the worshipper to a particular god). This stimulus led to the evolution of
different religious sects like Vaishnavism, Saivism and Saktism, all of which
came to be regarded as components of orthodox Brahmanism.
The rise and growth of Vaishnavism was closely connected with that of
Bhagavatism. Vaishnavism, having its origins in the pre-Gupta period, began
to capture and absorb Bhagavatism during the Gupta period. This process of
capture and absorption was completed by the end of the late Gupta period,
and in fact the name mostly used to designate Bhagavatism from this period
onwards was Vaishnavism, indicating the predominance of the later Vedic
Vishnu element in it with emphasis on the doctrine of incarnations.
Vishnu is a conflation of many local divinities. These include a Vedic god
having some solar char, acteristics; a popular deified hero, Vasudeva,
worshipped in western India; and the philosophical ‘Absolute’ of the
This assimilation of deities occurred before the second century BE, since
an inscription on a pillar at Besnagar states that the Greek ambassador
Heliodorous was a devotee of the ‘God of gods’ Vasudeva. Vasudeva is said
to have propounded the Bhagavata religion which included some solar
features and later developed into Vaishnavism.
The theory of incarnation greatly facilitated the assimilation of popular
divinities into Vaishnavism. It developed during the Epic period and is
referred to in the Puranas.
The stages by which Vishnu rose to become a major deity are lost in the
distant past, but some clues remain; the Rig Veda identifies Bhaga, the lord of
bounty, with Varona and later with Vishnu; and the Brahmanas identify
Vishnu with the personified sacrifice and with the ‘Cosmic Man’ whose
sacrificial dismemberment gave rise to the universe.
The Bhagavata and Pancharatra initially cults were separate, the
Pancharatras worshipping the