(Discourse by N. R. Srinivasan – August 2012)
Before commencing any ritual Vaishnavites start the ritual with the following invocation prayer:
Suklaambharadaram Vishnum sasivarnam chaturbhujam |
Prasaanna vadanam Dhaayet sarva vighnopa shantaye ||
Yasya dvirada vaktraadyaah paarishadyaah parassadam
Vighnam nighnanti satatam Vishwaksenam tamaasraye||
In the beginning there was only darkness. Vishnu appeared on the horizon and filled the world with light. He took three steps—Dawn, noon and dusk. He was called Trivikrama. With light came out (Rita) order and with order came Life.
“Idam vishnur vichakrame tredha nidadha padam samoolahamasya paamsure” (Rigveda 1.22.17)—Vishnu strode through all this world; He planted his foot thrice; The whole was gathered in his footsteps’ dust (which are the all-embracing sun’s rays).
Rigveda, mentions Vishnu, the all-pervading sun, partner Indra, the god of thunder and rain, as well as Devas; they had to fight Vrittra, the demon of drought, who is finally killed by Indra. This Indra needed a commander-in chief.
Vishwaksena or “the all-conquering” is an aspect of Vishnu. He occupies the same position as Ganesha in the Saivite tradition (sampradaaya). He is worshipped at the beginning of any undertaking to avoid all obstacles.
According to Aagam Samhita his idol is to be installed in the north-east corner of the temple. He is installed in all Vishnu Temples. He is seen with four hands wearing conch (Sankha), discus (chakra) and mace (gada) in three hands and fourth exhibiting (tarjaneemudra) threatening finger pose to represent his position as a commander. He is also sometimes depicted as the gate-keeper or chief attendant of Lord Vishnu. He represents worldly sciences and is also shown standing on a white lotus and with long matted hair and beard as a Rishi. He does not have Srivatsa mark on his chest or the sacred thread like Vishnu. He is seated on a throne on a chariot of flowers with his right leg bent and left leg stretched down. He wears yellow garments and is lustrous like fire. Sometimes he is accompanied by his consort, Varaahi, as given in Kaalikaa puraana. Pancharatra Samhitas include Viswaksena Samhita.
Vishwaksena controls the finances of the temple and Vishnu approves whatever Vishwaksena submits to him. He attends on Vishnu whenever he goes out of temple. He rules by proxy all over the world.
It is the practice in Conjeevaram, Srirangam, Tirupati and Guruvyur Temples to take out in procession the idol of Vishwaksena first after the customary Pooja, a day prior to Brahmotsava festival, when the Utsavamoorti (Bronze idol) goes out in procession. This is done so that Vishwaksena may supervise all arrangements and report the same to the Lord. He is believed to clear the route of the procession of all evil forces as the pilot before the procession.
The association of Vishwaksena with Vishnu is very ancient. Patanjali whose period dates back to few centuries before Christ mentions three leaders of Vrishni Clan as Vaasudeva, Balarama and Vishwaksena. In the Srivaishnava tradition he occupies the third place—Vishnu, Lakshmi and Vishwaksena. He is regarded as custodian of worn flowers of Vishnu (Nirmaalya-dhaari). His birth date is in Bhadrapada month in Poorvaashaadhaa constellation (Nakshatra).
In mythology, once Indra sent a Nymph Kutalaa to distract and entice the sage Durvaasa who is reputed for his fit of temper on slightest provocation. Angered Durvaasa at the disturbance of his penance cursed her to be born as huntress on earth. She was born to the hunter chieftain Veerabaahu. Her name was Suvarchalaa. She married Dharmaputra. But Varuna clandestinely loved her and as an outcome Vishwaksena was born. The child had golden complexion, wide eyes and his hands were marked by the symbols of conch, sword and bow. He studied Saastras under sage Kashyapa. He went to Vrishabhaadri Mountains, present day Tirumalai Hills and performed severe penance for twelve years. Pleased by his penance and devotion, Vishnu made him commander of his forces (ganas), Senaadhipati at Vaikuntham. He was then on called Vaikuntha Senani, Sarvaganaadhyaksha.
Sage Kaasyapa was the first among the ancient sages. Celestials, non-celestials, human beings, all may be traced back to him. Jnana means Drisya. Therefore Hindu philosophies are called Darsanas. Kasyapa visualized the Truth and therefore he was called Pasyaka, one who saw. Pasyaka became Kasyapa.
In Tamil, a seer is called Paarpanan, meaning one who knows the Truth or Reality. Brahmins in the Tamilnadu came to be called Paarpanans. Later EVR Periyar and his followers used this term in a pejorative sense raising slogans. Of course some of the rich Brahmin Zamindars were very haughty and ill treated their servants and brought lot of blasphemy to the once venerated community. In Mythology Kasyapa had a wife called Kadru who gave birth to snakes. There are eighteen subsidiary Smritis called Upasmritis. Kasyapa is one of their authors. The 18 authors are: Jaabaali, Naachiketas, Skanda, Laugaaksi, Kaasyapa, Vyaasa, Santkumaara, Santanu, Janaka, Vyaaghra, Kaatyaayana, Jaatukarnya, Kapilaanjala, Baudhaayana, Kaanada, Visvaamitra, Paitheenasa and Gobhila.
Being an illustrious student of this great sage Kashyapa, Eternal Tradition shows how ancient Vishwaksena, his ardent student was as a divinity of the Vedic period associated with Trivikrama. In earlier iconographic representation he was shown like Vishnu with four hands with Discus and Conch but without the Srivatsa Chinha (mark), Conch and holy thread (Janhu). When later Ganesha as the Ganapati of Siva (Leader of his Ganas) dominated the field, some wise Brahmins also made him identified with an elephant head and tusk as is Vishwaksena seen today amongst minor deities in some Vaishnava Temples. In Tamilnadu he is popularly called Tumbuikkai Azhwar (Azhwar with an elephant trunk) joining the galaxy of Tamil Vaishnava Saints of all castes and creed. Generally very orthodox Brahmins do not worship any idol of Saiva Sampradaya nor visit any Saiva or Sakta Temples. However they do not mind paying their obeisance to Lord Ganesha as in their concept he is their Thumbikkai Azhwar.
Vishnusahasranam in its invocation starts with the slokas above and also pays tribute Vedavyasa, son of Parasara who is the real author of Mahabharata, Bhagavadgeetaa and Vishnusahasraranama, who preferred to keep his name away from these Holy Scriptures.
Puraanas mention of several Ganapatis. Ganesha, the Saivites worship is known as Ekadanta or one with single tusk. Under the command of Vishwaksena who keeps vigil on Paramapada there are hundreds of elephant headed commanders having two tusks as well as several horse headed commanders. They all wear Urdhwapundram or Srivaishnava Naamam unlike Ganesha idols. Mundaka Upanishad mentions of Laksmi Ganapati worship for attaining salvation in the awakened state. This Lakshmi-Ganapati is Sri Vishnu himself with Urdhwa Pundram. Hence often Vishwaksena is confused with Ganesha of single tusk, son of Paarvati of puranic lore. Syamantaka jewel story is also distorted to mean Ganesha, the son of Paarvati according to Chinna Jeer, the head of the Tengalai Vaishnavites.
1. Prof. S.K.Ramachndra, Vishnu Kosha, Kalpataru Research Academy, Shringeri Sharada Peetham, Bangalore.
2. T.K.Mukundan, A Concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
3. Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
4. Nandita Krishna, Balaji—Venkateshwara, Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai, India.
5. Jagadguru Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, Kanchi Kaamkoti Peetham, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai