(yana karmani). The Vishvaksena Samita (11:145) however states that the Vyuha murti (images) may be depicted either as seated (aasana), recumbent (sayana), standing (sthanaka) or as in motion (Yana).
Vyuha –Vasudeva murti
Vyuha Vasudeva is represented as bright and clear as the pure crystal (shuddha spatika mani), as the cow’s milk, as jasmine or as the fresh snow. His aspect is peaceful and benevolent (saumya); and he wears yellow or red garments. He may be two or four armed. His lower right hand assumes the gesture of protection or it holds a lotus (padma); and his lower left hand holds the mace (gada).His upper right hand holds the discus (chakra) and the left hand holds the conch (shankha).He is adorned tastefully with ornaments. His image is scaled in uttama-dasatala measure.
Vyuha –Sankarshana murti
Vyuha-Sankarshana is lustrous and glowing red as a ruby or the morning sun. He is depicted as a very strong and vigorous person. He wears yellow or blue garments ; and an earring in one ear (kundalaka vibhushita).In his lower set of hands he holds pestle (musala) and a plough (hala or langala). In the upper hands he holds a bow (dhanus) and a conch (shankha).He is richly ornamented.
Vyuha –Pradyumna murti
Pradyumna is the colour of tender durva –grass or lustrous like the light of a glowing blue gem (durva- marakata prakhyam).He is very handsome; his disposition is as if slightly intoxicated (madothkata) and he wears yellow or red silken garments. His ornaments are rich and delicate. He holds in the lower set of hands a conch (shankha) and a mace (gada).In the upper hands he holds a lotus (padma) and a discus (chakra).
When he is two-armed he is shown in white garments holding a bow and an arrow.
Vyuha –Aniruddha murti
Aniruddha is dark-blue like the rain- bearing cloud. He is very handsome. He wears yellow silken garments (pitambara). He is also described as rather pinkish like a fresh red lotus, wearing red garments. He is richly ornamented and has flowing long flower- garlands (vanamala). He holds in his lower set of hands a dagger (khadga) and a shield (khetaka). In the upper hands he holds a bow and an arrow.
He is also shown in recumbent position, resting on Sesha and in company of his consorts.
Sources and References
I gratefully acknowledge the line-drawings and notes from Brahmiya Chitrakarma Sastram by Prof . Dr. G Gnanananda
Vishnu Kosha by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao