You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : January 1998

pAncarAtra - Part 1.

From: Krishnamachari (
Date: Tue Jan 27 1998 - 12:10:17 PST

	Sometime back, I had offered to present some thoughts on the pAncarAtra Agama that I had collected together while I was trying to understand the views of SrI Adi Sankara on the vyUha doctrine.  Several members were kind enough to indicate an interest in the posting.  I had posted Part 1 of the write-up in the SaraNagati Journal sometime back.  This part is posted below since I gather that there are members in the bhakti list who may not be subscribers to the SaraNAgati Journal.  I will post the remaining parts on a weekly basis since the article is somewhat lengthy.

-dAsan kr*shNamAcAryan




	The scriptures of the Hindu-s can be classified into Agama-s (also known as the Tantra-s) and nigama-s (also known as the veda-s).  Agama prescribes the day-to-day ritualistic life and a practical course of self-discipline for its followers.  It also prescribes the procedures for consecrating the idols in the temples, forms of worship to be performed in temples that follow the particular Agama.  The Agama has three main divisions - Saiva (based on Siva as the Deity), Sakta (based on worship of Sakti as the Deity) , and vaishNava. The nigma is divided into four veda-s - r*k, yajus, sAma, and atharva.    

	There are further sub-divisions among each of the Agama-s.  The principal divisions in the vaishNava Agama are the vaikhAnasa and pAncarAtra.  The current review deals with the pAncarAtra Agama.  With God's grace, if I get enough material to get a high-level understanding of the vaikhAnasa Agama, I will undertake a similar effort on the vaikhAnasa system.  If any of the bhAgavatottama-s in our group have the resources of time to undertake the effort, this will be extremely useful also. 

	In the historical evolution of the Agama-s, there have been several views over time - a) Agama-s are derived from the veda, b) Agama and veda are both derived from a common root or mUla-veda, c) Agama-s are inferior to, and less authoritative than the veda, and d) Agama-s are superior to veda.  It was probably these kinds of differences that led to Sri YamunacArya's work titled Agama-prAmANya and Sri  VedAnta desika's work titled SrI pAncarAtra rakshA.  It should be noted that SrI vedAnta deSika has also written a work about the vaikhAnasa Agama titled sajjanavaibhava.  

The development of the Agama schools gave great support to promoting the concept of bhakti by concentrating attention on one Deity, and to self-surrender.  It also gave great support to art through temple architecture, devotional poetry, dance, etc.  

The name "pAncarAtra":

	There are several different explanations for the term pAncarAtra.  Some of these relate to the principles or practices of the pAncarAtra, whereas others fall in the category of 'imaginative exercises' as described in Agama-koSa published by Kalpatharu Research Academy.   An elaborate list of definitions from several samhitA-s is included in the above reference, but I am including below only a few of them.

	Literally, the term "pAncarAtra" means "five nights".   Some definitions tie back to this meaning, and others key in on the word "pAnca".   Based on an analysis of the definitions found in various texts, the five rAtra-s have been equated to a) five cosmic elements, b) five objects of senses, c) the five types of knowledge, or d) the five types of ignorance.  And so,  the pAncarAtra  Sastra can be considered either as the means for the liberation of the soul from the five elements, or container of the five types of knowledge, or the dispeller of the five types of ignorance.   Some definitions tell the story of five nights which is described below.
	The following is from vihagendra samhitA (I.31-4) - "When the kr*ta yuga had just appeared, by the grace of KeSava, the following five viz. ananta (the serpent), GaruDa, vishvaksena, Brahman and Siva hear the Sastra in parts, as follows:  in the first night (rAtra) ananta has his questions answered,  in the second night GaruDa, etc.  Each of them hears for himself the Religion of Faith in the form of a work on knowledge, yoga, construction, and conduct, each night consisting of a lakh of verses.  Since the whole instruction thus has five lakhs of verses, it is called the pAncarAtra".

	The name "pAncarAtra" can thus be associated with the "five nights" of instruction.  The last sentence in the above para from the translation of vihagendra samhitA implies that the word "rAtra" relates to "one lakh".  This again could not be verified from the dictionary.

	Another interpretation for the term "pAncarAtra" comes from Satapata-brahmaNa (XIII.6.1).  This  has the earliest passage in which the word pAncarAtra occurs.  Here, Purusha nArAyaNa is mentioned as having conceived the idea of a pAnca-rAtra sattra - continued sacrifice for five days - as a means of attaining superiority over all beings and becoming all beings.  

	In ahirbudhnya samhitA, at the end of the 11th adhyAya, it is stated that the Lord Himself framed out of the original Sastra the system called pAncarAtra describing His fivefold nature known as para, vyuha, vibhava, antaryAmin, and arca forms.  This is yet another interpretation for the term. 

	Other explanations involve the five-fold kAla-s like abhigamana etc., the panca samskAra-s (puNdra, nAma, mantra, japa and pujA).  In the nArAyaNIya (12.338.4) nArAyaNa is called "pa~ncaj~na, pa~nca kAla kartr* pate, pa~ncarAtrika" - (Homage to) Thee of Five Offerings, Lord of those who perform the Pa~nca kAla ritual, Thee of pA~nca rAtra.  In the pAdma-samhitA there is a Sloka which lists different words which are synonymous with the word 'bhAgavata'.  One of these is panca-kAla-vit (the knower of the significance of the five-fold division of time).  "sUrih suhr*t bhAgavatah sAttvatah panca-kAla-vit | ekAntikah tan-mayaSca pAnca-rAtrika ityapi |  evamAdibhirAkhyAbhih Akhyeyah kamalAsana || (2-87)"  SrI vedAnta-deSika's eloquent defense of pAnca-rAtra highlights this aspect of the pAnca-rAtra doctrine -
	"panca-kAla vyavasthityai venkateSa vipaScitA   |
	  SrI pAncarAtra siddhAnta vyavastheyam samarthitA   ||  "

	The jayAkhya samhitA gives a similar definition, and says the name is derived based on the five different actions performed during the five time periods - panca karmAnushThAna panca kAla nirdeSanena pAncarAtra iti sam~jnah. 

	The panca kAla-s are:   

	1)  abhigamana - beginning with the brahma-muhUrta about 4.30 a.m., devoted to the
preparatory sequences in the morning (like Sauca, snAna, snadhyA, japa, and dhyAna).

	2)  upAdAna - from about 9 a.m. to 12 noon) - spent in collecting the articles necessary for
worship (like flowers, tulasi, fruits, etc.), and making preparations for worship

	3)  ijyA ( beginning with noontime) devoted to the formal iconic worship elaborately conducted,
and partaking of food as naivedya with other devotees

	4)  svAdhyAya (afternoon and evening), spent in the study of scriptures, contemplating on 
import, teaching scriptures to others, and such activities

	5) yoga (night), devoted to the repetition of the formal iconic worship but briefly conducted, yoga practice (eight-fold practice, ashThAnga yoga), and deep meditation on godhead (dhyAna) before finally resting for the day.   

	The five phases are intended to be one uninterrupted worship ritual, with the ijyA as the central theme, and the others as preparatory or follow-up.  This may be along the lines of the pAncarAtra sattra ritual of the Satapata-brAhmaNa, with the five nights altered to five phases of the day.

J. A. B. van Buitenen, in his introduction to his translation of yAmuna's Agama prAmANyam,
 gives a new explanation that has not been covered in the other pAncarAtra related references that I consulted.  This is from a work titled br*hatkathA Sloka sangraha by BudhasvAmin.  Because of my ignorance, I do not recognize the author or the title.  But the following Sloka from the above is quoted as an insight to the name pAncarAtra -

 	"eka rAtram vased grAme pAncarAtram munih pure   |
	  iti pravrAjitAcAram etam veda bhavAn iti                ||
	"The hermit should live one night in a village for every five nights he stays in town;  you know that this is the life-rule for those who have left their home as parivrAjaka-s".

	A pAncarAtrika is therefore one who follows the Five Nights rule according to the above interpretation.

	Among the definitions that do not  directly relate to the practices of the pAncarAtra are the following:

	The mahA-bhArata views is that the name derives from the fact that pAnca-rAtra is inclusive of the four veda-s and the sAnkhya yoga - "idam mahopanishadam caturveda samanvitam  |  sAnkhya yoga kr*tAntena panca-rAtrAnuSabditam " ( mahAbhA 339,112).
	The five subjects of knowledge covered in the pAncarAtra according to the nArada pAncarAtra  are tattva (cosmology), mukti-prada (liberation), bhakti-prada (devotion), yaugika (yoga), and vaishayika (objects of sense).   The nAradIya pAncarAtra is now generally not considered an authentic pAncarAtra text by many vaishNava-s.   I could also not verify the meaning "knowledge" for the word "rAtra" from my samskr*t dictionaries.  

The Sandilya samhitA (1-4-75-76)  gives a different interpretation viz.  that the pAncarAtra is capable of giving the devotee delight that will be given together by the five nights viz. sAnkhya, yoga, Saiva, veda-s, and AraNyaka.  Here the firve Sastra-s are equated with rAtra-s. 

Another interesting stanza from the utsava sa~ngraha says that the name derives because of the five disciplines covered in the pAncarAtra - Agama, bharata (nAtya Sastra), Silpa (iconography and architecture), vaidya (medicine), and jyotisha (astrology) - 

	"Agamam bharatam Silpam vaidya jyotishameva ca    |
	  pancA SAstrANi samyogAt pAncarAtramiti smr*tam   || (utsava san. Mss. Adyar Lib., vo. 3 p. 15)".

	Paushkara samhitA (38-307-308) interprets the word as meaning a collection of five systems of thought - purANa, veda, vedAnta, sAnkhya, and yoga - purANam veda-vedAntam tathAnanAkhya yogajam |  panca prakAram vij~neyam yatra rAtrAyate'bjaja |  phalotkarshenaiva pancarAtra iti smr*tam || 
	There are some texts (e.g., padma-purANa) that interpret the word rAtri as 'overcoming' or 'eradicating' (rAtrIyante, adr*SyAni bhavanti), some that interpret rAtra as meaning ignorance or false knowledge (e.g., vishNu samhitA), etc.   The false knowledge is that obtained through the five senses (form, sound, smell, taste, and touch), or the panca-bhUta-s (earth, water, fire, air, AkASa) which constitute the world.

(To Be Continued)

-dAsan kr*shNamAcAryan