As I discuss in this question, one of the early movements that was important to the development of Vaishnavism was the ancient Pancharatra movement, whose sacred texts consisted of detailed procedures to worship the sage Narayana, an ancient incarnation of Vishnu. The Pancharatra movement eventually merged with the Bhagavata moevemebt, which worshipped four forms of god (Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha), and then the followers of this combined movement realized that it was no coincidence that the Bhagavata deities share the names of Krishna, his brother Balatama, his son Pradyumna, and his grandson Aniruddha. And then when it was realized that Krishna was an incarnation of Vishnu, Vaishnavism as we understand it today was born.

In any case, among the oldest Pancharatra texts are the Satvata Samhita, the Paushkara Samhita, the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, and the Jayakhya Samhita. But there's another Pancharatra text that is popular among Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Brahma Samhita. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the 16th century Vaishnava thinker and founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, is said to have discovered this text in the Adikesava Perumal Vishnu Temple in Tamil Nadu. Here is how the Chaitanya Charitamrita, the standard account of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's life, describes it:

In the temple of Adi-kesava, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu discussed spiritual matters among highly advanced devotees. While there, He found a chapter of the Brahma-samhita. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was greatly happy to find a chapter of that scripture, and symptoms of ecstatic transformation -- trembling, tears, perspiration, trance and jubilation -- were manifest in His body. There is no scripture equal to the Brahma-samhita as far as the final spiritual conclusion is concerned. Indeed, that scripture is the supreme revelation of the glories of Lord Govinda, for it reveals the topmost knowledge about Him. Since all conclusions are briefly presented in the Brahma-samhita, it is essential among all the Vaishnava literatures. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu copied the Brahma-samhita, and then with great pleasure He went to a place known as Ananta Padmanabha.

You can read the Brahma Samhita here; only chapter 5 of it survives, although it's claimed that it was originally 100 chapters long. Western historians generally claim that due to the style of the language, it's likely a relatively late text.

My question is, what is the earliest reference to the Brahma Samhita? Are there any records or scriptures dating back to before the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu which mention this text?

  • You say "Western historians generally claim that due to the style of the language, it's likely a relatively late text." What are they comparing the text with in terms of timing, what do you specifically mean by style and who are the specific historians? – srinivasacarya dasa Dec 4 '14 at 3:27
  • @srinivasacaryadasa I don't know the details off the top of my head, but try Matsubara's book "Pancaratra Samhitas and Early Vaisnava Theology". He does a textual analysis of the Brahma Samhita and concludes that it couldn't have been written earlier than the fourteenth century. But in broad strokes, I think the sorts of things Western historians look at are grammatical constructions, vocabulary choices, and the like. For instance, if a certain grammatical construction is not found in classical Sanskrit texts but is common in Hindi, that might indicate that the author is a Hindi speaker. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 4 '14 at 3:48
  • @srinivasacaryadasa By the way, to be clear I don't accept the words of Western scholars as gospel. That's why I asked the question, to see whether there are any references to the Brahma Samhita significantly before the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Also, you may be interested another question I asked a while back about a scripture that is also popular about Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Kali Santarana Upanishad: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/2606/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 4 '14 at 5:55
  • @srinivasacaryadasa and @ Keshav - There is brihad bramha samhita which is a genuine pancharatra text. But, the bramha samhita which Gaudiya vaishnavas claim is a different one, though they say it was found by Chaitanya mahaprabhu at Adi Keshava perumal temple at Sriperumbudur the birth place of Sri Ramanujacharya. BTW, Otto scrader in his work "Introduction to Panchartra" says that brihad bramha samhita and also Bramha samhita as pancharatra texts but bramha samhita of Gaudiya vaishnavism is generally considered as different from the one mentoned in panchartra texts list. – user808 Dec 11 '14 at 7:35
  • @Krishna Yeah, I know about the Brihad Brahma Samhita, which even Sri Vaishnavas accept. And yeah, it's definitely a totally different work than the Brahma Samhita. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 11 '14 at 7:47

I have spent few days looking for any information on this and communicated with one reliable devotee of Sri Caitanya Maha Prabhu who spent several years in Vrindavana studying Sanskrit and some of the Gaudiya texts. The answer at this point is that there are no known records of reference to Brahma Samhita before Sri Caitanya Maha Prabhu.

However this is not uncommon. There are several things that Madhvacarya cites which were not seen by others but Jiva Gosvami trusts him and cites on his authority.

As for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, since we have numerous references of Sri Chaitanya Maha Prabhu in puranas/upanishads and His personal pastimes revealing His identity, we accept Him as Krishna Himself. Among His followers there are prominent devotees from Ramanuja, Madhva and Sankaracarya sects. So his discovery of the text is accepted by us with full faith.

  • Thanks for your answer and your efforts. Yeah, I certainly accept that he discovered the text, I don't think he wrote it himself or anything like that. (And he wouldn't need to, since his actual words obviously carry such weight among his followers anyway.) But since I'm not a Gaudiya Vaishnava, and thus I don't personally accept Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's words as gospel, I'm trying to see whether there are any independent reasons to accept the Brahma Samhita as a genuine ancient Pancharatra text, as opposed to a document that may have preceded Chaitanya Mahaprabhu but only by a few centuries. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 7 '14 at 4:52
  • By the way, when you say prominent devotees from those sects, you mean prominent former devotees; they converted from whatever sect they were part of before to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, they didn't just keep their original school of philosophy and incorporate Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as one of the incarnations. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 7 '14 at 4:52
  • By the way, you may be interested in another question about Gaudiya Vaishnavism I recently posted: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/3920/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 7 '14 at 8:01
  • @Srinivasacarya dasa - Though you say that you have numerous refrences in puranas and and upanishads that Chaitanya mahaprabhu is Lord Krishna hinself, the same texts can be made applicable to Sri Ramanujacharya himself. Infact, Brahmanda or brahmavaivarta purana, i read somewhere consists of advent of SriRamanujacharya and his cousin Sri Govinda bhattar alias Embar, explicitly. But, you don't see such explicits about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. – user808 Dec 11 '14 at 7:58
  • @srinivasacarya dasa - Here, i am not questioning your faith. As an bonafide vaishnava achrya of prominence no one can question Chaitanya mahaprabhu. But equating Upanishads statements and saying he is Krishna seems to be slightly far fetched. – user808 Dec 11 '14 at 8:01

Recently I was browsing through the notes I gathered during the reading over the past years and I came across a few of them that gave me an idea to write the answer to this question. While I was reading a book, Brahma-vaivarta puranam, Translated into English by Rajendra Nath Sen, Published 1920 by Panini Office in Allahabad

I noted one interesting detail I encountered. There, in the last chapter at the end of the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, at the end of the Krishna Janma Khanda or 4th canto, p. 565, there is a verse about five Samhita books on the subject of the Lord Krishna: "Five codes of law (Samhita) dealing with faith in Hari and composed by Brahma, Shiva, Prahlada, Gautama and Sanat-Kumara have likewise been announced by savants."
That can easily be a reference to the Brahma Samhita.

Then again in the book in the same Krishna Janma Khanda section, chapter CXXIX, p. 554, where various sages, gods and scriptures called Lord Krishna in various ways, we read: "Brahma, the dispenser of the world, calls him the cause of all causes."
It seems that this is a particular way Brahma prefers to call the Lord Krishna as "the cause of all causes", and it became his distinguished mark to call the Lord Krishna in this way. It is interesting to note that Brahma calls the Lord Krishna in this way precisely in the Brahma Samhita, in its opening verse. See verse 5.1 there: http://vedabase.com/bs/5/1/en

"Kṛṣṇa who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes."

I found yet another note in my notes. It comes from Shyam Chand Mukherji (Univ. of Calcutta [1966]), probably from a book, and says Brahma Samhita is a Vaishnava Tantra. Like many Vaishnava works, it was current in South India. It is said that Sri Caitanya brought this to Bengal from the south. The present MS (manuscript), written in Newari script bears the date 315 in the Newari era, which is equivalent to 1195 A.D. It may be observed here that this Tantric work was not only extant in Nepal, but also in Bengal. The work is also known as Vishnurahasya, or 'the secrets of the worship of Vishnu'. Colophon of folio 13B, records it as Vishnuprokta Samhita.

I think all this suggests that the Brahma Samhita is a genuine Lord Brahma's account of the Lord Krishna.

  • Thanks for your answer! I'm skeptical of the "cause of causes" thing, because that could have been easily taken from the Brahma Vaivarta Purana. The other Brahmavaivarta Purana verse is more interesting, and I'd like to find more information to see whether it's really referring to the Brahma Samhita. In any case, I found the Shyam Chand Mukherjee book: books.google.com/books?id=J_sfAAAAMAAJ The quote is on page 113. Let me give you the full quote. – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 8 '15 at 14:25
  • "'Brahma Samhita— Script. — Newari No. 3, 380 B, pp. 75 and xxiii, Date— N.S. 315=1195 A.D. It is a Vaisnava Tantra. Like many Vaisnava works, it was current in South India. It is said that Sri-Caitanya brought this to Bengal from the South in the beginning of the 15th century A.D. The present MS., written in Newari script, bears the date 315 in the Newari era, which is equivalent to 1195 A. D. It may be observed here that this Tantric work was not only extant in Nepal, but also in Bengal. The work is also known as Visnurahasya, or 'the Secrets of the worship of Visnu'." – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 8 '15 at 14:27
  • (continued) "Colophon of folio 13B records it as Visnuprokta Samhita. It speaks of festivals or vratas like Sravana- dvadasi (37B), Anantadvadasi (275), Snanadvadasi (69 ?) etc. which are still current among the devout Vaisnavas in Bengal. Two chapters (76/4 and 78A) are devoted to Govinda and Visnu respectively. The last chapter (85A) of the work, viz, Pratima-Laksanam deals with the dedication of the temples and consecration of images therein." – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 8 '15 at 14:32
  • All this stuff about multiple chapters, Dvadasi vratas, consecration of idols, etc., suggests to me that this Newari manuscript being referred to is a completely different text from the Brahma Samhita found by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Perhaps there are multiple texts called the Brahma Samhita. (There definitely are; there is a text known as the Brihad Brahma Samhita, which is a Pancharatra text recognized by all Vaishnavas.) – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 8 '15 at 14:38

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