By Swami Harshananda
Bera literally means ‘icon’.
Origin of Bera
'Bera' is a term which is commonly used in the āgamas for images but in a more technical sense. This word is of uncertain origin. It is generally employed to indicate that images are made according to the prescriptions of murtiśilpaśāstra or iconography and used in worship. Painted or engraved figures are not classed under ‘bera’.
Significance of Bera In Temple Construction
The height and the width of the bera are used as standards for determining other measurements like those of the pīṭha or pedestal, of the garbhagṛha or the cella, or the vimāna (the tower over the main shrine) for temple construction.
General Types of Bera
- Acala or immovable - The acalabera is also called ‘dhruvabera’ (the constant icon) or ‘mulabera’ (the original icon). It is the original image of stone permanently fixed in the sanctuary.
- Cala or movable and portable - The calaberas can be of four types. They are made of metal. Along with the original (dhruvabera) they are collectively called ‘Pañcaberas’ (five icons).
Types of Calabera
These divisions of beras are found mostly in the Vaiśiavāgamas.
- Kautukabera - It is also called ‘kriyābera’ or ‘karmārcā’. It is kept in the central part of the altar in the shrine. Life is infused into it from the main image and all the items of worship of the main image are also offered to this image.
- Snapanabera - It is an image that receives the daily ceremonial bath. This image is sometimes also designated as ‘tīrthasnānārcā,’.
- Utsavabera - It is also called as ‘utsavārcā’ or ‘rathabera’. This image is meant to be taken out in procession on festival days.
- Balibera - It is also called as ‘balyarcā’. It is an image that receives the food offerings meant to be distributed among the attendant and minor deities. It is taken out in a procession at the time of baliharaṇa or distribution of food offerings to these deities.
- Śayanārcā - This image is put to rest during night.
The Śaivāgamas sometimes add one more image ‘nṛttabera’. It is a Naṭarāja icon generally taken out on certain occasions like aridrotsava.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore