VALLABHACHARS, a numerous sect in western and central India in which the emotional and erotic elements are al lowed free scope, aided by vernacular dialects in prayers and hymns of praise.
Vallabha, the son of a Telinga Brahman, lived at Gokula near Mathura, and set up a shrine with an image of Krishna Gopala. Vallabha went subsequently to reside at Benares, where he died. In the doctrine of this Vaishnava prophet, if the human soul is identical with God, the practice of austerities must be discarded as directed against God, and it is rather by a free indulgence of the natural appetites and the pleasures of life that man's love for God will best be shown. The followers of this creed direct their worship chiefly to Gopal Lal, the boyish Krishna of Vrinda vana, whose image is sedulously attended like a revered living person eight times a day—from its early rising from its couch to its retiring to repose at night. The sectarial mark of the adher ents consists of two red perpendicular lines, meeting in a semi circle at the root of the nose, and having a round red spot painted between them. Their principal doctrinal authority is the Bhaga vata-purana, as commented upon by Vallabha himself, the author of several other Sanskrit works highly esteemed by his followers. Children are solemnly admitted to full membership at the early age of four, and even two years, when a rosary, or neck lace, of 108 beads of basil (tulsi) wood is passed round their necks, and they are taught the use of the octo-syllabic formula Sri-Krishnah saranam mama, "Holy Krishna is my refuge."
Their spiritual heads, the Gosains, also called Maharajas, adorn themselves in splendid garments, and allow themselves to be habitually regaled by their adherents with choice kinds of food; and as the living representatives of the "lord of the Gopis" him self, claim and receive in their own persons all acts of attachment and worship due to the deity, even, it is alleged, to the extent of complete self-surrender. In the final judgment of the famous libel case of the Bombay Maharajas, before the Supreme Court of Bombay, in January 1862, these improprieties were severely commented upon.
A modern offshoot of Vallabha's creed, formed with the avowed object of purging it of its objectionable features, was started, in the early years of the 19th century, by Sahajananda, a Brahman of the Oudh country, who subsequently assumed the name of Svami Narayana. Having entered on his missionary labours at Ahmadabad, and afterwards removed to Jetalpur, where he had a meeting with Bishop Heber, he subsequently settled at the village of Wartal, to the north-west of Baroda, and erected a temple to Lakshmi-Narayana, which, with another at Ahmada bad, form the two chief centres of the sect, each being presided over by a Maharaja.