Bhagavatism and Krishna Cult (Bhakti Cult) – Origin

Bhagavatism and Krishna Cult (Bhakti Cult)

Introduction: In the sixth century B.C. Bhagavatism or Krishnaism  flourished side by side with Buddhism and Jainism.

Bhagavatism or Krishnaism is a religious creed in Hinduism. The followers of the creed are devoted towards Lord Krishna. Bhagavatism is a branch of Vaishnavism, where the devotees worships the various avatars of Lord Vishnu.

Traces of Bhakti Cult in the Vedas and the Upanishads: In the Rigveda there is some reference to Lord Vishnu. In the Later Vedic literature Vishnu is associated with Vedic Yajnas or sacrifices. Probably a separate religious sect in the name of Vishnu did not grow in the Vedic Age. Vishnu was still considered as one of the Vedic and Brahmanical gods.

Then how did the cult of Bhakti or devotion for Vishnu develop? Bhandarkar has suggested that the origin of the Bhakti cult can be traced in the Upanishads where it is said that salvation will come by pure devotion and not by worship or Yajna. In the post-Vedic Age there was a tendency of compromise between Brahmanism and pre-Aryan religious belief. Perhaps Bhakti cult was a legacy of pre-Aryan religious belief.

Origin of Bhagavatism: The origin of Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism has been sought in the Upanishadic period because in the ‘Chandogya Upanishad’ Krishna is described as a disciple of the sage Ghora. The teachings which Ghora imparted to Krishna had much relevance to the teachings of the Bhagabat Gita which Lord Krishna expounded to Arjuna. The Krishna of ‘Chandogya Upanishad’ is also described as son of mother Devaki, as Krishna is described in tradition as Devaki Putra. The Chandogya Upanishad’s hymn therefore testifies that Krishna was a human being, who was a disciple of Ghora. Later on Krishna was deified.

Vasudeva Krishna: In the ‘Mahabharata’ and the ‘Puranas’, Vasudeva Krishna is described as the chief of the Vrishni clan and Krishna was deified. He was worshipped by the Vrishni clan and also by the Pandavas. Scholars have pointed out that Vasudeva Krishna was a hero. His hero cult and his other virtues led to his deification. The ‘Astadhyayi’ of Panini which belonged to the fifth century B.C. referred to the Bhagavata sect and the devotees of Vasudeva i.e. Vasudevaka. Panini mentions clear deification of Vasudeva.

Bhakti replaced Yagna: The Krishna cult was suitable for agrarian society of post-Vedic Age. In the Vedic and Brahmanical religion large number of oxen and horses were sacrificed in a Yajna. It caused hardship to peasants. The worship of different gods involved the house holders with great expenses. In Krishna worship Bhakti or devotion replaced Yajna and Puja. Krishna was a protector of cattle and legends grew about his pastoral life. Krishna’s elder brother Balarama represented the culture of tilling land and his symbol was plough. This had great appeal to agrarian culture of common house-holders.

Chatur Vyuhas: Bhagavatism under-went some transformation with rise of the doctrine of four Vyuhas (Chatur Vyuhas). Four heroes of Vrishni clan were deified—they were regarded as parts of Vasudeva. They were Sankarshana, Vasudeva Krishna, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. Vaishnavism could adopt local religious beliefs and rites due to the doctrine of four Vyuhas. It is believed by many scholars that the doctrine of Vyuhas originated from the Brahma Sutra. But many others have expressed doubt about the theory. The reference to the doctrine of Vyuhas can be found in Bhagavatism in the Second century B.C. Perhaps three other heroes of Vrishni clan were deified apart from Vasudeva and this led to the rise of the doctrine of Vyuhas. The Guosundi inscription of Chitore in Rajputana and the Nan Ghat inscription only refer to Samkarsana and Vasudeva. This indicates that the evolution of four Vyuhas was gradual.

The Doctrines of Bhagavata Gita: The philosophy of Bhagavata religion or Bhagavatism is best propounded in the Bhagavata Gita.

The main philosophical ideas of the creed were preached through the Bhagavata Gita. It said that salvation or Moksha could be attained by observance of three distinct paths, viz.., Jnana (Knowledge), Karma (Action) and Bhakti (Devotion).

The first path is a difficult one. The second path, viz., Karma-Yoga prescribed a golden- mean between Pravritti (desire) and Nivritti (withdrawal). The Karma­-yogin surrenders to God the fruit of whatever work he does. He serves God by his work.

The third path viz., Bhakti-Yoga, the path of devotion or the “emotional attachment to God” is the royal road to Mokkha or salvation. A man can get rid of the effects of Karma (Law of the deed done) by Bhakti­ Yoga. His God will save him from distress, for his faith in Him.

The Bhagavata Gita also preached toleration to all creeds. It upheld the theory that “All roads to Mokkha lead up to Him”. The identification of Vishnu Vasudeva Krishna with Narayana, a “deified sage” of the Vedic period further strengthened the Bhagavatism.