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Chatur Vyuha – One Among Five States Of Srihari Vishnu

Chatur Vyuha is the second state of godhead according to Pancharatra Agama. The Agama expounds the Bhagavata religion of Vishnu worship and speaks of five states of Srihari Vishnu. The five states are – para, transcendent state pertaining to His abode called paramapada; vyuha, segmented or self-divided state pertaining to manifestations of the God of paramapada (Vaikuntha) for conducting specific cosmic activities; vibhava, state of incarnation on earth; antaryami, state of immanent presence as controller of all beings; and archa, state of presence of images of temples under worship.

Of these, the second, namely, the vyuha state is four fold, one having four successive projections of Srihari Vishnu. Each projection proceeds from the previous one of the Supreme One (called Paravasudeva residing in paramapada and having infinite projection) whose six attributes suggesting omnipotence and omniscience are notable. These are : jnana (knowledge), bala (might), aishwarya (power to realize one’s wish), virya (effective force), shakti (power) and tejas (luster).

The four vyuhas are named after Krishna, Balarama, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, in that order, the latter three being Krishna’s brother, son and grandson respectively. The vyuha are also considered to represent Paramatman, soul, mind and ego.

The four-fold projections of Paravasudeva also have in them implicitly all the perfection of the grand form. However, three of them specialize in a certain perfection, pursuant to the functions they perform. The four-fold projections and their respective functions are Vasudeva vyuha who has all the perfection of Paravasudeva in the paramapada abode but reclines on the milky ocean nearer the earth. He engages Himself as Ishwara, the source of the universe as its creator, preserver and destroyer.

Sankarshana vyuha has jnana and bala as predominant characteristics in consonance with His two functions namely withdrawal of the universe in pralaya (epochal end) to its embryonic state and promulgating spiritual knowledge in the form of the ekanti dharma (one-pointed life of devotion to Vishnu) for the cosmos in the making.

Pradyumna Vyuha has aishwarya and virya pursuant to the functions of producing the world of names and forms, and of fostering the practice of ekanti dharma in the evolved world.

Anirudha Vyuha has shakti and tejas in consonance with His functions of maintaining and protecting the world and leading the seekers to liberation.

The three functions of withdrawal, creation and maintenance with the parallel ones of promulgation and sustenance of dharma and of liberation of humanity are allocated to the three pradurbhavas (emanations) of the basic ground form, with division of attributes appropriate thereto. The cosmic process involves creation, maintenance and withdrawal, with a new beginning offering chances for spiritual activity and liberation, and is viewed here as essentially redemptive in its nature. Thereby souls by practice of ekanti dharma get a chance for redemption by the grace of Vishnu.

The vyuha segmentation of the cosmic purusha (creator) is a concept as old as the Purusha Sukta. First appearing in the Rig Veda, it is also repeated in the two Vedas – Yajur and Sama. The Mahabharata (Shanti Parva), Narayaniya section refers to vyuha as part of the Pancharatra system of worship current among the residents of Svetadvipa. It is said that, from a distance sage Narada saw Svetadvipa and its inhabitants, devoid of hunger and thirst and in ever-lasting ekanti bhakti (one-pointed devotion) to Narayana. There, God granted him a vision and also spoke to him the ekanti dharma and vyuha forms.

Each of the four vyuhas descends into three sub vyuhas thereby making twelve evolutes in all. Vasudeva hypostatizes into Keshava, Narayana and Madhava; Sankarshana into Govinda, Vishnu and Madhusudana; Pradyumna into Trivikrama, Vamana and Sridhara; and Anirudha into Hrishikesha, Padmanabha and Damodara. The twelve forms are mentioned in a popular hymn recited in worship called Dwadasa nama panjara stotram.

The twelve evolute forms of Vishnu are venerated as the presiding deities of the sun in the twelve months of a year.

The distinctive complexions and weapons of these forms are particularly dear to Sri Vaishnava devotees who adorn their bodies with urdhva pundra (vertical marks) using sacred earth and Srichurnam (red powder) accompanied by the recitation of these twelve names as a daily practice enjoined by Sruti-Smriti-Agama prescriptions.  

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