In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vaikhānasa

  • Introduction
  • General Introductions
  • Vaikhānasasūtras
  • Commentaries on the Vaikhānasasūtras
  • Other Ritual Texts Elaborating on the Vaikhānasasūtras
  • On the Vaikhānasas’ Vedic Character (Vaidikatva) and their Saṃskāras
  • Vaikhānasa Doctrines
  • Vaikhānasa Mantra Collection
  • Other Vaikhānasa Texts
  • Contemporary Vaikhānasa Tradition

Hinduism Vaikhānasa
Ute Hüsken
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0200


Vaikhānasas are a Brahmin community in south India. Many male members of this group still serve as hereditary priests in both large and small Viṣṇu temples in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. The name vaikhānasa is traditionally derived from Vikhanas, the legendary founder of the Vaikhānasa Vedic branch (śākhā) with its own Śrauta- and Smārtasūtra, part of the Taittirīya tradition of the black Yajurveda. At the same time, the term vaikhānasa is also connected to a category of hermits (vānaprastha). The oldest extant works of the Vaikhānasas, the Vaikhānasasūtras, are ritual texts that describe the solemn sacrifices and the domestic rituals for this Vedic branch. Already here a sectarian tendency toward Viṣṇuism is discernible. Furthermore, in contrast to other Vedic Sūtras, in the Vaikhānasasūtras domestic image worship is prescribed. In inscriptions from the 9th century CE onward the Vaikhānasas are described as ritual specialists who also serve god on behalf of others. In this period the Vaikhānasas also began to compose texts for temple rituals called Vaikhānasasaṃhitās, and they continued to produce texts on their domestic rituals. The history of the Vaikhānasas during the centuries that elapsed after the formulation of the Sūtras (3rd and 4th centuries CE) and before the formulation of the earliest-known inscriptions and their early Saṃhitā literature (beginning with the 9th century) is unknown. It is however certain that the Vaikhānasas turned from a Vedic branch (śākhā) into a community of temple priests with an extensive literature on temple ritual. As temple priests in south Indian Viṣṇu temples, the Vaikhānasas had to compete with other temple ritual traditions, especially with the Pāñcarātrins. In this context, they emphasized especially the Vedic character of their tradition, which they sought to establish through specific life-cycle rituals (saṃskāra). The contemporary Vaikhānasa community is mainly a community of temple priests in Viṣṇu temples, who maintain that their tradition is Vedic, in contrast to other temple ritual traditions, which (their texts say) are Tantric in character. However, while many Vaikhānasas turn to lay professions, domestic life-cycle rituals remain a shared tie among all of them.

General Introductions

The most succinct and informative general overviews of the history and literature of the Vaikhānasas are Gérard Colas’s article “Vaikhānasas” in Colas 2012a, and the section “Vaikhānasa Saṃhitās and Vaikhānasaśāstra” in his article on “Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās” in the same work (Colas 2012b). Colas 1995 contextualizes the Vaikhānasa tradition in relation to other Vaiṣṇava traditions.

  • Colas, Gérard. “Cultes et courants du Vishnuisme en Inde du Sud; Quelques observations à partir des texts.” In Les ruses du salut: Religion et politiques dans le monde indien. Edited by M.–L. Reiniche, and H. Stern, 111–138. Collection puruṣārtha; 17. Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1995.

    Concise introduction to the diverse Vaiṣṇava traditions and literature in south India.

  • Colas, Gérard. “Vaikhānasa.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. 2012a.

    The most succinct and informative general overview of the history of the Vaikhānasas, dealing with Vaikhānasas as Vedic seers and hermits, the followers of the Vaikhānasa Śākhā, the phase from the Sūtra period to the Saṃhitā period, medieval Vaikhānasa temple priests and the Saṃhitā Corpus, the era of Vaikhānasa non-canonical literature, the Vaikhānasa community from the late 19th to 20th centuries, the emergence of leaders, rise and development of associations, publishing activities in the 20th and 21st centuries, and Vaikhānasas and Āyurveda in the 20th century. First published online in 2012.

  • Colas, Gérard. “Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. 2012b.

    The most succinct and informative general overview of the Vaikhānasa literature, dealing with Vaikhānasa Saṃhitās and Vaikhānasaśāstra, chronology of a canon, theogony, cosmology, yoga, sacrificers, impurity, and devotion, temple priesthood and initiations, significance of temple rituals, levels of ritual action, liturgies, and perspectives. First published online in 2012.

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