The Mutual Influences and Relationship of Visistadvaita Vedanta and Pancaratra

  • Datum: September 24 – 26, 2003
  • Ort: Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde, Seminarraum 1
  • AAKH,1090 Wien,Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2, Eingang 2.7
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  • Organisation: Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Kooperation: Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde (University of Vienna)



The figure of the great theologian Rāmānuja, who, together with Yamuna, represents the beginning of the school in the tradition’s consciousness and who, in a different way than the latter, is of central importance, conceals perhaps too easily the fact that in spite of its philosophic-scholastic aspect, which is clearly and distinctly formulated by the school’s Sanskrit tradition, in its essential character the Rāmānuja school has become a religious tradition (i.e., religion). As such, it was not “founded” by Rāmānuja, although the religious tradition becomes fully evident only after Rāmānuja’s lifetime and assumes a concrete form as the Srivaisnavas.

Without forestalling the problem, the process that has led to this phenomenon is very complex. In the first place, it is maintained by the Sanskrit tradition of the Rāmānuja school, which orients itself towards the Vedanta of the Brahmasutras and which is tangible in the works of Rāmānuja, Narayanarya, Meghanadarisuri, Vatsyavaradaguru and his disciple Sudarsanasuri. However, appearently there was also a Vaisnava tradition that was independent of this Vedanta oriented tradition. This can be deduced, for instance, from the influence of the bhakti theology and its spirituality of the saranagatih on the Pancaratra Samhitas. Further, the Jitante-Stotra and the spiritual hymn in Paramasamhita 30, 37-67, among others, may be assigned to this tradition. Beyond this, following Rāmānuja’s lifetime the Pancaratra, together with the spirituality of the Alvars, both of which gained in influence to an increasing extent, seems to have been decisive for the ritual piety of the school.

Despite some similarities to Abhinavagupta’s position in the Pratyabhijna school, Rāmānuja’s significance for the school is another. Although Rāmānuja followed a Vedantic tradition that understood the Absolute Brahma theistically to be Visnu-Narayana, and although this belief undoubtedly opened the tradition to a religious dimension, this tradition – which in a mystic sense is unquestionably a religious one– seems rather to remain rooted in the type of classical Indian system of salvation that serves the attainment of liberation as is still shown in Rāmānuja’s bhaktiyoga. Rāmānuja puts the ontological relationality of the Brahma into concrete philosophical terms by the introduction of an “ontological difference” between the eternal prakari and the eternal prakarah in the sense of a relation of the Brahma with the world and the human being. Only thereby does he lay the foundation for the adoption, speaking in historically concrete terms, of the Pancaratra with the full dimension of a religious tradition (revelation, ritual, worship of cult-images, etc.) through the theistic Vedanta, which thereby becomes a religious tradition in the full sense of the word and does not remain merely a system of salvation that is close to mysticism.

Generalising, one could perhaps therefore say that fundamentally new religious traditions always develop only in a continuum of religious experience within a contamination between religious tradition and ontic thinking, in religious words, mysticism, or they concretise through communication with other religious traditions, through studying them, through adoption and integration, as well as through rejection and differentiation. In any case, they do not seem to arise from mere philosophical intellectual efforts of human beings.

As already mentioned, several other traditions were involved in the development of the Srivaisnavas’ tradition, a fact which is still explicitly referred to today. These traditions themselves were not independent of each other, but rather mutually influenced one another greatly. The manner of this mutual influence and concrete evidence of it, and the cooperation of the traditions that has led to the formation of the Srivaisnavas’ tradition has until now almost not been investigated.

The planned symposium should be devoted to this theme. An essential point should be the historical development of the Srivaisnavas through adoption, integration of and differentiation from other traditions. The enquiries should be limited to the period ending with Veṅkaṭanātha’s lifetime.


MARZENNA CZERNIAK-DROZDZOWICZ teaches at the Institute of Oriental Philology at Jagiellonian University, Cracow. Her present field of research is the Pancaratra tradition. She has published Jatakarman – Indian Ceremony of Birth (Cracow 1998) and several articles on the teachings and rituals of the Paramasamhita of the Pancaratra tradition.

D. DENNIS HUDSON is Professor Emeritus of World Religions at the Department of Religion of Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. His research interests focus on the Tamil-speaking peoples of South Asia from their earliest appearance to the present. At present, he is completing a study of the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram. His most recent publication is Protestant origins in India: Tamil Evangelical Christians, 1706-1835 (Grand Rapids 2000).

HALINA MARLEWICZ is a lecturer at the Institute of Oriental Philology at Jagiellonian University, Cracow. She has written her Ph.D. thesis on the exegesis of revelatory proclamations in Vedanta with special reference to Vatsya Varadaguru and his critics of the Advaita Vedanta method. She has published Polish translations of selected hymns from the Rgveda and the Atharvaveda, as well as articles on Sanskrit poetics and Vedanta exegesis.

PATRICIA Y. MUMME teaches at the Ohio State University, Newark, and at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio. Her research focuses on the Srivaisnava tradition. Her most important publications are the translation of The Mumuksuppati of Pillai Lokacarya with Manavalamamuni’’s commentary (Bombay 1987) and the study The Srivaisnava Theological Dispute: Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika (Madras 1988).

GERHARD OBERHAMMER is Professor Emeritus of Indology of the University of Vienna. His research interests focus on schools of Indian philosophy such as Nyaya, Yoga and the Vedanta traditions as well as hermeneutics of religion. His most important publications with regard to the theme of this symposium are the Materialien zur Geschichte der Rāmānuja-Schule (Vienna 1979-2002) of which six volumes have appeared to date.

SRILATA RAMAN MÜLLER is a Lecturer/Researcher at the Department of Classical Indology of the University of Heidelberg and head of the sub-project “The Temple Rituals of Kanchipuram” in the Heidelberg Special Research Area Studies Project “Ritual-Dynamics”. Her research focuses on South Indian religious traditions such as Srivaisnavism and the teachings of the Saivite saint Ramalinka Svamikal. Her Ph.D. thesis is entitled Prapatti: The Origins of the Schismatic Dispute in Srivaisnavism and is forthcoming.

MARION RASTELLI is a research fellow at the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. Her research focuses on the teachings and ritual of Pancaratra. Her most important publication is Philosophisch-theologische Grundanschauungen der Jayakhyasamhita. Mit einer Darstellung des täglichen Rituals (Vienna 1999).

ALEXIS SANDERSON is Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics of the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. His fields of research are the history and literatures of the Saiva traditions in India and Southeast Asia and their impact on Buddhism and other religions after A.D. 600. He has published several important articles on the Saiva traditions as for example Meaning in Tantric Ritual (in: Essais sur le rituel III, Louvain-Paris 1995).

MARCUS SCHMÜCKER is a research fellow at the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. His research interests focus on Advaita Vedanta and Visistadvaita Vedanta as well as their mutual relations. His most important publication is „Weder als seiend noch als nichtseiend bestimmbar“. Vimuktatmans Lehre von der „Realität“ der Welt (Vienna 2001).

KATHERINE YOUNG is James McGill Professor of Hinduism in the Faculty of Religious Studies of McGill University, Montreal. Her research is focused on the areas of History of Religions, South India, Women and Religion, as well as Comparative Ethics. She has published several articles on Srivaisnavism among others, and edited several volumes including Hindu ethics: purity, abortion, and euthanasia (together with Harold G. Coward and Julius J. Lipner, Albany 1989) and Feminism and World Religions (together with Arvind Sharma, Albany 1998).