Worship of images is an integral part of Hindu religion. Arcā or image is one of the several forms of manifestation of the Divine. Another term which is commonly used in the āgamas for images, but in a more technical sense, is ‘bera’. This word, of uncertain origin, is generally employed to indicate images made to conform to the prescriptions of mūrtiśilpaśāstra or icono-graphy and used in worship.
A bera should be either ‘citra’ (solid figure) or ‘citrārdha’ (relief figure). Painted or engraved figures are not classed under ‘bera’.
The height and the width of the bera are taken 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). (See AṄGULA and TĀLAMĀNA.)
Beras can be of two general types: acala or immovable and cala or movable and portable. The acalabera, also called ‘dhruvabera’ (the constant icon) or ‘mūlabera’ (the original icon), is the original image, of stone, permanently fixed in the sanctuary. The calaberas can be as many as four and are made of metal. Along with the original (dhruvabera) they are collectively called ‘Pañcaberas’ (five icons).
The first in the series is the ‘kautukabera,’ also called ‘kriyābera’ and ‘karmārcā’, 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. The second is the ‘snapanabera,’ an image that receives the daily ceremonial bath. This image is sometimes designated as ‘tīrthasnānārcā,’ also. The next is the ‘utsavabera’ or ‘utsavārcā’ or ‘rathabera’, which is meant to be taken out in procession on festival days. The fourth is the ‘balibera’ or ‘balyarcā’, 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. Some texts add another, ‘śayanārcā’, the image which is put to rest during night. These divisions of beras are found mostly in the Vaiṣṇavāgamas. The Śaivāgamas sometimes add a ‘nṛttabera,’ a Naṭarāja icon employed on certain occasions like aridrotsava.