A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the position of the pancaratra literature: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “the pancaratra”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The Position of the Pañcarātra Literature

Yāmuna, in his Agama-prāmāṇya, discusses the position of the Paṅcarātras as follows. It is said that any instruction conveyed through language can be valid either by itself or through the strength of the validity of some other proofs. No instruction of any ordinary person can be valid by itself. The special ritualistic processes associated with the Pañcarātra cannot be known by perception or by inference. Only God, whose powers of perception extend to all objects of the world and which are without any limitation, can instil the special injunctions of the Pañcarātra. The opponents, however, hold that a perception which has all things within its sphere can hardly be called perception. Moreover, the fact that some things may be bigger than other things does not prove that anything which is liable to be greater and less could necessarily be conceived to extend to a limitless extent[1]. Even if it be conceived that there is a person whose perception is limitless, there is nothing to suggest that he should be able to instruct infallibly about the rituals, such as those enjoined in the Pañcarātra.

There are also no āgamas which prescribe the Pañcarātra rites. It cannot be ascertained whether the authors of the Pañcarātra works based them on the teachings of the Vedas or gave their own views and passed them on as being founded on the Vedas. If it is argued that the fact that the Pañcarātra, like other texts of Smṛti of Manu, etc., exist proves that they must have a common origin in the Vedas, that is contradicted by the fact that the Pañcarātra doctrines are repudiated in the smṛti texts founded on the Vedas. If it is said that those who follow the Pañcarātra rites are as good Brahmins as other Brahmins, and follow the Vedic rites, the opponents assert that this is not so, since the Pañcarātrins may have all the external marks and appearance of Brahmins, but yet thev are not so regarded in society. At a social dinner the Brahmins do not sit in the same line with the Bhāgavatas or the followers of the Pañcarātra.

The very word sātvata indicates a lower caste[2], and the words bhāgavata and sātvata are interchangeable. It is said that a sātvata of the pañcama caste who by the king’s order worships in temples is called a bhāgavata. As a means of livelihood the sātvatas worship images and live upon offerings for initiation and those made to temple gods; they do not perform the Vedic duties, and have no relationship with the Brahmins, and so they cannot be regarded as Brahmins. It is also said that even by the sight of a man who takes to worship as a means of livelihood one is polluted and should be purified by proper purificatory ceremonies. The Pañcarātra texts are adopted by the degraded sātvatas or the bhāgavatas, and these must therefore be regarded as invalid and non-Vedic. Moreover, if this literature were founded on the Vedas, there would be no meaning in their recommendation of special kinds of rituals. It is for this reason that Bādarāyaṇa also refutes the philosophical theory of the Pañcarātra in the Brahma-sūtra.

It may, however, be urged that, though the Pañcarātra injunctions may not tally with the injunctions of Brahminic Smṛti literature, yet such contradictions are not important, as both are based upon the Vedic texts. Since the validity of the Brahminic Smṛti also is based upon the Vedas, the Pañcarātra has no more necessity to reconcile its injunctions with that than they have to reconcile themselves with the Pañcarātra.

The question arises as to whether the Vedas are the utterances of a person or not. The argument in favour of production by a person is that, since the Vedas are a piece of literary composition, they must have been uttered by a person. The divine person who directly perceives the sources of merit or demerit enjoins the same through his grace by composing the Vedas for the benefit of human beings. It is admitted, even by the Mīmāṃsakas, that all worldly affairs are consequent upon the influence of merit and demerit. So the divine being who has created the world knows directly the sources of merit and demerit. The world cannot be produced directly through the effects of our deeds, and it has to be admitted that there must be some being who utilizes the effects of our deeds, producing the world in consonance with them. All the scriptural texts also support the admission of such an omnipotent and omniscient God.

It is this God who, on the one hand, created the Vedas, directing the people to the performance of such actions as lead them to mundane and heavenly happiness, and on the other hand created the Pañcarātra literature for the attainment of the highest bliss by the worship of God and the realization of His nature. There are some who deny the legitimate inference of a creator from the creation, and regard the Vedas as an eternally existent composition, uncreated by any divine being. Even in such a view the reason why the Vedas and the consonant Smṛtis are regarded as valid attests also the validity of the Pañcarātra literature. But, as a matter of fact, from the Vedas themselves we can know the supreme being as their composer. The supreme God referred to in the Upaniṣads is none other than Vāsudeva, and it is He who is the composer of the Pañcarātra. Further, arguments are adduced to show that the object of the Vedas is not only to command us to do certain actions or to prohibit us from doing certain other actions, but also to describe the nature of the ultimate reality as the divine person.

The validity of the Pañcarātra has therefore to be admitted, as it claims for its source the divine person Nārāyaṇa or Vāsudeva. Yāmuna then refers to many texts from the Varāha, Liṅga and Alatsya Purāṇas and from the Manu-saṃhitā and other smṛti texts. In his Puruṣa-ninṇaya also, Yāmuna elaborately discusses the scriptural arguments by which he tries to show that the highest divine person referred to in the Upaniṣads and the Purāṇas is Nārāyaṇa. This divine being cannot be the Śiva of the Śaivas, because the three classes of the Śaivas, the Kāpālikas, Kālamukhas and Pāśupatas, all prescribe courses of conduct contradictory to one another, and it is impossible that they should be recommended by the scriptural texts. Their ritualistic rites also are manifestly non-Vedic.

The view that they are all derived from Rudra does not prove that it is the same Rudra who is referred to in the Vedic texts. The Rudra referred to by them may be an entirely different person. He refers also to the various Purāṇas which decry the Śaivas. Against the argument that, if the Pañcarātra doctrines were in consonance with the Vedas, then one would certainly have discovered the relevant Vedic texts from which they were derived, Yāmuna says that the Pañcarātra texts were produced by God for the benefit of devotees who were impatient of following elaborate details described in the Vedic literature. It is therefore quite intelligible that the relevant Yedic texts supporting the Pañcarātra texts should not be discovered. Again, when it is said that Śāṇḍilya turned to the doctrine of bhakti because he found nothing in the four Vedas suitable for the attainment of his desired end, this should not be interpreted as implying a lowering of the Vedas; for it simply means that the desired end as recommended in the Pañcarātras is different from that prescribed in the Vedas.

The fact that Pañcarātras recommend special ritual ceremonies in addition to the Vedic ones does not imply that they are non-Vedic; for, unless it is proved that the Pañcarātras are non-Vedic, it cannot be proved that the additional ceremonies are non-Vedic without implying argument in a circle. It is also wrong to suppose that the Pañcarātra ceremonies are really antagonistic to all Vedic ceremonies. It is also wrong to suppose that Bādarāyaṇa refuted the Pañcarātra doctrines; for, had he done so, he would not have recommended them in the Mahābhārata. The view of the Pañcarātras admitting the four vyūhas should not be interpreted as the admission of many gods; for these are manifestations of Vāsudeva, the one divine person. A proper interpretation of Bādarāyaṇa’s Brahma-sūtras would also show that they are in support of the Pañcarātras and not against them.

Even the most respected persons of society follow all the Pañcarātra instructions in connection with all rituals relating to image-worship. The arguments of the opponents that the Bhāgavatas are not Brahmins are all fallacious, since the Bhāgavatas have the same marks of Brahmahood as all Brahmins. The fact that Manu describes the paficama caste as sātvata does not prove that all sātvatas are pañcamas. Moreover, the interpretation of the word sātvata as pañcama by the opponents would be contradictory to many scriptural texts, where sātvatas are praised. That some sātvatas live by image-building or temple-building and such other works relating to the temple does not imply that this is the duty of all the Bhāgavatas. Thus Yāmuna, in his Āgama-prāmāṇya and Kāśmīrāgama-prāmāṇya, tried to prove that the Pañcarātras are as valid as the Vedas, since they are derived from the same source, viz. the divine Person, Nārāyaṇa[3].

From the tenth to the seventeenth century the Śaivas and the Śrīvaiṣṇavas lived together in the south, where kings professing Śai vism harassed the Śrīvaiṣṇavas and maltreated their temple-gods, and kings professing Srīvaiṣṇavism did the same to the Saivas and their temple-gods. It is therefore easy to imagine how the sectarian authors of the two schools were often anxious to repudiate one another. One of the most important and comprehensive of such works is the Siddhānta-ratnāvalī, written bv Yeṅkata Sudhī. Yeṅkata Sudhī was the disciple of Veṅkatanātha. He was the son of Śriśaila Tātavārya, and was the brother of Śrī Śaila Śrīnivāsa. The Siddhānta-ratnāvalī is a work of four chapters, containing over 300,000 letters. He lived in the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, and wrote at least two other works, Rahasya traya-sāra and Siddhānta-vaijayantī.

Many treatises were written in which the Pañcarātra doctrines were summarized. Of these Gopālasūri’s Pañcarātra-rakṣā-samgrahu seems to be the most important. Gopālasūri was the son of Kṛṣṇadeśika and pupil of Vedāntarāmānuja, who was himself the pupil of Kṛṣṇadeśika. His Pañcarātra-rakṣā deals with the various kinds of rituals described in some of the most important Pañcarātra works.

It thus seems that the Pañcarātra literature was bv many writers not actually regarded as of Vedic origin, though among the Śrīvaiṣṇavas it was regarded as being as authoritative as the Vedas. It was regarded, along with the Sāṃkhya and Yoga, as an accessory literature to the Vedas[4]. Yāmuna also speaks of it as containing a brief summary of the teachings of the Vedas for the easv and immediate use of those devotees who cannot afford to studv the vast Vedic literature. The main subjects of the Pañcarātra literature are directions regarding the constructions of temples and images, descriptions of the various rituals associated with image-worship, and the rituals, dealing elaborately with the duties of the Śrīvaiṣṇavas and their religious practices, such as initiation, baptism, and the holding of religious marks.

The practice of image-worship is manifestly non-Vedic, though there is ample evidence to show that it was current even in the sixth century B.C. It is difficult for us to say how this practice originated and which section of Indians was responsible for it. The conflict between the Vedic people and the image-worshippers seems to have been a long one; yet we know that even in the second century B.C. the Bhāgavata cult was in a very living state, not only in South India, but also in Upper India. The testimony of the Besnagar Column shows how even Greeks were converted to the Bhāgavata religion. The Mahābhārata also speaks of the sātvata rites, according to which Viṣṇu was worshipped, and it also makes references to the Vyūha doctrine of the Pañcarātras. In the Nārāyaṇīya section it is suggested that the home of the Pañcarātra worship is Śveta-dvīpa, from which it may have migrated to India; but efforts of scholars to determine the geographical position of Śveta-dvīpa have so far failed.

In the Purāṇas and the smṛti literature also the conflict with the various Brahminic authorities is manifest. Thus, in the Kūrma purāṇa, chapter fifteen, it is said that the great sinners, the Pañ-carātrins, were produced as a result of killing cows in some other birth, that they are absolutely non-Vedic, and that the literatures of the Śāktas, Śaivas and the Pañcarātras are for the delusion of mankind[5]. That Pañcarātrins were a cursed people is also noticed in the Parāśara purāṇa[6]. They are also strongly denounced in the Vaśiṣṭha-saṃhitā, the Śāmba-purāṇa and the Sūta-saṃhitā as great sinners and as absolutely non-Vedic. Another cause of denouncement was that the Pañcarātrins initiated and admitted within their sect even women and Śūdras.

According to the Aśvalāyana-smṛti, no one but an outcast would therefore accept the marks recommended by the Pañcarātras. In the fourth chapter of the Vṛhan-nāradīya-purāṇa it is said that even for conversing with the Pañcarātrins one would have to go to the Raurava hell. The same prohibition of conversing with the Pañcarātrins is found in the Kūrma-purāṇa, and it is there held that they should not be invited on occasions of funeral ceremonies. Hemādri, quoting from the Vāyu purāṇa, says that, if a Brahman is converted into the Pañcarātra religion, he thereby loses all his Vedic rites. The Liṅga-purūṇa also regards them as being excommunicated from all religion (sarva-dharma-vahiṣkṛta). The Āditya and the Agni-purāṇas are also extremely strong against those who associate themselves in any way with the Pañcarātrins.

The Viṣṇu, Śātātapa, Hārita, Bodhāyana and the Yama saṃhitās also are equally strong against the Pañcarātrins and those who associate with them in any way. The Pañcarātrins, however, seem to be more conciliatory to the members of the orthodox Vedic sects. They therefore appear to be a minority sect, which had always to be on the defensive and did not dare revile the orthodox Vedic people. There are some Purāṇas, however, like the Mahābhārata, Bhāgavata and the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, which are strongly in favour of the Pañcarātrins. It is curious, however, to notice that, while some sections of the Purāṇas approve of them, others are fanatically against them.

The Purāṇas that are specially favourable to the Pañcarātrins are the

which are called the Sāttvika purāṇas[7].

So among the smṛtis, the Vāśiṣṭha, Hārita, Vyāsa, Pārāśara and Kāśyapa are regarded as the best[8].

The Pramāma-samgraha takes up some of the most important doctrines of the Pañcarātrins and tries to prove their authoritativeness by a reference to the above Purāṇas and smṛtis, and also to

Footnotes and references:


atha ekasmin sātiśaye kenāpyanyena niratiśayena bhavitavyam iti āhnsvit samāna-jātīyena nyena nir-atiśaya-daśām adhiruḍfnna bhavitavyam iti:

na tāvad agrimaḥ kalpaḥ kalpyate'nupalambhataḥ
na hi dṛṣṭaṃ śarāvādi ryomevn prāpta-vaibhavam

Agama-ptāmāṇya, p. 3.


Thus Manu says:

vais’yāt tu jāyate vrātyāt sudhanvācārya eva ca
bhāruṣaś ca nijaṅgḥaś ca maitra-sātvata eva ca.
p. 8.


The Kāśmīrāgama is referred to in the Agama-prāmāṇya, p. 85, as another work of Yāmuna dealing more or less with the same subject as the Agama-prāmāṇya, of which no MS. has been available to the present writer.


Thus Veṅkatanātha, quoting Vyāsa, says:

idaṃmaho-paniṣadaṃ catur-veda-sam-anvitaṃ
sāṃkhya-yoga-kṛtāntena pañca-rātrā-nu-śabditam.
, p. 19.

Sometimes the Pañcarātra is regarded as the root of the Vedas. and sometimes the Vedas arc regarded as the root of the Pañcarātras. Thus Veṅkatanātha in the above context quotes a passage from Vyāsa in which Pañcarātra is regarded as the root of the Vedas

“mahato veda-vṛkṣasya mula-bhūta mahān ayam.”

He quotes also another passage in which the Vedas are regarded as the root of the Pañcarātras—

śrutimūlam idaṃ tantraṃ pramāṇa-kalpa-sutravat.”

In another passage he speaks of the Pañcarātras as the alternative to the Vedas—

“alābhe veda-mantrāṇāṃ pañca-rātro-ditena vā.”


kāpōlaṃ gāruḍaṃ śāktaṃ, bhairavaṃ pūrva-paścimaṃ,
pañca-rātraṃ, pāśupataṃ tathānyāni sahasraśaḥ.
Ch. 15.

(As quoted in the Tattva-kaustubha of Dīkṣita but in the printed edition of the B.J. series it occurs in the sixteenth chapter with slight variations.)

The Skaṇḍa-purāṇa also says:

pañcarātre ca kāpāle, tathā kālamtikeh’pi ca.
śākte ca dikṣitā yūyaṃ bhavela brāhmaṇādhamāḥ.


dvitīyaṃ pāñcarātre ca tantre bhāgavate tathā
dīkṣitāś ca dvijā nityaṃ nhaveyur garhitā hareḥ.

(As quoted by Bhaṭṭojī Dīkṣita in his Tattva-kaustubha, MS. p. 4.)


Thus the Pramāṇa-saṃgraha says:

raiṣṇavaṃ nāradīyaṃ ca tathā bhāgavataṃ śubhaṃ
gāruḍaṃ ca tathā pādmaṃ vārāhaṃ śubha-darśane
sāttvikāni purāṇāni vijñeyāni ca ṣaṭpṛthak.

Tattva-kaustubha, MS. p. 13.


Ibid. p. 14.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: