Hinduism - Who Is A Vaishnava?


A devotee (bhakta) of the deity Vishnu in any of his many manifestations.

The doctrine of the 10 avatars, or divine incar nations, is particularly prevalent in Vaishnava theology: Fish, Tortoise, Boar, Man-Lion, Vamana (dwarf), Parashuram, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki.

The avatar idea is widely recognized as a means of assimilating lesser regional deities into the greater pantheon by classifying them as manifestations of Vishnu, and Vishnu is most generally worshiped in the guise of these avatars.

Although the Boar avatar and the Man-Lion avatar were powerful regional deities in the early centuries of the common period, the two most important avatars have been Rama and Krishna.

The early Vaishnava faith is hazy and enigmatic.

Despite the fact that Vishnu occurs in multiple hymns in the Vedas, the earliest Hindu religious books, he was obviously a lesser god, and it is impossible to get from there to becoming the universe's greatest force.

Some academics believe that the worship of Krishna, a deified local cowherd hero, originated outside of the Vedic religious framework and that Krishna's cult was integrated into legitimate Vedic religion via the identification of Krishna with Vishnu.

These concepts are fascinating, but there is little empirical evidence to back them up.

The worship of Krishna was well-established by the first century B.C.E., according to inscriptional evidence.

These followers are known as Bhagavatas ("devotees of the Blessed One"), a term that was used to apply to Vaishnavas in general for the following thousand years.

The Pancharatrikas ("followers of the Pancharatra") were a subgroup of the early Bhagavata society who eventually developed distinct cosmological ideas.

These mainstream Bhagavatas demonstrated their love for Krishna by writing works that included portions of the Bhagavad Gita, the Harivamsha, and many puranas, culminating in the Bhagavata Purana in the eleventh century.

The Alvars, a group of twelve devout (bhakti) poet-saints who lived in southern India during the seventh and tenth centuries, changed the tone of Vaishnava devotion dramatically.

The Alvars preached a bhakti distinguished by fervent devotion to God and characterized by a great emotional relationship between god and devotee, singing their songs in Tamil, the vernacular language of their period.

The Alvars, together with their Shaiva counterparts, the Nayanars, pioneered the renewal of Hindu religion in relation to Buddhists and Jains, and in doing so, changed the tradition as the devotional wave they had started spread northward.

Various Vaishnava communities arose throughout the time between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, generally as a result of a particular charismatic religious personality.

This process started in southern India, where the philosopher Ramanuja (11th century) established the Shrivaishnava group and the philosopher Madhva (1197–1276) established the Madhva community.

Jnaneshvar (1275–1296? ), Namdev (1270–1350), Chokamela (d. 1338), Eknath (1533–1599), and Tukaram (1598–1650) were some of the finest characters in the Varkari Panth, which was centered on the shrine of Vithoba at Pandharpur.

From the thirteenth century onwards, the Mahanubhav cult flourished in Maharashtra.

Jagannath, a tribal god integrated into the pantheon as a version of Krishna, is worshipped in Puri on India's eastern coast.

As the poet Jayadeva's Gitagovinda demonstrates, this was firmly established by the eleventh century.

Finally, many active religious organizations may be found in northern India.

The twelfth-century philosopher Nimbarka, whose Nimbarki society preserves his name, is a very early character; many centuries later, Vishnuswami, about whom little is known, appears.

The Pushti Marg was founded by the philosopher Vallabhacharya, the Gaudiya Vaishnava community was founded by the Bengali saint Chaitanya, and the poet saint Harivamsh (d. 1552) and the Radhavallabh community was founded by the poet saint Harivamsh (d. 1552).

The Pushti Marg and the Gaudiya Vaishnavas viewed Krishna to be the greatest god, whilst the Nimbarkis and the Radhavallabh group worshiped him in conjunction with his consort Radha, whom they considered Krishna's wife and equal.

The devotion of Rama has its deepest roots in northern India, as seen in the poems of the poet-saint Tulsidas (1532–1623?).

Many of these schools, many of which have a lengthy history, are still important in today's world.

Ascetics are the last Vaishnava group that has to be addressed.

Vaishnava asceticism is a more recent development than Shaiva asceticism (though dates are unknown), and it is mostly found in India's northern regions (the Shaivas are spread throughout the country).

Bairagis ("passionate") Vaishnava ascetics are divided into four sampradays (religious groups characterized by distinct bodies of teachings), each associated with a notable Vaishnava figure.

The Shri Sampraday of the Ramanandi ascetics is by far the most powerful, tracing its spiritual lineage from poet-saint Ramananda to the southern Indian philosopher Ramanuja, whom they claim was Ramananda's guru.

The Nimbarki ascetics' Sanaka Sampraday may trace their spiritual heritage back to the philosopher Nimbarka.

The Vishnuswami ascetics' Rudra Sampraday may be traced back to an older person, Vishnuswami, via the philosopher Vallabhacharya.

Finally, the Brahma Sampraday, a Gaudiya Vaishnava ascetic subgroup, traces its spiritual lineage from Bengali saint Chaitanya to southern Indian scholar Madhva.

Each of these sampradays is distinct not just in terms of its founder, but also in terms of its tutelary god or deities.

The Ramanandis worship the deity Rama, whereas the rest revere the god Krishna and his bride Radha, however they differ in how they place Radha.

Scholars have pointed out that these historical assertions are either very suspect or utterly false, and that the differences between the sampradays are mostly academic in nature.

Given that Ramanandis make up the vast majority of these ascetics, the others seem to be relevant solely for symbolic purposes, such as having a representation from each of the great Vaishnava religious personalities.

~Kiran Atma

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