Vaikhanasam is one of the principal traditions of
Hinduismand primarily worships Vishnu(and his associated avatars) as the Supreme God. The name "Vaikhanasas" stands for both the followers as well as the fundamental philosophy itself with the name derived from founder, Sage Vaikhanasa. It is principally monotheisticin its philosophy, whilst also incorporating elements which could be described as being panentheistic. Vaikhanansas principle focuses on rituals and worship of Lord Vishnu rather than the philosophy, unlike Vaishnavism, the larger and more prevalent form on Vishnu worship.
"Vaikhanasa agamam" is the guiding principle for rituals in Tirumala Venkateswara temple
The Vaikhanasas originated as a group of ascetics. In the Manava Dharmasastra, Manu discusses vanaprastha, forest-dweller, the third of the four asramas, stages of life, and mentions a "Vaikhanasa rule." Other ancient authorities support this reference, so it seems there was a Vaikhanasa ascetic community before the common era. They are also mentioned in the Narayaniya, which is a late section of the Mahabharata of uncertain date but probably no earlier than the third century CE. Surviving Vaikhanasa sutras are no older than the fourth century CE. Inscriptions from perhaps the eighth century CE identify Vaikhanasas as temple priests, and from the end of the tenth century they are prominently mentioned in South Indian inscriptions. Vaikhanasas were the priests of Vaishnava temples. They were not merely ritual priests, but were trusted with administering the temples and their lands. With the rise of the Shri Vaishnavas the Vaikhanasas declined in their temple role. Ramanuja, leader of the Shri Vaishnavas and the first organiser of temple administration at Srirangam Temple, replaced the Vaikhanasa system of worship with the more liberal Pancaratra system, expanded the fivefold division of temple servants into tenfold, and gave an important part in ritual to sudra, lowest caste, ascetics. This change spread to other Vaishnava temples. However, the Vaikhanasas continued to be important. Today Vaikhanasas are the chief priests in more than half of the Vaishnava temples in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and parts of Karnataka. Their present day temple activities are worthy of attention, as are their efforts to work for community integrity which is threatened by increasing social and technological changes.
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"The Vaikhanasa-sutra belonging to the Trivandrum Sanskrit Series has been edited by Dr. W. Caland and translated into English with a learned introduction. This sutra - text forms part of the Black Yajurveda tradition and derives its name probably from Vaikhanas who was its author. The work contains two types of Sutras — the Grhya and the Dharma which together may be designated as Smarta-sutra. There is no doubt that both the portions have definitely one author, since the style of the Grhya and Dharma-sutras is the same. Moreover, the author himself promises to continue a topic discussed in the Grhya- portion again in the books on Dharma. The work is on the whole a small one but it contains in the main the same materials as are treated by its predecessors." (Vaikhanasasmartasutram: The Domestic Rules and Sacred Laws of the Vaikhanasa School Belonging to the Black Yajurveda/translated into English by W. Caland.)
Vaikhanasas are a tiny brahman community of about 2,500 families widely dispersed in South India at Vaishnava temples in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and parts of Karnataka
Vaikhanasas claim to be a surviving school of Vedic ritual, the Taittiriya sakha of the Krishna Yajurveda. Vaikhanasa tradition says the sage Vikhanas, who was a manifestation of Brahma or Vishnu, composed the Vaikhanasa Kalpasutra and taught four disciples, Atri, Bhringu, Kasyapa, and Marici, the procedures of samurtarcana, devotional service to Vishnu in images. Most Vaikhanasa literature is almost completely concerned with ritual, prescribing the rituals and their rules of performance. To the Vaikhanasas their temple worship is a continuation of Vedic fire sacrifice. Regular and correct worship of Vishnu in a temple will bring the same results as the fire sacrifice even for people who do not maintain their fires. Jnana, knowledge, sections of Vaikhanasa texts are short and it is necessary to infer their doctrines from discussions in the texts on ritual. The Vaikhanasas evolved the theory of the five aspects of Vishnu: Vishnu, the all-pervading supreme deity; Purusa, the principle of life; Satya, the static aspect of deity; Acyuta, the immutable aspect; and Aniruddha, the irreducible aspect. The distinction is emphasised between Vishnu in his niskala presence, the unfigured primeval and indivisible form unperceived even by Brahma, and his sakala presence, the figured, divisible, emanated, and movable form. In his sakala presence he responds gracefully to devotional meditation. Shri is important as nature, prakriti, and as the power, shakti, of Vishnu. The Vaikhanasa doctrine states that moksha is release into Vishnu's heaven. The nature of a man's moksha is dependent on a devotee's service of japa, attentive repetition of prayer, huta, sacrifice, arcana, service to images, or dhyana, yogic meditation. Of the four the Marici Samhita says arcana is the realisation of all aims.
Temples and images with the Vaikhanasas are of more importance than perhaps any other sect of Hinduism. In accordance with Vaikhanasa doctrine of the two forms of Vishnu, the niskala, the unfigured, and the sakala, the figured, two cult images are distinguished. There is the large immovable image representing Vishnu's niskala form, which is ritually placed in a sanctuary and elaborately consecrated, and a smaller movable image representing Vishnu's sakala form. If the devotee wishes for temporal and eternal results he should worship both forms. But if he is after only eternal results he should worship the immovable image.
After purification and meditation to identify with Vishnu, the devotee surrenders to Vishnu and places the movable image on a bathing pedestal and elaborately bathes it. This is preparation for receiving the presence of God by immediate contact via a connecting string. The invocation starts with a mantra, sacred utterance, saying that the Imperishable is linked to the Perishable and that the Self is released from all evil as it knows God. Flowers are presented to all the deities present. Then the hymn called the Atmasukta is recited that identifies the body of the devotee with the cosmos, followed by meditation on Vishnu's niskala aspect: these parts of the ritual are to request Vishnu to take his sakala form in the movable image so that the devotee can converse with Him. A puja ceremony takes place with God as the royal guest, followed by a homa, offering into the fire, and a bali offering with something that may be visible, touchable, audible, or eatable. An offering of havis, cooked food, is important as the God's meal. Afterwards the food as prasada, holy food, is eaten by the worshippers. The offering area is cleaned and a bali of cooked rice sprinkled with butter is offered to Vishnu. Then comes a circumambulation around the temple. After daksina, the officiating brahman's share of the sacrifice, is given, Vishnu is meditated upon as the personal manifestation of the sacrifice. Finally puspanjali, a handful of flowers, is offered to the image and the temple door is closed.
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