By Swami Harshananda
Among the extant Vaiṣṇava Āgamas of the Pāñcarātra school, the Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā is an important work. ‘Ahirbudhnya’ is one who, in the form of an ‘ahi’ or serpent, is the ‘budhna’ or foundation of the world. So, literally it refers to Śeśa or Ananta, the thousand-hooded Serpent, on whose head the whole world is said to be supported, according to some of the purāṇas. It is also mentioned as one of the names of Śiva who, according to the Vaiṣṇava scriptures, is a great devotee of Viṣṇu. In this work he is identified with Śiva. ‘Saṃhitā’ is a general name given to any systematically arranged text.
As in the case of many other religious works, it is rather difficult to assign any date for this work. Some authors have felt that it must have been composed later than 300 A. D. The Samhitā opens with a dialogue between two sages Bharadvāja and Durvāsas. Bharadvāja requests Durvāsas to propound the mystery of Sudarśana, the wondrous discus of Lord Viṣṇu. Durvāsas agrees to narrate faithfully the teachings given by Ahirbudhnya (Śiva) to Nārada on this subject, but only briefly. The original Samhitā before condensation is said to have had 240 chapters. However, the present printed text has 3880 verses in the anuṣṭubh metre, spread over 60 chapters.
The teachings of this work can be briefly summed up as follows:
- Para-brahman, the Absolute, is the highest Truth. He is the One, without beginning or end, all-pervading, free from all blemishes, full and perfect. He resides in all beings and is called Nārāyaṇa. His real nature can be experienced only in the state of liberation, which again is possible only by His grace and not by one’s own efforts.
- He has two śaktis or powers :
- The created world which in the beginning is under the influence of sattva, goes on smoothly for some time. As sattva diminishes increasing the influence of rajas and tamas, people start going astray necessitating the proclamation of the original Sāstra (holy book) viz., the Pāñcarātra, by Saṅkarṣaṇa himself (an aspect of Lord Vāsudeva).
- The book describes the four aspects of manifestation of the Supreme Lord:
- Then follows the descriptions of philosophical systems like Trayī, Sāṅkhya and Yoga ending with the Sātvata (Pāñcarātra).
- It is interesting to note that Buddhism and Jainism are dismissed as śāstrābhāsa (fallacious systems) invented by gods and ṛṣis to spread confusion among the wicked.
- The summum bonum of life is of ‘atyanta hita’ (‘greatest well-being’) which puts a permanent end to all suffering and "Gives Eternal Bliss". This can be gained by dharma (religion) and jñāna (knowledge), the former being the stepping stone for the latter.
- Both these are described in the Pāñcarātra system, by following which mokṣa (liberation) can be gained.
- Then there is a detailed description of mantras (sacred syllables), characteristics of the ācārya (preceptor), śiṣya (disciple) and dīkṣā (initiation).
- Rakṣās and yantras (magical diagrams), their worship and meditation, and the fruits accruing from them are described next.
- Practice of yoga is also described in detail.
- Astras or magical weapons are another topics described in detail.
- Human beings naturally desire cures from all physical and mental diseases. This subject also has been dealt with.
- The cures suggested are ritualistic or mystical.
- There is also a detailed description of the Mahābhiṣeka (‘great baptism’) by the performance of which one can get rid of all the diseases.
- There are a number of upākhyānas (stories) given to illustrate the effects of divine weapons and of certain amulets and talismans.
- The great Sudarśanamantra, the root of all mantras, which enables one to cause the Sudarśana Puruṣa to appear before oneself, is another subject dealt with.
- Other mantras described in the work are :
- Tārāmantra (i.e. Om)
- Mantras of Viṣṇu and Nārāyaṇa
- Meanings of the word namah
- Gāyatrī mantra
- Explanation of some sections of Purusa like sukta, Śrīsukta and others.
Unlike the Vaikhānasa works, this work of the Pāñcarātra system does not deal with temples and rituals.
- Schrader, Otto. Introduction to the Pāñcarātra and the Ahirbudhnya Sarhhita, Madras: Adyar Library and Research Centre, 1973
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 3 and 8 to 12
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 5-7
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 18 to 20
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 21 to 29
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 30, 31
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 39
- Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā chaps. 43, 44
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore