Puṣṭimārga Saṁpradāya | Pushtimarg


1. Puṣṭimārga

Puṣṭimārga (lit. "the Path of Nourishing, Flourishing"), also known as Puṣṭimārga Saṁpradāya or Vallabha Saṁpradāya, is a sub-tradition of Vaiṣṇavism (Hinduism).

It was founded in early 16th-century by Vallabhācharya (1479–1531) and is focussed on Kṛṣṇa.

A bhakti (devotional) school, Puṣṭi Mārga was expanded by the descendants of Vallabhācharya, particularly Gosain-ji:

Its values are derived from and its universal-love-themed devotional practices centre around the legendary amorous plays of youthful Kṛṣṇa, such as those found in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and those related to Mount Govardhana.

Puṣṭimārga Saṁpradāya recognizes Kṛṣṇa by many names and epithets, such as:

- Śrī Nāthajī, Śrī Navanitpriyaji, Śrī Madanamohan-ji, Śrī Mathureś-ji, Śrī Gokul Nāthajī, Śrī Viṭṭhalanātha-ji and Śrī Dvārakādhīś-ji.

The Puṣṭimārga sub-tradition subscribes to the Śuddhādvaita Vedānta teachings of Vallabhācharya, one that shares certain ideas with Advaita Vedanta, Viśiṣṭādvaita and Dvaita Vedanta.

According to this philosophy, Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Being, the source of everything that exists; human soul is imbued with Kṛṣṇa's divine light and spiritual liberation results from Kṛṣṇa's grace.

The school rejects ascetic lifestyle, and cherishes householder lifestyle wherein the followers see themselves as participants and companions of Kṛṣṇa and their daily life as an on-going Rāsa Līla of his creation.

Śrī Vallabhācharya (1478 AD-1530 AD), the founder and promoter of Puṣṭimārga, is credited for inspiring Kṛṣṇa-bhakti poetry in Hindi literature:

A group of 8 poets, the most renowned of whom were the blind devotee-poet Sūrdās, were initiated by him in Puṣṭimārga tradition and wrote a very important devotional literature in a language of simple folk.

Gosvāmī Biṭṭhalanāth established a congregation of famous devout poets of 'Aṣṭachāpa Kavi' with 4 of his father Vallabha’s 84 disciples and 4 of his 252 disciples around year 1602.

4 of these 8 devout poets were disciples of Vallabhācharya -

1. Kumbhāṇḍas
2. Sūrdās
3. Paramānanda Dās
4. Kṛṣṇadās

The other 4 Gosvāmīs were the disciples of Biṭṭhalanāth -

5. Govindasvāmī
6. Nandadās
7. Chītasvāmī
8. Caturbhujadās

Its followers – called Puṣṭimārgas – are generally found in Northern and Western India, particularly in and around Rajasthan, as well as its regional diaspora around the world.

The Śrīnāthajī Temple in Nathdwara – north of Udaipur – is their main shrine, which traces its origin in 1669, when the sub-tradition lived in fear and felt persecuted by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. This Puṣṭimārga temple is one of the wealthiest and more elaborate shrines of Kṛṣṇa in India.

2. Founder

Vallabhācharya was born into a Telugu Brahmin family in South India, to a mother whose own father was a priest in the royal court of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Vallabha's family fled Varanasi after they received rumours of an imminent Islamic attack on the city, then spent the early years with baby Vallabha hiding in the forests of Chhattisgarh.

Vallabha had a conventional education in the Vedic literature and other Hindu texts:

He worked in the temples of the Vijayanagara court, and then embarked on a years-long pilgrimage to the major sacred sites of Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent.

He met scholars of Advaita Vedanta of Ādi Śaṅkara, Viśiṣṭādvaita of Rāmānuja, Dvaita Vedanta of Madhvācārya as well as his contemporary Chaitanya Mahāprabhu of Bengal.

His visit to Vrindāvan in the north persuaded him to accept and dedicate himself to the bhakti of Kṛṣṇa and writing his philosophical premises in Sanskrit and a few in the Brāj language.

His devotional mantra "Śrī Kṛṣṇa Śaraṇaṃ Mama" (Śrī Kṛṣṇa is my refuge) became the initiatory mantra of Puṣṭimārga.

The term Puṣṭi to Vallabha implied "spiritual nourishment", a metaphor for Kṛṣṇa's grace.

Vallabhācharya has been a major scholar of the Bhakti tradition of Hinduism, as a devotional movement that emphasizes love and grace of God as an end in itself.

3. Beliefs

1. Puṣṭi Mārga - Because the Lord is accessible only through His own Grace. The Lord cannot be attained by a given formula - He is attainable only if He wants to be attained!

2. Rudra Saṁpradāya - Because Śrī Vallabha's father was initiated in that Saṁpradāya as the knowledge in this line was first given to Rudra i.e. Lord Śiva.

3. Śuddhā-Advaita - Pure Monism wherein entire universe is the manifestation of Brahman:

This philosophy depends only on "Brahman" for explaining creation of the universe and it is not dependent upon concept of "Māyā". Hence, it is "Śuddhā".

Brahman is true, the universe (being Brahman's own creation) is also true, Soul (Jīva) is a part (aṁśa) of the Brahman. Hence, it is "Advaita".

4. Brahmā Vāda - Brahman is the source and cause of all that is in the Universe:

Uniquely, this is the only philosophy that states, categorically, that everything, absolutely everything, is perfect just the way it is. Everything is imbibed with the Spirit of the Lord and as the Lord is eternally perfect, everything is perfect!

4. Philosophy

1. It is based on the Vedānta philosophy of:

a. "Ekmevadwitiyam Brahmā" (the ultimate Truth is one & only one Brahmā) and
b. "Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahmā" (whatever is there, is Brahmā).

2. The 4 fundamental Scriptures are:

a. Vedas,
b. Brahmā Sūtras,
c. Bhagavad Gītā and
d. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam

3. The Ultimate Reality to which Vedas & Brahmā Sūtras refer as Brahmā, Gītā refers as Paramātmā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam refers as Bhagavān are all essentially ONE.

4. This philosophy is called as "Sākāra Brahma vāda" or "Śuddhādvaita Brahma vāda ", which is the fundamental doctrine of Mahāprabhu Śrī Vallabhācharya.

5. The path to be followed to attain the ultimate blissfulness based on this principle is called as Puṣṭimārga.

6. The same Bhagavān is to be lovingly served in the form of Deity as Śrī Kṛṣṇa who is "Saccidānanda Puruṣottama Param Brah".

7. It (Puṣṭimārga) is spontaneous, selfless and motiveless love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
8. It is based on pure love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
9. It is expressed only through Selfless Service of Śrī Kṛṣṇa - "Seva".
10. It is love after realising Śrī Kṛṣṇa's True Nature.
11. The knowledge gained is not a means of Liberation.
12. Liberation is considered secondary to the Enjoyment of Śrī Kṛṣṇa's Bliss.
13. Its aim is Śrī Kṛṣṇa's happiness.
14. No caste, creed, colour, sex or age prevents one from attaining Śrī Kṛṣṇa's Grace.
15. It does not know any boundaries, be it time, place, or anything else.

16. It does not require a devotee to give up a householder's life. In fact, one can serve Him better by being a householder. This is different from other philosophies that require a life of contemplation as a monk.

17. All worldly desires are diverted towards Śrī Kṛṣṇa; they are then not required to be suppressed.

18. The world is not looked down upon but is treated as Śrī Kṛṣṇa's creation, and thus as real as Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself.

19. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Deity; all the other deities reside in his form. Therefore, total faith is placed in Śrī Kṛṣṇa alone.

20. In the state of liberation, the entity of the devotee merges into Śrī Kṛṣṇa's blissful form.

However, in Bhakti (especially Puṣṭi bhakti), the devotee does not seek Liberation: he enjoys Śrī Kṛṣṇa's bliss by participating in it as a separate divine entity.

5. Brahma saṁbandha

The formal initiation into Puṣṭimārga is called Brahma saṁbandha:

The absolute and exclusive rights to grant "Brahma saṁbandha" in the path of grace, in order to transform an Ordinary Jīva (soul) into a Puṣṭi "Jīva" lie only with the descendants of Vallabhācharya, known as Gosvāmī Balaks:

They are the actual and direct descendants of Vallabhācharya Mahāprabhu. Gosvāmīs are responsible for the "Puṣṭi"(literally means spiritual nourishment) of all the disciples initiated by them.

Brahma saṁbandha is a process, where after fasting for one full day (consuming fruits and milk only) one is given the Kṛṣṇa "Gādya Mantra" in front of a Deity "Svarūpa" by a Vallabha Kul Gosvāmī after which Tulasī leaves (Indian Basil) are offered to the lotus feet of the Lord.

The qualification to perform daily "Seva" comes only after one is initiated into Puṣṭimārga by means of formally granting Brahma saṁbandha by a Gosvāmī Balak.

Without Brahma saṁbandha one does not hold the right to perform Seva of a Puṣṭi Svarūpa (Deity) (the Svarūpa which showers grace just like it did on the Gopīs).

6. Icon worship

Kṛṣṇa is the chief deity of the tradition.

Śrī Yamunajī is worshiped as his 4th consort and is the Goddess who ordered Śrī Vallabhācharya to recite Śrīmad Bhāgavatam Purāṇa near her banks. It is for Śrī Yamunajī, Śrī Vallabhācharya composed Śrī Yamuna Aṣṭakam.

There are many Forms & Icons through which the Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s Grace is manifested in Puṣṭi Mārga tradition.

Very popular are icons portraying Śrī Kṛṣṇa as a small lovely child – like Śrīnāthajī of Govardhana Nāth – displaying a 7 years old Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who lifted the Govardhana Hill and Balā-Kṛṣṇa-ji – a Baby Kṛṣṇa, with a butter ball in his right hand

7. Devotional Worship in Puṣṭimārga

Seva (Devotional Worship) is a key element in Puṣṭi Mārga. All followers are expected to do Seva to their personal icon of Kṛṣṇa.

Some of the important aspects of Puṣṭimārga Seva are:

1. Rāga (playing and hearing traditional Haveli music)

2. Bhoga (offering pure vegetarian Sattva food that does not contain any meat or such vegetables as onion, garlic, cabbage, carrots, and a few others)

3. Vastra (decorating the deity with beautiful clothes)

4. Śrīngar (adorning the deity with jewellery)

All of the above 3 are included in the daily Seva (devotional service) which all followers of Puṣṭimārga offer to their Thakorji (personal Kṛṣṇa deity),

and all of them have been traditionally prescribed almost 500 years ago by Gosvāmī Śrī Viṭṭhalanāthaji (Gosainji, Vallabhācharya's 2nd son) .

The Rāga, Bhoga, Vastra and Śrīngar offerings vary daily according to the season, the date, and time of day, and this is the main reason why this path is so colourful and alive.

Seva is the most important way to attain Puṣṭi in Puṣṭimārga and has been prescribed by Vallabhācharya as the fundamental tenet. All principles and tenets of Śuddhādvaita Vaiṣṇavism stem out from here.

8. Pilgrimage

Baithak or Bethak, literally "seat", is the site considered sacred by the followers of the Puṣṭimārga for performing devotional rituals. These sites are spread across India and are chiefly concentrated in Brāj region in Uttar Pradesh and in western state of Gujarat.

Total 142 Baithaks are considered sacred; 84 of Vallabhācharya, 28 of his son Viṭṭhalanātha Gosainji and 30 of his seven grandsons. They mark public events in their lives. Some of them are restricted or foreboding.

9. Festivals

Puṣṭi Mārga is famous for its innumerable colourful festivals. Icons (mentioned above) are wonderfully dressed and bejewelled to suite the season and the mood of the festival.

All festivals are accompanied by a wonderful vegetarian feast which is offered to the deity and later distributed to the laity.

Most festivals mark:

1. An important event in the life of Śrī Kṛṣṇa

2. Celebrate the birth of one of Viṣṇu's main Avatārs (Rām Navamī, Nrushi Jayanti, Janmāṣṭamī (Kṛṣṇa), Vāmana Dwadashi)

3. Festivals marking the change of seasons
4. Auspicious occasion of installing an icon at a Haveli (past or present)
5. Birthdays of sect's leaders and their descendants

10. Seva

Seva is performed to treat the lord as your own child.
One who performs Seva must have a Brahma Saṁbandha and wear a Tulasī Kaṇtha.

To perform complete Seva, one must wake up prior to sunrise and bathe. After bathing, men must wear a dhoti bandi and women must wear a sari. A Tilāk or chandlo should be applied to the appropriate spaces.

All preparations for Maṅgala Darśana and Maṅgala Bhoga should be made before waking the Deity. Thakorji should be woken gently with claps.

Bhoga is then offered and Ārati is performed. Maṅgala Kīrtana should be sung while Bhoga (Prasādam) is offered.

For Śrīnagar Darśana, Thakorji is bathed and dressed in elegant clothing. Kīrtan is sung through the duration of this Darśana.

During Gwal, toys should be offered to Thakorji, and the Sevaka should play with the lord.

Preparations for Rajbhog should be made after Gwal Darśana closes. A lunch feast is prepared and offered. Kīrtan is sung during Bhoga. Thāl Ārati is performed.

Utthāpana is after Thakorji's nap, so it is a simple Darśana where Sūrdās's Kīrtan should be sung.

Bhoga is a Darśana consisting of just a small meal for Thakorji.

Ārati is a Darśana where a Mahā Ārati is performed for the lords well-being.

The final Darśana of the day is preparation for Thakorji to sleep. Steady Kīrtans are played to lower the mood in the Mandir.

11. Haveli Sangīta (Kīrtan)

Kīrtans are devotional hymns written by the Aṣṭa Śākhās for and about Śrīnāthajī.

The instruments played during Kīrtan include zanz, manjīrā (tāla), dholak, Pakhavaj, Mridangam, daff, tempura, vīnā, harmonium, tabla, etc.

12. Doctrine

The Works of Vallabhācharya are central to Puṣṭimārga:

He wrote commentaries on Sanskrit scriptures, the Brahma-Sūtras (Anubhāṣya), and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (Śrī Subodhinī).

Also, in order to help devotees on this path of devotion, he wrote 16 pieces in verse which we know as the Ṣoḍaśa Granthas. These came as answers to devotees. The verses define the practical theology of Puṣṭimārga.

The Ṣoḍaśa Granthas (doctrines) serve as a lighthouse for devotees:

They speak about increasing love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa through Seva (service) and Smaraṇa (remembering). These doctrines are Mahāprabhu’s way of encouraging and inspiring devotees on this path of grace.

The central message of the Ṣoḍaśa Granthas is Total Surrender to the Lord.

A Gosvāmī can initiate an eager soul to this path of Śrī Kṛṣṇa's loving devotion and service:

The verses explain the types of devotees, the way to surrender and the reward for Seva, as well as other practical instructions. The devotee is nurtured by the Lord's grace.