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.
Origin of Vaishnavism
The 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. 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
History of Vaishnavism 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. 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 Vaishnavism. Some of these luminous sages include Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Manavala Mamunigal, Vedanta Desika, Surdas, Meera Bai, Tulsidas, Jnanadeva, Anandamayi Ma and Tukaram.
Spread of Vaishnavism
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. 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.
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 be divided into the following:
1. Brahma Sampradaya: It 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.
2. Kumara Sampradaya: This 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.
3. Lakshmi Sampradaya: It propagates the philosophy of unity in duality and was propounded by Nimbarka.
4. Rudra Sampradaya: This believes that Lord Krishna is be-all and end-all. Everything that happens in this world is due to Krishna’s leela.
Vishnu Temples in India
Vishnu Temples in India stand as mute witness to ravages of time and tide. Vaishnavism is absolutely mirrored in these temples of the Omniscient. Some of the famous and sacred Vishnu Temples in India 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 Warangal, Jagannath Temple in Puriand Tirupati Balaji Temple in Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh.
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. Vaishnavas teach that by chanting God’s names the soul can reawaken his original spiritual knowledge, live peacefully in this life and return to the spiritual realm, or Vaikuntha, the place of no anxiety, at the time of death.