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Although "pranavah" occurs in vishnu sahasranama, it seems that the impersonal "Om" clashes with the "lakshmipati pitambaradhari shanka chakra gada pani" image of the God of vaishnavites.

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    Omkara means Supreme Brahman, and Vishnu is para Brahman
    – Ikshvaku
    Nov 29, 2017 at 2:17

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According to what Sri Vaishnavism, the Pranava denotes the supreme Brahman. Here is what the Sri Vaishnava Ramanujacharya says in this section of the Sri Bhashya:

We therefore shortly explain the drift of the whole chapter as follows. At the outset of the reply given to Satyakâma there is mentioned, in addition to the highest (para) Brahman, a lower (apara) Brahman. This lower or effected (kârya) Brahman is distinguished as twofold, being connected either with this terrestrial world or yonder, non-terrestrial, world. Him who meditates on the Pranava as having one syllable, the text declares to obtain a reward in this world--he reaches the world of men. He, on the other hand, who meditates on the Pranava as having two syllables is said to obtain his reward in a super-terrestrial sphere--he reaches the woorld of the atmosphere. And he finally who, by means of the trisyllabic Pranava which denotes the highest Brahman, meditates on this very highest Brahman, is said to reach that Brahman, i. e. the supreme Person.--The object of seeing is thus none other than the highest Self.

He is referring to this chapter of the Prashna Upanishad, by the way. Also, the Sri Vaishnava Acharya Parashara Bhattar says that the "Pranavah" name in the Vishnu Sahasranamanam refers to the fact that the Pravana indicates the relationship between Jivatmas and Brahman:

By means of the sacred Pranava mantra, Bhagavan reveals to His devotees the true relationship between Him and them, and makes them understand the need for surrendering to Him.

For details on how the three syllables of the Pranava convey the relationship between Jivatmas and Brahman, see Vedanta Desikan's Rahasyatraya Sara.

Madhwas also think that the Pranava refers to Brahman. Here is what Madhvacharya says in his Mandukya Upanishad Bhashya:

Om is the designation of Brahman, and it is called Akshara or the imperishable also. For the word Om means literally "that by which everything is pervaded (otam)." Because this word is woven in Him, therefore Om denotes the Lord Hari.

And later on in the Mandukya Upanishad Bhashya, Madhvacharya gives an explanation for why Vishnu is called Pranava:

Vishnu in his four-fold aspect as Vishva etc. is called Pranava also; because he controls or leads (pranayana) the waking etc. states of the Jiva.

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    "Here is what the Sri Vaishnava Ramanujacharya says in this section of the Sri Bhashya:" The 'here' links to the Prashna Upanishad itself. Could you please link to the Bhashya as mentioned in the text? Nov 29, 2017 at 2:39
  • My question was more on actual religious practice rather than theology. Do Vaishnavites give the Omkara powers of granting liberation, erasing sins and so forth? Can it be uttered by itself or does it have to be coupled with name(s) of the personal god?
    – S K
    Nov 29, 2017 at 13:13
  • @SK It's not about uttering it, but meditating upon it. Ramanujacharya says "And he finally who, by means of the trisyllabic Pranava which denotes the highest Brahman, meditates on this very highest Brahman, is said to reach that Brahman, i. e. the supreme Person." Meditating upon the 32 Brahmavidyas leads to Moksha - but not by itself. Sri Vaishnavas believe that there are two paths to Moksha: Bhakti Yoga and Sharanagati. Bhakti Yoga involves meditating upon the 32 Brahmavidyas, Nishkama Karma, and devotional service to Vishnu. Sharanagati is complete surrender to the lotus feet of Vishnu. Nov 29, 2017 at 21:34
  • @Keshav Srinivasan - does that mean that without Bhakti and/or Sharanagati to the personal God - Pranava alone cannot lead to liberation. Is that correct?
    – S K
    Nov 29, 2017 at 21:39
  • @SK First of all, we believe that the supreme Brahman is Saguna, not Nirguna. But yes, we do believe that Moksha is impossible without either Bhakti Yoga or Sharanagati. Nov 29, 2017 at 21:44
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Do vaishnavites believe in pranava mantra

A short and crisp answer is, of course - Yes!

Why wouldn't they believe in the praṇava-mantra?

ŌṀ is the essence of Hinduism.
Anyone who likes to be called a "Hindu", possibly cannot dis-believe the Praṇavākṣara.

or is it an "anya devata" of sorts?

Most definitely, No.

Quoting from Siddhanta Sangraha of Śrī Śailācārya by E. Sowmya Narayanan

  1. Both praṇava mantra (OM) and the dvaya mantraΘ conveys the same karma namely, total surrender (bharasamarpaṇa). As there is no difference in both though the mantras are different, there is no distinction between the two expressions. It has to be noted that the scriptures are not quoted to establish prapatti. Whereas in the case of nyāsa which has the vidhivākya (injunctive statements) and also the supportive statement to prove it.

Chapter 16 - The Path of Surrender

However, it might be noted, the 'personal mantras' are more universal, because they can be chanted by anyone, dvija or not. On the other hand, in the orthodox theology, Praṇavākṣara definitely has the 'dvija-restrictions'. In that sense, one can assume that as per Sri Vaishnava theology the 'personal mantra of Vishnu' is greater than the AUM - due to its Universal applicability.

Further, it is asked:

It seems that the impersonal "Om" clashes with the "lakshmipati pitambaradhari shanka chakra gada pani" image of the God of vaishnavites. Do Vaishnavites give the Omkara powers of granting liberation, erasing sins and so forth? Can it be uttered by itself or does it have to be coupled with name(s) of the personal god?

No, it doesn't. As stated earlier, both dvaya mantra (the personal deity), and the praṇava (the impersonal deity) are stated to be same.

Well, let me further substantiate this:

In his work titled - 'Prapanna Pārijāta', Naṭātūr Ammāḷ, the grandson of Varadaguru, who was a nephew and disciple of Rāmānujācārya notes the following:

[I.18]. Therefore it will give freedom (mukti) to those that place their trust in it. Either in association with other means or by itself, Prapatti accomplishes the freedom of those that are desirous of salvation in the same way as Pranava.

[III.3-5]. This mantra, declaratory of taking refuge, is heard in the Kaṭhavalli and other texts and so too in the Padma Purāṇa in the discourse between Parāśara and Vaśiṣṭha. It has the same meaning as the praṇava [aum] and is composed of twenty-five characters. It is detailed over and again with its auxiliaries, its ṛsi, and so forth. It is enjoined for everyone and is to be uttered once. The Lord also ordains it elsewhere in the [Pañcardtra] Śastra. There is competence for the Dvaya Mantra even for those outside the three castes.

Why?

Because OṀ is basically the "nāda-Brahman" of the form of sound - and Nirguṇa, while Narayaṇa, as per the Vaishṇava theology is the one with the form -the Original one - Saguṇa Brahman. Yet both are the same.

As Ṛsi Parāśāra says in Visnu Purana 1.2.3

एकानेकस्वरूपाय स्थूलसूक्ष्मात्मने नमः । अव्यक्तव्यक्तरूपाय विष्णवे मुक्तिहेतवे ॥३॥

I bow unto him that is uniform yet hath a multiplicity oí forms; who is both subtle and gross; — who is manifested and unmanifested; unto Vishnu, the cause of salvation.

Translation by MN Dutt


Θ: Dvaya mantra (द्वय मंत्र)

It is basically 'The mantra' for prapatti unto Narayana, and is considered open to all beings, unlike Praṇavākṣara - AUM, which is reserved for only the dvijas. In that way, dvaya mantra is more universal than AUM, as per Vaishnava theology.

  • श्रीमन् नारायण चरणौ शरणम् प्रपद्ये
    श्रीमते नारायणाय नम​:

  • śrīman nārāyaṇa caraṇau śaraṇam prapadye
    śrīmate nārāyaṇāya nama​h

I approach for refuge the feet of Narayana with Sri; Praise to Narayana with Sri!


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  • Also read - hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/34405/…
    – Vivikta
    Mar 29, 2022 at 8:08
  • Vedanta Desikan says - Among the three words of the Ashtakshari Mantra, the single-lettered Pranava, which is described by the statements “among words I am the the one-lettered word” and “the Pranava is the highest letter”
    – Vivikta
    Mar 29, 2022 at 8:08

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