Creating a Saiva Vaishnava Divide in Tamil Nadu

Left Shiv mandir Brihadesvara. Right Vishnu temple Srirangam.
  • This photo article includes, did followers of Siva and Vishnu fights wars of supremacy, examples of Siva & Vishnu co-existing in TN temples, briefly about Saivism & Vaishnavism And political angle to creating divide. 

An earlier article asked Were Cholas Hindus  Those who raised the current controversy have indirectly tried to create a division between Shivams and Vaishnavs. We subconsciously compare with the West and so tend to believe Indian followers fought violently like Roman Catholics and Protestants did (The Thirty Year’s War lasted from 1618 to 1648).


From a temple management control point of view it is good if the state government separates the management of Saiva and Vaishnava temples but such a division is bad for society. The moot point is, Christianity has so many denominations! Will any government or Court divide them by denomination?


Having said the above, some might construe Saivism and Vaishnavism to be separate religions when they are sampradaya like Shakti. This article provides insights and is not meant to be detailed study on the two sects.


Also read Hindus cannot be governed by the Christian concept of Religious Denomination


Before reading ahead, it might be worth knowing how the state of Tamil Nadu came into being.


“The Madras Presidency, during the British, covered a vast expanse of the southern part of India that encompasses modern-day Tamil Nadu, the Lakshadweep Islands, Northern Kerala, Rayalaseema (Andhra Pradesh), Coastal Andhra, districts of Karnataka and various districts of southern Odisha.” Source  The Telegu speaking regions of Madras became part of Andhra Pradesh in 1953.

In 1956 Madras was divided further, with some areas going to the new state of Kerala and other areas becoming part of Mysore. What remained of Madras state was renamed Tamil Nadu in 1968.” Source


Also read India is a Union of States not a Federation like USA   Read on.


Why did followers of Indian Sects like Shivam and Vaivanam not fight wars?

For answer we need to know the nature of Sanatana Dharma.


Spirituality is at the core of the Indian Civilization. It allows multiple spiritual pathways to become one with the Divine. The Rig Veda says, ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti; the truth is one and the sages call it variously.” 1.164.46 Source


By its very nature, Sanatana Dharma allows others to assimilate into its culture. It has absorbed numerous aspects of alien cultures and made some of them its own.  Rg Veda,1,89,1 says, “Let noble thoughts come to us from every side.” 6 Pg. 86 


Maharshi Aurobindo said in 1919, “Hinduism is in the first place a non-dogmatic inclusive religion and would have taken even Islam and Christianity into itself, if they had tolerated the process.” Source India’s Rebirth. Swami Vivekananda said in his 1893 Chicago address, “Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognized it.” 5


According to Volume 4 of the Cultural Heritage of India, “The sentiment about different gods being ultimately forms of the one Being, so beautifully expressed in the famous couplet of the Dirghatamas hymn long before the evolution of the respective cults, never lost its force in subsequent times. Approved Smriti works & the Manu and Yajnavalkya Smritis did not advocate the case of any cult.” Pg. 331


Thus, moksha can be achieved through Shivam or Vaivanam.

There is no one exclusive way to achieve self-realization in Indic thought. Sikhs, who today feel they follow one book, must know that modern day Sikhism is a colonial creation.


Also read Is modern day Sikhism a colonial construct?  


Therefore, the question of fighting wars does not arise. A feeling of mutual rivalry and jealousy did exist.


“These feelings of animosity amongst sects mainly found expression of the fabrication of mythological stories and the construction of interesting groups of images by way of illustrating them.” 4 Pg. 330 Yet temples have images of both sects. 

Harihara i.e. half Vishnu & half Shiva indicate reconciliation. Mahabalipuram, 7th century.  

According to a scholar from Chennai, the following shrines are Vishnu Shrines in Shiva Temples:

1.Adi Varaha Perumal shrine inside Kanchi Kamakshi Temple.

2.Nilathingal Thundam Perumal temple inside the Kanchipuram Ekambareshwarar temple

3.Govindaraja Perumal Shrine inside the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple


“The above three are rare Divyadesams that are housed in a Shiva temple. Only Saivite priests perform rituals in the temple. A Divyadesam is one of the 108 Vishnu temples i.e. mentioned in the works of the Alvars, the poet-saints of the Sri Vaishnava tradition.”


Another scholar from Chennai adds two temples to the three above.

4. “Thirukkoshtiyur Sowmyanarayana Perumal temple, one of the most important divyadesam wherein Sri Ramanuja received the ashtaksharamantra. It houses a shrine of Shivalinga Sharabeshvara.” To read more


5. T S Krishnan says, “Tirupparankundram temple is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga. While there are references about the temple in Sangam literature, the current temple complex was built as a rock cut temple during the reign of Pandya Parantaka Nedunjadayan in the 8th century.   


The sanctum of the temple is unique with five shrines. The east facing shrine on the right is of Siva. There is a Sivalingam in the front. The next one facing north is of Ganapathi. Like other Pandya rock cut temple, it is a Valampuri Vinayagar here but He is holding a sugarcane in hand. The Ganapathi is known as Karpaga Vinayagar. Adjacent to it, in the centre facing north, is the shrine of Vishnu Durga. Next is the shrine of Lord Muruga. Another unique murthy in the sitting posture carved in the rock. On the left, facing south is the shrine of Lord Vishnu. Here Perumal is in standing posture with Mahalakshmi on the side. He is called as Pavalakanivai Perumal. The Utsava murthy goes to Madurai for Meenakshi’s celestial wedding. To see Temple Album


Brilliant Bas reliefs of Nataraja and Varaha are seen on the sides of Siva and Vishnu shrines respectively with stamp of Pandya Architecture. Read more about temple


The 1200 years plus temple is the standing proof of Hinduism encompassing all the major faiths as followed by Sanatanis today.”


Also, see two sculptures of different sampradaya found at Mahabalipuram. 

Seshasayi Vishnu, Mahabalipuram 7th century. 

Mahishasuramardani, Mahabalipuram, 7th century.

The Pancha Pandava Rathas in Mahabalipuram are dedicated to Durga, Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha and Subramania (Kartikeya). 1 Pg. 29

Author and former British Council Scholar Dr Satish K Kapoor wrote, “Sankaracharya introduced the Panchayatana form of worship, which means the simultaneous adoration of five deities-Siva, Vishnu, Devi or Sakti in her various forms, Ganesha and Surya-placing one’s chosen deity (ishtdevata) in the centre and considering them all as symbolic of Brahman with attributes (saguna).” 6 Pg. 108


Note that Shankaracharya defeated Mandana Mishra in a debate not through violence. Also read Debate between Sankara and Mandana Mishra


Plus the Brihadesvara Shiva Temple at Thanjavur has Buddha images, two carved in stone and one in a fresco. Also read Why are there depictions of Buddha in the Big Temple Thanjavur?

Buddha images.

Author Vijay wrote (awaiting reconfirmation), “South Indian Inscriptions, XII, No 116 – on top of the Harihara panel, which describes the ten incarnations of Vishnu in order as Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Rama (Parasurama), Rama (Rama of Ayodhya), Rama (Balrama), Buddha and Kalki.” Source and Pic credit

Indic thoughts and traditions are too diverse to be straight-jacketed into ‘One Book’. Diversity is intrinsic to us.  

Saivism and Vaishnavism co-exist in temples

In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is the Principle deity along with his incarnations. In Shaivism, Shiva is the principle deity along with his Shakti. Both Vishnu and Shiva are One and co-exist as stated above.

Chidambaram Temple.

Know about Vishnu worship in a Shiva temple i.e. Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu.


According to ISKCON educational services site, “The Chidambaram Temple is unique because from one place in the sanctum one can have darshan of both Nataraja (Shiva) and Vishnu at the same time. Near the main Shiva temple there is a smaller Govinda Raj (Vishnu) Temple. Deities of Partha Sarathi (Krishna driving Arjuna’s chariot) are also worshipped there.” The district site says, “Although Shiva is the main deity of the temple, it also represents major themes from Vaishnavism, Shaktism and others with all due reverence.” Journalist Anuradha Goyal wrote in Indiatales, “Govindaraja Temple is dedicated to reclining Vishnu – it is among the 108 Divya Desams of Vishnu. I was pleasantly surprised to a sleeping Vishnu and Lakshmi at the Shiva temple when Shaivites –Vaishnavites disputes are so well known in this region.” 

Govindaraja Temple Chidambaram.

The Cholas built great Shiv temples for e.g. Brihadesvara. (The and east tower of Chidambaram temple was built by Chola king Kulottunga II (12th century) and some like second Chola king Aditya I (9th century A.D.) built temples dedicated to Bhagwan Vishnu.

India’s problem is that in such matters Indians invariably wear the Western hat and seek to make thought mutually exclusive instead of co-existence. 

Saivism and Vaishnavism

This article gives a brief overview of the two sects only.  


Dr Satish Kapoor wrote, “In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is the Principle deity along with his incarnations. In Shaivism, Shiva is the principle deity along with his Shakti, which is sometime viewed differently. Both Vishnu and Shiva are One.” 


He also wrote, “In its philosophical content, Saiva Siddhanta comes close to the Pasuputa and Kashmir schools of Saivism, specifically the Pratyabhijna, the doctrine of Siva as the Supreme Consciousness.” 6 Pg. 177


Vaishnavism revolves around the worship of avataras – Sri Ram and Sri Krishna. Each sect had its own spiritual lineage, philosophy, rituals. The sect was often divided and sub-divided based on some inconsequential matter or pontification issue. The ascendance of Vaishav religious devotionalism represented by Ramanujacharya (11th century), Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (15th century) etc. made it very popular during this period. 6 Pg. 126


Yes these two sects shared differences in form but share common religious perceptions like belief in dharma, karma, bhakti and moksha. 6 Pg. 126


Is there a political angle to this controversy – Saivism vs. Vaishanavism?

Divide and Rule served the British well. Indians followed their path. No government, centre or state, wants Hindus to unite under a common umbrella hence want Hindu temples to be under government control and atrocities against Hindus are underplayed.  


Also read How Hindu temples came under government control?  And How Hindu rights have been seriously damaged by Article 30 and the RTE Act?

What they fail to realize is that decolonising of Hindus and providing them with equal human rights is a key to India’s sustained progress. 

In this case the local government is indirectly perceived to be creating a Saiva Vaishnav divide. If the divide ceases to exist it is feared they might start thinking like the Hindus of Uttar Pradesh. This anti-Centre, language dispute and our culture is superior narrative has gone on for decades.


My Dharma is to place information before you. Without getting into right or wrong it is for Hindus to use their Buddhi (intellect) to decide what is correct.


Indians need to rediscover their culture and history. I am grateful to those who discovered the Internet because the net has become a tool to start the process of rediscovery. I am also grateful to those who raised the Saiva Vaishnav matter. 


I am hoping to read soon Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life by the 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha Swami C Saraswati (his brilliant discourses in Tamil translated into English by R.G.K. provide an integrated view of Sanatana Dharma.) 



1. Temples of Tamil Nadu by V Narayanaswami.

2.  Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy Pandit Rajmani Tugnait.  

3.  The History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

4. Volume 4 of the Cultural Heritage of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture.

5.  Address Parliament of Religions Chicago 1893 by Swami Vivekananda

6. Hinduism: The Faith Eternal published by Advaita Ashrama.

Also read

1. What is India

2. India’s Rebirth –excerpts of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, profound

3. Album Srirangam Mandir

4. Album Brihadesvara Temple

5. Album 5 Rathas Mahabalipuram

6. The Battle between Secular India and Bharat

7. Madras High Court sets rules for Temples

8. Tamil Nadu’s Is Saivism Hinduism debate

9. Were Cholas Hindus

10. Hindi, Hindu, Hindustani

Article must not be republished without written permission of Unless indicated all pictures are clicked by author. In case of any factual errors do write back. 

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