A Divya Desam or Vaishnava Divya Desam is one of the 108 Vishnu temples that are mentioned in the works of the Alvars (saints).
Alvars and Divyaprabhanda
The word azhwar in Tamil, means one who immerses oneself into the ocean of the countless attributes of god.
Azhwars are considered the twelve supreme devotees of Vishnu, who were instrumental in popularising Vaishnavism during the 5th-8th centuries AD.
The religious works of these saints in Tamil, songs of love and devotion, are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham containing 4000 verses and the 108 temples revered in their songs are classified as Divya desam.
The saints had different origins and belonged to different castes. As per tradition, the first three azhwars (mudhal azhwargal ), Poigai Azhwar, Bhutha Azhwar and Pey azhwar were said to be born out of divinity.
According to these texts, the saints were considered incarnations of some form of Vishnu. Poigai is considered an incarnation of Panchajanya (Krishna’s conch), Bhoothath of Kaumodakee (Vishnu’s Mace/Club), Pey Azhwar of Nandaka (Vishnu’s sword), Thirumalisai of Sudarshanam (Vishnu’s discus), Namm of Vishvaksena (Vishnu’s commander), Madhurakavi of Vainatheya (Vishnu’s eagle, Garuda), Kulasekhara of Kaustubha (Vishnu’s necklace), Periy of Garuda (Vishnu’s eagle), Andal of Bhoodevi (Vishnu’s wife, Lakshmi, in her form as Bhudevi), Thondaradippodi of Vanamaalai (Vishnu’s garland), Thiruppaan of Srivatsa(An auspicious mark on Vishnu’s chest) and Thirumangai of Sarangam (Krishna’s bow).
The songs of Prabandam are regularly sung in all the Vishnu temples of South India daily and also during festivals.
”Divya” means “extremely good” and “Desam” indicates “place of worship” (temple).Of the 108 temples, 105 are in India, one is in Nepal, and last two are believed to be outside the Earthly realms.
In India, they are spread over states of Tamil Nadu (85), Kerala (11), Andhra Pradesh (2), Gujarat (1), Uttar Pradesh (4), Uttarakhand (3). Muktinath, Saligramam is the only Divya Desam in Nepal.
The last two are Thirupparkadal and Parama padam. Tirupalkaddal is the ocean of milk and paramapadam is the Vaikuntha where Lord Vishnu presides.
The Divya Desams are revered by the 12 Alvars in the Divya Prabandha, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses. Divya Desams follow Thenkalai or Vadakalai modes of worship.
Significance of Divya Desams
In Hindu texts, Srirangam is referred to as Bhooloka Vaikuntam, which in Sanskrit means Vaikuntam on earth.
Each of the Divya Desam has its own significance related to Shri Vaishnava Mythology. Each of these Temples had separate shrines for the Supreme Lord Maha Vishnu and Maha Lakshmi.
List of Divya Desams
The 108 earthly Divya Desam temples are spread over the Indian states of Tamil Nadu (85), Kerala (11), Uttar Pradesh (4), Uttarakhand (3), Andhra Pradesh (2) and Gujarat (1), and Country of Nepal(1)- Muktinath. The last two are believed to be outside earthly realms.
The Divyadesams are revered by the 12 Azhvars in the Divya Prabandha, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses. While most Divyadesams follow Thenkalai mode of worship, some follow Vadakalai too among others.
The Divyadesams can be divided into 7 categories:
Thondai Naadu temples
Chozha Naadu temples
Nadu Naadu Temples
Pandiya Naadu Temples
Malayala Naadu temples
Vadu Naadu Temples
The idols of Lord Vishnu in these Divyadesams can be found in 3 positions:
Kidantha Thirukkolam ( Sleeping Position ) – 27 Divya desams
Veetrirundha Thirukkolam ( Sitting Position ) – 21 Divya desams
Nindra Thirukkolam ( Standing Position ) – 60 Divya desams
In these 108 Divyadesams, the Lord Vishnu can be seen facing one of the four directions: east, north, south and west.
On this basis, the Divyadesams can be classified as:
Towards East direction – 79 Divya desams Towards West direction – 19 Divya desams Towards North direction – 3 Divya desams Towards South direction – 7 Divya desams
List of 108 Divya Desam Temples
North India and Andhra Pradesh
Tirumala Venkateswara Temple – AP
Ahobilam – AP
Muktinath, Saligramam, Nepal
Naimisaranya – UP
Mathura – UP
Gokul – UP
Raghunathji Temple – UTK
Badrinath temple -UTK
Jyotirmath (Joshimutt) – UTK
Ayodhya – UP
Dwarka – Gujarat