Vishnu - Sacred Texts - Shruti and Smriti - Brahmanas


The Brahmanas are commentaries on the Vedas and form part of the Shruti literature. They are concerned with the detail of the proper performance of rituals. In the Rigveda, Shakala shakha: Aitareya Brahmana Verse 1 declares that: agnir vai devānām avamo viṣṇuḥ paramas, tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā - Agni is the lowest or youngest god and Vishnu is the greatest and the oldest God.

The Brahmanas assert the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, addressing him as "Yajnapati", the one whom all sacrifices are meant to please. Lord Vishnu accepts all sacrifices to the demigods and allots the respective fruits to the performer. In one incident a demonic person performs a sacrifice by abducting the rishis (sages), who meditate by constantly chanting God's name). The sacrifice was meant to destroy Indra. But the rishis, who worshipped Indra as a demigod, altered one pronunciation of the ved-mantra, reversing the purpose of the sacrifice. When the fruit of the sacrifice was given and the demon was on the verge of dying, he calls to Vishnu, whom he addresses as Supreme Godhead and "the father of all living entities including himself".

Aitareya Brahmana 1:1:1 mentions Vishnu as the Supreme God. But in the Vaishnava canon, in different ages, with Vishnu in different avatars, his relationship with the asuras or demons, was always adversarial. The asuras always caused harm, while the sages and devas or celestial beings, did penance and called to Vishnu for protection. Vishnu always obliged by taking an avatar to vanquish the asuras. In the Vaishnava canon, Vishnu never gave or granted any boons to the asuras, distinguishing him from the gods Shiva and Brahma, who did. He is the only God called upon to save good beings by defeating or killing the asuras. Vishnu belongs to Satriyan group and is not a Brahmana.

Sayana writes that in Aitareya Brahmana 1:1:1 the declaration agnir vai devānām avamo viṣṇuḥ paramas,tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā does not indicate any hierarchy among gods. Even in Rigveda Samhita, avama and parama are not applied to denote rank and dignity, but only to mark place and locality.

In Rigveda 1:108:9,: yadindrāghnī avamasyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ madhyamasyāṃ paramasyāmuta sthaḥ | i.e., in the lowest place, the middle (place), and the highest (place). Agni, the fire, has, among the gods, the lowest place; for he resides with man on the earth; while the other gods are either in the air, or in the sky. Vishnu occupies the highest place, representing the sun. The words avama and parama are understood as 'First' and 'Last' respectively. To support this claim, Sayana adduces the mantra (1,4. As'val. Sr. S. 4, 2), agnir mukham prathamo devatanam samgathanam uttamo vishnur asit, i.e., Agni was the first of the deities assembled, (and) Vishnu the last.

In the Kausitaki Brahmana (7.1) Agni is called avarardhya (instead of avama), and Visnu parardhya(instead of parama),i.e., belonging to the lower and higher halves (or forming the lower and higher halves). The Vishnu Purana gives tremendous importance to the worship of Vishnu and mentions that sacrifices are to begin only with both the lighting of fire or 'Agni', pouring of sacrificial offerings to Vishnu in 'Agni' so that those offerings reach and are accepted by Vishnu. Worship of Vishnu through Yagnyas (or Homams) and other rituals, will not achieve the desired result if 'Agnis role is neglected.

Muller says "Although the gods are sometimes distinctly invoked as the great and the small, the young and the old (Rigveda 1:27:13), this is only an attempt to find the most comprehensive expression for the divine powers, and nowhere is any of the gods represented as the slave of others. It would be easy to find, in the numerous hymns of the Veda, passages in which almost every single god is represented as supreme and absolute."

However this notion is not completely correct as per the following verses, which shows Rigveda describe one or more gods as subject to other god(s).

Him whose high law not Varuna nor Indra, not Mitra, Aryaman, nor Rudra breaketh, Nor evil-hearted fiends, here for my welfare him I invoke, God Savitar, with worship. (Rigveda 2.038.09) I invite to this place, with reverential salutations, for my good, that divine Savita, whose functions neither Indra, nor Varun.a, nor Mitra nor Aryaman nor Rudra nor the enemies (of the gods), impede. (Rigveda 2.038.09)

The following verse suggests Rudra gaining his strength from worship of Viṣṇu.

With offerings I propitiate the branches of this swift-moving God, the bounteous Visnu. Hence Rudra gained his Rudra-strength: O Asvins, ye sought the house that hath celestial viands. (Rigveda 7.040.05)

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