Pushtimarg

Pushtimarg (lit. "the Path of Nourishing, Flourishing"), also known as Pushtimarg sampradaya or Vallabha sampradaya, is a subtradition of Rudra Sampradaya (Vaishnavism). It was founded in the early 16th century by Vallabhacharya (1479–1531) and is focused on Krishna.[2] A bhakti (devotional) school, Pushtimarg was expanded by the descendants of Vallabhacharya, particularly Gusainji. Its values are derived from and its universal-love-themed devotional practices center around the legendary amorous plays of youthful Krishna, such as those found in the Bhagavata Purana and those related to Mount Govardhana.[3][4] Pushtimarg sampradaya recognizes Krishna by many names and epithets, such as Sri Nathji, Sri Navanitpriyaji, Sri Madanamohanji, Sri Mathureshji, Sri Gokulnathji, Sri Vittalnathji and Sri Dwarkadhishji.[5]

The Pushtimarg subtradition subscribes to the Shuddhadvaita Vedantic teachings of Vallabhacharya, one that shares certain ideas with Advaita Vedanta, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita Vedanta.[6] According to this philosophy, Krishna is the supreme being, the source of everything that exists, human soul is imbued with Krishna's divine light and spiritual liberation results from Krishna's grace. The school rejects ascetic lifestyle, and cherishes householder lifestyle wherein the followers see themselves as participants and companions of Krishna and their daily life as an ongoing rasalila of his creation. The Pushtimarg grew with the work and poetry of ashtachap – eight Bhakti Movement poets, including the blind devotee-poet Surdas.[8]

Its followers – called Pushtimargis[2] or Pushtimargiya Vaishnavas[9] – are generally found in northern and western India, particularly in and around Rajasthan and Gujarat, as well as its regional diaspora around the world.[10] The Shrinathji Temple in Nathdwara – north of Udaipur – is their main shrine, that traces its origin in 1669, when the subtradition lived in fear and felt persecuted by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. This Nathdwara temple is one of the wealthiest and more elaborate shrines of Krishna in India.[11][10]

Vallabhacharya was born into a Telugu Brahmin family in South India, to a mother whose own father was a priest in the royal court of the Vijayanagara Empire.[12] Vallabha's family fled Varanasi after they received rumors of an imminent Islamic attack on the city, then spent the early years with baby Vallabha hiding in the forests of Chhattisgarh.[12]

Vallabha had a conventional education in the Vedic literature and other Hindu texts. He worked in the temples of the Vijayanagara court, and then embarked on a years-long pilgrimage to the major sacred sites of Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent.[12] He met scholars of Advaita Vedanta of Adi Shankara, Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja, Dvaita Vedanta of Madhvacharya as well as his contemporary Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal. His visit to Vrindavan in the north persuaded him to accept and dedicate himself to the bhakti of Krishna and writing his philosophical premises in Sanskrit and a few in the Braj language. His devotional mantra "Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama" (Shri Krishna is my refuge) became the initiatory mantra of Pushtimargis.[12] The term pushti to Vallabha implied "spiritual nourishment", a metaphor for Krishna's grace.[12][13]

Vallabhacharya has been a major scholar of the Bhakti tradition of Hinduism, as a devotional movement that emphasizes love and grace of God as an end in itself. Vallabhacharya initiated his first disciple Damodardas Harsani with a mantra along with the principles of Pushtimarga.[10]

When he died in 1531, Vallabacharya delivered the leadership of his movement to his elder son, Gopinatha. At Gopinatha's death in 1543, he was succeeded by his younger brother Vitthalanatha, a key figure in the development of the Pushtimarg. He codified the doctrine of the movement and died in 1586. At his death, the eight primary icons of Krishna of the Pushtimarg were distributed among his seven sons, plus one adopted son.[14] Some fragmentation followed, as each son of Vitthalanatha was able to confer initiations and start his own independent lineage, although the different branches remained unified by the doctrine. Among the descendants of Vitthalanatha, some acquired prestige as scholars, including Gokulanatha (1552-1641), Hariraya (1591-1711), and Purusottama (1668-1725). In the 19th century, the movement declined and acquired unwanted publicity with the attacks of journalist Karsandas Mulji, who accused one of the gurus of sexual liaisons with women devotees, which resulted in the Maharaj Libel Case.[15]

In the 20th century, the Pushtimarg prospered thanks to the acquired affluence of some of its members, primarily Gujarati merchants. The Gujarati diaspora led to the foundation of important Pushtimarg centers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.[16]

The formal initiation into Pushtimarg is called Brahmasambandha. The absolute and exclusive rights to grant "Brahmsambandh" in the path of grace, in order to transform an Ordinary jiva (soul) into a Pushti "Jeev" lie only with the descendants of Vallabhacharya, known as Goswami Balaks - Vallabh kul (The word "Goswami" literally means - the one who has control over all the senses), who Vallabh Vaishnavas respectfully and lovingly refer to as: "Goswami","Bawa" or "Jai Jai". They are the actual and direct descendants of Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhu. Goswamis are responsible for the "pushti" (literally means spiritual nourishment) of all the disciples initiated by them.

Brahmsabandha is a process, where after fasting for one full day(consuming fruits and milk only) one is given the Krishna "Gadhya Mantra" in front of a Deity "Swaroop" by a Vallabhkul Goswami after which tulsi leaves (Indian Basil) are offered to the lotus feet of the Lord. The Adhikaar(right) to perform daily "seva" comes only after one is initiated into Pushtimarg by means of formally granting Brahmsambandh by a Goswami Balak. Without brahmsambandh one does not hold the right to perform seva of a Pusht Swaroop (Deity) (the swaroop which showers grace just like it did on the gopis).[10]

Krishna is the chief deity of the sect. Shri Yamunaji is worshiped as his fourth consort(chaturth Patrani) and is the goddess who ordered Shri Vallabhacharya to recite Shrimad Bhagwat (Shrimad Bhagwat Parayan) near her banks. It is for Shri Yamunaji, Shri Vallabhacharyaji composed Shri Yamunashtakam.

Several forms/icons of Shri Krishna are worshiped in the sect. Here are the main forms, their description and where they currently reside.

Seva is a key element of worship in Pushti Marg. All followers are expected to do seva to their personal icon of Krishna. In Pushti Marg, where the descendants of shrimad Vallabhcharyaji reside and perform Seva of their own idol of Shri krishna is called a "haveli" - literally a "mansion". Here the seva of thakurji(Shri Krishna) is performed with the bhaav of the Nandalaya. There is a daily routine of allowing the laity to have "darshan" (adore) the divine icon 8 times a day. The Vallabhkul adorn the icon in keeping with Pushti traditions and follow a colourful calendar of festivals.

All of the above three are included in the daily seva (devotional service) which all followers of Pushtimarg offer to their Thakurji (personal Krishna deity), and all of them have been traditionally prescribed by Goswami Shri Vitthalnathji almost five hundred years ago. Shri Vitthalnathji is also called Gusainji (Vallabhacharya's second son). The raag, bhog, and vastra and shringar offerings vary daily according to the season, the date, and time of day, and this is the main reason why this path is so colourful and alive.

Seva is the most important way to attain Pushti in Pushtimarg and has been prescribed by Vallabhacharya as the fundamental tenet. All principles and tenets of Shuddhadvaita Vaishnavism stem out from here.

Baithak or Bethak, literally "seat", is the site considered sacred by the followers of the Pushtimarg for performing devotional rituals. These sites are spread across India and are chiefly concentrated in Braj region in Uttar Pradesh and in western state of Gujarat. Total 142 Baithaks are considered sacred; 84 of Vallabhacharya, 28 of his son Viththalanath Gusainji and 30 of his seven grandsons. They mark public events in their lives. Some of them are restricted or foreboding.[17]

Gouache painting on paper from Nathdwara representing the autumn Annakuta Festival. This annual festival is observed by donating a mountain of food, usually rice, to the temple to symbolise the moment Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan to protect his villagers. In Nathdwara the food is then given to the Bhils, the tribal peoples living in Mewar. The left arm of the god Srinathji, a form of Krishna, is raised and the murti (idol) is positioned in front of a picchvai decorated with a stylised floral pattern. Two priests attend the god, positioned on either side of the offering.

Pushti Marg is famous for its innumerable colourful festivals. Icons (mentioned above) are wonderfully dressed and bejeweled to suite the season and the mood of the festival. All festivals are accompanied by a wonderful vegetarian feast which is offered to the deity and later distributed to the laity. Most festivals mark

Kirtans are devotional hymns written by the asht sakhas for and about Shrinathji. The instruments played during Kirtan include zanz, manjira, dholak, pakhavaj/mrudang, daff, tampura, veena, harmonium, tabla, etc.

The works of Vallabhacharya are central to Pushtimarg. He wrote commentaries on Sanskrit scriptures, the Brahma-Sutras (Anubhasya[18]), and Shreemad Bhagwatam (Shree Subodhini ji, Tattvarth Dip Nibandh).

Also, in order to help devotees on this path of devotion, he wrote 16 pieces in verse which we know as the Shodasha Granthas. These came about as answers to devotees. The verses define the practical theology of Pushtimarga.

The Shodash Granthas(doctrines) serve as a lighthouse for devotees. They speak about increasing love for Shri Krishna through Seva (service) and Smarana (remembering). These doctrines are Mahaprabhu's way of encouraging and inspiring devotees on this path of grace. The central message of the Shodasha Granthas is, total surrender to the Lord. A Goswami can initiate an eager soul to this path of Shri Krishna's loving devotion and service. The verses explain the types of devotees, the way to surrender and the reward for Seva, as well as other practical instructions. The devotee is nurtured by the Lord's grace.

Apart from Shodash Granths Shri Vallabhacharya wrote following Granths " Books :