vaishnava or vaishnavam (Sanskrit: vaiṣṇava), which is the vriddhi form of Vishnu meaning "relating, belonging, or sacred to Vishnu" or "a worshiper or follower of Vishnu".


The system of Hindu beliefs and practices that honor Vishnu/Krishna as Supreme God; probably the most widely followed kind of Hinduism. Bhakti yoga is the primary practice of this religion, the final reward of which is eternal communion with God.

The most famous of this god's many names are Vishnu, Narayana, Hari, Bhagavan, Krishna, and Rama; hence the usage Vishnu/Krishna. Vaishnavism's ancient name, Bhagavata ("followers of the Blessed Lord, i. e. , Bhagavan"), may clarify its beginnings, for it makes a connection with the movement's two most important literary works: the Bhagavad Gita (first put in print ca. 150 BC) and the Bhagavata Purana (Shrimad Bhagavatam, ca. 850-900).

Though the tradition began earlier, two things became clear by about 200 BC: the Bhagavatas related to their god, Krishna, by devotion and accepted the Vedas and Upanishads, the scriptures of Brahmanic Hindu religion. In this process the Brahmanic deities Vishnu and Narayana became identified with Bhagavan Krishna. Thereafter, Krishna has been viewed as an incarnation (avatara) of the Supreme God Vishnu (by South Indian Vaishnavas), and Vishnu has been viewed as a subordinate form of the Supreme God Krishna (by North Indian Vaishnavas).

The Bhagavad Gita is the earliest full statement of the Bhagavata synthesis. Krishna teaches a path of salvation: desire-free performance of one's born duty should be combined with the meditative wisdom of the Upanishads, suffused by and culminating in loving devotion to Krishna.

The Four Vaishnava Sampradayas

Within traditional Vaishnavam there are four main sampradaya (disciplic lineages), each of which traces its roots back to a specific Vedic personality. The four sampradayas follow subtly different philosophical systems regarding the relationship between the jiva (Self) and Vishnu (Supreme), although the majority of other core beliefs are identical.

  • Rudra-Sampradaya

Philosophy: Shuddhadvaita ("pure nondualism"), espoused by Vishnuswami and Vallabhacharya.

  • Brahma-Sampradaya

Philosophy: dvaita-advaita ("dualism"), espoused by Madhvacharya, and Achintya Bheda Abheda ("inconceivable oneness and difference"), espoused by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (see Gaudiya Vaishnava).

  • Lakshmi-Sampradaya

Philosophy: Vishishtadvaita ("qualified nondualism"), espoused by Ramanujacharya.

  • Kumara-Sampradaya

Philosophy: Dvaitadvaita ("duality in unity"), espoused by espoused by Nimbarka.

Other Branches

  • The Ramanandi movement, begun by Ramananda.
  • Mahapuruxiya Dharma, espoused by Sankardeva.

Gaudiya Vaishnava

The Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of the tradition has significantly increased the awareness of Vaishnavam on an international basis over the past fifty years, largely through the activities and geographical expansion of the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON).


With the help of Alvars, a set of twelve people who with their devotional hymns spread the sect to the common people, Vaishnavism flourished in South India. Some of the prominent Alvars are:

  1. Poigai Alvar
  2. Bhoothathalvar
  3. Peyalvar
  4. Thirumalisai Alvar
  5. Madhurakavi Alvar
  6. Nammalvar
  7. Periyalvar
  8. Andal
  9. Kulasekara Alvar
  10. Thondaradippodi Alvar
  11. Thiruppaana Alvar
  12. Thirumangai Alvar

Vaishnavam is still particularly commonplace throughout South India as a result of the Alvars, especially in Tamil Nadu. The temples which the Alvars visited or founded are now known as Divya Desams. Their poems in praise of Vishnu in Tamil language are collectively known as Naalayira (Divya Prabandha).

In later years Vaishnava practices increased in popularity due to the influence of sages like Ramanuja, Vedantha Desikar, Surdas, Tulsidas, Tyagaraja, etc…

Vaishnava tilak

The different Vaishnava sampradayas each have their own distinctive style of Tilak which depict the siddhanta of their particular lineage:

In the Vallabha, Rudra-sampradaya the tilak worn is generally a single vertical red line. This line represents Yamuna devi. The form of Krishna worshiped in the Vallabha line is Sri Nathji or Govardhana. The consort of the Govardhana hill is the river Yamuna. Their process of surrender goes through Yamuna devi.

The Madhva sampradaya mark two vertical lines representing Krishna's 'lotus feet'. In between a vertical black line is made from the daily coal of the yajna-kunda (fire sacrifice). In their sampradaya, the process of worship involves 'nitya-homa', or daily fire sacrifices to Narayana or Krishna. The remnant coal of the puja (worship) is used each day to mark the forehead. Underneath the black line, a yellow or red dot is added to indicate either Lakshmi or Radharani. Those who did not perform daily fire sacrifice wear the simple two line tilak only.

In the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya the tilak is usually made out of mud from Vrindavan. The main tilak is basically identical to the Madhva tilak. The slight difference arose due to the emphasis on the chanting (japa and kirtan) in the Gaudiya tradition. In Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's line, chanting is given as the essential devotional (bhakti) activity to be performed in Kali yuga in preference to fire sacrifices. As such, the black line made from the ash of the fire sacrifice is not included. The second difference arose due to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's process of approaching Krishna. In the Gaudiya line devotees do not approach Radha and Krishna directly, but always indirectly through their servant. To indicate this, the red dot representing Radha is replaced with a tulsi leaf offered at the base of Krishna's feet. In Gaudiya belief only through the mercy of Tulsi Devi (or another pure devotee) can pure devotion to Radha & Krishna or Krishna & Balarama be awakened.

Members of the Sri Vaishnava tradition form tilak with two lines representing the feet of Narayana, with a red line in the middle which representing Lakshmidevi. Because the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya begins with Lakshmi, and because they approach Narayana through Lakshmi, their tilak reflects this process of surrender. A variant to this is found within the Ramanandi sect, begun by Ramananda, who wear a similar tilak design but in reference to Sita and Rama (whom their devotion is focused upon) rather than Lakshmi and Narayana.

In Nimbarka Sampradaya, the tilak is made of Gopi-Chandana (the clay from Gopi Kunda lake in Dwarka, Gujarat), as described in the Vasudeva Upanishad. It starts at the bridge of the nose and continues as two vertical lines to the top of the forehead. This is said to represent the temple of God. Within these lines, between the eyebrows is a black dot, made from the slate found in Barsana, Uttar Pradesh, the sacred birthplace of Radha. This is said to represent God as Radha and Krishna together. This tilak personifies the tenets of the Sampradaya, that God is Radha and Krishna together, none else. It is supposed to have been first given to Nimbarka at the time of his initiation to the Sage, Narada. The tilak is first given to an initiate by their guru at the time of initiation, and after this, daily the devotee will remember his guru before he adorns the tilaka on his head.

Vaishnava Upanishads

Of the 108 Upanishads of the Muktika, 13 are considered Vaishnava Upanishads. They are listed with their associated Veda (SV, ŚYV, KYV, AV):

  1. Nṛsiṃhatāpanī (AV)
  2. Mahānārāyaṇa (AV)
  3. Rāmarahasya (AV)
  4. Rāmatāpaṇi (AV)
  5. Vāsudeva (SV)
  6. Avyakta (SV)
  7. Tārasāra (SYV)
  8. Gopālatāpani (AV)
  9. Kṛṣṇa (AV)
  10. Hayagrīva (AV)
  11. Dattātreya (AV)
  12. Gāruḍa (AV)
  13. Kali-Saṇṭāraṇa (Kali) (KYV)



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