(Last Updated on : 27/01/2009)
Ancient India was thoroughly powered and overshadowed by Hinduism. But with its complex and costly rituals, caste system and the supremacy of Brahmins, it slowly led to the division of other religious sects that were much simpler to espouse. Vaishnavism is one such sect that had evolved as a faction by breaking away from Hinduism. This Hindu religious faction propagates absolute worship of Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna. Pertaining to worship in different perspectives, Vaishnavism addresses the monotheistic God under the names of Narayana, Krishna, Vasudeva or more often "Vishnu" and their related avatars.
Vaishnavism is predominantly monotheistic in its philosophy, but not exclusive. Vaishnavism is also viewed as a part of Bhakti Movement. The faction's beliefs and practices, particularly the concepts of Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga, are based principally on Upanishads and associated with the Vedas and Puranic texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Padma, Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas. Vaishnavism denounces caste system and the notion that intermediaries like Brahmins was needed to reach out to God. Having its roots in the Vedic culture, Vaishnavism derives its chief dogmas from Indian myths.
The evolutionary secret and origin of Vaishnavism
sect lies not in the Vedic Age, but in the pre-Vedic, non-Aryan Bhakti, devotional cult. As Vedism declined, this cult sprang forth strongly and was pivoted around Vasudeva, the deified Vrsni hero. There exists evidence that worship of Vasudeva and not Vishnu arrived at the beginning of Vaishnavism. This earliest phase was established from the sixth to fifth centuries BCE during the time of Panini. Panini in his Astadhyayi had translated the word 'vasudevaka' as a bhakta, devotee, of Vasudeva. Vaishnavism faction was based on spiritual wisdom delivered by the Gods themselves. Lord Vishnu had delivered knowledge about the creation to Brahma. Brahma, in turn, passed this knowledge to Narada, his son. Narada imparted the wisdom to his disciples, including Vyasadeva. The latter is known to have resided in Badrinath, located amidst the sublime clime of Himalayas. In an attempt to save the spiritual wisdom from destruction in Kaliyug, Vyasadeva put it in a written form for the very first time. Till date the script of Vaishnava cult is transmitted from teachers to their disciples.
History of Vaishnavism amounts to almost a quintessential story, wholly delineating an ancient Indian atmosphere. It depicts that Lord Vishnu had reincarnated himself as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to fight the Kaliyug. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, in turn, had demonstrated the path of love, simple faith and devotion to reach out to God. To be one with the Supreme Power or Lord Krishna, it is necessary to have immense belief within the devotee. The established concepts of class system, caste system, untouchability, lengthened rituals were all done away with in Vaishnavism. Vaishnavism propagated that there is only one thing to which God responds and that is true devotion. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the reincarnation of Lord Krishna, was instrumental in helping the then contemporary society to break away from the shackles of rigid religious customs. The major characteristic of Vaishnavism, "Bhakti" supports the devotee to escape from the ultimate cycle of death and birth. Besides Chaitanya, there also lies proof of various other committed Vaishnava religious leaders
, who had become incidental to spread this unique and liberated faction of Hinduism. Some of these luminous sages include Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Manavala Mamunigal, Vedanta Desika, Surdas, Meera bai, Tulsidas, Jnanadeva, Anandamayi Ma and Tukaram.
The Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of the faction has considerably increased consciousness of Vaishnavism internationally, since the mid-1900s. This dissemination of awareness has been possible largely through the activities and geographical expansion of the Hare Krishna movement, primarily through ISKCON and several other Vaishnava organisations carrying out preaching activities in the West. Staying in line with their uniqueness and vulnerability, Vaishnavism is subdivided into various sampradayas. Vaishnavism is separated into the Sri Sampradayins, Ramanandis, Vallabhacharins, Chaitanyas, Madhavas and Radha Vallabhis. Vaishnava sampradayas
amount to four in number, each represented by a particular Vedic persona. The four sampradayas espouse ingeniously different philosophical systems concerning the association between soul (jiva) and God (Vishnu or Krishna). Though the key philosophy of these lineages is similar, they can be broadly divided into the following:
Brahma Sampradaya is also known as Gaudiya Sampradaya. It was popularised by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This branch of Vaishnavism propagates the philosophy that God is one yet different from his disciples. Kumara Sampradaya believes that all diverse religion submerges into one philosophy; God is one but he has several forms. Though this is a non-dualist philosophy, it believes in multiplicity. Lakshmi Sampradaya propagates the philosophy of unity in duality and was propounded by Nimbarka. Rudra Sampradaya believes that Lord Krishna is be-all and end-all. Everything that happens in this world is due to Krishna's leela.
Vaishnavism was entirely popularised by song and dance from ancient times, so that mass participation would come about. The immediate impact was huge and unprecedented. Even today people follow Vaishnavism by heart and soul. As a part of Bhakti Movement, it was quite successful and formed the pillars of ancient Indian culture. As a consequence, Krishna or Vishnu are in contemporary times wholly regarded as the Supreme Being amongst the Hindu triad (standing for Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva). Not only in contemporary times, historical times in India also had witnessed spontaneous and hearty participation of emperors and generals in building Vishnu temples all through the country. The free flow of fund, sophisticated building materials and lavish architecture of the Lord Vishnu temples
in India still stand as mute witness to ravages of time and tide. Amounting to colossal in number, it would not be hyperbole if stated that Vishnu temples are virtually uncountable, irrespective of its size and dimension. Vaishnavism is absolutely mirrored in these temples of the Omniscient, from which some of the famous and sacred include: Lakshmi Narayan Temple in New Delhi, Cave Temple at Badami, Badrinath Temple in Badrinath, Deogarh Temple in Gwalior, Varadaraja Temple in Chennai, Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Thousand Pillar Temple in Warangle, Jagannath Temple in Puri and Tirupati Balaji Temple in Tirulama, Andhra Pradesh.