- The Pancharatra (pancha, five; ratra, nights) sect was one of the early traditions that developed into VAISHNAVISM, the worship of VISHNU. It probably dates to the last centuries before the Common Era. The name may derive from the SHATAPATHA BRAHMANA XIII.6, where the god Narayana, the primordial and all-encompassing divinity, per-forms a special “five nights” sacrifice in order to transcend and encompass all beings. In later Vaishnavism Narayana became the name of the highest divinity; he was said to transcend BRAHMA, SHIVA, and even VISHNU.In the Pancharatra system, creation emerges through vyuhas (arrangements) of the manifestations of the godhead. VASUDEVA, or KRISHNA, is the highest changeless god; Sankarshana is the Lord over all life; Pradyumna predominates over mind; and Aniruddha presides over ego. From Anirud-dha derives BRAHMA, who then creates the physical universe. From Vasudeva on down, each of the phases or forms of the godhead derives from the previous form. The doctrine in certain ways is reminiscent of the Christian trinity, whereby the one god takes on different aspects.The Pancharatra doctrines were elaborated in several important texts. The Bhaktisutras of Shandilya were central. The Pancharatra AGAMAS specified the temple cult, iconography, and ritual; they are no longer extant. Important extant Pan-charatra texts are the Sasvatasamhita Ahirbudh-nya Samhita and the Ishvara Samhita, which deal primarily with worship rituals.Vedic sacrificial worship, the earliest known phase of Hinduism, did not involve permanent structures (temples) or icons. Those features emerged only after a long process of development, and both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions had to develop texts to explain and justify these innovations in Vedic terms. The Pancharatras were the primary agents that performed this task for Vaishnavism.Further reading: S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, vol. 3 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975); Sanjukta Gupta, trans., Laksmi Tantra: A Pancaratra Text. Orientalia Rheno-Trajectina, Vol. 15 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972); S. Rangachar, Philosophy of Pancaratras (Mandya: Sridevi Prakashana, 1991).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.