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Bhavanarayana Temples – Kshetras – Story Of Bhava Narayana Form Of Bhagavan Vishnu

Bhavanarayana temples or kshetras are sacred Vaishnav spots. Worship of Bhava Narayana, a form of Bhagavan Vishnu is popular in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, and the temples dedicated to this form of Vishnu Bhagavan are found at Sarpavaram, Pattisam, Bhavadevarapalli (named after Him, and simplified as Bhava Devara), Sabbayagudem, Bapatla, Ponnuru, Inumella, Narasaraopet, Amritaluru, Pedda Ganjam and Chinna Ganjam.

Different legends are associated with Bhagavan Bhavanarayana. According to one legend, God came over to Ponnuru to give evidence in favor of a learned person in connection with his marriage, and stayed there. That his legend was popular by the 12th century is confirmed by an inscription found at Ponnuru.

Bhava Narayana Vilasamu, an 18th century literary work on Yakshagana in Telugu, describes this legend in detail, showing its continued popularity.

According to another legend, Bhagavan Vishnu manifested himself in a ‘pala’ (mimusops hexandra) tree in Baptla, also called in inscriptions Bhava-pattu and Bhava-puri, (i.e., the abode of Bhagavan Bhava Narayanba). A third story says that God is also known as Prasanna-Bhava-Narayana as he bestowed his grace on a Chola king. Yet another legend explains Bhava as the name of God. According to the fifth legend, Narayana ‘appeared’ to two pious and knowledgeable persons in their bhava (thuoughts) and hence the name Bhava Narayana.

The epigraphical evidence coming from Baptla and Ponnuru shows that the worship of Bhava Narayana had gained popularity as early as the 11th century CE. Evidence of this is an inscription dated 1023 CE. Many of the inscriptions referring to Bhava Narayana temples record gifts of villagers, gardens, land, cattle and money, not only for burning of ‘akhanda deepas (perpetual lamps), but also for the conduct of services and worship, both daily and on special occasions (anga ranga bhogas). The Bhavanarayana temple at Bapatla became so popular during the 12th century CE that a number of officials, such as Sthanapati, Deva Karmi, Bhandari, Sri Vaishnavulu, Karanalu, Melnayakulu, Pujari (priest) and Sanulu (temple dancers), and Bhogpati were associated with the administration of the temple. Inscriptions from Sarpavaram attest to the popularity of the worship of Bhavanaranaya during the 13th and 14th centuries.

It is interesting to note that iconographical details of the Bhavanarayana image, enshrined in all the temples dedicated to this deity, are not identical. For example, the order of holding the attributes like padma (lotus), chakra (disc), shankha (conch) and gada (club) by Him in different hands vary. At Ponnuru and Numella, Bhagavan has all four attributes while in other place Bhagavan has only three in three hands, while the fourth is either in Abhaya mudra (protection) or Varada mudra (granting of a boon).