The Vaishnava Agamas or Pancharatra Agamas glorify God as Vishnu.
The Saiva Agamas glorify God as Shiva and have given rise to an important school of philosophy known as Saiva-Siddhanta, which prevails in South India, particularly in the districts of Tirunelveli and Madurai.
The Sakta Agamas or Tantras glorify God as the Mother of the Universe, under one of the many names of Devi (Goddess).
The Agamas do not derive their authority from the Vedas but are not antagonistic to them. They are all Vedic in spirit and character. That is the reason why they are regarded as authoritative.
The Vaishnava Agamas
The Vaishnava Agamas are of four kinds:
- The Vaikhanasa
The Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and Naradiya are the seven groups of the Pancharatras. The Naradiya section of the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata is the earliest source of information about the Pancharatras.
Vishnu is the Supreme Lord in the Pancharatra Agamas. The Vaishnavas regard the Pancharatra Agamas to be the most authoritative. They believe that these Agamas were revealed by Lord Vishnu Himself. Narada-Pancharatra says: “Everything from Brahma to a blade of grass is Lord Krishna”. This corresponds to the Upanishadic declaration:
“All this is, verily, Brahman-Sarvam, Khalvidam Brahma”.
The following extract is from The Mahabharata, Santi Parva
Bhishma continued: Narada also, endued with great energy, having obtained the high favour that he had solicited, then proceeded with great speed to the retreat called Vadari, for beholding Nara and Narayana. This great Upanishad, perfectly consistent with the four Vedas, in harmony with Sankhya-Yoga, and called by him by the name of Pancharatra scriptures, and recited by Narayana Himself with His own mouth, was repeated by Narada in the presence of many listeners in the abode of Brahma (his sire) in exactly the same way in which Narayana (while that great God had showed Himself unto him) had recited it, and in which he had heard it from his own lips.