A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Part 3 - The Pañcarātra Literature

The Pañcarātra literature is somewhat large and only a few works have been printed. The present writer, however, had the opportunity of collecting a large number of manuscripts, and an attempt will here be made to give a brief account of this literature, which, however, has no philosophical importance. One of the most important of these saṃhitās is the Sātvata-saṃhitā. The Sātvata is referred to in the Mahābhārata, the Ahirbudhnya-saṃhitā, the Īśvara-saṃhitā and other saṃhitās.

In the Sātvata-saṃhitā vve find that the Lord (Bhagavān) promulgates the Pañcarātra-Śāstra at the request of Saṃkarṣaṇa on behalf of the sages[1]. It consists of twenty-five chapters which describe the forms of worshipping Nārāyaṇa in all His four Vyūha manifestations (vibhava-devatā), dress and ornaments, other special kinds of worship, the installation of images and the like.

The īśvara-saṃhitā says that the Ekāyana Veda, the source of all Vedas, originated with Vāsudeva and existed in the earliest age as the root of all the other Vedas, which were introduced at a later age and are therefore called the Vikāra-veda.

When these Vikāra-vedas sprang up and people became more and more worldly-minded, Vāsudeva withdrew the Ekāyana Veda and revealed it only to some selected persons, such as

who were all called ekāntins.

Other sages, Marīci, Atri, Āṅgirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vaśiṣṭha and Svayambhuva, learnt this Ekāyana from Nārāyaṇa, and on the basis of it the Pañcarātra literature on the one hand was written, in verse, and the various Dharma-śāstras on the other hand were written by Manu and other ṛṣis.

The Pañcarātra works, such as

  • Sātvata,
  • Pauṣkara,
  • and Jayākhya
  • and other similar texts,

were written at the instance of Saṃkarṣaṇa in accordance with the fundamental tenets of the Ekāyana Veda, which was almost lost in the later stage. Śāṇḍilya also learnt the principles of the Ekāyana Veda from Saṃkarṣaṇa and taught them to the ṛṣis. The contents of the Ekāyana Veda, as taught by Nārāyaṇa, are called the Sātvika-śāstra ; those Śaṣṭras which are partly based on the Ekāyana Veda and partly due to the contribution of the sages themselves are called the Rājasa-Śāstra; those which are merely the contribution of human beings are called the Tāmasa Śāstra.

The Rājasa Śāstra is of two kinds,

  1. the Pañcarātra
  2. and the Vaikhānasa.

Sātvata, Pauṣkara and Jayākhya were probably the earliest Pañcarātra works written by the sages, and of these again the Sātvata is considered the best, as it consists of a dialogue between the Lord and Saṃkarṣaṇa.

The īśvara-saṃhitā consists of twenty-four chapters, of which sixteen are devoted to ritualistic worship, one to the description of images, one to initiation, one to meditation, one to mantras, one to expiation, one to methods of self-control, and one to a description of the holiness of the Yādava hill[2]. The chapter on worship is interspersed with philosophical doctrines which form the basis of the Śrīvaiṣnava philosophy and religion.

The Hayaśīrṣa-saṃhitā consists of four parts; the first part, called the Pratiṣṭhā-kāṇḍa, consists of forty-two chapters; the second, the Saṃkarṣaṇa, of thirty-seven chapters; the third, the Liṅga, of twenty chapters; and the fourth, the Saura-kāṇḍa, of forty-five chapters[3]. All the chapters deal with rituals concerning the installation of images of various minor gods, the methods of making images and various other kinds of rituals.

The Viṣṇu-tattva-saṃhitā consists of thirty-nine chapters, and deals entirely with rituals of image-worship, ablutions, the holding of Vaiṣṇava marks, purificatory rites, etc.[3]

The Parama-saṃhitā consists of thirty-one chapters, dealing mainly with a description of the process of creation, rituals of initiation, and other kinds of worship[4]. In the tenth chapter, however, it deals with yoga. In this chapter we hear of jñāna-yoga and karma-yoga. Jñāna-yoga is regarded as superior to karma-yoga, though it may co-exist therewith. Jñāna-yoga means partly practical philosophy and the effort to control all sense-inclinations by that means. It also includes samādhi, or deep concentration, and the practice of prāṇāyāma. The word yoga is here used in the sense of “joining or attaching oneself to.” The man who practises yoga fixes his mind on God and by deep meditation detaches himself from all worldly bonds. The idea of karma-yoga does not appear to be very clear; but in all probability it means worship of Viṣṇu.

The Parāśara saṃhitā, which was also available only in manuscript, consists of eight chapters dealing with the methods of muttering the name of God.

The Padma-saṃhitā, consisting of thirty-one chapters, deals with various kinds of rituals and the chanting of mantras, offerings, religious festivities and the like[5].

The Parameśvara-saṃhitā, consisting of fifteen chapters, deals with the meditation on mantras, sacrifices and methods of ritual and expiation[6].

The Pauṣkara-saṃhitā, which is one of the earliest, consists of forty-three chapters, and deals with various kinds of image-worship, funeral sacrifices and also with some philosophical topics[6]. It contains also a special chapter called Tattva-saṃkhyāna, in which certain philosophical views are discussed. These, however, are not of any special importance and may well be passed over.

The Prakāśa-saṃhitā consists of two parts. The first part is called Parama-tattva-nirṇaya, and consists of fifteen chapters; the second, called Para-tattva-prakāśa, consists of twelve chapters only[6].

The Mahā-sanatkumāra-saṃhitā, consisting of four chapters and forty sections in all, deals entirely with rituals of worship[6]. It is a big work, containing ten thousand verses.

Its four chapters are called

  1. Brahma-rātra,
  2. Śiva-rātra,
  3. Indra-rātra
  4. and Rṣi-rātra.

The Aniruddha-saṃhitā-mahopaniṣad contains thirty-four chapters and deals entirely with descriptions of various rituals, methods of initiation, expiation, installation of images, the rules regarding the construction of images, etc.[6]

The Kāśyapa-saṃhitā, consisting of twelve chapters, deals mainly with poisons and methods of remedy by incantations[6].

The Vihagendra-saṃhitā deals largely with meditation on mantras and sacrificial oblations and consists of twenty-four chapters. In the twelfth chapter it deals extensively with prāṇāyāma, or breath-control, as a part of the process of worship[6].

The Sudarśana-saṃhitā consists of forty-one chapters and deals with meditation on mantras and expiation of sins.

Agastya-saṃhitā consists of thirty-two chapters.
The Vasiṣṭha contains twenty-four chapters,
the Viśvāmitra twenty-six chapters
and the Viṣṇu-saṃhitā thirty chapters.

They are all in manuscripts and deal more or less with the same subject, namely, ritualistic worship. The Viṣṇu-saṃhitā is, however, very much under the influence of Sāṃkhya and holds Puruṣa to be all-pervasive. It also invests Puruṣa with dynamic activity by reason of which the prakrti passes through evolutionary changes. The five powers of the five senses are regarded as the power of Viṣṇu. The power of Viṣṇu has both a gross and a transcendental form. In its transcendental form it is power as consciousness, power as world-force, power as cause, power by which consciousness grasps its objects and power as omniscience and omnipotence. These five powers in their transcendental forms constitute the subtle body of God.

In the thirtieth chapter the Viṣṇu-saṃhitā deals with yoga and its six accessories (ṣaḍ-aṅga-yoga), and shows how the yoga method can be applied for the attainment of devotion, and calls it Bhāgavata-yoga. It may be noticed that the description of human souls as all-pervasive is against the Śrīvaiṣṇava position. The aṣṭāṅga yoga (yoga with eight accessories) is often recommended and was often practised by the early adherents of the Śrīvaiṣṇava faith, as has already been explained.

The Mārkaṇḍeya-saṃhitā consists of thirty-two chapters, speaks of 108 saṃhitās, and gives a list of ninety-one saṃhitās[7].

The Viṣvaksena-saṃhitā consists of thirty-one chapters. It is a very old work and has often been utilized by Rāmānuja, Saumya Jāmātr muni and others.

The Hiraṇya-garbha-saṃhitā consists of four chapters.

Footnotes and references:


Published at Conjeeveram, 1902.


Published at Conjeeveram, 1921.


It has been available to the present writer only in MS.


This saṃhitā has also been available to the present writer only in MS.


It has been available to the present writer only in MS.


These works also were available to the present writer only in MS.


These are also in MS. Schrader enumerates them in his Introduction to Pañcarātra.

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