The vaikhAnasas appear to represent an archaic branch of vaiShNavas who are distinct from the more popular and numerous pA~ncharAtrins. The vaikhAnasas however were and are still influential in few south Indian temples including the world’s most famous shrine, venkaTAdri (Other examples being the viShNu temple of vANamAmalai). The vaikhAnasas belong to a kR^iShNa yajurvedic shAkhA founded by the descendent of the ancient R^iShi of the A~Ngirasa clan, vikhAnas. The vaikhAnasas seem to have adopted a form of vaiShnavism early on, and are probably even amongst the earliest of the vaiShNavas alluded to in the nArAyaNIya section of the mahAbhArata. They possess many unique tantras of their own. Another unique collection associated with them is the vaikhAnasa mantra pATha, which in addition to the yajurvedic gR^ihya mantras (cf. Apastamba mantrapATha) includes a striking collection of mantras used in the private vaikhAnasa ritual, especially in connection to viShNu. Even their gR^ihya sUtra includes a section on the iconic worship of viShNu. Their main tantras pertaining to the installation and worship of idols are the bhR^igu, atri, kAshyapa and marIchi saMhitAs. The bhR^igu work mainly convers temple rituals. atri too covers these topics at great depth including the design of temples. kAshyapa’s Agama is mainly in sutraic form. Like many other great traditions of India we notice medieval historical references to the vaikhAnasa Agamas from both the extreme north of India- kAshmIra and the drAviDa and Andhra countries to the south. It finds mention in both the literary works of Sanskrit writers from drAviDa, like daNDin and jayanta bhaTTa of kAshmIra.
The vaikhAnasas describe five fold states of viShNu, which is parallel to the pA~ncharatric doctrine. 1) viShNu is the sarva vyApin, the primary source, the eternal state from which all arise. 2) From him differentiates the puruSha, which is a distinct entity or the property of existence, termed consciousness. 3) From viShNu also emanates satya, the which is the matter comprising the universe. 4) acyuta is the time-invariant aspect of all matter. 5) aniruddha is the ultimate atomic particle of all existence. These five states of viShNu are represented by the vaikhAnasas as the 5 vedic fires: 1) gArhapatya, 2) AhavanIya, 3) dakShiNAgni, 4) anvAhArya and 5) sabhya. While viShNu is their primary deity, the vaikhAnasas, like the early pA~ncharAtrins worship the rest of the Hindu pantheon with a series of elaborate oblations and tarpaNaMs.
The vaikhAnasa tantras usually dialate upon: 1) karShaNa- construction of shrines 2) pratiShTha- installation of idols of gods and goddess 3) pUjA- worship of the idols 4) snApana- the abhisheka or bathing of idols 5) utsava- festivals and processions 6) prAyashchitta- expiatory rites relating to utsavas and errors in rituals. Interestingly for all these rites the vaikhAnasa priests are organized as per the traditional vedic division into hotA-s, udgAtA-s and adhvaryu-s and brahmA-s deploying the 4 vedic saMhitAs. All the rituals for the above procedures depend upon oblations in the vedic fires.
The bhr^igu, marichI and atri saMhitAs in particular go into different aspects of architecture of vaikhAnasa viShNu temples, while other fragments cover chitra karma or painting of pictures of deities. The basic plan of a temple is termed the vimAna. The atri saMhitA enumerates 96 different plans of vimAnas, which are described as belong to the several basic classes termed brahmA, viShNu, rudra, indra, soma and those of various brahmins. The paddhati of ishAnashiva mishra, the siddhAnta tantric, also mentions 96 vimAnas for the construction of shiva temples, many of which match the vaikhAnasa set implying that basic hindu temple architectures had an early common ancestor in the form of the proto-agAma. The old viShNu temples over South India represent many of these 96 vimAna forms suggesting the wide use of the vaikhAnasa tradition before their take over by the pA~ncharatrins.
5 different idols are made for the vaikhAnasa temple. The dhruva idol is the permanent idol of viShNu whom may be in standing (Tirupati), sleeping (Shrirangam) or sitting (Urakam, Kanchi) poses and display vIra (heroic), yoga (yogic) or bhoga (relaxing or amorous) disposition. Stone, copper, clay or wood may be used for the dhruva idol. The next idol is the kautuka idol, made of gems, stone, copper, silver, gold or wood and it 1/3 to 5/9 the size of the dhruva. This idol is used for all offerings. The snApaka idol is smaller than the kautuka and is used for abhisheka and made similarly. The next idol is the utsava idol always made of metal and is used in festival processions. The final idol is the bali made of shiny metal and is daily taken around the central shrine when offerings are made to indra and other devas, as well as jaya and vijaya. For matsya and kUrma idols no kautuka is made and the oblations are made into the gArhapatya. In case of various fiery and watery varAha-s the offerings are made in the sabhya fire. vaikhAnasa-s make only simple nR^isiMha images and install him with offerings in the AhavanIya. trivikrama and bhArgava are installed with oblations in the anvAhArya fire. For rAmachandra and balabhadra the dakShiNagni is used, while for devakIputra and kalkI the paunDarIka fire is used. For garuDa and viShvaksena the AhavanIya is used.