(Last Updated on : 12/05/2010)
Panchakala Prakriya is the five-fold religious duties of the Vaishnavas. The Vaishnava is required to worship dedicate himself to the service of Lord Vishnu
all through the day from early morning to midnight. Thus, the day has been divided into five parts and a five-fold religious duty is prescribed to be observed by the Vaishnavas. This is known as the Panchakala Prakriya. This five-fold religious routine includes - (1) abhigamana or Morning Prayer, (2) upaddita or collection of the requisite materials for worship, (3) ijya or formal worship of God, (4) svadhyaya or recitation and study of sacred texts, (5) yoga
or contemplation on God.
The first religious act which is performed in the morning is the abhigamana. The literal meaning of the word is 'going towards God'. It implies that a Vaishnava, after he has completed the bath and the Morning Prayer (sandhya), should enter the place of worship, either in a temple or in one's own home, offer either a formal worship to God or recite the prayer after duly prostrating before the God. It is customary among the Sri Vaishnavas to recite the Saranagati gadya composed by Ramanuja
at this time since it contains the essential features of saranagati or self-surrender. The main object of this simple religious act in the morning time is to seek the grace of God for carrying out successfully the rest of the divine service during the day.
The second daily religious duty of a Vaishnava is upadana which means collection of flowers, fruits and requisite materials needed for the worship of God. This time of the day known as upadana, which follows immediately after the abhigamana is most appropriate for acquiring not merely the fruits and flowers but other food items including money needed for buying the requisite products. If one does not have to go in search of money or food items, he can engage himself during this period in the study of Vedanta or any allied treatises. It is a common custom among the orthodox Vaishnava preceptors to teach Vedanta during this time when the pupils are mentally alert to grasp the philosophic knowledge. If one is not competent to undertake philosophic study, he can utilize the time for rendering some kind of services in the temple.
Ijya is the third and most important religious duty of a Vaishnava. It refers to the actual worship of God. It is known as Bhagavad yaga in Pancharatra Sarhhitas. Since the formal worship is to be done daily in the forenoon, after completing the first two routines, this period is called ijya kala. On the authority of the scriptural and Smriti texts, the daily worship of Vishnu is enjoined as a nitya or mandatory religious act. Taking its stand on the hymn of the Rig Veda
, the Vaikhanasa system also upholds the daily worship of Vishnu. The Vyasa Smriti states that there is no other Vedic deed more meritorious than the aradhana of Vishnu. The Smriti texts go to the extent of saying that it is sinful to take food without performing the daily worship (puja) of God.
The fourth religious duty is svadyaya which means the study of the sacred texts. The long interval that exists between the conclusion of the midday rituals and sunset is to be utilised by engaging oneself in useful activities. In the case of a devout Vaishnava who is dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu, the best way of spending the time is to engage himself in either reading the sacred works such as the Ramayana
or any other religious texts. If one is not competent to do it, he may listen to discourses given by others on the subject. If there are other domestic duties to be executed one is not prohibited from attending to them.
The fifth and final duty, called yoga, comes after completing the evening prayers and dinner before one goes to rest. What is implied by yoga is that one should contemplate on God until he actually goes to sleep. At that time the individual should bring himself to feel that his self is resting in God.
The panchakala prakriya or the fivefold daily religious routine prescribed for the Vaishnavas is a rigorous discipline. The primary objective of it is to make a devoted Vaishnava, for whom service to Vishnu is the major preoccupation of life, engage himself in purposeful religious activities throughout the day. Orthodox Vaishnavas did follow the discipline scrupulously in the past and also in the present century until the last few decades. With the rapid changes in the social and economic conditions of the society, it has become impracticable to lead such a rigorous religious life, even if one desires to do so. However, a devoted Vaishnava may endeavour to follow at least in spirit the religious practices to the extent possible with faith and sincerity.