Vaishnavism is one of the key traditions followed by Hindus, with the others being Shaivism, Shakthism, and Smartism. Hindus who practise this faith are referred to as Vaishnavites or Vaishnavas as they consider Lord Vishnu as their deity. Apart from worshipping Lord Vishnu in his actual form, they also pay their respects to his avatars, mainly, Krishna and Rama.
While they pray to the lord every day, his followers consider Thursday as the day dedicated to him. On Thursdays, ardent devotees dress in yellow and offer prasad in yellow such as bananas, or a yellow flower such as parijata.
Let’s get some insights into this faith and how it is practised.
Vaishnavism is represented by several sub-sects with each sub-sect having its own leader and unique way of relating to the god. For example, the sect founded by Ramanuja believes that soul and body are two distinct entities. According to his principles, the body is obliged to serve the soul and in turn it is the duty of the soul to serve Lord Vishnu. His philosophy is referred to as Sri Vaishnavism by his followers.
Then there is the philosophy adhered to by the sect that follows the norms of Madhva. It is called Sad Vaishnavism. According to him, the best way to bond with or serve the lord is to protect the helpless, uplift the needy, donate to the deserving and show mercy on the helpless. He also stressed on the fact that the body and soul are two distinct identities.
Two other sects that adopt Vaishnavism are the Pushtimargas that follow the pure nondualism or shuddhadvaita doctrine formulated by Vallabhacharya and the Gaudiyas initiated by Chaitanya that stresses on inconceivable oneness and differences.
Most Vaishnavites wear a ‘V’ mark with a red vertical stroke at the centre on the forehead. Some of them also have the same mark on their forearms. The ‘V’ is usually drawn in white. This mark represents the feet of Lord Vishnu and indicates complete submission to the Almighty.
There are a few variations to this mark. Although the symbol continues to be a ‘V’, the way it is represented differs among the various Vaishnavite sub-sects across the country.
Mantras and Religious Texts
While some mantras are dedicated exclusively to either just Vishnu or his avatars, some of them are dedicated to both. Om Namo Narayanaya is one of the most popular mantras recited in honour of Vishnu. On the other hand, the Dwadasakshari mantra chanted as Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya is dedicated to both Vishnu and his avatar, Krishna. This is said to be the most significant mantra in Vaishnavism.
Hare Rama Hare Krishna is yet another mantra chanted by the lord’s devotees. This mantra is said as a tribute to two of the lord’s avatars—Rama and Krishna.
Vaishnavites also follow several religious texts associated with their faith. The Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads are two texts that are well-known and still widely read today.
The origin of Vaishnavism does not date back to as old as Shaivism. However, over years, it has gained just as much significance and the number of people following this tradition has also increased. There are several temples across the country built in dedication to Lord Vishnu and his avatars. The Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Tiruchirapalli, in south India, is believed to be the largest temple in the country dedicated to Vishnu. The Badrinath temple in Uttarkhand (north India) and the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala (south India) are two other shrines that Vaishnavas never miss a chance going to seek the blessings of their beloved deity.
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