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Updated: June 15, 2010 13:04 IST

Growth of Vaishnavism in Andhra Pradesh

M. Varadarajan
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The worship of Vishnu, or Vaishnavism, has its origins in the Vedas. It spread far and wide, thanks to the advent of Azhwars, saint-devotees whose hymns on the Lord have come to be known as ‘Naalaayira Divyaprabandham' and, later, of Ramanuja, a preceptor par excellence, who propagated the spiritual practice, making extensive visits to several hallowed shrines — they included Tirupati, Simhachalam, and Srikoormam in Andhra Pradesh.

In this book, Sambaiah discusses the genesis, growth, and development of Vishnu worship in the Andhra region. Basing himself primarily on literary and archaeological sources, he has ably marshalled the facts and presented them with a stamp of authority and an exceptional flair.

Evidence

Evidence from inscriptions, coins, and literary works suggests Vishnu worship can be traced approximately to the period between 230 BC and 1070 AD. The author argues that the influence of Vaishnava mythology was conspicuous on the Satavahanas, the Ikshvakus, the Pallavas, the Salankayanas, the Vishnukundins and the Chalukyas of Vengi.

Vaishnavism extended its domain in Andhradesa since early 1000 AD, under the patronage of local rulers such as Konidena Codas and Velanati Codas. Subsequently, it received an impetus in the Palanadu region during the Haihayas regime, and its Chief Minister, Brahmanayudu, who established the Chennakesava temple at Macherla, was virtually deified. The 11{+t}{+h} century saw kings like Kulottunga I and Chalukya-Chola getting vigorously involved in mobilising efforts to fulfill the needs of temples. The magnificent Narayana temple at Chalukya Bhimavaram is an eloquent testimony to the prosperity and affluence of the people of the Godavari region in those days. The Madhva sect, an offshoot of Vaishnavism, also played a significant role in strengthening the bhakti movement.

Royal patronage

The chapter, ‘Vaishnavism at its height in Andhra', is a candid appraisal of the salient events during the post-Kakatiya period. Vaishnavism underwent a significant change in the post-Ramanuja period. It won substantial royal patronage — largely due to the influence of mentors such as Vedanta Desika, Nainaracharya, and Parasara Bhattar — during the regimes of Padmanayakas of Telangana, the Rayas of Vijayanagara, and the Reddis of Coastal Andhra in the 14th century. The devotional services of the Rayas, Krishnadevaraya in particular, to the Tirumala temple are impressive and well narrated. Interestingly, the sprouting of urban temple complexes in places like Tirupathi, Tadipatri, and Ontimitta during the period is attributed mainly to the phenomenal growth of the rural economy and the huge farm surpluses it generated.

The services rendered by Tallapaka families, particularly by Annamacharya and his contemporary savant, Kandadai Ramanuja Ayyengar, to Vaishnavism and the Vaishnavite community are well brought out. By virtue of their dedicated service to temples, the artisan communities like Sattada Sri Vaishnavas, and Dasaris gained a lot of recognition in society.

On the literary side, the author refers to puranas like the ‘Nrisimha Purana', kavyas like ‘Vikrama Charitra', and prabandhas like ‘Amuktamalyada' — works that are read and studied with reverence — and speaks about their distinguished authors and their contribution to Telugu devotional literature.

The captivating colour images and the glossary enhance the value of the book. While the author's expertise is unquestionable, some significant drift from established truth is perceptible in places and this is perhaps due to his undue reliance on secondary sources. For instance, he has expressed reservations about the acceptability of ‘Sri Venkatachala Ithihasamala,' one of the earliest texts on the history of Tirumala and considered to be sacrosanct.

All in all, reading this book will be an enriching experience not just to students of history but also those interested in knowing about the awe-inspiring record of the past generations in the cause of Vaishnavism, particularly with reference to Andhra Pradesh.

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