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The main philosophers of the medieval Vaisnavism have been noted above. Vaisnavism, however, has a long history, traceable to the Vishnu worship of the Rigveda, the Bhakti conception of the epics, and the Vasudeva cult of the pre-Christian era. Of the two main Vaishnava scriptures, or agamas, the Pascaratra ("Relating to the Period of Five Nights") and the Vaikhanasa ("Relating to a Hermit or Ascetic") are the most important. Though Vaishnava philosophers trace the Pascaratra works to Vedic origin, absolutists such as Shankara refused to acknowledge this claim. The main topics of the Pascaratra literature concern rituals and forms of image worship and religious practices of the Vaishnavas. Of philosophical importance are the Ahirbudhnya-samhita ("Collection of Verses for Shiva") and Jayakhya-samhita ("Collection of Verses Called Jaya"). The most well-known Pascaratra doctrine concerns the four spiritual forms of God: the absolute, transcendent state, known as Vasudeva; the form in which knowledge and strength predominate (known as Samkarsana); the form in which wealth and courage predominate (known as Pradyumna); and the form in which power and energy predominate (known as Aniruddha). Shankara identified Samkarsana with the individual soul, Pradyumna with mind, and Aniruddha with the ego sense. Furthermore, five powers of God are distinguished: creation, maintenance, destruction, favour, and disfavour. Bhakti is regarded as affection for God and associated with a sense of his majesty. The doctrine of prapatti, or complete self-surrender, is emphasized.
in Hinduism, a traditional school of religious teaching, transmitted from one teacher to another. From about the 11th century onward, several sects emerged out of Vaisnavism (worship of the god Vishnu). These sects continue to the present day. They include the Sanaka-sampradaya (also known as Nimbarkas, the followers of Nimbarka); the Shri-sampradaya (or Shrivaishnavas, following the teaching of Ramanuja); the Brahma-sampradaya (or Madhvas, the followers of Madhva); and the Rudra-sampradaya (or Vishnusvamins, the followers of Vishnusvamin). In each case the school is named after a distant and perhaps mythological founder, such as Shri (the goddess Laksmi), from whom it has been transmitted through a succession of teachers to the earthly founders of the sects.
(Sanskrit: "One Devoted to Bhagavat [Lord]"), member of the earliest Hindu sect of which there is any record, representing the beginnings of theistic, devotional worship and of modern Vaisnavism (worship of the Lord Vishnu); the term is commonly used today to refer to a Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu.
The Bhagavata sect originated among the Yadava people of the Mathura area in the centuries preceding the beginning of the Christian era. From there it spread as the tribes migrated to western India and the northern Deccan. It was introduced into South India at an early date. The sect continued to be prominent within Vaisnavism until at least the 11th century, when bhakti (devotional worship) was revitalized by the great theologian Ramanuja.
The Bhagavata system was a highly devotional faith centred upon a personal god, variously called Vishnu, Vasudeva, Krishna, Hari, or Narayana. The school was known as ekantika-dharma ("religion with one object," i.e., monotheism). The religious poem the Bhagavadgita (1st-2nd century AD) is the earliest and finest exposition of the Bhagavata system. By the time of the Gita Vasudeva (Krishna), the hero of the Yadava clan was identified with the Vedic Lord Vishnu. Later, the deified sage Narayana, whose followers were originally called Pascar atras , was assimilated, and, still later, the pastoral and amorous Krishna was added to the multiplicity of traditions.
The Bhagavatas believed in simple rites of worship and condemned Vedic sacrifices and penances. The sect may have been largely responsible for the spread of image worship among orthodox, upper-class Hindus. Few early Vaishnava images are still extant, but those that have survived are mainly from the Mathura area, perhaps the earliest being the image of Balarama, the half brother of Krishna, which is attributed to the 2nd-1st century BC.
early Hindu religious movement whose members worshiped the deified sage Narayana (who came to be identified with Lord Vishnu) and, in merger with the Bhagavata (q.v.) sect, formed the earliest sectarian movement within Hinduism. The new group was a forerunner of modern Vaisnavism, or the worship of Vishnu.
The Pascaratras originated in the Himalayan region perhaps in the 3rd century BC. The cult's name is attributed to a sacrifice continuing for five days (pasca-ratra) performed by Narayana by which he obtained superiority over all beings and became all beings.
The Pascaratra doctrine was first systematized by Shandilya (c. AD 100?), who composed several devotional verses about the deity Narayana; that the Pascaratra system was also known in South India is evident from 2nd-century-AD inscriptions. By the 10th century the sect had acquired sufficient popularity to leave its influence on other groups, though criticized by Shankara and other orthodox figures as nonmonastic and non-Vedic.
in Hindu mythology, the patronymic of Krishna (Krishna), who, according to one tradition, was a son of Vasudeva. The worshipers of Vasudeva, or Krishna, formed one of the earliest theistic devotional movements within Hinduism. When they merged with other groups, namely the Bhagavata, they represented the beginnings of modern Vaisnavism, or worship of Lord Vishnu. A significant 2nd-century-BC inscription at Besnagar, near Vidisha (Bhilsa), Madhya Pradesh, refers to a column topped by a figure of Garuda (the emblem or mount of Lord Vishnu), erected in honour of Vasudeva by the Indo-Greek ambassador Heliodorus, who termed himself a "Bhagavata." Though, in the earliest parts of the great Indian epic the Mahabharata, the divinity of Krishna appears to be still open to doubt, by the time of the writing of the Bhagavadgita (1st-2nd century AD), Vasudeva-Krishna was clearly identified with the Vedic god Vishnu.
in Hindu mythology, the mistress of the god Krishna during that period of his life when he lived among the cowherds of Vrndavana. Radha was the wife of another gopa (cowherd) but was the most beloved of Krishna's consorts and his constant companion. In the bhakti (devotional) movement of Vaisnavism, the woman, Radha, symbolizes the human soul and the male, Krishna, the divine.
The allegorical love of Radha has been given expression in the lyrical poetry of many Indian languages. In Bengal, many poets composed such poetry, including the supremely lyrical Govinda Das. The Bengali saint Chaitanya was said to be an incarnation of the two lovers; he was Krishna on the inside and Radha on the outside. Chaitanya also composed many lyrics celebrating the divine love, which have not survived. The Gitagovinda by Jayadeva was a favourite source of inspiration for the later Rajasthani and Pahari miniature painters, in whose works Radha is seen waiting for Krishna to return with the cows in the twilight or sitting with him in a forest grove engaged in amorous play. The bronze images of Krishna playing the flute that are enshrined in temples are often accompanied, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of India, by images of his beloved Radha, and she is also worshiped.
Systems of Religious and Spiritual Belief
Polytheism, the belief in many gods, characterizes virtually all religions other than Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which share a common tradition of monotheism, the belief in one God. Sometimes above the many gods a religion will have a supreme creator and focus of devotion, as in certain phases of Hinduism (there is also the tendency to identify the many gods as so many aspects of the Supreme Being); sometimes the gods are considered as less important than some higher goal, state, or saviour, as in Buddhism; sometimes one god will prove more dominant than the others without attaining overall supremacy, as Zeus in Greek religion. Typically, polytheistic cultures include belief in many demonic and ghostly forces in addition to the gods, and some supernatural beings will be malevolent; even in monotheistic religions there can be belief in many demons, as in New Testament Christianity. Polytheism can bear various relationships to other beliefs. It can be incompatible with some forms of theism, as in the Semitic religions; it can coexist with theism, as in Vaisnavism; it can exist at a lower level of understanding, ultimately to be transcended, as in Mahayana Buddhism; it can exist as a tolerated adjunct to belief in transcendental liberation, as in Theravada Buddhism.
also spelled Shktism, worship of the Hindu supreme goddess, Shakti (Sanskrit: "power," or "energy"). Shaktism is, together with Vaisnavism and Shaivism, one of the major forms of modern Hinduism and is especially popular in Bengal and Assam. Shakti is conceived of either as the paramount goddess or as the consort of a male deity, generally Shiva.
People of spiritual disposition worship Shakti as the divine will, the divine mother who calls for absolute surrender. Yogis consider Shakti as the power, lying dormant within the body as a coiled serpent (kundalini), that must be aroused and realized to reach spiritual liberation. Shaktism is inseparably related to Tantric Hinduism (q.v.), a system of practices for the purification of both mind and body.
In popular worship the goddess Shakti is known by many names; some authorities consider most female deities in Hinduism to be her different manifestations. She may be referred to simply as Devi (goddess). In her beneficent aspect she is known variously as Uma, Parvati, and Ambika. In her fierce, destructive aspect she is represented as the black Kali, the demon-destroying Durga, and the goddess of smallpox, Shitala. The goddess is also worshiped as the gracious Laksmi, who is the consort of Vishnu.