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Authenticity of Divya sthalams (was Archa thirunakshatram)

From: Murali Kadambi (murali_kadambi_at_yahoo.com)
Date: Wed May 24 2000 - 07:52:35 PDT

SrimAn Chakravarty wrote:

> I've always wondered why (or how come, rather)
> there is such a proliferation of divya sthalams
> in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent -
> especially when almost all the vibhava avataras
> existed in the north. Certainly appears to have
> more to do with history than with divinity,
> i.e. the revival/evolution of certain religious
> traditions during the last two millennia,
> coupled with the constant threat of Moslem
> invasions after the first millennium A.D.

Assuming that "divya sthalam" is synonymous with
"divya desam," I do not agree with that conclusion. 
Just because the sthaLa purANas may be of a later
origin and just because the vibhavAvatArams "took
place" in North India, there is no valid reason for us
to assume that the divya sthaLams of South India are
any less "divine," and that they are more "historical"
sthaLams than "divya" sthaLams.  Several reasons.

For one, once prathiTai is done on a vigraha, God
starts to inhabit the vigraha just as any svayamvyakta
idol or sALagrAma.  The vigraha is no less divine.

Secondly, according to the pAncarAtra, the arca form
of the Lord might precede the vibhavAvatAra of the
Lord.  Alternatively, his manifestation might be
revealed to a devotee much before the actual
vibhavAvatAram.  I do not have the actual pAsuram of
the AzhwAr, but I believe thirumangai AzhwAr has sung
on the yet-to-be kalki avatara.  Besides, in the
ahobila-mutt-managed dasAvatAra sannidhi in Srirangam
which is a divya-desam, God has manifested his kalki
avatAram.

Thirdly, also according to the pAncarAtra, the Lord
might choose to inhabit a certain place and form much
before the sthaLam exists or the temple comes into
being.  Again examples of this abound, but I have to
get back to you on the specifics.  An AzhwAr might
have sung on a "primordial" divya desam, which
probably might very well have no relation to local
legends or much later historical events and structures
such as the temple itself.   AN ASIDE: As a direct
corollary of this (and obviously not related to this
topic but nevertheless interesting) is that the dates
of the AzhwArs *cannot* directly be deduced from such
historical and inscriptional testimony.

On the other hand, as Mani has pointed out, not all
sthaLa purANas can be accepted as authentic if there
are logical and scriptural inconsistencies.

> 
> In any event, I was reminded just recently that
> Srivaishnavism recognizes only SEVEN svayamvyakta
> archa forms, including the SAlagrAmam.  All the
> other divyasthalams have been consecrated
> through pratiSThai/samprokshaNai.

I am led to believe (although I am not certain) that
there are *atleast* four svayamvyakta kshetrams (not
necessarily divya desams) viz. Srirangam, Tirupati,
Kanchipuram, and Melkote.  Probably this is the
reason, Ramanuja composed the slokam for
nithya-dhyAnam "SrirangamangaLa maNeem karuNa nivAsam
... shreesham namAmi shirasA yadushaila deepam ||" 
Again, because of the reasons I have mentioned
earlier, it might be a very difficult proposition to
determine whether or not a certain arca form is
svayamvyakta.  For that we might have to go to the
authentic AzhwAr pAsurams rather than local legends
and inscriptional evidence.

-- murali kadambi


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