The 108 Divya Desam Temples


S Balakrishnan
The Vaishnavaites consider 108 Vaishnav Temples as the most sacred among all the temples dedicated to Lord Shri Narayana. Hence these are known as 108 Divya (Sacred) Desams (Shrines/kshetram). It is so because these 108 temples have been sung in praise by 12 Vaishnavaite Saints called ‘Alwars’. These 12 Alwars have composed 4,000 Tamil verses in praise of Lord Narayana; this collection is called Naalayira (4,000) Divya Prabandham. These 12 Saint singers, while having darshan in the various shrines of Lord Narayanan, have sung praising the presiding deity of 108 temples which is called ‘Mangalasasanam’.  Hence these 108 Vaishnavite shrines are revered as the most sacred Vaishnavite shrines with the nomenclature “108 Divya Desams”.
Many Vaishanavite devotees take it upon themselves to darshan all these 108 Divya Desams at least once in their lifetime. Of these 108 shrins, 84 are in Tamil Nadu, 11 in Kerala (including the Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram), 2 in Andhra (including the Thirupathi‹ Thirumalai Sri Balaji Temple), 1 in Gujarat  (Dwaraka), 4 in UP (including the Sri Rama Temple in Ayodhya), 3 in Uttarkhand (Devaprayag, Joshimutt, Badrinath) and 1 in Nepal (Salagram/Mukthinath), the only one outside India. But there are two outside our mortal world ‹  the Milky Ocean, the celestial abode of Shri Narayana, and Sri Vaikundam, considered the heaven by Vaishnavaite devotees, in contrast to Shivlok, the heaven for Saivaite devotees. Of course, there is Yama Lok/ Narak Lok, the hell, reserved for sinners of both the sects. So, one can darshan only 106 Divya Desams in this life; the other two only after death and only if you are a Vaishnavite and a good soul at that! In olden days, when kings were ruling the land, the Divya Desams were classified into six regions, as ruled by various dynasties: Chera Nadu, Chola Nadu, Pandya Nadu, Pallava Nadu, Vada (North) Nadu (land/region), Vinnulaga (celestal) Divya Desams. I thought the Puri Jagannath Temple would also be one among these 108 sacred shrines, but no.
Srirangm (near Thiruchi in Tamil Nadu) is considered the first, foremost and the most important of all the 106 Divya Desams in this world, and hence praised as Bhoologa Vaikundam. The presiding deity of this temple is Sri Ranganathar.  Srirangam temple is considered the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world as it is spread across 156 acres of land in an islet formed by River Cauvery and its tributary Kollidam.
In this respect, I envy my cousin’s wife, Smt. Kamatchi Sankaran, who, despite being a Saivaite, had visited all the 106 Divya Desams. As a humble Vaishnavite devotee, the only option I had was to visit an on‹ the‹ move 108 Divya Desam expo in Chennai. The deities of all these Divya Desams were displayed under one roof for a ticketed darshan. They even had wheelchairs for the aged & differently‹ abled.  Milking the gullible devotees! But I could also darshan the two celestial Divya Desams even before death!
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