An Overview of the Vaishnava Siddhaanta

हरिः ॐ । Harihi Om.

This article shall provide an outlook and overview of the Vaishnava philosophy, or the Vaishnava Mata (वैष्णव मत​), as well as its history and mention in the Shaastras.

Firstly, there are two ancient systems of Vaishnava Aagamas:

  1. Vaikhaanasa
  2. Pancharaatra

The first was founded by Maharshi Vikhaanasa, an amsha of Shri Brahmaa. The second was founded by Shri Naaraayana Rshi, an avataara of Shri Vishnu himself. Most of the present-day Vaishnava sampradaayas derive their philosophies from either of these two systems of Aagamas, or both. The Vaikhaanasa Aagamas are mentioned directly in the Vedas. For instance, the Taandya Maha-Braahmana of the Saama Veda says:

वैखानसं भवति ।
वैखानसा वा ऋषय इन्द्रस्य प्रिया आसँ ॥

Saama Veda (Raanaayaneeya Shaakha), Taandya Mahaabraahmana, Praapathaka 14, Khanda 4, Mantras 6-7

The Vaikhaanasa Aagamas mainly consists of Veda mantras and are linked to the Vaikhaanasa Shaakha of the Krshna-Yajurveda. Currently, only the Paramaatmika Upanishad is an extant text belonging to this Shaakha. It has been commented upon by the Vaikhaanasa philosopher, Shri Shreenivaasa Deekshita.

The Pancharaatra philosophy, on the other hand, is derived from the Vaidheya Shaakha, or Ekaayana Shaakha of the Shukla-Yajurveda (a currently lost branch of the Yajurveda). Therefore, it is sometimes even known by the name ‘Ekaayana’.

The Vaishnava Philosophy

The Vaishnava philosophy, quite obviously, considers Bhagavaan Naaraayana alone to be Param Brahman. The highest abode or destination for all living entities is Parama Padam, the highest abode of Vaikuntha.

Unlike a few other philosophies, Vaishnavism considers Brahman to possess a divine and inconceivable form. He is not formless, since it is hinted in the Upanishads themselves, as said in this article. As per Vaishnava Dharma, there are five levels of manifestations of Shri Hari:

  1. Para: Literally meaning “the Highest” or “Supreme”, this refers to Para Vaasudeva, the highest form of Shri Vishnu. He resides at ‘Paramapadam’ (literally meaning “the Highest/Supreme abode”). He is the Mula-Rupa or original/root form.
  2. Vyuha: These are four Vyuha forms acquired by Shri Vishnu, for the purpose of guiding devotees.
    1. Vaasudeva: The first Vyuha form, who resides at the Ksheera-Saagara and is visible to the devatas. He is identical to Para Vaasudeva.
    2. Sankarshana: The Vyuha form who is the presiding devata of taamasa. He is also the origin of Shri Aadi Shesha and Shri Shiva.
    3. Pradyumna: He is the third Vyuha form, who performs preservation.
    4. Aniruddha: He is the form of Shri Vishnu among the Trimurtis. Shri Brahmaa originates from a lotus on his navel.
  3. Vibhaava: The various avataaras of Shri Vishnu, who appear from the Aniruddha Vyuha form.
  4. Antaryaami: The form of Shri Vishnu, being present within the soul of all beings, as Paramaatma.
  5. Archa: The energized deity in a temple, which is used as a means of worshiping Shri Vishnu.

The Pancharaatra Aagamas enable the worship of Bhagavaan Naaraayana through several mediums, such as water, fire, in a temple deity or even in one’s mind. The objective of the Pancharaatra philosophy is to provide moksha to all Vaishnavas, regardless of background, varna, sex, race, etc. For this reason, it is said in the Mahaabhaarata:

पञ्चरात्रविदो मुख्या यथाक्रमपरा नृप ।
एकान्तभावोपगता वासुदेवं विशन्ति ते ॥

Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva, Adhyaaya 359, Shloka 72 (var. Adhyaaya 337, Shloka 67)

“Those eminent ones who comprehend the Pancharaatra philosophy and through understanding the relative position of the Devas, thereby attain single-minded devotion, enter into Vaasudeva (i.e., obtain moksha).”

This shloka has been quoted by Shripaada Madhvacharya, in the Mahaabhaarata Taatparya Nirnaya, Adhyaaya 2, Shloka 110 (var. Shloka 103).

The Vaishnava Siddhaanta in the Shaastras

There are many pramaanas from the Shaastras describing and glorifying the Pancharaatra philosophy. Following are a few pramaanas:

ऋग्वेदं भगवोऽध्येमि यजुर्वेदं सामवेदमाथर्वणं चतुर्थमितिहासपुराणं पञ्चमं वेदानां वेदं पित्र्यं राशिं दैवं निधिं वाकोवाक्यमेकायनं देवविद्यां ब्रह्मविद्यां भूतविद्यां क्षत्रविद्यां नक्षत्रविद्यां सर्पदेवजनविद्यामेतद्भगवोऽध्येमि ॥ ७.१.२ ॥

Chhaandogya Upanishad, Prapaathaka 7, Khanda 1, Mantra 2

This mantra from the Chhaandogya Upanishad mentions ‘Ekaayana’ as one of the several important Shaastras. These words were said by Devarshi Shri Naarada. The context of Devarshi Naarada learning about the Vaishnava philosophy can be found In the Varaaha Puraana, where Bhagavaan Varaaha Himself says that the Pancharaatra Aagamas have been revealed by Him, and are the highest means to reach Him.

दिदं पञ्चरात्रं मे शास्त्रं परमदुर्लभम् ।
तद्भवान् वेत्स्यते सर्वं मत्प्रसादान्न संशयः ॥

वेदैश्च पञ्चरात्रैश्च भक्त्या यज्ञैस्तथैव च ।
दृश्योऽहं नान्यथा दृश्यो वर्षकोटिशतैरपि ॥

Varaaha Puraana, Adhyaaya 66, Shlokas 17 and 18

(Shri Varaaha said): “You will know that this Pancharaatra Shaastra belongs to Me, in its entirety, which is the highest means and easy to follow, through My grace. There is no doubt about this. I am to be seen through the Vedas, the Pancharaatra Aagamas, bhakti and yajnas, not by any other means, even in crores of years.”

The 18th shloka of this Adhyaaya, has been quoted by Shripaada Madhvacharya, in his Mundaka Upanishad bhaashya, Mundaka 1, Khanda 1, Mantra 5. The present day version of this shloka has slight variations, with negligible differences in the meaning.

पुरुषो ह नारायणोऽकामयत अतितिष्ठेयं सर्वाणि भूतान्यहमेवेदं सर्वं स्यामिति स एतम् पुरुषमेधम् पञ्चरात्रम् यज्ञक्रतुमपश्यत्तमाहरत्तेनायजत तेनेष्ट्वात्यतिष्ठत्सर्वाणि भूतानीदं सर्वमभवदतितिष्ठति सर्वाणि भूतानीदं सर्वम् भवति य एवम् विद्वान्पुरुषमेधेन यजते यो वैतदेवम् वेद ।​

Shatapatha Braahmana, Khanda 13, Adhyaaya 6,
Braahmana 1, Mantra 1

The aforementioned mantra refers to the Yajna of five-nights performed by Shri Brahmaa, to procure the knowledge of the Pancharaatra philosophy. This has an Upabrhmana in the Mahaabhaarata, where Brahmaa Deva receives the knowledge of the Pancharaatra Siddhaanta from Shri Vishnu, while commencing the creation of the material world.

धर्मं च मत्तो गृह्णीष्व सात्वतं नाम नामतः ।
तेन सृष्टं कृतयुगं स्थापयस्व यथाविधि ॥ 29 ॥
ततो ब्रह्मा नमश्चक्रे देवाय हरिमेधसे ।
धर्मं चाग्र्यं स जग्राह सरहस्यं ससंग्रहम् ॥ 30 ॥
आरण्यकेन सहितं नारायणमुखोद्गतम् ।
उपदिश्य ततो धर्मं ब्रह्मणेऽमिततेजसे ॥ 31 ॥
तं कार्तयुगधर्माणं निराशीः कर्मसंज्ञितम् ।
जगाम तमसः पारं यत्राव्यक्तं व्यवस्थितम् ॥ 32 ॥
ततोऽथ वरदो देवो ब्रह्मा लोकपितामहः।
असृजत्स ततो लोकान्कृत्स्नान्स्थावरजङ्गमान् ॥ 33 ॥
ततः प्रावर्तत तदा आदौ कृतयुगं शुभम् ।
ततो हि सात्वतो धर्मो व्याप्य लोकानवस्थितः ॥ 34 ॥
तेनैवाद्येन धर्मेण ब्रह्मा लोकविसर्गकृत् ।
पूजयामास देवेशं हरिं नारायणं प्रभुम् ॥ 35 ॥

Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva (Mokshadharma Parva), Adhyaaya 358, Shlokas 29-35

(Shri Vishnu said): “Also receive this excellent Mata (philosophy) from Me, known as Saattvata. Aided by it, create the Krta Yuga (Satya Yuga) and ordain it duly.” Thus addressed, Brahmaa bowed his head unto the illustrious Hari and received from Him that foremost of all philosophies, with all its mysteries and its abstract of details, together with the Aaranyakas, which appeared from the mouth of Naaraayana. Naaraayana then instructed Brahmaa of immeasurable energy in that Dharma and addressing him, said, “You are the creator of the the respective Yuga Dharmas.” Having said this unto Brahmaa, Naaraayana disappeared and proceeded to that spot which is beyond the reach of tamas, where the Unmanifest resides, and which is known by the men of acts without desire of fruits. After this, the boon-giving Brahmaa, the father of the Lokas, created the different realms, with their mobile and immobile creatures. The Yuga that first commenced was highly auspicious and came to be called by the name of Krta. In that Yuga, the philosophy of Saattvata Dharma existed, pervading the entire universe. With that primeval philosophy of righteousness, Brahmaa, the creator of all the worlds, worshipped Devesha, Hari, Naaraayana.”

साङ्ख्यादीनां विरुद्धमतत्वमुक्त्वापञ्चरात्रस्य कृत्स्नस्य वक्ता नारायणः स्वयम् ।
ज्ञानेष्वेतेषु राजेन्द्र सर्वेष्वेतद्विशिष्यते ॥

Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva, Adhyaaya 359, Shloka 68 (var. Adhyaaya 337, Shloka 63)

(Rshi Vaishampaayana said): “Among Saankhya, (Yoga, Paashupata), etc., the narrator of the Pancharaatra philosophy, in its entirety, is Shri Naaraayana Himself. Among the sources of knowledge, this is superior and the best, O Raajendra.”

This shloka has been quoted by:

  • Shripaada Madhvacharya, in the Mahaabhaarata Taatparya Nirnaya, Adhyaaya 2, Shloka 108 (var. Shloka 101)
  • Shripaada Jayateertha, in his Bhagavat Geeta Bhaashya, Adhyaaya 2, Shloka 39
  • Shripaada Ramanujacharya, in his Brahma Sutra bhaashya, Adhyaaya 2, Paada 2, Sutra 43

Shripaada Madhvacharya’s and Shripaada Ramanujacharya’s quotations vary slightly and skip the words before ‘pancharaatrasya krtsnasya….’ Further, in the Mahaabhaarata Taatparya Nirnaya, Adhyaaya 2, Shloka 109 (var. Shloka 102), Shripaada Madhvacharya quotes another shloka:

ज्ञानेष्वेतेषु राजेन्द्र साङ्ख्यपाशुपतादिषु ।
यथायोगं यथान्यायं निष्ठा नारायणः परः ॥

Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva, Adhyaaya 337, Shloka 64

“O King! The other shastras like Saankhya, Paashupata and others are acceptable only to the extent, where their statements are in accordance (to the Pancharaatra) and have been interpreted with the reference (of the Pancharaatra) to establish the Supremacy of Shri Naaraayana.”

इदं महोपनिषदं चतुर्वेदसमन्वितम् ।
सांख्ययोगकृतं तेन पञ्चरात्रानुशब्दितम् ॥

नारायंणमुखोदीतं नारदोऽश्रावयत्पुनः ।

Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva, Adhyaaya 348, Shlokas 62–63 (var. Adhyaaya 339, Shloka 112)

“This great Upanishad takes one close to Brahman, explains the purport of the four Vedas harmoniously. It is based on Saankhya (Jnaana) and Yoga (bhakti). It is known as ‘Pancharaatra’. It appeared from the face of Shri Naaraayana and was explained by Devarshi Naarada once again.”

This shloka mentions that the Pancharaatra system is a Maha Upanishad and equivalent to a collection of the four Vedas and Saankhya Yoga.

तैरेकमतिभिर्भूत्वा यत्प्रोक्तं शास्त्रमुत्तमम् ।
वेदैश्चतुर्भिः समितं कृतं मेरौ महागिरौ ॥

Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva, Adhyaaya 343, Shlokas 28–29

“This lofty Shaastra (the Pancharaatra) has been expounded unanimously (by Shri Vishnu), has been declared equal to the four Vedas on the great mountain Meru.”

रिभिः स्वधर्मप्रमुखैर्युक्ता भक्तिरियं मुने ।
धर्म एकान्तिक इति प्रोक्तो भागवतद्र सः ॥

साक्षाद्भगवतः संगात्तद्भक्तानां च वेदृशाम् ।
धर्मो ह्येकान्तिकः पुम्भिः प्राप्यते नान्यथा क्वचित् ॥

Skanda Puraana, Vaasudeva Mahatamya, Adhyaaya 25, Shlokas 64–66

“This path of bhakti is inclusive of three aspects. This is also known as ‘Ekaantika Dharma’ as well as ‘Bhaagavata Dharma’. One will be able to tread this path only by the association of the Bhagavaan Himself or by the association of His exclusive bhaktas. There is no other way to follow this path of Ekaantika Dharma.”

Archaeological Evidences for Vaishnava Dharma in Ancient Times

There are numerous archaeological evidences too, which show the prevalence of the worship of Shri Vishnu, during ancient times. There is an Indus Valley terracotta figure of Shri Vishnu, estimated to about 4,700 years old, by archaeologists! (Refer to this link)

There are more such evidences, too. Therefore, Vaishnava Dharma is extremely ancient and has been prominent. Thus, ends this sketch on the Vaishnava philosophy.

Thank you for reading.

श्री कृष्णार्पणमस्तु ।


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