About the Pushti Marg Sampradaya
“Pushtimarg” translates as ‘the path of nourishment, and refers to a five hundred year old tradition founded by Vallabha (or Vallabhacharya). This tradition is well represented in the UK, although it is somewhat inconspicuous as there are few (if any) temples solely dedicated to this line of teaching. Much practice goes on within the home or within a more eclectic temple setting.
Vallabha was born into a noble and learned family in South India in what is today Andhra Pradesh. His ancestors were extremely religious and included notable brahmins like Shri Yagnanarayan Bhatt and Shri Ganapati Bhatt. They wrote several books on religion and religious devotion. Lord Vishnu blessed Yagnanarayan that on his dynasty’s completion of 100 Soma-yajnas (sacrifices to the Deity of the Moon), He himself would take birth in his lineage.
Vallabha was the second son of Lakshman Bhatt and Yallammagaru. Their ancestors had performed many of the one-hundred Soma-yajnas and Shri Lakshman Bhatt completed the remainder. When the final Soma-yajna was complete, Lakshman Bhatt went to Kashi to accomplish his vow of feeding 125,000 brahmins. He could not complete this task due to political disturbances in Kashi. He took his pregnant wife, Yallammagaru, and on their way southwards they halted at a place called Champaranya. There his wife gave birth to a still-born baby, whose body they left beneath a sacred tree and they proceeded ahead. Later that day, in the evening, Lakshman Bhatt heard a celestial voice ordering him to go back to the baby and pick up his son, who was actually alive. On reaching the spot where they had left the baby, they found him alive and well, encircled by a divine fire and protective shield. That baby was no ordinary one, but by the grace of God, Shri Vallabha had taken birth.
Vallabha was a brilliant and extra-ordinary child. He finished studying all the Vedas and other prominent scriptures at a very early age. At the age of 11 he started his all-India pilgrimage. During this tour he came to Vijaynagar where he came to know about a sensational debate to be conducted in the court of King Krishnadevraya. The contest was between the different acharyas over the question of whether God is dualistic or non-dualistic. Shri Vallabha entered the court and with his unopposed arguments proved that God is non-dualistic. The details of the debate are described in a book named “Vallabha Digvijay”
During the second pilgrimage, Lord Krishna appeared before Vallabha in the form of Lord Shri Nathji and ordered him to reestablish Pushti Marg and propagate the pushti kind of devotion, bringing souls back to their original state in God’s own domain i.e. Vaikuntha or Goloka Dhama . But the concern in Vallabha’s mind was that in this Kali Yuga (age of iron) even divine souls are highly influenced by the materialistic world and have lost the kind of purity needed for their reunion with the Supreme entity,
Lord Shri Nathji assured him that with Brahmasambandha (union with the Supreme), admittance into the Pushti marg would prevent worldly impurities from obstructing the soul’s relation with the Lord,, and the initiate would be eligible to pursue bhakti. That was the night of Ekadashi on the dark fortnight of the auspicious month of Shravana. Lord Shri Nathji taught Vallabha the Brahmasambandha mantra and asked him to bring back the divine souls into his seva (service). The mantra, still chanted by members of the Pushti Marg, is “Shri Krishna Sharanam Mama” – “May Lord Krishna be my sole refuge”.
On the next day, Vallabha taught the same mantra to his first disciple, Damodardas Harsani, along with the principles of Pushtimarga. This is how Pushti Marg was established.
The following are some of the features of such devotional service:
- It is spontaneous, selfless & without ulterior motive.
- It is based on pure love for God.
- It is expressed only through service of God.
- It is love after realising God’s true nature.
- The knowledge gained is not a means of liberation which is not the highest goal of life.
- Liberation, is considered secondary to the enjoyment of God’s bliss.
- Its aim is God’s happiness.
- No caste, creed, color, sex or age becomes the criteria; the only criteria is God’s grace.
- It does not know any boundaries, be it time, place or anything else material.
- It does not require a devotee to give up a householder’s life. In fact, one can serve Him better by being a householder.
- All worldly need not be suppressed, but should be channeled towards God,
- This world is not rejected but is treated as God’s creation and thus as real as God himself.
- Shri Krishna is the supreme Deity; all others reside in his form. Therefore total faith is placed in Shri Krishna alone.
- In the state of liberation (as it is generally conceived) the living entity merges into God’s blissful form, but in Bhakti (especially Pushti bhakti) the devotee does not seek liberation but he enjoys God’s bliss by participating in it as a distinct, divine entity.
Vallabha’s theology is called shuddha-dvaita Vedanta. Although it is non-dualist, it does not support the monism of Shankara. Rather, it propounds that god and the atman are eternally distinct (similar to Ramanuja, Madhva and Chaitanya) and refers to god as the param-brahma (Supreme Brahman). Vallabha differed with Shankara by pointing out that Shankara’s proposition that maya as distinct from God is contradictory to the notion of undifferentiated oneness (advaita). Although an advaitic theology, Vallabha’s stance rejects jnana-yoga as being able to lead to truth, and proposes that bhakti alone can lead to the highest perfection. He also propounds that the Godhead is ultimately saguna, with qualities and attributes, such as personality, activities (lila), form, etc.), rather than nirguna (without qualities). Vallabha placed must stress on achieving the grace of god, but also emphasised the importance of the individual developing a non-worldly attitude.
Like the Gaudiya Vaishnavas (followers of Chaitanya), Vallabha recognises five primary relationships that the soul can have with God. He accepts the most effective as madhurya- bhava (conjugal emotion) as exhibited by the gopis of Vrindavana. Nonetheless, he cultivated and encouraged the spread of vatsalya-bhava (or vatsalya rasa), the mode of parenthood. In this relationship, the devotees considers the Lord as his or her own child, as exemplified by Krishna’s foster mother, Yashoda.
Vallabha’s followers today usually worship bal (baby) Krishna. Nonetheless, the main deity is of Shri Nathji – Krishna as the lifter of Govardhana hill. He is often depicted being worshipped by Vallabha and Yamuna (the personification of the sacred river). The main centre is in Nathdwar, Gujarat. In the UK, most Pushti Marg members belong to the Gujarati business community, and greet each other with the phrase, “Jai Shri Krishna. The community has no sannyasis, as Vallabha considered the sannyasa ashram unsuitable in Kali yuga.
Note. Followers of Vallabha do not use the term mandir, but haveli (referring to the temples as Krishna’s house). They use the term seva (service) instead of puja.