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Pāñcarātra āgamas

Pāñcarātra is a system of Vaiṣṇava-āgamas. Pāñcarātra system is also known as Bhagavacchāstra, Tantra, Siddhānta and Āgama. It is considered that there are many Pāñcarātras.

aṣtottara sahasrāṇi aṣtottara śatāni ca |

pañcarātrāṇi tantrāṇi santi ye kamalodbhava ||

What does the name Pāñcarātra means?

In earlier descriptions of Ekāntadharma, this word does not exist. It only occurs when Nārada recieved instructions from Viṣṇu at the end of Dvāpara Yuga.

The word Pāñcarātra is made up of two words, pañca and rātra. Pañca means five and rātra is a changed form of rātri. Here rātri doesnt mean night, but whole day made up of day and night (ahorātra).

The Pāñcarātra āgama texts offer different interpretations to the name.

Pañca is taken to denote many things which are held in a group of five, such as elements, senses, sense objects, and qualities of the sense objects. The word rātri is taken as that which causes destruction to the objects of senses.

Veda, Āraṇyaka, Sāṁkhya and Yoga are considered to be parts of Pāñcarātra.

In Pāñcarātras it is said, that five components - Veda, Vedānta, Purāṇa, Sāṁkhya and Yoga remains in darkness without the illumination emanating from Pāñcarātra, giving it the name.

Five kinds of knowledge namely, Sāttvika, Rājasika, Tāmasika, Nairguṇya and Sarvataḥ Param are dealt within the system, hence the name.

Brahmā after becoming bereft of Vedas due to Madhu and Kaiṭabha stealing them seeked help from Viṣṇu, and Viṣṇu in return asked Brahmā to worship him with dvādaśākṣara and aṣṭākṣara mantras for five nights. Brahmā followed the instructions and received the Vedas back, and the name Pāñcarātra is given to the method of worship followed by him for those five days. Praṇava has five sources and Pāñcarātra having given five explanations to it has received the name as such.

As per some Pāñcarātras five weapons of Viṣṇu became five sages - Śaṇḍilya, Aupagāyana, Mauñjyāyana, Kauśika, Bhāradvāja were taught by Viṣṇu for five days giving those teachings the name.

As the system deals with dividing the parts of the day in to Abhigamana, Upādāna, Ījyā, Svādhyāya, Yoga and gives a ritualistic routine its named as Pāñcarātra.

As per Sanatkumāra saṁhitā of the Pāñcarātra, Sanatkumāra received the knowledge from five sources Brahmā, Śiva, Indra, Ṛṣis and Bṛhaspati over five days and nights giving the system its name. Here rātra is to be taken as knowledge.

As per Ahirbudhnya saṁhitā, its mentioned as Pāñcarātra deals with five forms of God starting with Para, Vyūha, it's given the name.

Pāñcarātras take an open approach and allows women and śūdras to conduct worship at home once initiated.

Pāñcarātras are divided in to four pādas namely Jñāna, Yoga, Kriyā and Caryā. It is concluded by scholars that the Pāñcarātra Āgama must have originated in Kashmira.

The Pauṣkara saṁhitā gives the following description in regard to the ritual of bathing the idols.

"Water that is collected in kalaśas are to be treated as having been brought from Gaṅgā in east, Yamunā in south east, Sarasvatī in south, Pravāha in south west, Narmadā in south west, Airāvatī in north west, Sindhu in north, Siṁhavaktrā in west, and Vitastā in north east". Judging by these given directions the vidvāns has concluded that place refers to the tract of land known as Kāshmira.

As per Ahirbudhnya Saṁhitā and Lakṣmī tantra Gods grace is known as Śaktipāta. This word originates in Kashmiri Śaiva Āgamas. Birch bark found in Kashmir region is prescribed for drawing yantras in Ahirbudhnya, Lakṣmī Tantra and Sāttvata Saṁitās of Pāñcarātra. In Śānti Parva of Mahābhārata there is a description regarding origin of Pāñcarātra. A group of ṛṣis named Phenapas were the first to practice Ekānti dharma or single pointed devotion towards Viṣṇu. Ṛṣi Vikhanas was instructed by them on the same and Vikhanas imparted the received knowledge to Soma. Then it is said that this dharma disappeared. Later in Cākṣuṣa manvantara Brahmā received this knowledge from Soma and imparts it to Rudra. In Kṛta yuga the same was recieved by Vālakhilyas.Then its practice again disappeared.

In the period of Vācika, Nārāyaṇa again teaches the same knowledge to Suparṇa. As it was instructed to Suparṇa thrice, this knowledge acquired the name Trisuparṇa. Then the knowledge disappeared for the third time. Again Nārāyaṇa manifested it and taught to Brahmā. Brahmā having created the worlds with the help of the said knowledge then instructed Svārociṣa Manu. Svārociṣa instructed his son Śaṅkhapāda who in turn gave the knowledge to his son Sadharmā. Then during that tretā yuga the knowledge disappeared again. Then Nārāyaṇa brings out knowledge again and taught it to Sanatkumāra who then instructed the same to Vīranaprajāpati. Ṛṣi Raibhya having recieved it from him instructed it to his son Kukṣipāla. Then the Ekānti Dharma disappeared for the fifth time. Again Nārāyaṇa taught the dharma to Brahmā. Brahmā gave it to the group of sages named Barhiṣads. Sage Jyeṣṭha learned it from those sages and taught it to King Avikampana.

Then the knowledge disappeared for the sixth time. Again Nārāyaṇa teaches it to Brahmā, who in turn gave it to Jyeṣṭha, Jyeṣṭha gave it to Dakṣa. Āditya received the knowledge from Dakṣa and gave it to Vivasvān, who in turn taught his son Manu and Manu taught it to his son Ikṣvāku. Then the knowledge disappeared for the eighth time and was later taught to Nārada by Nārāyaṇa.

Ṛṣis - Mārici, Atri, Aṅgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and Vaiṣiṣṭha, together known as Citraśkhaṇḍins promulgated the doctrine of Pañcarātra. They composed the doctrine in hundred fifty thousand verses. Svāyumbhuva Manu, Uśanas and Bṛhaspati propagated this doctrine far and wide. Rājā Vasu received it from Bṛhaspati. King Vasus Aśvamedha Yajña without using a real animal is mentioned in Mahābhārata giving an indication that animal sacrifices got discouraged as Pāñcarātras teachings spread among masses.

As per the Pāñcarātra texts themselves, they have their origin is Vedas and are to be considered as Kalpasūtras to the Vedas. It claims it̍s origin from Ekāyana Śruti which existed way before Vyāsa classified the Vedas. Hence it̍s known as Mūla Veda. Word Ekāyana is also mentioned in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad. Utpala of Kashmira has referred to Pāñcarātra as Pāñcarātra-śruti and Pāñcarātropaniṣad. This shows like the Ṛk, Yajur, Sāma, Ekāyana Veda also had it̍s own Saṁhitās and Upaniṣads.

This Ekāyana Veda is said to be the very basis of the huge tree of Vedas.

This concludes the introductory article on Pāñcarātra āgamas.

🙏 Namo Narasimha 🙏

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