History & Culture

An authority on Agamas

Sri Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple at Melkote where the Vairamudi Utsav is held.  

The mist and the branches of trees swaying to the gusty, cold wind, cast a magical spell over Melkote, as I make my way to the house of 93-year-old Agama scholar Sampathkumara Bhattar.

Sampathkumara Bhattar began studying Pancharatra agamas at a young age under his uncle Kesava Bhattar, and followed it up with three years of study in the Mysore patasala. During the holidays, he would read the palm leaf manuscripts his family had, and he would experience a sense of déjà vu when he found that what he had studied tallied with what the manuscripts said. He taught himself to read grantha, and transliterated to Kannada, Alasinga Bhattar’s commentary on ‘Satvata Samhita’. Even after he took up duties at the Melkote temple, he continued to study the manuscripts in his possession. Constant study and an acquaintance with the practical aspects of the texts have made him one of the foremost authorities on Pancharatra agamas. He has performed more than hundred samprokshanams, in Bihar, Rajasthan, Nepal, Kottayam, Tamil Nadu and Andhra.

He says that one of the reasons why Ramanujacharya recommended the Pancharatra system was that the mantras can be used as a substitute when Vedic mantras are unavailable ( alAbhe vedamantrANAm pAncarAtroditenavA). Five steps in worship are described in the Pancharatra system of worship - approaching the Lord in temples (abhigamana), obtaining materials required in His worship (upAdAna), worshipping Him (ijjyA), studying srutis and smritis (svAdhyAya) and contemplating on Him (yoga). “Sankara Bhagavadpada, in his ‘Utpatyasambhav Adhikarana Bhashya’, also talks about the importance of this five fold method of worship,” says Bhattar.

He says that the Melkote story unfolds in the ‘Iswara Samhita’, through Narada’s answers to the questions from a group of sages. Narada says that Lord Narayana appeared before Brahma, together with a temple structure. Brahma worshipped the deity according to the Satvata system. Later Sanatkumara, Brahma’s son, transported the vimana and deity and installed them on a hill, which was named Narayanachala. Brahma received another idol as replacement for the one he had parted with. Iswara Samhita says that this new idol was born of Lord Narayana’s heart.

Bhattar’s narration now shifts to Valmiki Ramayana, which says that Vibhishana received a gift at Rama’s coronation, but the gift is not specified. Iswara Samhita says the gift Vibhishana received was the Ranganatha idol that had been worshipped by Rama and His ancestors. Rama was sorry to part with the idol. So Brahma gave Rama the idol born of Lord Narayana’s heart that he (Brahma) had received. This idol came to be known as Ramapriya (dear to Rama). Rama’s granddaughter (Kusa’s daughter) married into the Yadu clan, and Ramapriya was one of her bridal gifts. She took it to Mathura, where the Yadu clan lived. Ramapriya continued to be in Mathura in the Dwapara yuga, and was worshipped by Balarama and Krishna. The Ramapriya idol was brought to Melkote by Balarama and Krishna and installed there.

Ramapriya is the famous Selvapillai idol of Melkote. During the Vairamudi festival at Melkote, Selvapillai is adorned with a diamond crown (Vairamudi). There is a reference to a diamond crown in the Iswara Samhita, which says that Krishna adorned Ramapriya with the diamond crown fetched by Garuda. Since Selvapillai came to Melkote from the Yadu clan, the hill acquired the name - Yadavachala.

“Among the 108 most sacred places, Yadavagiri (Melkote) is the most powerful - Ashtottara satasthAna sAre Sri Yadu bhUdare,” says Bhattar. But it isn’t one of the 108 Divya Desams, according to Vaishnavite tradition, I point out. Bhattar says that the ‘Orunayakamai’ Tiruvaimozhi pasuram was interpreted by Ramanuja as referring to Melkote. The Eedu commentary justifying this explanation, says that Nammazhwar’s verses are treasures inherited by Ramanuja, and as a legatee, he has the right to use his property as he deems fit, and if this is how he chooses to interpret Nammazhwar’s verse, then so be it. “The Eedu commentary for this pasuram is sung in the Melkote temple by the Araiyar,” says Bhattar.

Details about what flowers to offer, what garments and jewels to use for adornment of the deity are all given in the Samhitas, which serve as ritual manuals for temples. And all those delicacies which we get to eat as temple prasada, are specified in the Samhitas under the title - ‘Bhojyasana.’ Ven Pongal is mudganna (mudga -moong dhal); gudanna- is sarkkarai pongal (guda- jaggery); soopaka- dhal; mareechyadi rasam- pepper rasam; peya- panagam; apoopa- sweets like adirasam, appam and sojjiyappam.

Is it necessary to perform Samprokshanams every 12 years? “It is not mandated in the Pancharatra agamas for temples of divine origin,” says Bhattar.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 2:45:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/an-authority-on-agamas/article7035627.ece

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