Who are Dwarapalakas and What is their Importance

When we take a walk through and inspect the temple, we will find various sculptures with different poses present in and around the temple. These sculptures are not carved just to make the temple look more beautiful. They are carved basing upon the various spiritual scriptures like Agamas, Shilpa, and Vastu Shastra’s with inner meaning and also to awaken the spiritual sense. One of the most interesting among them is Dwarapalakas.

So, who are these Dwarapalakas? And what is their importance in Temples?

Dwarapalakas

Who are Dwarapalakas?

Dwarapalakas are the two guardian deities or the gatekeepers of the temple entrances or the Dwaras. The name Dwarapalakas is a combination of two words Dwaram and Palakas. In which Dwaram stands for door or entrance and the Palakas for guardians.

They are a common feature of almost all the South Indian Temples and their statues differ from the temple to temple basing upon the chief deities like Shiva, Sakthi or Vishnu.

Within a temple, there can be different Dwarapalakas depending upon the place they stand like in front of the main sanctum(Garbhagruha) or in front of Avaranas.

Appearance and Iconography

The appearance of the Dwarapalakas differs between the temples basing upon the Agama the respective temple followed during its construction.

They can be seen in a standing pose mainly on either side of the sanctum sanctorum or at the entrance of the temple.

In Shaivite temples, They can be usually seen with four hands holding a Pasha(noose) and Trishula(trident) (some times replaced by Damaru or Danda basing on Agamas) with their upper hands and one of the lower hands holding a Gada (blunt mace) and another showing Suchi or Tarjani Mudra or sometimes Vismaya hasta.

The Shaivagamas describes the Dwarapalakas as three-eyed with Jatamakuta (long braided Hair arranged in a form representing the crown) and wearing a sacred thread in the form of a serpent(Nagayagnopavita).

Dwarapalakas are usually seen in different standing positions and can sometimes be with ferocious and fearsome face, fang teeth, large eyes, showing mudras with hand to indicate that we are going to enter the place of the god. So, one should be in a controlled mind without any other thoughts except on the god.

In the Vaishnava temples, Dwarapalakas can be seen with four hands holding Shanka and Chakra in the upper hands. While one of the lower hands showing Abhaya mudra and the other holding a Gada.

One of the best places you can see the Dwarapalakas that looks astonishing was in Arunachalam temple placed before entering the sanctum sanctorum of Agni lingam. You can also see similar statues in Meenakshi Amman temple and Brihadeeswara temple.

Importance of Dwarapalakas

The main activity of the Dwarapalakas is to protect the energy of the temple and also to remind the people entering the temple that this is the place of the god. So, while entering the main shrine one should be careful without any unnecessary thoughts in the mind.

Before entering the abode of God, one should take permission from Dwarapalakas by praying them in the heart. Even the priests who open the entrances of the temple also ask the permission of the Dwarapalakas in their mind and heart before opening the gates.

The Suchi Mudra projected by one of the hands of  Dwarapalakas directs towards the god inside the temple indicating, go and pray to God with devotion and the god will remove your sins and problems.

While the Tarjani mudra indicates the devotees should be careful and not to do any mistake as you are entering God’s abode.

Some Dwarapalakas show the Vismaya hasta indicating that by the mercy of the god many people fulfilled their lives. You too offer your devotion to god’s mercy and make your life fulfilled.

In most of the temples, almost all the offerings done to the chief deity will also be offered to the Dwarapalakas.

Names of Dwarapalakas basing upon the Chief Deity

Chief DeityDwarapalaka NameDwarapalaka Name
God ShivaNandiMahakala
DindiMundi
ShringiBhringi
GopatiAnanta
VijayaBhringi
VimalanSubahu
God VishnuJayaVijaya
ChandaPrachanda
ShankhothamangiChakrothamangi
DhatruVidhatru
BhadraSubhadra
Goddess ShakthiShankhanidhiPadmanidhi
God GaneshMandodaraGundodara
God MuruganSumukhaSudeha

Stories of some Dwarapalakas

The story of Jaya-Vijaya

Jaya and Vijaya were the gatekeepers of God Vishnu. These deities can be seen in the Vishnu temples standing on either side of the main sanctum or sometimes on the temple doors.

The story about these two deities goes in this way. Once, Jaya and Vijaya obstructed the entry of Sanat kumaras (The four sons that were born from the Bramha’s mind) to Vaikunta and said that Lord Vishnu is resting now they cannot be allowed in. But, the Sanat kumaras said Lord Vishnu is always available to his devotees and asked Jaya and Vijaya to let them in. But they refused to do so.

Finally, the argument heated up and the Sanat kumaras cursed the gatekeepers to lose their position and shall be born as mortals on the earth.

Later, Jaya and Vijaya approached Lord Vishnu and requested him to lift their curse. But Lord Vishnu said, the curse on both of you cannot be reverted, instead gave them two options. One option is to take seven births as his devotee on earth or to take three births as his enemy to come back to Vaikunta.

Interestingly, the gatekeepers had chosen to be his enemies. The internal meaning of this act was they could not bear the pain of staying away from their master for seven births. Hence, they choose to be enemies for three births.

Later, they were born as different demons each birth and ended by Lord Vishnu in different avataras. The three births are as follows, demons Hiraneykashipu and Hiranyaksha in Satya yuga. Ravana and Kumbhakarna in Treta yuga and Shishuplala and Dantavakra in Dwapara yuga.

The story of Nandi and Mahakala

Nandi and Mahakala are one among the Dwarapalakas of God Shiva. Their story tells the merciful nature of God Shiva to his devotees.

(Please don’t get confused with the name Nandi. The Nandi mentioned in this story was different from the Nandeeshwara, who is also popularly known as Nandi(Son of Shiladha Muni))

Nandi was a wealthy merchant living in a small town called Avantipura. On the other hand, Mahakala was a hunter who lives in the forest. Nandi used to worship a Shiva lingam present in a small temple that is close to forest. He used to worship the Shiva lingam with diamonds and precious jewels.

Once, Mahakala who came to hunt saw the same shiva lingam worshipped by Nandi and he immediately throws away all the precious stones and jewels around the Lingam thinking that their sharp edges and the hard surface can cause pain to the Great God.

Mahakala too used to do rituals to the Shiva Lingam by catching hold of water in his mouth and by spilling it on the Shiva lingam as abhishekam and also offers Bilva leaves and the food he hunts.

One day Nandi finds that someone was trying to remove all his offerings (jewels) daily and thought to take away the Shiva lingam to his home.

On the next day, as a daily routine during the hunt, Mahakala visits his Lord’s temple and finds the Shiva lingam has been taken away and was struck with grief and cried a lot. He asked God where are you who took you from this place and so on.

Then Mahakala tore his body parts and made a Shiva lingam and prayed the God there and went unconscious. For his ardent devotion and steadfastness towards him, God Shiva immediately appeared and granted a boon to be a Dwarapalaka.

At the same time, Nandi listens to the bell sounds coming from the temple and went to see what is happening inside the temple. On seeing God Shiva along with his Ganas and Mahakala he realized the true devotion of Mahakala and requested him to introduce to the Great God by gestures.

Mahakala took him to God Shiva and explains about Nandi’s devotion and introduces him as his friend. But, Lord Shiva replied I don’t know about his devotion However as you are saying that he is your friend I will also grant him as a Dwarapalaka.

Nandi asked the forgiveness of his mistakes and asked for the god’s mercy. God shiva accepted him and appointed as a Dwarapalaka along with Mahakala.

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