The Vishnu or Vaishnavism (from Sanskrit वैष्णव Vaisnava [ ʋaiʂɳʌʋʌ ] " to duly Vishnu " ) is a direction of Hinduism, which accepts Vishnu as the supreme All-Being. Him here are all the other gods subordinate or go out of him. The Vaishnavism is next to Shaivism and Shaktism one of the three main branches of Hinduism.

The Vishnu contains several religious currents of different origin. The three main streams relate to Vishnu, Vasudeva Krishna and Rama, the heroic prince in the epic Ramayana. The self-understanding by some Vaishnava movements are monotheistic, since they Vishnu, "the One without a second ", worship, or his incarnations, the Avatar. Other deities such as Shiva and Brahma are subordinate to Vishnu and understood as his servants. Besides this Shiva Devas are regarded as demigods or as ordinary souls. After Vishnu Vishnu teachings can multiply into countless spiritual forms, all of which are identical with him. This is seen as an expression of his unlimited power, and not as the manifestation of different standing in competition deities. To distinguish this attitude from the traditional Abrahamic monotheism embossing, she described the Indologist Friedrich Max Müller as henotheism. Today's religion scientific literature, however, often viewed as Vaishnavism monotheism.

Closely related to Vaishnavism is the Avatar Doctrine: Then Vishnu returns to countless incarnations back to the world when the Dharma, law and order disappear. Most famous are the "ten avatars " the last of which, Kalki, is only in the Kali Yuga, the end of the present age, appear. The other " down- Increased " are Matsya, the fish, Kurma, the tortoise, Varaha, the boar, the lion-man Narasimha, Vamana, the dwarf, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna and Buddha, which some traditions by Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna, replace. The idea of ​​a multiplicity of incarnations is indicated in the Bhagavad Gita and presented in detail in Bhagavata.


The worship of Krishna Vasudeva was probably at the end of the 2nd century BC spread, demonstrating the Garuda pillar of Heliodorus. Vishnu himself was already mentioned in the Rig Veda and it is assumed that developed around him in the 9th to 6th century BC, a monotheistic theology. Rama and Krishna were regarded as incarnations of Vishnu. The term Vaishnava ( Vaishnavites ) was used from about the 4/5 Century for these movements, the origins lie but back much further.

With the Vaishnavism developed a debtor the Kshatriya ethic, royal, dominion -oriented Vishnu mythology, which is mainly in the form of incarnation Rama, in the great epic, the king of Ayodhya, visible.

New on Vaishnavism was at that time the conception of this God as the supreme and only true real God who carries the world and all beings including the other gods in and produces. Also new was the way to salvation: on the one hand obligation contemporary and above all selfless action in society, Karma Yoga, Bhakti and on the other hand, the unconditional, loving devotion to Vishnu. Bhakti, especially on the incarnations of Krishna or Rama, became an important part of religious practice. Bhakti marks the new relationship between man and divinity, which supersedes the Vedic sacrifice and at the same time the intellectual search for redeeming knowledge, Jnana yoga involves in a strong emotional relationship. Especially in the Bhagavad Gita Bhakti Yoga is described as one of the ways to salvation. Also new was a widespread rejection of the traditional caste system. Even with the acting in the 8th century Alvar, influential Vaishnava poets in South India, they had no meaning; among the ten recognized saints there were some Shudras, members of the lowest caste. Even later representatives of Vaishnavism as Ramananda (13th century), Kabir (15th century) and Chaitanya ( 15-16. Century) made ​​no difference to her followers by caste, they rejected the inequality decidedly off. If you do not attack the system as such, so you could see but all men are created equal in the sight of God.

Traditional schools

Vaishnavism consists of multiple directions that have developed differing philosophies of each other. These will be delivered through a variety of traditional schools, the guru - Sampradayas with numerous branches, which are often perceived as independent Sampradayas. Most of today's teachings are derived from one of these philosophers. In all is bhakti, loving devotion to Vishnu - Narayana, the Avatar Krishna and Rama, a central point of their worship and teaching.

Shri Sampradaya and Ramanandi Sampradaya

The best known representative, named after the goddess Shri Lakshmi Shri Sampradaya is the philosopher Ramanuja ( 1017-1137 ). He taught vishisht - advaita, "qualified non-dualism ", which states that " the all- one Lord Narayana is not an all- comprehensive, Bares by itself all the differences being, but already has by nature the individual souls and the inanimate as qualities ". Ramanuja represents the concept of a personal Supreme Being, Narayana. The unifying factor between the Supreme Being and the individual soul is divine love.

A now operating independently occurring branch is the Ramanandi Sampradaya. It goes back to Ramananda (13th century), who was a student in the line of Ramanuja, but later became independent. Ramananda introduced Rama and Sita in the center of religious worship. A large part of Vishnu Sadhus are Raman Andis today. The most famous followers were Kabir (1440-1518), who founded his own school, and later the founder of Sikhism, Nanak. The Ramanandi Sampradaya itself has many sub-branches.

Brahma Sampradaya and Gaudiya Sampradaya

The best-known representative, named after the god Brahma Brahma - Madhva Sampradaya are (probably 13th century ), also called Anandatirtha, and mainly acts in Bengal mystic Chaitanya ( 1486-1533 ), whose line, the Gaudiya Sampradaya a subset of the Brahma Sampradaya is. Madhva emphasized particularly clear dualism dvaita, and made ​​a strong distinction between God, the material world ( Prakriti ) and the souls. Not the one with the Divine is the goal, as it saw the trailer vehemently fought by him Advaita doctrine, but to obtain salvation in Vaikuntha, Vishnu "heaven" in the presence of the Divine.

Chaitanya, however, emphasized both the duality and the simultaneous unity of God, souls and world. His philosophy is called acintya - bheda - abheda -tattva, the supreme truth, God, be on ways unimaginable same one ( bheda ) and yet different ( abheda ) of everything. Teaching is acintya with the addition, that is " unthinkable ", corrupted, because it was not rationally comprehensible.

While Vishnuites within the meaning of Madhva only represent a very small part, are the many branches and twigs that emanated from Chaitanya line, nowadays hardly manageable. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura is outstanding Gaudiya Math, out of which emerged in the West known Hare Krishna movement as a branch.

Rudra - sampradaya

In the after the god Shiva ( Rudra ) named Rudra - sampradaya is the best known representative of Vallabha ( 1479-1531 ). He represents suddha advaita, "pure non-dualism ". After that Krishna is identical with the highest world-soul, the Brahman, and includes the diversity of the world in itself a. In his comments are Vallabha is a particular concern to lead his followers to the "way of grace" pushiti marga.

Vallabha teaching is of Vishnu Swami (ca. 13th century ), an older master descended. He had advaita, the pure non-duality taught.

Kumara - sampradaya

After the four sons of the god Brahma, the Kumaras, the Kumara - sampradaya, has also been named Sanakadi - Sampradaya. The most important representative of this school is less popular today Nimbarka (probably 13th century). He established the philosophy of dvaita - advaita, the simultaneous duality and non- duality: God is simultaneously one and different from the world. After this school is moksha, liberation, attained through true knowledge, which can in turn gain from true worship. For Nimbarka Krishna is in contrast to the other Vaishnavite teachings not an avatar but the very essence of God, and he identified as Krishna Vallabha with the Brahman. Nimbarka was known as a special admirer of the divine couple Radha and Krishna.

Reformed groups

Apart from said main Sampradayas there are some twelve major Protestant groups, the monks, the sadhus, some extraordinary exercise practices, such as, the assume approximately that of Sakhi Sampradaya in their worship of a female identity.

Followers of Mahanubhoa Pantha reject the typical Hindu worship of the divine in effigy from completely. Monks of the Harshachandi Pantha remain even after their initiation street sweeper from whose caste they come mainly.

On the poet and mystic Kabir, the Kabira Pantha returns. Kabir was initially Muslim, but turned it from an early age. He also teachings of Islamic mysticism, Sufism incorporated into his philosophy. His songs are still all over India folklore.

The school was founded in the eighteenth century of the spiritual teacher Swaminarayan is common in the Indian state of Gujarat. Members of this line shall maintain emigrated by Hindus worldwide temples and centers, such as the largest Hindu temple in Europe in London.


Apart from the philosophical representatives of Vaishnavism knows yet another series of important saints whose works today are an important basis of the Vishnu - worship next to the Vaishnavite scriptures. This includes in South India especially Tamil Alvars, twelve poet ( 7th to 9th century ), whose fervent hymns are said to have played a major role in the disappearance of the then prevalent in India Buddhism. In western India it was mainly the popular during his lifetime Poet Tukaram (17th century), an ardent supporter of Krishna, whom he revered in songs and poems. He was sued by irate Brahmins because he must not spread the wisdom of the Vedas as a member of the lowest caste. For the Hindi -speaking population, however, Tulsidas (17th century) was particularly important, the author of the Hindu Ramayana. The songs of the mystic Mirabai ( 1498 to wahrscheinl. 1546), which already felt in their childhood as the wife of Krishna, Hindus sing today in honor of the god.

The most important texts of Vaishnavism

  • Ramayana, also in the Hindi paraphrase of Tulsidas, the Ramacharitmanas
  • Mahabharata with the Bhagavad Gita
  • Bhagavatapurana and Vishnupurana
  • Songs of the Alvars (7th - 9th century)
  • Agamas the Pancaratra School
  • Chaitanya Chaitanya Bhagavata and Charitamrita (16th century)

Today Vishnuism is perhaps the most according to the number of believers largest among the Indian religions, closely followed by Shaivism. He dominated the Indian middle class and is represented in North India especially by the Brahma - sampradaya and in South India mainly by the Shri - sampradaya. Many famous people were followers of Vishnu, such as Mahatma Gandhi who throughout his life used a Rama mantra. The first known Western Vishnu - worshipers was Heliodorus ( 2nd century BC), a Greek ambassador at the court of King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, who documented his worship on a column.