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ReligionHinduism (Vaishnavism)
ChildrenGopinātha and Viṭṭhalanātha
Founder ofPuṣṭimārga

Vallabha, or Vallabhācārya (1479–1531 CE), was an Indian saint and philosopher. He founded the Kr̥ṣṇa-centered Puṣṭimārga sect of Vaishnavism in the Braj (Vraja) region of India, and propounded the philosophy of Śuddhādvaita.

Vallabha studied Hindu philosophy from early age, 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 the followers of Advaita Vedānta. He began the institutional worship of Śrī Nāthajī on Govardhana Hill, and became the ācārya of the Viṣṇusvāmi school. He acquired many followers in the Gangetic plain and Gujarat.

Vallabha rejected asceticism and monastic life, suggesting that through loving devotion to the deity Krishna, any householder could achieve salvation. He authored many texts including but not limited to, the Aṇubhāṣya (his commentary on the Brahma Sutras), Ṣoḍaśa Grantha or sixteen tracts and several commentaries on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.



Events from Vallabha's life are recounted in several sectarian Puṣṭimārga texts. Among the Braj Bhasha sources include the Caurāsī Vaiṣṇavan kī Vārtā, Śrī Nāthajī Prākaṭya kī Vārtā, and Caurāsī Baiṭhak Caritra. The most important Sanskrit source is the Śrīvallabhadigvijaya.[1]

The Caurāsī Baiṭhak Caritra dates to the mid-18th century.[2] The Śrī Nāthajī kī Prākaṭya Vārtā in its current form was likely written in the 1860s, although its contents were orally known prior to the 19th century. The Vallabha Digvijaya claims to have be composed in 1610, however modern scholars state the text was composed around the turn of the 20th century.[3]

The hagiographical sources for Vallabha's life disagree with each other on several details, likely due to internal fragmentation of the religious community from the 17th to 19th centuries.[4]


Site worshipped as the birthplace of Vallabha in Campāraṇya, identified in the late 19th century.[5]

According to tradition, Vallabha's family were Velanāṭa or Vellanāḍu Telugu Brahmins who belonged to the Bhāradvāja gotra and the Taittirīya branch of the Yajurveda. Their ancestral village was Kāṅkaravāḍa on the southern bank of the Godāvarī River.[6]

According to some sources such as the Śrīvallabhadigvijaya, Vallabha's birth occurred in the forests of Campāraṇya, due to his parents fleeing Vārāṇasī in fear of Muslim invasion. These sources depict his birth a miraculous, with his parents initially leaving the seemingly still-born infant beneath a śamī tree, before being recalled by a supernatural voice to see Vallabha alive and surrounded by fire. According to other hagiographies such as Śrī Nāthajī Prākaṭya kī Vārtā, Vallabha appeared in the Agnikuṇḍ (“Pool of Fire”) in Mathurā. Most hagiographies date Vallabha's birth to 1535 Vikrama Era, or 1478-1479 CE.[1][7]


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 several Sanskrit Hindu texts, with the Bhāgavata Purāṇa being his favorite.[1]

First Pilgrimage[edit]

Nearing the end of his life, Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa decided to take his wife and 10-year-old son along on a pilgrimage to southern India. They first stopped at the Vaishnava temple 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 Vedānta (Māyāvādis).[8]

In 1490, they reached the temple of Veṅkaṭeśvara at Tirupati, where Lakṣmaṇa Bhaṭṭa died, and Illammāgārū began to live with her brother in Vijayanagara.[9]

Reception of the Brahmasambandha mantra and installation of Śrī Nāthajī[edit]

Vallabha giving Kr̥ṣṇa a sacred thread after receiving the Brahmasambandha mantra. Dāmodaradāsa Harasānī on the right.

In 1493, Vallabha is said to have had a dream where Kr̥ṣṇa ordered him to go to Govardhana Hill and establish proper service (sevā) to his image (svarūpa) which had appeared there years ago. When he arrived in Gokula 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 Harasānī, who became the first member of the Puṣṭimārga (Vallabha Sampradaya).[1][10] Most sources state these events occurred in Gokula, except the Śrī Nāthajī Prākaṭya kī Vārtā which states it happened in Jharkhand.[11]

Vallabha finds Shrinathji at Govardhan Hill.

When Vallabha came to Govardhana Hill, he went to the house of Saḍḍu Pāṇḍe. Saḍḍu Pāṇḍe had received a vision from Kr̥ṣṇa years earlier that told him a stone that had appeared on Govardhana Hill was his own svarūpa and that he should give offerings to it. The image was known as Devadamana; Vallabha announced that it was actually the svarupa of Śrī Govardhananāthajī (shortened to Śrī Nāthajī) and initiated an ascetic named Rāmdās Chauhān to perform the regular worship.[1][12] In 1499 a wealthy merchant from Ambālā named Pūrṇamalla Khatrī began building a temple for Srī Nāthajī.[1][12]

Personal life[edit]

Vallabha may have intended to remain a lifelong celibate brahmacārī, but during his second pilgrimage of India between 1501 and 1503, he had gone to Paṁḍḥarapura to view the god Viṭṭhala or Viṭhobā (a form of Kr̥ṣṇa). There Vallabha was ordered 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.[1][13]

Obeying this, following his caste traditions and practices, Vallabha married Mahālakṣmī (aka Akkājī)[14] sometime between 1502 and 1504, a Vārāṇasī girl of his own caste who began living with him upon maturity c. 1510–1512.[15][16][17] Vallabha had two houses, one at Aṛaila on the Yamunā river across Prayāgarāja, and at Caranāṭa 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.[18][19]

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 Caranāṭa, and is considered the avatar of Viṭṭhala.[1][17]

Grand victory at Vijayanagara[edit]

When Vallabha was living in his ancestral village of Kāṅkaravāḍa, he heard of a philosophical debate (śāstrārtha) being held in at the court of King Kr̥ṣṇadevarāya of Vijayanagara, and that the Vaiṣṇava schools of thought were being beaten by Advaita Vedānta philosophers. Vallabha immediately went to Vijayanagara to join the debate, and entered the Vaiṣṇava camp led by Vyāsatīrtha of the Mādhva school. Vallabha through his erudition and debate skills defeated the Advaita philosophers, and was rewarded by Kr̥ṣṇadevarāya with large amounts of gold (most of which he distributed among Brahmins).[20]

Vallabha was also offered the prestigious title of ācārya from the Mādhva sampradāya and the Viṣṇusvāmī sampradāya. Vallabha chose to become ācārya of the Viṣṇusvāmī school. Very little is known of the Viṣṇusvāmī school, 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 Vallabha.[20]

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.[20] The debate is first mentioned in 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".[21]

Pilgrimages and Preaching Tours of India[edit]

Vallabha made three pilgrimages throughout India which are documented in later sectarian sources. These pilgrimages are stated to have taken place between 1479 and 1530, although Saha doubts the accuracy of the dates. At pilgrimage sites such as Dvārakā, Kannauja, Purī, Mathurā, Gokula, and Govardhana, Vallabha had theological debates and attracted followers and devotees. He made extensive conversion campaigns in the Gangetic Plain and Gujarat, where he attracted converts from various castes including Bhumihars, Rajputs, Gurjars, Ahirs, Kurmis, and Vaniyas, Bhatias, Kanbis, and Patidars respectively.[22] In the Caurāsī Vaiṣṇavan kī Vārtā, the lives of eighty-four of Vallabha's most notable devotees are narrated. Of the 84 devotees, 39 were Brahmins, 36 were mercantile or landowning Kshatriyas, 5 were Vaishyas, and 6 were Shudras.[23]

Only scholarly theory for why Vallabha's theology was attractive to these groups was that of social mobility. For agrarian castes, particularly in Gujarat, the emphasis on purity gave higher status. For mercantile castes, purity as well as the emphasis on restraint and frugality in daily life elevated their status, while wealth could then be funnelled toward religiously meritorious sevā to Kr̥ṣṇa.[24]

Another reason was that Vallabha promoted a househoulder life-affirming, socially conservative view that appealed to castes that depended on social and political stability for their livelihoods, notably in the context of splintering Muslim sultanates in India.[24]


In 1530, Vallabha took a vow of renunciation and withdrew to the banks on the Gaṅgā river in Vārāṇasī. After a month, he summoned his sons Gopīnātha and Viṭṭhalanatha, and designated the 18 or 19 year old Gopīnātha as his successor. According to sectarian accounts, he walked in the Gaṅgā and vanished in a flash of light.[1]


Vallabhācārya composed many philosophical and devotional books during his lifetime which includes:[1]

  1. Subhodinī, a partial commentary on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa
  2. Aṇubhāṣya, a partial commentary on the Brahmasūtra of Bādarāyaṇa
  3. Tattvārthadīpanibandha, a text interpreting existing Hindu scriptures through Vallabha's philosophy of Śuddhādvaita
  4. Tattvārthadīpanibandhaprakāśa, a commentary on the Tattvārthadīpanibandha
  5. Ṣoḍaśagrantha, sixteen treatises on important facets of Śuddhādvaita and theology of the Puṣṭimārga


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 focusing 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.[25] The school rejects the ascetic lifestyle and cherishes householder lifestyle, wherein followers see themselves as participants and companions of Kr̥ṣṇa, viewing their daily lives as an ongoing raslila.[26]


According to Vallabha, Brahman consists of existence, consciousness, and bliss (sat-cit-ānanda), 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 Vallabhācārya, through single minded religiosity, a devotee would achieve awareness that there is nothing in the world that is not Kr̥ṣṇa.[25]


According to Vallabha there are three kinds of souls: puṣṭi, maryāda, and pravāha. The puṣṭi and maryāda souls are divine souls that have potential of upliftment or salvation. The puṣṭi ("complete" or "well-nourished") souls rely on Kr̥ṣṇa's grace as the sole effective means to achieve devotion, and other efforts are insignificant without God's grace.[27][28]

Vallabha distinguishes between two aspects of devotion: the maryāda and the puṣṭi. Maryāda followers rely on their actions and God's judgment for spiritual rewards, aligning with scriptural injunctions. In contrast, Puṣṭi followers rely solely on God's grace, prioritizing complete devotion and surrender without personal effort, embodying unconditional love and faith towards God. Vallabha also emphasizes that the path of pusti is open to all, regardless of caste or gender. He cautions against seeing this path as too focused on pleasure, saying it is about pure, divine devotion without being attached to worldly desires.[29]


Vallabha viewed the world (jagat) as intricately linked to the belief that the world is an expression and manifestation of Brahman. He accepts the idea that Brahman manifested itself as both the individual souls (jivas) and the world. Vallabha argued that Brahman desired to become many to express His playful nature (lila) and hence created the world. Vallabha emphasizes that the world is not illusory but as real as Brahman itself, which manifests by temporarily suppressing its attributes of bliss and consciousness. When jivas, through ignorance, misunderstand or misinterpret the world as distinctly real and plural, they fall into the trap of samsara, which is unreal.[30]

Postage Stamp[edit]

On 14 April 1977, the Indian postal department, Government of India issued in his honor, a commemorative stamp bearing the image of Vallabhācārya.[31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Barz 2018.
  2. ^ Saha 2004, p. 107.
  3. ^ Bachrach, Emilia. Reading the Medieval in the Modern: The Living Tradition of Hagiography in the Vallabh Sect of Contemporary Gujarat (PhD thesis). University of Texas at Austin. pp. 127–130.
  4. ^ Bachrach 2014, p. 60-61.
  5. ^ Barz 1992, p. 24.
  6. ^ Barz 1992, p. 23.
  7. ^ Barz 1992, p. 23-25.
  8. ^ Barz 1992, p. 26-27.
  9. ^ Barz 1992, p. 27.
  10. ^ Barz 1992, p. 17-20, 28-29.
  11. ^ Entwistle 1987, p. 31.
  12. ^ a b Barz 1992, p. 28-29.
  13. ^ Barz 1992, p. 29.
  14. ^ Mallison, Françoise (1986). "Les Chants Dhoḷa au Gujarāt et Leur Usage pour la Dévotion Vallabhite". Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. 75: 89. JSTOR 43731333 – via JSTOR.
  15. ^ Edwin Francis Bryant (2007). Krishna: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 482. ISBN 978-0-19-803400-1.
  16. ^ Kincaid, C. (January 1933). "Review: Imperial Farmans by K. M. Jhaveri". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1): 131–132. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00072543. JSTOR 25194699. S2CID 163921774.(subscription required)
  17. ^ a b Barz 1992, p. 38.
  18. ^ Saha 2004, p. 111-112.
  19. ^ Barz 1992, p. 52.
  20. ^ a b c Barz 1992, p. 43-45.
  21. ^ Saha 2004, p. 107-108.
  22. ^ Barz 1992, p. 91, 140.
  23. ^ Saha 2004, p. 107-114.
  24. ^ a b Saha 2004, p. 113-117.
  25. ^ a b Saha 2004, p. 98-106.
  26. ^ Lochtefeld, James G (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. Rosen Publishing. pp. 539-540. ISBN 978-0823931804.
  27. ^ Marfatia 1967, p. 70-75.
  28. ^ Barz 1992, p. 71-73.
  29. ^ Marfatia 1967, p. 72-74.
  30. ^ Marfatia 1967, p. 29-30.
  31. ^ "Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya | 14-04-1977 | Philcent #937 SG #846, MJ No. 720 | Stamps | Mintage World". www.mintageworld.com. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  32. ^ "Postage Stamps:: Postage Stamps,Stamp issue calendar 2014, Paper postage, Commemorative and definitive stamps, Service Postage Stamps, Philately Offices, Philatelic Bureaux and counters, Mint stamps". postagestamps.gov.in. Retrieved 20 January 2022.


  • Barz, Richard (1992) [1976]. The Bhakti Sect of Vallabhācārya. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal. pp. 25–26.
  • Barz, Richard (2018). "Vallabha". In Jacobsen, Knut A.; Basu, Helene; Malinar, Angelika; Narayanan, Vasudha (eds.). Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online. Brill.
  • Entwistle, Alan. W. (1987). Braj, Center of Krishna Pilgrimage. Groningen: Egbert Forsten.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  • Marfatia, Mrudula I. (1967). The philosophy of Vallabhācārya. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
  • Saha, Shandip (2004). Creating a Community of Grace: A History of the Puṣṭi Mārga in Northern and Western India (1493-1905) (Thesis). University of Ottawa.

External links[edit]