Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Pancharatra Agama

It was Vaikunta Ekadeshi  and it was just a few days back and hundreds of devotees had come to the Srinivasa Temple in LIC Colony, Jayanagar 3rd Block, Bangalore on the occasion.
The temple officials and a large number of  volunteers were seen distributing Puliyogre and Laadu and scores of people were seen eating them on the temple premises itself right from early morning. A few devotees took away the Prasada home, saying that since it was Ekadeshi, they would consume it the next day.
Some others sought to know whether it would be appropriate to consume Theertha Prasada and Prasada in temples not run, operated and/or presided over by their community.
For them, I had one answer. The Pancharatra Agama, which is among the sacred texts for Vaishnavas and which have been extensively quoted in several works by Madhwacharya, has an answer to such queries.
I will quote a verse from the text which deals directly with the issue. The Smruthimanikya Sangraha, which is part of the Pancharatra Agama, in verse 1471 says:

“tasmAdeteshhu sthAneshhu naivedyaM na cha dushyati
chandaalaasyApi saMsparshe dUradeshAgupAgate
annAdyaM naiva dushTaM syAt.h madhusUdanashAsanAth

tIrthanirmalyapakvAnnaM pUrvaM yaddharisevitaM
venkaTAchalapUrve tu svayaM vyakte na dushyate”

This shloka makes it amply clear that the Prasada has to be or can be taken at pilgrim places, irrespective of who prepared it. More specifically, it mentions the Venkatachalapathy temple (first word of the last line) and also says in the line before that Theertha and Nirmalya can be taken at the temple.
Now the question is what is Pancharatras and how did Madhwacharya see it. The Pancharatra are Vaishnava Sanskrit texts, literally meaning five nights.
The term has also been attributed to the Shatapatha Brahamana  ( This is a prose texts describing the Vedic ritual, associated with the Shukla Yajurveda) wherein Narayana performed a sacrifice for five nights and became a transcendent and immanent.
Vaishnavas and Srivaishnavas adhere to the Pancharatra system of worship.
Madhwacharya has invested the Pancharatras with the status of Sadagamas and he has referred to them in many of his works. In Mundaka Upanishad, he says, “In Dwapara Yuga, Vishnu is worshipped as per the cannons of the Pancharatraw. In Kali Yuga, he is worshipped by the chanting of his name”.  
The Pancharatra Agamas are considered to be a continuation of the Vedic tradition and Madhwacharya considered them to be holy and valid as they emanated from Narayana himself.
What makes the Pancharatra Agamas so important is that the form and style of worship that we follow today is based on them. Moreover, different forms of Vasudeva or Vishnu are introduced here.
Infact, the Pancharatra derives its name from the discourse that Vasudeva gives to five seers over a period of five nights-Shandilya
Aupagayana, Maunjayana, Kaushika and Bharadwaja. Another legend says Vishnu revealed these holy texts to Garuda, Anantha, Rudra, Brahma and Vishvakasena.
Some of the important works that form the vast body of Pancharatra literature are Shandilya Samhita, Vishnu Samhita
Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Vishnu Tatwa Samhita, Sudarshana Samhita and Prakasha Samhita.
There are more than 200 such works in existence and Madhwacharya was perhaps the first Madhwa seer to quote extensively from them.
The Pancharatras are important for both Vaishnavas and Srivaishnavas as they contain a lot of information about Vishnu and the practice of the Vaishnava faith.
The Uttaradhi Matha says that “the dictates of the Pancharatra literature are followed in most South Indian Vaishnava temples”.
Some of the Pancharatra Agama texts known are: Shandilya Samhita, Vishnu Samhita, Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Vishnu Tatwva Samhita, Sudarshana Samhita and Prakasha Samhita.
The philosophy of the Pancharatras are beautifully expounded in the Jayakhya Samhita. Thus. The Agamas can be called as practical texts of Vishnu worship.
In general, the Pancharatra school of though and philosophy believes Hari manifests himself in or through five different forms. They are Para, Vyuha, Vaibhava, Antaratma and archa.

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