Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Vigraha included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Vigraha


General information.

God, who is not discernible to the outward senses, is given embodiment and consecrated in places of worship by people. These figures are called Vigrahas (idols or images). People worship Śālagrāma, (a kind of ammonite found in the river Gaṇḍakī), Bāṇaliṅga (Phallus), mystical diagrams, animals, birds, trees, rivers, lakes, places of death etc. and so many other things.

The different kinds of Vigrahas.

Vigrahas are of three groups. They are:—(1) Mysterious (2) Evident-mysterious (3) Evident. Śālagrāma, Phallus etc. belong to the group mysterious. The Mukhaliṅga, considered to be the image of Trimūrti (Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva) in the Elephanta cave, belongs to the group Evident. The image of Phallus is Evident-mysterious. In the first, there is no form or figure. In the second there are parts of the figure. The image which shows the entire figure is Evident.

Some gods and goddesses possess two appearances, peaceful and fierce. Those who wish to succeed in performing cruel deeds and to vanquish enemies, worship fierce gods whereas those who wish for peace, worship peaceful Gods. Viśvarūpa, (assuming all shapes), Narasiṃha (the man-lion), Vaṭapatraśāyī (as lying on banyan-leaf) and Paraśurāma are fierce forms of Viṣṇu. Destroying Kāma (cupid) Gaja and Tripura are fierce forms of Śiva worshipped by some people. Generally temples with images in this form are erected outside the village or city.

Owing to the differences, in the making and the materials used, the images are divided into three groups. They are portraits, Half-portraits and corrupted portraits. The whole of the figure will be made in (portraits) citras. In half-citras only the front view will be completed. Corrupted Citras are images done on the wall or rock.

Main images.

Main images are mostly Śaivite or Vaiṣṇavite. There will be one or two other images. Worship of Devī (Goddess) is one of them. The Śaivites will worship Pārvatī also after Śiva and the Vaiṣṇavites Mahālakṣmī also after Viṣṇu In South India the worshippers are Śaivites and Vaiṣṇavites.


In India a large number of people worship Śiva. There is not much difference in the mode of worship of these various people. There are worships which are in accordance with the Vedas and which are not. Forms of worship which are Sāttvika (of goodness) and which are not, could be seen. The Śaiva worship called Paraśupada is very ancient. The phallus at Guḍimalla is considered to be as old as B.C. 2nd century. From this it could be inferred how old, the Śaivite worship is in India.

The Śaivite images.

Of the emblems denoting Śiva, the most important is the Phallus, which is of two kinds, movable and immovable. Risen by itself and or erected and set firm and consecrated inside temples are immovable; that which is made of earth, metal, jewel, wood or stone, is movable. There are Phalluses made for the time being. They are fixed on platforms or pedestals. They are of different sizes and shapes. The Phallus is made of male stone and the pedestal of female stone.

The portions of Śiva.

There are various kinds of images meant to reveal various attributes of Śiva. Liṅgodbhava (originated from Phallus), Candraśekhara, Raudra, Umāsaṃhita (with Umā) etc. are some of them. Kāmāntaka (killing Kāma or Cupid), Gajāri (enemy of Gaja), Kālāri (Enemy of Yama) and Tripuradāhaka (burning Tripura) are figures of extermination. Śiva has the figures of blessing Caṇḍeśa, Viṣṇu, Nandīśvara, Vighneśa and Arjuna also. There are a large number of images in various dancing poses.

There are four other figures of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, such as the explanation, knowledge, yoga (or meditation, contemplation and other ways of union with the Universal Soul) and Vīṇādhara (carrying a lute). A few other forms are Bhikṣāṭaka (begging alms), Kapāladhārī (wearing skulls), Gaṅgādhara (bearing the Gaṅges), Ardhanārīśvara (God half of whom is a woman), Vṛṣabhavāhana (seated on a bull), Viṣabhakṣaka (eating poison) etc. The figures of Sadāśiva, Maheśa, Ekādaśarudras (eleven Rudras), Vidyeśvara and Mūrtyaṣṭaka are seen occasionally here and there. There are scriptures describing these figures.

The Devas (gods) connected with Śiva.

Among the gods connected with Śiva, first place is given to Gaṇapati. Worship of Gaṇapati was in vogue from 6th or 7th century B.C. Perhaps the images that we see today were made after this period.

In South India temples dedicated to Gaṇapati are not scarce. The position of Gaṇapati is at the entrance of villages and fortresses, at the foot of banyan trees, at the entrance of temples and at the south-west corner of Śaivite temples.

There are images of Gaṇapati in the postures of standing and dancing. Main images are those with the trunk turned to the right and to the left. The trunk is turned to the right in some and to the left in others.


Subrahmaṇya is worshipped only in South India. Subrahmaṇya is known by various names such as Kumāra, Muruka, Kārttikeya, Skanda, Ārumukha, Guha, and so on. Temples dedicated to Subrahmaṇya are seen in plenty in Tamil Nadu. They are all situated on the tops of hills.

There is sufficient proof in the poetic works of the Saṅgha period, to the fact that Subrahmaṇya-worship was prevalent in South India. On excavation at the place Nāgārjunakoṇḍa in the District of Guntur, images of Subrahmaṇya were found under the earth. They were as old as 3rd century B.C.

Images of Subrahmaṇya are seen in various postures and shapes such as sitting, with six faces, with one face, with two hands, with four hands, sometimes with wife, in the state of having finished investiture with the Brahma-string etc. There are figures sitting on the peacock also.

Other images.

Images of Śakti, Lakṣmī, Earth-goddess, Sarasvatī, Saptamātṛs (Seven Mothers), Jyeṣṭhā, Viṣṇu, the ten incarnations, the planets such as the sun etc. the deities of the weapon like the thunderbolt, Śakti (lance), Nandikeśvara, Caṇḍeśvara, Śāstā, Kṣetrapāla, Brahmā, Guardians of the zones, Aśvinīdevas, half gods, etc. are also dedicated and worshipped in temples.

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