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The Alwars (also spelled Azhwars) are a group of 12 ancient Vaishnava saints who lived in Tamil Nadu and are famous for their poetry in praise of Vishnu. The 4000 verses of the Alwars were compiled by the Vaishnava Acharya Nathamuni into a book called the Naalayira Divya Prabhandam, which is considered by many to be the "Dravida Veda", or South Indian Veda. The Alwars are crucially important figures in the history of Vaishnavism; it is the principles and beliefs embodied in the Alwars' poems that Nathamuni used to found what we now call the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member).

Now as I discuss in this question, Sri Vaishnavas believe that the Alwars are incarnations of various attendants and attributes of Vishnu; for instance the Alwar Nammalwar is considered to be an incarnation of Vishwaksena, the general of Vishnu's army. And as I discuss here, the first four Sri Vaishnava Acharyas are believed to be incarnations of various attendants of Vishvaksena, and Ramanujacharya is believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu's serpent Adiseshan as I discuss here. But now I'm interested in another Sri Vaishnava Acharya, Vedanta Desikan.

Vedanta Desikan was a prolific author, composing works like the Rahasyatraya Sara which I discuss here. And although the split between Thenkalais and Vadakalais (which I discuss in this answer) didn't exist in his day, it was Vedanta Desikan's views that would ultimately form the basis of Vadakalai Sri Vaishnavism. In any case, Sri Vaishnavas believe that Vedanta Desikan is an incarnation of the bell found in the shrine of the world-renowned Tirumala Venkateshwara temple in Tirupati. The story is told in this web page:

As ordered by the Lord of Tiruvenkatam and Padmavati Thayar, the couple went on a pilgrimage to Tirumalai. The Lord appeared in their dreams in the garb of a Srivaishnava youth and handed over a small golden bell which Totaramba swallowed. Next morning, when they compared notes, they were astonished to find how both of them had the same dream which concurred in every detail. As the Archaka opened the doors of the Sanctum Sanctorum, he found the bell missing. During an investigation ordered into the loss of the bell, the Lord appeared by Avesa (spiritual trance) on Tirumalai Nambi and told that He had himself presented the bell to the Ananthasuri couple and thenceforward, the small hand- bell need not be used in the Tiruvaradhana in the temple. Even today. when the Naivedyam is offered to the lord, IT IS ONLY THE HUGE BELL suspended in the front hall that is being rung.

Indeed, to this day, there is no bell that is rung inside the shrine of Venkateshwara. So my question is, what is the earliest reference to this story of Vedanta Desikan being an incarnation of Venkateshwara's bell? Do the records of the Tirupati temple mention this incident of the bell disappearing?

Also, on a side note what's the origin of this bell? Was it a divine bell that Vishnu brought with him when he came to Earth as Venkateshwara? Or is it man-made? I'm assuming it's divine, but are there any scriptures that mention this bell?

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Swami Vedanta Desikan (1268 A.D -1369 A.D) himself records the event of his birth as divine bell of Lord Srinivasa or Venkateshwara in his own work, Sankalpa Suryodaya 1.14

Swami Kumara Varadacharya (1316 - 1410 A.D), son of Swami Desikan, in his work called "Vedanta Desika mangalam" says the following :

venkaTeSaavatArO ayam tadghaNTaamSo athavA bhavet | yatIndrAmSo athavetyevam vitarkyAyAstu mangaLam ||

Meaning: Swamy Desikan is indeed the avathAram of Lord VenkatEsa. Some say that SwAmy Desikan is the incarnation of the divine bell of the Lord Srinivasa of Tirumala. SwAmy Desikan was also considered by a few as the amsam of Yathiraja (Sri Ramanujacharya) May all mangalams (all auspiciousness) come the way of this Venkatesha Ghantaavathara!

Again in another work called “Pillai andhadi”, Swami Kumara varadacharya (Son of Swami Desikan) says:

anRi ivvulakinaiyAkki arum poruL nUl viriththu

ninRu thannIL pukazh vEnkata mAmali mEviyum pin

venRip pugazhth thiruvEngkatanAthanenum guruvAi

ninRu nikazhnthu maNmEl ninRa nOykaL tahvirththananE

MEANING: SarvEsvara was saddened by the chethanas, which looked like insentient during maha pralaya and gave the jeevas , bodies and Jnaendriyas and created them. Afterwards, He gave them the sasthras to serve as hand lamps to prevent them from entering inauspicious paths. Even then He found that the chethanas did not develop true knowledge and therefore He took the archA form and stood on top of the Tiruvenkata hills, so that the samsaris can see Him with their physical eyes and escape the cruelties of samsAra. The recidivism of the samsAris interfered with their salvation and then the Lord incarnated as Venkatanatha (Swami Desikan) at ThUppul (in kanchipuram) and instructed the world with his Sri Sookthis and pointed the right path with his upadEsams. Thereafter, the chethanas of the world were blessed, travelled on the Godly path and were saved for once and for all through the performance of Prapatthi/saranagati.

In Saptati Ratna malika, Swami Prativadi Bhayankara Annan (1300 AD -1400 AD) (author of the famous Venkatesha suprabhatam, who was a direct disciple of Swami Desikan’s son, Swami Kumara Varadachaya and who later on went on to become one of the principle disciples of Swami Manavala Mamunigal(1370 A.D - 1443 A.D) says the following:

bhAadrapadamAsagata viShNuvimalarkshe

venkaTa mahIdhrapati tIrthadinabhUte |

prAdurabavat jagati daitya ripughaNTaa

hanta kavitArkika mrgendra gurumUrtyA |

Meaning : On a Bhadrapada Sukla paksha, Sravana star day celebrating the theerthavari associated with the BrahmOthsvam of Lord Venteshwara of Tirumala, the divine bell of the Lord incarnated as an acharya of par excellence known as KavitArkika Simham because of his unsurpassable skills as a poet and logician.

Swami Doddacharya (1509-1591 A.D), also known as Mahacharya, who is also considered as a famous Tengalai Sri Vaishnava Acharya, in his work “Vedanta Desika vaibhava prakasika” stotram says the following about swami Desikan’s avatara:

venkaTeSasya sankalpAd viSvAmitrakulAmbudhau |

ghaNTAavatIrNA yanmUrtyA tam deSikavaram bhaje ||

Meaning : I pray to that great Acharyan (Swami Desikan) , assuming whose form, the bell of Lord of Tiruvenkatachala incarnated as VenkaTanatha in the lineage of Visvamitra through the will (sankalpa) of Lord Venkatesha.

Dr.Satyavrat Singh in his work, "Vedanta Desika – His life, Work and Philosophy" says:

The divine bell incarnation episode has been immortalized in the practice of no bell being used; at the shrine of Tirumala (the book was published in 1958, at the latest)

When the naivedhyam is offered to Lord Venkateshwara, it is only the huge bell suspended in front hall of Tirumala temple that is rung.

Whether this practice of not using the bell inside sanctum sanctorum of Tirumala temple,may or may not be in vogue, currently.

But it is absolutely very clear from above works that Swami Desikan was considered as amsa of Lord Venkatesha of Tirumala and also considered popularly as Vishnu ghanta avatara (The divine bell of Lord Vishnu/Venkateshwara) and also considered as an avatara of Sri Ramanujacharya

  • Thanks for your answer! Do you know what the earliest reference is to the Tirupati temple bell going missing/not being used? Also, do you know anything about the origin of the bell? Was it a manmade bell or did Vishnu bring it from Vaikunta when he came down in his Vimanam? – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 18 '15 at 15:46
  • @Keshav - i am not sure what is earliest reference to tirumala bell missing. The divine bell could be the divine bell in Vaikunta as well as the divine bell of tirumala temple, just, like Lord Vishnu is present in vaikunta as well as on Tirumala – user808 Oct 18 '15 at 16:02
  • By the way, I just posted a question about Vishvaksena: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/9057/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 18 '15 at 16:09

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