VALLABHA (1479–1531), also called Vallabhācārya, was a Vaiṣṇava Hindu philosopher and religious leader. Vallabha was born in central India at Campāraṇya (Raipur District, Madhya Pradesh) into a family of Vaiṣṇava brahmans originally from the Telugu country. During his childhood, which was spent in Vārāṇasi (Banaras), Vallabha displayed unusual precocity in mastering the scriptures of orthodox Hinduism. In the course of his life he visited most of the holy places of India, publicly expounding his own interpretation of the events of Kṛṣṇa's life as presented in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. In a series of debates with adherents of the nondualism (advaita ) promulgated by the eighth-century philosopher Śankarācārya, Vallabha defended the doctrines of devotional worship (bhakti ). On one of these occasions he was offered and accepted the position of leader (ācārya ) of the Vaiṣṇava school established earlier by Viṣṇusvami.
Vallabha's own sect, the Vallabh Sampradāy, originated from two events that occurred in the Braj region around the city of Mathura. In the first of these, Kṛṣṇa appeared to Vallabha in a vision and revealed to him the brahmasambandha mantra by which human souls could be brought into direct relationship (sambandha ) with the Supreme Being (brahman ). In the second, Vallabha discovered on Govardhan Hill the stone image called Śrī Govardhananāthajī ("the auspicious lord of Govardhan"), usually abbreviated as Śrī Nāthjī; the statue is a representation of Kṛṣṇa holding up Govardhan Hill as a shelter for his devotees. The brahmasambandha mantra remains to this day the primary component of the rite of initiation into the Vallabh Sampradāy, and Śrī Nāthjī, now at Nathdwara (Udaipur District, Rajasthan), is the sect's chief divine image. Vallabha was married and had two sons, Gopīnātha (1512–1543) and Viṭṭalanātha (1516–1586).
After Vallabha's death, first Gopīnātha and then Viṭṭalanātha took charge of the sect. Each of Viṭṭalanātha's eight sons formed his own branch of the sect and the leadership within these branches passes down by inheritance through Vallabha's male line. With most of its membership drawn from the mercantile section of Hindu society, the Vallabh Sampradāy is found in all important Indian cities but is strongest in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat and in the city of Bombay. Vallabha's sect was in decline during most of the nineteenth century, but in recent years it has regained its position of eminence among devotional varieties of Hinduism.
According to Vallabha the chief philosophical flaw in Śankarācārya's concept of advaita is that it accepts illusion (māyā ) as a force independent of brahman. Vallabha rectified this defect by presenting māyā as one of the powers of the Supreme Being. In this way he made pure (śuddha ) the nondualism of his philosophical system, which is, in consequence, called śuddhādvaita. The fundamental principles of śuddhādvaita are as follows: Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Being and sole existent entity. Both human souls and the material universe are real but limited manifestations that Kṛṣṇa projects out of himself. The souls on earth have, however, forgotten their true nature as fragments of the divine and have become centered on themselves. This egoism is the primary sin that dooms human beings to separation from Kṛṣṇa and to an endless succession of births and deaths. In his mercy Kṛṣṇa himself came in human form to earth in the Braj area and showed through his own actions the way to salvation through bhakti. The divine grace, which cannot be earned through mere piety or ritual, is available to anyone, regardless of sex or caste, who will forget the ego and center himself or herself on Kṛṣṇa. Since Kṛṣṇa's grace is said to be the way (mārga ) for the nourishment (puṣṭi ) of the soul, followers of Vallabha call their religion the Puṣṭmārg. Salvation, the goal of the Puṣṭmārg, consists of eternal association with Kṛṣṇa in his paradise beyond ordinary time and space.
The most important of Vallabha's writings, all of which are in Sanskrit, is his Subodhinī commentary on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. There is no satisfactory English translation, but the text has been well edited by Nandkishor Sharma (Nathdwara, 1928). Vallabha outlined his basic philosophical ideas in the Tattvārtha-dīpa-nibandha, which has been edited in two volumes by Harishankar Onkarji Shastri, with introduction and notes in English by J. G. Shah (Bombay, 1943). This edition includes both English and Gujarati translations of the text together with expository material. In sixteen short works collected together as the Ṣoḍaśagranthāḥ, Vallabha explained his approach to bhakti. An excellent three-volume edition of the Ṣoḍaśagranthāḥ with commentaries has been published under the title Mahāprabhu Śrīmadvallabhācārya Viracitāḥ Ṣoḍaśagranthāḥ (Nathdwara, 1980–1981), and an English translation of all but two of the sixteen works is included in Manilal Chhotalal Parekh's Sri Vallabhacharya: Life, Teachings and Movement, 2d ed. (Rajkot, 1943). A general introduction to Vallabha's teachings and sect is provided by my study The Bhakti Sect of Vallabhācārya (Faridabad, 1976), and a survey of his philosophical thought is given by Mrudula I. Marfatia in The Philosophy of Vallabhācārya (Delhi, 1967).
Tagare, Ganesh Vasudeo. Brahma-Vada: Doctrine of Sri Vallabhacarya. New Delhi, 1998.
R. K. Barz (1987)