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Scriptures

In Vedic culture the available body of knowledge comes from the revealed scriptures called Vedas. The word comes from root "vid" (to know, knowledge). The scriptures are mainly of two categories: sruti and smrti. Sruti refers to the four Vedas and they were originally received by Brahma from the Supreme Lord, Krsna. The smrtis are the literature compiled by self-realized sages based on their realizations of the sruti. Sruti is composed in Vedic Sanskrit and smrtis in laukika Sanskrit. There are some basic differences between these two types of Sanskrit. In Vedic Sanskrit the words have accent, akin to notes in music, and a word's meaning can change drastically simply by changing the accent of its letters. Therefore these words have to be heard properly from the guru in disciplic succession and hence Vedas are called sruti (lit. hearing). Nobody has the authority to change even a single syllable of the sruti. They are passed on from one age to another. Sometimes some parts of srutis get lost due to break in disciplic succession. Then they are again heard in trance by great sages called rsis. Rsi means a seer, or one who sees the Vedic texts. He hears it in trance and realizes its meaning. The Vedic Sanskrit has its own grammar and it is used only in the Vedas. No new book can be composed in Vedic Sanskrit.

Smrtis on the other hand are written in laukika Sanskrit or Sanskrit spoken by people. It does not have accent in its words. Itihasas, Puranas, Agamas are all part of smrtis. Among the smrti literature there is a body of literature which is also called smrti such as Manu-smrti. These smrtis are part of dharma sastra or books giving religious code. Smrti sastras are compiled remembering the meaning of the sruti and hence the name smrti (lit. remembrance). The smrtis change from age to age in their structure but the essence is same.

The classification of sruti and smrti literature

(for the texts themselves see Links/Vedic Books Online)

4 Vedas: Rg (Rig), Sama, Yajur (Sukla - Madhyandina and Kanva; Krsna), Atharva

Due to different ways in reading (pata bedha) in different kulas (family traditions) different sakhas manifested.

ekavimsatibhedena rgvedam krtavan pura
sakhanantu satenaiva yajurvedamathakarot
samavedam sahasrena sakhanam pravibheda sah
atharvanamatho vedam vibheda navakena tu

The Rgveda was divided into 21 branches and the Yajurveda into 100 branches, the Samaveda into 1,000 branches and the Atharvaveda into 9 branches. (Kurma Purana 52.19-20)

Patanjali attributes to Yajurveda 101 sakhas.

Further, every branch has four subdivisions called Samhita (or Mantra), Brahmana (contains mantras and prayers), Aranyaka and Upanisad (both with philosophical contents). So all in all, the Vedas consist of 1130 Samhitas, 1130 Brahmanas, 1130 Aranyakas, and 1130 Upanisads, a total of 4520 titles. By the influence of time, however, many texts have been lost, stolen and destroyed (soldiers of Alexander the Great used the scriptures as fuel in kitchens; Muslims destroyed them whenever possible; Britons carried many scriptures away; Germans and Russians took Atharva Veda which contains Dhanur Veda, military science). Thus at present according to Jiva Gosvami's Tattva-sandarbha only about 11 Samhitas, 18 Brahmanas, 7 Aranyakas, and 220 Upanisads are available. This is less than 6% of the original Vedas.

Thus Vedas cannot be studied today (example: one cannot study BG from only one chapter!). There are also no qualified brahmanas to teach them. Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore stresses the SB. Gosvami-grantha is the most intimate knowledge of rasa and by its importance overcomes even the original Vedic scriptures. Some scriptures were so intimate that Jiva Gosvami personally buried them in his samadhi in order to not to be misused by anyone in Kali-yuga...

Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads: ritual and philosophical treatises affiliated with each of the four Vedic samhitas. Muktikopanisad lists 108 main ones.

Related:
Purpose and Origin of the Vedas
How can we know that the original Vedic scriptures have not been changed over many generations?

4 Upavedas: Ayur (medicine), Gandharva (music), Dhanur (martial science), Sthapatya (architecture)

6 Vedangas ("limbs of Veda"): Siksa (pronunciation), Canda (poetic meter), Nirukta (etymology and lexicology), Vyakarana (grammar), Kalpa (ritual), Jyotisa (astronomy and astrology)

First two teach how to speak the Veda, second two teach how to understand the meaning of the Veda and the last two teach how to use the Veda.

Related:
Part of the Vedas

Smrti: There are 20 smrtis (dharma sastras) listed in Yajnavalkya Smrti 1.4-5:

manv atri viSNu hArIta yajJavalkya uzano agGirAh
yama Apastamba samvartAh kAtyAyana bRhaspatI
parASara vyAsa zaGkha likhitA dakSa gautamau
zAtAtapo vasiSThaz ca dharma zAstra yojakAh

Manu, Atri, Visnu, Harita, Yajnavalkya, Usana, Angira, Yama, Apastamba, Samvarta, Katyayana, Brhaspati, Parasara, Vyasa, Sankha, Likhita, Daksa, Gautama, Satatapa, Vasistha.

Related:
Dharmasastra

Itihasa: Ramayana and Mahabharata

Puranas: They explain the teachings of the four Vedas in story form, making spiritual life more simple, and therefore in this age they are more important. There are eighteen Maha Puranas with altogether 398 000 verses (given the traditional verse numbers) divided into three groups along with three predominating Deities: sattva (goodness) - Visnu, rajas (passion) - Brahma and tamas (ignorance) - Siva. Padma Purana, Uttara khanda 236.18-21:

Sattva: Visnu, Narada, Bhagavata Garuda, Padma, Varaha
Rajas: Brahmanda, Brahma-vaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavisya, Vamana, Brahma
Tamas: Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Vayu/Siva, Skanda, Agni

Garuda Purana 1.223.15-16 replaces Vamana with Vayaviya:

"The eighteen Maha Puranas are - 1. Brahma, 2. Padma, 3. Vaisnava, 4. Saiva (or Vayu), 5. Bhagavata, 6. Bhavisya, 7. Naradiya, 8. Skanda, 9. Linga, 10. Varaha, 11. Markandeya, 12. Agneya, 13. Brahmavaivarta, 14. Kaurma, 15. Matsya, 16. Garuda, 17. Vayaviya and 18. Brahmanda."

Garuda Purana 3.1.43,45,64 also adds: "Bhagavata is the best of all Puranas."

They are divided in this way to gradually raise the conditioned soul from ignorance to pure goodness. The three divisions appeal to people in these respective modes and elevate them to the perfection of life.

Related:
Puranas - table (Java applet)
Puranas in tables by Ekanath Das

18 Upapuranas:

Sanat Kumara, Narasimha, Brhannaradiya, Linga, Durvasa, Kapila, Manava, Ausanasa, Varuna, Kalika, Mahesvara, Samba, Saura, Parasara, Devibhagavata, Aditya, Vasistha, Visnudharmottara.

18 Vidyas: (Garuda Purana 1.223.21)

Purana, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Dharma sastra, Rg, Sama, Yajur, Atharva, Siksa, Kalpa, Canda, Jyotisa, Nirukta, Vyakarana, Ayurveda, Gandharva, Dhanur, Arthasastra.

Prasthanatrayi (main sources of scriptural evidence): Bhagavad-gita (700 verses), principle Upanisads and Brahmasutras (Vedanta-sutra consisting of 560 terse codes, or sutras).

64 Kalas (traditional arts mentioned in SB 10.44): Singing, Playing musical instruments, Dancing, Acting in theatre, Painting, Painting the body with tilak and cosmetics, Making designs with rice powder and flowers, Decorating with flowers, Playing music in water, Water play, Colour mixing, Making garlands, Decorating head with garlands and flowers, Dressing the actors, Ear decoration, Making fragrances, Putting on ornaments, Juggling or Magic, Sleight of hand, Culinary, Making drinks, Needlework, Playing with thread, Playing vina and damaru, Solving riddles, Reciting verses with specific conditions, Making difficult verses, Reciting books, Reciting plays and stories, Solving enigmatic verses, Preparing designs of cloth, cane and arrows, Spinning, Carpentry, Architecture, Testing metals and jewels, Metallurgy, Tinging jewels, Mineralogy, Herbal medicine, Lamb & Cock sport fighting, Domesticating parrots, Applying perfumes, Hair care, Sending message with symbols, Sophistry, Dialects, Making toys, Making yantra, Use of amulets, Conversation, Mental verses composition lexicography, Concealing one's identity by use of dress, Gambling, Magic arts, Ghostly knowledge, Chariot driving, Writing, Taking care of elephants and horses, Making tambula, Swimming.

64 Tantras or Agamas: Tantra literature is spoken by Lord Siva to Devi. It has three divisions called Agama, Yamala and Tantra. It is also divided according to the worshipable deity and there are three division called saiva, vaisnava and sakta.

Maha-sidhi-sarasvata-tantra lists the following 64 tantras:

1) Siddhisvara, 2) Mahatantra, 3) Kalitantra, 4) Kularnava, 5) Jnanarnava, 6) Nila, 7) Fetakare, 8) Devi-agama, 9) Uttara, 10) Sri-krama, 11) Siddhi-yamala, 12) Matsya-sukta, 13) Siddha-sara, 14) Siddhi-sarasvata, 15) Varahi, 16) Yogini, 17) Ganesa-vimarsini, 18) Nitya, 19) Sivagama, 20) Camunda, 21) Mundamata, 22) Hamsamahesvara, 23) Niruttara, 24) Kula-prakasaka, 25) Kalpa, 26) Gandharvaka, 27) Kriyasara, 28) Nibandha, 29) Svatantra, 30) Sammohana, 31) Lalita, 32) Radha, 33) Malini, 34) Rudra-yamala, 35) Brhat-srikrama, 36) Gavaksa, 37) Sukumudini, 38) Visuddhesvara, 39) Malinivijaya, 40) Samayacara, 41) Bhairavi, 42) Yogini-hrdaya, 43) Bhairava, 44) Sanat Kumara, 45) Yoni, 46) Tantrantra 47) Nava-ratnesvara, 48) Kula-cudamani, 49) Kamadhenu, 50) Kumari, 51) Bhuta-damara, 52) Malini-vijaya, 53) Brahma-yamala, 54) Bhava-cudamani, 55) Visva-sara, 56) Mahatantra, 57) Mahakata, 58) Kulamrta, 59) Kuloddisa, 60) Kunjika, 61) Cintamani, 62) Yamala, 63) Tantra-devaprakasa, 64) Kama

Tantras are similar to the Vedic smrti sastras insofar as mantra, yantra and tantra are concerned (mantra = the sounds used in executing the duties; yantra = the paraphernalia needed for the duties; tantra = the method of executing the duties. These comprise the essence of duties, so in this the vaidika and tantrika systems are the same. The main difference between vaidika and tantrika sastras is in structure; vaidika sastras deal with gotra (family) whereas the tantrika sastras are open for one initiated into them by a guru.

Hare Krishnas (Gaudiya Vaisnavas) and tantra tradition

Gaudiyas follow Pancaratra which belongs to daksina marga. It's a way of arcana, murti worship. They don't practice vama marga ('sexual tantra' popular in the West). Gaudiya Vaisnavism teaches both Bhagavata marga and tantra (Pancaratra) marga. It's quite a complex subject. Here's a brief intro.

In the Bhagavata Purana tantra is mentioned several times. In 1.3.8 Narada is credited with founding the "sAtvata-tantra", which is identified by the commentators as Pancaratragama. This is pretty much the consistent interpretation given throughout, in the few places that the word comes up. In 11.3 there's a discussion of both Bhagavata-dharma and Karma, which is divided into Vaidika and Tantrika portions. This duality (veda-tantra) comes up more than once in the Bhagavata (e.g. 8.6.9, 11.5.28, 11.11.37, 11.27.7, 11.27.26, 11.27.49, 12.11.4), reflecting concerns in South India about these two paths as in need of synthesis. Yamunacarya's Agama-pramanyam is the principal reflection of this conflict.

In 11.5.31-32, where the Kali yuga avatar is introduced, it says "nAnA-tantra-vidhAnena", which Sridhar Swami glosses "kalau tantra-mArgasya prAdhAnyaM darzayati," meaning that this text is meant to show that the Tantric path is predominant in the age of Kali.

On the whole a marked distinction is being made between the Agama-marga as a "karma" leading to purification and the Bhagavata dharma leading to ecstasies in sravana-kirtan, etc. Both Pancaratrik and Bhagavata sampradayas accept aspects of the other. Pancaratra is more concerned with ritual, Bhagavata with bhava. Both acknowledge that the other path complements their own (as Rupa Gosvami does in Bhaktirasamrtasindhu 1.1.11), but they nevertheless give prominence to one or the other. This Visvanatha Cakravarti clearly points out in 11.3.33. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati identified Bhagavata marga with raganuga bhakti and Pancaratra with vidhi. The function of vidhi is mentioned in Padma Purana quoted in Bhaktirasamrtasindhu 2.8:

smartavyaH satataM viSnur
vismartavyo na jAtucit
sarve vidhi niSedhAH syur
etayor eva kiGkarAH

All vidhis should be understood as servants of two principles: constant remembrance of Visnu without ever forgetting Him.

tathA ca viSNu-yAmale
kRte zruty-ukta-mArgaH syAt tretAyAM smRti-bhAvitaH
dvApare tu purANoktaH kalAv Agama-sambhavaH 5.4

And also in Visnu Yamala
In Satya Yuga the path was to follow the Srutis, in Treta the Smrtis, in Dvapara the Puranas and in Kali the Agamas. (quoted in Haribhaktivilasa 5.4)

In earliest times people followed the Sruti for their practice/rituals and perfomed Vedic homas as well as meditation which are recommended in the Sruti (Upanisads). Then later Smrti texts became more prominent with their rules. The Puranic influences on ritualism came after that. Nowadays we don't see Srauta ceremonies much at all, everything is Agamic/Tantric.

Kundalini is a form of material energy (prakriti), external to jiva and Krsna. Vaisnavas are therefore unconcerned about it.

According to Sakta/Saiva Tantras Kundalini Shakti is pure consciousness. That refers to Her ultimate, beyond-subtle-material-energy aspects, Laksmi and Radha. They expand into various subtle material forms associated with Siva and His expansions and together create, maintain and destroy material worlds.

Supreme Goddess Radha (paripurnatama radha) expands as Sri, Bhu and Lila saktis (Garga samhita 1.15.69-70). Lalita (Durga) is also Her expansion (Garga samhita 1.16.26, context 22-30). This is confirmed in the well-known Sakta text Lalitasahasranama (127) where Lalita is called Srikari (spouse of Sri Visnu, who brings prosperity to devotees).

Related:
Garga Samhita
Lakshmi
Kundalini
Vamachara

Q: Can you give an example of a Tantric Mantra given by a Hare Krishna Guru?

A: One is astaksara Gopala mantra explained in Urdhvamnaya tantra which also includes Gaura mantra. There're altogether seven mantras and gayatris in our Sarasvata Gaudiya lineage. They are not to be divulged.

Q: Does a Vaishnava Tantric Mantra use Tantrik Bija (seed)?

A: Klim (Visnu tattva), srim (Sakti tattva) and aim (Guru tattva). Bija for Kali is krim. She's not worshiped by Gaudiyas.

Q: How does a Vaishnava Tantric mantra accord with your claim that Vaishnavas accept that Tantra is for vidhi or rituals while Vedas are for bhava?

A: Our main (vaidika) mantra (aka Hari nama) is Hare Krsna mahamantra given in Kalisantarana Upanisad and other texts. The tantrika portion of our practice - arcana - is of a supportive nature. That survives from Dvapara yuga and is valid during the yuga sandhya.

dvAparIyair janair viSNuH
paJcarAtrais tu kevalaiH
kalau tu nAma-mAtreNa
pUjyate bhagavAn hariH

In the Dvapara-yuga people should worship Lord Visnu only by the regulative principles of the Narada-pancaratra and other such authorized books. In the age of Kali, however, people should simply chant the holy names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (NArAyaNa saMhitA)

Q: What are various bija mantras?

A: Varada Tantra lists bija mantras: 1. Haum should be used to worship Siva; 2. Dum stands for Ma Durga; 3. Krim stands for Ma Kali; 4. Hrim stands for Ma Bhuvanesvari; 5. Srim stands for Devi Lakshmi; 6. Aim stands for Ma Sarasvati; 7. Klim stands for Mahesvari; 8. Hum stands for Devi; 9. Gam stands for Mahesvari (Ga means Ganesha); 10. Glaum stands for Ganesha; 11. Ksraum stands for Nrsimha; 12. Strim stands for Mahesvari

Since Aim stands for Ma Saraswati it explains why 'aim' is also used for three of the eight main sakhis (astasakhis) of Sri Radha. One of them will be the origin of Vaikuntha (Adi) Sarasvati:

"At His [Visnu's] left side they saw beautiful, charming, and fair Goddess Sarasvati, who held a flute, vina and book in her hand, who was the queen of the higher planets, and who was knowledge personified." (Brahmavaivarta Purana 4.6.79)

"O Radha, in My form as eternal Lord Narayana I will return to Vaikuntha with Laksmi and Sarasvati." (Brahmavaivarta Purana 4.6.256)

Other original forms of devas are there as well: "In the centre [of Vaikuntha] reside the deities of fire, sun and moon, Kurma-avatara, Ananta Sesa, and Garuda, the master of the three Vedas. The Vedic hymns and all sacred mantras also stay in that holy place, which is made of all the Vedas, and which is known in the Smrti-sastra as the yoga-pitha." (Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda 256.23)

Varada Tantra is Sakta tantra since it attributes klim to Mahesvari. In the Gautamiya tantra its meaning is given as follows:

klim-karad-asrjad visvam
iti prana sruteh sirah
la-karat prthivi jata
ka-karaj jala-sambhavah

i-karad vahnir utpanno
nadad vayur ajayata
bindor akasa-sambhutir
iti bhutatmako manuh

(The Upanisads state that) the universe was created from the syllable klim. Water was produced from the k, earth from the l, fire from the i, air from m, and ether from the dot. This mantra is therefore fivefold.

ka-karah purusah krsnah
sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah
i-karah prakrti radha
nitya-vrndavanesvari

las canandatmakam prema-
sukham tayos ca kirtitam
cumbananda-madhuryam
nada-binduh samiritah

K is Krsna with His personal form of eternity, knowledge and bliss. I is His energy Radha, who is the eternal Queen of Vrndavana. L is celebrated as the blissful happiness of love. M is the sweetness of the bliss occurring when They kiss. (Brhad-gautamiya-tantra)

Q: What is Yogapith practice?

A: (Advaitadas from Advaita parivara - source, expanded by Jan): It means the sacred meeting place of Radha Krishna. It is mentioned in Govinda lilamrita 21.94, with reference to the Vedas, and in Sankalpa kalpadruma 52 by Visvanatha Cakravartipad.

kalpa-drumAdhaH-sthita-ratna-mandiraM
gopAla-siMhAsana-yoga-pIThakam
yam AgamajJAH pravadanti yaM hareH
priyA-gaNaH keli-nikuJjam Aha ca (94)

evaM-vidhaM taM sthala-rAjatallajaM
kandarpa-lIlA-sukha-satra-mandiram
govinda-saMsmArakam Atmano guNair
vIkSyAparAdhA sa-sakhI-tatir mudam (95)

In the beneath of kalpa-druma tree there is a palace that Lord Krsna's jeweled throne situated in a sacred place, which in the agama-sastra explain that Lord Krsna have multitude pastimes with gopis in this groves, it is said also that in this monarch of all places, excellent pastimes of happiness of Cupid happening in the temple for the sacrifice, and by reminding of seeing Lord Govinda personally one will attain the qualities of Srimati Radharani and Her gopi friends, with host of joy. (Govinda lilamrita 21.94-95)

vRndAvane sura-mahIruha-yoga-pITha-sim-hAsane sva-ramaNena virAjamAnam
pAdyArgha-dhUpa-vidhu-dIpa-catur-vidhAnna-srag-bhUSaNAdibhir aham-paripUjayAni

As You sit with Your lover on a throne under a desire tree in Vrndavana, I will worship You by offering You padya, argha, incense, camphor, lamps, garlands, ornaments, and four kinds of food. (Sankalpa kalpadruma 52)

Yogapith is also described by Rupa Goswami in his Laghu bhagavatamrita 2.258-283.

It is a yantra, a ritual diagram in the shape of an 8-petalled lotus flower. Brahma samhita 5.3-4 similarly mentions sad-kona (hexagram) yantra with petals occupied by Krsna's sakhis (saktis), expansions of Sri Radha. (This yantra is also seen on some Tibetan images of deities, in the whorl of the lotus on which the deity stands.) The throne and lotus are mentioned in Brahma samhita 5.26 and Gopalatapani Upanisad 1.18:

Brahma said: The Lord's altar should be a golden lotus with eight petals. Within that lotus should be placed two triangles and the mantra klim krsnaya namah, the Kama-gayatri (klim krsnaya govindaya gopijanavallabhaya svaha), and the ananga-gayatri (kamadevaya sarva-jana-priyaya sarva-jana-sammohanaya jvala jvala prajvala prajvala sarva-janasya hrdayam me vasam kuru kuru svaha) should be written there. Then anga should be offered with the sula-matra (astraya phat). Then one should worship the Lord's expansions, beginning with Rukmini, the devotees headed by Indra, the devotees headed by King Vasudeva, the devotees headed by Arjuna, and the devotees headed by Indranidhi.

Baladeva Vidyabhusana comments: This is described in the Padma Purana: "O Narada, placing the Lord on His altar, I worship Him with prayers, incense, lamps, arghya and other gifts."

Another mention is also in one of our pranama mantras:

dIvyad-vRndAraNya-kalpa-drumAdhaH-
zrImad-ratnAgAra-siMhAsana-sthau
zrImad-rAdhA-zrIla-govinda-devau
preSThAlIbhiH sevyamAnau smarAmi

In a temple of jewels in Vrndavana, underneath a desire tree, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, served by Their most confidential associates, sit upon an effulgent throne. I offer my humble obeisances unto Them. (AbhidheyAdhideva PraNAma, Caitanya caritamrita 1.1.16, 2.1.4, 3.1.6)

This practice has been developed into an elaborate ritual, involving two diagrams, one of Navadvip and one of Vrindavan, in which you have to offer so many articles like sandal pulp and flowers to so many characters inside the diagram. In the whorl of the lotus are Radha-Krishna and each of the petals houses one sakhi; under each sakhi serves again one main manjari. There is a mirror-model of Navadvip, where Mahaprabhu stands in the whorl, surrounded by all His associates. The practise has been elaborated upon by Gopal Guru Goswami and Dhyanacandra Goswami of the Vakresvara Pandit parivara.

Next mention is found in Urdhvamnaya Tantra where Sri Siva tells Sri Parvati:

karnika-madhya-bhage tu pitham ratnamayam param
panca-tattvanvitam tatra gauram purata-sundaram
ye dhyayanti janah sasvat te tu sarvottamottamah

In the middle of that whorl (Antardvipa) is the topmost sacred seat of jewels, Shri dhama (Mayapura). There resides the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the handsome golden Gaura in His five features (Panca-tattva). They who always meditate on Lord Gaura in Mayapura are the most exalted of all exalted souls.

Q: But in your parivara you don't practise the Navadvip-yogapith, right?

A: We don't practice either of them; it has not been given by Advaita Prabhu and we will not add things ourselves.

Q: In Narada Pancaratra there is a description of all kinds of circles existing around Lord Narayan in Vaikuntha. Is there some sort of parallel there?

A: Yes, that may be the text that is referred to in that Govinda lilamrita verse (21.94) I quoted just now. The Goswamis presented us with a rasika version of these ancient tantrik rituals (tantra here means Vedic ritual, not the sexual practises).

Q: But we are not in circles around Radha-Krishna, right?

A: If your Guru gives you this Yogapith practice then you must take your position within the diagram, at least during the time of puja. As I said, it is mentioned in shastra - in chapter 7 of Govinda lilamrita you find a description of the 8 sakhis's groves around Radhakund, each in a fixed corner of the Kund. They have exactly the same position in the Yogapith in Vrindavan (situated roughly where the Govinda Mandir is, in the north of town). Its current form is a pretty recent practise.

Q: I heard that if you don't practice Yogapith you cannot attain Radha Krishna or realize your manjari svarupa.

A: I have not seen that in shastra or heard it from my Guru. Its hard enough as it is - there are 10 offenses to the name, 32 offenses in service and 6 offenses to the Vaishnavas - that is 48 hurdles already. That should be enough.

Pancaratra Agamas

There are three main agamic schools - the Saiva, Sakta and Vaisnava - and each has their own Pancaratras. Among the Vaisnavas the followers of Sri-sampradaya (Sri Vaisnavas) draw a lot from the agamas. All of these agamas comprise four topics in general:

Jnana or knowledge; kriya (service such as construction of temples, installation of deities); carya or conduct (such as the observance of daily rites, festivals); and yoga or devotion, or attention.

Common features of all agamas:

(a) They accept the existence of a supreme being with a predominant male or female aspect.
(b) The existence of undivided souls.
(c) The reality of the objective universe.
(d) Devotion is the only means of emancipation.

Pancaratras are tantras in the mode of goodness, or the mode of transcendental goodness. Therefore there is scope for "creating" brahmanas, though at the same time it must be said that wherever Veda specifically stipulates that such and such thing is for vaidika brahmanas only, that thing won't be given in Pancharatra. Pancaratra is especially applicable in the Kali-yuga. It is as good as Veda, because it was spoken by the Lord Himself to Brahma when Brahma inquired how the Lord should be worshiped.

The name "Pancaratra" has different explanations. It is said that Lord Visnu spoke these instructions through five nights (panca ratri) of Brahma; that's where the name comes from. Alternatively, it is said that the Pancaratra makes the five processes dark: these five processes referred to are differently listed in different Pancaratriki scriptures, but they are things like karma, jnana, astanga-yoga, sankhya, and so on. Ahirbudhnya-samhita says that Pancaratra has it name because it deals with five-fold manifestation of Lord Vasudeva - Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Arca and Antaryami. And Bhaktivinoda Thakura says in Navadvipa Mahatmya, ch. 13: "The five rsis (Sandilya, Upagayana, Maunjayana, Kausika, and Bharadvaja) were previously each instructed for one day and night (panca-ratra, "five nights") by Lord Narayana. Headed by Narada Muni they wrote the Pancaratra here (in Vidyanagara) to teach the people about practical devotional service." According to Narada Pancaratra the word Pancaratra means five types of knowledge.

There are 59 types of Pancaratras:

1) Agastya-samhita, 2) Aniruddha, 3) Ahirbudhnya, 4) Isvara, 5) Kapinjala, 6) Kasyapa, 7) Jayakhya, 8) Narada, 9) Pancaratra, 10) Naradiya, 11) Parama, 12) Parama Purusa, 13) Parasara 14) Padma-samhita, 15) Padma-tantra, 16) Paramesvara, 17) Purusottama, 18) Pauskara, 19) Brhad Brahma, 20) Bharadvaja, 21) Markandeya, 22) Laksmi-tantra, 23) Visvamitra, 24) Visnu, 25) Visnutilaka, 26) Visvaksena, 27) Sandilya, 28) Seva, 29) Sri Prasna, 30) Sanat Kumara, 31) Satvata, 32) Hayasirsa, 33) Trailokyamohana, 34) Vaibhava, 35) Prahrada, 36) Garga-galava, 37) Sandilya, 38) Satyokta, 39) Vasistha, 40) Savanakara, 41) Narayaniya, 42) Jnanarnava, 43) Svayambhuva, 44) Kapila, 45) Vihagendara, 46) Atreya, 47) Narasimhakhya, 48) Anamdakhya, 49) Aruna 50) Baudhayana, 51) Vaisnavacarita, 52) Mahatantri, 53) Bhagavata, 54) Sivohita, 55) Visnubhasita, 56) Padmodbhava, 57) Varaha, 58) Samanya, 59) Vyarokta

There are supposed to be 108 Pancaratragamas but most of them are lost.

Related:
List of Pancharatra tantras
Purpose and Origin of the Vedas
Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
Standard of valid knowledge
Summaries of main Upanisads
Overview of 18 Upanisads
Brahma sutras (Vedanta sutras)
Puranas
Mahapuranas: available editions and translations
Garuda Purana excerpt
Srimad Bhagavatam
Ten subjects of Srimad Bhagavatam
Manu-samhita (Manu-smrti) overview
Sastras and studies I.
Sastras and studies II.
Sastras and studies III.
Loss, Recovery and Renewal of Texts in India's Tradition (Kapil Kapoor, JNU, New Delhi)
The Pancaratra Agamas: A Brief Study
The Pancaratra Agamas: A Brief Study (web archive)
Non Vedic Origin of Tantrism

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