Chapter 19
Iconographical Examination of Lord's Image

Vishnu Images

We have already seen that in reality the image of Lord of Tirumalai has only two prominent hands, these being in Varada and Katyavalambita mudras Originally, there were no weapons in its hands but sankha and chakra were fixed later on to the Lord by Ramanuja. We have also seen that the image does not fit in with the description of Vishnu Images as per the Shastras and Agamas. Therefore, it is considered by Sri Sitapati that it was a super agamic manifestation and the image was probably made, before the Agamas came into existence. Therfore we would like to examine the image from that standpoint. Images of Vishnu are classified into three main classes:

1.Dhruva bheras
2. Avataras and
3. Vyuhas

As the Image of Lord of Tirumalai is considered only as a Dhruva bhera, we will only discuss Dhruva bheras.

Vishnu Images usually have four arms

First point we will consider is the number of arms of Vishnu image. Not a single image is found in India, belonging to Gupta age, or post Gupta age having two arms. Shri Vasudeo Upadhyaya observes:

"...In short, after the fourth century A.D. four weapons were installed in four armed images. Vayjayanti mala was given a place later on. From the same century Vishva Rupa image of Vishnu came into vogue. In Gupta age the standing Vishnu image is found usually with four arms. In all the four arms are four weapons and kirita mukuta along with dhoti and chaddar..." [Upadhyaya: 93]

Two armed Vishnu images

There were Vishnu images having two arms, but those are believed to be of Kushana age. Only five such images are described. These two armed images are not showing any mudras of hands but they are holding some or the other weapons of Vishnu. [Upadhyaya:85]

All these images believed to be of Kushana age, are small in size and are transportable. As it is, we are in know of only 48 images of Kushana Vishnu and 39 out of these are from Mathura region. [Joshi N.P.: 1977: 74]

It is clear that the image of Lord of Tirumalai does not fit in with the description of any of the two armed Vishnu images, either of post-Gupta, Gupta, or pre-Gupta age.

Mudras of hand weapons

Second point we have to consider is the presence of mudras of hands. Discussing the asanas and mudras in Brahmnical and Buddhist images, Dr. Vasudeo Upadhyaya has observed:

"The exhibition of mudras of hand is hardly seen in Brahmnical images. Varada mudra and Abhaya mudra are seen equally in Buddhist as well as Brahmnic images. The weapons are seen in the hands of Brahmnic images in place of exhibition of mudras in the Buddhist images. But there is no such thing as weapons in the hands of Buddhist images..." [Upadhyaya: 269]

"...History of Indian art shows that exhibition of mudras of hands is maximum in Buddhist images. In the Hindu images mudras are as good as nil..." [Upadhyaya:270]

Various popular Buddhist mudras like the Dhyan mudra, Bhumisparsha mudra, Dhamma chakra pravartana mudra, Vyakhyan mudra are described and Abhaya mudra mentioning its example in Manquar sitting Buddha is also described. Varada mudra in standing Buddha is described as follows:

"...In the standing Buddhist images, one more mudra is also seen. It is called Varada mudra. Left hand is holding sanghati, Right hand is straight near the waist and plam is facing outwards. This palm is similar to palm while giving ahuti in yajna by brahmins or while offering water libation to Sun. In the Buddhist images these mudras were used in plenty in art..." [Upadhyaya: 271]

It is also an accepted fact that Varada mudra which is found in the Image of Lord of Tirumalai is also unknown in Vishnu images. Raghavacharya observes:

"...Varada position is not associated with any of the Agama form of Standing murthi..." [Raghavacharya: I,270]

Also the Katya-avalambita mudra is described in Buddhist images as follows:

"In standing images, Katya-avalambita mudra also has a place. Here whole left arm is hanging near the body and hand is shown touching the waist. This mudra is exhibited in Buddha image of Gupta age. Mankquar Buddha image is depicting this same mudra..." [Upadhyaya: 272]

Katyavalambita mudra is a fine example of webbed hand which is well known to be a "traditional mark of Buddha." [Ray: 1970: 525]

It has been already shown that the presence of mudras of hand in an image is mostly considred to be a Buddhist sign. So much so, a murthi which otherwise would be called a Vishnu, was considered to be that of Buddha because of the presence of mudras as could be seen from the follwing:

"...The oldest image of Vishnu was made in Kushana age in Mathura centre, wherein one hand is in abhaya mudra and there is pot of nectar in the other. Other two hands have gadha and chakra. Other images of Vishnu do not exhibit any mudras. Because of this, many scholars thought that this image is similar to Buddha image (Bodhisattva) and denotes a transitional period. That was the time since when images of brahmnism started to be made just like Buddhists. But the speciality of these images was the presence of weapons..." [Upadhyaya: 93]

Ramanuja had accepted that the Murti had no weapons

While on the subject of weapons of murthi, mention may be made, as a reminder, of argument of Ramanuja about the absence of weapons. He had argued:

"...The image does not bear the Sankha and Chakra because Lord Vishnu in his infinite divine grace parted with the weapons to assist his Tondaiman Chakrawarthi in battle against his enemies. This is confirmed in Brahmanda Purana. ..." [Sitapati: 23]

Srivatsa was the Mark of Buddha

It is well known that Vaijayantimala and Srivatsa are popular marks in Vishnu Images. But it is ignored that Srivatsa Mark is present on Buddhist Images also. Rao observes:

"One or two ornaments are peculiar to Vishnu and they are Srivatsa and Vayjayanti. We are aware that on the chest of Buddha there is the mark known as srivatsa; it is perhaps introduced here in the belief that Buddha is an incarnation of Vishnu. ..." [Rao: 25]

Srivatsa on Buddhist Images has nothing to do with incarnation theory, may be that Vaishnavites had to copy the mark of Buddha, as it is found in images of the Buddha created much before the Buddha was placed in the avatars of Vishnu by Brahmins.


About this necklace, which was associated with Vishnu images, Rao observes:

"The Vayjayanti is a necklace composed of a successive series of groups of gems, each group wherein has five gems in a particular order. ..." [Rao :26]

It would be remembered that in the description of Lord of Tirumalai, there is a remarkable absence of Vaijayantimala.

This should give clear idea that Lord of Tirumalai has got more features of Buddhist murthis rather than Vishnu murthis. We will now study the presence of image of Lakshmi on the chest of the Lord.

Chapter 18          Chapter 20