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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,
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.
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.
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.
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 (Welbon in Eliade 1987, Vol. 15, 165-6).
5. Headquarters / Main Centre
Tirupati, the famous Hindu pilgrimage centre in Andhra Pradesh, India.