By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Vaikhanasa Agama, VaikhAnasa Agama, Vaikhaanasa AAgama
Vaikhānasa Āgama literally means ‘āgama belonging to the Vaikhānasa school’.
Agamas are the secondary scriptures of the religion more closely connected with rituals and temple culture. There are three main branches of the āgamas
Vaiṣṇavāgamas has split into two sampradāyas or traditions. They are:
- The Pāñcarātra Āgamas
- The Vaikhānasa āgamas
Vaikhānasa āgamas derive its name from the sage Vikhanas who was the founder of this sect.
- 1 Vikhānas, the Founder
- 2 Vaikhānasa Literature
- 3 Surviving Works
- 4 Other Important Works
- 5 The Vaikhānasa Philosophy
- 6 The Vaikhānasa Community
- 7 Temple Images of Worship
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 References
Vikhānas, the Founder
Vikhānas was a sage of great antiquity. He was regarded as an incarnation of Viṣṇu who popularized the sect of Viṣṇu in the country. He is sometimes identified with the creator, the four faced Brahmā, also. He is said to have written two treatises:
- The Vaikhānasa Kalpasutras
- The Daivikasutras
He had four chief disciples:
He had taught the worship of Viṣṇu in great details to his chief disciples.
Iconographical Representation of Vikhānas
- Iconographical works describe that he is white in complexion.
- He is clothed in golden colored garments.
- He has four arms.
- He holds a daṇda and has the ruru as his mount.
- He is generally shown with his four disciples.
- His image has to be installed at the right side of the entrance of the mukhamaṇḍapa in a temple of Viṣṇu.
The original, basic, work was the Vaikhānasa Kalpasutras which is not available now. A list of all the works composed by the four disciples may now be given:
It is in 88,000 verses. It can be subdivided as follows:
It is in 64,000 verses. It can be subdivided as follows:
It is in 64,000 verses. It can be subdivided into:
It is in 1,84,000 verses. It can be subdivides as follows:
Only a few of these works have now survived. They are:
- Ānandasamhitā and Jayasamhitā of Marīci
- Yajñādhikāra of Bhṛgu
- Jñānakānda of Kāśyapa
- Uttara-tantra or Samurtārcanādhikāra of Atri
Other Important Works
Some of the other, more important, works are:
- Daśavidhahetunirupana of Śrīnivāsa Makhin, A. D. 1050
- Commentaries on the Vaikhanasa Kalpasutras and Sakalāgama-sārasañgraha by Nṛsīmha-Vājapeya-Yājī
- Lakṣmi-Viśistādvaita-bhāsya on the Vedāntasutrās of Bādarāyaṇa
- Uttama-brahmavidyā and Vaikhānasa mahima-mañjari by Srīnivāsa Makhin
- Arcanānavanita by Keśavācārya; Prayogavrtti on the Vaikhānasasutra by Sundararāja
- Vimānārcanakalpa by Raghunāthacakravarti and Setumādhavācārya
All the treatises of the Vaikhānasa Āgama series are distinguished by their meticulous attention to image-worship and temple rituals. They also give the essential aspects of temple architecture.
The Vaikhānasa Philosophy
Based on the commentary of Śrīnivāsa Makhin on the Vedāntasutras of Bādarāyaṇa, Raghupati Bhaṭṭācārya composed a work called Mokṣo-pāyapradipikā. Here he has systematized the philosophy of the Vaikhānasa Āgamas which is same as the Viśiṣṭādvaita of Rāmānuja. It is in prose and has twelve sections. Brahman or Paramātman is the highest and independent reality. He has two aspects:
- The niṣkala - devoid of form and attributes
- The sakala - with the forms and attributes
In the sakala aspect, he was known as Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa. He is inseparably associated with Lakṣmi, just as the moon and its light are associated with each other. He is īśvara, the supreme Lord, with the insentient prakṛti and the sentient puruṣas which are also eternal under his absolute control as the dependent realities.
Classification of Jīvas
These jīvas who are atomic in size, are of three classes:
- Nitya - immutable or changeless like Ananta or Ādiśeṣa, Sanaka and others
- Mukta - emancipated, though once in bondage
- Baddha - bound, souls bound by their prārabdha- karma
Means of Liberation
The baddha or the bound souls have been fettered, by being deluded by the māyā of īśvara and can get liberation only by seeking refuge in him through devoted worship. The means of liberation are:
Forms of Samārādhana
- Japa - repetition of divine name
- Huta or homa - fire-sacrifices
- Arcanā - iconic worship
- Dhyāna - meditation
Classification of Mukti
Mukti is of four types:
- Sālokya - to live in the world of God
- Sāmipya - to live near God
- Sārupya - to have a form similar to that of God
- Sāyujya - being united with or merged in God
The last is considered as the real mukti.
Domains of Viṣṇu
The Vaikhānasa treatises speak of four realms of Viṣṇu with one aspect of his, presiding over each. They are:
- Āmoda Viṣṇu
- Pramoda Mahāviṣṇu
- Sammoda Sadāviṣṇu
- Vaikuṇtha Nārāyaṇa or Vyāpi-Nārāyaṇa
The four types of mukti mentioned are respectively related to these four realms. In the last state, the liberated soul enters into the supreme light and enjoys everlasting bliss.
Four forms of Viṣṇu
Corresponding to the four vyuhas of the Pāñcarātra system, Vaikhānasa too posits four aspects of Viṣṇu who is called the Adimurti. The four forms are:
- Puruṣa, representing the quality dharma
- Satya, the quality jñāna
- Acyuta, the quality aiśvarya
- Aniruddha, the quality vairāgya
Aspects of Yoga
The Vaikhānasa Community
The vaikhānasas are a community of temple priests. They are ordained by birth to be priests and have to follow only that as a vocation in life. The sacramental rites that are prevalent in a vaikhānasa household include a unique ceremony called Viṣṇubali or garbhacakrasanskāra. It is performed after the sīmanta, the ritual before childbirth conducted for the mother, in the bright half of the eighth month of pregnancy. It involves a homa and then offering to the pregnant mother, pāyasa in which the emblem cakra and śaṅkha have been previously dipped and a part offered in homa.
While the woman is drinking it, a special mantra is recited. The belief is that during this ritual, Lord Viṣṇu will brand the arms of the child to be born, with the marks of śañkha and cakra, which he carries in his own hands. The practical import of this ceremony is that the child born as a vaikhānasa has already been sanctified by Viṣṇu and hence needs no more initiatory rites as the Pāñcarātras do. He acquires the right to be a priest of Viṣṇu by birth. He can perform the worship both at home and in temples after formal training in the process of worship.
The vaikhānasas take to worship in temples as priests, not for eking out a living such priests are called devalakas but with a sense of duty and obligation. It is the responsibility of the temple management to provide for their maintenance. The vaikhānasas bestow a very high place to the priest who worships in a temple. Whereas the icon acquires divinity after āvāhana divinity, according to them, abides in him permanently. Recitation of the Ātmasukta enables the priest to get identified with the cosmic form of Viṣṇu.
Temple Images of Worship
Types of Images to be Worshiped
The vaikhānasa mode of worship is essentially oriented towards Viṣṇu. In temples adopting this mode, there will generally be four or five icons of worship. They can be delineated as:
- Dhruvabera - It is the permanently fixed stone image.
- Kautukabera - It is an exact replica of the original (but smaller in size) which receives the daily worship. Hence it is called as arcanābera also. This image rests on an arcanā-piṭha, a seat of worship.
- Snapanabera - This image is used for naimittika or occasional rituals. It is placed in an enclosure called snapanamaṇḍapa which is outside the sanctum.
- Utsavabera - It is also called as autsavabera. It is used in worship for the sake of people who are motivated by worldly desires. The utsavabera too has its own special place.
Viṣṇu is said to have taken three strides. If the dhruvabera is Viṣṇu in the original posture, the three other images represent the same Viṣṇu in his three steps. Kautukabera is the first step, snapanabera, the second step and the utsavabera, the third step. It is the spirit of the same original icon that has entered into the other three. Sometimes another icon is added to these three movable images, called the balibera. This is used for the sake of distributing food daily to the attendant deities located in the enclosures. If the same movable icon is used for all purposes, it is known as bhogabera.
Concurrence as per Vaikhānasa System
Sometimes the system of having five icons for one deity is compared to the establishing of and maintaining the five Vedic fires. These five fires are:
Similar to the four vyuhas or emanations of the Pāñcarātra system, the Vaikhānasa system posits the caturmurtis. Viṣṇu is the Ādimurti. The four mṅrtis or aspects are:
They also correspond to the four icons in the temple. Puruṣa is represented by the kautukabera, Satya by utsavabera, Acyuta by the snapanabera and Aniruddha by the balibera. During the actual worship, however, Aniruddha is omitted. The four images represent the following:
- Kautaka - It represents Viṣṇu.
- Utsava- It represents Puruṣa.
- Snapana - It represents Satya.
- Bali - It represents Acyuta.
In the temple worship of the Vaikhānasa system, these four aspects of Viṣṇu are visualized as the four forms located around him in the immediate enclosure:
- Puruṣa to the east
- Satya to the south
- Acyuta to the west
- Aniruddha to the north
Iconographical works describe their images in different ways.
Though the Vaikhānasa Āgamas give primary importance to area or murtipujā to the images of gods, their consorts and the attendant deities, the outlook is in essence. It holds that Godhead is sarvādhāra, sanātana, aprameya, acintya, nirguṇa and niṣkala. It is all-pervading just as butter in milk, oil in oil seeds or fire in firewood.
However, just as fire blazes forth by friction of the araṇi sticks, Viṣṇu appears in the heart of the devotee by dhyāna-manthana or constant meditation. This is the ‘sakala’ form, the Absolute materializing itself due to the devotion and visualization of the devotee. Even then, worshiping an icon properly prepared as per the rules given in the treatises, is extremely important. Ultimately, it leads to salvation. This seems to be the main feature of the Vaikhānasa Āgamas.
- He was an incarnation of Viṣṇu or an emanation from him, of Vedic wisdom.
- Daṇda means staff.
- Ruru means antelope.
- Mukhamaṇḍapa means front porch.
- He was also known as Vāsudeva.
- He lived in A. D. 1017- 1137.
- Insentient Prakṛti is made up of the three guṇas sattva, rajas and tamas.
- Puruṣas means jīvas or individual souls.
- Īśvara means Viṣṇu.
- Samārādhana means worshiping Nārāyaṇa with intense devotion.
- Amurta means an-iconic form.
- Mukti means emancipation.
- Dharma means righteousness.
- Jñāna means knowledge.
- Aiśvarya means glory.
- Vairāgya means detachment.
- Pāyasa means sweet rice-pudding.
- Emblem Chakra means discus-emblem of Viṣṇu.
- Śaṅkha means conch.
- Āvāhana means invoking.
- Vaikhānasa Samhitā, Mantrapraśna 5.49
- It is called as kāmyārcanā.
- Visnusukta 3
- Sarvādhāra means support of all.
- Sanātana means ancient and eternal.
- Aprameya means inscrutable.
- Acintya means indefinable.
- Nirguṇa means without attributes.
- Niṣkala means without parts.
- Dhyāna-manthana means churning due to meditation.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore