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Utkal School of Vaishnavism

Utkal Vaishnavites held that Jagannatha is the Purna Purusha, and Krishna or Rama are his amsha (parts). Utkal is a Vaishnava Sampradaya (school) believed to have originated at the time of Matara dynasty (400-500 CE). The most prominent Utkal Vaishnavites were Jagannatha Dasa, Balarama Dasa,  Yasovantra Dasa, Ananta dasa and Achyutananda Dasa who lived during the period of 1450 – 1560 CE. All these five thinkers (panchasakhas) wrote treatises in Odia which are the authentic sources of the Utkal School of Vaishnavism, jnana-mishra-bhaktivada.

These thinkers not only tried to harmonize jnana and bhakti (knowledge and devotion) but also held the view that there could be a legitimate move from shunya to purusha, from formless to form, from non-recital of hymn to recital of hymn.

This is not because these five were crypto-Buddhists (on account of their accepting shunya tattva), not because they were half-hearted Advaitins (on account of their acknowledging nirguna tattva), but because they sincerely brought forward a novel philosophic point of view that form as well as formless could be conceived singly without the aid of the other.

Terms like maya, avidya and shunya were used frequently in the advaita and baudha sources. Such terms were also found place in the writings of the Utkal School of Vaishnavism.

The Utkal Sampradaya, in general, interpret the advaitin’s sat (pure essence) as the shuddha vishayi parama purusha (pure being) which is not vitiated by any attribution, categorization and characterization. It transcends nama and rupa (name and form). In this sense, it is shunya. However this does not mean total void or nothingness. It is free from all qualifications and predications. Purusha is thus regarded as shunya. But though the very concept of pure subject is acceptable in the level of abstraction, it needs the coupling of predication so that a meaningful structure in the conceptual field becomes possible. In this way, Shunya Purusha is also conceived as saguna purusha. A meaningful transition was initiated by these thinkers from shunya to purna, from arupa to rupa, nirguna to saguna.