Precedents of usurping Buddhist Temples for Brahmanic use
It was shown that Image Worship originated amongst the Buddhist and that the struggle between Brahmins and Buddhists was the cause of it. Brahmanism took over many Buddhist Temples for Brahmanical use, for example Ter, Chezarala, Aihole, Undavali, Ellora. It was shown that chiseling out Buddhist images was the method used in many temples, and Shaivas and Vaishnavas were together in this. Various other examples from Bengal, Puri, Badrinatha, Delhi, Nalanda, Ayodhya, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Sringeri are also seen, with special reference to Guntepalli, and also role of Puranas in claiming the Buddhist places and retaining them. We summarized the scholars' views who have proved that Jagannatha of Puri, Vitthala of Pandharpur, Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala in Kerala, Draksharama and Srisailam in Andhra were once Buddhist Temples. The relation of Tribals with Buddhism with reference to Puri, Srisailam, and Pandharpur was also discussed.
Image of the Lord
We saw the traditional story of Lord of Tirumalai, the Brahmanic explanation of absence of weapons on the image, and noticed how cleverly the device of 'self manifestation of murthi' is used to obscure the scientific historical inquiry. We noted various earliest Vishnu shrines. We saw that earliest popular from of Vishnu was reclining and not standing. It is stressed that there are many records of Vishnu shrines in South India, even in the vicinity of Tirupati but Tirupati is not amongst them. There is no mention even in Bhagavat Purana, let alone Mahabharata, Ramayana and Vishnu Purana. That the reason of its absence in epigraphical, as well as literary sources, was that it was unimportant as a Brahmanic shrine because it was a Buddhist shrine.
We also saw how various forms of Vishnu images were ordained to be made and that Lord of Tirumalai does not resemble any of these forms; and that the Image resembles Bodhisattva Image. The Image does not conform to Vishnu Images and is either a pre- Agamic Image or of 'Different Class by itself', and indeed, that class is the class of Buddhist Images converted for Brahmanic use.
The nature of image of the Lord was always a disputed matter. Court dispute in 11th or 12th century A.D. claims of Shaivas and Vaishnavas, the points against it being Vishnu as argued by Shaivas, points in favour of it being Vishnu as argued by Vaishnavas, were studied. It was Ramanuja who managed to place the weapons in the hands of the Murthi. It is clear that an image which was neglected, cannot be Brahmanic one. Shaivas and Vaishnavas conspired to claim the murthi for Brahmanism. We saw how it cannot be Harihara or Devi murthi.
Account in VIM is discussed in detail. Is it a book of fables? Every palm leaf text is not to be discarded. Activities of Ramanuja as mentioned in VIM are borne out by archaeological evidences coming soon after his age, and it is a historical fact, that the Murthi was without weapons before Ramanuja.
The theory of 'Vyakta-avyakta', based on Alvaras' account by modern scholars, is a myth. Verses of Alvaras had gone into oblivion, Natha Muni recovered these verses by yogic powers, Acharyas wrote Taniyans thus possibility of their views being quoted as those of Alvaras cannot be excluded. Even then there is no description of murthi in Alvaras' writings. But the present day scholarship is bent upon propagating this theory. The Murthi existed before the Alvaras and it does not become a Hari-Hara or a Vishnu Murthi just by Alvaras praying it as such. The description of the Murthi by Alvaras does not agree with the conception of Hari-Hara or of Vishnu.
None of the Early Alvaras described the Murthi. Tirumalsai Alwar, even describes Murthi without weapons. Description of Murthi by Nammalwar is conceptual. Even otherwise, the Alvaras and Naynaras were hostile towards Buddhists, and their evidence is useless in discussing a claim for a Buddhist image. We also saw that Tirumalai was a compromise site among the Saivites and Vaishnavites.
On inconographical examination of Lord's Image, we noticed that Vishnu Images usually have four arms, and two armed Vishnu images are very few and of small size. Mudras of hand are more common in Buddhist images and weapons are a must in Vishnu images. We saw that Lakshmi was Buddhist deity. Even in literature, Lakshmi was not related to Vishnu, Lakshmi got recognition as a consort of Vishnu only since Alvandar's time.
We saw that the only difference in appearance between Vishnu and Avalokitesvara images lies in weapons. Dhyani Buddhas were absent in many Buddhist images. Does Lord of Venkatesvara conform to Buddhist images? This has answer in affirmative. The pedestals of images have distinctive features, but the pedestal of Lord of Tirumalai is covered, Why? Was there a Buddhist formula on the pedestal? Jata Jutas etc. are not against Buddhist character, neither is Yadnopavitam. Presumption of Vajra-lepa is essential to explain certain points about the Murthi like Srivatsa, Lakshmi, crescent moon mark etc.
History of Tirupati
India was land of Nagas and its language was Tamil. Nagas were supporters of Buddhism. The region of Tirupati was within Asoka's Empire. Earliest Inscriptions found were definitely Buddhist, and South India was free from Brahmin influence. Tondamandalam was the land of Nagas and there was no Murthi in Vengadam in Sangam Age. Murthi came into existence during Buddhist rule. Old name of Vengadam was Pulikunram,land of Pullis who were Buddhists. Later rulers were Tiraiyans of Pavattiri who were different from Tiraiyans of Kanchi.
Rulers of Vengadam were Kalabhras who were Buddhist. Kalabhras fought against Brahmin supremacy and were abused by Brahmin epigraphists after their rule ended. The emerging importance of Lakshmi cannot explain the change in subscription in the epigraphic records. The word Emperuman was not necessarily used with reference to Vishnu alone, but could also mean Buddha. Emperumandiars or Devadasis were degraded Buddhist nuns is clear from many evidences.
The first epigraphic records are not at Tirumalai, but at Trichakkanur, and these records mention of the proxy image being installed at the foot of the Hill around 830 A.D. Purpose of this proxy image was religious conversion, and not mere convenience. How conversion was carried out is explained. After the purpose of conversion was served to a great extent, Silver Image was installed on the Hill and all activities transferred there. Friction among the Saivities and Vaishnavites cannot be the sole cause of shifting of activities to the hill and abandoning the proxy temple, as there was no rivalry at that stage.
Socio-political conditions need to be taken into account. Kalivarajya was started to change laws. Anti-Buddhist activities were at peak. Reason for Buddha being given place in avatars, was strategical and not on principle. Puranas invented stories to capture and retain Buddhist places of worship. New Puranas were written and old edited and re-edited to give stories for new revival of Brahmanism, and supporting chaturvarnya and Sthala Puranas and myths invented to capture and retain the Buddhist places of worship. This latter purpose of Puranas is not yet properly explored. Shaivas and Vaishnavas were together in uprooting Buddhists and Jains, e.g. at Ellora Shaivas and Vaishnavas occupy two walls in a hall. The Rathas at Mahabalipuram were Buddhist, and are in an unfinished state because of anti Buddhist feelings at the time.
The rise of Rajputs was for suppressing Buddhism. Agnikula Rajputs, Hiranya-garbha-prasuta Kings of South India and Ranas of Mewar are explained. Activities of Kumarila and Sankara and other Acharyas were all anti Buddhistic. Therefore, the real reason for Proxy Image was conversion and not mere convenience of devotees. The people whole conversion was sought, were Buddhists. That is why Kanchi is not selected. Indoctrination of masses is done during this time of activities of proxy temple.
That Murthi was without weapons is a physical fact. It only remains to discuss whether the weapons were fixed during the time of Ramanuja or earlier. Those who do not think that Murthi was converted by Ramanuja to Vaishnavism point out that Silappadhikaran has described sankha and chakra on murthi. They like to think that the text belongs to 8th century. So the real question is what was the time when Murthi was given weapons. Our interest in this text is limited to this. This non-Brahmanic text which is said to mention sankha and chakra on the murthi, is quite unreliable evidence to show the presence of weapons, because it also mentions bow. Its description is also on general lines and based on preconceived ideas of Puranas. It could also be referring to Tiruvenkatam other than Tirumalai. In any case, it only suggests that time of fixing the weapons to the murthi was earlier than Ramanuja,if we consider this passage from Silappadhikaran to be of an earlier date.
We saw the unique practice of Tonsure at Tirupati. Here not only men but also women, married as well as unmarried undergo tonsure. Though it is an old respectable and popular practice, no inscriptions mention about tonsure. There are not even legends about tonsure. It seems Brahmins have ignored the practice altogether. After all why? It is proper to consider that Conversion of Buddhists is the main reason for tonsure. Tonsure was practiced by lay Buddhists as well as by Bhikshus. Tonsure is ancient practice in this temple. Shaven headed men let alone women are inauspicious to Hindu tradition. It is a well known fact that a sight of shaven headed is inauspicious to a Hindu since long back, since the decline of Buddhism in India. There are references to this in a Sanskrit Drama Mrichacha Kaitika. Story in Vishnu Purana shown displeasure of Hindus towards tonsure. But there are times when Tonsures are followed by Hindus. They preserve tuft of hair,which was a reaction against Buddhism. Vedic Tonsures have no relation to Tirumalai tonsures. Votive offering of hair is contrary to Hindu shastras. Brahmins had to concede to Tonsure much against their wish. Tonsure is not a method of Vishnu worship, and Tirumalai tonsures have no relation with Vaishnavism, also they are not Tantric or Natha practices. Tonsures at Tirthas in late Puranas have no relation to Tirumalai tonsures, neither Tirumalai tonsures are praischittas. They are the remnants of Buddhist practices.
Ratha Yatra is main part of Bramhotsawam. Ratha yatra in old records of Hindus start much late, whereas it was Buddhist practice in olden days and was seen by Fa Hain. Ratha yatra can not be a Brahmanic custom as it is against Chaturvarnya system. Puri is Dantapura, where tooth relic of Buddha is worshipped. Shudras have different mantras in Vaishnavism.
The water from wells in the temple was not used till Ramanuja. Time of temple construction was pre-Ramanujan. Garbha Griham, and Snapana mantapam are made later into double walled structures. The great renovation of Temple was done with the intention of making the Temple agree with Agamic rules. The appearance of Garuda shrine is late.
Tirupati is Potalka
Tantrika Buddhism started in South India and its birth place Potalka was inaccessible. Hiuen Tsang's description of Potalka agrees with the physical features on the hill, and Tirumalai could have been Hiuen Tsang's Potalka.
Lastly, we refer again to Ramanujacharya's activities in Tirupati regarding giving of weapons to the Lord. Whatever may be the conviction of a person about the above points, the fact remains that the image of Lord of Tirumalai, originally, had no sankha and chakra. The question now arises whether the artist who started to sculpture the murthi, wanted to make the Murthi of Vishnu or somebody else? Why no weapons were sculptured if he meant to sculpture the image of Vishnu?
Answers to enigmatic problems of Lord of Tirumalai
These are the questions which every student of Ancient Indian History should prepare himself to answer on the basis of recognised historical methods. Our answers to these enigmatic problems of Lord Venkatesvara are as follows:-
1. The image of Lord Venkatesvara was not sculptured by the artist as an image of Vishnu, but that of Avalokitesvara, sometimes in the reign of Kalabhras, after the period of Mamulanur, and before the period of Silappadhikaran, around 3rd to 5th century A.D.
2. Murthi's hands were not holding the sankha and/or chakra. The sankha and chakra were placed in the hands of the murthi at some date later than the date of sculpture of the murthi, and in all probability at the times of Ramanuja. Before Ramanuja, it is unlikely to have these weapons. The reference in Silappadhikaran is not trustworthy in this respect.
3. To consider Venkatachal Itihasa Mala unreliable because it is a palm leaf text is unjustifiable. To tamper with Itihasa Mala would involve a greater labour and greater difficulties than with Silappadhikaran. VIM is a religious book whereas Silappadhikaran is an epic of a tragic romance on which folk dramas are staged from ancient times, and is exposed to modifications in the folk theater, in contrast to VIM.
4. The theory of Vyakta-avyakta is very recent and had to be postulated to explain away Alvaras' writings. There are no references in the writings of Alvaras about the presence of Sankha and chakra on the murthi, and what ever description is there, is conceptual, imaginary, as seen by mental eye, mainly based on Puranic preconceived ideas and in any case untrustworthy as history for proving the presence of weapons, and also to a large extent, as conceived by the commentators, rather than the Alvaras.
5. In the times of decline of Buddhism, no bhikshus were left to look after the shrine which was converted into a Brahmanic shrine.
Avalokitesvara to Vishnu
The gradual process of conversion of Avalokitesvara to Vishnu can be traced as follows:
The initial step seems to be that a proxy image of Lord of Tiruvengadam was set up in the plains and people were told that their God is now conveniently available without undertaking the hazardous journey to the hill.
Next step was to put another Murthi specially meant for conversion of the people to Vaishnavism. At least in earlier stages, the people who got converted, the devotees of the Lord on the Hill, were Buddhists. Later on many be the Saivites were allured for conversion, and so Shaivas had to start a centre at Tiruchokkinur to oppose Vaishnavas, around 1000 A.D. However, an intermediate step can be contemplated where the Buddhist devotees first became Saivites. This could explain the Avalokitesvara giving Darshana to His devotes in the guise of Maheshvara as mentioned by Hiuen Tsang. And it could also explain the conflict between Vaishnavites and Saivites. It may be noted that identification of Potalka can not be on exuberance of Tara images alone, but there should be definite evidence to shown that it was being converted to Maheshvara, and search for Potalka should be among the shrines converted for Brahmanic use.
Subsequently, after all conversions that were possible to be made, were accomplished, and before Saivites opened their centre nearby, the Vaishnavite Brahmins decided to put a new silver image on the hill, and transfer all the attention from the proxy image to the image on the hill.
This intervening time was utilized profitably to make additional structure called Tiruvilankkoyil, installing a new silver image with sankha and chakra in the hands. That the main Murthi had sankha and chakra much before Ramanuja is a myth, the only so called evidence being that of Silappadhikaran which is unreliable.
By this time, the idea of Buddha being the avatara of Vishnu takes root in the minds of people and they start worshipping the Lord on the Vengadam hill with the belief in the Buddha as the avatara of Vishnu. The great Ramanuja comes on the scene. He gives the weapons to the Lord. And the conversion becomes complete.
Even then the Temple does not conform with the Vaishnava Agamas, and hence great renovation was done by Veera Narasimha in 13th century. Now the outer walls are put round old walls, thus concealing the old features, the pillars are changed from circular to square, and Vaishnava bas reliefs now appear on them. Still it remains the only Ek-Devata Vishnu Temple in whole of India and other devatas are not recognised here. Yet there is no Garuda Shrine, which appears very late in 1512 A.D. and Veda recital started only in 1430 A.D.
Ramanuja lays down the rules of worship as a Vishnu shrine, and finally people who were the real devotees forget the real nature of the Lord, and continue to worship the Lord as their Kuladaivatam. These ignorant gullible masses are told that, in kali age this is the form the Lord takes, and you have to worship Him in that form. Masses are also told that the Lord is 'mouni' in kali age; He does not speak, He does not preach, He is guru, a teacher but does not speak, He only observed 'moun' i.e. silence, very much in the same fashion as that of Jagannatha and Panduranga. How cleverly the device of 'mouni' is used in all these three important cults to glorify the Deity and condemn the Doctrine, should be noted. This tradition in later times gives rise to composition of suprabhatam which is composed to praise the Lord as a Guru, but a mouni guru and is lamented that he may not be visible in the next kalpa.
Traditions die very hard. In spite of being converted to Vaishnavism, the devotes do not give up the practice of Tonsure, and it continues till today. People consider the deity as their Kuldevata. Usually the kuladevatas are restricted to a small area but here the vast area is involved. The reason seems to be the spread of Kalabhras, who spread all over south India and convulsed the big kingdoms, and during this process the devotees of Lord on the hill spread all over and continued to worship Him as Kuldevata.
Thus the Buddhist Deity is first vaishnavized mainly due to activities of shudra saint poets, and prabandhams are sung. Later Brahmins came in and sanskritize the scene and now the Lord is brahmanized, in which form we worship Him today.