From the Jacket
Visnuism has given rise to two very important schools of ritual and philosophy, namely Vaikhanasa and Pancaratra. Isvarasamhita is an important text of the Pancaratra school of Visnuism.
Whereas Vaikhanasa is relatively archaic in character and leans more upon the Vedic tradition for its repertoire of Mantras used in religious rites and ceremonies, the Pancaratra is more liberal and open in its approach. It has a text tradition going back to some two thousand years - which has also been the main source of the Visistadvaita philosophy of Ramanuja (11th - 12th c.). In most of the Vaisnava temples in South India, especially in Tamilnadu, worship in conducted in accordance with the prescription of the one of the important Pancaratra Samhitas.
Isvarasamhita is an important text of the Pancaratra school and is followed meticulously for conduction of daily Puja ceremony and performances of various religious festivals in the Narayanasvami temple of Melkote. It can safely be dated to 8th - 9th Century at least on the basis of its reference in the Agama Pramanya of Shri Yamunacarya. It is supposed to be a simpler and smaller version of the older Sattvata-samhita of this school which is the earliest available work of Pancaratra and is considered as one of three ratnas, (jewels), along with Pauskara-and Jaya-samhitas. In 25 long Adhyayas the Isvarasamhita describes in great detail the rites, rituals and ceremonies taking place (or ought to take place) in a Vaisnava temple.
Palmleaf Manuscript of the Isvarasamhita were procured mainly from the Narayanasvami temple of Melkote for the sake of authenticity. We have also appended to the text the gloss of Alasimha Bhatta (early 19thc.) which shall be helpful in comprehending certain difficult or sectarian expressions. The English translation on the opposite (right) page has been provided for the facility of the modern scholars working on Philosophy, Ritual and Iconography of Visnuism.
A proper understanding of ritual is obviously indispensable for the study of Art.
About the Author
Prof. V. Varadachari (1914-2003) was a great doyen of Indological studies having command over a number of disciplines of Sanskrit learning, especially its grammar, literature, the Visistadvaita philosophy and Vaisnava Agamas. He attracted the attention of Sanskrit scholar and students alike by his very first voluminous work, A History of Sanskrit Literature (1952) which is still the most informative reference work on this subject. His Sanskrit Self-teacher (1966) also became quite famous and served young students and lovers of Sanskrit very well. In the later part of his life, he was attracted more and more towards the works of the Acaryas of Visistadvaita and the Pancaratra literature. In 1982 came out his Agama and South Indian Vaisnavism, later works on Vedantadesika (1983) and Yamunacarya (1984), and finally his valuable Introduction to the philosophy of Laksmitantra in English and Sanskrit (1966). He has been associated with the French Institute of Indology, Pondicherry for a long time and has also prepared a Descriptive Catalogue of its manuscripts (1986).
Prof. Gaya Charan Tripathi, recipient of the President’s Certificate of Honour, was born at Agra in 1939 in a family of traditional Sanskrit scholars; studied at Agra, Moradabad, Pune, Varanasi, Freiburg; M.A. Sanskrit, Agra 1959; Ph. D. on Vedic deities, Agra 1962; German Academic Exchange Service Fellow to the University of Freiburg 1962-66; Dr. Phil. Freiburg 1966; D. Litt. In Ancient Indian History, Allahabad 1986.
Taught at the Universities of Freiburg (twice), Aligarh, Udaipur; Principal, G.N. Jha Research Institute (Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapitha), Allahabad 1977-2001; visiting Professor to the Universities of Heidelberg, Tubingen (twice), British Columbia of Vancouver (twice), Berlin, Leipzig. Presently Professor at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Head of its Kalakosha Division.
Publications: 20 books and 90 research articles in Hindi, Sanskrit, English and German. Fields of specialization: Vedic studies, Puranic literature, Agama, Sahitya and Manuscriptology.
We are very happy to present before our learned readers as well as practitioners of Vaisnava rituals the critically edited text along with an annotative Sanskrit gloss and English translation of the Isvarasamhita, one of the foremost works of the Pancaratra Agama which is still followed in practice in a number of Vaisnava temples in South India, especially in Melkote. It is one of the most authoritative texts of the aisnava Agama and is supposed to be based on an earlier Pancaratra text called Sattvata-samhita.
The valuable gloss on it was composed by Alasimha Bhatta in the early part of the 19th Century and is very helpful in understanding the difficult portions of the text which can be comprehended only with the help of a deep knowledge of the tradition received directly from the Guru.
The text of the Isvarasamhita has been critically edited by Shri Lakshmi Tathacharya, who also did the English translation. The scholarly Introduction is from the pen of late Dr. V. Varadachari, a great authority on Pancaratra who also revised the translation. However, the ‘Introduction’ was his last work and he left it incomplete in many respects. It was in fact, his first draft. The fate did not allow him time enough to revise it and to prepare a fair copy of it. In this preliminary sort of draft, many quotations in the text as well as footnotes were either totally missing or were incomplete. The language was also loose at many places. We have tried our best to fill up these gaps and to copy-edit the text as far as possible.
The followers of Pancaratra School hold three Samhitas in high esteem, call them as Ratnatraya (‘three gems’) and consider them as seminal texts. They are Sattvata-samhita, Pauskara-samhita and Jayakhya (or Jaya) - samhita. According to scholars they were composed between the 2nd and the 5th centuries C.E. Of these three, the Sattvata is the oldest followed by Pauskara and thereafter Jaya which has been demonstrated to have been composed around 450 C.E. on the basis of the forms (to be precise: the Tantric nomenclature) of the Sanskrit letters described in it. The Isvarasamhita is said to be based on the first one of these (i.e. Sattvata) and is considered to be an elaboration of its contents in 25 chapters in a clearer and more comprehensible form. The Sattvata Samhita is probably a work of Kashmir composed around 2nd - 3rd Century, whereas, the Isvarasamhita, appears to have been composed in the 8th Century. It is quoted by name by Yamunacarya in his Agamapramanya, hence its antiquity is beyond doubt.
The Isvarasamhita closely follows the procedure of the Arcana (worship of Visnuite deities), Utsava (annual and periodical festivals of the temple) and Diksavidhi (initiation ceremony of new entrants into Pancaratra system) etc. as described in the Sattvata-samhita but does not elaborate much on the philosophy of the Pancaratra. Its focus is more on the practical aspect of the ritual rather than on its theoretical background. The procedure of the temple ritual as described in the Isvarasamhita is closely followed by the priests in the temple of Narayanasvami at Melkote (‘yadugiri’) in Karnataka and it is from this very temple that we have received most of our manuscripts. Further, this Samhita contains a special chapter on the glorification (mahatmya) of the Ksetra of Yadugiri, i.e. Melkote, which points towards its close association with its religious complex. Alasimhabhatta also lived in Melkote and was certainly associated with the religious activities of the temple in some way or the other because he seems to have had very deep knowledge of the actual ritual being performed in and at the temple. His commentary, (rather a gloss) named Sattvatarthaprakasika, is written not for the sake of scholars of Pancaratra in general, but for the sake of the priests and the functionaries of the temple. He therefore does not explain the text word by word but deals only with the difficult and not easily comprehensible words and expressions and often supplements the description of the text with his own remarks and observations.
The philosophy of Pancaratra has a long history. Its beginning can be traced in the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata. The ‘Bhagavatas’ find mention in the Buddhist and Jain texts going back to the centuries prior to the beginning of the Christian era. In the 2nd C.E. Heliodoros, a Greek Ambassador from North-West India donates a Garudastambha (a stone pillar with a Garuda on the top) to a prominent temple of Vasudeva at Vidisha and calls himself a ‘bhagavata’. With this term are meant those who worship an absolute personal God (bhagavat) identical with Visnu. Devotion towards Visnu achieved great upsurge during the time of Alwaras (4th-8th C.E.) and Yamunacarya, vigorously established its authenticity and importance against the onslaughts of the Vedic ritualists in his scholarly work Agamapramanya. He describes Pancaratra as Kasmiragama, an Agama which owes its origin to Kashmir. The existence of the Vaisnavas and Pancaratra literature in Kashmir is supported by the work ‘Spandapradipika’ of Utpala-Vaisnava (850 C.E.) who quotes from a number of Pancatatra Samhitas.
It was Yamunacarya’s most scholarly and enthusiastic disciple Ramanuja (around 1050 to 1135 C.E.) who created a whole philosophical school, later known as Visistadvaita, out of the references contained in the earlier Pancaratra texts and laid it on a very solid foundation. He is also reported to have lived at Melkote for a long time where he supervised and rectified the procedure of the daily and periodical religious ceremonies of the Temple. It may be presumed that some of the accretions in our Isvara-samhita owe their origin to his views.
The origin of the word ‘Pancaratra’, and the rationale of its application to this system has not yet been satisfactorily explained though a number of explanations have been advanced. To me, the most convincing explanation appears to be the one which associates the word with ritual of the five-day sacrifice performed in honour of ‘Purusa-Narayana’ as mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana’ (126.96.36.199, 7.9). This ritual of worshipping Narayana as the highest personal God seems to be the nucleus out of which the whole system of the ceremonies of the daily and periodical Puja and festivals as well as the philosophy of the Pancaratra have evolved.
One of the oldest appellatives of the Pancaratra is Ekayana, mentioned in the Chandogya Upanisad (VII, 1.2, 4), a word which on the face of it appears to mean ‘one way’, ‘the only way’ [towards Moksa], i.e. to have single-minded devotion towards only one supreme personal God. The religious path that the adherents of Ekayana follow is known as Ekantidharma and since this Personal God is known as Bhagavat (‘the noble one’), his worshippers were known as Bhagavatas already in a very ancient period. This ‘Bhagavat’ (Supreme Personal God) was first identified with Visnu and later Krsna who was considered to be the perfect manifestation (=incarnation) of Bhagavat in human form (cf. krsnas tu bhagavan svayam, Visnu-Pur. I.8; cf. also the title ‘Bhagavad-gita’) so that the term ‘Vasudeva’ (son of Vasudeva) came to denote this highest Personal God. This identification must have taken place first in the Surasena region among the Vrsnis, Yadus and among the ‘Sattvatas’ (Krsna had a whole army of the Sattvatas, which he placed at the disposal of Duryodhana in the great war of Mahabharata) and the title of the earliest known Pancaratra work is also Sattvatasamhita of which the present Samhita is a later and simpler version. Panini (IV.3.98) refers to the followers of Vasudeva who according to him were known as Vasudevakas.
The Pancaratrins believe in the fivefold manifestation of the Supreme Consciousness. It is Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Antaryamim and Arca. Para is the highest and the transcendental form of the Supreme Being. Vyuha is a coherent group of four principles named after the family members of Krsna’ namely Vasudeva, Samkarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. These are associated with individual consciousness, intellect, mind (manas) and ahamkara respectively. Vibhavas are the various incarnations and manifestations of the Lord. Antaryamin is the form in which he is permeated through the whole universe and thereby regulates and governs it. Some take it to mean the individual soul as well. Arca means a worshipable image (also, the worship). For the followers of the Pancaratra Arca is not an inanimate piece of stone. They treat it as a living and sentient being, since life energy (pranah) has been infused into it through the ceremony of Pranapratistha. The endeavour towards Moksa for a Pancaratrin consists in the performance of selfless and desireless karmans, maintaining pious character and behaviour and in worshiping Vasudeva according to the prescribed procedure recommended in the Samhitas.
The similarity of Pancaratric principles with the names of the family of Krsna is striking. At the first sight it looks like as if the system is glorifying the clan of Krsna. But on closer examination and philosophical analysis it appears that Pradyumna - an incarnation of Kamadeva - is nothing but the creative faculty of the Supreme being, the will to create (sisrksa), task performed by Brahma-prajapati; Aniruddha (‘unobstructed’) is the unobstructed natural flow of creation, the function of sustenance which is discharged by Visnu; and Samkarsana (‘the one who draws together’) is none else but Siva of our religious system who is responsible for the final dissolution of the universe. Krsna-tattva is obviously the transcendental, abstract aspect of the supreme godhead, also known as Vasudeva (which can also mean the god (lord) of Effulgence).
The Pancaratra system of thought consists of four parts (padas, sections) which are known as Jnana, Kriya, Carya and Yoga). With Jnana is meant the philosophical structure of its belief system, with Kriya the canons and principles governing the construction of the icons of its deities and other religious as well as non-religious buildings. Carya is the detailed description of the ritual of daily Puja ceremony as well as of periodical festivals, whereas Yoga describes not only certain Yogic practices like Pranayama and dhyana etc. used in Puja ceremony but also the method of merging individual consciousness into the Supreme consciousness in the state of complete meditation (samadhi). The best description of all these four aspects of Pancaratra is found in the Padma-samhita, a simplified elaboration of the Jayakhya-samhita.
It may be observed that temple worship forms the centre of the practice of Pancaratrins. The image in the sanctum is not just an idol for them, as said above, but something living and endowed with Pranic force of the Deity. Worship of the deity in a temple serves the welfare of the whole community and society. It is not for the benefit of the self, i.e. of the priests, whereas worship of the person and family of the worshipper. It is strongly recommended in the system that a king should erect temples in his territory in order to bring peace and harmony in his kingdom. This was certainly one of the reasons why a number of such Agamic texts (Vaisnava, Saiva and Sakta) were composed almost all over India in different periods. The anonymous author of the Isvarasamhita had certainly this aspect also in his mind when he set out to compose the present text. The concept of temple worship serving the welfare of the community as a whole is old in India and it is already found in the Vedic texts (especially in the Brahmanas) where the performance of most of the major Yajnas is believed to further the cause of public peace and prosperity (cf., e.g. the prayer ‘a Brahman…’ at the end of Asvamedha sacrifice appearing in the Satapatha Brahmana XIII.1.9).
Isvarasamhita is one of the earliest texts that was assigned by the IGNCA to scholars for preparing a critical edition. We have taken too long to complete it and to bring it to light. As a Latin saying goes, every book has its own fate: habent libri fata sua. Let the Almighty for whose glorification it is composed, be pleased with all of us who have contributed their mite to make this text finally see the light of the day.
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