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pAncarAtra - Part 2.

From: Krishnamachari (
Date: Tue Feb 03 1998 - 16:56:42 PST

From: 	Krishnamachari, N.
Sent: 	Monday, December 15, 1997 11:49 AM
To: 	'sadagopan'
Subject: 	FW: Sadagopan's response

Dear BhAgavatottama-s:

This is the continuation of the write-up I submitted last week. I will post Part 3 next week.

-dAsan kr*shNamAcAryan 

Subjects covered in the pAncarAtra:

	The ideal pAncarAtra samhita is said to consist of four quarters teaching respectively j~nAna (knowledge), yoga (concentration), kriyA (making i.e., construction and consecration of temples and images), and caryA (doing  i.e.,  the religious and social observances, daily rites, festivals, varNASrama dharma-s).   These four quarters are not given equal importance in all the samhita-s, and some of them even omit some of the quarters. 

	A total of over 1.5 million sloka-s are estimated to have existed describing the pAnca-rAtra when all the 225 or so samhitA-s are considered.  Just to give an example, the caryA section of the pAdma samhitA consists of almost all aspects of temple worship, such as the initiation ceremony or the dIkshA for the devoteees to perform worship in the temples, the rules of daily routine, the various kinds of snapana-s, the various festivals celebrated through the year, the various prAyaScitt-as to be performed on different occasions,  bhUta-Suddhi, anganyAsa, karanyAsa, etc. necessary before chanting mantra-s, a description of vaishNava mantra-s like the shadAksharI, astAkshari, dvAdaSAksharI, sudarSana mantra, nr*simha mantra, etc., tantraic abhisheka, mandala worship, the showing of various mudrA-s during worship, etc.   

 The date and origin of pAncarAtra:

 	SrI vedAnta deSika in his tatva-mukta-kalApa points out that the pAncarAtra system originated from the ekAyana Sakha portion of the veda-s.  The chAndogya upanishad refers to the ekAyana Sakha as the veda of veda-s, the treasure of the gods, and the sacred utterance among all utterances.   ekAyana means "the only means".

	".....pancamam vedAnAm vedam pitryam rASim daivam nidhim vAkovAkyam ahma-sutra-s.  Thus, some of these are even more ancient than the mahA-bhArata.  BhIshma parva (62-37-39) refers to the sAtvata precepts.  

	In addition to the written literature, there is reason to believe that the Agama-s have been in existence and passed on from generation to generation orally just as the veda-s have been transmitted, and thus may be as old as the veda-s.  In a book on pAdma samhita published by the pAncarAtra pariSodhana parishad in the 1980's, it is pointed out that the Ghosundi and besnAgar inscriptions show that in 2nd century B.C. the bhAgavata religion had overflowed the mathurA region and had even reached non-India people some of whom converted to this faith.   

 	There are two types of literature on pAncarAtra - those inspired or divine origin, and those derived from these and of human origin.  The former are in the category of samhita-s or Laws, and the latter are in the category of vidhi and prayoga. 

	The earliest source of information on the pAncarAtra seems to be the nAradIya or nArAyaNIya section of the Santi parva of mahAbhArata.  There is a reference to sAttvata vidhi in bhIshma parva at the end of the 66th adhyAya, which could be a reference to the sAttvata samhita.  In other words, the existence of pAncarAtra samhita-s prior to the nAradIya is possible.

	SrI yAmunacAryA, the teacher of the teacher of SrI rAmAnuja,  who lived in the first half of the 11th century, claimed the authority of the fifth veda for the Agama-s.  In the north of India, the oldest work quoting the pAncarAtra is the spandapradIpikA of utpalavaishNava, who lived in the 10th century A.D.  Based on these, the age of the samhita-s could be the 8th century A.D.  Based on detailed analysis,  Otto Schrader concludes that the oldest of the pAncarAtra samhita-s are paushkara, sAttavata, and jaya.  

Support for the pAncarAtra doctrine:

	SrI yAmunAcArya's work called AgamaprAmANya, SrI rAmAnujAcArya's SrI bhAshya (II.2.42), and SrI vedAnta-desika's pAncarAtra-rakshA are among the well-known works expounding the greatness of the pAncarAtra Agama.   Of these, I have access only to the English translation of SrI rAmAnuja's SrI bhAshya, and so the material below is extracted from this source only.

	SrI rAmAnuja mainly gives passages from the mahAbhArata to support the authenticity of the pAncarAtra doctrine.  In mahAbhArata, SrI vyAsa has elaborately described the pAncarAtra system in the chapter called the moksha-dharma. He starts with the question 'If a householder, or a brahmachArin, or a hermit, or a mendicant wishes to achieve success, what deity should he worship?', then explains at great length the pAncarAtra system, and then says, "From the lengthy story of the mahAbhArata, consisting of one hundred thousand sloka-s, this body of doctrine (the pAncarAtra) has been extracted - like amr*ta from the medicinal herbs and AraNyaka from the veda-s".  vyAsa also says in the mahAbhArata that this great upanishad - again referring to the pAncarAtra - is consistent with the four veda-s, and is in harmony with sAnkhya and yoga, the concentrated application of knowledge and works . 
	"idam mahopanishadam caturveda samanvitam      |
	  sAnkhya yoga kr*tAntena pancarAtAnuSabditam ||
	  nArAyaNa mukhodgItam nArado'SrAvayat purA  |    (MB, SAnti 348.62-3)

	Note the words "nArAyaNa mukhodgItam" - The promulgator of the pAncarAtra is none other than nArAyaNa Himself according to vedavyAsa.

	The mahAbhArata says of the pAncarAtra - "This is excellent, this is Brahman, this is supremely beneficial.  Fully agreeing with the r*g, the yajus, the sAman, and the atahrva veda-s, this doctrine will be truly authoritative".  

	It is to be noted that the author of the mahAbhArata is the same vyAsa who composed the brahma sutra-s earlier.  As was just noted, there is explicit and detailed support for the pAncarAtra system in the mahAbhArata, including statements that the system is consistent with the four veda-s, etc.  However, SrI Sankara has interpreted some of the sutra-s in the brahma-sutra as being opposed to the pAnca-rAtra system (details are covered in the next part in this series, and I had also shared some of SrI sankara's views in a previous post).  SrI rAmAnuja questions these interpretations based on the very strong statements made by SrI vyAsa in the mahAbhArata advocating the pAncarAtra doctrine as an upanishad that is consistent with all the veda-s.   The mahAbhArata also says "Of the whole pAncarAtra, nArAyaNa Himself is the promulgator".  Since the matter to be known from the veda is nArAyaNa, and since nArAyaNa Himself is the promulgator of the entire pAncarAtra, including the nature of nArAyaNa and how to worship him, it is only logical that in the pAncarAtra all other doctrines are comprised.  For this reason, the mahAbhArata says "The sAnkhya, the yoga,the veda-s, and the AraNyaka, being members of one another, are called the pAncarAtra". 

	Some of the samhita-s elevate the pAncarAtra to a position above the veda-s.  SrI-praSna-samhitA says (vedam ekAyanam nAma vedAnAm Sirasi sthitham |  tadartham pAnca-rAtram mokshadam tatkriyAvaham || 2.38).   vAmana samhitA takes the same position, based on the argument that it is only the pAnca-rAtra which has salvation as the only objective, whereas the veda-s promote the other three values also (dharma, artha, and kAma).  The other distinguishing feature attributed to the ekAyana is that unlike the veda-s which can only be studied by those who are qualified to perform the rituals prescribed therein, the ekAyana is meant for all those who are eligible to realize final emancipation.    

	The bhAgavata doctrine is distinguished by its insistence on bhakti which is absolute and exclusive (ekAnta), towards a concrete iconic manifestation of bhagavAn.   The relation between a bhakta and the bhagavat is similar to the relation between the nara and nArAyaNa.  The relaization of the all-importance of bhagavat (or nArAyaNa) is the sAnkhya, and the procedure by which the bhakta communicates with Bhagavat is the yoga.

	Will be continued - dAsan kr*shNamAcAryan