Hinduism can broadly be classified into two major sects, Shaivism and Vaishnavism, the former being the followers of Lord Shiva and the later the followers of Lord Vishnu. Vaishnavites, especially from South India, are believed to attain salvation or moksha (freedom from the circle of life and death) if they pay homage to the Lord in the 108 temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. 106 of these are gateway access to the two heavenly abodes. The book 108 Vishnu Temples: Architectural Splendour, Spiritual Bliss by Avey Varghese uncovers the grandeur, austerity and legends of the marvellous temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu through breathtaking pictures and elaborate descriptions. The book also talks about the tales of the 12 great devotees of Lord Vishnu known as the Azhwars, who went from temple to temple singing the praise of the Lord through hymns or pasurams in Tamil that came to be known as Nalayira Divya Prabandham. 84 of the Divya Desams are situated in Tamil Nadu, 11 in Kerala, 2 in Andhra Pradesh, 8 in Northern India and 1 in Nepal.
The book accounts the changing purpose of temples from a sacred place to revitalize spiritual energies to that of a comprehensive institution for discourses, cultural performances and festivals. It also discusses theories regarding the importance of a temple structure, a symbolic representation of God’s form or equating the temple to that of the universe with the deity image as the moving spirit and the peripheral areas of the temple as encircling layers containing the universe. A detailed description about the temple from the location, structural symmetry employed in the construction and intricate details about various layers of the temple are beautifully explained in the book. It also covers the vast difference in architecture along the different states of India.
The 106 temples are mainly characterised into Pancha Ranga Kshetra (reclining form idol of Lord Vishnu), Mukti Sthala (For the purpose of liberation or salvation), Navagraha Parihara Kshetram (dedicated to the 9 principal heavenly bodies influencing man’s life), Pancha Krishna Kshetra (Lord in the form of Krishna), Swayam Vyakta Kshetra (Self manifested and not physically placed by anyone), Vinnagarams (called celestial city by Thirumangai Azhwar), Thirunangur Tirupatis (close association to Thirumangai Azhwar) and so on. The book also highlights the distinctive features of the temples like the mythological story behind every temple. For example in Sri Oppiliappan temple, the food offering is bereft of salt and in some temples the Goddess takes priority. Some temples like the Thirukkandiyur in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu house the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma whereas Thirukkundanthai (Kumbakonam, TN) apart from being a Vishnu temple is also known as Bhaskara Kshetram bringing together the Shaivite and Vaishnavite faiths.
The beautiful photos of the Sri Rangam Temple in Trichy (TN), the largest in India and considered the most important of the 108 temples captures the magnanimity and the amazing artwork of the temple.
Picturesque photos of famous Divya Deshams like Thiru Salagramam (Nepal), Thiru Dwaraka (Dwaraka), Thirubadhari Ashramam (Uttarakhand), Sri Villiputhoor (TN) and Thiruvenkadam (Tirupati) catches the eye of the reader. The book is also a perfect handbook to know some of the lesser-known temples like the Thiruvazhunthoor, Thirukkannapuram, Thiru Manimada Kovil and Astabuyagaram in Tamil Nadu.