Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Importance of Vigrahas

Temples had been there since olden times but not in many numbers as happened in Kaliyuga. There is a mention about temples in Valmiki Ramayana. After Dasaratha expressed his desire to crown Rama, sage Vasishta took charge of the preparations. One of the orders that Vasishta gave out was to arrange worship in temples and road junctions (Valmiki Ramayana 2- 3-18) His order gives some more information on how worship was to be done in those places. He says that deserving persons (yogyaah) must gather at temples and road junctions with rice, eatables, presents and garlands – an obvious reference to offering food to the deities (neivedhya). This shows that temples had existed and some worship also had happened at road junctions.

Analyzing what importance could be there for road junctions, we have reference to the deities of the junctions, the ‘Chadhukka Bhootham’ mentioned in Silappadhikaram. There were deities of the road junctions and deities of the Directions. These deities had existed in form and appeared before humans in those days. In Silappadhikaram, these deities were said to have left the city when Kannagi took her revenge on the people of the City. There is a corroboratory verse in Chanakya Neeti that the deities of the village will depart 2,500 years after the start of Kali yuga. (Chanakya neeti -11-4) This period roughly corresponds to Kannagi’s period.

In my opinion, the burning of Madurai by Kannagi is not a dharmic act.  She directed her anger against all and sundry instead of targeting those who caused her the harm. A convoluted dharma came into place at that time and it still continues. The deities of the village (of the road junctions and directions) could not discharge their duties in such a scenario. They left the earthy plane once for all. Chanakya also says in that verse that 5000 years after Kaliyuga started, the Ganga would disappear. 10,000 years after the Kali started, God will desert the world!

We are lucky that God still resides on earth - is present somewhere around us so that we have some chances of communion with Him. Seeing Him as a dweller within ourselves is a different paradigm. That is a proposition available to us at all times. But getting into communion with Him in physical surrounding is possible for 5000 more years. (We are currently in the 5111th year of Kaliyuga) The local deities who have once guarded the cities and villages have already left. But God who is the In-dweller of all is still present on earth to enable the countless jeevas make a communion with Him for Ultimate Liberation from the cycle of life and death.

One of the ways in which the communion is made is through “vigrahas”. It is Vi- graha, where Vi means 'weave' and Graha means bind. So something bound and woven into it is a Vigraha. Vigraha is expanded as 'Vivita Graham' - meaning enclosed house - of whom? Of God. The physical form of Vigraha binds some special features of God Himself (by consecration) so that people can draw what they want and develop a communion with the God enshrined in it.

Vigraha is a visesha gruham - a special place. It is not right to translate this word as ‘idol’. Some people prefer to use the term 'Murti'. Murti comes from the root verb 'mur' or 'murch' which means 'thicken'. This refers to solid material.

So basically Murti refers to a form, a solid material of some shape and which is an equivalent of the English word 'idol' and not of what is conveyed for the deity under worship.

When we look for the corresponding term in "Mayamatam"  - a Vaastu text that covers iconography in chapter 36, the word used is "Pratimaa". This word comes from 'Prati" meaning a copy or another or resemblance and so on. So Pratimaa is a copy of the deity, or one that resembles the deity.

This chapter on iconography is named as "Pratimaa lakshanam" where the description is entirely about the forms and shapes of the images to be worshiped, and not the God enshrined within.

When it comes to referring to the God enshrined within the Pratimaa, the most apt word is "Vigraha".


We have heard the term 'raamO vigrahavaan dharma'. Here the word vigraha means embodiment – of dharma. The embodiment of something cannot be done to anything! For instance iron can be magnetized, but not wood.

There are specific things which ‘bind’ specific characteristics. This is the basis for choice of the material for making vigraha. What I have noted here is just one issue. There are many issues and stipulations right from choice of the material for making the vigraha, to the location where it is expected to be housed (temple) so that maximum benefit is obtained by the people. Science has no idea of these things. But every now and then when we come to know of some scientific revelations, we are able to connect them with temples and wonder how many more of such secrets lie behind temples and vigrahas.

Our seers have had the knowledge of these secrets and have handed them down. Varahamihira quotes Vasishtha as having given the knowledge of vigrahas and how they must be made. In the Ramayana reference given above, it was Vasishtha who gave instructions on worship at temples. Only offerings were mentioned, but no mention of other rituals. Perhaps that was an understood issue. He wanted to make sure of the specific offerings on that occasion.

 Varahamihira tells about the material used for making the vigrahas in chapter 60 of Brihat samhita. He gives the benefits accrued to the one who arranged for the consecration of the Vigraha.

·         Wood or earth :- the king or the one who consecrates this will have long life, strength, wealth and success.

·         Stone :- Gives more landed property or acquisition of lands or expansion of kingdom.

·         Gems or precious stones :- (Rahu’s image in Thirunageswaram is likely to be blue sapphire or Neela mani  - read Milk turning blue at Rahu Sthalam) Good for the world at large.

·         Gold:- Gives good health to the one who consecrated.

·         Silver:- Gives happiness of family ( childbirth) to the one who consecrated.

With these inputs, we can understand the purpose of construction of temples by kings like Cheran Senguttuvan and Raja Raja Chozhan in those days. The Sooriyanaar Koil in Kumbakonam also bears testimony to some purpose like this.

The purpose does not end with the kings who built them. The benefits flow down to the community at large. There is a saying in Tamil “கோயில் இல்லா ஊரில் குடி இருக்க வேண்டாம் ” It means ‘don’t reside in a place where there is no temple’. The temple has an expanded boundary enveloping the community around. All those who come within its area of influence are bound by the special characteristics that have been embodied in the vigraha.

The temple thus caters to the wellbeing of a community in addition to enabling the individual get into personal communion with the Lord residing in the vigraha. The many utsavs, the periodical procession of God going around the town are all well intended methods to reach out to the community around. Such being the larger utility of the temple it is necessary and mandatory that we stick to temple rules at all times and in all areas. (Sample rule: The only tallest structure in a community must be the temple Gopuram).

The Kalash acts as the attracting magnet. In those days the temple was constructed in the middle of the city. All the houses were built oriented towards the temple so that everyone could have the darshan of the gopuram at any time. But modernity has dwarfed the temple gopurams. The loss is to the community.

(To be continued)

Related posts: 

AC to be installed in the garbha graha of Meenakshi temple! – Will it affect the sanctity?

Residential houses around the temple



surya said...

Namastay mam,

"We are lucky that God still resides on earth - ..."

Is it because of the reason that many spiritual powers have left the earth plane and would do so in Kaliyuga that it was advised to chant the name of God in this Yuga?.

May be this is the reason why Yagnas cannot be performed well as many powers left, which would help in that process. I heard devatas need yagnas as they get fed by the havvissu (end result of yagna).

Now the markets are day by day gettig filled with vikruthi (artificial) products (ex: recent attempt of bt brinjal) that would not support obviously sacred things such as yagna. (Plastic flowers can never replace natural flowers)

Regarding your article on garbhalaya, I read somewhere associating entire temple to human body. "Brahmanda and Pindanda (macrocosm and microcosm) are very similar to each other." Maybe temple is a place that corrects some abnormalities developed in our body/mental system working like anti-virus software and that like there are different anti-virus softwares available in the market for different purposes, different temples there for different purposes (for education, job, marriage, family, etc.)

Thanks a lot for giving good insight into the matter.

NVS Prakasam.

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

Yes Mr Prakasam. I agree with you.
An additional point is that the temple is a replica of yajna shaala. When man lost the power to invoke gods through yajnas, temples replaced them. I think there are some articles explaining this in the net.

Kalaivani said...

"Chanakya Neeti that the deities of the village will depart 2,500 years after the start of Kali yuga. . (Chanakya neeti -11-4)"

If that is so, why do village diety worship still exists?

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

A very valid question Ms Kalaivani. But Chanakya says so. I have read a similar thought in some other old text also. A text on Ganga's dialogue with Krishna also tells about some date when she will leave the earth- I dont remember that exactly.

Look at the sloka of Chanakya. It says that ganga leaves 5000 years after the start of kaliyuga. Now we have crossed 5000 years. According to that sloka the ganga must have left by now. But the ganga still flows but we know the kind of pollution we have heaped on her. The respect for her has declined enormously these days. That shows what is meant by Ganga leaving the earth. People can no longer derive the benefits and blessings given by her. Perhaps in areas like Haridhwar where she is invoked with high reverence, her divine presence can be felt.

The same logic applies to Graama devathas and Dik devathas. In those days, they used to appear in person to the one who worshiped them ardently. Such appearance stopped after 2500 years of Kali yuga.

Today, the one who sincerely believes and worships them will however be benefited -similar on lines with the reverence Ganga receives in Haridhwar. According to Chankya's sloka, even that can not happen after 10,000 years. The Gods would have left our surroundings. In other words there will be none to recognize their presence and worship them or invoke them. Perhaps the Abrhamic religions would have gained complete control over the world.

surya said...

Namasaty mam,

Regarding your views on Ganga, I completely agree with you. To read spiritual or ritual concepts is one thing and understanding them is entirely differnt thing.

I was told when I started sandyavandanam that the arghyas and tarpanas that I do will result in helping the Sun God from asuras that try to stop him from rising. Maybe so, but I feel the asuras are our early morning laziness or negligence and Sun is alertness. So in order to invoke the alertness in us and to eliminate laziness or negligence, we do tarpanas and arghyas. And as I heard somewhere and strongly believe that every atom influences this world and every thought, maybe Sun too gets affected by we doing those on earth at very subtle level and our physical properties will get affected at gross level. Ganga the same. Until the advent of using unnatural foods and things (beginning last century), we enjoyed the benefits of Ganga as its very pure all the way from Himalayas bringing with it very good number of vitamins or so and so from the herbs in Himalayas. (So doing bath in Ganga and getting purified is completely science). Now, we polluted it and so we can't get the results . But still why going, answer can be "brand name still works a bit" or belief ---- If that is so, why do village diety worship still exists?" Some people take some medical pills that we say are now a days not being used, but still they take and get benefit, probably belief works for them.

In the previous article you mentioned Gods appearing before us should be completely science. Exactly. The "instrument" (body) that was given to us is getting day by day filled with unnatural foods and the "user" (Manas) of it getting filled with thoughts that generate mental blindness. So, the instrument is getting bad and the user himself is getting wrong, so using the present manas and body we cannot see the Gods so maybe thats why Vigrahas are now a days being used in much number.

I heard if we intentionally say lies, our third eye (manas sakshi !!) will get blocked. Because the program called "Universe" runs on truth (even in kaliyuga the "Cow" will stand on 1 leg - that is truth - so truth is the root of this world) so lying will result in collpase of the universe for that particular physical mass (the ones who lie) so cannot experience or see God as Manas and Body getting blind due to lies and impure foods.

I feel in the same way, Lord Venkataeswara of Tirupathi now a days getting not just the money and gold of those who are very good devotees, but also of those who do wrong business and politics and to try to satisfy themself will donate money and gold to the temple. In addition, internal politics of those involved in maintenance of the temple, more than sacredness earning nature of brahmins there, VIP cottages leading to illegal activities, material things such as cars, plastic bags, and profit seeking commercial complexes and business groups, these all will just spoil the "Sacred Program" in tirupathi. Probably, still the high number of good devotees though they are (unclean in terms of "laws of nature") is keeping tirupathi with some sacredness and worth going.

Mam, referring to Gods leaving the earth plane, is that God means "Truth". Because dharma changes according to situation, but Truth remains same - heard somewhere. So Gods leaving the earth means, we not following the Truth (in daily activities, businesses, education, politics, sports, recognitions, awards, etc.) so obviously anything that depends on the truth will get lost as truth itself is not followed and because the universe itself depends on truth, not following the truth will result in collapse of the truth indicating this is kaliyuga.

Thanks a lot for insight into Ganga.

NVS Prakasam.

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

Nicely explained Mr Prakasam.

On Truth, I am not very clear about what you say.
But when it is said that gods will disappear after 10,000 years, i am reminded of other things - like Hinduism getting completely replaced by abrahamic religions.

This period also coincides with the nadir in the saptha rishi cycle when sun reaches Capricorn in precession. From Capricorn to Libra it will be dark age. After that another round of Dharmic cycle begins.

I will write them in my series on Vedic model of Creation and Universes which I will start after finishing the current one on temple followed by a couple of articles on siddhars.

Kalaivani said...

Mrs Jaya,looking forward to read more articles.

Prakasam, what you had written is so true esp about major holy temples.