Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism

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Subject: Asian Studies

Edited by: Knut A. Jacobsen (Editor-in-Chief), University of Bergen, and Helene Basu, University of Münster, Angelika Malinar, University of Zürich, Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida (Associate Editors)

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism presents the latest research on all the main aspects of the Hindu traditions. Its essays are original work written by the world’s foremost scholars on Hinduism. The encyclopedia presents a balanced and even-handed view of Hinduism, recognizing the divergent perspectives and methods in the academic study of a religion that is both an ancient historical tradition and a flourishing tradition today. The encyclopedia embraces the greatest possible diversity, plurality, and heterogeneity, thus emphasizing that Hinduism encompasses a variety of regional traditions as well as a global world religion. Presenting all essays and research from the heralded printed edition, Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism is now available in a fully searchable, dynamic digital format. The service will include all content from the six printed volumes..

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(6,796 words)

Author(s): Anna L. Dallapiccola
The word vāhana means “that which carries, that which pulls, vehicle, bearer.” This term is primarily used by historians of Indian art and religions to refer to the animals that regularly appear alongside the image of the deities “and/or to creatures invariably imagined in company of specific divinities during dhyana-meditations” (Smith, 1981, 12). According to H. Zimmer, this concept did not or…


(10,878 words)

Author(s): Gérard Colas
The term vaikhānasa variously designates vedic seers ( ṛṣis), hermits, Brahman followers of a vedic school, and members of a medieval and modern Vaiṣṇava community. The interconnection of these denotations over a millennium a…


(14,523 words)

Author(s): Karin Preisendanz
The Sanskrit term vaiśeṣika, as a neuter noun, has been attested since the classical period as the designation of a vibrant philosophical tradition with a distinctive and central interest in issues of philosophy of nature; as a masculine noun, the term is also used to refer to an adherent of this tradition. Originally, the adjective vaiśeṣika may have literally meant “relating to or concerned with differences, specific features, particularities, or distinctions ( viśeṣa),” that is, “differentiating” o…

Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās

(9,994 words)

Author(s): Gérard Colas
In this article the expression “Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās” refers to the Vaiṣṇava manuals that lay down rules for private, domestic, and temple worship, guide theological and theogonic meditation, and so on. Though Vaiṣṇavism includes all the religious movements that advocate Viṣṇu or one of his manifestations as the main god, this article will be confined to the Saṃhitās of the Pāñcarātra and Vaikhānasa Vaiṣṇava traditions. Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās are also called Adhikāra, T…


(10,276 words)

Author(s): Richard Barz
For historians of Hindu thought, Vallabha (1478-1530) - or, with his title ācārya (teacher), Vallabhācārya - is well known as a philosopher and religious leader within the Vaiṣṇava tradition. As a philosopher he created the Śuddhādvaita (pure monism; see Vedānta) system of thought, and as a religious leader he established a sect or sampradāya, known from his name as the Vallabha Sampradāya. But for the members of the Vallabha Sampradāya, Vallabha is much more than just a formulator of doctrines or a guide to religious observance. For them he is a savior sharing in the essence of Kṛṣṇa the highest brahman and supreme being. He set out the Puṣṭimārga (Way of Nourishing [Grace]) guide to the practice of

Vallabha Sampradāya/Puṣṭimārga

(7,124 words)

Author(s): Richard Barz
From the 14th to the 19th century, bhakti

Vārkarī Sampradāy

(6,492 words)

Author(s): Jon Keune and Christian Lee Novetzke
The Vārkarīs are a sampradāy (long0standing religious tradition) based in western India, where Marathi is the dominant language, particularly in the state of Maharashtra. The Vārkarīs are distinguished by a devotional ( bhakti ) focus on the deity Viṭṭhal, two major annual pilgrimages to Viṭṭhal’s chief temple in the town of Pandharpur, and a textual corpus consisting of Marathi compositions by sant-kavis or “saint-poets.” The word vārkarī literally means “one who does vārī (pilgrimage),” and pilgrimage to Pandharpur has been essential for the tradition’s form since the 17th century, and probably earlier. The Vārkarīs observe no centralized institutional authority, and initiation into the sampradāy


(3,843 words)

Author(s): Vasudha Narayanan
The term “ vāstuśāstra” as used today refers to the knowledge and practice of the choos…


(5,558 words)

Author(s): Steven P. Hopkins
Historically speaking, we know little about Ve…

Vedānta: Modern Vedānta

(7,332 words)

Author(s): Christopher Bartley
Describing his state of mind as a student at Madras Christian College during the first decade of the 20th century, S. Radhakrishnan (1888–1975), one of the most notable exponents of modern Vedānta, wrote, …

Vedas and Brāhmaṇas

(10,399 words)

Author(s): Theodore Proferes
The Vedas constitute a corpus of orally composed religious texts that were produced by the priestly class of the earliest Sanskrit-speaking inhabitants of the South Asian subcontinent between approximately 1600 and 600 BCE. For centuries they were preserved by generation after generation through rote memorization before eventually being written down. The Vedas contain a diverse collection of material, including direct invocations of and appeal to divinities, ritual formulas designed to accompany the performance of rites, expositions of proper ritual procedure and its meaning, and metaphysical speculation. The Vedas also contain legendary and mythological narratives or allusions to such narratives, although material of this kind is gen…

Vedic Gods (Indra, Agni, Rudra, Varuṇa, etc.)

(11,140 words)

Author(s): Michael Witzel
The vedic texts (c. 1500–500 BCE; Vedas) praise, mention, or invoke a host of deities, canonically 33 but in fact many more. These deities are regarded as persons but have no manufactured images; some are personified abstract notions. The gods are vivid personifications of the forces of nature or of social concepts, under one or more individual names. Each of them has a more or less individual mythology and is involved in certain rituals. The deities are known to us ever since their first appear…

Vedic Period (1750 - 400 BCE)

(7,499 words)

Author(s): Theodore Proferes
“Vedic period” refers to the epoch during which the corpus of liturgies, ritual commentaries, and speculative texts known as the Vedas was composed and then defined as a religious canon. More loosely, the application of the expression may be extended back in time to include the formative phase of vedic culture on the grounds that no cultural product springs, fully formed, into existence, and the earliest extant vedic texts must have had precursors that are not preserved. The common stock of myths, legends, rituals ( yajña s), and even turns of phrase found in the earliest vedic h…