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Bhagavatas in Ancient India
Date: Thu Mar 15 2001 - 22:51:36 PST


This post was collected for someone else on another list, but I thought that 
Sri Vaishnavas might find it useful as well


Here are some random quotes and notes from Sanskrit and Tamil literature 
giving information on Bhagavatas, Vaishnavism, Vaikhanasa followers before 
850 AD that I collected. There are doubtless a lot of other information- for 
instance Utpaldeva's commentary on the Spandakarikas has numerous quotations 
from Pancharatra text and Vaishnava Sankarshanasutras (can post them if you 
want). Shall collect other references with time. All bibliographic references 
at the end.

A. Harshacharita of Banabhatta (~620 AD)
There are numerous references to Vaikhanasas in the Kavya literature. Chapter 
7 of Harshacharita of Bana, a work of early 7th century C.E., mentions 
Vaikhanasa ascetics who spent their old age in forest hermitages. Bana 
distinguishes between the Bhagvatas and the Pancaratrins in his 
Harshacharita. He mentions the following characteristics of Grhyamunis:
1. Cooked their own food
2. Devoted to Vedic learning
3. Very virtuous, avoided hypocrisy and untruth
4. Well learned in all schools of philosophy and tried to resolve the 
differences between them
5. Paid a lot of attention to secular arts like dancing, poetry as well
6. Had a passion for Itihasa-Purana
7. Were Vidyadharas and unfailing in the performance of Yajnas

B. Bhavabhuti (750 AD?)
According to Bhavabhuti, these monks spent their times living under trees, in 
the forest grove and hermitages. Bhavabhuti also mentions householders 
adhereing to the Vaikahanasa ideal

C. Kalidasa (5th century CE)
In the Uttara-Ramacharita 1.25, Kalidasa describes the hermitage of Kanva 
distinguished by features like Nivara rice, presence of deer, hospitality to 
guests and the Vedic vaitana sacrifical fire etc. Kalidasa designates Kanva 
living in his Asrama with young and old female inmates to be a Vaikhanasa 
Muni (there are other texts associating Pancharatrins with Kanvas and infact 
the Agamapramanya of Sri Yamunamuni says that Sri Vaishnavas are followers of 
the Sukla Yajurveda Sakha, Katyayana sutra). If I remember correctly, the 
Ahirbudhnya Pancharatra Samhita also says that Kanva Sakha is of the 

D. Buddhaswamin (500 AD)
In the Brihatkathaslokasamgraha of Buddhaswamin (500 CE), we find the 
following references to Vaishnavas (Page number references are to the 
translation, rest to the other book mentioned below):
Pg. 359: Verse 480  "In this way, showing the danda of Bhagavad Gita, as 
Vishnu did with Arjuna, Acera forced me to do the cruel act". (Shows that 
even in olden days, some people thought that Gita is a war mongering book. 
The statement is actually made with reference to an unscruplous person, which 
lands Wendy Doniger into some rather shady company) 
Pg. 485, verse 59 mentions a follower of the Pancharatra living on the banks 
of Sindhu river.
In verse 18.104, reference is made to Gita 18.48
Verse 20.362, there is a reference to the order of the Vaikhanasa ascetics 
who lived on grains self grown in the jungle and on the Ganges water.
Verse 21.27 mentions Tridandins inhabiting the city of Varanasi

E. Manimekalai - Tamil Buddhist epic
In Canto XXVII of Manimekalai (400 CE?), the Vaishnavas are counted among the 
followers of Vedas and are said to follow or study the Purana of Vishnu.

F. Neelakesi (700 AD?) - Tamil Jaina epic
Description of the "Veda Vada" in Neelakesi:
Neelakesi debates with 'bUthika', who presides over a Vedic college in a town 
called kAkanti. Buthika states that the Vedas are eternal, authorless and 
self subsistent. He then proceeds to include all the 'Astika' systems 
including Samkhya, Vaiseshika, Pasupata, Mahesvara, Vaishnava, Pancaratra, 
Parivrajika, Srishtivada (describing the nature of creation) and Brahmavada 
together with their branches under the umbrella of Vedas. This view of 
bUthika is similar to modern Hindu view that all the multifarious of 
philosophies are different aspects of the one Vedic religion.
Neelakesi ridicules Buthika for being a follower of the Mimamsa doctrine 
which is atheistic. This infuriates Buthika and he refuses to impart the 
Vedic wisdom to Neelakesi on the grounds that she is a Sudra lady. Neelakesi 
objects to this statement by quoting the following verses from the scriptures 
of Buthika:
1.  Vyasa, born of a dancing girl, became a great Rishi; Hence, it is tapas 
that makes one a Brahmin, and not his birth.
2.  Sakti, born of a Chandala woman, became a great Rishi. Hence, it is tapas 
that makes one a Brahmin, and not his birth.
3.  Parasara, born of SwapAki, became a great Rishi; Hence, it is tapas that 
makes one a Brahmin, and not his birth.
4.  Vyasa, born of a fisherwoman, became a great Rishi; Hence, it is tapas 
that makes one a Brahmin, and not his birth.
These verses are found in Bhagavata Purana. Neelakesi questions the notion 
that the Vedas are eternal, on the same grounds that constitute the prima 
facie view in Purva Mimamsa sutras, Chapter 1. Amongst other things, she 
states that the Jnanakanda of the Vedas states that everything is of the 
nature of Brahman, and that the multiplicity and diversity in the world are 
unreal. She avers that if the followers of the Jnanakanda of Vedas describe 
the creation of the world as false, then how will they interpret statements 
like "From the mouth of the Purusha arose the Brahmin"? These statements show 
that the doctrine of 'Mayavada' existed even in the early days of  the epic, 
and so Sri Shankaracharya is not the founder of 'Mayavada'.
Neelakesi also states that some followers of Vedas worship Sri Vishnu whereas 
others adore Sri Shiva as the Supreme Being Who is worshipped by all other  
Devatas including Sri Vishnu. This duality creates confusion in the minds of 
laity and they cannot decide who the Supreme Being is. This shows that by the 
time of the Epic, Shaivism and Vaishnavism were already established as the 
two prime theistic traditions in Vedic Hinduism.
Neelakesi also attacks the slaughter of animals in Vedic sacrifices. She 
advocates the use of flour images of animals rather than sacrificing live 
animals in sacrifices. In support of her claim, she narrates the tale of 
Uparichara Vasu in the Mahabharata. Neelakesi's line of argument is 
interesting, because precisely these arguments are offered by opponents of 
animal slaughter in Vedic sacrifices even today.

G. In the Vasudevahimdi (around 500 AD) - Jaina version of Brhatkatha of 
The Gita is also referred to in connection with a lay follower of the 
Bhagavata religion who, it is said, knew both the text and its meaning. The 
Vaishnava Bhagvatas were supposed to know the text and the meaning by heart. 
Prathama khanda mentions the Bhagavatas who have smeared their body with the 
sacred ash, who rode a bull and were devoted to Shiva. The Bhagavata before 
his initiation in the order had to leave his family and other relations. 
These are the 'Shivabhagavatas', to be distinguished from the Vaishnava 

H. In the Agama Aadambara (a play) of Jayanta Bhatta of Kashmir, the main 
character is a Vaishnava. The climax of the story is reached in the 
Chakradharaswamin temple at Srinagar- an actual temple which was subsequently 
demolished during Islamic invasions. The hero of the play displays the 
duality that characterizes Hinduism - a dual allegiance to the Veda on one 
hand and an Agama on the other. The Agamas are Shaiva, Vaishnava, Yoga and 
Pancharatra. The Buddhist and Jaina agamas are rejected, as also the 
heterodox varieities of Shaivagamas like the Kapalikas. The 5 acceptable 
doctrines are called 'Kritantapanchaka' in Agni Purana 219.31 and 
Vishnudharmottara Purana 2.22.134-4. The entire play of Jayanta Bhatta must 
be read- a very good insight into the nature of our Dharma and our dilemnas.


1. Pt. Jagannatha Pathaka; Harsa-Charita of Banabhatta; Chowkhamba 
Vidyabhawan; Vidyabhavan Sanskrit Granthamala No. 36; Varanasi; 1964

2. Vasudeva S. Agrawala; The Deeds of Harsha; Prithivi Prakashan; Varanasi; 

3. Poddar, Ram Prakash  and Sinha, Neelima (Ed. and Transl.); Budhasvamin's 
Brhatkatha Slokasangraha; Tara Printing Works;  Varanasi; 1986

4. A. Chakravarti; Neelakesi, the Original Text and the Commentary of Samaya 
Divakara Vamana Muni; Kumakonam; 1936

5. Agrawala, Vasudeva S.; Agrawala, P. K.; Brhatkathaslokasamgraha, A Study; 
Prithivi Prakashan; Varanasi; 1974

6. Jamkhedkar, A. P. ; Vasudevahimdi: A Cultural Study; Agam Kala Prakashan; 
Delhi; 1984

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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