Ramanuja, a Vaishnava master from the fourteenth century was an expert in Pancharatra books . These books discuss worship procedures which are prevalent for millennia in the Indian subcontinent. Worship practices in temples in Tamil Nadu had deteriorated into confusion. Consequently, Ramanuja took up the study of Pancharatra texts with a view to bring structure in temple practices. Psychologists understand now that human can relate more easily with the world of forms than the world of pure abstractions. Centuries earlier, Pancharatra texts recognized this basic tenet of human psychology. Ultimately, any form of worship is related to the supreme divine who is formless. However, the center piece of any temple worship is a representation of this formless divine. Pancharatra texts suggest five distinct representations., or modes of invoking the powers of the formless into relatable structures.
The first mode is the “Sthandila“. This refers to a small piece of land which is worthy of holding the divine presence, momentarily. Per this rule, Vedic priest construct the fire altar used in Yagnas in a carefully chosen spots of land or “Sthandila”. Ancient Yogis and Siddhars used their divination skills to choose worship spots. Gradually, temple structures arose during historic centuries in these spots. One fact substantiates this, namely, a Rishi is the original founder for one third of historic temples in South India. Secondly, fifty one Shakti Stalas found across India are natural energy spots. The Puranas describe them to be the place where the mother divine’s energy descended. Temples arose in each of the Shakti Sthalas today.
The other modes of worship
The second mode of worship involves as Yantra. A Yantra is often located beneath the Murthy or the stone sculpture at the central spot in temples. A Yantra, such as the Sri Yantra, is a geometric design. It powers the main idol in temples. The Yantra, also called the “Mandala”, forms the second mode of invoking divinity according to Pancharatra texts.
The third mode of worship involves a Kumbha or Kalasha. A Kalasha is a common sight in Hindu worship rituals. A water filled pitcher with a coconut covering its mouth is a Kalasha. Divine energy increases in a Kalasha when experts chant Vedic mantras in its vicinity. This energy is transferrable. For example, pouring the water from a kalasha on an idol is a common practice. The custom of renewing the energy of a Murthy prevails in major temples to this day. This ceremony, the Brahmotsava, is a mandatory annual festival in popular temples. The specialty of this ceremony, is the use of many such Kalashas. “Kumbha” or the water pitcher is the third mode of invoking the divinity.
The origin or Pancharatra tradition
An “Archa” or Murty or an idol is the fourth mode of invoking the divinity. However, this today is synonymous Hindu worship. This was not the case at the beginning of Pancharatra tradition. The Pancharatra tradition began during the time of Krishna, an Avatar of the divine. Historians say that texts related to temple worship likely proliferated in the past fourteen centuries. Consequently these texts became an amalgam of the science of township planning and temple architecture. However, the principles of Vastu Shastra or designing townships developed in the ancient cities of the Harappan civilization between 6000 BCE and 3000 BCE per historians such as Fergusson, Cunningham and Havell.