Historical sequence of the Vaiṣṇava Divyadeśas. Sacred venues of Viṣṇuism

  • R.K.K. Rajarajan

Abstract

Forty years ago Prof. George W. Spender wrote an article on the Śaiva tiruttalams (called divyadeśa in Vaiṣṇava tradition) and suggested a complimenting work could be undertaken on the sacred venues of Viṣṇuism. The present article fulfills the longfelt need of scholars in Indian religious and more relevantly art historical studies. Based on the first-hand materials derived from the Vaiṣṇava canon, Nālāyirativviyapirapantam, it presents the historical sequence of the evolution of the 108 divyadeśas. The earliest of these had their origin by about the 4th-5th century CE and reached maturation by about the early half of the 9th century CE. The stages of evolution are earmarked. However, what the Vaiṣṇava mystics, the Āḻvārs, saw during the centuries down to the 9th are not the kṣetras (sacred space of the temple) or sthalas (sacred venues) that we find today. The temples had undergone spectacular changes through the centuries as could be proved with case studies of either Vēṅkaṭam or Allikkēṇi. A handful of the sthalas were purely imaginary on part of the mystics. The text is duly illustrated with modern photographic evidences and a map. The parochial views of some American scholars are discussed to point out their inability to deal with the original sources in Tamil and consequently their views on Viṣṇuism or Śrīviṣṇuism happens to be biased. 

Keywords: Vaiṣṇava-divyadeśas, Viṣṇuism, Āḻvārs, Śrīvaiṣṇavism, Bhakti, Nālāyira- divya-prabandham.

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