By admin on Mar 13, 2016 | In Society
The questionable authority of Silappadigaram
The only authority on which the claim that the temple on the hill of Tirumala was that of Viṣṇu prior to Rāmānuja is a passage in Silappadigaram, referring to the ‘God on the hill’. This work was fancifully assigned to first century A.D., but later researches assign it to the eighth or ninth century. Even then we are warned not to place much reliance on its authority. Dr S Krishnaswai Aiyangar relies mainly on this book for his thesis that the Tirumala temple was that of Viṣṇu from the first century A.D.
K V Subramaniya Aiyar observes, “We can safely accept Swamikannu Pillai’s date 756 A.D. for Silappadigaram. Still we cannot but maintain that the matter contained in this and other works of a similar nature is useless for purposes of history. If we are asked to explain further why we adopt the accounts furnished in Purananuru and Pattupattu as come down to us from the hand of Perundevanar, an author who cannot be said to have lived earlier than the date (A.D. 756) assigned to Silappadigaram, we would say that Perundevanar stands in the high position of an editor of some older and trustworthy historical documents of great merit, while the authors of Silappadigaram and other similar works appear before us as mere story tellers and that their compositions are full of improbabilities, impossibilities and inconsistencies.”
We can therefore dismiss the authority of Silappadigaram on this question as the particular passage was either an interpolation or one of the anachronisms found in the book. Further, the description of the image in Silappadigaram does not agree with the image of Srī Venkateśvara and may not refer to this shrine at all.
The next point to be clarified is about Tondaiman Charavarti the supposed ‘human founder of the temple’ on the hill. Dr Sakkottai Krishnaswami Aiyangar, in his work, ‘A History of Tirupati’, first tries to identify him with Tondaiman Ilan Tiraiyan and finally decides to treat him as a predecessor of Ilan Tiraiyan. According to the genealogical lists, Ilan Tiraiyan is the grandson of Karikāla, whose date is 550 A.D. The grandson should have come about 60 years later. We do not hear of any Pallava or Chola king bearing that name reigning at Kāñcī about this time; Venkaṭācala māhātmyaṃ, which is relied on for connecting Tondaiman with the temple, states that Tondaiman was the son of a king named Suvīra by his wife Nandinī, and he married a Pāṇdyan princess named Padmā. He claimed to belong to candravamśa. The Māhātmyaṃ says that he was asked in a dream by Srī Varāha, whom he had rescued from an anthill, to build only the compound walls, as the vimāna and other structures would be put up by Nārāyaṇarāja, one of his successors. The local manuscript in Nārāyaṇavanaṃ refers to Nārāyaṇarāja as the grandson of Tondaiman Charavarti, whom an ancestor of Akāśarāja had solicited for the gift to him of the Nārāyaṇavaṃ country. We do not hear of Pāṇdyan influence in this tract of country earlier than 1251 A.D.; Jaṭāvarman Sundara Pāṇdya I was the first Pāṇḍyan king to penetrate into Tondamandalam and conquer it. The reference to Tondaiman as belonging to candravamśa, to which the Pāṇḍyan kings claim to belong, and his marriage to a Pāṇḍyan princess would indicate that he was a later local chief of the Sālva family, who married a princess of the Western Pāṇḍya family. Both the Sālvas and the Western Pāṇḍya chiefs were of the Yādava stock. Dr S Krishnaswami Aiyangar, in his ‘Ancient India’, identifies Tondaiman Chakravarti with Karuṇākara Tondaman, the general of Kulottuṅga I. “It will be seen that the Vaiṣṇava account says that the deity on the hill had just lent his characteristic weapons, his disc and conch, to Tondaiman Chakravarti. This evidently refers to the conquest of Kalingam by Karuṇākara Tondaman about 1111 A.D.” What interest the Tirupati Deity had in Karuṇākara Tondaiman and his conquest of Kalingam, he does not explain.
The North Arcot District Manual furnishes an extract of an article by Mr. Elliot, in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, bringing to notice the existence of a local manuscript which gives an account of Sālva or Sālua chiefs, who, having migrated from Pittapuram, reigned in Nārāyaṇavanaṃ from the ninth century. In 930 A.D., Narasa Reddi, a chief of the family, was formally recognized by the Eastern Chālukya Emperor and permitted to use the Boar signet. These chiefs were ruling the country, now comprising of Sholinghur, Tiruttani and Tirupati taluks, with varying degrees of fortune, till they were conquered by the Vijayanagara kings to them they remained subject. Inscriptions of these chiefs have not been so far discovered, but the area around this locality has not yet been fully surveyed by the Epigraphical Department. Mr B L Rice in his summary of the inscriptions in the Epigraphica Carnatica, gives details of a family of Sāluva or Sālva chiefs, who had their capital in Saṅgītapura or Haduvalli in the Mysore state. They were of the Yādava stock and claimed to belong to candravamśa and were Jains. The Nārāyaṇavanaṃ family and the later Sāluva emperors of the second Vijayanagara dynasty were Sāluvas of the Yādava stock. The Yādava dynasty of the kings, who contributed much to the temple, probably belonged to a branch of the same family. There was another family of Yādava chiefs who styled themselves Pāṇḍyas of Ucchangi, a fortress south-west of the Bellary district. These chiefs also claim to belong to the candravamśa and Kāśyapagotra, which are also adopted by the kings of Karvetnagar. One of the titles assumed by them was ‘Boon Lord of Kāñcīpura’. It is quite possible that Tondiman was a prince of the Sāluva family who married a Yādava - Pāṇḍyan princess Padmā.
Between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, Nārāyaṇavanaṃ was a stronghold of Yādava families of various branches, which styled themselves as Yādavas or Sālvas. After the breakup of Western Chālukya power, several feudatory families of chiefs who carved out small principalities for themselves, adopted Chālukya emblems and titles. Their early religion was Jainism. Even Viṣṇuvardhana was a Jain prior to his alleged conversion to Vaiṣṇavism. His queen Shāntalādevī was a devoted Jain. The existence of rock beds on the summit of the Nigiri hills, close to the Sāluva capital of Nārāyaṇavanama, and the remains of Jain temples within the Chandragiri fort, show that the early religion of these chiefs was Jainism. They seem to have been first converted to Harihara cult and later on to Vaiṣṇavism. They appear to have been devotees of the Jain goddess Padmāvatī. Her marriage to Srī Venkaṭeśvara may merely mean the absorption of the goddess into the Hindu pantheon after the conversion of the chiefs to Vaiṣṇavism. As observed by M S Ramaswami Aiyangar, “Such Jain foundations are so subtly disguised very often by the theological zeal and ingenuity of the later day revivalists, that while the fact illustrates the absorbing catholicity of the latter, it confuses all traces of historic continuity” (Studies in South Indian Jainism).
Padmāvatī, the Jain Goddess
Though the Tiruchanur goddess is popularly called Padmāvatī, there is no image of Padmāvatī, the daughter of Akāśarāja of Nārāyaṇavanaṃ either on the hills or in Tiruchanur. The temple of the goddess at the latter place is dedicated to ‘Alamelu mangai’ or the Lotus born, Lakṣmī who emerged out of the tank, Padmasaras. She is a different goddess altogether, for whose origin, there is an independent legend. Thus, only the name Padmāvatī is preserved and the goddess has disappeared. The form of worship in Tiruchanur temple is said to be according to the Pñcarātra āgama, while the worship on the hill is according Vaikhānasa āgama. These point to the later linking of the Tiruchanur shrine with the Tirumala shrine, without changing the Vaiṣṇava character of the worship of the goddess. In the Shakti forms of worship adopted in the hill shrine, we have perhaps some echo of the Padmāvatī cult practiced in the temple.
Incidentally, it may be mentioned that though the Veṅkaṭācala māhātmyaṃ refers to the Mahālakṣmī temple at Kolhapur, as the place to which Srī Veṅkaṭeśvara first went in search of the goddess. There is nothing in the present institutions of the temple at Tirumala connecting it with the Kolhapur temple in any way. The Silharas of Kolhapur were Jains and the story has probably some reference to the time of the absorption of the Padmāvatī cult into Lakṣmī worship both at Tirupatī and at Kolhapur.
Coming next to the origin of the several subsidiary shrines on the hill, we find that inscriptional reference to Sri Varāha occurs only in 1378 A.D.; the references to Narasimha’s shrine and the images of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, installed within the sanctum, occur only in the beginning of the fifteenth century. Another feature uncommon to Viṣṇu temples is that the shrine to Garuḍa was the last to be built (1512 A.D.). No further proof is needed to show that these deities had no place in the hill temple till its transfer to Vaiṣṇavas. Several of the Viṣṇu temples and the mutts even in Tirupati came into existence only from the fifteenth century. The first Jiyangar’s name we come across, is that of Mullai Tiruvenkata Jiyar in 1387 A.D.
Subrahmaṇya and Shaiva modes of Worship
A F Cox, who had personal knowledge of Tirupati, in the North Arcot District Manual, 1880 edition, which is acknowledged as the best of the series of District Manuals published by Government, writes as follows: “There can be no reasonable doubt that originally the idol was worshiped as Shiva. This is denied by none and the story goes that Rāmānuja asserting that it was all a mistake, and that the deity was Viṣṇu, procured a conch and a chakra of gold, which he placed before the image and closed the temple doors. When they were next day opened, these ensigns were found grasped in the idol’s hands, which was regarded as a proof that he was Viṣṇu. The śaṅkha and chakra are not portions of the stone image, but are made of gold and fitted upon the two hands, which point upwards. The arrangement of the hair as jaṭā or tangled mass, the cobras carved upon the body and various other peculiarities prove that Shiva was intended to be represented. Probably, the deity who has no consort on the hill was the bachelor Subrahmaṇya. “
This extract is important as a record of the personal investigation of a non-sectarian historian of unimpeachable probity. It will thus be seen that nobody till now doubted that the original character of the temple was that of Shiva and that it was transferred to the Vaiṣṇavas due to royal influence. Dr. S Krishmaswami Aiyangar for the first time in his History of Tirupati, asserts that the temple had always been of Viṣṇu, even prior to the first century A.D., and that it has been more or less the private property of the Srīvaiṣṇava community of Tirupati.
In the same breath, however, he admits that this claim is not supported by the references quoted by him. The Sawal-e-jawab, which is a record prepared by the Vaiṣṇava sthānikas of the temple, honestly admits that the deity was worshiped as Shiva, according to śaivāgama, and as Subrahmaṇya till Rāmānuja’s time. The account further states that Rāmānuja introduced Vaikhānasa forms of worship after investing the deity with śaṅkha and chakra and that nāgābharaṇa and bilvārcana which came into vogue when the deity was worshiped as Subrahmaṇya, were continued at the personal desire of the deity Himself. This is a clear admission that both śaiva and pāñcarātra forms of worship were excluded and that the śaiva attributes of the deity were somewhat retained. Further, the same authority concedes that Shaṅkarācārya installed a yantra and ākarṣaṇa cakra near the pādapīṭha of the deity.
A Srimperambudur manuscript also admits that the deity was worshiped as Shiva until the time of Rāmānuja and that ‘he established the forms of worship, of offering food, of bathing the deity and other ceremonies which are still going on’. A reference also shows that among the special utsavas performed at the temple, there is one which is called Shivarātri chatra pālaka utsava (possibly Kṣetrapālaka) - ceremonies performed to the guardians of the holy place. We have no information whether this utsava is now performed openly as before, but the observance of the festival clearly proves that the earlier Vaiṣṇavas had not only no objection to acknowledge that the place belonged to Shiva but were liberal enough to respect Shaivite sentiment by continuing the special utsava in honor of Shiva. Similarly Varalakṣmī grata and Vināyaka caturthī were also preserved.
Shaṅkarācārya, Veṅkaṭeśvara and Chandramauḻīśvara
A book entitled ‘Biographical Sketches of Deccan Poets’, being memoirs of the lives of several eminent bards, both ancient and modern who have flourished in different provinces of the Indian Peninsula compiled from authentic documents by Cavelly Venkata Ramaswami, head translator and pandit in the Literary and Antiquarian Department published in Calcutta and reprinted by Messrs. Higginbotham and Co. in 1888, is a rare volume of peculiar interest. Cavelly Ramaswami was one of the assistants of Co. Colin Mackenzie and was employed in translating manuscripts. In this book he gives sketches of the lives of 149 poets among whom Srī Shaṅkarācārya is also included. He refers to the visit of Srī Shaṅkarācārya to the Tirumala shrine. It will be useful to read it in his own words. “The following account of the life and actions of the great legislator is principally taken from a book written in the Sanskrit dialect called Shaṅkaravijaya. All the wonderful and supernatural performances related in the work named above are implicitly believed by orthodox Hindus. It would therefore be presumptuous and perhaps impious in me to modify or alter one particle of the materials from which I compile this biography of a prophet and sage, who flourished in an age so remote as to claim antiquity prior to the Christian era.” Then he gives an account of his birth, his discipleship under Govinda Yati, and the usual account of his obtaining permission of his mother to become a sannyāsi, his confutation of the Buddhists, his visit to Kāñcī and then to Tirupati. “He afterwards consecrated an image of the goddess Kāmākṣī on a copper pedestal and engraved mysterious syllables in the different arches and rooms according to the rules laid down in the Atharvaveda and composed eight sanskrit verses in praise of the goddess which are entitled Kākāmkṣī aṣṭaka. He also established a liṅgaṃ at Kāñcī and dedicated it to Ekāmreśvara since which time the place is called Shivakāñcī. Srī Shaṅkarācārya then went to Tirupati where he was again engaged in religious debate and overcame the most learned pandits in disputation and erected a crystal liṅgaṃ as the image of Venkaṭeśvara and denominated it Chandramauḻīśvara or the crescent-crowned Lord. The temple was in a conspicuous position on a hill where the doctrine of there being no distinction between Shiva and Viṣṇu was taught. He directed his disciples to collect contributions from every pilgrim that was present at the procession of the chariot of Venkaṭeśvara and that food should be supplied to indigent visitors and votaries. The above mentioned sage composed 27 verses in honor of Chandramauḻīśvara and Venkaṭeśvara and entitled them Nakṣatramālā and he left directions that the liṅgaṃ should be worshiped one month with Bilva leaves. From this place, Srī Shaṅkarācārya proceeded to Kāśī.“
This is an interesting account in more ways than one. In the first place, it confirms the tradition in the Sawal-e-jawab account about Srī Shaṅkarācārya’s visit to the temple. We learn from this biography that the name of Srī Veṅkaṭeśvara was first applied to the presiding deity by Shaṅkara, after the name of the crystal liṅgaṃ established by him in the shrine. There is no reference to the existence of a temple in this account, which refers only to the place having been a center where the non-difference between Shiva and Viṣṇu was being taught.
The Worship of Shakti-Goddess
The Gopuram on the top of the first hill is now called ‘Gāḻi Gopuram’ or ‘wind-swept tower’. This, in fact, would convey no meaning as all towers built on mountain slopes are wind swept. The word ‘gāḻi’ appears to be a corruption of the word Kālī; In one of the rooms on the side of this Gopuram there is a shrine dedicated to Kālī. The Tamil letter ‘Kā’ was apparently transliterated into Telugu as ‘Gā’. A Bairāgi officiates as a priest. The name perhaps indicates it is the tower of the temple of Kālī on the mountain. Again, at the corners of the top of the central vimāna of Srī Veṅkaṭeśa are placed figures of couchant lions, the vehicle and emblem of Shakti. No other Viṣṇu temple is known to bear these emblems on its vimāna.
Though the image of the deity appears to have undergone alterations with the changing faiths of those who had control over the shrine, during the long period of its history, there are some traces of the Shakti aspect in the image such as Siṃhalalāṭaṃ, jaṭā, and Srīcakraon the crown. In the ritual followed in the worship of the deity, even today, the Shakti aspect receives greater emphasis than the Viṣṇu aspect. The drapery around the image, consisting of a silk cloth thirty-two cubits in length, is arranged in the style of a spree and a sword hangs from the girdle. The two arms are adorned with Nāgābharaṇa, an ornament much prized by Hindu women; a ball of richly perfumed sandal paste adorns the chest; a bath is given on Fridays, a special item of which, is water mixed with turmeric which Hindu women use. The bath is immediately followed by an offering of vaḍai (black gram cake) and pāyasaṃ (a preparation of milk and sugar); After the bath is concluded and the image is decked, the doors are closed and it is stated, in the Devasthānaṃ guide, that the gold emblems of the Goddess worn by the deity as a necklace now receive abhiṣeka in secret; there seems to be no need for secrecy as the deity’s abhiṣeka takes place openly. It is learnt that a Meru chakra which is embedded under the pedestal of Bhoga Srīnivāsa mūrti image, is worshiped secretly, by an Archaka who has received special dīkṣā in the ritual. For one month in the year, the deity is worshiped with Bilva leaves. The nāmaṃ itself is a line drawn vertically with musk (kastūrī) which is a favorite article of toilet with women. Above all, the principal festival of the deity, Brahmotsavam, is celebrated during Dasara, a festival specially and exclusively devoted to the worship of the Devī. All Viṣṇu images are installed close to the wall behind them whereas Shaivite images are installed in the center of the sanctum. There is no outlet to drain off the abhiṣeka water from the room. The height of the central vimāna is not proportionate to the height of the image. This clearly shows, that the original floor of the room was lower and that the present floor has been built at some height from the original floor leaving some room in between the two floors. This room may perhaps hold the key to the early history of the temple and its former deities. There are several other such items of detail extending even to the matter of waving lights before the deity which point to Shakti ritual. However much it may be attempted to explain away these facts, there is no other temple dedicated to Viṣṇu with this architectural, iconographic and ritualistic combination.
The markings of Srīvatsa on the right chest, near the shoulder, instead of on the middle of the left chest, as is usual with Viṣṇu images, betrays hasty and imperfect execution by later artists. Only Jain images have Srīvatsa marking on the right chest. The Vaiṣṇavas state that the image was without śaṅkha and chakra and that Rāmānuja invested the deity with these emblems in gold. A representation of the figure of Durgā with the two upper hands caring śaṅkha and chakra, the lower right hand in the varada pose (pointing to the earth) and the lower left hand in the Kaṭyavalambita (holding the hip) pose is found in the Shiva temple at Tiruvanjikalam. To Rāmānuja goes the credit of converting this goddess into a male deity and discovering for the deity a wife in Padmāvatī who was supposedly the daughter of Akāśarāja. In a book on Srīvaiṣṇavism, the tradition is recorded that Rāmānuja is considered the father-in-law of Veṅkaṭeśvara as he had gifted Padmāvatī to him and the ācārya of the deity, as he had invested him with śaṅkha and chakra.
The lone image on the hill, without any Parivāra devatāS, with full cheeks and a trace of a small at the corners of the small mouth, could be a mountain goddess Durgā or Bālā. The writer of Tholkappiam when describing the limits of the Tamil country as bounded on the north by Vengaḍam and the south by Cape Comorin, was suggesting apparently that these two frontiers were guarded by the two Kumārīs.
Examining the association with Rāmānuja
It is doubted whether the Mysore King Bittideva, Viṣṇuvardhana, was actually the patron of Rāmānuja, whom the latter is said to have converted to Vaiṣṇavism, as the Divyasūricarita refers to a chief named Viṭṭhala reigning in Tirupati, who gifted an agrahāra to Rāmānuja and was converted by him. These discussions push back the date of Rāmānuja’s first visit to Tirupati to settle the Shiva-Viṣṇu dispute to about 1032 A.D.
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