Vaishnavism, the tradition in Hinduism of worshipping a set of "gods" centering around Vishnu. The original religion of the Aryans when they entered India is generally denoted Vedism or Brahmanism (after Brahma, or the Brahmin caste), or Vedic Brahmanism. Vaishnavism is the only direct decendant of this religion. In the earliest Aryan texts we find Vishnu already rising to the status of the supreme Aryan god.

The origins of Vaishnavism lie deep in early Indo-Aryan history. "Aryan Vaishnavism" is the term given to the Vedic religion after the incorporation of the cults of Buddha and the Jains (though they later diverged away from Vaishnavism/Hinduism again). These were considered incarnations of Vishnu, and were soon absorbed into the mainstream Vaishnavite fold.

Vaishnavism was, with the exception of Shaivite dominated South India (Tamil Nadu), the most important religion of the Indian continent prior to the Islamic (moghul) conquest. Following these invasions, religion was opressed, and many temples were demolished, while heretical, and heterdox doctrines were enocurage. Many of these heretics supported the Islamist desutrction of Aryan temples, thus Shaivite-Dravidian Kannada warriors fought in the armies of Mahmud of Ghazni. While Aurangzeb demolished scores of Arya Vishnu temples, he gave large tracts of land to the Jains, and encouraged the emergence of Buddhism as a separate religious tradition.

Nowadays, Vaishnavism is especially widespread in Middle India (the Deccan), where three-quarters of the population are Vaishnavite, and in Hindustan, (Indian, north of the Deccan]), where one out of four is Vaishnavite. In Shaivite-dominated Dravidia, only 3% are Aryan Vaishnavite. Smaller communities of Vaishnavites exist throughout the world (e.g. in Mauritius, and certain parts of south-east Asia).

The Scriptures of Vaishnavism include the Vedas (including the Brahmanas and Upanishads), the smritis, the Dharmashatras, the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. See Hindu Scriptures for elaboration.

The practice of Vaishnavism includes elaborate deity worship, prayer (both personal [japa] and congregational [kirtana]), the offering of food, the studying of scripture, certain moral and ethical principles (in particular the doctrine of ahimsa, or nonviolence), and the belief in the infinite incarnations of Vishnu (q.v.)(*).

(*) Confirmed in the Puranas: Bhagavata Purana I.3, Agni Purana II-XVI, Varaha Purana XXXIX-XLVIII.

Vaish"na*vism (?), n.

The worship of Vishnu.


© Webster 1913.

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