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The Vaiṣṇava Canon

Canon is a collection of pramāṇas, i.e., books accepted as authoritative or authentic. This article lists the source books accepted by all Vaishnavas. The fundamental and the most important of them is the Veda or ṡruti, “that which is heard”. Any other means or proof of knowledge is acceptable only as long as it does not contradict the Vedas (samhitā, brāhmaṇa, āraṇyaka and upaniṣad).

The Vedas are infinite (anantā vai vēdāḥ, Taittiriya Brahmana 3.10.11.14). By the time of Pāṇini (5th c. BCE), they were reduced to 1131 ṡākhas or branches of the Veda. However, today only about 21 have survived.

All the branches of Veda are authoritative. The following list contains only the subset emphasized in the traditional commentaries of the Vaishnava acharyas.

  1. Vedas
    • The Ṛg-vēda Saṃhitā – in particular, the hymns referring to Viṣṇu (Viṣṇu Sūkta); Puruṣa Sūkta (10.90) and Ṡrī Sūkta along with their commentaries.
    • Ṡatapatha Brāhmaṇa (1.1.2, 10.5.2) of Ṡukla Yajur-veda
    • Taittirīya Saṃhitā (5.2) of Kṛṣṇa Yajur-veda
    • Taittirīya Āraṇyaka of Kṛṣṇa Yajur-veda
  2. Upanisads
    • Ten primary ones: Īṡa, Kēna, Kaṭha, Praṡna, Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍūkya, Taittirīya, Aitarēya, Chāndōgya, Bṛhadāraṇyaka
    • Ten ancillary ones: Ṡvētāṡvatara, Kauṡītakī, Maitrāyaṇīya, Nārāyaṇa-atharvaṡiras, Atharvaṡikhā, Subāla, Cūlikā (also called Mantrika), Mahōpaniṣad, Narasiṃha-tāpanīya and Rudra-atharvaṡiras (which uses the term Mahēṡvara). Note that the the tenth chapter of the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka, called Nārāyaṇa-valli or Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad is counted as part of the Taittirīya Up. itself.
  3. Itihāsas or histories
    • Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki
    • Mahābhārata of Vēda Vyāsa – in particular Ṡānti-parva (Nārāyaṇīya section and Mokṣadharma section), Bhīṣma-parva (Bhagavad-gītā), Anuṡāsana-parva (viṣṇu sahasranāma), Aṡvamedhikā-parva (Anugītā).
  4. Vaisnava (or Sātvika) Puranas
    • Viṣṇu Purāṇa
    • Bhāgavata Purāṇa
    • Nārada Purāṇa
    • Padma Purāṇa
    • Varāha Purāṇa
    • Garuḍa Purāṇa
    • Viṣṇu-dharmōttara (upapurāṇa)
  5. Āgamas
    • Pan̄carātra
      • Sāttvata Saṃhitā (first of ratna-traya)
      • Pauṣkara Saṃhitā (second of ratna-traya)
      • Jayākhya Saṃhitā (third of ratna-traya)
      • Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā
      • Bharadvāja Saṃhitā (listed by 8 other saṃhitās)
      • Īṡvara Saṃhitā (listed by 7 other saṃhitās)
      • Naradiya Saṃhitā (listed by 7 other saṃhitās)
      • Visvaksena Saṃhitā (listed by 7 other saṃhitās)
      • Padma Saṃhitā (listed by 7 saṃhitās, incl. itself)
      • Paramesvara Saṃhitā (listed by 7 saṃhitās, incl. itself)
      • Parama Saṃhitā
      • Lakṣmī Tantra
    • Vaikhānasa
      • Vimāna-racana-kalpa of Marīci (Marīci Saṃhitā)
      • Samūrtarcanādhikarana of Atri (Atri Saṃhitā)
      • Jn̄ānakāṇḍa of Kaṡyapa
      • Kriyādhikāra of Bhṛgu
  6. Divya-prabandham (Tamil Veda or Draviḍa Veda)
    The 4000 (nālāyira) divine hymns of the Āẕvārs, consisting of Nammāẕvār’s 1102-verse magnum opus Tiruvāymoẕi, Tirumangai Āẕvār’s 1084-verse Periya-tirumoẕi, female saint Āṇḍāḻ’s Tiruppāvai among others.
  7. Dharma-ṡāstras
    The most prominent are Manu-smṛti (or Mānava-dharma-ṡāstra), Yājn̄avalkya-smṛti, Parāṡara-smṛti (esp. for Kali-yuga), Hārīta-smṛti and Ṡāṇḍilya-smṛti. Note that most of the dharma-ṡāstras have been interpolated and tampered with over the millenia. The versions of these scriptures available to us today are not the same ones quoted by our revered ācāryas.

The Srivaiṣṇava Canon

The Srivaishnavas disciplic lineage builds upon all the above works. The following is an extract from the book “Vaiṣṇavism – Its Philosophy, Theology and Religious Discipline” by S. M. Srinivasa Chari.

  1. Commentaries on the Divya-Prabandham
    • Ārāyirappaḍi of Piḻḻan
    • Oṅpatināyirappaḍi of Nan̄jīyar
    • Oṅpatināyirappaḍi of Raṅgarāmānuja (in Sanskrit)
    • Pannirāyirappaḍi of Aẕagīya-manavāḻa Jīyar
    • Padinennāyirappaḍi of Periya Pakāla Swāmi
    • Irupattu-nālāyirappaḍi of Periyavācchān Piḻḻai
    • Irupattu-nālāyirappaḍi of Vēdānta Rāmānuja
  2. Ṡrīmad Yāmunācārya’s works
    • Siddhi-traya
    • Āgama-prāmāṇya
    • Stōtra-ratna and Catuḥ-ṡlōki
    • Gītārtha-saṅgraha
  3. Bhagavad Rāmānujācārya’s works
    • Ṡrībhāṣya with Śruta-prakāṡikā
    • Vēdānta-dīpa and Vēdānta-sāra
    • Bhagavad-gītā-bhāṣya
    • Vēdārtha-saṅgraha
    • Gadya-traya (ṡaraṇāgati-gadya, ṡrīraṅga-gadya, vaikuṇṭha-gadya)
    • Nitya-grantha
  4. Ṡrīvatsāṅka Miṡra
    Atimānuṣa-stava, Ṡrī-stava, Varadarāja-stava, Vaikuṇṭha-stava, Sundarabāhu-stava
  5. Parāṡara Bhaṭṭa
    Bhagavad-guṇa-darpaṇa, Aṣṭa-ṡlōki, ṡrī-guṇaratna-kōṡa, Ṡrīraṅgarāja-stava
  6. Nan̄jīyar: Ṡrī-sūkta Bhāṣya
  7. Periyavaccāna-piḻḻai: Commentaries on Jitantē-stōtra, Gadya-traya, Catuḥ-ṡlōki, Paranda-rahasyam, Tani-slōkam, Māṇikka-mālai.
  8. Piḻḻai Lōkācārya
    He is foremost of Tēṅkalai sect, author of Aṣṭādaśa rahasya-granthas (“18 secrets”). Important among them (in the Maṇipravaḻa language):
    • Ṡrīvacana-bhūṣaṇam
    • Tattva-trayam
    • Mumukṣuppaḍi
    • Artha-pan̄cakam
    • Arcirādi and many other expository works
  9. Maṇavāḻa Mahāmuni (successor of Piḻḻai Lōkācārya):
    • Commentaries on Piḻḻai Lōkācārya’s works, Periyāẕvār’s Tirumoẕi, Rāmānuja-Nūṟṟandādi
    • Tiruvāymoẕi-Nūṟṟandādi
    • Tiruvārādhana-kramam
    • Iyal-ṡāttu
    • Upadēṡa ratna-mālai
    • Yatirāja viṃṡati and many other rahasya granthas
  10. Vēdānta-dēṡika, foremost of Vaḍakalai sect:
    • Commentaries on Īṡāvāsyōpaniṣad, Gītābhāṣya (Tātparya-candrikā), Gadya-traya, Stōtra-ratna and Catuḥ-ṡlōki
    • Adhikaraṇa-sārāvaḻi
    • Pān̄carātra-rakṣa, Nikṣēpa-rakṣa and Saccharitra-rakṣa
    • Tattva-muktā-kalāpa with Sarvārtha Siddhi
    • Nyāya-paniṡuddhi and Nyāya-siddhān̄jana

During the seven centuries following Vedanta Desika and Pillai Lokacarya, many works both in Sanskrit and Manipravaja language have been written by the Vaisnava acaryas and eminent Vaisnava scholars belonging to both Vadakalai and Tenkalai sects. Most of these books are in the form of further commentaries, glosses on the hymns of the Alvars and the works of Ramanuja, Vedanta Desika and other earlier acaryas.