Vaikhanasas or Smarta

"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 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.

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).

Headquarters / Main Centre
Tirupati, the famous Hindu pilgrimage centre in Andhra Pradesh, India.

 Vaikanasa srivaishnava

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Fri Jul 06 2001 - 17:00:29 PDT
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suderson writes:
> adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan.
> anantha pranAmama to all bhAgavathAs.
> I am told that vaikanasa srivaishnava do not undergo
> panchasamskara. The archakas in tirumala also belong
> to to the same sect / cult.
> Can some one through more light about the vaikanasa
> srivaishnava sampradaya. Is it different from
> emberumanar darisanam?
> dasan
> Suderson

Dear Suderson,

You are correct -- vaikhAnasa vaishnavas are not formally affiliated with the tradition of Ramanuja.  They also do not follow the pAncarAtra Agama which dictate the ritual of samASrayaNam or panca-samskAra.  As their name indicates, they follow the vaikhAnasa Agama, which is a different set of Vaishnava ritual texts. The vaikhAnasa Vaishnavas trace their guru-paramparA to Vikhanas Muni. In fact, in the place of 'SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH' which is characteristic of all Sri Vaishnava correspondence, they typically write 'SrImate vikhano munaye namaH' (or some variant).  Their doctrines claim origin from Atri, Bhrigu, Kasyapa, and Marici, four rishis who according to their texts were taught directly by Vikhanas Muni, an incarnation of Vishnu. The vaikhAnasa Vaishnavas are strictly hereditary -- one must be born (or adopted) into a vaikhAnasa family to be considered a vaikhAnasa Vaishnava.
As you are aware, the pAncarAtric rite of panca-samskAra establishes a formal link between the initiate and an acharya of the tradition of Ramanuja.  The vaikhanasas as stated above do not have such a ritual, and do not formally have a connection with Ramanuja.  However, while they are not branded with the insignia of Vishnu, they believe that Vishnu himself comes to the womb in the third month of pregnancy and brands the child with the sankha and cakra. This is known as 'garbha-samskAra' and is dictated once again by the vaikhAnasa texts.
The vaikhAnasa texts are overwhelmingly concerned with the details of temple ritual and largely do not contain philosophy. Most of the philosophical teachings are similar to the pAncarAtra, including a parallel five-fold manifestation of Vishnu.  They also have a notion of the 'nishkala' form of Vishnu -- the formless, primeval Vishnu which is perceived only by the highest of yogis and which is beyond even Brahma -- and the 'sakala' form, which is figured, divisible, and emanated. It is in this form that Vishnu responds to devotion and meditation. There is also 'sakala-nishkala' combination of the two, which is found in the sAlagrAma. (These details may also exist in some pAncarAtra texts).

People often confuse vaikhAnasas with Sri Vaishnavas because of their similar outward resemblance.  While the vaikhAnasasare strict vaishnavas, they do not revere the Alvars and they do not even follow Ramanuja's Sribhashya the same way we do. Many people also assume that the Tirumalai temple (Tiruvengadam) is a Sri Vaishnava shrine.  In fact, the shrine is a vaikhAnasa one with strong Sri Vaishnava association, but is not really a Sri Vaishnava shrine.
Due to the influence of Periya Tirumalai Nambi (uncle of Ramanuja), Ramanuja, Tirumalai Anandaan Pillai, the Sri Vaishnava influence increased over the years.  The shrine took a more pAncarAtric tilt (more festivals, recitation of Alvar paasurams, etc.) after the utsava mUrti of Lord Ranganatha took refuge along with the Srirangam priests in the 13th century. The cross-pollenation has led to the mixture of vaikhAnasa with Sri Vaishnava touches we have today.
Note that there are no shrines to the Alvars on Tirumalai beyond the dhvaja stambham, and even the shrine to Ramanuja is a rather late one. Apparently the vaikhAnasa Agamas do not permit the installation of idols of human beings inside their temples. The shrine to Ramanuja is a remarkable exception.

Tirumalai is the purest example of a vaikhAnasa temple we have today. There are many other vaikhAnasa temples in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, (Tiruvallikkeni, and Vaanamaamalai for example) but most of them have been significantly influenced by pAncarAtra practices due to the surrounding Sri Vaishnava community, so much so that the temples are virtually indistinguishable from pAncarAtra temples in style (the rituals may vary somewhat). In addition, many temples that were once vaikhAnasa were converted to pAncarAtra during Ramanuja's days, mostly because of a more liberal ritualistic attitude.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,

Agamas and the way of life
Dr. V. Varadachari, 1982. Agamas and South Indian Vaishnavism. Chapter X pages 407-426.