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Sampradaya: Wikis


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In Hinduism, a sampradaya (IAST sampradāya) can be translated as ‘tradition’ or a ‘religious system’, although the word commands much more respect and power in the Indian context than its translations in English does.[1] It relates to a disciplic succession serving as a spiritual channel and providing a delicate network of relationships that lends stability of religious identity being clarified precisely when that network becomes unstable.[1] In the contrast with it a particular guru lineages are called parampara and by receiving an initiation (diksha) into a parampara of a living guru, one belongs to its proper sampradaya. The concept of sampradaya therefore is closely tied to the concrete reality of guru-parampara — the lineage of spiritual masters who are both carries and transmitters of the tradition.[1] Initiation diksa is a means by which one can become a member of a sampradaya, it is a ritual procedure, or to an individual in the parampara, is one of the primary functions of sampradaya; one cannot become a member by birth, as is the case with gotra, a seminal, or hereditary, dynasty. Sampradaya is a body of practice, views and attitudes, which are transmitted, redefined and reviewed by each successive generation of followers. Participation in sampradaya forces continuity with the past, or tradition, but at the same time provides a platform for change from within the community of practitioners of this particular traditional group.[1]

There are four Vaishnava sampradayas according to Padma Purana quoted in Böthlingk Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary, entry Sampradaya,[2]

Four Vaisnava disciplic successions, inaugurated by Sri, Lord Brahma, Lord Rudra, and Sanaka, one of the four Kumaras, according to the scriptural source, appear in the holy place of Jaganatha Puri, and purify the entire earth during the Kali yuga (believed to be the current age in Hinduism). Sri chooses Ramanuja to represent her disciplic succession. In the same way Lord Brahma chose Madhvacharya in Brahma sampradaya, Rudra chose Visnuswami in Rudra Sampradaya, and the four Kumaras chose Nimbaditya (Nimbarka Sampradaya)." Number of traditions due to assumption of the god-like status of their founder, rejected the parent sampradaya in favour of the new, as would be an example with Ramanandis, Vallabhacharya and Swaminarayan. [3]

Thus concept and basic beliefs may be shared between different sampradaya faiths, as is often the case in traditions worshiping Radha Krishna or in more generic terms following Krishnaism, while adoration of the founding leader may obviously differ.

Beside widely known Vaishnava sampradayas there are also Shaivite sampradayas, for example, the Nath and Nandinatha Sampradayas.

For followers of Advaita tradition, Adi Sankara sampradya proceeds in this disciplinic succession: Vyasa--- Śuka---Gaudapada--- Govindapada----Adi Sankara.[4]


Functions and Challenges

Functions or roles sampradaya plays in the formation, transmission, and perpetuation of communal religious identity are multi-faceted; it naturally becomes subjected to many challenges to that identity. These challenges become resulting places to look at for the constituents of religious identity and definition of the core as compared with external. However for most observers, controversies regarding sampradaya usually mean controversies of succession, as would be the case for example of succession of Swaminarayan Faith. These are usually controversies at the human end of the parampara, over the basic question of control or 'who is the legitimate representative of a particular line, or . . . whose “level of divine realization” is superior’. [5] One must taken in the context of the fact that "the institutional memory implicit to parampara defined the contours of sampraday for every individual" participating in it.[6]


Membership in a sampradaya not only lends a level of authority to one’s claims on truth in Hindu traditional context, but also allows one to make those claims in the first place. An often quoted verse from the Padma Purana states, sampradayavihina ye mantras te nisphala matah: "Mantras which are not received in sampradaya are considered fruitless."[1] "Unless one is initiated by a bona-fide spiritual master in the disciplic succession, the mantra he might have received is without any effect."[1][7] As Wright and Wright put it, ‘If one cannot prove natal legitimacy, one may be cast out as a bastard. The same social standard applies to religious organizations. If a religious group cannot prove its descent from one of the recognised traditions, it risks being dismissed as illegitimate.’ [8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Gupta, R. (2002), Sampradaya in Eighteenth Century Caitanya Vaisnavism, ICJ,  
  2. ^ Apte, V.S. (1965). The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary: containing appendices on Sanskrit prosody and important literary and geographical names of ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass Publ..  
  3. ^ William R. Pinch, Remembering Ramanand. p. 37:"purged from the institutional memory of the Ramanandi sampraday, and Ramanand was declared to have acted independently in originating Vaishnavism in the north."
  4. ^ Swami Tapasyananda, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, p. xviii
  5. ^ Jarow, E. H. Rick. (1999) ‘Karna and Controversy in the Mahabharata.’ in Journal of Vaisnava Studies 8.1 p.60
  6. ^ William R. Pinch, Remembering Ramanand. p. 40
  7. ^ The original Sanskrit text found in Sabda-Kalpa-Druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary and Prameya-ratnavali 1.5-6 by Baladeva Vidyabhushana states: sampradaya vihina ye mantras te nisphala matah
    atah kalau bhavisyanti catvarah sampradayinah
    sri-brahma-rudra-sanaka vaisnavah ksiti-pavanah
    catvaras te kalau bhavya hy utkale purusottamat
    ramanujam sri svicakre madhvacaryam caturmukhah
    sri visnusvaminam rudro nimbadityam catuhsanah
  8. ^ Wright, Michael and Nancy Wright. (1993) ‘Baladeva Vidyabhusana: The Gaudiya Vedantist.’ Journal of Vaisnava Studies. 1.2 p. 162)

See also



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