The Four Vyuhas of Vishnu

This article is part 17 of 20 in the series Puranas

The Four Vyuhas of Vishnu

The mention of the Four Vyuhas occurs in the pāñcarātra āgama. The Paramatman has four Avataras namely, vyūha, vibhava, arcāvatāra, antaryāmī. In the vyūha Avatara, there are four types namely, vāsudeva, saṃkarṣaṇa, pradyumna, and Aniruddha. This is the reason for the moniker of Four Vyuhas. Vyuha means Murti. Accordingly, the Trigunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are respectively referred to as vaikārika, taijasa, and bhūtādi. This terminology is used in the Bhagavatam in the same sense.

vaikārikastaijasaśca tāmasaścetyahaṃ trivṛt || (11.24.7)

Likewise, mention is also made of the Four Vyuhas:

namaste vāsudevāya namaḥ saṃkarṣaṇāya ca। pradyumnāyāniruddhāya tubhyaṃ bhagavate namaḥ || (11.5.29)

The terms, sātvata and bhagavata appearing in the pāñcarātra āgama are also liberally used in the Bhagavatam. The Vishnupurana also recognizes the Four Vyuhas:

Om namo vāsudevāya namaḥ saṃkarṣaṇāya ca।
Pradyumnāya namastubhyamaniruddhāya te namaḥ || (5.18.58)

In all these places, the Four Vyuhas indicate the different forms and aspects of the Paramatman. There is no differentiation among all these Murtis.

While the original pāñcarātra āgama comprises 250 Samhitas, only 13 are currently extant. In the Lakshmi Tantra available to us now, saṃkarṣaṇa’s jiva emanates from vāsudeva. From saṃkarṣaṇa’s jiva emanates that of Pradyumna (signifying the Mind). From Pradyumna’s jiva emanates Aniruddha (signifying the Ego). The āhirbudhnya Samhita makes no distinction between the Four Vyuhas. Both the Vishnupurana and the Bhagavatam accept this non-distinction.

In his śārīrakamīmāsa, Sri Sankaracharya has criticized the conception of the Four Vyuhas (Brahmasutra 2.2.42 – 45). It must be clearly understood that this criticism is directed at the Four Vyuhas which makes distinctions. It is not directed at the Four Vyuhas as described in the Vishnupurana and the Bhagavatam. The pāñcarātra āgama is available in a scattered fashion and its hypothesis does not have a fundamental unity to it. The jiva is born from the Paramatman; the Mind is born from jiva; Ego is born from the Mind. Thus, Adi Sankara says that these conceptions are not backed by evidence and are full of errors and therefore, are not consonant with the Vedic philosophy. Further, Lakshmi Tantra and similar Samhitas expound the Four Vyuhas which are based upon duality. Besides, although some terms occurring in the pāñcarātra āgama do occur in the Bhagavatam, it does not describe their underlying philosophy nor does it mention anything about the method of Sādhana.

The Bhagavatam clearly embraces the philosophical course elucidated by the Bhagavad Gita. In reality, the secret of the Four Vyuhas has been indicated in the Bhagavatam itself. In the wakeful state, the world itself is known as saṃkarṣaṇa. In the dream state, Pradyumna manifests as light (Tejas). Pure Knowledge in the state of deep sleep (Sushupti), is known as Aniruddha. Vāsudeva is the Witness to all these Three States (Avastha). See: 12.11.21 and 22.

Vishnu is the Most Exalted

The Bhagavatam says that every human must worship Vishnu for his own auspice. It is indisputable that this work propounds the all-encompassing glory of Vishnu. It is for this reason that all Vaishnavas—irrespective of sects—regard the Bhagavatam with utmost reverence and consider it their foundational text. However, the Bhagavatam avers that worshipping the Sattva-Murti Vishnu brings joy and auspice. It does not assign the highest place to him from an attitude of creating divisions among the Trimurtis.

sattvaṁ rajas tama iti prakṛter guṇās tair
yuktaḥ paraḥ puruṣa eka ihāsya dhatte |
sthity-ādaye hari-viriñci-hareti saṁjñāḥ
śreyāṁsi tatra khalu sattva-tanor nṛṇāṁ syuḥ (1.2.23)

The Paramatman is indirectly associated with the three gunas, namely virtue, activity and ignorance, and just for the material world's creation, maintenance and destruction, He accepts the three qualitative forms of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. Of these three, all human beings can derive the ultimate benefit from Viṣṇu, the highest form of Sattva.

The One Paramatman assumes different names and forms for the purpose of Creation and other activity. One may refer to the following verses:

1.    ādāvabhūt (11.4.5)

2.    na te mayyacyuteje ca (12.10.22)

3.    “Me (Vishnu), Brahma and Shiva are the fundamental cause for this Creation. I assume the form of Maya which is imbued with Gunas, and I create and protect and dissolve. According to my actions, I assume different names. The ignorant person, from his divisive mindset, sees distinctions in the non-dual Brahman as manifested in the Five Elements and as Brahma and Rudra.” (4.7.50 – 53)

4.    namo jagatsthānalayodayeṣu
gṛhītamāyāguṇavigrahāya | (4.30.32)

5.    dhatte yadā svadṛg bhūman
brahmāviṣṇu śivābhidhāṃ (8.7.23)        

When the Rishi Markandeya, the great devotee of Vishnu, was in a state of Samadhi, Shiva appeared in his heart through Yoga. Then, when Markandeya emerged from his Samadhi, Shiva appeared before him in his physical form as well. At that point, Markandeya eulogises Shiva as follows:

namaḥ śivāya śāntāya satvāya pramruḍāya ca |
rajośuṣepyaghorāya namastubhyaṃ tamojuṣe ||     

It is notable that in this sloka Shiva is praised as an exalted or special form of the three gunas. When Shiva speaks to this Rishi, he says, “the three of us, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva are those who grant Moksha. People endowed with True Knowledge (Jnani) do not see distinctions among me, Achyuta (Vishnu) and Brahma.” After this, Markandeya says, “Swamin, You have created this universe by your mind and then You have yourself entered it. You are the embodiment of the Trigunas as well as their director. You are second to none. You are the Guru and the Parabrahman. I bow down to you.” (12.10)

Shiva was not invited to the Yajna of Daksha, which is why even Brahma and Vishnu did not attend it. Daksha who condemned Shiva and Bhrugu Maharshi, Vishnu’s Bhakta but imprecator of Shiva, were both punished by the pramathagaa-s (Chapter 7, Section 4.2).

Those who create artificial divisions between Shiva and Vishnu and condemn them respectively might perhaps learn some lessons from such episodes.

It is true that the Trimurtis are manifested forms. However, the formless Parabrahman is their fundamental and real nature.

The Bhagavatam extolls Vishnu’s manifested form complete with the conch and discus. However, in various instances, it also clearly describes his un-manifested nature. Although both the manifested and un-manifested descriptions occur in a mixed form, we must have the clarity to separate them to gain a fuller understanding. This is because the Bhagavatam clearly elucidates the underlying philosophical tenets of the real nature of the Trimurtis.

guṇamayyā svaśaktyāsya sargasthityapyayān vibho |
dhatte yadā svadṛgbhūman brahmāviṣṇuśivābhidhāṃ || 1 ||      

O Almighty, O All-Encompassing, you are the Self-evident Knowledge. When you are involved in performing various acts of natural dissolution, you assume the names of Brahma and Vishnu through your own strength, which is imbued with Gunas.

jyotiḥ paraṃ yatra rajastamaśca |
satvaṃ na, yad brahma nirastabhedaṃ || 2 ||

O Swamin, the real nature of your Divine Light is unknowable even to Brahma, Vishnu and Indra. It is scattered. It does not have the Gunas of Rajas, Tamas and Sattva. (This occurs in the hymn to Shiva. Skanda 8, Chapter 7, Verse 23. The fifteen verses starting with this describe the nature of Parabrahman.)

To be continued

 

Author(s)

About:

Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...