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Archa Avatara In Hinduism

In Hinduism, Archa Avatara is the consecrated image that is worshipped in a Hindu temple, especially dedicated to Bhagavan Vishnu. It is one of the five forms of Vishnu. The others are – para (the highest), vyuha (emanation), vibhav avatara (manifestation), and antaryamin (the inner controller).

It is to the archa form that all prayers, acts of devotion and whole-hearted surrender are directed. All the theistic schools of Vedanta attach great importance to the arch aspect of Bhagavan, which is God living in this mundane world so as to redeem the suffering humanity.

Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra Agamas extol the greatness of the archa form of Bhagavan Vishnu and his entourage. All the temple liturgies are centered around the images of the deities. The Agama texts give elaborate details about the preparation of the murtis by a qualified artisan. Great importance is attached to the ‘pleasant, benevolent, and beautiful’ sculpting of the images. The artisans commissioned for this purpose are required to be pure in thought, word, and deed, right from the stage of selecting the material fore preparing the images up to the stage of finishing the images fit for handling them over to the chief priest for installation.

The Srivaishnavas of South India stress image worship almost to the exclusion of other aspects of the deity. Srivacanabhushana of Sri Pillai Lokacharya highlights the supremacy and easy accessibility of the archa form through a beautiful simile. The para form is like the waters surrounding the cosmic egg; the vibhava form is like a flash flood; the antaryamin is like the subsoil water; and the archavatara is like a pool of water that can be scooped up by anybody on the river bank.

The Srivaishnavas in South India make it a point to live, as much as possible, near a temple of Bhagavan Vishnu wherein his consecrated image is installed. The ardent belief of the Srivaishnavas is that the stuff out of which the image was made, whether it be clay, wood, metal, or picture, is metamorphosed into spiritual material. Agamas declare that not only the images but also the temple and every part of it, including the brick and mortar, become spiritualized due to the power of installation backed by divine grace. Thereafter, one is obliged to refer to Bhagavan Vishnu in the temple, but not to the image made of such and such material.