An introduction to Manipuri Vaishnavism

K Brajamani Sharma, Acharya Retd. Librarian
Manipur Vaishnavism is a sect in the Vaishnava cult of Hindu Sanatana Dharma, based on the Achintya Vedaveda Vada of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who gave stress on the practice of kirtana or singing of the Lord’s name, fame and plays, as a surest, safest and easiest method of having the union of the Supreme Lord.
The impact of Hinduism on Manipuri Society may be traced around 15th century during the reign of Kyamba Maharaja (1467–1508 AD) as per records on the worship of a Shalchakra (a form of the Lord in stone). However, it cannot be said that Hinduism had been followed by the king or the subject. There were some immigrant people from somewhere, particularly from mainland of present India, who practiced Hinduism and settled in the State. Hinduism had been voluntarily followed by the people during the period of King Charairongba (1697–1709 AD) and in the time of King Pamheiba alias Garibaniwaz (1709– 1748 AD), it became a State protected religion. However, the then society practiced Ramandi sect. It is said that the King was much fascinated with the model of Sri Rama, who neglected everything in the service of father and, none of his brothers stood against him for the sake of the throne and wealth. Actually, there were violence among the princes in almost all the kingdoms for power and wealth, during that time. Soon after Garibaniwaz, the Vaishnava cult became the choice of the people. It is during the time of Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1763–1798 AD) the present system, Manipuri Vaishnavism could have a concrete form and is practiced still.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu introduced His Achintya Vedaveda Vada (Unthinkable is the proposition that the individual soul is or is not different from the Cosmic Soul) on the philosophy of Vedanta. Everybody knows that Adiguru Shankaracharya’s theory that Brahma only exists, there is no universe and there is no difference between the individual soul and the Cosmic soul, and others like Madhavacharya denied the last proposition that Jeevabrahmeiva nãpara. In this matter, the monism and the dualism systems were a great topic of the different philosophers.
Many schools of thought were then preceded. However, the school of thought of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared as if a synthesis of the propositions, that is, monism and dualism. He has no written documents left except a gist of his theory under the style and title of “Sheeksha Astakam” having meaningful eight verses. Later, his close followers collected the notes (Karcha or Handbook) noted while he delivered during Sat-sangas, and with those notes, notable Goswamis like Sanatana, Rupa, Jeeva and others formulated the system of practicing in this school of thought and named as “Raganuga Bhakti”. The books which are mainly concerned with the system are Srimad Bhagavatta Purana, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Samhita, Geeta Govinda, Govinda Leelamrita, Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu, Ujjalanilamani and host of others.
Raganuga Bhakti
All the individual souls are subject to birth and death and enjoying pain and pleasure in each birth.
An individual soul can be free only when it reaches the nearness of Sri Krishna, the supreme Lord of the Universe, the only lord having not a second. There are several paths to him as described in the scriptures, but in this Iron age, only devotional approach is the shortest way. There are Vedic systems of devotion which prescribed various mantras to utter, varieties of articles to be offered and auspicious time to do etc. and others known as Parapujah, in which the Lord is in the body itself, everything done by the body as a procedure of worship etc. These are alright, but according to the followers of Chaintanya’s philosophy, they are not perfectly done by any devotee for there are disturbances from all angles. The Raganuga suggests that the best way towards Sri Krishna is to love him without any reserve. It can be done by anybody, because there is none who does not know love.
There are five kinds of love which need devotion and dedication. Devotion without dedication is meaningless. Shanta (Peaceful), Dasya (as if a servant), Sakhya (as if a friend), Vatsalya (Motherly affection) and Shringar (erotic sentiment) are regarded as different forms of love between two persons. The love of Sri Krishna by Bhisma of Mahabharata is peaceful style, that of Hanuman to Lord Rama is an example of dasya, that of Arjuna with Sri Krishna is of Sakhya, that of Yasoda to Sri Krishna is Vatsalya and of Radha in particular and Gopis of Vrindavana in general, is of Shringar. The Raganuga System tries to follow that of Radhaji through the company of Gouranga Mahaprabhu, in a very simple was but a compelete mental concentration.
Among the five types of love, the last one has the greatest intensity. We have three things – body, mind and wealth (tana, mana, dhana). These three things can be deliberately offered to the loved one without the least reserve, only in the Shringar. To surrender without reserve to Him is the last advice of Sri Krishna to Arjuna in the Gita (XVIII, 66 – Sarvadharman...). Two bodies in one soul, even for a little time, is Samadhi of Yoga, Siddhi of Bhakti, and can be had only when the devotee approaches to the Lord in Shringar Rasa, the erotic sentiment in love.
The steps in Raganuga
There are eight steps to be practised in Raganuga. The devotee has to identify himself as a Servant of Lord Chaitanya, and in this stage he is given a name related to the Lord with the word Dasa (servant) by the competent Guru. He or she identifying himself/herself as a servant of the Lord has to follow the activities of other devotees, should spend in serving the Lord at his/her capacity, attending Sat-sangas, chanting the mantra given by Guru and following the advice of the Guru. After the practice is completed, as considered by the Guru, he/she having given a Dasa nama (a name with the suffix Dasa/servant) is again given another name which is called Manjari (a name among maids of Vrindavana, affiliated or related closely to a prominent Lady, which is enumerated as eight in number) in accordance with that of the practitioner’s name, which the Guru has to decide. After getting the second stage, the practitioner has to identify himself/herself as a maid attending the time bound services to the Lord with His Consort, through the leader Lady.
The eight ladies are Lalita, Vishakha, Chitra, Champakalata, Tungavidya, Indurekha, Rangadevi and Sudevi. They are supposed to stay on the eight directions, from north to the north-west, in a clock-wise direction in a circle; Radha-Krishna is supposed to stay at the centre. The whole day is divided into eight parts and has given a name and regarded special play of the Lord at each time. In an approximate calculation (as sunrise and sunset change daily and prominently in the summer and winter seasons), the time from 4 am to 6.24 am is called pratah (sunrise period), during which the Lord helps Nanda in milching the cows etc., the next from 6.24 am to 8.48 am. The Lord goes to the forest with the cows, the next 8.48 am. to 11.12 am. The Lord plays with the cowherds, the next 11.12 am. to 4 pm. The Lord meets Radharani in the forest, as the maids try to meet Him in the pretext of fetching water and others, then the Lord comes back from the forest with the cows and cowherds.
Here ends the plays during the day. Similarly, from 4 pm to 6.24 pm the Lord plays with the elders, relating the day events or having simple pleasures with the elders. The next time having 2 hours and 48 minutes, the Lord retires, then, the next time having 4 hours and 48 minutes, the Lord goes to the forest and dances with the maids in the forest, and takes a rest for a while. Then, He returns to the house and takes rest. The process of Lord’s daily play as shortly referred to above are to attend mentally by the practitioner, though he/she may rest somewhere. This is raganuga bhakti, a system of devotion through passion to the Lord.
By mentally attending the different plays in the eight scheduled times, the practitioner can feel eight different mental stages which are called as Rati, (passion), Prem (love), Sneh (affection), Pranaya (fondness), Raga (attachment), Anuraga (inseparable attachment), Bhava (extreme love), and Mahabhava (absorption to the loved one). The last stage Siddhi (perfection) is the goal of the practitioner. This is salvation, the stage beyond the world, Samadhi of the Yogis, Bhouma of Jnanis.
Manipuri Vaishnavism
The above stated systems or method are more or less similar to other Vaishnava sects.
(To be contd)