Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism

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Subject: Asian Studies

Edited by: Knut A. Jacobsen (Editor-in-Chief), University of Bergen, and Helene Basu, University of Münster, Angelika Malinar, University of Zürich, Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida (Associate Editors)

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism presents the latest research on all the main aspects of the Hindu traditions. Its essays are original work written by the world’s foremost scholars on Hinduism. The encyclopedia presents a balanced and even-handed view of Hinduism, recognizing the divergent perspectives and methods in the academic study of a religion that is both an ancient historical tradition and a flourishing tradition today. The encyclopedia embraces the greatest possible diversity, plurality, and heterogeneity, thus emphasizing that Hinduism encompasses a variety of regional traditions as well as a global world religion. Presenting all essays and research from the heralded printed edition, Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism is now available in a fully searchable, dynamic digital format. The service will include all content from the six printed volumes..

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(6,796 words)

Author(s): Anna L. Dallapiccola
The word vāhana means “that which carries, that which pulls, vehicle, bearer.” This term is primarily used by historians of Indian art and religions to refer to the animals that regularly appear alongside the image of the deities “and/or to creatures invariably imagined in company of specific divinities during dhyana-meditations” (Smith, 1981, 12). According to H. Zimmer, this concept did not originate in India but was imported early on from Mesopotamia. The vāhana  "represents and embodies, on an inferior plane, the energies of the anthropomorphic god and serves as…


(10,878 words)

Author(s): Gérard Colas
The term vaikhānasa variously designates vedic seers ( ṛṣis), hermits, Brahman followers of a vedic school, and members of a medieval and modern Vaiṣṇava community. The interconnection of these denotations over a millennium and a half of history is sometimes difficult to define. The Vaikhānasa community played a significant role in the diffusion of Vaiṣṇavism as a major provider of temple priests in South Indian Vaiṣṇava temples since the 9th century. Today it is a small endogamic group, reporte…


(14,523 words)

Author(s): Karin Preisendanz
The Sanskrit term vaiśeṣika, as a neuter noun, has been attested since the classical period as the designation of a vibrant philosophical tradition with a distinctive and central interest in issues of philosophy of nature; as a masculine noun, the term is also used to refer to an adherent of this tradition. Originally, the adjective vaiśeṣika may have literally meant “relating to or concerned with differences, specific features, particularities, or distinctions ( viśeṣa),” that is, “differentiating” or “specific.” For example, in the Mahābhārata ’s Mokṣadharma section, in t…

Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās

(9,994 words)

Author(s): Gérard Colas
In this article the expression “Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās” refers to the Vaiṣṇava manuals that lay down rules for private, domestic, and temple worship, guide theological and theogonic meditation, and so on. Though Vaiṣṇavism includes all the religious movements that advocate Viṣṇu or one of his manifestations as the main god, this article will be confined to the Saṃhitās of the Pāñcarātra and Vaikhānasa Vaiṣṇava traditions. Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās are also called Adhikāra, Tantra, and so on. T…


(10,276 words)

Author(s): Richard Barz
For historians of Hindu thought, Vallabha (1478-1530) - or, with his title ācārya (teacher), Vallabhācārya - is well known as a philosopher and religious leader within the Vaiṣṇava tradition. As a philosopher he created the Śuddhādvaita (pure monism; see Vedānta) system of thought, and as a religious leader he established a sect or sampradāya, known from his name as the Vallabha Sampradāya. But for the members of the Vallabha Sampradāya, Vallabha is much more than just a formulator of doctrines or a guide to religious observance. For them he is a …

Vallabha Sampradāya/Puṣṭimārga

(7,124 words)

Author(s): Richard Barz
From the 14th to the 19th century, bhakti , or the devotional form of Hinduism, was predominant throughout most of India. One of the leaders of the bhakti movement in northern and western India was Vallabha (1478–1530), a Tailang Brahman born near Raipur in what is now Chhattisgarh state in central India. Vallabha, who wrote only in Sanskrit, was famous as a philosopher, and his accomplishments in that area are recognized by the title ācārya , which is often suffixed to his name. There are three facets of Vallabha’s teachings on bhakti. The first of these is his philosophical system, …

Vārkarī Sampradāy

(6,492 words)

Author(s): Jon Keune and Christian Lee Novetzke
The Vārkarīs are a sampradāy (long0standing religious tradition) based in western India, where Marathi is the dominant language, particularly in the state of Maharashtra. The Vārkarīs are distinguished by a devotional ( bhakti ) focus on the deity Viṭṭhal, two major annual pilgrimages to Viṭṭhal’s chief temple in the town of Pandharpur, and a textual corpus consisting of Marathi compositions by sant-kavis or “saint-poets.” The word vārkarī literally means “one who does vārī (pilgrimage),” and pilgrimage to Pandharpur has been essential for the tradition’s form s…


(3,843 words)

Author(s): Vasudha Narayanan
The term “ vāstuśāstra” as used today refers to the knowledge and practice of the choosing an appropriate piece of land; planning towns, gardens, and parks, as well as constructing religious, domestic, healing, royal, defense, business, and recreational structures; the placement of various built units in towns and in the natural landscape; orientation of various units in the natural environment to face the most auspicious direction; designing the correct ratio and proportion among various units of …


(15 words)

Vedānta: Advaita Vedānta and the Schools of Vedānta Vedānta: Modern Vedānta

Vedānta: Advaita Vedānta and the Schools of Vedānta

(12,396 words)

Author(s): Christopher Bartley
Advaita means nondualism or monism. Monism is the doctrine that only one kind of thing really exists. According to Advaita, that basic reality is consciousness. Vedānta is the systematic exegesis of the Upaniṣads, those parts of the infallible and unauthored Vedas (Śruti) that according to orthodox vedic Brahmans are the sole means of knowing ( pramāṇa) about anything that transcends sense perception and inference. In short, the scriptures are the only way of knowing about the brahman , ātman , and the way to release from the series of embodied existences in the h…


(5,558 words)

Author(s): Steven P. Hopkins
Historically speaking, we know little about Veṅkaṭanātha, or Veṅkaṭeśa (c. 1268-1369), the medieval South Indian saint-poet, philosopher, scholar, and sectarian teacher, later known by his epithets Vedāntadeśika (“Preceptor of the Vedānta”) and Kavitārkikasiṃha (“Lion among Poets and Philosophers”). There are hints here and there in material testimonies, such as the witness of a young Telugu prince, some signature verses, panegyrics, chronicles, and inscriptions on the walls of the Raṅganātha Te…

Vedānta: Modern Vedānta

(7,332 words)

Author(s): Christopher Bartley
Describing his state of mind as a student at Madras Christian College during the first decade of the 20th century, S. Radhakrishnan (1888–1975), one of the most notable exponents of modern Vedānta, wrote, "I was strongly persuaded of the inferiority of the Hindu religion to which I attributed the political downfall of India ... I remember the cold sense of reality, the depressing feeling of defeat that crept over me as a causal relation between the anaemic Hindu religion and our political failure forced itself on my mind" (Radhakrishnan, 1936, 475).  The sense of disillusionment can b…

Vedas and Brāhmaṇas

(10,399 words)

Author(s): Theodore Proferes
The Vedas constitute a corpus of orally composed religious texts that were produced by the priestly class of the earliest Sanskrit-speaking inhabitants of the South Asian subcontinent between approximately 1600 and 600 BCE. For centuries they were preserved by generation after generation through rote memorization before eventually being written down. The Vedas contain a diverse collection of material, including direct invocations of and appeal to divinities, ritual formulas designed to accompany…

Vedic Gods (Indra, Agni, Rudra, Varuṇa, etc.)

(11,140 words)

Author(s): Michael Witzel
The vedic texts (c. 1500–500 BCE; Vedas) praise, mention, or invoke a host of deities, canonically 33 but in fact many more. These deities are regarded as persons but have no manufactured images; some are personified abstract notions. The gods are vivid personifications of the forces of nature or of social concepts, under one or more individual names. Each of them has a more or less individual mythology and is involved in certain rituals. The deities are known to us ever since their first appearance in the oldest Indian text, the Ṛgveda (c. 1500–1000 BCE), and from subsequent middle …

Vedic Period (1750 - 400 BCE)

(7,499 words)

Author(s): Theodore Proferes
“Vedic period” refers to the epoch during which the corpus of liturgies, ritual commentaries, and speculative texts known as the Vedas was composed and then defined as a religious canon. More loosely, the application of the expression may be extended back in time to include the formative phase of vedic culture on the grounds that no cultural product springs, fully formed, into existence, and the earliest extant vedic texts must have had precursors that are not preserved. The common stock of myths, legends, rituals ( yajña s), and even turns of phrase found in the earliest vedic h…


(3,392 words)

Author(s): Vasudha Narayanan
Veṅkaṭeśvara or Veṅkaṭeśa (“Lord of the Veṅkaṭa Hills”) is a local manifestation of Viṣṇu in iconic form, present in a large temple at Tirumala-Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. Tirumala-Tirupati (“Sacred Hill–Sacred Place”) is the official name of the area known originally as Tiruvēṅkaṭam in Tamil literature from around the 2nd to 3rd centuries CE. The temple complex in Tirumala-Tirupati, located at an elevation of about 1,000 m, is said to be the richest religious institution in India. The d…