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Re: Archa thirunakshatram

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_alum.calberkeley.org)
Date: Fri May 19 2000 - 14:07:54 PDT

Vijayaraghavan Srinivasan writes:
> Eventhough Shri Sadagopan Swamin had answered this question, still it leaves 
> some more matters to be clarified.  For example, if you read the sthala 
> puranam of Tirupati etc., all these archa-murthys seem to have been once 
> vibhava avatArams.

Dear Vijayaraghavan,

I think it becomes patently obvious as one researches
the various sthala-purANas that they are of relatively
recent date, concocted by patrons or priests of a 
particular shrine to enhance its antiquity and ancestry
in the eyes of the believing public.  The sthala-purANas
usually are an amalgamation of local legend and pure
fantasy.  Many were probably not intended as serious
histories of the deity or temple at all. An example
of how easy it is to devise an interesting story about
a temple is the "legend" behind the Chicago Balaji
Temple, written by Sri R. Raghavan. Little did we know
that there were rishis and deva-s actively involved in 
Chicago as well!

S.K. Ramachandra Rao discusses the Tirupati sthala-purANa
in his interesting book on that shrine.  He points out how
the entire story of Vishnu coming down after a tiff with 
Lakshmi, eventually settling at Tirumalai to settle
a debt with Kubera is actually of very recent origin, 
say the 16th century or so.  In addition, the legend
of 'varAha-svAmi' being the actual, original deity 
of the Venkatam Hill really has no basis in fact. One way
of getting at the true history of a temple such as this is 
to look at solid textual evidence such as the Divya Prabandham,
Silppadikaaram, etc., as well as inscriptional evidence at
upper and lower Tirupati. 

> Also I am also confused about the vyuha forms.  From whatever little I now, 
> PancharAtrA doesn't refer to 'TirupArkadal'.  Para Vasudeva to 
> Vasudeva-Sankarshana-Pradyumna-Aniruddha are the vyuha forms according to 
> pAncharAtrA.  May be our achAryAs have tried to reconcile the different 
> purAnic description of these forms to derive a cogent perspective for our 
> understanding.

The vyUhas have many interpretations. One of them is that the vyUhas
represent Vishnu's emanations for the purpose of creation. This matches
quite well with the theology of Vishnu reposing in kshIrAbdhi in
yOga-nidra, contemplating his work of creation. I cannot say
for certain without doing a little more research, but I am pretty 
sure the idea of kshIrAbdhi does exist in the pAncarAtra.

Another idea behind the vyUhas is that they represent different
forms of Vishnu that rule over the different states of consciousness.
Along these lines is the idea that the sAnkhyan evolutes of 
buddhi, manas, ahankAra, etc., have these different vyUha forms of
Vishnu as their overlord.  This is why the pAncarAtra says
in one samhita "sankarshaNo nAma jIvo jAyate" -- "Sankarshana is
born as the jIva". 

In these various ways, the vyUha forms play a central role
in meditation and the yogic process according to the pAncarAtra.
Not being schooled very well in the pAncarAtra metaphysics,
I cannot say much more, but one is supposed to progressively
meditate on the various vyUha forms, each of which keep two
of the six principle attributes of Vishnu at the forefront.
The idea is that trying to meditate on all the six attributes
(the "SADguNya" of jnAna, bala, aiSvarya, vIrya, Sakti, tejas --
knowledge, strength, lordship, steadfastness, power, and
splendor) is too difficult, and that the aspirant should proceed
in stages. An aid to this progression of meditation is metaphorically 
described as a "sacrificial pillar" (viSAkha-yUpa) standing in 
Vaikuntha. Each level of this pillar has one of the vyUha forms 
manifesting two of these six divine attributes. One progresses in 
one's contemplation from the lower levels to the higher levels, 
culminating in para-vAsudeva.

It is interesting to note that Adi Sankaracharya Bhagavatpada
also subscribed to this six-fold description of divine attributes.
In his gItA-bhAshya avatArikA, he described Narayana as being
eternally endowed (sadA-sampanna) with these six guNa-s.

Unfortunately, it is my understanding that most of the yogic/
meditational ideas in the pAncarAtra have lost currency over
the years. Virtually no one in the Sri Vaishnava tradition
studies or practices yOga, especially along pAncarAtrika lines.
While other Agama traditions (SAkta, Saiva) remain well-developed
in their meditational aspects, the Vaishnava one seems to have
suffered over the years.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,
Mani







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