Vaishnavism (also known as Vishnuism) is one of the largest sects in Modern-day Hinduism, like the name suggests, this form of Hinduism is defined by a devotion to Lord Vishnu and his many avatars. A disciple of Lord Vishnu is commonly called a Vaishnava. This sect also includes sub-sects known as Krishnaism and Ramaism, who believe the sole supreme power is Krishna and Rama respectively. The birth of Vaishnavism is an ambiguous topic, but it is widely suspected that it is an amalgamation of multiple regional non-Vedic traditions that revere Vishnu. The devout love for Vishnu displayed by the Vaishnavas led to the South Asian Bhakti movement. It comprises four categories: the Vishishtadvaita school of Ramanuja, the Dvaita school of Madhvacharya, the Dvaitadvaita school of Nimbarkacharya and the Pushtimarg school of Vallabhacharya. The key scriptures of Vaishnavism include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Pancaratra, Naalayira Divya Prabhandam and the Bhagavata Purana.
For the devotees of Vaishnavism, they believe that absolute reality manifested in Vishnu, and he is then incarnated in the form of Krishna, Rama and his other avatars. Using his many avatars, he upholds traditional righteousness and in turn, preserves the moral law of Dharma. The most popular avatars of Vishnu are Rama and Krishna. Rama is frequently portrayed in Hindu art and literature along with his wife, Sita. Krishna reveals his true identity to his warrior friend, Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita and is often depicted as in his youth, with the companionship of Radha.
The devotees of Vishnu have different ways of expressing their devotion through prayer. For certain people the aim of religious devotion (bhakti) to Vishnu is the freedom from the cycle of birth and death. For the rest, it is representative of health and prosperity in their current life. Most Vaishnavas’ end goal is to find eternity in the presence of Vishnu.
Among the Vaishnavas, there are numerous sects and groups that have different understandings of the relationship between an individual and God. According to the Sri Vaishnava sect who follow the Vishishtadavita treatise, the world as we perceive it to be bound by human understanding (phenomenal world) is an illusion and merely a means of finding the path to gain a connection with God. The Dvaita school believes that the soul and the divine are independent bodies, however the existence of the soul is directly dependent on divine power. The Pushtimarg sect believe that the phenomenal world is not an illusion, a complete opposite of the Sri Vaishnava sect.
Q1. Is Vaishnavism practised only in India?
No, over the years, knowledge about Vaishnavism has travelled across hemispheres spreading to North America, Europe, Africa, Russia and South America.
Q2. Is Vaishnavism monotheistic?
Yes, Vaishnavism is rooted in the belief that there is only one God. While Vishnu manifests in many forms, he is a supreme, transcendent being that assumes these different personas, thus although he has many avatars, devotees still follow only one God.
Q3. How does one become a Vaishnava?
There is no inculcation process, one becomes a Vaishnava if they simply believe in Vishnu. When you choose to follow Vishnu and accept him as the one true spiritual power, you
automatically become a Vaishnava.
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