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Being Branded or Not Being Branded? Branding as an Identity Marker in Śrīvaiṣṇavism


· Marion Rastelli Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria)


07/28 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


The majority of the Śrīvaiṣṇavas today consider branding (tāpa) Viṣṇu’s insignia, usually discus and conch, on the upper arms to be an indispensable feature of self-identification. However, although there is evidence that South Indian Vaiṣṇavas underwent this kind of branding already in the 9th c. CE, the Pāñcarātra Saṃhitās – the main sources for the Śrīvaiṣṇava ritual repertoire – provide ritual prescriptions for it not earlier than the 13th c. CE. This indicates that the followers of the Pāñcarātra adopted this ritual only then. In around the same period, the Vaikhānasas, a community that places a strong emphasis on its Vedic affiliation and that also belongs to the Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition, explicitly rejected branding, considering their identity marker to be the fact that they are not branded. The paper will explore Pāñcarātra and Vaikhānasa Saṃhitās as well as scholastic texts of Pāñcarātra and Vaikhānasa authors to search for possible reasons why and how being or not being branded became important features of self-identification for Śrīvaiṣṇavas from the 13th c. onwards.