Chapter 17
Description of the Murthi by the Alvars

None of the Early Alvars described the Murthi

The verses from which the hypothesis of Vyakta Vishnu Vyakta-avyakta Siva is formulated belong to the Early Alvars, i.e. Poygai, Pey and Bhuddatan. From the zest with which this hypothesis was put forward by Sri Sitapati and his followers, even in World Telugu conference, it would have given the impression to the masses, that these Alvars really described the murthi in such a way that it could be presumed to have features of both Siva and Vishnu. Unfortunately, for propagators of this hypothesis, it is not true, and their claim is based on false grounds. Sri Veera Raghavacharya observes:

"...None of the early Alvars has described even cursorily, the form and the features of the image, the divine ornaments depicted thereon and the divine weapons borne. We have to draw the inference that they attached little importance to these..." [Raghavacharya: II,1093, emphasis ours]

Poygai Alvar

However, Poygai Alvar has alluded to the Archa form of Vishnu in the form of Krishna. Raghavacharya observes:

"...that the deity on the Vengadam hill is identified by Poygai Alvar with the avatars of Krishna, Rama and Trivikrama. The archa form of Sri Krishna which was observed in the Sun's disc seems to have had neither Chakram not Sankham in hand. Shri Devi alone was on the chest..." [Ibid., II,1115]

This is clearly an imaginary and conceptual description based on story in Mahabharata and is not the actual description of the Murthi. It is also clear from the verse itself that till the time of writing this verse there was no conch and discus on the image.


"There is only one point worth nothing...His impression probably was that terrestrials worship in Srirangam and only celestials in Vengadam." [Raghavacharya: II, 1137]

Tirumalsai Alvar describes Murthi without weapons

He is one of the early Alvars, though not included in 'mudal' i.e. first three early ones. His account is supposed to be more realistic and interesting.:

"...We learn from this description that there was not in those days any structure enclosing the image, but that the image stood high and was visible to bhaktas coming from every direction." [Raghavacharya: II,1136, emphasis original]

"Tirumalsai Alvar's description is more elaborate. He definitely stated that Deity was standing on the deforested ground ... He changed his religion from Buddhism to Jainism and Saivism successively and at last found rest and salvation by pinning his faith in the worship of Narayana. ... Silppadhikaran which describes the Vengadam hill and the deity as having been decorated with flowers and having Sankham, Chakram and Bow in hand which are not mentioned by Tirumalsai..." [Ibid. II, 1008, emphasis ours] This means that during Tirumalsai's times, there was no sankha or chakra on the murthi, which was standing without any enclosure.

Description of Murthi by Nammalvar is conceptual

Whatever description given by him, is it factual or only his spiritual and psychic experience, was the murthi of Lord of Tirumalai already fixed with Sankham and chakram at the times of Nammalvar, as can be judged from his writings? These are the questions which need to be clearly answered. Veera Raghavacharya observes:

"...His prayer, in addition to the evangelical work, was to see God face to face; and therein he did not succeed. He sang about the deities in Tiruvanvandur (6-1 ten verses); Tiruvinnagar (6-3), Tiruttolaivilli mangalam, (6-5), Tirukkolur (6-7). He could not rest content without seeing God. He did Saranagati to the deity in every temple he sang. As his desire remained unfulfilled, he sang in great distress and in the highest pitch the ten verses of 6-9. There was no response. It was in this predicament that he decided to throw himself at the feet of Tiruvengadattan. From the wording of the last line of every verse (6-10) it does not appear that he actually went to Vengadam for this Saranagati. But his body and soul would have been psychically at the feet of the Lord. He appeals to Him through Goddess Sri Alarmelmangai who is on his chest, to Him of matchless glory, the Lord of three worlds, to Him whom the Immortals and Munis adore, and He is his only Saviour. (6-10-10).

"Note:- These ten verses as well as the twenty verses of 2-3 and 2-4 distinctly describe the features of the body, the divine ornaments and the divine weapons which the Alvar had observed, ... The presence of Sridevi on chest, the sankham, chakram and Sarangam in the hands, the posture of the right lower hand pointing to the feet for Saranagati as the only means to obtain salvation are the principal ones." [Ibid. II, 1151 ff. emphasis ours]

These verses are uttered by the Alvar in emotional tension, as psychic and spiritual experiences, due to his inability to go to Vengadam for Saranagati and should not be taken as denoting the description of the murthi. Similarly, about ten verses of 3- 4, Veera Raghavacharya describes that "He (Nammalvar) describes the deity as seen with his spiritual eyes in the ten verse of 3-4." (Ibid. II, 1146 ) Therefore we have to consider that the verses of Nammalvar do not give us any specific information about the murthi, but are of general nature.

Dr. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar observes:

"...we fail to find, even in the references to Tirupati as such, references to such details even of worship, or of festive celebration, as we occasionally do come upon in the earlier poets of this group. Even in the tens specially devoted to Tirupati, the Alvar does not give us any definite knowledge of details which would warrant the inference of his direct acquaintance with the place, or the organisation of worship in the temple....This section III is devoted entirely to Tirupati and the details he gives of Tirupati are more or less of a general character absolutely,..." [Aiyangar: I,75)

Sri Andal

A verse from her Nachchiar Tirumoli makes the reference to presence of Devi on the Lord's chest. [Raghavacharya: I,299]

So the picture as appears from the writings of these Alvars, which reached us by devious methods of direct communication with the spirit of the Alvar by direct word of mouth to yogi Nath Muni, who had to be in Yoga for 340 years, is not very conducive to prove Sitapati's hypothesis. Some saw the AXE, some saw the BOW denoting Parashurama and Rama. But nobody saw conch and discuss, the real marks of Vishnu. Also the lord was prayed as 'killer of Vali'. Which Vali is alluded to is not clear from Raghavacharya's account. If it was brother of Sugriva, then Rama is meant and if it was King Vali, then Wamana is meant. Whatever it is, it certainly does neither mean Vishnu, nor Siva. Even deity on Vengadam has been described by Poygayialvar as one "whom the ASURAS claimed as dear one." [Raghavacharya: II,1113]

From the above discussion it is quite clear that the so called evidence of Alvars for Vyakta Vishnu Vyakta-Avyakta Siva is very flimsy, it is a myth rather than reality. It is not only false but misleading.

In any case, the evidence of Alvars is useless in any dispute where a Buddhist claim is involved, because Alvars were quite hostile to Buddhists, as will be seen in next chapter.

Chapter 16          Chapter 18