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Sage Vikhanasa And Vaikhanasa Tradition In Hinduism

Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala Tirupati Temple is worshipped as per Sri Vaikhanasa Bhagavachhastram preached by Bhagavan Vikhanasa Maharshi uninterrupted from times immemorial and that’s why he is aptly praised everyday in Sri Venkatesa Ashtottara Shatanamavali as ‘vaikhanasa munisreshta pijitaya Srivemkatesaya namaha’.

Lord Srinivasa at Tirupati Balaji Temple is offered worship according to the ancient system of Vaikhanasa Agama. Sage Vikhanasa is believed to have emerged out of Lord Vishnu Himself. He then preached sages Bhrigu, Atri, Mareechi and Kashyapa, the proper methods of worshipping Vishnu. Their progeny are known as ‘Vaikhanasas’.
The term Vaikhanasa variously designates Vedic seers (rishis), hermits and Brahman followers of an ancient Vedic school. They are members of a medieval and modern Vaishnava community.

The Vaikhanasa community played a significant role as a major provider of temple priests in South Indian Vaishnava temples since very ancient times. Today it is a small endogamic group, reported to be more present in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The main sources of information about the Vaikhanasas are their canonical scriptures, composed of the Sutras and the Samhitas, the first relevant to the vedic school of the Vaikhanasa and the second to their temple priesthood. The Vaikhanasa Samhithas are very old and ancient and according to Sage Marichi’s Ananda Samhita, before the division of Veda by Sage Veda Vyasa, the unified Vedic Corpus is called as ‘vaikhanasa Yajussakha’.

According to the Vaikhanasa work Ananda samhita, Vishnu, desirous of reincarnating on earth, asked Brahma to create a sage who would propagate the right way of worshipping him on earth.

Bhagavan Vikhanasa arose from Brahma’s contemplation described as visesakhanana, that is, “intense digging” and consisting in “reflection on the nature of the true principle” (tattvarthaparichintana). The same text gives another exegesis: Vishnu himself delved deeply into Vedas to create Vikhanas who would compose the rules to worship Vishnu. Some scholars connect the root, khana with the digging of comestible roots by ascetics.
Yaska’s Nirukta derives the term Vaikhanasa from Vikhanana (digging up).

The oldest references to Vaikhanasas are found in vedic texts, where they are vedic seers (risi) or sages (muni). The traditional “index” (anukramani) of the Rigveda samhita attributes several hymns to seers called Vaikhanasa.

The Tandya Brahmana, the Jaiminiya Brahmana, and the Taittiriya Aranyaka mention Vaikhanasa seers and sages.

The notion of Vaikhanasas as seers continues to existing post-vedic texts like the Narayanaya Parva of the Mahabharata: the Vaikhanasa (seers) are the second group, after the Phenapa seers, to receive the Ekanta dharma, a Vaishnava dharma eulogized by the Narayanaya Parva. In the same passage, Valakhilya seers are also said to receive this dharma.

It may be noted in this connection that the Bhagavata Purana associates Vaikhanasas and Valakhilyas, but these two groups are hermits, not seers. The dharmic, puranic, and Kavya literature often associates the name Vaikhanasa with the way of life of hermits.

The Baudhayana dharma sutra, which predates the 4th century, describes the normative conduct of a hermit thus he follows the Vaikhanasa Sastra (perhaps a set of rules and not specific written scriptures), lives in the forest, has a diet of roots and fruits, is firm in austerities, and kindles his sacrificial fire according to the sramanaka (“ascetic”) method (Baudhayana Dharma Sutras, 2.11.15).

It is believed that Sage Vaikhanasa was created from the mind (Maanaseeka Udbhavan) of Sriman Narayana, when many sages were reluctant to engage in the performance of Aaradhana for Him in bhulokam as they were unsure of doing the right kind of worship.
Thus Srimannarayana, dug out of His bosom, His entire vedic knowledge, from the tip of His nail and created a new sage, named him Vikhanasa (Vikhanakhaha).

Narayana also empowered and enlightened him to perform Aradhanam (worship) to Him in His Vibhava and archavatarams through upadesams on Veda, Vedanta and initiation into Gayatri/Saavitri mantrams.

Sage Vikhanasa arrived at Naimisharanya, where the Lord is present as a Forest. He arrived there with his four disciples, Atri, Bhrigu, Mareechi and Kasyapa. Sage Vaikhanasa has blessed the world with one and half crores of slokas in his Agamam. The four rishis condensed these vast numbers of these Slokas to a smaller subset of four Lakhs of Slokas to make it simpler for the human beings to follow for the worship of the Lord through Vaikhanasa Agamam.

The Vaikhanasas, as a community are temple priests. They regard themselves as ordained by birth to be temple priests and they are enjoined not to follow other avocation in life. Vishnu himself is said to have declared that those who follow the Vaikhanasa Sutra are dearer to him. According to a verse in Varaha Purana, Maha Vishnu says that the Aswatha Tree, the Red Cows, the tulsi plant and the sage Vikhanasa (the ancestor of the community) are the four things that are dearer to him, and that among the four, Sage Vikhanas is the dearest. Ananda Samhitha (Marichi) states that the Sage Vikhanasa who prepared the Vaikhanasa Sutra according to a branch of Yajurveda was Brahma himself.