Bharat (India) is the birthplace of many divine incarnations. It is known as the “Lila Bhumi” (a place for miracles). Many great religious Acharyas had come and spread their fragrance all over the country till 15th Century in India. They are Shri Sankara, Shri Ramanuja, Shri Nimbarka and Shri Vallabha. All the four Acharyas hailed from the Southern part of India. Shri Vallabhacharya was born in Andhra Pradesh.
Shri Vallabhacharya’s Lineage
During the last part of the 15th Century A.D., a learned Telugu Brahmin named Yagna Narayana Bhatt lived in a village called Kakaravada, in a district called Akabidu in Andhra Pradesh state. He belonged to the Taittariya Sakha of Krishna Yajur Veda. He belonged to the Bharadwaj Gotra. He was a follower of Vishnu Sampraday. He used to worship the deity known as Gopala Krushn. He was an erudite Vedic scholar. People used to look upon him as an incarnation of Vedas. His main occupation in life was to study and teach Vedas and perform Yagnas. He had taken a vow to perform Soma yagna ever year.
Once he was offering holy coconut at the end of a yagna in the sacrificial yagna kunda. To his utter surprise suddenly the whole yagna kunda was engulfed by a brilliant flame. In this flame Yagna Narayana Bhatt saw a divine being standing before him. The deity blessed him with a boon to desire anything; Bhatt asked for Bhakti with which he could spend his whole life. He was granted this and it was then revealed that when his descendents complete 100 Soma yagnas in his family, God himself will be born as his son.
Shri Yagna Narayana Bhatt had performed 32 yagnas during his life span. His son Gangadhara Bhatt had performed 28 Soma yagnas. His son Ganapati Bhatt had performed 30 Soma yagnas. His son Vallabha Bhatt could perform only 5 yagnas. Finally when his son Sri Lakshmana Bhatt had completed five Soma yagnas, the promised 100 yajnas got completed. All the descendants of the Bhatt family were scholars in their own lives. Each had written many Granthas (sacred book). Each is considered to be an incarnation of the celestial whose name they used to bear. The birth of Shri Mahaprabhuji had taken place is such a family of extremely intelligent Brahmans.
Shri Vallabhacharya or Shri Vallabh or Mahaprabhuji was born in the year 1478 AD (Vik.Sam.1535) in Champaranya near Raipur in Central Bharat (India). He was the son of Sri Lakshmana Bhatt and Illama Garu. Sri Lakshmana Bhatt was the descendent of Yagna Narayana Bhatt, to whom the Lord had promised that he will take birth in this family on the completion of a 100 Soma yagnas.
Subsequently, Lakshmana Bhatt and his family members migrated from their village as they wanted to see the North Indian holy places. They reached Kashi (Varanasi), after taking a halt at Prayag (Allahabad) for a sacred dip in Triveni Sangam – the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati. At Varanasi, he finished performing the remaining five Soma yagnas. On completion of the hundredth Soma yagna, Lakshmana Bhatt paid his due obeisance to the Lord by reciting the ‘Gopal Mantra’ as apprised by his Guru, Premakara Muni. After the recitation of the Mantra, Lord Shri Krishna came in his dream. He told Lakshmana Bhatt that he would incarnate in the form of his son. Both the husband and wife got extremely happy upon hearing the news and eagerly started waiting for the auspicious day to come.
Mahaprabhuji came to this world during the times of social and religious upheavals. Most of the northern and central India was besieged by the incursions of Muslim invaders. To escape from religious persecution and conversion, a larger population was migrating to the safer havens. When Mahaprabhuji’s wife was expecting him, severe social threats struck Varanasi owing to which the family had to leave Varanasi and settle back to its native place.
On their way south, they stopped at Champaran (earlier known as Champajhar or Champaranya, a forest area now in Chhattisgarh). Due to fright and physical strain of the escape suffered by the mother, she gave birth to a premature child. After the child’s birth, for the first few hours, it showed no signs of life and the parents mistook it as a stillbirth. With utter distress, the parents wrapped the baby in a piece of white cloth and handed over the baby to the Shami tree and proceeded to the River Mahanadi. While reposing on the river bank, they met Shri Krishna in their dream who told them that he has come as a newly born child to protect Hinduism from its potential extinction. When the parents reached the Shami tree, they found the boy playing cheerfully in the midst of flames, and surrounded by the forest animals that were – in a way – paying their due obeisance to the baby Krishna. The blessed mother then extended her hands into the flame unscathed and got her divine child. He was named Vallabh, which in Sanskrit means the ‘dear one’. Later, he acquired the name Vallabhacharya. As a child, he was found playing amidst the Holy Fire and hence he was also believed to be the incarnation of Agni (The Fire).
Thus, Vallabhacharya was born in V.S.1535, or 1479 AD, at Champaran, in Chhattisgarh. The day was the 11th day of the waning Chaitra. On the birth of Mahaprabhuji, another phenomenal event occurred at the temple town of Nathdwara where the face of Lord Shrinathji, i.e. the Mukharvind, emerged out of the ground. Years later, when Mahaprabhuji personally visited Govardhan, the whole idol ascended out of the soil. Later in the years, Shrinathji motivated Vallabhacharyaji to set up Seva into Pushti Marg. Thus, Shri Vallabhacharya’s birth coincided with the manifestation of the Mukharvind of Shrinathji.
Shri Vallabh was interested in Vedic studies from his early childhood. When he was six years old Shri Lakshmana Bhatt engaged good teachers to teach Aksharabhyasa to Shri Vallabh. Shri Vallabh learnt all the scriptures much faster than his teachers could even teach with his sparking reasoning and thinking powers.
When Shri Vallabh was around nine years old, he and his brother Shri Ramchandra Bhatt were initiated into Yagyopavit Sanskar, the Hindu thread ceremony. In their childhood, special teachers were appointed to teach them Adhyatma Vidya of Vedas and Shad Darshan i.e. the six Indian Philosophical Systems. Shri Vallabh gained expertise in these subjects just within two years of initiation. By the age of eleven years, Shri Vallabh started discussing various doctrines including Dwaita, Vishishtadwaita, Kewaladwaita, etc.
Interaction with other scholars
Once, Shri Vallabh went to spend few days at his uncle’s place in Vidyanagar. There, a Shastrarth (discussion) was organized at Maharaja Krishnadev’s palace. Upon getting the information from the villagers that Mayavadins was outdoing the Vaishnavas, Shri Vallabh hurriedly proceeded towards the palace.
When Shri Vallabh moved into the palace, people present inside it were spellbound upon seeing the spiritual beauty of this young boy. Shri Vallabh then stated counterstriking the Mayavadins who were, at that moment, on the verge of winning the ongoing Shastrarth. However, unable to compete with the wisdom of Shri Vallabh, Mayavadins soon conceded their defeat. Via this debate, Shri Vallabh established a new school of thought called Shhudhadvaita.
Celebrating the victory of Vaishnavas, Maharaja Krishnadev decided to perform Kanakabhishek or pure gold bath of Shri Vallabh. He showered immense wealth onto Shri Vallabh. However, Vallabh took only seven coins from it – on occasion of building a temple – and gave away the rest to the poor and needy.
Bharat Parikrama (Journey within India)
Shri Vallabh successfully finished three Prithvi Parikramas (here circumambulation of Mother India) in his life. His aim was to spread his Shhudhadvaita philosophy to the maximum number of people in India. Shri Vallabh’s mission in life was to initiate the Daivi Jeevas (pious souls) with the Brahmasambandh Diksha. He met all the Daivi Jeevas during his Prithvi Parikramas
Shri Vallabh began his first Parikrama at the age of thirteen. His decision on conducting Parikramas was initially resisted by his widowed mother. However, without the permission of his mother it was impossible to leave his place. Shri Vallabh then, being an incarnation of Agni (Fire), ordered Agni to set his house on fire with himself stuck inside the house. When Shri Vallabh’s mother asked her son to leave the house immediately, he took her words as final and readied himself for the Parikramas. He promised his mother that he would definitely return to perform her funeral rites. Thereafter, Shri Vallabh finished his three Parikramas and settled in Adel near Allahabad.
While performing the Parikramas, the three rules which Shri Vallabh strictly abided by are as follows –
1. Performing the Parikrama barefoot. (In his life, he walked around 12000 km shoeless).
2. Never entering into a village or city and always staying on its fringes.
3. Never wearing stitched clothes. (He wore dhoti and Uparana for lifetime).
Constrution of the temple
Shri Vallabh reached the Giriraj parvat at Jatipura when he was just 14 years of age. This was the time when he was on his first Parikrama. Here Shri Govardhannathji asked Shri Vallabh to build a temple for him. Shriji had also appeared in the dream of a Vaishnav, named Shri Puranmal Kshatri, in Punjab to be present at Jatipura.
At Jatipura, Shri Puranmal made himself a sevak (devotee) of Shri Vallabh. Under the instructions of Shri Vallabh, Shri Puranmal later built a temple for Shriji at Govardhan parvat. A traditional custom called sewa pranalika was gradually started performed by the Vaishnavas of Pushtimarg, and is being conducted successfully till today.
To fulfill the wish of Shri Vitthalnathji – Vitthoba of Pandharpur, Shri Vallabh got married at the age of 32. Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji, the wife of Shri Vallabh, was reverently called Akkaji in Pushtimarg. Shri Vallabh also had two sons with Shri Mahalaxmi – namely Shri Gopinathji and Shri Vitthalnathji.
First 84 Vaishnavas
Shri Vallabh, during his life span, gave Brahmasambandh to many Vaishnavas. However, from all of them, 84 Vaishnavas are called the ideal Vaishnavas. Their stories (or Vartas) have been inscribed properly so that today’s Vaishnavas can uphold the Pushtimarg following the footstep of these 84 Vaishnavas.
Four Ashta sakhas of Pushtimarg, who were the direct disciples of Shri Vallabh are –
- Shri Surdasji,
- Shri Kumbhandasji,
- Shri Krishnadasji and
- Shri Paramananddasji
All the Ashta Sakhas have composed Kirtans which are still sung in the temples of Pushtimarg. These Kirtans now form a crucial part of the Vraj-Bhasha literature in India. Amongst all the Kirtans, Shri Surdasji is the most famous.
Last days of life
At the age of 52 years, Shri Vallabh was guided by Shriji to leave the gross world and unite with him. It is believed that Shriji had appeared twice before Shri Vallabh asking for his return.
However, Shri Vallabh had insisted that he needed to finish some pending tasks before performing Asur Vyamoha Leela and leaving this world. He completed his maun vrat (silence) of 17 days at Hanuman ghat in Varanasi. At the completion of this maun vrat, he wrote a stotra 31/2 – the Shiksha Shloki and passed on this to his sons. After spreading his final works to all the Vaishnava, he entered the River Ganga and ascended to Gauloka (Lord Vishnu’s heaven). During his life time, he wrote 39 Granthas and composed innumerable Kirtans.