- (1473–1531)Vedanta philosopherVallabha was one of the great exponents of devo-tional VEDANTA. He was born in 1473 to a Telegu BRAHMIN, Lakshmana Bhatta, and his wife, Yel-lamma Garu, a member of an influential South Indian family. Her father had been a priest at the VIJAYANAGARA court.Vallabha’s father is said to have fled BENARES (Varanasi) while his wife was pregnant with Val-labha, because of a rumored Muslim invasion. While he hid in the forest near modern Raipur in Chattisgarh state, Vallabha emerged from his mother stillborn—but miraculously came to life. When the Muslim invasion did not take place, Vallabha’s father returned.As were many of the Vedantic ACHARYAS, or scholar-teachers, Vallabha was a precocious child who learned all the VEDAS and all the philosophi-cal systems in four years of study. After his father died when he was just 11, Vallabha spent the next 20 years wandering India’s sacred sites, remain-ing unmarried. At a mere 12 years old, he is said to have entered into a debate at the Vijayanagara court. He emerged victorious against the views of SHANKARA’s Vedanta (absolute non-dualist) on the one hand and the views of MADHVA’S supporters (dualist) on the other.Vallabha stayed at the Vijanagara court for some three years, learning the BHAGAVATA PURANA and becoming familiar with the Madhva tradition (which he did not accept). By now he had follow-ers of his own, as his debating victory had greatly enhanced his status.At the age of 15 he set out on a long pil-grimage to a great many of India’s sacred sites. One story relates that at Kaundiya Ashrama (see ASHRAM), Vallabha had a vision of the rishi (seer) Kaundinya, who preached to him the path of devotion, or BHAKTI; even the Vedas and the gods do not know VISHNU, Kaundinya said; only the one who concentrates his consciousness upon Vishnu and serves him every moment can merit that knowledge.It is said that Vallabha spent time at the impor-tant centers of RAMANUJA’s followers and Madhva’s followers, learning all the nuances of the different philosophies. Heading north, Vallabha arrived in BRINDAVAN, the center of KRISHNA worship in India. Here he made Krishna his Lord and received the vision to establish a new sect, the Pushti Marga.The last leg of this long pilgrimage took him to the HIMALAYAS. After returning to stay with his mother for one year, he headed to Maha-rashtra and Pandaripura, where he encountered the special form of Krishna, Vitthala. Here he received the divine command to marry, as he had up till now been a celibate, though not a SAN-NYASI (renunciant). When he arrived in Benares in about 1500, he encountered a man who offered him his daughter in marriage.Vallabha’s marriage produced two sons, one of whom was central in building his sect. While in the town of Gokula, near Mathura, Vallabha took the vow to establish his new sect. This new tradi-tion was all his own, as he had never accepted anyone as his GURU. The initiatory MANTRA of his sect was Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama, “Shri Krishna is my refuge.”An auspicious miracle soon occurred near Gokula. An image of Krishna in his pose lift-ing the mountain Govardhana appeared out of a cave. It was said that Krishna would only accept food from the hand of Vallabha. On this spot Val-labha built a small temple, later supplanted by a large complex. The temple’s image later had to be moved to Udaipur in Rajasthan, because of the Muslim invaders. There it is known as SRI SRI NAT H J I.Vallabha now embarked on a journey around the country that might be described as evan-gelical. He would debate the proponents of other systems, sharpen his own principles, and gain fol-lowers. His message resonated particularly in the area of Gujarat, thanks to the support of a famous devotional singer there.There are many stories of Vallabha’s meeting with his contemporary SRI CHAITANYA. Both made the BHAGAVATA PURANA the primary authority and both took Krishna as the fullest expression of divinity on Earth. The contrast was between Val-labha the intellectual, who prescribed worship of the child Krishna or the cowherd Krishna, and Chaitanya the ecstatic mystic, who preached “Love Devotion” based on the relationship between Krishna and his lover RADHA.In all Vallabha wrote 17 books in SANSKRIT and five in medieval Hindi (Braj). All but one of his Sanskrit “books” were actually brief manuscripts. His longest book was in Sanskrit, Essays on the Light of Knowledge, a full exposition of his theol-ogy. Others of his books in Sanskrit are Vyasa Sutra Bhashya, Jaimini Sutra Bhasya, Bhagavata Tika Subodhini, Pushti Pravala Maryada, and Sid-dhanta Rahasya.In the last year of his life Vallabha took vows of renunciation from the world. He wan-dered as a mendicant for only one year. The story has it that he plunged into the GANGES at HANUMAN Ghat in Benares and disappeared in 1531.The philosophical system of Sri Vallabhacha-rya (to call him by his honorific) was technically called Shuddhadvaita (pure non-dualism). He did not believe that the world was illusory—all the universe was Krishna alone. The worldly, then, is a lower aspect of the divine, but still an expression of the being of the divinity. In Vallabha’s system Krishna, as BRAHMAN, or the ultimate reality, was called Purushottama, the highest personage.In practical terms, the Vedanta of Vallabhacha-rya was similar to that of both RAMANUJA and NIM-BARKA. God is permanently transcendent; souls can reach union with God but remain distinct even in liberation.Distinctive in Vallabha’s system is the notion of inherent distinctions among souls. There are privileged souls who are destined for union with the divine, and other souls who are destined for eternal reincarnation without attainment of liberation (this Vallabha has in common with Madhva).His Pushti Marga, or path of grace, is unique. Pushti literally means “nourishment,” and later in the sect’s history, this word began to be taken more literally, and the eating of vast amounts of PRASADA or sacred food became a sign of the sect. However, Vallabha seemed to intend “spiritual nourishment” or “grace.” This effectively means that human efforts to reach the divine are sec-ondary; primary are the will and grace of the divine.Thus, in terms of the YOGAs of the BHAGAVAD GITA, the yoga of action (KARMA YOGA), the yoga of knowledge (JNANA YOGA), and even meditative yoga (raja yoga) are of almost no importance to Vallabha. Devotional yoga (BHAKTI YOGA) alone is enjoined to gain the grace (PUSHTI) of the divine. K 476 VallabhaThis devotion is best developed through total ser-vice to the divinity and his servants.Further reading: Richard Barz, The Bhakti Sect of Vallabhacarya (Faridabad: Thomson Press, 1976); G. H. Bhatt, Sri Vallabhacharya and His Doctrines (Delhi: Butala, 1980); Sharad Goswami, Manual of the Devotional Path of Pusti. Translated by M. R. Paleja (Gujarat: Sri Vallabhacarya Trust, 2002); James D. Redington, The Grace of Lord Krishna: The Sixteen Verse Treatises (Sodasagranthah) of Vallabhacharya. Sri Garib Das Oriental Series, no. 257 (Delhi: Satguru, 2000); Natvar Lal Gokal Das Shah, A Life of Shri Val-labhacharya (Baroda: Shri Vallabha, 1984); Jethlal G. Shah, Shri Vallabhacharya: His Philosophy and Religion (Nadiad: Pushitmargiya Pustakalaya, 1969); Brajnath R. Shastri, Shrimad Vallabhacharya and His Doctrines. Sri Vallabha Studies, no. 5 (Baroda: Shri Vallabha, 1984); G. V. Tagare, Brahma-Vada Doctrine of Sri Vallabhacarya (New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1998); Swami Tapasyananda, The Bhakti Schools of Vedanta (Madras: Ramakrishna Mutt, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.