Vaishnavas: Their Sects and Philosophy

Who are Vaishnavas?

Vaishnavas and their Sampradaya

Vaishnavas are devotees of Lord Vishnu.

They exclusively worship Lord Vishnu, His incarnations and anything that concerns Him.

Well, there are 4 main sampradayas or sects in Vaishnavas.

1) Shri Sampradaya-

Lakshmi Devi is the Adi Guru of Shri Sampradaya. The Shri Sampradya has 2 divisions.

i) Ramunuja Sampradaya-

Sri Ramanujacharya, the incarnation of lord Lakshmana himself was the founder of this sampradaya.. He chiefly propagated the philosophy of Vishitadvaita, which addressed the soul (jeeva) as the eternal servant of Lord Narayana.

The Jeeva carries all the characteristics of the supreme. However its magnitude is miniscule in comparison to the Supreme. The sampradaya lays down rules for Vaidika worship of Lord Narayana.

ii) Ramananda Sampradaya- This sampradaya was initiated by Sri Ramanandacharya, the incarnation of Lord Rama Himself.

The teachings of this sampradaya are similar to Ramanuja, however they diverged at a point.

Ramanandis accepted the two armed Lord Rama as their lord while the followers of the Ramauja sampradaya bowed before Lord Vishnu

2) Shiva Sampradaya- Lord Shiva is the Adi guru of Shiva Sampradaya.

Vishnu Swami is the founder of the Sampradaya. The Valabhacharya Sampradaya comes within it.

3) Hansa Sampradaya- Bhagavan Hansa is the founder of this Sampradaya. Sri Nimbarkacharya Sampradaya is a part of this sampradaya.

4) Shesha Sampradaya- Sankarshana is the Adi guru of the Sampradaya. Madhvacharya Sampradaya and the Madhva Gauda (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) Sampradaya come within it.

Besides, the Radhavallabha Sampradaya of Hitaharivansha and Swami Haridasji’s Sampradaya are also considered to be a part of the Vaishnava Sampradaya.

The Deities of Vaishnava Sampradaya

Bhagavan Vishnu has assumed many incarnations. In this regard, there are many Sampradayas who accept a particular incarnation as the supreme entity.

Even amongst Vaishnavas, there are different faith systems.

Let us explore each of them in some detail.

Bhagavan Narayana

what is ultimate reality

According to Ramanuja Sampradaya, Narayana is the Supreme Being.

Lord Narayana eternally resides in Vaikuntha. He is the creator of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the lord of Vaikuntha.

He has 4 arms, wears a yellow garment, and carries a club, lotus, disk and conch.

His energy potency and consort, Lakshmi Devi, sits bedside his feet.

A Kaustubha gem is studded on his neck, a tuft of hair rests on his chest representing Lakshmi. He is the Supreme Being and the granter of liberation. The creator of the countless universes lays blissfully on a bed of serpents on the oceanic waters.

In the Garbhodakasayi form he is 8-handed and  Lord of Bhuma Devi(Earth).

Thus, in every universe, it is He who assumes the form of Vishnu and takes charge of sustenance.

He is the lord of Rama (रमा) and Vaikuntha.

In Shveta Dvipa, He is the supreme 4-handed Narayana wearing white garments with his moon-like soothing complexion.

Lord Brahma appears from the lotus stalk shooting from His  navel as he lays on Ksheer Sagar. That very Lord Narayan assumes the forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva for creation, maintenance and devastation. He is the supreme deity of Surya.

Lord Vishnu for the protection of his devotees and eradication of demons assumes different incarnations in every Yuga. The whole of creation lies in the limbs of the Gigantic Virat form of that Supreme Narayana. Lord Vishnu is deemed to have 10 primary incarnations. In fact the number exceeds 24.

However the part and qualitative incarnations (Anshavatar and Kalavatar) of Narayana are infinite.

Sri Rama


According to Rama devotees, Saket is the supreme abode.

Sri Rama who sports in Saket is the lord of the entire cosmic manifestation.

Lord Rama’s energy potency and consort is Sita Devi.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are his own expansions. However, Lord Vishnu incarnates frequently but the Supreme Being Shri Rama descends on the earth, only once in a Kalpa, in Treta Yuga.

Sri Krishna

According to Krishna devotees, Golok is the final beatitude. Sri Krishna is the master of all the abodes, he is the son of Nanda.

His eternal consort and energy potency is Shrimati Radharani. By his own sweet will, he descends to earth once in a Kalpa in the Dvapara yuga.

The Vraja leela is the cream of His pastimes. Sri Krishna’s exploits in Vraja are his main pastimes.

The Dwaraka, Mathura and Kurukshetra pastimes are secondary.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva have emerged from the divine limbs of Sri Krishna. It is Lord Vishnu who assumes incarnations for the killing of asuras. Lord Krishna however is unconcerned as he is eternally situated in his abode, Goloka..

Similarities in Vaishnavas

teachings of goswami tuslidas

As we have seen above, the Vaishnava differ in their doctrines in regard to Saket, Vaikuntha and Goloka. However they agree at many places-

1) All identify themselves as Vaishnavas

 2) All worship the Saligrama (The sacred stone of Lord vishnu found in the Gandaki River)

3) All tie Tulsi beads and offer incensed articles to their adorable Bhagavan.

4) Everybody agrees that Bhagavan has a Kausthubha gem on his neck and a tuft of hair on His chest.


There are 10 primary avatars of Lord Vishnu, simply known as Dashavatar-

1) Matsya (मत्स्य)

2) Kurma (कूर्म)

3) Varah (वाराह)

4) Narasimha (नृसिंह)

5) Vamana (वामन)

6) Parashurama (परशुराम)

7) Sri Rama (श्रीराम)

8) Sri Krishna (श्रीकृष्ण)

9) Buddha (बुद्ध)

10) Kalki (कल्कि)

24 avatars of Bhagavan Vishnu

From the perspective of 24 incarnations, 14 more names are included in the list of Dashavatars. They are-

1) The Sanat Kumar brothers and Narada (सनकादि कुमार और नारद), grouped as one since both are the sons of Lord Brahma.

2) Hansa (हंस)

3) Nara-Narayana (नर नारायण)

4) Yagya (यज्ञ)

5) Hari (हरि- The protector of Gajendra)

6) Hayasheersha (हयशीर्ष)

7) Dhanvantari (धन्वन्तरि)

8) Mohini (मोहिनी)

9) Descension for Dhruva

10) Prithu (पृथु)

11) Rishabha (ऋषभ)

12) Dattatreya (दत्त)

13) Kapila (कपिल)

14) Vyasa (व्यास)

In them, the Sanat kumar brothers and Narad Muni are the sons of Brahma, so they are grouped as 1 Avatar. With this idea, we get the number 24.

Otherwise there are 25 incarnations.

Many people falsely believe that the Dashavatara follow a chronology as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and so on. However, Matsya Avatar was not the first incarnation. Matsya Avatar took place at the end of Chakshushya Kalpa. Similarly, Kurma Avatar happened long before Varaha and Narasimha during the churning of the ocean. Thus, there is no specific chronology of their manifestation.

Thanks for reading!