Parama Samhita (English translation)

by Krishnaswami Aiyangar | 1940 | 69,979 words

This page describes the pancaratra and the tamil alvars of the English translation of the Parama Samhita, representing a manual of the Pancaratra school of Vaishnavism philosophy. These pages summarize ritualistic worship, initiation and other topics, as contained in the various Agamas belonging to the Pancaratra school

The Pāñcarātra and the Tamil Ālvārs

If there had been such a detailed knowledge of the teachings of the Bhāgavata and the Pāñcarātra in the distant south, as is indicated in these references, it would naturally be expected that further references could be found in the later literature of the south. As a matter of fact, the movement seems to have been in full blast in South India during the first millennium of the Christian era, the Bhakti of the Śaivas as well as of the Vaiṣṇavas. But we are concerned only with the Bhāgavatas and their Bhakti, and we have a number of indirect and direct references to this school of the tantra or the śāstra upon which this teaching had been based. The Ālvārs were twelve in number, and were undoubtedly devotees of Viṣṇu. Their devotion finds vent in poems of artistic merit and their unalloyed devotion is exhibited to the full. References to nūl which is the literal Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit tantra, lies scattered through the works of the early Ālvārs not only, but we get some elaborate references to what this actually stood for in the works of Tirumaliśai Alvār, whose two poems included in the Prabhandham, expound the teaching with greater elaboration than his three predecessors or contemporaries of this school.

The whole of the teaching of the Ālvārs, all of them, is suffused with the teaching of this school of Bhakti, which is as we find it set forth in the āgamāic text-books, the āgama with which we are directly concerned, namely, the Paramasaṃhitā. Even the first Ālvārs have direct references to the general principle inculcated in the work that unalloyed and single-minded devotion to Viṣṇu in the simplest form possible is the most efficient for the attainment of salvation.[1] In fact they state it that the more elaborate forms of worship in the manner of the Veda and Vedic learning is all good for those that have the equipment for doing it; but, for actual attainment of salvation, that is not at all necessary for those who do not have the equipment. A far simpler method of devotion, the mere recitation of the names of God, is enough, provided only that that devotion is absolutely single-minded.[2]

We have an explicit statement in Tirumaṅgai Alvār that what the others perhaps speak of in general terms as nūl and aṛam alternatively, sometimes as aṛanūl, stands actually for āgama works, which are believed generally to have been the teaching of Viṣṇu directly. The first stanza of the 6th section of the tenth ten of the Periyatirumoli, his major work in the Prabandha, does contain the statement “Our Lord who expounded elaborately to the world the Dharma Śāstra (Aṛanūl) in the form of Nara-Nārāyaṇa.” This has reference certainly to the āgama works, which were originally expounded by Viṣṇu to various people on various occasions, but primarily to Nārada, and were published to the world as they were through Nara and Nārāyaṇa, described as the sons of Viṣṇu, two among his four sons, who reside habitually in an āśrama at Badari, and are regarded as having taught these to the world.

The term Aṛanūl as such could be literally translated into Dharma Śāstra, or simply the tantra or treatise dealing with dharma. The Pāñcarātra that was taught by the Supreme Vāsudeva is certainly a way of life, a Dharma Śāstra, and, among the first that received the teaching from the Sun to whom the Supreme One taught it, were the seven Prajāpatis as they are called, the Saptarṣis, and the eighth one who learnt it of the Sun was Svāyambhuva-Manu This Svāyambhava-Manu is said to have given the teaching to the world in the Śāstra that he taught as the original Mānava Dharma Śāstra.[3] It therefore becomes clear that, while the early Ālvārs have more or less indirect references to this, their teaching taken as a whole exhibits close similarity to the teaching of the Pāñcarātra. Among the later Ālvārs, Nammālvār is much more elaborate and much more literary and artistic; but the essence of his teaching is almost exactly the same as that of the first Ālvārs. The works of the other Alvārs including Āṇḍāl are of the same general character, so that we may say definitely that the teaching of the Āḷvārs is Bhāgavataic or āgamāic or Pāñcarātraic in character. Tirumaṅgai Āḷvār lived in the 8th century after Christ, and the other Āḷvārs go backward from him through five or six centuries in point of time—a period coeval with that of the Śaiva Aḍiyārs, the Nāyanmārs of the Śiva school of bhakti. This direct statement from Tirumaṅgai Ālvār only confirms the general position and gives us a precisely pointed statement in regard to it

Footnotes and references:


2nd Tiruvandāḍi. St. 38.


Ibid. St. 39 and similar passages in the works of the others.


M. Bh. Book XIII, Ch. 343, śloka 1.31,45. (Kumbhakoṇam Edn.)