deified sage Narayana, and the Bhagavatas
    The Bhagavata is a theistic devotional cult which originated several
centuries’before the Christian era. It is based mainly on the Bhagavad Gita,
but later Bhagavata Parana and Vishnu Purana became its main texts.
    When the Bhagavata cult reached its peak during the second century AD,
it came to be generally known as the Pancharatra Agama. The name means
‘five nights’, but its significance is unknown.
    The adherence of the Rajput kings to Bhagavatism further spread to the
whole of India. In southern India, in the Tamil land, the Bhagavata
movement was spread largely by the twelve Alvars (who had intuitive
knowledge of God). They flourished from the eighth to the early nineth
    The Alvars belonged to various classes of society. Among them were
king of Malabar, a famous woman, Andal, to whom a magnificent temple
was later built at her birthplace, Srivilliputtur, by a low caste man; and a
repentant sinner. After the Alvars came the Acharyas who united devotion
with knowledge and karma.
According to tradition the Pancharatra teachings were first systematised in
about 100 AD by Sandilya, who stressed the need for total devotion to
Vasudeva Krishna.
    A cosmological basis was given to Vasudeva Krishna by identifying him
and the members of his family with specific cosmic emanations (uyuhas):
this was an important tenet of the early Pancharatras and of the later Sri
Vaishnava cult. The ‘emanatory theory’ developed early in the Christian era,
about the same time as the theory of incarnation.
    The Pancharatras postulate a supreme Brahman, who reveals himself as
Vishnu, Vasudeva and Narayana and whose power gives birth to the
universe. At the beginning of Time, the supreme aspect of Vasudeva created
from himself the vyuha Sarnkarshana (a name of Krishna’s brother) identified
with primal matter (prakriti). From these two combines, Krishna’s son
Pradyumna was produced and identified with mind (manas). From these
arose Aniruddha (Krishna’s grandson) identified with selfconsciousness
(ahankara). From the last two sprang the five elements (panchabhutas) and