Chapter 25

Our interest in this text is very limited. It is already shown that it was Ramanuja who managed to put sankha and chakra in the hands of murthi and got it declared as a Vishnu Shrine. But some people like to think that it was Vaishnavite Shrine even before that time, the evidence put forward being that of Silappadhikaran. It is an ancient Tamil epic which deals with the tragic story of Kovalan and his wife Kannagi. Kovalan, a merchant's son having lost all his wealth on a courtesan Madhavi, starts with his wife Kannagi westwards to Madura to start a new life, and meets on way a Vaishnava Brahmin from Malabar who was travelling from west coast to visit Vishnu shrines. During this conversation, various shrines are mentioned

Mention of Chakra and Sankha

Dr. Krishnaswami Aiyangar quotes a verse to show the image had a 'fearsome disc' and 'milk white conch' and further observe:

"The term in which the Vishnu shrine both at Srirangam and Tirupati, and the one at Tirumal Trumsolai, are referred to, give clear evidence that shrine at Tirupati had a reputation of being a Vishnu shrine and nothing else, and that reputation had reached so far out as the West coast and people there were in the habit of going on a pilgrimage to Tirupati as they do now as one of the holy Vaishnava centers. A statement like that from an author who was not himself a Vaishnava, and who makes the statement no doubt in poetry, and in the course of romantic epic, does not invalidate the general position that the temple at Tirupati was by common repute a temple dedicated to Vishnu." [Dr. S. K. Aiyangar, op. cit. vol. I., p.51]

If we accept this statement we have to bring back the date of fixing of weapons to the murthi of Lord of Tirumalai to Silappadhikaran's time. We have seen that Tirumalsai Alvar who is said to have been about a century earlier than Silappadhikaran, [Raghavacharya: II:1008] does not mention any weapons. So we have to consider the time of fixing the weapons about 7th to 8th century, instead of Ramanuja's time

But Aiyangar's theory is not acceptable on many counts.

Interpolations cannot be ruled out

a)Firstly, it presupposes that there were no interpolations and the whole of Silappadhikaran, was received by us in its original form. When people have expressed doubts about a book like Venkatachal Itihas Mala about it being a tampered book, how does one suppose that Silappadhikaran which was a subject matter of various dramas acted on village folk theaters since centuries till about 50 years ago, was received by us in original form, and that there was no influence, of Vaishnava faith prevailing in the region for centuries, on this originally nonbrahmnic text.

Date of Silappadhikaran is doubtful

b) Secondly, it presupposes that we know exactly when those particular lines, mentioning sankha and chakra, were written. Unfortunately scholars do not agree with the dates of this epic and there is great confusion about the dates. On the end Sitapati places the text in 18th century, [Sitapati P., Sri Venkateshwara, p. 88] making it unnecessary for our purpose to discuss anything about it. On the other end Kasthuri Sreenivasan, author of modern drama version of Silappadhikaran in English "The Anklet", places the text to 1st or 2nd century A.D. [K.Sreenivasan, The Anklet, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, p. vii]

Dr. Swamikannu Pillai places this text in 756 A.D. [Raghavacharya: II: 1008]. Whether such a precise dating is possible, seems to be doubtful. Also, dating of many other dignitaries based on this date, and calculation seem useless. Veera Raghavacharya has criticised the way Dr. Pillai has estimated the dates of Alwars. [Ibid., Vol. II, p. 996].

This kind of situation makes this text useless as historical literacy evidence, for presence of shankha and chakra on the image in 8th century.

Ilango Adigal

c)Thirdly, its author is said to be Ilango Adigal, a scholar not belonging to brahmnism, but who was either a Jain or Buddhist. His being non-brahmnic, is considered by Aiyangar to be important and the account given by him about the Vengadam hill to be more reliable and authentic. [Aiyangar: I:49] This belief does not really have any basis.

As he belonged to non_brahmnic faith, he would not be expected to go to a Vishnu shrine for worship, and he would not undertake such a hazardous journey, unless he was a serious devotee of the deity on the hill. And if we presume that the deity was at that time considered to be Vishnu, we have to consider that his description was based on preconceived ideas from Puranas. On the contrary these verses should prove that the shrine was not considered brahmin as dignitaries like Ilango Adigal, from non-brahmin (Jain or Buddhist) Royal family visited it.

About the Bow

d)Fourthly, Silappadhikaran does not only describe the sankha and chakra, but also a bow in the hands. To presume that at one time the Murthi had a bow, but was later removed would not be in keeping with the known history. From this account if we presume that the description of the disc and the conch as given by Ilango Adigal was based on imagination we would not be wrong. Otherwise how do we explain the description of bow? The fact that it mentions that there was bow on the murthi, [Raghavacharya: 45], is very conveniently ignored by scholars while discussing the subject. This is itself should have been sufficient to show that the description given in Silappadhikaran should be treated as description on Vishnu in general and not the description of any specific image.

Tiruvenkatam other than Tirumalai

e)Fifthly, the mention of Tiruvenkatam in Silappadhikaran need not necessarily apply to Tiruvenkatam of Tirupati. For example, it could equally, and rather more appropriately fit the description in Silappadhikaran is in very general terms. In any case, Silappadhikaran is a very poor evidence to show that the murthi had chakra and shankha on Him, in eighth century, and need not be taken seriously.

What does it prove

And even if one wants to be skeptical, and insists on this description having historical importance, what difference does it make to our thesis? It merely brings back the date of fixing of the weapons to the murthi from Ramanuja's time to Silappadhikaran's time, presuming of course, that this extract from Silappadhikaran was earlier than Ramanuja. The fact remains that the weapons were not originally there, and were fixed by somebody at a later date.

Chapter 24          Chapter 26