Most people only know about the Venkateshwara form of Vishnu (AKA Balaji or Srinivasa) in connection to the deity of the world-renowned Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati. But that is not the first time that Vishnu has come to earth in his Venkateshwara form. He came earlier as Upilliappan, the deity of the Upilliappan Vishnu Temple near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, in order to marry Bhumadevi, daughter of sage Markandeya, who was an incarnation of Vishnu's wife Lakshmi. Markandeya was hesitant, since his daughter was so young that she didn't even know how to put salt in her cooking, but Vishnu said that he was willing to eat without salt, for which he came to be known as Upilliappan or the lord without salt.

But my question isn't about the story of Upilliappan, but rather about the statue itself:

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As you can see, there is writing on his (lower) right hand. It says "Mam Ekam Saranam Vraja", which is part of a famous verse of the Bhagavad Gita:

sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja |

ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ ||

Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.

Sri Vaishnavas call this verse the Charama Shloka, and it is one of the Rahasya Traya or three secrets of Sri Vaishnavism, because it explains the path to Moksha known as Saranagati or Prapatti, which involves surrendering to the lotus feet of Vishnu. Since Upilliappan has a part of the Charama Shloka written on his right hand, pointed toward his feet indicating to devotees where to surrender, he is known as the lord of Saranagati.

But my question is, why does Upilliappan alone have "Mam Ekam Saranam Vraja" written on his hand? Why don't other Vishnu statues have it? In particular, why is it that the famous Venkateshwara deity in Tirupati, who also has his right hand pointed toward his feet, does not have the words written on his hand?

Did Upilliappan have the words on his hand when he came to Earth, or were they later written on his hand by humans? If the latter, when were they written? As I discuss in this answer, the Vaishnava saint Nammalwar talks in one of his poems about uniting with the lotus feet of Upilliappan. Is this a result of "Mam Ekam Saranam Vraja" being written on his hand, or were the words written later to reflect the sentiment of Nammalwar's poem?

  • good question. I really love that statement by God Sri Krishna :). Surrender and be happy. Nothing matters after all because nothing is ours anyway. Thank you for sharing the link. – Sai Feb 18 '15 at 17:18
  • @Sai Thanks! Yeah, it is a beautiful verse. And it only adds to its beauty when it's written on Vishnu's right hand while his hand is in the Varada Hasta pose, urging devotees to surrender to his lotus feet. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 18 '15 at 17:50
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    @Sai By the way, what you said in regard to "surrender and be happy" and "nothing is ours anyway" reminds me of the first verse of the Isha Upanishad: "All this, whatever moves on earth, is to be hidden in the Lord. When you have surrendered all this, then you may enjoy. Do not covet the wealth of any man!" (The last line means you don't need to feel jealous of other people's wealth, because it doesn't belong to them anyway.) – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 18 '15 at 17:54
  • @KeshavSrinivasan - Same is taught in Shrimadbhagwatgeeta maam ekam sharanam iti vraja, Shri kirshna tells arjuna to become completly sharangat(Surrender) to him. – Yogi May 22 '15 at 4:11
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    @Creator Well, it's about both. It's about understanding that the Universe is pervaded by the supreme lord, and that therefore you should surrender the entire Universe to the lord (for it is his anyway) and thereby be happy. And don't envy the wealth of others (for it isn't theirs anyway). – Keshav Srinivasan May 22 '15 at 9:45

Very old image of Sri uppiliappan perumal

This is a quite an old image of Sri Uppiliappan perumal, which is present at our home as well, and it does not have the "Charama sloka" printed on the right palm of the perumal. It might be that, his palm facing us indicating the sloka implicitly(which is why tirumalai perumual doesn't have the sloka on his right palm) and like you said, his fingers pointing down indicates where to surrender. But when it was written and why are good questions. We have to visit the temple and seek those history.

  • Agreeing with this answer, at some point, some creative baktha's work/idea has caught like fire and now many Perumal in many temples have this in his hands. :) – Narayanan Aug 31 '15 at 10:18
  • @Narayanan What other Vishnu temples have Mam Ekam Saranam Vraja written on the hand? – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 6 '15 at 12:09
  • @KeshavSrinivasan, today I had dharshan of Sri Yennai Petra Thayar accompanied by Sri Bakthavatsala Perumal at Thiruninravur. I could see the hand of perumal which is in abhaya hastam has these words written. – Narayanan Mar 20 '16 at 15:50

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