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SreematE rAmAnujAya namaha

Indian tradition of image worship
Around the first century BC or AD a form of worship easily accessible to ordinary persons
evolved itself and it consisted in offering prayer to an image of the Lord in a temple (and
houses) with flowers, fruits etc. The religious practice originated from what is known as
Agama SAstra and the form of the Lord which was sculpted was as per the outlines which
the seers and the enlightened riShis visualized in dhyAna mantras; this form of the Lord,
the divya mangala vigraha (luminous Divine Form), is also known as the archAvatAra of
God, preceded by four other forms viz. para, vyooha, viBava and antaryAmin.
Agamas are procedures relating to the worship of God in idol form, and have come to stay as a
popular method of worship by the masses. The other forms of worship mAnasi and hOma are
rather difficult to practice being more rigorous. Sage mArkaNDEya, while responding to a
question from vajra, observed: prakriti is the unmanifested abode of the phenomenal universe
and vikriti is its manifestation. As long as human mind remains a part of vikriti, it is
conditioned by conceptual ideas of form and qualities. The higher level of consciousness being
not within easy reach of common folk, the conceptual symbol, an idol, easily activates the latent
divinity in man. Agamas precisely address to this need.
There are three types of AgamasSakta, Saiva and vaiShNava. Although all the three types
have a common aspect in that all of them give importance to Sakti, the first one viz SAkta
accords overriding importance and an independent status to Sakti as being superior to God
Himself. vaiShNava Agamas comprise two systemsvaiKAnasa and pAncharAtra.
pAncharAtra, as the name suggests, comprises worship during five sections (slots) of the day.
They are known as aBiGamana (initial brief worship). upAchAna (acquiring materials for
worship), eejya (elaborate program of worship), swAdhyAya (study of scriptures and
philosophizing) and yOga (meditation and communion with the Divine). pAncharAtra has
supposedly as many as ten connotations. pAncharAtra, also known as BAgavata religion, is
called the system of Bakti.
The doctrine of grace of the Lord and Bakti, which underline pAncharAtra Agamas basic
tenets, are based on vEdas, purANas and smritis. To quote some: upAsana kANDas in
AraNyakas. BAgavata purANa, SanDilya and nArada sootras.
Image or idol worship is based on the very important aspect or guNa of the Lord viz
soulaBya. The finitised form of the infinite presupposes that the Lord allows Himself to be
worshipped in whatever form or style His devotees desire. He has said as much in the geeta: I
reveal Myself to them descending down in line with their inclinations. All AzhwArs and
AchAryas have described in glowing terms their experience with the divya mangala vigraha of
the Lordthis enabled Sree rAmAnuja to affirm full faith in Bakti.

The seers and riShis could feel the Lords presence and visualize His form, and the
details/outlines were set down in dhyAna mantras. Such a feeling experienced by the seers in
termed in modern parlance as plastic conception. dhyAna mantras thus provided what were
known as lakShaNas and the Silpa SAstras are said to have fidelity to the metaphysical and
basic psychology aspects of the images.
Before undertaking the carving of wood or sculpting of stone for images, a holy job at that, the
artist has to perform purifactory rituals like fasting and offer special prayer to God, the night
before he starts the work.
The system of worship of Lords idol wherein offerings in the form of fruits, flowers etc.
are made replacing in effect the earlier system of incantations, sacrifices, goes under the name
Agama; this in fact means something which has come downcould it be the Lord Himself in
response to His devotees prayersHis soulaBya!
Agamas are defined as temple traditions which is an all-embracing term standing for
worship of the Lord in (houses and) temples/image-worship enjoining instructions on image
sculpting and the temple construction. In short, Agamas simply represent the popular method of
The oldest Buddhist writings also have this word which is said to mean tradition (nikAya).
pAncharAtra Agama is known as BAgavata tradition and Bagavatism started as a system of
worship based upon Gods grace to humanity. This system was started, by the Lord vAsudEva
Scholars are of the opinion that Agamas could have taken a concrete shape around first century
BC. The novel system of worship is traced to that of the sun in the capacity of viShNu and
as Grieson said: vAsudEva was already regarded as a God to whom Bakti was shown
and regarding whom the expression Om namO vAsudEvAya was inherited by BAgavatas
The picture around fourth to tenth century BC was that the pourANika Hinduism was
encouraged by gupta emperors who called themselves as BAgavatas. They popularized
Hinduism in the face of Buddhism and Jainism. Other dynasties which followed this system
were: mAlwa. magadha, kanouj, gouda, gurjara/vAkAtas, SaraBas, eekShvAku, kadambas and
gangas. pallavas/chEra/chOLa and pANDyan dynasties supported this culture in the south.
All these dynasties fostered popular Hinduism of which BAgavatism was the main
by encouraging compilation of purANas, the construction of temples, the
organization of temple festivals etc:.strangely enough this unifying influence had the richest
fruition in South India.
Throughout the history of Hindu religion, symbols and forms have played a great part in the
path or worship, be they material, verbal or mental. worship of the image or the use of the
image symbolizing the ideal accompanied by chanting of His name and singing of divine
glory was the first step constituted as we are we have to take the help of images!
The mOkSha-dharma section of the SAnti-parva in the great epic mahABAarata happens to
be the earliest source in regard to the evolution of the theory of Agamas.
Before Agamas took shape there appeared to be influences of sAnKya system of puruSha and
prakriti, which lent a philosophical justification for Sakti. God was considered
unapproachable and therefore Sakti became the source of divine grace. The tamizh
works like nAlADiyAr, SilapadhikAram, maNimEgalai and kural gave the impression that non-

vEdic religions like Buddhism and Jainism, however great their influence, could not satisfy the
Dravidian temperament which longed for God; the monotheistic cults of vaiShNavism and
Saivism developed and the saints of the two schools were much influenced by the respective
The Agamas themselves came to be of three kinds: SAkta, Saiva and vaiShNava. They were all
based on the common principle of the power of Sakti as forming the part of Ultimate
Reality. The SAktas were primarily similar to Saivas save their practice of worshipping
Sakti. The SAkta Agamas glorify Sakti as being Supreme, that is, greater than God Himself; the
common forms of Sakti generally known as durga and kALi.
On the other hand, Saiva and vaiShNava Agamas maintain that God and Sakti are mutually
helpful and co-operative and the latter, it is accepted, participates in creation and running of
the universe at large. Unlike in the SAkta Agamas, Sakti does not enjoy the independence in
Saiva and vaiShNava Agamas. While Saiva Agamas call her as Sakti, who is pArvati, vaiShNava
Agamas call her as Sree or lakShmi.
Saiva Agamas, as the name suggests, have Siva as God, while viShNu is the celebrated
God of vaiShNava Agamas.
vaiShNava Agamas which are prevalent in vaiShNava and Sree vaiShNava temples are of two
types: vaiKAnasa and pAncharAtra. Both Agamas are based on EkAnti dharma which simply
means having conviction in unitary Godit is noteworthy that these Agamas do not deny faith
in other deities. EkAnti dharma propounds abject dependence of man upon God with the
deepest belief and confidence that they would never be let down by the Lord.
Of the two Agamas, vaiKAnasa and pAncharAtra, the former is or earlier origin. It may also be
noted that there is not much difference between the two Agamas, the former distinguished by
notable absence of stress on drAviDa vEda (divya prabandham) in worship.
The system which is free from the Agamic features like BootaSuddhi, mudras, yantras,
nyAsa etc is vEdic in character, but retains the idol worship similar to its counterpart,
pAncharAtra, of adoring the Lord. viShNu declared to be the source who seems to have
taught it to Penapa, on to vaiKAnasa, them on to sOma, further to rudra and finally to
vAlaKilyas. nArada seems to have obtained it from viShNu Himself.
There is another belief that brahma, who was taught this Agama by the Lord, took birth as
viKanas in order to establish the method of viShNu worship. He taught this Agama to four
disciples via., atri, mareechi, Brigu and kaShyapa. viKanas authored kalpa sootras where
the worship of viShNu is enjoyed. There is no suggestion in the sootras that idol worship
is to be preferred to vEdic rituals, although viKanas instructed his disciples to undertake worship
The disciples known as vaiKAnasas gave detailed exposition of the procedures for
worshipping the deity in temples, in construction of which also received merited treatment.
vaiKAnasa Agama texts list ninety vimAnas, four poses for the hands of idols; for the right
hand varada, aBaya, tarjini and jnAna, and for the left hand katyavalmita, gajahasta,
simhakarANa and karaputa.

pAncharAtra Agama
As stated earlier pAncharAtra Agama belongs to the vaiShNava system of worship. Its vEdic
authority has been debated by the poorvAchAryas and the eminent Sree vaiShNava AchArya,
Sree rAmAnuja has come out strongly in its defense. The well-known writer on philosophies

surEndranAth dAsgupta, observes: pAncharAtra doctrines are indeed very old and are associated
with puruSha sookta of the rig vEda which is, as it were, the foundation stone of all future
vaiShNava philosophy.
It is recognized, that it is not easy to follow the rigors of Bakti yOga and the easier
alternative for ordinary persons is to follow the self-surrender route. To quote Prof.
dAsgupta again: It is only in pAncharAtra works that the geeta meaning of yOga as selfsurrender to God is found. Ahirbudnya samhita describes yOga as worship of the heart
(hridayAradhana), the offering of oblation (havih) of oneself to God.therefore it is to
suggest that the idea of yOga in the geeta has the same traditional source as the pAncharAtra
pAncharAtra Agama is also known as BAgavata school preaching the doctrine of Bakti or
devotional love for God, the Supreme person. sAtvata is another name for pAncharAtra;
it is also called nArAyaNeeya and EkAntika.
pAncharAtras main source texts are the nArAyaNeeya of the mahABArata, the
Bagavadgeeta, BAgavata purANa, nArada sootras and SANDilya sootras. The roots of this
Agama, are however, to be seen in vEdic hymns and upaniShads: the upAsana kANDas of the
AraNyakas and upaniShads lay the foundations of the Bakti mArga, way of devotion and faith
(Dr. Seal). It may be mentioned here that, according to scholars, sometimes pAncharAtra is
quoted as the root of the vEdas and vice versa.
The relevant quotations are given below:
1. idammaho-paniShdam chatur-vEda-sam-anvitam sAnKya-yOga kratantEna pancha-rAtranuSabditam
2. mahatO vEda-vrakShya moolaBootO mahan ayam
3. Sruti moolam idam tantram pramANa-kalpa-sootravat.
yAmunAchArya talks about pAncharAtra as containing a brief summary of the teachings of the
vEdas for the easy ad immediate use of those who cannot afford to study the vEdic literature for
Sometimes also referred to as the tantras and kANDas, the pAncharAtra samhitas came to
comprise, according to tradition, a set of 108 works, but as a matter of fact, they number at least
225 worksDr. Otto Schrader refers in the valuable contribution to his ahirbudnya samhita
(adyAr, 1916) to as many as 224 works.pAncharAtra literature refers traditionally to one and a
half crores of verses, and Schrader himself calculates the possibility of a million and
half. gOvindAchArya gives references to the padmatantra, the BaradwAja samhitas,
SANDilya smriti, vriddha hArita smriti (and these are) followed by sAtvata samhita, the jaya
and ahirbudnya samhita. Also supporting pAncharAtra are viShNu, nAradeeya, padma and
varAha purANas (all these being sAtvika purANas), prajApatis and SANDilya smritis.
In the pAncharAtra or BAgavata system much stress is laid on the grace of God. Religion
is the elevation of man to God and the descent of God to man! Man can never acquire fitness
for communion with God by self-exertion. The Lord cannot be apprehended by senses. He is
beyond the ken of logic or argument, and is attained only through whole-hearted devotion.
Let us now go through some important views on devotion to God presented in various texts
mentioned before:
The mahABArata: Those who are conversant with pAncharAtra scriptures, who observe
religious duties and who have whole-hearted devotion to God succeed in entering into Him

Bagavad geeta: Fix thy mind on Me alone, concentrate thy intellect on Me; hereafter thou
shall no doubt, dwell in Me alone.
BAgavata: BAgavata preaches unmotived devotion (ahaitukee Bakti) to God as the religion
of man and that it fills the soul with bliss. Devotion to Lord gives rise to knowledge
(iv.29.37). Real wisdom generates attachment (mati) to God (iv.29.49).
BAgavata talks about three types of devotiontAmasa, rAjasa and sAtvikaones devotion is
tAmasa, if actuated by ignorance/jealousy; rAjasa, if actuated by desire for wealth/fame etc.,
and sAtvika, if actuated by desire for duty/for burning karma/pleasing Godthe highest kind
of devotion is absolutely unmotived and is immediate and spontaneous devotion to the Supreme
Person (iii.29.12). It is devoid of qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas.
nArada sootras: nArada sootras elaborate the teachings of geeta and BAgavata: we cannot give
up all actionsactions meant for preservation of life, eating, drinking, dressing, etc., must be
carried on and on so long as we live (sootra 14). Devotion does not necessarily depend upon
knowledge; it is the fruit of itself (sootras 28-30).
The BAgavata religion does not expect us giving up social religious observances. Respecting
dictates of morality and religions, one should perform social duties prescribed by vEdas, which
are congenial to God (sootra. 11).
Dedicate all actions, moral and religious, to God (sootra 8). Injunctions (meaning commands)
of the scriptures should be observed till we develop deep faith in God (sootras12-14).
nArada holds that devotion is higher than action, higher than knowledge and higher than
concentration of mind (yOga); it is higher than the other means of salvation because it is its own
reward (sootra 25).
One finds in nArada sootras eleven forms of devotion.
SANDilya sootras: For the culture of devotion, concentration is required (sootras 19-27). All
persons even up to the lowest-born have equal right to follow the path of devotion; it has
been taught by authorities one after another (sootra 18); nArada sootras, 72-72, also echo similar
view on universality of the system of devotion.
Both nArada and SANDilya speak of primary devotion and also secondary devotion. Primary
devotion is single-minded and whole-hearted devotion to Godit is the supreme devotion.
Worship of God is secondary devotionit is not wholehearted devotion. It is the effect of
singing names of the Lord, etc., which generate attachment to Him (SANDilya sootras 83-84; 5657).
In pAncharAtra vAsudEva is the Supreme Lord who is both the material and efficient cause
of this universe. One who attains liberation by meditating on Him, worshipping Him and, in short,
trying to know Him. The view that vAsudEva is the Supreme Lord to be worshipped is accepted
by the vEdAntin as it is not against Sruti (vEdas). Sree rAmAnuja was a staunch follower of
pAncharAtra Agama and he interpreted the basic texts (The brahma sootras, the Bagavad geeta
and upaniShads) with the help of this Agama (and the devotional outpourings of AzhwArs).
Sree rAmAnuja accorded equal importance to karma kANDa (the rituals part of the vEdas) as
also the jnAna kANDa (the knowledge of brahman, the highest reality). The former part viz.
karma kANDa treats of the mode of worshipping God.the Supreme God referred to in
upaniShads (jnAna kANDa) is none other than vAsudEva, and it is He who is the composer
of the pAncharAtra..pAncharAtra texts, as stated by yAmunAchArya were produced by
God for the benefit of the devotees who were impatient of following elaborate details in (of) the
vEdic texts.

One of the main subjects of the pAncharAtra literature is that related to various rituals associated
with the image-worship in temples. As a scholar put it No doubt an ordinary person may not
be able to make out much of what is said in Agama books but a critically-minded seeker would
still discover a streak of precious unitive and universal doctrine, forming the simple base of
the technique and theory of an otherwise very elaborate temple methods (understood by a
One of the vital aspects which attracted lot of criticism by Sankara and advaitins is the aspect of
jeevas relation to God: the status of sankarSaNa coming from vAsudEva was considered a
jeeva and since jeevas are not created pAncharAtra propounds unvEdic doctrines. The fact is
that pAncharAtra as also ahirbudnya samhita are clearly of the view that at the time of dissolution
of the jeevAtmans or jeevas return to God and remain in potential form and separate out at
the time of new creation having an independent existence; therefore they do not propound any
unvEdic doctrine. sankarSaNa is merely a manifestation of the Lord Himself (with limited
qualities guNas but with the same perfection).
The five-fold aspects of pAncharAtra viz. the five vyooha forms and five-time worship of
God are propounded by this Agama.
The term pAncharAtra itself has acquired over the years a number of interpretations and
connotations, and one keeps speculating as to what exactly it stands for. There are as
many as ten aspects of pAncharAtra which have been talked about and the more important ones
are summarized below:
1. That puruSha or Sreeman nArAyaNa conducted a sacrifice over a period of five nights;
that is to say, it was the sacrificial system of puruSha (brAhmaNas state this).
2. That God is worshipped in five ways; standila, maNDala, kumba, puShpa and pratima;
3. That importance is attached to tApa, puNDra, nAma, mantra and yOga rituals;
4. That the routine of daily duties/worship is divided into five partsaBigamana, purAdhAna,
eejya, swAdhyAya and yOga; and
5. That, Sreeman nArAyaNa, exhibits five forms of God-head: para, vyooha, viBava,
antaryAmin and archa.
Five fold duties/discipline:

aBigamana: After the ceremonial bath and offering of oblations (sandhyAvandana),

one is expected to perform aBigamana which consists of the brief and preliminary
worship in the morning. In other words it is the initial approach to the deity.


upAdhana: It is an external activity which consists acquiring all the necessary

materials for the worship like flowers, sandal paste, fruits, tuzhasi, ElakkAi, kEsari and
fruits, and materials for naivEdhya (amiSE in tamizh). This depends on ones
individual capacity and calls for use of honestly acquired materials.


eejya: This is the worship proper and the central phase of the days spiritual life. Also
known as tiruvArAdhana, it comprises treating Gods idols/sAligrAmas to various Asanas
with appropriate vEdic hymns and/or compositions/ Sree sooktis of seers/ AzhwArs.
Broadly eejya represents sacrifices as per vEdas.


swAdhyAya: Simply put, it is chanting of Gods various names (nAmasmaraNa). Its

scope extends to vEda pArAyaNa leading to philosophical consciousness.


yOga: The fifth and final phase before retiring is yOga (meditations). Sree
rAmAnujas vaikuNTha gadya comes in handy here; it is submitting ones soul to

the Lord. muNDaka upaniShad aptly describes it as shooting of an arrow (soul ) towards
its target (brahman).
Five-fold forms of Godhead:
This is the other important interpretation of pAncharAtra, besides the five-fold discipline. There
are five modes or forms of Godhead viz. para, vyooha, viBava, antaryAmin and archa;

para form: This is Lords primordial form and all of us long (or should long) to reach
it. This is the ground form and from it spring other forms.


vyooha forms: There are four forms engaged in cosmic process with vAsudEva heading
the list and as stated earlier vAsudEva is indeed Sreeman nArAyaNa Himself qualified
with SaDguNas (jnAna, bala, aiSwarya, veerya, Sakti and tEjas) while the other
forms viz. sankarSaNa, pradyumna and aniruddha share the SaDguNas with two guNas
each respectively in the same order. As stated before vAsudEva, the Supreme Lord, is
the material and efficient cause of this universe; He is clay as well as the potter giving
rise to forms and names. By worshipping Him one ensures/achieves liberation.

The second form of vyooha (from vAsudEva), with qualities of jnAna and bala, is
sankarSaNa. In this form nArAyaNa undertakes two cosmic functions-He withdraws the
universe to a latent condition and promulgates spiritual knowledge for the use of the next epoch.
The third form pradyumna with the perfections of aiSwarya and veerya, has the
function of creating the world with names and forms; and fostering dharma in the
created beings takes place.
The fourth form is that of aniruddha, with the dominant qualities of Sakti and tEjas, and
the world is maintained and protected by this form. He busies Himself in
tattvOpadESha and leading individual lives to liberation.
The vyooha forms described are very well depicted in Sree parASara BaTTars
Although everyone accepts the view that vAsudEva is the Supreme Lord and is
to be worshipped (as it is to against Sruti), the criticism centers around the form of
sankarSaNa and others, as they are considered as jeevas having emanated from
vAsudEva. The main point of contention is that jeevas are not created; they are
beginningless (literally like God Himself). pAncharAtra is therefore un-vEdic.
The arguments put forward in defending vyoohas forms are1. vyooha is not an utpatti but a pradhurBava.
2. vyoohas are forms of God Himself without variation in the essential perfections of Godhead.
3. pAncharAtras
enumeration of vyoohas does not exclude the infinity of divine
manifestations; they are manifested of vAsudEva.
4. There are pAncharAtra passages that clearly and unambiguously declare the
uncreated and eternal existence of jeevAtmans.
5. It is a sequential order of Gods revelation with no repetitions.

viBava Forms: The commonly known daSAvatAras e.g. rAma, kriShNa, narasimha,
of the God-head constitute the viBava forms. In Bagavadgeeta the Lord talks
about the divine incarnation, the main purpose of which is to protect the good (ones)
and destroy the evil (ones): (paritrANAya sAdhoonAm..yugE yugE).


antaryAmin : The Lord takes minute form, known as antaryAmin, and dwells in our
hearts (the brahmapuri) in all His creations. This form of God finds
expression in brihAdAraNyaka upaniShad, and Sankara himself identifies
the antaryAmin with nArAyaNa.


archa: The fifth and the last form is known as archAvatAra; owing to His great
quality of soulaBya, (approachability) the Lord assumes many shapes as His devotees
want Him, to be among them; and these images of the Lord, the idols or divya mangala
vigrahas (luminous divine forms) are consecrated as per Agama SAstra in temples
which themselves are to be built according to Agamas. Thus He fulfils our desires of
His being in our proximity.

It may be added here that while the five-fold discipline is not so much difficult to follow in ones
house, its establishment in temples is far too elaborate and calls for strict complianceno
pitfalls, exceptions and omissions are tolerated.
pAncharAtra Agama lays down guidelines right down to cleaning of temples besides
specifications for fitness of temple staff/duties of devotees, temple construction/sculpting of
idols/ renovation etc., Also included are decoration/ gardening/ purifying festivals/ archakas
training/ sanctity as a whole in the guidelines of pAncharAtra.
Criticism against pAncharAtra :
Sankara and advaitins were reluctant to accord vEdic authority or recognition to pAncharAtra
and the main point of criticism stems from the following aspect:
It is said in pAncharAtra that sankarSaNa came from vAsudEva (and further on
pradyumna and aniruddha). It amounts to saying that SankarSaNa, is a jeevAtman, as He
came from vAsudEva and since jeevAtmans are not created pAncharAtra is unvEdic: the
vEdAntic view is that the souls/jeevas are not createdthey are beginningless, and in this
respect literally like paramAtma Himself. Hence this criticism.
In support of this criticism they quote brahma sootras 2.3.18 which is AtmAdhikaraNa, which
says the soul is not born as vEdas say so.
The defense, in short is that sankarSaNa is an incarnational manifestation of vAsudEva,
who is nArAyaNa Himself, and vyooha form is not an utpatti but a prAdurBAva. pAncharAtra,
as the word of nArAyaNa, contains the essentials of vEdAnta as accepted by sootrakAra (vyAsa)
and extolled by him in mahABAratavAsudEva who is the same as BagavAn or the
God of religion has been comprehensively defined and its vEdAnta applied to practical life.
The eternity of self (soul) is nowhere rejected.
The above defense is elaborated in the following classics:
1. yAmunas Agama prAmANya
2. brahma sootras/Sree BAShya (Sree rAmAnuja)
3. pAncharAtra rakSha (vEdAnta dESika)
Upholding/rebuttal as seen in religious classics:
Both yAmuna and Sree rAmAnuja place pAncharAtra on the same footing as vEdas.
According to rAmAnuja every word eventually signifies the Supreme Lord, since everything
points to Him as its final essence; the special ritualistic process associated with pAncharAtra
cannot be known by perception or inference. Only God whose powers of perception extend to

all objects of the world which are without limitation can instill the special injunctions of
pAncharAtra.All the spiritual texts support (the existence of) an omnipotent and
omniscient Godwho on the one hand created vEdas and on the other the pAncharAtra
literature for the attainment of the highest bliss by the worship of God(that is) the
Supreme God referred to in upaniShads is none other than vAsudEva and it is He who is the
composer of pAncharAtra (yAmuna).
1. yAmunas Agama prAmANya: Agama prAmANya is yAmunAchAryas major work
which, while establishing that pAncharAtra is a holy work standing on the same footing
as vEda, rebuts advaitns criticism on pAncharAtra by demonstrating that the allegations
were ill-founded. Agama prAmANya is in prose form with 139 sentences. It expounds
Gods incarnational manifestations in vyooha form
(vAsudEva/ sankarSaNa/
pradyumna/aniruddha) as also religious practices followed in temples as per
pAncharAtra Agama. This work refers to many texts from varAha, linga and matsya
purANas besides manu samhita and other samhita texts. Agama prAmANya (as also
yAmunas kaSmeerAgama which is unfortunately unavailable) tries to prove that
pAncharAtra is as valid as vEda, since both are derived from the same source viz. the
Divine Person, nArAyaNa.
The main arguments contained in Agama prAmANya, which display yAmunas brilliant ability
to argue and his SAstric command are summarized below:
(A) i)

The source for pAncharAtra is the ekAyana Saka of Sukla yajurvEda;

It has Sastric authority just as jyOtistOma yajnas (appearing in vEdas/brAhmaNas);


Rebutting the criticism that pAncharAtra emanated form vAsudEva and therefore it
cannot be taken as authority, yAmuna says that if one could accept mimAskas
premise that certain portion of vEdas originated from man and these have authority,
pAncharAtra is all the more acceptable as it originated from BagavAn, vAsudEva
Himself, and therefore if vEdas are accepted as authority, so should pAncharAtra be;


Since pAncharAtra declares truth, it is also authority; its statements are swatah
pramANa self-authoritative;


Similarly it talks about siddha vastu (brahman) just as upaniShads do and therefore
it is as much as authoritative as upaniShads.


Discussing parabrahman, yAmuna has deduced that vAsudEva Himself is parabrahman

being responsible for creation/maintenance/dissolution of the universe;


vAsudEva Himself has taught nArada and SANDilya the doctrine of pAncharAtra
Agama so that they could carry it forward to the world at large;


The Agamas have talked about anandamaya and to attain Him is lifes goal.


Rebutting the criticism that bAdarAyaNa, the author of brahma sootras, was
against pAncharAtra, yAmuna argues that bAdarAyaNa and vyAsa being one and the
same person and that vyAsa had praised BAgavata dharma in mahABArata, the
criticism is not valid. yAmuna quotes pramANas/examples from mahABArata to this


advaitins treatment of brahma sootras (2.39-42) stating that according to them

pAncharAtra is unvEdic. yAmuna has tackled it incisively to establish that
utpattyAdhikaraNa (against which criticism is leveled) does in fact recognize

pAncharAtras authority.
(B) Other Aspects:
Besides the criticism covered above that pAncharAtra is unvEdic, the advaitin raises the
following arguments:
SANDilya had stated that he learnt something about brahman which he could not from
vEdas themselves (and therefore the former is unvEdic).
yAmuna argues that SANDilya, came to understand vEdas difficult portions with the
help of pAncharAtra. Thus there is no clash here, and pAncharAtra is not to be held unvEdic on
that count.
God is of the nature of knowledge and abounds in infinite guNas, and the
vyooha forms sankarSaNa, pradhyumna and aniruddha are His incarnational manifestations and
they are not jeevas all the vyooha forms (including vAsudEva) are the various forms of the
unitary God, parabrahma, and pAncharAtra does not hold views different form this which is as
per SAstra. pAncharAtra also says that parabrahma is not evolved (not from utpatti).
Thus with the help of Sruti, smriti, purANas, itihAsas, yAmuna put forward unassailable
defense to establish that pAncharAtra is as much vEdic as vEdas themselves. This indeed
is a remarkable contribution from yAmuna and we, all the followers of pAncharAtra, owe a
deep debt of gratitude to him for establishing pAncharAtras authority and silencing the critics.
2. Arguments relating to the four brahma sootras/ rAmAnujas defence of pAncharAtra:
Sree BAShya:
As stated before, the advaitins gave a strange interpretation of the four sootras form the second
chapter of brahma sootras, 2.2-39-42. The topics under the utpattya samBavAdhikaraNa
comprising the said four sootras (topics) state:
i). Since jeevAtma is not created and since pAncharAtra says it is, it is no authority (pramANa)
(sootra 39);
ii). From jeevAtma, no sense organ like manas be created (sootra 40);
iii). Since sankarSaNa onwards are incarnations of parabrahma who is of the nature of
knowledge, for pAncharAtra being stated as authority there is no objection (sootra 41).
iv). Since creation of jeevAtmas is not accepted in pAncharAtra, there is no doubt about
pAncharAtras authority (sootra 42).
The first two sootras are in the form of poorvapakSha (meaning opposition or objection) to
pAncharAtra being stated as vEdic, while the latter two are supposed to be a fitting reply or
rebuttal. The all important word vA (or/otherwise) in the sootra 2.2.41 does this precisely.
advaitin has debated the four sootras and concluded that pAncharAtra falls outside the
purview of vEdas.
sootra 39: utpattyasamBavAt:
From parabrahma sankarSaNa is created; them from
sankarSaNA, pradyumna form whom comes aniruddha; this is as per BAgavata doctrine. (See
this against the text from katOpanishad which has declared the beginningless of

jeevAtma. Therefore pAncharAtra (BAgavata doctrine) is no authority (pramANa).

sootra 40: na kartuh karaNam: It states that since form sankarSaNa (the jeevAtma)
came pradyumna (manas) it amounts to sankarSaNa giving rise to prANa and indriyas (sense
organs). sruti (muNDaka upaniShad 2.1.3) declares parabrahman is the origin for manas.
Therefore pAncharAtras authority is questioned/objected to.
sootra 41: vijnAdhiBAvE vA tadha pratiSEdah: This has the all important word vA
which returns the objection. Qualified by the words vijnAna and Adi which stand for
parabrahma, and the objection has been made by those who have no knowledge of BAgavata
doctrine the ever-merciful parabrahma has through His own free will (sankalpa) effected
these four incarnations to enable His devotees to approach these vyooha forms.
The chaturvyooha or chaturviBAGa of parabrahma into vAsudEva, sankarSaNa,
pradyumna and aniruddha should be read along with taittireeya AraNyaka,II-13-1, which says
the one who has no birth assumes forms in various ways. Out of His own free will
(swEchchaSareera-roopas). In fact all the vyooha forms are as per Sruti and one should read
this with puruSha sooktas text: ajAya mAnO bahuda viyAyatE.
sootra 42: viprati SEdASchA": vipratiSEda is split into viSEShana pratiSEda connoting
creation of jeeva is impossible. brahma sootra 2.3.18 which follws, also declares the noncreation of jeevAtma. Since all samhitas also talk about such no-creation, pAncharAtra (which
as already mentioned, is based on samhitas) being unvEdic is rebutted. Appreciating the fact
that the four vEdas (with their various branches) conveying knowledge about Him, are too
vast, He Himself created pAncharAtra Agama which is of the form of interpretation of vEdas
themselves (Sruti-sArArtas elaboration). This, in effect, also goes to show that pAncharAtra
does not suffer the shortcomings found in pASupata and other darSanas (matas). It is
nArAyaNa alone who is at the base of the Agamas. The parabrahma
swaroopi/vEdAntavEdhya, nArAyaNa, Himself mouthed the entire pAncharAtra which is a
product of sAnKya, yOga, vEda/AraNyaka (mahABArata XII 358.81).
3). pAncharAtra rakShA: We have seen that advaitins objection in utpattyAdhikarANa of
brahman sootras which was used to deny vEdic authority to pAncharAtra, was dealt by Sree
rAmAnuja in a masterly fashion in His Sree BAShya with the sootras, 39-40, forming a
poorvapakSha (objection) and the latter two controverting the objection (rebuttal). Similarly
vEdAnta dESika dealt with very ably all the objections and provided a resounding defense
and unassailable position as vEdic authority for pAncharAtra.
Stressing on the greatness and significance of panchatratras authority, vEdAnta dESika has
divided his work. pAncharAtra rakShA in to three parts:
i). Theme 1: siddhAnta vyavastApAnAdhikaraNa
ii). Theme 2: nityAnuShThAnAdikaraNa.
iii). Theme 3: nitya vyAKyAnAdhikaraNa.
Theme 1: It covers the various aspects of pAncharAtra (viz. Agama, mantra, tantra and
While para is seen by nitya sooris and is in vaikuNTha, vyooha (revealing paramAtma in
kSheerAbdhi) with four forms viz., vAsudEva, sankarSaNa, pradyumna and aniruddha are seen
by brahma/ sanaka/ sananda and such others. viBava manifestations, which are next to para
and vyooha are the various daSAvatAras seen by those living in respective eras (like trEta yuga,
dwApara yuga).

antaryAmin, in the fourth form of nArAyaNa, is His atomic form located in the hearts of His
created beings (brahmapuri, as it is called) and this form can be seen only by aShTAnga
yOgis. In this kali era only the archa form of God, which is the noblest, available to one and
all, without restriction of caste or creed, or being low or high.
The SAstra which describes the glories of the Supreme Lord in terms of worship (Agama,
mantra, tantra and tantrAntara) is pAncharAtra. Agama worship confers mOkSha and centers
around the four-fold vyooha forms (which are engaged in creation, maintenance, dissolution,
granting liberation, spiritual knowledge for the next epoch, fostering dharma and tattvOpadESa.
The one who has taken deekSha is fit to conduct worship in temples as per mantra, tantra,
tantrAntara procedures.
Theme 2: The five-fold daily routine viz. aBigamana, upAdhAna, eejya, swAdhyAya and
yOga is described. All are expected to follow this routine according to his varNASrama
dharma. This leads to liberation.
Theme 3: This stresses the service aspect in kainkarya and the attendant sAtvika tyAga
service without expecting any returns in the name of God, as envisaged in the Bagavad geeta.
vEdAnta dESika has utilized the following religious classics to put forward his line of
thought: upaniShads,
viShNu purANa, Sounakasamhita,
vangivangESwara samhita, BojarAjas work, goutama samhita, bOdAyana samhita, parASara
samhita, vaiKAnasa Agama, etc.
Tracing the highly broad-based significance of pAncharAtra Agama in terms of five-fold
worship of five fold kAla, vEdAnta dESika quotes very significant lines from varAha purANa
in the third chapter of his pAncharAtra rakShA
viShNusthAna-sameepastAn viShNusEvArtamAgatAn swapachAn pathitAn vApi spristvA na
utsavE vAsudEvAya yah snAti sparSasankyA swargastAh pitarastasya paTanti narakE kShaNAt.
This means that contact with untouchables and sinners coming near a temple for offering
worship does not pollute. Anyone who is immersed in that false notion will send his ancestors to

Image Worship and Temple Architecture

Icons/Idols or Images / archa Form: Idol worship and origin of temples, it is
noteworthy did not occur simultaneously. When there were no idols, worship used to be
confined to sacrificial altars (vEdis or chitis) which were structures built with bricks on sound
scientific principles. This indeed was the prelude to religious architecture or temple building in
The idol or archa form of God has been worshipped from ancient times in temples and houses
(in the latter case only small sizes are allowed in combination with sAligrAmas). Icons (sacred
images) of deities are finitised forms of God while His nature itself is infinite and beyond our
imagination! God is said to have that special quality of soulaBya (approachability) which allows
Him to present Himself in whatever form His devotees desire.
AzhwArs, AchAryAs see His image thus: Sree nammAzhwAr sings in his famous work
tiruvAimozhi, about the extraordinary beauty of His form, the divya mangala vigraha (luminous
divine form) in 3.4.3.

The AzhwAr experiences and enjoys every part of the idol of the Lord. swAmi dESikan
has also similarly described/ experienced each part of Gods form in his stOtras (e.g.
BagavaddhyAna sOpAnam, Sree dEvanAyaka panchASat).
One of the mudal AzhwArs, poigai AzhwAr expresses similar view in his mudal tiruvandAdi
(44): The Lord with His accoutrement of discus takes the form as desired by His Baktas besides
taking the name selected by them and performs in the manner liked by them.
Sree rAmAnuja interprets in his geeta BAShya the meaning of geeta text arjuna, however,
they seek Me, even so do I favour them; men seek Me in different ways as follows:
All those who take refuge in Me, however they want i.e. in line with their inclinations, I reveal
Myself to them descending down. Why talk more? All those having the express wish of
following Me, do experience My form in whatever way they wished and with their own eyes
and sense organs, thereby satisfying their wishes by granting puruSArthas viz. dharma, arta,
kAma and mOkSha (which is witness to His quality of mercy).
Thus the AzhwArs and AchAryas visualized divinity in a finite form of God: the
immanent God (pervading everything) condescends to assume an imaginative form-It should be
expressly declared that the worshipper who considers an idol as a piece of stone or wood is
said to be doomed to perdition (total ruin). It must also be emphasized that these images are
not merely imaginative, but are forms as seer/prophets/riShis visualized them in the course of
their search after divinity in appropriate verbal pictures (dhyAna mantras or contemplative
verses) by means of which the forms can be called up, conceived or invoked.
B. Sculpting or Carving of Images:

Sculptor, an illustrator: The dhyAna mantras are accompanied by interpretive

patterns or outlines known as lakShaNas, on which are based the canons (general
rules) of proportions setting out the dispositions of various parts like limbs, or
gestures of each image. There is, therefore, no room for individual artist to introduce any
innovation, or original ideas. He is in fact an illustrator or interpreter in stone, wood or
metal, of a form visualized by a seer or riShiwith the subject matter he is called upon
to carve, chisel or cast, he is enjoined in the agni purANa (ch.43), to undertake fasting
and certain purifactory rituals and on the night before taking up the work, is expected to
make the following prayer: Oh! Thou Lord of all Gods, teach me in dreams (as to) how to
carry out all the work i have in mind.


Forms of idol/ deity/ poses: There are various forms of the deity: gracious and terrible
(ugra). Taking viShNus image as an example in the samaBanga pose (the attitude
prescribed for images in a state of repose), we have a presentation of the gracious aspect of
God. On the other hand one of the man-lion incarnations of viShNu, narasimha, the
deity is in the destructive pose due to the powerful conception, the BayAnaka rasa/ the
emotion of terror/ beauty terrible, arising out of killing of hiraNyakaShipu; durga or kAli
images fall primarily in this category. The function of the image maker or the sculptor
is to translate accurately the ideas conveyed by the iconographer (image artist).

The moorties are generally in three poses: standing, reposing and sitting. The AzhwArs never
lost any opportunity in singing praises of various poses of the Lord. tirumangai AzhwAr brings
out in a trice the Lords poses thus: ninrAn irundAn kiDandAn..(2.4.1 periya tirumozhi)
meaning-He stands (in tirunaDandai). There are some special poses like the ambEgAl baby
kriShNa (navaneeta kriShNa) in maLoor near Bangalore.

Infinite to finite: The




to work within the precincts of

iconographic injunctions, priests instructions and the size limitations dictated by the
size of the temple itself. Once the sculptor has visualized the infinite in a finite form
(pratika) in his mind, he goes about his work and makes the idol (pratima) which
acquires divinity after consecration as per Agama SAstra.
Even in Silpa SAstras the basic metaphysics and psychology of the images is not lost
sight-of all- pervading principle (eeSa), the divinity.

The height of the Images: The all important word is tAla to measure the lengths of
images tAla means palm; that is the inner length of the hand including the fingers. The
length is divided in to 12 parts or angulas. Indian iconometry talks about 9 main varieties
of proportion of the images, from 1 to 10 tAlas, and the total length of the images of the 9
types are 12, 24, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, 108 and 120. In South Indian images, however the
length of the face is 14 angulas (1 tAla = 12 angulas).


Consecration and Thereafter: Once the idols are consecrated as per Agamic
practices/ accompaniment of vEdic mantras, the idol, divya mangala vigraha (luminous
divine form) becomes God Himself. As soon as this is done, the routine/daily worship
has to start at once and the morning to night schedule invoking sacred bath,
preparation of holy water, offering of food at regular intervals is put in place.

There is what is known as nEtra mOkSha. The rite of opening the eyes with a golden needle
by the priest-architect at the vimAna. After consecration the ascension of the golden
puruSha (tait samhita v.2.7.1) cancels the descent of vAstu puruSha which is lying at the base of
the temple!

Materials for the Images: The moola moorti called moola BEra' (also as
dhrubEra) is generally made out of materials like stone/wood. The utsava BEra
which is taken out is processions is made out of metal.

vii) Traditional Centers for Carving:

a). Stone-carving: mahAbalipuram in Tamil Nadu, dEvanahaLLi in Karnataka, durgi in
Andhra pradesh, Gaya in Bihar, Jaipur in Rajasthan and Dungarpur near Gujarat border
are on record as carving centers with special stones for carving idols. Orissa too has had a
tradition of stone-carving.
Mahabalipuram has trained students according to ancient SAstric traditions and the students
develop into stapatis after a seven year training period/apprenticeship. According to rAmAyaNa
stone carvers came from Central India.
b). Wood-Carving: vAhanas like hanumAn, garuDa etc. are carved out of wood. In South
India the tradition of wood carving finds excellent expressions in the rathams (carved
chariots)-Karnataka, Kerala, Andhrapradesh and Tamil Nadu have rich traditions of wood
carving. Orissa has had the combined influence of Bengal and South Indian traditions; Gujrat,
Rajasthan and Nagaland and Kashmir have had rich traditions in wood carvings.
C. Altars:
As mentioned already, prior to temple structures coming into being there were what known as
altar/chitis (vEdis) built of bricks. The construction of these altars was based on sound
scientific principles. They were of different shapes-taittireeya samhita (v.4.II) has the
earliest enumeration, following which boudhAyana and Apasthamba furnish us full
particulars on different chitis/altars including the bricks employed for construction. Various
shapes of chitis that were employed were:-

Heron Shaped: kanka chit

Wheel Shaped: ratha chakra chit
Tortoise shaped: samuhya chit
Vessel shaped: drOna chit
Triangle shaped (a wading bird): pouga chit
D. Driving Force To Build Temples:
It is interesting to note that there are over a dozen of synonyms for the temple: Some of them are
named- mandir, Sree mandir, tarna mandir, deul, dEvAlaya, dEva yathAna, dEvaGar,
dEvastAna, dEhArA etc. In South the more common names are dEvastAna and kOyil. Some of
the reasons cited one to build a temple are:

To attain high religious merits both for the one who builds as well as for his parents;
To earn the grace of God;
To ensure comfortable journey to heaven;
To provide a dwelling place for the family deity;
To commemorate some landmarks like victory of war.

Be that as it may, temples are built by the donors who are generally moved by the socioreligious sentiments.
Each religion had its own unique expression while building temples or places of worship.
Southern temples differ in shape and style from those in the North or East. There is
difference between Hindu temples and Jain vihAras.
Types of Temple Buildings:
One comes across two schools of thought as regards classifications / designations of temples. A
datable source/ an inscription from holal, Bellary district, which is of Western chAlukyan
origin, speaks of four types of buildings called nAgara, kALinga, drAviDa and vesarain
fact kAmikAgama assigns the nAgara temples to the vindhya; vesara from the river kriShNa;
and drAviDa from kriShNa to Cape Comorin (XLIX.1-2). This is presumed to be based on sattva,
tamas and rajO guNAs.
On the other hand it is said that the South Indian School of architects felt that there was no
need to designate temples as South Indian or drAviDa. As though to support this standpoint,
the brihatsamhita treats the temples without classification; so do the viSwakarma prakASa and
matsya purANa.
Temple Structure / Germ of the Temple:
Stella Kramrisch a foreign author says: The purpose of the Hindu temple is shown by its form.
It is the concrete symbol of reintegration and coheres with the rhythm of the thought imaged in
its carvings and laid out in its proportions. Their perfection is a celebration of all rites expected
during the building of the temple from the ground to its pinnacle. Nothing that is seen on the
temple is left unsaid in the verbal tradition nor is any of the details arbitrary or superfluous.
Each has a definite place and is part of the whole.
The Hindu temple is the sum total of architectural rites performed on the basis of its myth.
The myth covers the ground and is the plan on which the structure is raised..The realization
of the descent of more than human power to earth makes India the sacred land.
Before the temple is constructed the rite of garbadhAna is undertaken and a vessel containing
the seed and germ of the temple is immured in its wall, to the right of the door, above the level of

first bricks.
vAstu SAstra:

The SAstra: It is the record of tradition / science and architecture that goes back to an
undefined past. The SAstra which provides guidelines was completed by varAhamihira in
the middle of the 6th century A.D and it is based on the authority of master architects
whose names are mAya, viSwakarman, garga and manu. The brihatsamhita is but a
brief summary of their treatises. It is the earliest datable source on the vAstu
SAstra. The viShNudharmOttAra and the tantrasamuchchaya (namboodris) belong
to seventh and fifteenth centuries respectively. vAstu SAstra is also known as stapatyaSAstra vEda, a lesser applied knowledge subordinated to the atarva vEda. In fact,
included under jyOtiSa (astrology) and kalpa, the vAstu jnAna, says varAhamihira
in his brihatsamhita, has been transmitted from brahma to our days through an
unbroken series of sages.

2) vAstu puruSha: A ritual diagram of the site is drawn whenever the site is prepared
through which a communication is established between man (puruSha) who is the
patron of the project (yajamAna) and puruSha Himself, the essence of all things.
The vAstupuruShamaNDala, the diagram of the temple, a geometrical plan at that, is
said to be a yantra, binding a spot for worship (ref. vAstuvidhAna of nArada VIII).
Thirty two divinities are allotted positions in the outermost border of the vAstumaNDala,
representing 4 planets and 28 stars, and their locations, a reconciliation of the motions of
the Su and Moon.
Materials and Site Selection:
Materials used vary from place to place. Lime (mortar), mud mortar, wood, bamboo, bricks, clay
mixed with grass/ sawdust/ jute/ cotton and of course stone. Stone temples are well preserved.
However there are combinations of stones and bricks.
Sites suitable for construction of the temple are those which do not have the disadvantages
arising from locations listed below:
1. Sites very near rivers, oceans.
2. Circular sites or sites with five to six corners.
3. Sloppy terrain.
Human dwellings in the vicinity are generally tabooed. Sites should be tested for the availability
of water.
The spirits, Gods, yakShas are requested through rites to leave quickly the site chosen and
from the stones in the quarry (vaiKAnasa Agama Ch.X).
The site is purified and prepared and fitness of the soil ascertained all-extraneous matter is to be
removed and the site is to be ploughed repeatedly (kaSayasilpa I.42-56).
While architecture itself is not mere civil engineering, or the mere art of building, temple
architecture, in fact, was identified with the Creator whose creation has a subjective and symbolic
meaning through its form. It is probable due to his fact that the architect was designated
viSwakarman in all classes of Sanskrit literature.
Each part of the temple architecture has got a special purpose to servethe design sets out to

express an idea, spiritual or material, of which the plan of the temple structure is a symbol
in this sense a form to be truly symbolic must bear an idealistic rather than a realistic
East coast part of the gOpuram (gate) constitutes the most important part of the temple
from the architectural point of view. But on the west coast it is essentially a gOpuram in
appearance etc. but it is never allowed to usurp the place of importance which is assigned to
sanctum sanctorium. The shrine is the central angin on which the architect spends his
thought and skill, while the other figures only an anga (appendage).
The whole temple area again bears a distinct proportion to the size of the idol: the height of the
basement/ superstructure of the sanctum sanctorum/ height of the gOpuram and its distance
from the shrine. In other words given the size of idol one could easily picture out the layout the
temple area.
Architecture on the whole should be appealing and satisfying ones aesthetic sense.
Garbagriha / prAsAda/ vimAna:
While garbagriha, a rahasya, is a small cubicle, prAsAda is the shell of the garbagriha, and its
towering super structure is known a Sikara. Four kinds of proportionate measurement of the
prAsAda are given in the matsya purANa i.e., proportions among garbagriha, prAsAda and
Sikara (super structure). One such is the one having 16 squares where in if the width of the
square is one unit, them garbagriha would measure 2 units, the prAsAda would measure 4 (its
height also 4) and the Sikara would measure 8 units.
The height of the temple is to be commanding and no other structure in the vicinity should be
taller than this.
The stapati, the architect, is the foremost of the craftsmen and there are four classes
stapati (the designing architect, sootragrAhin (surveyor), takShaka (sculptor) and varakin
(builder-plaster-painter). They follow strictly the instructions of stApaka, the architect priest,
who should have the AchAryas qualifications (as defined in Silparatna: I. 29-42).
Agamas represent a system of worship of images or idols within reach of an ordinary person.
They lay down elaborate rules or codes for the construction and consecration of temples,
sculpting and conversion of images into divine forms. There are three types of Agamas, SAkta,
Saiva and viaShNava. vaiShNava Agama itself is divided into two viz. vaiKAnasa and
pAncharAtra or BAgavata school is said to have emanated from vAsudEva Himself. Although
there have been some criticisms or controversies on vEdic authority attached to pAncharAtra,
an AchArya no less then Sree rAmAnuja himself has upheld the vEdic validity of
pAncharAtra. Sree rAmAnuja places pAncharAtra on the same footing as vEdas themselves.
Source texts for pAncharAtra range from Aranyakas, upaniShads down to nArada and
SANDilya sootras, and a host of samhitas. yAmuna summarizes the purpose of there texts thus:
pAncharAtra texts were produced by God for the benefit of devotees who were impatient of
following elaborates details described in the vEdic literature.

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