|Born||27 April 1479|
|Died||26 June 1531 (aged 52)|
|Children||Gopinathji and Vitthalnath|
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Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhu (1479–1531 CE), also known as Vallabha, Mahaprabhuji and Vishnuswami, or Vallabha Acharya, was an Indian saint and philosopher. He founded the Krishna-centered Pushtimarg sect of Vaishnavism in the Braj (Vraja) region of India, and propounded the philosophy of Śuddhādvaita.
Vallabha was born in a Telugu Tailang Brahmin family that was residing in Varanasi. They escaped to Champaran of Chhattisgarh state while expecting a Muslim invasion in Varanasi during the late 15th century.
Vallabha studied the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and Shaddarshana as a child, and then traveled throughout the Indian subcontinent for over 20 years. He became one of the important leaders of the devotional Bhakti movement. He won many philosophical scholarly debates against followers of Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhvacharya, and others.
He rejected asceticism and monastic life, suggested that through loving devotion to the deity Krishna, any householder could achieve salvation – an idea that became influential all over India, held by his 84 Baithakjis (places of worship) in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Goa, Sindh, and various other parts of Indian subcontinent. He is associated with the Vishnuswami Sampradaya, and is the prominent Jagadguru Acharya of Rudra Sampradaya out of the four traditional Vaishnava Sampradayas.
He authored many texts including but not limited to, the Anubhashya colloquially also called Brahmasutranubhashya (his commentary on Brahma Sutra), Shodash Granth or sixteen 'stotras' (tracts) and several commentaries on the Bhagavata Purana.
Vallabha's writings and kirtan compositions focus on baby Krishna and his childhood pranks with Yashoda (unconditional motherly love), as well as a youthful Krishna's protection of the good (divine grace) and his victory over demons and evils, all with allegory and symbolism.
His legacy is best preserved with the acharyas of his Pushtimarg Vallabh Sampradaya, also in the Braj region, and particularly at Nathdwara and Dwarkadhish Temple in Mewar region of India – are important Krishna pilgrimage center.
He is regarded as an incarnation of Agni (Vaishvanara).
The birth place of Vallabhacharya is not clear and most of the historical sources on Vallabhacharya's life is scant. According to some accounts the ancestors of Vallabhacharya hailed from the Andhra region and belonged to a long line of Somyagya Performing Telugu Brahmin following the Taittirīya branch of the Black Yajurveda.
According to devotional accounts, Kr̥ṣṇa commanded his ancestor Yagnanarayana Bhatta that he would take birth in their family after completion of 100 Soma yajña-s. By the time of Yagnanarayana's descendant Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa and his wife Illammāgāru who migrated to the holy town of Vārāṇasī, the family had completed 100 Somayajñas.
The period surrounding Vallabhacharya's birth was a tumultuous one in Vārāṇasī. Bahlūl Lodi, sultan of Delhi, was battling with Husain Shāh, sultan of Jaunpur, and there was fear that Vārāṇasī would be attacked. Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa had to urgently move out of Vārāṇasī with his pregnant wife. According to the Śrīvallabhadigvijaya and other hagiographies, due to terror and physical strain of the flight suffered by the mother, there was a two month premature birth in the forests of Campāraṇya in the middle of the night. As the child did not show signs of life, the distressed parents placed Vallabha under a śami tree wrapped in a piece of cloth. That night Kr̥ṣṇa appeared in their dreams to tell them he had taken birth as the child whom they had left under a tree mistaken to not be alive. In the morning the parents rushed to the spot and were amazed to find their son alive and protected by a circle of divine fire. The blessed mother extended her arms into the fire unscathed; she received from the fire the divine baby, and a voice announced in Sanskrit that the baby was the incarnation of the mouth of the supreme being. According to other hagiographies such as Śrī Nāthajī Prākaṭya kī Vārtā, Vallabha appeared in the Agnikuṇḍ in Mathura. Most hagiographies date Vallabha's birth to 1535 Vikrama Era, or 1478-1479 CE.
Soon after Vallabha's birth his family moved back to Vārāṇasī. His education commenced at the age of eight, and by the age of eleven had mastered Vedas, Vedāntas, six Śāstras, and some Purāṇas, with the Bhāgavata being is favorite.
Nearing the end of his life, Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa decided to take his wife and 10 year old son along on a pilgrimage with him to holy sites of southern India. They first stopped at the Vaiṣṇava shrine of Jagannātha in Purī in 1489. The local ruler was sponsoring a great philosophical debate where four questions were posed to scholars: "What is the foremost scripture? Who is the foremost deity? Which is the most effective mantra? What is the easiest and best action?", to which Vallabha responded with the Bhagavad Gītā, Kr̥ṣṇa, any of Kr̥ṣṇa's names, and sevā (service) to Kr̥ṣṇa, whereupon Jagannātha wrote a śloka in support of his response and condemning the supporters of Advaita Vedanta or Māyāvādis.
In 1490, they reached the temple of Veṅkaṭeśvara at Tirupati, where Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa died, and Illammāgārū began to live with her brother in Vijayanagara.
In 1493, Vallabha had a dream where Kr̥ṣṇa ordered him to go to Govardhan Hill and establish proper service (seva) to his divine image (svarupa) which had appeared there years ago. When he arrived in Gokul in 1494, Vallabha had a vision where Kr̥ṣṇa appeared before him and bestowed upon him the Brahmasambandha mantra, which was to be used to clean the flaws of a human soul. The next morning Vallabha administered the mantra to his companion Dāmodaradāsa Harsānī, who became the first member of the Vallabha Sampradāya.
When Vallabha came to Govardhan Hill, he went to the house of Saḍḍūpāṇḍe. Saḍḍūpāṇḍe had received a vision from Kr̥ṣṇa years earlier that told him a stone that had appeared on Govardhan Hill was his own svarupa and that he should give offerings to it. The image was known as Devadamana, and Vallabha announced that it was actually the svarupa of Śrī Govardhananāthajī (shortened to Śrī Nāthjī). Vallabha built a small shrine on the hill for Śrī Nāthjī, and initiated an ascetic named Rāmdās Cauhān to perform the regular worship.
In 1499 a wealthy merchant from Ambālā named Pūrṇamalla Khatrī had a dream where Kr̥ṣṇa told him to build a temple for Śrī Nāthjī. However when the temple was only half built Pūrṇamalla had exhausted his finances and the temple would only be completed in 1520.
Vallabha may have intended to remain a lifelong celibate brahmacārī, but during his second pilgramage of India between 1501-1503, he had gone to Paṁḍḥarapura to view the god Viṭṭhala or Viṭhobā (called Viṭṭhalanātha in sectarian literature). There he was given an order by Viṭṭhala to marry. Some sectarian sources assert this was because Viṭṭhala wanted to take birth as his son, and others say it was to create a line of descendants to preserve and promote Vallabha's version of bhakti-mārga.
Obeying this, following his caste traditions and practices, Vallabha married Mahālakṣmī sometime between 1502 and 1504, a Vārāṇasī girl of his own caste who began living with him upon maturity c. 1510-1512. Vallabha had two houses, one at Aṛaila on the Yamunā River across Prayagraj, and at Caraṇāṭa near Vārāṇasī. According to Saha, the location of his home provided a central location which allowed him to access to preach and convert throughout northern and central India.
His first son, Gopīnātha, was born in 1512 at Aṛaila and according to sectarian tradition was the avatāra of Balarāma, elder brother of Kr̥ṣṇa. His second son, Viṭṭhalanātha, was born in 1516 at Caraṇāṭa, and is considered the avatāra of Viṭṭhala.
When Vallabha was living in his ancestral village of Kāṅkaravāḍa, he heard of a philosophical debate or śāstrārtha being held in at the court of King Kr̥ṣṇadevarāya of Vijayanagara, and that the Vaiṣṇava schools of thought were being beaten by Māyāvāda philosophers. Vallabha immediately went to Vijayanagara to join the debate, and entered the Vaiṣṇava camp led by Ācārya Vyāsatīrtha of the Mādhva school. Vallabha through his erudition and debate skills triamphantly defeated the Māyāvādīs, and was rewarded by Kr̥ṣṇadevarāya with large amounts of gold (most of which he distributed among brahmins).
He was also offered the prestigious title of ācārya from the Mādhva Sampradāya and the Viṣṇusvāmī Sampradāya. Vallabha chose to become ācārya of the Viṣṇusvāmi school. Very little is known of the Viṣṇusvāmī school's, and by Vallabha's time its followers were few. The majority view is that Vallabha chose to become ācārya of that school in order to make his own doctrines more prestigious, and that there is likely no real connection between the ideas of Viṣṇusvāmī and Vallabhācārya.
According to sectarian literature, this debate occurred shortly after Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa's death in 1490; however, Kr̥ṣṇadevarāya only became king of Vijayanagara in 1509, which is when scholars believed the debate likely occurred historically. The debate is first mentioned in a mid-eighteenth-century text called the Caurāsī Baiṭhak Caritra and is not mentioned in independent historical sources. According to Saha, this story is meant to portray "the image of a victorious Vallabha winning the subcontinent for Kr̥ṣṇa".
Vallabhacharya performed three pilgrimages(Digvijay Yatra) of India, barefoot. These three pilgrimages of India are known as Prithvi Parikrama or Vallabh Digvijay in Pushtimarg Literature.
He wore a simple white dhoti and a Upparna a white upper garment cloth (known as Upavarna, literally "upper cloth" in Sanskrit) and make no use of his khadau (footwear). He gave discourses on Bhagavata at 84 places and explained the meanings of the Puranic text. This 84 places are known as Chaurāsi Baithak (चौरासी बैठक) and now they are places of pilgrimage. He stayed in Vraja for four months in each year.
In 1530 Vallabha took a vow of renunciation and withdrew to Hanuman Ghat on the Gaṅgā river in Vāṇārasī. After a month he summoned his sons Gopinātha and Viṭṭhalanātha, and designated the 18-19 year old Gopīnātha as his successor. According to sectarian accounts, he walked in the Gaṅgā and vanished in a flash of light.
Vallabhacharya composed many philosophical and devotional books during his lifetime which includes:
Vallabha formulated the philosophy of Śuddhādvaita, in response to Śaṅkara's Ādvaita Vedānta, which he called Maryādā Mārga or Path of Limitations. Vallabha asserted that religious disciplines that focused on Vedic sacrifices, temple rituals, puja, meditation, and yoga held limited value. Additionally Vallabha rejected the concept of Māyā, stating that the world was a manifestation of the Supreme Absolute and could neither be tainted nor change. The school rejects the ascetic lifestyle and cherishes householder lifestyle, wherein followers see themselves as participants and companions of Krishna, and view their daily lives as an ongoing raslila.
According to Vallabha, Brahman consists of existence, consciousness, and bliss, and when manifested completely, as Kr̥ṣṇa himself. The purpose of this tradition is to perform sevā (selfless service) out of love for Kr̥ṣṇa. According to Vallabhacharya, through single minded religiosity, a devotee would achieve awareness that there is nothing in the world that is not Kr̥ṣṇa.
On 14 April 1977, the Indian postal department, Government of India issued in his honor, a commemorative stamp bearing the image of Vallabhacharya.