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<small>By Swami Harshananda</small>
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Pāñcarātra Āgamas (‘āgamas belonging to the Pāñcarātra school’)
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Introduction
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Āgamas are a special class of Hindu religio-philosophical literature handed down through a succession of teachers from the most ancient days.
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Whether they represented a system parallel to and separate from the Vedic traditions or a continuation of the same and rooted in them, has been a subject of discussion among the scholars.
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 +
However, Yāmunācārya (A. D. 918-1038) in his scholarly work, the Āgama-prāmānya, has conclusively established their affinity with the Vedas.
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Of the three kinds of āgamas—the Śaiva, the Śākta (or the tantra) and the Vaiṣṇava—the Pāñcarātra Āgamas belong to the last group.
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The other branch of the Vaiṣṇavāga-mas is the Vaikhānasa Āgama or the Vaikhānasa Sutras.
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Derivation of the Name
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The literal meaning of the word ‘Pāñcarātra’ means ‘that which is connected with five nights’.
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Lord Keśava (Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa) is said to have taught this esoteric science to Ananta, Garuḍa, Viṣvaksena, Brahmā and Rudra, over five nights (pañca = five; rātra = night).
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The word rātra also means jñāna,
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knowledge or wisdom. Since it teaches five kinds of knowledge it is called Pāñcarātra.
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These are: tattva (cosmology); muktiprada (that which gives mukti or liberation); bhaktiprada (that which confers devotion); yaugika (yoga); vaiṣayika (objects of desire).
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Or, alternatively, since it teaches about the five aspects of God (called Puruṣottama) viz., para (highest), vyuha (emanation), vibhava (an incarnation), antaryāmin (indweller) and arcā (form for worship), it is called ‘Pāñcarātra’.
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Pāñcarātra Literature
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The Pāñcarātra literature is very vast, The total number of works—generally called ‘samhitā’ or ‘tantra’—exceeds two hundred, as per the lists given in various works, though only a few have been printed. Quite a few are in the form of manuscripts preserved in oriental libraries. Many others are not available in any form though their names are mentioned in other works.
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The following is a list of the works as available now, along with a very brief summary of each.
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1. Ahirbudhnya Samhitā
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This is a fairly voluminous work with 3880 verses in 60 chapters. The speciality of this work is that it deals with the four vyuhas or emanations of the Lord, description of several mantras (sacred syllables) and yantras (magical diagrams) as also rituals for curing diseases. (See AHIRBUDHNYA SAMHITĀ for details.)
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2. Aniruddha Samhitā
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Also called Aniruddhasamhitā-mahopanisad, it has 34 chapters dealing entirely with the descriptions of various
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rituals, methods of initiation, prāyaścittas or expiations for sins, rules for making and installing the images of gods and other similar topics.
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3. Hayaśīrsa Samhitā
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A fairly exhaustive work in 144 chapters, distributed among four Kāṇḍas or sections—Pratisthākānda, Sañkarsana-kānda, Liñgakānda and Saurakānda—it deals primarily with the rituals concerning the installation of images of various minor deities as also the methods of preparing them.
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4. īśvara Samhitā
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It is a work of 24 chapters of which sixteen deal with ritualistic worship. Other subjects treated in this work are: description of images, methods of dīkṣā or spiritual initiation, practice of meditation, details regarding mantras, methods of self-control and the greatness of the Yādava Hill (now known as ‘Melkoṭe’, a Vaiṣṇava pilgrim centre on a hillock near Mysore, Karnataka State).
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5. Jayākhya Samhitā
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This work is one of the three cardinal texts of the Pāñcarātra literature. It has thirty-three paṭalas or chapters and deals with the following topics: detailed account of creation; yogābhyāsa (practice of yoga) and mantropāsanā (spiritual practice through the repetition of mantras or sacred formulae); various Vaiṣṇava mantras; pujā (ritualistic worship) and homa (fire ritual); dīkṣā (initiation); temples and worship therein; ācāras (the codes of conduct) for the vaiṣṇavas; and, prāyaścittas or expiations for sins.
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6. Kaśyapa Samhitā
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This is a comparatively small work in twelve chapters. It deals mainly with poisons and methods of remedy by suitable mantras or incantations.
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7. Mahā-sanatkumāra Samhitā
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This is a voluminous work of ten thousand verses spread over forty sections in four chapters. It deals entirely with rituals of worship.
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8. Pādma Samhitā
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A work dealing mainly with rituals and chanting of mantras, this work is in thirty-one chapters.
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9. Parama Samhitā
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A work in thirty-one chapters, it deals with the following topics: process of creation; rituals of initiation and worship; yoga classified as Jñānayoga and Karmayoga.
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It declares that Jñānayoga which includes prāṇāyāma and samādhi is superior to Karmayoga. Karmayoga seems to mean ritualistic worship of Viṣṇu.
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10. Pārameśvara Samhitā
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A short work in fifteen chapters, it deals with meditation on mantras, sacrifices and methods of rituals as also prāyaścittas or expiations.
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11. Parāśara Samhitā
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A concise work in eight chapters, it deals with the methods of japa or the muttering of the name of God.
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12. Pauskara Samhitā
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Considered as one of the earliest works of the Pāñcarātra system, the Pauskara Samhitā consists of forty-three
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chapters. Apart from dealing with various kinds of image-worship, it also contains certain philosophical views. It is interesting to note that some funeral sacrifices also find a place here.
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13. Sudarśana Samhitā
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A treatise comprising forty-one chapters, it deals mainly with meditation on mantras and expiations for sins.
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14. Vihagendra Samhitā
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It is in twenty-four chapters. Apart from meditation on mantras, it deals with sacrificial oblations. In the twelfth chapter, the topic of prāṇāyāma, as a part of the process of worship, is also described extensively.
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15. Visnu Samhitā
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A work in thirty chapters, it also deals mainly with ritualistic worship. Its philosophy is akin to that of Sāṅkhya Darśana with some variations like the puruṣa (the individual soul) being all-pervading and that he activates the prakṛti to evolve into the world.
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16. Visnutattva Samhitā
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Comprising thirty-nine chapters, it deals with image-worship, ablutions and wearing of the vaiṣṇava marks and some purificatory rites.
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Philosophy of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas
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The philosophy of this system has been expounded in the Jayākhya Samhitā in detail. A brief summary of the same will be given here.
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Though yajña (Vedic sacrifices), dāna (giving gifts), svādhyāya (study of the Vedas) and other similar religious
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disciplines are useful in spiritual life, it is only jñāna (knowledge) of the paratattva or the Highest Reality that can really give mokṣa.
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This paratattva (God) is the same as the Brahman of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads. He is of the nature of pure consciousness (cit) and bliss (ānanda). He is anādi and ananta (without beginning or end). He is the substratum and support of the whole universe. Though he is beyond all guṇas, he is also the bhoktṛ (experi-encer, enjoyer) of all that is born out of the guṇas. He is sarvajña (omniscient) and sarvaśakta (omnipotent). He is both transcendent and immanent with regard to this created universe. Hence he is too subtle to be perceived by the senses or the mind. However he can be realised through the pure mind. This is called ‘mānasika-pratyakṣa’.
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The Jīvas, when they realise this Brahman or God, appear to have become one with him, but do maintain a subtle distinction also from him. Hence this philosophy can be called ‘bhedābheda’ or ‘dvaitādvaita’.
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As regards sṛṣṭi or creation, three kinds of it are recognised: Brahmasarga, Prakṛtisarga and Śuddhasarga.
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Brahmasarga is the projection of the four-faced Brahmā from Viṣṇu and the creation of the world by Brahmā.
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Prakṛtisarga is similar to the creation as described in the Sāṅkhya philosophy. Prakṛti or pradhāna comprises the three well-known guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas.
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The first product of the evolution of pradhāna when sattva is predominant, is buddhi (cosmic intellect). The second
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product when rajas has gained the upper hand, is ahaṅkāra (egoism). This is of three types: prakāśātma or taijasātma; vikṛtātma; bhutātma. The first gives rise to the five jñānendriyas (organs of knowledge) and the mind. The second produces the five karmendriyas (organs of action). From the last evolve the sukṣmabhutas or tanmātras (the five subtle elements). These then create the five gross elements. The whole creation comes out of a combination of these basic products.
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The puruṣas or jīvas (souls) get associated with the bodies in accordance with their karma, due to the will of God. Their association with the inert bodies makes the latter appear as conscious even as an iron piece acts like a magnet in the vicinity of a powerful magnet.
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The Śuddhasarga is the third creation. Here, God—called Puruṣottama Vāsudeva—evolves from out of himself three subsidiary agents or forms: Acyuta, Satya and Puruṣa. These forms in reality are non-different from him. The third form—Puruṣa—acts as the antaryāmin or the inner controller. It is he who inspires all the gods to work. It is he who binds the jīvas with vāsanās (residual impressions) and again, it is he who inspires them to do sādhanas (spiritual disciplines) to get out of the bondage of vāsanās.
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The māyā (delusion) power of God makes the jīvas (through vāsanās or past impressions) get identified with the body-mind complex. This association of the vāsanās is anādi or beginningless. However, by the grace of God, the antaryāmin or the indwelling power and spirit, the jīva awakens to true knowledge and gets liberated from all the shackles.
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The path to this mokṣa or liberation starts with the inspiration by God for the jīva to search out a great guru or spiritual preceptor. This guru gives the disciple mantradīkṣā (initiation with a holy name or syllable). Regular and steady practice of the mantrajapa (repetition of the divine name) results in samādhi or total absorption in God.
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The upāsanā or meditation on God has two stages. The first is called ‘kriyākhya’. It is in the form of practising various virtues like śauca (cleanliness), yajña (sacrifices), tapas (austerity), adhyayana (studying the scriptures), ahiiṅsā (not harming others), satya (truth), karuṇā (compassion), dāna (giving gifts) and so on.
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The second is called ‘sattākhya’ or ‘jñānākhya’. It is practically the same as Jñānayoga. The mind purified by the practice of kriyākhya is now able to meditate on the ātman inside, which results in the experience of unitive consciousness that jñātṛ (knower), jñeya (object to be known) and jñāna (knowledge) are all one and the same.
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The Pāñcarātra Āgamas—especially the Jayākhya Samhitā—describe two types of yogas: mantradhyāna and yogābhyāsa.
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The former consists of meditation on God with form along with the repetition of appropriate mantras. The latter is almost the same as the Yoga of Patañjali (200 B. C.).
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A special contribution of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas to the religio-philosophical literature of Hinduism is the concept of the Vyuhas which are four. (Hence the name
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‘Catu.rvyu.has,’ ‘catur’ meaning ‘four’.)
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‘Vyuha’ means a projection or an emanation.
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In this system, the various names by which God the Supreme is known are: Paramātman, Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, Bhagavān and Vāsudeva.
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‘Bhaga’ means ṣaḍguṇas or the group of six blessed qualities. They are: jñāna (knowledge); aiśvarya (lordship); śakti (ability, potency); bala (strength); vīrya (virility, unaffectedness) and tejas (splendour).
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Since God—more commonly known as Vāsudeva in this system—has all these guṇas or attributes in the fullest measure, he is called ‘Bhagavān’.
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By the will of Bhagavān Vāsudeva (the first or the original Vyuha) the second Vyuha, Saṅkarṣaṇa (or Balarāma) emerges. From Saṅkarṣaṇa emanates Pradyumna and from him, Aniruddha.
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Though the latter three Vyuhas are also, in essence, equal to Vāsudeva, they manifest only two of the six guṇas prominently, the other four being in a latent condition.
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If in Saṅkarṣaṇa, jñāna and bala are predominant, Pradyumna manifests aiśvarya and vīrya more prominently. Aniruddha, on the other hand, exhibits śakti and tejas to a much greater degree.
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Each of the Vyuhas is credited with two activities, a creative and a moral one.
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Each of the Vyuhas, again, gives rise to three more sub-Vyuhas, making a total of twelve emanations. They are: Keśava, Nārāyaṇa, Mādhava, Govinda, Viṣṇu, Madhusudana, Trivikrama, Vāmana, Srīdhara, Hṛṣīkeśa, Padmanābha and Dāmodara.
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These twelve are considered as the māsādhipas or the adhidevatās (tutelary deities) of the twelve lunar months. They
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are also offered arghya (ceremonial water) in ritualistic worship.
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Iconographically, all of them are identical except for the arrangement of the four emblems of Viṣṇu—śaṅkha (conch), cakra (discus), gadā (mace) and padma (lotus)—in the four hands.
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Conclusion
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The Pāñcarātra Āgamas are a continuation of the Vedic tradition. They also expand and expound the concepts about God and devotion.
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Apart from sṛṣṭi (creation), sthiti (sustenance) and pralaya (dissolution) of the world, God discharges two more functions: nigraha (controlling and
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punishing the evil-doers) and anugraha (showering his blessings on those who lead a good life and are devoted to him).
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If the doctrine of bhakti or devotion and prapatti or self-surrender find an important place in this system, no less is the attention paid to rituals, worship, images of deities and temples as also several mantras, the repetition of which will confer many a blessing on the votaries.
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Thus the Pāñcarātra Āgamas have contributed considerably towards practical Hinduism. Even today, most of the Vaiṣṇava temples, especially in South India, follow their dictates, thus keeping those traditions alive.
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pañcasamskāras (‘five rites of reformation’)
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The Hindus can generally be divided into three broad groups: the śaivas (worshippers of Śiva and allied deities like Gaṇapati and Subrahmaṇya), the śāktas
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(worshippers of the Mother-goddess) and the vaiṣṇavas (worshippers of Viṣṇu and his various aspects).
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Among the brāhmaṇa followers of Vaiṣṇavism, there are two prominent groups: the śrīvaiṣṇavas and the vaiṣṇavas. The former are the followers of Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137) whereas the latter are of Madhva (A. D. 1238-1317).
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Every śrīvaiṣṇava is expected to undergo five purificatory sacraments known as the pañcasamskāras. These help him to become fit enough to worship God.
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They are: tāpa, puṇḍra, nāma,
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mantra and yāga.
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Tāpa is also called ‘taptamudrā-dhāraṇa’. It is branding one’s arms with the marks of śaṅkha (conch) and cakra (discus), the two important symbols of Lord Viṣṇu. The permanent marks left on the body can constantly remind him that he now belongs to Lord Viṣṇu.
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Puṇḍra is the religious mark—one U-line in white clay with a red line of vermillion or turmeric powder in between. This gives him a sense of belonging to the Śrīvaiṣṇava sect and also reminds him about the spiritual disciplines he has to follow, since this mark represents the three famous nāḍīs—iḍā, piṅgalā and suṣumnā—described in the treatises on yoga.
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Nāma is the acceptance of a new name for himself such as Kṛṣṇadāsa or Viṣṇudāsa, that signifies the beginning of a new life as the servant of God.
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Mantra is receiving through spiritual initiation from a qualified guru, a well-known name of God or formula like the aṣṭākṣarī, for japa (repetition) and upāsanā (meditation and worship).
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After these four requirements are fulfilled, the sādhaka or the spiritual aspirant is expected to perform all his duties in a spirit of sacrifice and as a worship of God. He should strictly avoid all actions forbidden by the scriptures. This is called ‘yāga’.
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A person becomes a true śrivaiṣṇava only after undergoing these pañca-samskāras.
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See also ŚAIVISM and ŚRĪVAISNAVISM.
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==References==
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{{reflist}}
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* The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore
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== OLD CONTENT ==
 
Pāñcarātra Āgamas (‘āgamas belonging to the Pāñcarātra school’)
 
Pāñcarātra Āgamas (‘āgamas belonging to the Pāñcarātra school’)
 
Introduction
 
Introduction

Revision as of 09:19, 12 October 2014

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Pancaratra Agamas, PAJcarAtra Agamas, Paaycaraatra AAgamas


Pāñcarātra Āgamas (‘āgamas belonging to the Pāñcarātra school’)

Introduction

Āgamas are a special class of Hindu religio-philosophical literature handed down through a succession of teachers from the most ancient days.

Whether they represented a system parallel to and separate from the Vedic traditions or a continuation of the same and rooted in them, has been a subject of discussion among the scholars.

However, Yāmunācārya (A. D. 918-1038) in his scholarly work, the Āgama-prāmānya, has conclusively established their affinity with the Vedas.

Of the three kinds of āgamas—the Śaiva, the Śākta (or the tantra) and the Vaiṣṇava—the Pāñcarātra Āgamas belong to the last group.

The other branch of the Vaiṣṇavāga-mas is the Vaikhānasa Āgama or the Vaikhānasa Sutras.

Derivation of the Name

The literal meaning of the word ‘Pāñcarātra’ means ‘that which is connected with five nights’.

Lord Keśava (Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa) is said to have taught this esoteric science to Ananta, Garuḍa, Viṣvaksena, Brahmā and Rudra, over five nights (pañca = five; rātra = night).

The word rātra also means jñāna,

knowledge or wisdom. Since it teaches five kinds of knowledge it is called Pāñcarātra.

These are: tattva (cosmology); muktiprada (that which gives mukti or liberation); bhaktiprada (that which confers devotion); yaugika (yoga); vaiṣayika (objects of desire).

Or, alternatively, since it teaches about the five aspects of God (called Puruṣottama) viz., para (highest), vyuha (emanation), vibhava (an incarnation), antaryāmin (indweller) and arcā (form for worship), it is called ‘Pāñcarātra’.

Pāñcarātra Literature

The Pāñcarātra literature is very vast, The total number of works—generally called ‘samhitā’ or ‘tantra’—exceeds two hundred, as per the lists given in various works, though only a few have been printed. Quite a few are in the form of manuscripts preserved in oriental libraries. Many others are not available in any form though their names are mentioned in other works.

The following is a list of the works as available now, along with a very brief summary of each.

1. Ahirbudhnya Samhitā

This is a fairly voluminous work with 3880 verses in 60 chapters. The speciality of this work is that it deals with the four vyuhas or emanations of the Lord, description of several mantras (sacred syllables) and yantras (magical diagrams) as also rituals for curing diseases. (See AHIRBUDHNYA SAMHITĀ for details.)

2. Aniruddha Samhitā

Also called Aniruddhasamhitā-mahopanisad, it has 34 chapters dealing entirely with the descriptions of various

rituals, methods of initiation, prāyaścittas or expiations for sins, rules for making and installing the images of gods and other similar topics.

3. Hayaśīrsa Samhitā

A fairly exhaustive work in 144 chapters, distributed among four Kāṇḍas or sections—Pratisthākānda, Sañkarsana-kānda, Liñgakānda and Saurakānda—it deals primarily with the rituals concerning the installation of images of various minor deities as also the methods of preparing them.

4. īśvara Samhitā

It is a work of 24 chapters of which sixteen deal with ritualistic worship. Other subjects treated in this work are: description of images, methods of dīkṣā or spiritual initiation, practice of meditation, details regarding mantras, methods of self-control and the greatness of the Yādava Hill (now known as ‘Melkoṭe’, a Vaiṣṇava pilgrim centre on a hillock near Mysore, Karnataka State).

5. Jayākhya Samhitā

This work is one of the three cardinal texts of the Pāñcarātra literature. It has thirty-three paṭalas or chapters and deals with the following topics: detailed account of creation; yogābhyāsa (practice of yoga) and mantropāsanā (spiritual practice through the repetition of mantras or sacred formulae); various Vaiṣṇava mantras; pujā (ritualistic worship) and homa (fire ritual); dīkṣā (initiation); temples and worship therein; ācāras (the codes of conduct) for the vaiṣṇavas; and, prāyaścittas or expiations for sins.

6. Kaśyapa Samhitā

This is a comparatively small work in twelve chapters. It deals mainly with poisons and methods of remedy by suitable mantras or incantations.

7. Mahā-sanatkumāra Samhitā

This is a voluminous work of ten thousand verses spread over forty sections in four chapters. It deals entirely with rituals of worship.

8. Pādma Samhitā

A work dealing mainly with rituals and chanting of mantras, this work is in thirty-one chapters.

9. Parama Samhitā

A work in thirty-one chapters, it deals with the following topics: process of creation; rituals of initiation and worship; yoga classified as Jñānayoga and Karmayoga.

It declares that Jñānayoga which includes prāṇāyāma and samādhi is superior to Karmayoga. Karmayoga seems to mean ritualistic worship of Viṣṇu.

10. Pārameśvara Samhitā

A short work in fifteen chapters, it deals with meditation on mantras, sacrifices and methods of rituals as also prāyaścittas or expiations.

11. Parāśara Samhitā

A concise work in eight chapters, it deals with the methods of japa or the muttering of the name of God.

12. Pauskara Samhitā

Considered as one of the earliest works of the Pāñcarātra system, the Pauskara Samhitā consists of forty-three

chapters. Apart from dealing with various kinds of image-worship, it also contains certain philosophical views. It is interesting to note that some funeral sacrifices also find a place here.

13. Sudarśana Samhitā

A treatise comprising forty-one chapters, it deals mainly with meditation on mantras and expiations for sins.

14. Vihagendra Samhitā

It is in twenty-four chapters. Apart from meditation on mantras, it deals with sacrificial oblations. In the twelfth chapter, the topic of prāṇāyāma, as a part of the process of worship, is also described extensively.

15. Visnu Samhitā

A work in thirty chapters, it also deals mainly with ritualistic worship. Its philosophy is akin to that of Sāṅkhya Darśana with some variations like the puruṣa (the individual soul) being all-pervading and that he activates the prakṛti to evolve into the world.

16. Visnutattva Samhitā

Comprising thirty-nine chapters, it deals with image-worship, ablutions and wearing of the vaiṣṇava marks and some purificatory rites.

Philosophy of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas

The philosophy of this system has been expounded in the Jayākhya Samhitā in detail. A brief summary of the same will be given here.

Though yajña (Vedic sacrifices), dāna (giving gifts), svādhyāya (study of the Vedas) and other similar religious

disciplines are useful in spiritual life, it is only jñāna (knowledge) of the paratattva or the Highest Reality that can really give mokṣa.

This paratattva (God) is the same as the Brahman of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads. He is of the nature of pure consciousness (cit) and bliss (ānanda). He is anādi and ananta (without beginning or end). He is the substratum and support of the whole universe. Though he is beyond all guṇas, he is also the bhoktṛ (experi-encer, enjoyer) of all that is born out of the guṇas. He is sarvajña (omniscient) and sarvaśakta (omnipotent). He is both transcendent and immanent with regard to this created universe. Hence he is too subtle to be perceived by the senses or the mind. However he can be realised through the pure mind. This is called ‘mānasika-pratyakṣa’.

The Jīvas, when they realise this Brahman or God, appear to have become one with him, but do maintain a subtle distinction also from him. Hence this philosophy can be called ‘bhedābheda’ or ‘dvaitādvaita’.

As regards sṛṣṭi or creation, three kinds of it are recognised: Brahmasarga, Prakṛtisarga and Śuddhasarga.

Brahmasarga is the projection of the four-faced Brahmā from Viṣṇu and the creation of the world by Brahmā.

Prakṛtisarga is similar to the creation as described in the Sāṅkhya philosophy. Prakṛti or pradhāna comprises the three well-known guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas.

The first product of the evolution of pradhāna when sattva is predominant, is buddhi (cosmic intellect). The second

product when rajas has gained the upper hand, is ahaṅkāra (egoism). This is of three types: prakāśātma or taijasātma; vikṛtātma; bhutātma. The first gives rise to the five jñānendriyas (organs of knowledge) and the mind. The second produces the five karmendriyas (organs of action). From the last evolve the sukṣmabhutas or tanmātras (the five subtle elements). These then create the five gross elements. The whole creation comes out of a combination of these basic products.

The puruṣas or jīvas (souls) get associated with the bodies in accordance with their karma, due to the will of God. Their association with the inert bodies makes the latter appear as conscious even as an iron piece acts like a magnet in the vicinity of a powerful magnet.

The Śuddhasarga is the third creation. Here, God—called Puruṣottama Vāsudeva—evolves from out of himself three subsidiary agents or forms: Acyuta, Satya and Puruṣa. These forms in reality are non-different from him. The third form—Puruṣa—acts as the antaryāmin or the inner controller. It is he who inspires all the gods to work. It is he who binds the jīvas with vāsanās (residual impressions) and again, it is he who inspires them to do sādhanas (spiritual disciplines) to get out of the bondage of vāsanās.

The māyā (delusion) power of God makes the jīvas (through vāsanās or past impressions) get identified with the body-mind complex. This association of the vāsanās is anādi or beginningless. However, by the grace of God, the antaryāmin or the indwelling power and spirit, the jīva awakens to true knowledge and gets liberated from all the shackles.

The path to this mokṣa or liberation starts with the inspiration by God for the jīva to search out a great guru or spiritual preceptor. This guru gives the disciple mantradīkṣā (initiation with a holy name or syllable). Regular and steady practice of the mantrajapa (repetition of the divine name) results in samādhi or total absorption in God.

The upāsanā or meditation on God has two stages. The first is called ‘kriyākhya’. It is in the form of practising various virtues like śauca (cleanliness), yajña (sacrifices), tapas (austerity), adhyayana (studying the scriptures), ahiiṅsā (not harming others), satya (truth), karuṇā (compassion), dāna (giving gifts) and so on.

The second is called ‘sattākhya’ or ‘jñānākhya’. It is practically the same as Jñānayoga. The mind purified by the practice of kriyākhya is now able to meditate on the ātman inside, which results in the experience of unitive consciousness that jñātṛ (knower), jñeya (object to be known) and jñāna (knowledge) are all one and the same.

The Pāñcarātra Āgamas—especially the Jayākhya Samhitā—describe two types of yogas: mantradhyāna and yogābhyāsa.

The former consists of meditation on God with form along with the repetition of appropriate mantras. The latter is almost the same as the Yoga of Patañjali (200 B. C.).

A special contribution of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas to the religio-philosophical literature of Hinduism is the concept of the Vyuhas which are four. (Hence the name

‘Catu.rvyu.has,’ ‘catur’ meaning ‘four’.)

‘Vyuha’ means a projection or an emanation.

In this system, the various names by which God the Supreme is known are: Paramātman, Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, Bhagavān and Vāsudeva.

‘Bhaga’ means ṣaḍguṇas or the group of six blessed qualities. They are: jñāna (knowledge); aiśvarya (lordship); śakti (ability, potency); bala (strength); vīrya (virility, unaffectedness) and tejas (splendour).

Since God—more commonly known as Vāsudeva in this system—has all these guṇas or attributes in the fullest measure, he is called ‘Bhagavān’.

By the will of Bhagavān Vāsudeva (the first or the original Vyuha) the second Vyuha, Saṅkarṣaṇa (or Balarāma) emerges. From Saṅkarṣaṇa emanates Pradyumna and from him, Aniruddha.

Though the latter three Vyuhas are also, in essence, equal to Vāsudeva, they manifest only two of the six guṇas prominently, the other four being in a latent condition.

If in Saṅkarṣaṇa, jñāna and bala are predominant, Pradyumna manifests aiśvarya and vīrya more prominently. Aniruddha, on the other hand, exhibits śakti and tejas to a much greater degree.

Each of the Vyuhas is credited with two activities, a creative and a moral one.

Each of the Vyuhas, again, gives rise to three more sub-Vyuhas, making a total of twelve emanations. They are: Keśava, Nārāyaṇa, Mādhava, Govinda, Viṣṇu, Madhusudana, Trivikrama, Vāmana, Srīdhara, Hṛṣīkeśa, Padmanābha and Dāmodara.

These twelve are considered as the māsādhipas or the adhidevatās (tutelary deities) of the twelve lunar months. They

are also offered arghya (ceremonial water) in ritualistic worship.

Iconographically, all of them are identical except for the arrangement of the four emblems of Viṣṇu—śaṅkha (conch), cakra (discus), gadā (mace) and padma (lotus)—in the four hands.

Conclusion

The Pāñcarātra Āgamas are a continuation of the Vedic tradition. They also expand and expound the concepts about God and devotion.

Apart from sṛṣṭi (creation), sthiti (sustenance) and pralaya (dissolution) of the world, God discharges two more functions: nigraha (controlling and

punishing the evil-doers) and anugraha (showering his blessings on those who lead a good life and are devoted to him).

If the doctrine of bhakti or devotion and prapatti or self-surrender find an important place in this system, no less is the attention paid to rituals, worship, images of deities and temples as also several mantras, the repetition of which will confer many a blessing on the votaries.

Thus the Pāñcarātra Āgamas have contributed considerably towards practical Hinduism. Even today, most of the Vaiṣṇava temples, especially in South India, follow their dictates, thus keeping those traditions alive.

pañcasamskāras (‘five rites of reformation’)

The Hindus can generally be divided into three broad groups: the śaivas (worshippers of Śiva and allied deities like Gaṇapati and Subrahmaṇya), the śāktas

(worshippers of the Mother-goddess) and the vaiṣṇavas (worshippers of Viṣṇu and his various aspects).

Among the brāhmaṇa followers of Vaiṣṇavism, there are two prominent groups: the śrīvaiṣṇavas and the vaiṣṇavas. The former are the followers of Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137) whereas the latter are of Madhva (A. D. 1238-1317).

Every śrīvaiṣṇava is expected to undergo five purificatory sacraments known as the pañcasamskāras. These help him to become fit enough to worship God.

They are: tāpa, puṇḍra, nāma,

mantra and yāga.

Tāpa is also called ‘taptamudrā-dhāraṇa’. It is branding one’s arms with the marks of śaṅkha (conch) and cakra (discus), the two important symbols of Lord Viṣṇu. The permanent marks left on the body can constantly remind him that he now belongs to Lord Viṣṇu.

Puṇḍra is the religious mark—one U-line in white clay with a red line of vermillion or turmeric powder in between. This gives him a sense of belonging to the Śrīvaiṣṇava sect and also reminds him about the spiritual disciplines he has to follow, since this mark represents the three famous nāḍīs—iḍā, piṅgalā and suṣumnā—described in the treatises on yoga.

Nāma is the acceptance of a new name for himself such as Kṛṣṇadāsa or Viṣṇudāsa, that signifies the beginning of a new life as the servant of God.

Mantra is receiving through spiritual initiation from a qualified guru, a well-known name of God or formula like the aṣṭākṣarī, for japa (repetition) and upāsanā (meditation and worship).

After these four requirements are fulfilled, the sādhaka or the spiritual aspirant is expected to perform all his duties in a spirit of sacrifice and as a worship of God. He should strictly avoid all actions forbidden by the scriptures. This is called ‘yāga’.

A person becomes a true śrivaiṣṇava only after undergoing these pañca-samskāras.

See also ŚAIVISM and ŚRĪVAISNAVISM.


References

  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

OLD CONTENT

Pāñcarātra Āgamas (‘āgamas belonging to the Pāñcarātra school’) Introduction Āgamas are a special class of Hindu religio-philosophical literature handed down through a succession of teachers from the most ancient days. Whether they represented a system parallel to and separate from the Vedic traditions or a continuation of the same and rooted in them, has been a subject of discussion among the scholars. However, Yāmunācārya (A. D. 918- 1038) in his scholarly work, the Āgama- prāmānya, has conclusively established their affinity with the Vedas. Of the three kinds of āgamas—the Śaiva, the Śākta (or the tantra) and the Vaiṣṇava—the Pāñcarātra Āgamas belong to the last group. The other branch of the Vaiṣṇavāga- mas is the Vaikhānasa Āgama or the Vaikhānasa Sutras. Derivation of the Name The literal meaning of the word ‘Pāñcarātra’ means ‘that which is con¬nected with five nights’. Lord Keśava (Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa) is said to have taught this esoteric science to Ananta, Garuḍa, Viṣvaksena, Brahmā and Rudra, over five nights (pañca = five; rātra = night). The word rātra also means jñāna, knowledge or wisdom. Since it teaches five kinds of knowledge it is called Pāñcarātra. These are: tattva (cosmology); muktiprada (that which gives mukti or liberation); bhaktiprada (that which confers devotion); yaugika (yoga); vaiṣayika (objects of desire). Or, alternatively, since it teaches about the five aspects of God (called Puruṣottama) viz., para (highest), vyuha (emanation), vibhava (an incarnation), antaryāmin (indweller) and arcā (form for worship), it is called ‘Pāñcarātra’. Pāñcarātra Literature The Pāñcarātra literature is very vast, The total number of works—generally called ‘samhitā’ or ‘tantra’—exceeds two hundred, as per the lists given in various works, though only a few have been printed. Quite a few are in the form of manuscripts preserved in oriental libra¬ries. Many others are not available in any form though their names are mentioned in other works. The following is a list of the works as available now, along with a very brief summary of each. 1. Ahirbudhnya Samhitā This is a fairly voluminous work with 3880 verses in 60 chapters. The speciality of this work is that it deals with the four vyuhas or emanations of the Lord, descrip¬tion of several mantras (sacred syllables) and yantras (magical diagrams) as also rituals for curing diseases. (See AHIR¬BUDHNYA SAMHITĀ for details.) 2. Aniruddha Samhitā Also called Aniruddhasamhitā- mahopanisad, it has 34 chapters dealing entirely with the descriptions of various rituals, methods of initiation, prāyaścittas or expiations for sins, rules for making and installing the images of gods and other similar topics. 3. Hayaśīrsa Samhitā A fairly exhaustive work in 144 chapters, distributed among four Kāṇḍas or sections—Pratisthākānda, Sañkarsana- kānda, Liñgakānda and Saurakānda—it deals primarily with the rituals concerning the installation of images of various minor deities as also the methods of preparing them. 4. īśvara Samhitā It is a work of 24 chapters of which sixteen deal with ritualistic worship. Other subjects treated in this work are: descrip¬tion of images, methods of dīkṣā or spiritual initiation, practice of meditation, details regarding mantras, methods of self- control and the greatness of the Yādava Hill (now known as ‘Melkoṭe’, a Vaiṣṇava pilgrim centre on a hillock near Mysore, Karnataka State). 5. Jayākhya Samhitā This work is one of the three cardinal texts of the Pāñcarātra literature. It has thirty-three paṭalas or chapters and deals with the following topics: detailed account of creation; yogābhyāsa (practice of yoga) and mantropāsanā (spiritual practice through the repetition of mantras or sacred formulae); various Vaiṣṇava mantras; pujā (ritualistic worship) and homa (fire ritual); dīkṣā (initiation); temples and worship therein; ācāras (the codes of conduct) for the vaiṣṇavas; and, prāyaścittas or expia¬tions for sins. 6. Kaśyapa Samhitā This is a comparatively small work in twelve chapters. It deals mainly with poisons and methods of remedy by suitable mantras or incantations. 7. Mahā-sanatkumāra Samhitā This is a voluminous work of ten thousand verses spread over forty sections in four chapters. It deals entirely with rituals of worship. 8. Pādma Samhitā A work dealing mainly with rituals and chanting of mantras, this work is in thirty-one chapters. 9. Parama Samhitā A work in thirty-one chapters, it deals with the following topics: process of crea¬tion; rituals of initiation and worship; yoga classified as Jñānayoga and Karmayoga. It declares that Jñānayoga which includes prāṇāyāma and samādhi is superior to Karmayoga. Karmayoga seems to mean ritualistic worship of Viṣṇu. 10. Pārameśvara Samhitā A short work in fifteen chapters, it deals with meditation on mantras, sacri¬fices and methods of rituals as also prāyaścittas or expiations. 11. Parāśara Samhitā A concise work in eight chapters, it deals with the methods of japa or the muttering of the name of God. 12. Pauskara Samhitā Considered as one of the earliest works of the Pāñcarātra system, the Pauskara Samhitā consists of forty-three chapters. Apart from dealing with various kinds of image-worship, it also contains certain philosophical views. It is interest-ing to note that some funeral sacrifices also find a place here. 13. Sudarśana Samhitā A treatise comprising forty-one chap¬ters, it deals mainly with meditation on mantras and expiations for sins. 14. Vihagendra Samhitā It is in twenty-four chapters. Apart from meditation on mantras, it deals with sacrificial oblations. In the twelfth chapter, the topic of prāṇāyāma, as a part of the process of worship, is also described extensively. 15. Visnu Samhitā A work in thirty chapters, it also deals mainly with ritualistic worship. Its philosophy is akin to that of Sāṅkhya Darśana with some variations like the puruṣa (the individual soul) being all- pervading and that he activates the prakṛti to evolve into the world. 16. Visnutattva Samhitā Comprising thirty-nine chapters, it deals with image-worship, ablutions and wearing of the vaiṣṇava marks and some purificatory rites. Philosophy of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas The philosophy of this system has been expounded in the Jayākhya Samhitā in detail. A brief summary of the same will be given here. Though yajña (Vedic sacrifices), dāna (giving gifts), svādhyāya (study of the Vedas) and other similar religious disciplines are useful in spiritual life, it is only jñāna (knowledge) of the paratattva or the Highest Reality that can really give mokṣa. This paratattva (God) is the same as the Brahman of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads. He is of the nature of pure consciousness (cit) and bliss (ānanda). He is anādi and ananta (without beginning or end). He is the substratum and support of the whole universe. Though he is beyond all guṇas, he is also the bhoktṛ (experi-ences, enjoyer) of all that is born out of the guṇas. He is sarvajña (omniscient) and sarvaśakta (omnipotent). He is both transcendent and immanent with regard to this created universe. Hence he is too subtle to be perceived by the senses or the mind. However he can be realised through the pure mind. This is called ‘mānasika-pratyakṣa’. The Jīvas, when they realise this Brahman or God, appear to have become one with him, but do maintain a subtle distinction also from him. Hence this philosophy can be called ‘bhedābheda’ or ‘dvaitādvaita’. As regards sṛṣṭi or creation, three kinds of it are recognised: Brahmasarga, Prakṛtisarga and Suddhasarga. Brahmasarga is the projection of the four-faced Brahmā from Viṣṇu and the creation of the world by Brahmā. Prakṛtisarga is similar to the creation as described in the Sāṅkhya philosophy. Prakṛti or pradhāna comprises the three well-known guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas. The first product of the evolution of pradhāna when sattva is predominant, is buddhi (cosmic intellect). The second product when rajas has gained the upper hand, is ahaṅkāra (egoism). This is of three types: prakāśātma or taijasātma; vikṛtātma; bhṅtātma. The first gives rise to the five jñānendriyas (organs of know¬ledge) and the mind. The second produces the five karmendriyas (organs of action). From the last evolve the sukṣmabhṅtas or tanmātras (the five subtle elements). These then create the five gross elements. The whole creation comes out of a combi¬nation of these basic products. The puruṣas or jīvas (souls) get associated with the bodies in accordance with their karma, due to the will of God. Their association with the inert bodies makes the latter appear as conscious even as an iron piece acts like a magnet in the vicinity of a powerful magnet. The Suddhasarga is the third crea¬tion. Here, God—called Puruṣottama Vāsudeva—evolves from out of himself three subsidiary agents or forms: Acyuta, Satya and Puruṣa. These forms in reality are non-different from him. The third form—Puruṣa—acts as the antaryāmin or the inner controller. It is he who inspires all the gods to work. It is he who binds the jīvas with vāsanās (residual impres¬sions) and again, it is he who inspires them to do sādhanas (spiritual disciplines) to get out of the bondage of vāsanās. The māyā (delusion) power of God makes the jīvas (through vāsanās or past impressions) get identified with the body- mind complex. This association of the vāsanās is anādi or beginningless. How¬ever, by the grace of God, the antaryāmin or the indwelling power and spirit, the jīva awakens to true knowledge and gets liberated from all the shackles. The path to this mokṣa or liberation starts with the inspiration by God for the jīva to search out a great guru or spiritual preceptor. This guru gives the disciple mantradīkṣā (initiation with a holy name or syllable). Regular and steady practice of the mantrajapa (repetition of the divine name) results in samādhi or total absorp¬tion in God. The upāsanā or meditation on God has two stages. The first is called ‘kriyākhya’. It is in the form of practising various virtues like śauca (cleanliness), yajña (sacrifices), tapas (austerity), adhyayana (studying the scriptures), ahiiṅsā (not harming others), satya (truth), karuṇā (compassion), dāna (giving gifts) and so on. The second is called ‘sattākhya’ or ‘jñānākhya’. It is practically the same as Jñānayoga. The mind purified by the practice of kriyākhya is now able to meditate on the ātman inside, which results in the experience of unitive con¬sciousness that jñātṛ (knower), jñeya (object to be known) and jñāna (knowledge) are all one and the same. The Pāñcarātra Āgamas—especially the Jayākhya Samhitā—describe two types of yogas: mantradhyāna and yogābhyāsa. The former consists of meditation on God with form along with the repetition of appropriate mantras. The latter is almost the same as the Yoga of Patañjali (200 B. C.). A special contribution of the Pāñca¬rātra Āgamas to the religio-philosophical literature of Hinduism is the concept of the Vyuhas which are four. (Hence the name ‘Caturvyuhas,’ ‘catur’ meaning ‘four’.) ‘Vyuha’ means a projection or an emanation. In this system, the various names by which God the Supreme is known are: Paramātman, Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, Bhagavān and Vāsudeva. ‘Bhaga’ means ṣaḍguṇas or the group of six blessed qualities. They are: jñāna (knowledge); aiśvarya (lordship); śakti (ability, potency); bala (strength); vīrya (virility, unaffectedness) and tejas (splen¬dour). Since God—more commonly known as Vāsudeva in this system—has all these guṇas or attributes in the fullest measure, he is called ‘Bhagavān’. By the will of Bhagavān Vāsudeva (the first or the original Vyuha) the second Vyuha, Sañkarṣaṇa (or Balarāma) emerges. From Sañkarṣaṇa emanates Pradyumna and from him, Aniruddha. Though the latter three Vyuhas are also, in essence, equal to Vāsudeva, they manifest only two of the six guṇas prominently, the other four being in a latent condition. If in Sañkarṣaṇa, jñāna and bala are predominant, Pradyumna manifests aiśvarya and vīrya more prominently. Aniruddha, on the other hand, exhibits śakti and tejas to a much greater degree. Each of the Vyuhas is credited with two activities, a creative and a moral one. Each of the Vyuhas, again, gives rise to three more sub-Vyuhas, making a total of twelve emanations. They are: Keśava, Nārāyaṇa, Mādhava, Govinda, Viṣṇu, Madhusudana, Trivikrama, Vāmana, Srīdhara, Hṛṣīkeśa, Padmanābha and Dāmodara. These twelve are considered as the māsādhipas or the adhidevatās (tutelary deities) of the twelve lunar months. They are also offered arghya (ceremonial water) in ritualistic worship. Iconographically, all of them are identical except for the arrangement of the four emblems of Viṣṇu—śaṅkha (conch), cakra (discus), gadā (mace) and padma (lotus)—in the four hands.