The below mentioned article provides an essay on bhagvatism.
Jainism could never be a religion of the majority of the Indian people and Buddhism after having attained its ascendancy over the whole of India for once, practically vanished from it. It is only the Vedic religion which has remained the most popular religion in India till today, though, of course, with various changes from time to time and with a more popular name, viz., Hinduism.
And, it is the Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism which has contributed most in transforming the Vedic religion and giving it the meaning and the shape in which we find it at present and what we call Hinduism. Of course, Saivism has also participated in this transformation but Saivism is not opposed to Bhagavatism. Rather, it supplements it. and now both are integral parts of Hinduism.
Modern Hinduism still accepts the Vedic religious texts i.e., the Vedas, the Upanishads etc. as the sources of all their philosophies, and spiritual and religious ideas. But, the knowledge of these texts has remained confined only to a tiny minority of the Hindus. The religion which is practised practically by all Hindus in their daily life is, in reality, somewhat different.
The faith in the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, theory of incarnations of God. attainment of salvation or Nirvana by bhakti i.e., intense love and devotion leading to complete surrender of self to the personal God, image-worship and chanting of prayers etc. which constitute the major part of the religious life of a modern Hindu, whether he be a Brahmana or a Sudra are the results of the religious movements and ideas which had their origin in this age.
The religious ideas and practices which grew up during this time were matured by the age of the Guptas and found their permanent place in Hinduism. Of course, religious scholars and preachers like Kumaril Bhatt who preached Dualism and Shankaracharya who preached Monism tried to revive the Karma (action) and Gyana (knowledge) marg respectively to attain Nirvana but their efforts brought little results.
Further impetus to these ideas was provided by Saints of Bhakti cult during the medieval age and they became so deep-rooted that even social and religious reformers of the nineteenth century like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand and Vivekanand, although they succeeded in reviving the supremacy of the Vedas and Hindu spiritualism, failed to bring about any significant change in the accepted Hindu Bhakti path of life. Thus modern Hinduism is largely the result of religious ideas which grew up during this age; and, Bhagavatism and Saivism, in turn, participated in the formation of these ideas.
Bhagavatism regards Vishnu as the supreme God. He is the creator of the Universe, reigns in Vaikuntha and rests in the primeval ocean on the thousand- headed snake Sesanaga. The colour of his skin is dark blue and he has four arms. His wife is Laksmi who is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. He rides the great eagle Garuda.
Brahma who created the world was born in the lotus-flower which grew from the navel of Vishnu in his sleep. The same way, all other gods have been created and are dependent on Vishnu. Therefore, Vishnu is the Param- Brahma, the Parmatma, Narayana or Hari and therefore, worship and bhakti of Vishnu is the most essential religious duty of an individual.
Vishnu was recognised as an aspect of the Sun in the Rigveda and was accepted as the greatest God by at least one section of the people during the later Vedic age. But the idea of bhakti or worship to him was not prevalent at that time.
Actually, the idea of bhakti or personal devotion to God which is primary to Bhagavatism started with the Upanishad’s idea of Upasana or worship. Dr Bhandarkar expressed this view and Dr R.C. Mazumdar also says,”Bhagavatism owed its origin to the stream of thought which began with the Upanishad’.” Later on, Bhagvatism was made popular by Vasudeva-Krislina.
The age of Vasudeva-Krishna has not been determined with certainty. The popular legend regards him as the hero of the Mahabharta. The Chhandogya Upanishad seems to point to a date in the 6th or 7th century B.C. The Jain tradition supports its view. The Ashatadhyayi of Panini of 5th century B.C. refers to the cult of bhakti to Vasudeva. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes, at the court of Chandra Gupta Maurya, described that the worship of Vasudeva was popular in the region of Mathura in the 4th century B.C.
The inscription on the Besnagar column indicates that by the end of the 2nd century B.C., the cult of Vasudeva was receiving the support of the ruling classes and even of the western invaders. Thus, though the age of Krishna has not been fixed, yet it is certain that Bhagavatism, which was made popular by him and he himself was regarded as its primary God and incarnation of Vishnu, had become a popular creed in northwest India as far back as the 4th century B.C. Later on, it spread all over India
The most popular religious treatise of Bhagavatism is the Bhagavad Gita or simply called the Gita. It is now the most popular and respected religious text of the Hindus. It can not be definitely dated but generally it is believed to be of the first or the second century B.C. The Gita presents the most harmonious blend of three paths of salvation or Nirvana, viz., through Gyan (knowledge), Karma (action) and Bhakti (devotion) and declares. “All roads to moksha (salvation) lead but unto Me.”
Gyan is the realisation by an individual that every soul is a part of the Parmatma (Universal Soul), every person has a soul, soul never dies, no body can touch or kill a soul, soul has neither friends, enemies or relations and soul neither feels pleasure nor pain. If an individual does not realise this then he or she is ignorant and can not attain salvation. According to the Gita, Agyana (ignorance) is more a spiritual blindness than an intellectual weakness which can be removed by Karma-yoga.
But the gyan-marg which directs an individual to the meditation of the Absolute is a difficult process. Therefore, the Gita suggests Karma marg as an easier alternative. An individual should be Karma-Yogin to attain Nirvana i.e., he or she should perform his or her social duties or obligations according to Dharma. But, at the same time, they should not expect any result of their Karma.
Karma (action) should be an end in itself and not the means to achieve the result. The Gita points out that Karma by itself is no bondage but to expect result of the Karma is the greatest bondage and the root of all evils. The Gita does not advise an individual to leave Karma and become a Sannyasi (ascetic) but suggest him to destroy the attachment with the results or fruits of Karma.
To remain detached from the result of one’s own action is the real and the best Sannyas for an individual. According to the Gita, actually it is not the individual who acts or does Karma but he or she is simply a means in the hands of God to perform Karma.
Thus, when one does not act by one’s own-self, he or she should not aspire for its results also. To regard oneself as the doer of actions and aspiring for their results is may a or prakriti (delusion) which is the greatest obstruction in the attainment of salvation by an individual.
But, detachment from the results of the Karma could make an individual indifferent to the Karma was realisd by the Gita. Therefore, it pointed out clearly the duties of a karma-yogin and explained the necessity of performing the Karma. The social aim of a karma- yogin is to contribute his or her share to the improvement of the society in which he or she lives and his or her personal aim is to attain salvation.
A karma-yogin should believe that his or her every action is rewarded by God and takes him or her nearer to Him. Thus, his or her every action is service to God which leads him or her to savation. Therefore he or she should engage in karmas but should not have any attachment with the results of his or her karmas. The Gita gave a novel interpretation to the practice of sacrifices. According to it, the greatest sacrifice is to sacrifice the worldly pleasures, i.e., attitude of detachment to them all.
Therefore, Bhagavatism does not believe in animal sacrifices or any other sort of sacrifice. However, according to the Gita, the easiest path to attain salvation by an individual is Bhakti or passionate devotion to God. An individual should pursue both karma-marg and Bhakti-marg because while karma is necessary for the development of soul, Bhakti is necessary for the attainment of salvation. The Gita has accepted the doctrines of the transmigration of soul and incarnations (avataras) of God.
It preaches that God gives next life to an individual according to one’s karmas or actions in this life; and it also says that God has taken birth in this world many times. Krishna said. “Whenever dharma (piety) wavers and adharm (unrighteousness) spreads in the world, I take birth.” Thus the Gita presents the best blending of the three paths of Hinduism to attain salvation by an individual.
Besides, it leads an individual not only towards his or her own salvation but is conducive to an all round progress of the society. The Vedic-age Aryans desired both material and spiritual progress of their lives and no better attempt has been made to achieve this by any religious text other than the Gita and probably, this is the best reason of its popularity all over India.
The cult of Krishna-bhakti and the Gita contributed most to the popularity of Bhagavata sect. However, certain other things were also included in it which gradually gave it the shape of prevalent modern Hinduism. The old Brahmanic faith accepted Bhagavatism as one of its own sects and Krishna as one of the incarnations of Vedic-god Vishnu.
The chief incarnations of Vishnu were accepted as ten, viz., the Matsava (Fish), the Kurma (Tortoise), the Varaha (Bear), the Narasimha (Man-Lion), the Varnana (Dwarf), the Parasurama (Rama with the Axe), Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, Krishna, the hero of the Mahabharat, Buddha, the founder of Buddhism and Kalkin, the incarnation yet to come.
All of them became idols of worship by the Hindus. Besides, Brahma and Siva were also accepted as principal gods and the concept of Trinity-god or three faces of the same Universal God also became widespread. Probably, image- worship in Hinduism first started with the worship of Vishnu.
Then followed the worship of Brahma and Siva and other lesser gods and goddesses, viz., Surya (Sun), Indra, Varuna, Yarna, Kubera, Vayu (Wind-god), Ganesa, Hanuman (Monkey-god), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and fortune), Saraswati (goddess of learning and wife of Brahma), Parvati or Kali (wife of Siva) etc. Besides, some animals like snake and cow, plants like Pipal and Tulsi, mountains like Himalayas, rocks called Salagrama and rivers like the Ganges and the Yamuna also became objects of worship and different places became places of pilgrimage for the Hindus.
All of them cannot be regarded as gods and goddesses of Bhagavata sect but there is no doubt that the cult of Bhakti propounded by Bhagavatism was primarily responsible for making them objects of worship. A modern Hindu worships all or a few of them.
Thus, Bhagavatism has influenced most the religion which we now call Hinduism and is primarily responsible for its spirit of toleration and making popular the cult of bhakti and. thus, provide the strongest bond of unity to it. The practice of non-violence among the Hindus is also because of the influence of Bhagavatism.
Certain scholars have expressed the view that Bhagavatism was influenced by Christianity. But the view has not been accepted by the majority of the scholars. It is argued that Bhagavatism grew and became popular much earlier than the Christian religion came into existence. However, they accept that Bhagavatism was influenced by Jainism and Buddhism.
The acceptance of the creed of non-violence and the theory of incarnations in Bhagavatism are definitely there because of these two contemporary religions. The same way, Bhagavatism also influenced Jainism and Buddhism. The Jains accepted Krishna and his brother Balaram among sixty three great persons of their sect and the worship of the feet of Buddha in Buddhism probably began because of the influence of the worship of the feets of Vishnu in Bhagavatism.