From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Arcā literally means ‘that which is worshiped’.

The Vaiṣṇavite scriptures which preaches the cult of Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa-Krsṇa put forth the theory that the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu has four kinds of manifestations :

  1. The ‘para’ or the Supreme
  2. The ‘vyuha’ or the emanation
  3. The ‘vibhava’ or the incarnation
  4. The ‘arcā’ or the icon

Out of these, the arcā represents the images or icons installed and worshiped ceremonially in temples and shrines. Such icons are classified into four groups :

  • Svayariivyakta or self-manifested
  • Daiva or established by gods
  • Ārṣa or consecrated by the ṛṣis (sages)
  • Mānuṣa or prepared by human beings

Even the man-made images, though prepared out of inanimate substances, can become ‘alive’ if they are duly consecrated through the prescribed rites. God who is omnipotent ‘descends’ into such images with a subtle body. This is the ‘arcāvatāra’ or incarnation for purposes of ordinary worship.


  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore