Why do we find Pāñcarātra first refuted by Vedānta scholars and then defended by other Vedāntins? What happened between the two groups? And what was at stake with Pāñcarātra?
Pāñcarātra ideas or rituals have been around for a long time before the first extant Pāñcarātra Saṃhitās. One finds Pāñcarātra mentioned in the Nārāyaṇīya section of the Mahābhārata and the Brahmasūtra seems to refute Pāñcarātra in the utpattyasambhavādhikaraṇa (2.2.41–42). It is difficult to understand how Pāñcarātra grew and developed, seemingly moving from texts and practices regarding private rituals to texts and practices regarding temple rituals. The first stage took place in Northern India, perhaps in Kaśmīr (given the analogies with Kaśmīri Śaiva rituals, but early Pāñcarātra texts have been found also in Nepali manuscripts), whereas at a certain point Pāñcarātra moved to South India, where it survived until now, living symbiotically with Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and Śrī Vaiṣṇavism.
What made this symbiosis possible? As already hinted at, the Brahamsūtra refutes Pāñcarātra, and so do Bhāskara and Śaṅkara, although the latter’s refusal might be less negative (so Neevel 1977: 171–182). By contrast, Yāmuna is an engaged supporter of Pāñcarātra Sacred Texts (to their validity he dedicated his Āgamaprāmāṇya) and Vedānta Deśika also wrote a Pāñcarātrarakṣā. Do readers note an absence?
Rāmānuja does in fact hardly at all deal with Pāñcarātra. He mentions the vyūhas, but only in his devotional works and not at all in his Śrī Bhāṣya. Neevel explains this absence by saying that Rāmānuja was more “cautious” and separated theology (which needed to be Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin) from rituals (for which Pāñcarātra texts and practices were responsible), perhaps in order to avoid “the ire and opposition of many more conservative Brāhmans” (Neevel 1977: 193).
However, this reconstruction partly clashes with Vedānta Deśika’s role and with the fact that he did not enforce this division (as already mentioned, he wrote a Pāñcarātrarakṣā and mentions Pāñcarātra repeatedly even in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā): Pāñcarātra is part of his philosophical (and not only devotional) scenario.
Are Yāmuna’s and Vedānta Deśika’s motivations the same? Is Rāmānuja an exception?