Chapter 23
Emperuman : Buddha or Vishnu

Among the other murthis, one of the important ones is the silver replica of the Lord called Bhoga Srinivasa or Manavalapperumal. In this murthi, the sankha and chakra are not detachable unlike in the mula murthi. It was consecrated in the snapana mandapa "by keeping open a power line consisting of gold and silver cords in between Mula murthi and Bhoga murthi. the power line exists to this day." The date of this consecration is worked out by scholars to be 966 A.D. from the inscriptional sources. The worship was not regular before this Murthi was installed. It is only since this was installed, the puja started regularly, which was a significant development.

Name in subscription changed from Emperuman to Vishnu

Veer Raghavacharya, has pointed out the changes that took place around that time. He observes:

"We also learn from a comparison of the closing words in inscriptions No.4,12 and 8 volume I that the worshipers of Vishnu down to the year 936 A.D. styled themselves as Emperumandiyar. Thereafter they came to be called SriVaishnavas. SriVaishnava Rakshai became the subscription in all later inscriptions. The significance and implication of this change would be apparent to all."

"Before the days of Sri Alvandar, Vaishnavas did not form and organized community, but only individuals who had faith in Emperuman, (Vishnu) as the Supreme deity. Sri Devi was not considered as being coequal to Vishnu. It was Sri Alvandar who first made it an essential article of faith that Sri and Vishnu should be worshipped together and as forming one entity. Vishnu worshipers who did not subscribe to this doctrine such as Dvaitins are only Vaishnavas. And not Sri Vaishnavas." fn.

About other inscriptions, he says:

"It is not clear whether emperumandiyars refers to some agency, which looked after the due performance of the charity. In the inscription we are now considering (I,12 of 935 A.D., the inscription closes with the expression "Emperumandiyar Rakshai", who are therefore expected to protect the trust. This term obviously intended to denote those who were devotees of Emperuman, whether Vishnu in general, or the particular deity Tiruvenkatupperuman. This term marks one phase in the history of Vaishnavism. We will see that a quarter of century later, this phrase yields place to "Shri Vaishnava Rakshai" when Samavai consecrated the silver idol of Manavalaperumal in the Vengadam Temple in 966 A.D..." [Raghavacharya: 116]

Emperuman could mean Buddha

These are very important observations in understanding the events around that time. All the inscriptions before 966 A.D. have got the concluding part of the inscription as Emperumandiyar Rakshai and not as Sri Vaishnava Rakshai, but after or around the time of installation of Bhoga Srinivasa, this name was changed by the Brahmins to Sri Vaishnava Rakshai. Any inscription bearing the words Emperumandiyar Rakshai is always considered to belong to times earlier than 966 a.D. Why did the Brahmins do it? The situation becomes clear when we consider that the word Emperuman need not necessarily mean Vishnu. The word Emperuman could be equally applicable to Lord Buddha, as were the words 'Bhagavat' and 'Hari' originally applied to Buddha. The difference between the Vaishnavas and Sri Vaishnavas is explained by Raghavacharya to be due to Lakshmi, but what was the difference between Vaishnavas and the Emperumandiyar, and why this change was necessary to be made? If Emperuman always referred to Vishnu in the historical times, and if it was a common knowledge and belief that Emperuman meant Vishnu, it would be equally pertinent to ask why the name was changed to Sri Vaishnava Rakshai from Emperumandiyar Rakshai, if it was not to avoid reference to Lord Buddha, and make clear reference to Vishnu, so that there remains no confusion on the minds of recent converts to Vaishnavism.

Emerging importance of Lakshmi cannot explain the change in subscription

It is clear that Emperuman is a general term whereas Vishnu is a specific term. If Brahmins wanted only to increase the importance of Lakshmi, they have added to word 'Sri' or some of its equivalent to Emperuman. So the emerging importance of Lakshmi in 10th century cannot, alone, explain the change in subscription in epigraphic records.

If Lakshmi was not considered to be a consort of Vishnu till the times of Alvandar, how do we account for Her presence on the Lord's chest? This was already discussed in Chapter 20.

Devadasis were degraded Buddhist nuns

The word Emperumandiyar which was used in the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D. got the meaning of dancing girls, attached to Vishnu temples, in inscriptions of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of Raja Raya III. [Raghavacharya: I,118] In Maharashtra, they are called 'Devadasis' meaning female servants of God' In the opinion of present author these devadasis were originally Buddhist nuns, and the system of making first born daughter, a Bhikshuni was prevalent, and the fall of Buddhism caused the degradation of these bhikshunis to the level of todays devadasis.

It is a mistake to trace the origin of Indian Temple dancers to Greek or Egyptian tradition or any foreign ancient customs. Indian scene is comparatively more recent.

About Ambrapali of Buddha's times in ancient India, Vasantsena, the heroine of sanskrit drama Mrichakatikam of seventh century in middle ages, and Madhavi, a courtesan of the epic Sillapadhikaran of eighth ninth century or so, it should be clearly understood that, none of them was a Devadasi.

One has to differentiate between Ganikas and their inferior counterparts Varanganas on one hand and the Devadasis on the other. That the devadasis were Buddhist nuns can be deduced from many evidences. They are unknown to ancient India. Jaatakas, Kautillya or Vatsayana do not mention them, but later Puranas found them useful. The system started only after the fall of Buddhism and records of them start appearing around 1000 A.D. [bharatiya sanskruti kosh, IV, 448]

In certain castes the system of offering at least one daughter from family was rampant in almost all families of the caste. [Ibid.] It is well known that 95% of the devadasis today belong to caste of Untouchables, who were of course Buddhists originally. The system was present in almost all parts of India, though in South, it was more prevalent. These dancing girls and their male counterparts had different names in different parts of the country, and the important point to note is that the pair was, and even today is, considered not as husband and wife but as brother and sister, the relation that existed among the Buddhist nuns and Bhikshus.

In certain parts of Maharashtra, these devadasis are known as 'bhavin' or 'jogin' or 'jogtin'. All these words literally mean a Buddhist nun.

There always used to be and still is, some religious rite conducted at the time of their initiation and that they were looked upon with respect by the society in early days. [Ibid.] It is also noteworthy that they have the Deities of their own, which are distinct from Brahmanic Deities, and the original connection with Buddhist Deities is already forgotten. Some of the Deities of these Devadasis are also now homologized as Brahmins worship these Deities, and the people whose 'kuladaivatam' are these deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmanic order. These are some of the points denoting Buddhist origin of Devadasis.

Origin of Devadasi system is religious and not economical

It must be clearly understood that it has got not only economic facets but also religious ones. For example, devadasis have a firm religious belief that they must not get married, which poses a difficult problem, not only to find them husbands but also to persuade them for marriage. Instances are abundant that these girls refused to get married and some of those who did get married, lost their prestige in the eyes of their kith and kin. This kind of orthodoxy can only be explained on religious grounds and not on economical ones.

Unfortunately the present Devadasis are ignorant of their glorious past and that the prominent among them and their families have dissociated themselves from the problems of Devadasis. They are against any kind of reform and are associating with the very social institutions and people, who made them cheap prostitutes from servants of god

What more evidence is needed?

It is a matter of understanding. 95 per cent of Devadasis are untouchables. Being untouchables they were Buddhists of olden days as shown by Dr. Ambedkar very aptly. Before the name 'Vaishnava' came in vogue, the devotees of the Lord of Tirumalai were known by the name 'emperumandiyars'. The same name was being applied to these women who became devadasis from Buddhist bhikkunis. This is a direct evidence that the ancestors of todays devadasis who were devotees of Venkateswara, were Buddhists and that the Lord of Tirumalai was the Lord of these Buddhists.

The name by which these erstwhile Buddhists are known today, was the name of the devotees of the Lord Venkateswara. What more direct evidence could there be that the Lord Venkateswara was the Buddhist deity.

The moot question is, untouchability started around fifth century, and the devadasi system started around 1000 A.D. How were the untouchable girls allowed inside the temple after practice of untouchability started? The obvious answer is that these girls were already present in the temples as Buddhist nuns, and when the temples were taken over by the Brahmins, these girls were degraded as devadasis. The subject how Buddhist nuns became Devadasis is discussed in greater detail by us in "Rise and Fall Buddhist Nuns". ["World Fellowship of Buddhists WFB Review", (January-March 2000), from Bangkok.]

Chapter 22          Chapter 24