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Vaishnava Āgamas: An introduction to Vaikhānasa Āgama shastras

The Vaiṣṇava Āgamas explore the exclusive worship of Viṣṇu while other devas form the retinue of Viṣṇu. Vaiṣṇava āgamas that has lasted till modern days are of two kinds:

'Vaikhānasa' and 'Pāñcarātra'.

Vaikhānasa Āgamas:

Vaikhānasa system is much more ancient than the Pāñcarātra system.

Founder of Vaikhānasa āgama is the Ṛṣi Vikhanas of hoary past. The name Vikhanas denotes one who dug deeper and deeper in to the realities of existence or tattvas. He studied the Tattvas of the Vedas while engaging in severe penance and deep introspection.

antarhitānāṁ khananāt vedānāṁ tu viśeṣataḥ |

sa vibhuḥ procyate sarvairkhanā brahmavādinaḥ |

Ṛṣi Vikhanas is identified with Lord Brahmā -

vaikhānasascha bhagavān sa pitāmaḥ |

brahmā vikhanā muniḥ |

In other scriptures term Vaikhanasa Vrata is used to mean austere observances of those who practice tapas.

Even in Abhijñāna Śākuntala, Duṣyanta wishes to know whether Śakuntalā will continue her Vaikhānasa Vrata even after marriage.

vaikhānasaṁ kimanayā vratamāpramānād vyāpārarodhi madanasya niśevitavyam|

atyanta meva madirekṣaṇa vallabhābhirāho nivatsayati samaṁ harināṅga nābhiḥ ||

Sage Vikhanas is the author of dharma, gṛhya and srauta sūtras known after his name. While giving directions to some rites he enjoins the worship of Viṣṇu and his directions said to be in consonance with the content of the Vedas.

Tāṇḍya Brāhmaṇa, Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa, Āṣreya Brāhmaṇa, Taittirīya Āraṇyaka refers to Sage Vikhanas by name. Baudhāyana dharma sūtras, Hiraṇyakeśins śrauta sūtras cited Vaikhānas as an authority in detailing certain ritualistic practices. Sage Vikhanas is said to have nine śiṣyas. Among them Kāśyapa, Atri, Mārici and Bhṛgu are the authors of available Vaikhānasa āgamas. And the works of remaining śiṣyas are unknown today.

Vaikhānasa āgama nominates Viṣṇu as the Ultimate Reality, and one who is glorified in the Vedas, especially the Ṛg veda.

tad viṣṇo paramaṁ padaṁ sadā paśyanti sūrayaḥ divīva cakṣurātatam |

As per this āgama Viṣṇu has two forms, niṣkala and sakala.

Niṣkala means the formless tejomaya form which abides in the heart of the devotee. Sakala is the cosmic form which takes the worshipers consciousness to a cosmic dimensions.

Another classification given in the same is four forms of Viṣṇu, namely Viṣṇu, Mahāviṣṇu, Sadāviṣṇu and Vyāpin Nārāyaṇa. Puruṣa, Satya, Acyuta and Aniruddha are the forms that can be comprehended by mortals. As per Vaikhānasa system, Śrī is the eternal consort and śakti of Viṣṇu. She resides in eternal bliss, is the form of prime matter or mūla prakṛti and is responsible for Viṣṇu transforming Himself to an active state.

sā ca nityā ādyanta rahitā avyaktarūpiṇāṁ

pramāṇāpramāṇa sādhāraṇa bhūtā viṣṇoḥ saṅkalpa rūpā nityānandamayī mūla prakṛti rūpā bhavati |

In the same āgama prakṛti is both sentient and non sentient. Sentient prakṛti is the self or jīvātman which is embodied and suffers by migrating from body to body in the saṁsāra. The non sentient Prakṛti is eight products of matter, namely the five elements, mind, buddhi and ego.

sā prakṛtiḥ dvividhā bhavati cetanāacetaneti |

acentanā pañcabhūtair mano buddhi ahaṅkāra rūpair aṣṭadhā bhinnā | anya bhūmā cetaneti |

ātman is said to be ever pure, eternal in and aṇu the Āgama. The creation is done by Brahmā as per the will of Viṣṇu.

In this system Viṣṇu is to be reached by four methods - namely japa, homa, arcanā and dhyāna.

Closely following the Vedic precepts, Vaikhānasa hold that all that is undertaken under the guidance of Vedas are varieties of worship offered to Viṣṇu.

Unlike Pāñcarātrikas, Vaikhānasas do not under go any form of external dīkṣa to become Vaiṣṇavas. Even saṅkha, carka emblems are granted to them while they are in the wombs of their mothers.

Nirākāra/ amūrta forms of worship is done by invoking Viṣṇu in ground, water, sun and heart. Sakāra worship is done in three places - mind, fire and icon. Among them Icon worship is considered to be the best by Vaikhānasas. Icons are fivefold in Vaikhānasa āgamas.

Dhruva bera or the main idol in the garbha gṛha, Kautuka bera for daily worship, Snapana bera for bathing, Bali Bera for bali haraṇa rituals and Autsava Bera for conducting festivals.

There beras are consecrated by doing the worship in five fires namely - Sabhya, Āhavanīya, Anvāhārya, Gārhapatya and Āvasathya. The Vaikhānasa āgamas also deal with making temples and icons and also process of installation.

Worship of idols up to six inches in height is prescribed for homes.

Mokṣa is described as four fold in these Āgamas. Sālokya, sāmīpya, sārūpya and sāyujya. These four are experienced in the four regions of Viṣṇu, namely Āmoda, Pramoda, Sāmoda and Vaikunṭḥa. Thus concludes the introductory article on Vaikhanasa system of Visnu worship.

🙏 Namo Narasimha 🙏

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