Anyone given to some level of disciplined life spends a few minutes in the morning on some sort of worship, which is basically his attempts to communicate with god. This practice has been in vogue for centuries and it is as interesting to know as the evolution itself, as to know the procedures to worship god came in to being. The way of worship is generally divided in to ‘manasi’, ‘homa’ and ‘bera’(idol , and the last one, idol worship, is by far the easiest way, being ‘within the capacity of the majority of human being’. Aagamas ‘enjoin the worship of god in the form of idol.
From the earliest times our ancestors realized their limitations with respect to other forms of worship, namely, Vedic sacrifices and chanting of Vedas, but aspired for some sort of easier approach ‘to enlist His proximity in a collective way.’ The Collective worship at a common location has been rendered possible by Aagamas. ‘literally means ‘coming down’ (of procedures from god himself to worship him!!) and aagamic literature abounds in traditions based on Vedas and puraanas which eventually came to be the sources of Indian thought and devotion (bhakti) and the mainstay of worship. Aagamas not only enabled common folk to offer prayers but also contained instructions or temple practice, sculpting of images and their consecration, and odes for buildings of temples.
There is hardly a village or town or city in India which does not have a temple. Besides these temples there are ‘ teerthas’ an kshethras’ which go back to puraanic times being connected with an avathaara (incarnation) of Vishnu of rishi’s hallowed past rendering them extremely holy, and call for a visit at least once in a life time.
There was a time when rulers and kings and the ultra- rich used to construct temples. To-day we can see groups of ordinary folk coming together to build temples and manage them. As one Swamiji put it : The performance of rituals and acts done for public good pleases the Lord who will bless people with timely rains, adequate food and heavenly joy.'
For enduringly good effect and welfare of people, it is necessary that the idols conform to aagamic codes. The temple design is standardised in all respects and fortunately we have to-day a host of engineers and architects / craftsmen (sthapathis) who are well-versed in this field and fully conversant with the guidelines.
It is rather unfortunate that such an important subject as aagama has not received the notice it deserves in modern times and we have only stray articles in magazines rather than popular books. In its humble attempt, this treatise seeks to present salient details on aagamas such as fundamental aspects, classifications, religious connotations, acceptance or otherwise of aagamas by Poorvaachaaryas / religious classics in support of the Paancharaathra Aagama, and summarises details on image sculpting and temple construction. Being by no means exhaustive, it is considered a step towards familiarisation of the subject of aagamas.
Generally the figure of nine is associated with God and it is coincidental that this is my ninth book and the theme is God Himself in His 'archa' form.
Forms of God
Around the first century BC or AD a form of worship easilyaccessible to ordinary persons evolved itself and it consisted in offering prayers to an image of the Lord in a temple (and houses) with flowers, fruits etc. This religious practice originated from what is known as aagama shaasthra and the form of the Lord which was sculpted was as per the outlines which the seers and the enlightened rishis visualised in 'dhyaana mantras' ; this form of the Lord, the divya mangala vigraha [luminous Divine form). is also known as the 'archaavataara' of God, preceded by four other forms viz. Para, Vyooha, Vibhava and Antharyaamin.
Aagamas Aagamas 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 'maanasi' and homa', are rather difficult to practise being more rigorous. Sage Maarkandeya, while responding to a question from Vajra, observed : 'Prakrithi' is the unmanifested abode of the phenomenal universe and 'Vikrithi' is its manifestation. As long as human mind remains a part of 'Vikrithi', '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'. Aagamas precisely address to this need.
Generic Types of Aagamas
There are three types of Aagamas - Shaaktha, Shaiva Vaishnava. Although all the three types have a common aspect in that all of them give importance to Shakthi, the first one viz Shaaktha accords overriding importance and an idependent status to Shakthi as being superior to God Himself. 'Vaishnava aagamas comprise two systems - Vaikhaanasa and 'Paancharaathra : Tirupathi follows the former and Srirangam the latter. In this treatise Paancharaathra will be covered in greater detail.
'Paancharaathra Aagama / five-fold worship Paancharaathra, as the name suggests, comprises worship during five sections (slots) of the day. They are known As Abhighamana (initial brief worship), Upaadhaana (acquiring Materials for worship), ljya (elaborate programme of worship), Swaadhyaaya (study of scriptures and philosophizing) and 'Yoga (meditation and communion with the Divine). 'Paaancharaaathra has supposedly as many as ten connotations, some of which will be dealt with in this treatise. 'Paancharaathra, also known as Bhaagavatha religion, is called the system of Bhakthi.
As in the case of Upanishads where differing importance was accorded to 'bheda and abheda' shruthis by Sankara and Madhwa, here also we have difference of opinion on 'Vedhic- ness' of Paancharaathra i.e. as to whether it has Vedic authority. Sankara and advaithins do not consider this as being Vedic, while Raamaanuja has given full support to it (Sri Bhaashya). Yaamuna's Aagama Praamaanya as also Vedantha Desika's Paancharaathra Rakshaa have supported this Aagama.
Source Texts for Paancharaathra
The doctrine of grace of the Lord and bhakthi, which underline Paancharaathra Aagama's basic tenets, are based on Vedas, Puraanas and Smrithis. To quote some: Upaasana Kaandas in Aaranyakas, Bhaagavatha Puraana, Shandilya and Naaarada Soothras.
Image Worship and Sculpting
Image or Idol worship is based on the very important aspect or guna of the Lord viz Soulabhya. 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 Geetha : 'I reveal Myself to them descending down in line with their inclinations' . All aazhwaars and aachaaryas have described in glowing terms their experience with the 'divya mangala vigraha' of the Lord - this enabled Ramanuja to affirm full faith in bhakthi.
The seers and rishis could 'feel' the Lord's presence and visualise His form, and the details / outlines were set down in dhyaana mantras. Such a 'feeling' experienced by the seers is termed in modern parlance as 'plastic conception'. Dhyaana mantras thus provided what were known as 'lakshanas' and the shilpa shaastras 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 prayers to God, the night before he starts the work.
From epigraphical references, details on the basic motivation to build temples appear to be: to seek Lord's grace ; to obtain some gain ; to celebrate success in war or simply provide a residence for the family deity.
Each region in our country exhibits its unique expression in temple architecture. There is a difference between Hindu temple and Jain Vihaaras. Styles also differ - Bhadra style, Meru style etc.
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