Sri Ranganathar and his Muslim consort, Srirangam temple !!

Muslim princess (surathani) with Sriranganathar

In a popular Hindu temple (in Tamil Nadu) steeped in history   Muslim woman is the consort of Lord Vishnu and as part of puja ritual, she is given all the temple honors worthy of her.

Except  people associated with that massive Hindu  temple dedicated to Sri Ranganatha Swamy at Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, South India, the first among the 108 Divya Desam shrines and people following  Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, most of the Hindus may not be  aware that the presiding deity there has a Muslim  woman as his  divine consort. The fortunate woman happened to be a princess of Delhi Sultanate - Alauddin Khilji. The paradoxical, but interesting story was a combination of legend, history and tradition. The divine Muslim  consort is adored and offered regular worship  at the temple here. Does it not sound strange that the Lord of the universe, being  in a far off place such as Srirangam, a vast island between  rivers Cauvery and Kollidam, in Tamil Nadu  gracefully took a rich royal Muslim woman from Delhi as his divine consort? Not that many  people are aware of the unpredictable events that  gradually unfolded, leading  to such a divine union in the wake of a fanatical plundering of Madurai and Srirangam temples by Military Commander Malik Kafur and his powerful army in 1311. 

After the death of great King Jatavarman Sundara Pandian I (1250–1268), his irresponsible son prince Sundara Pandian III, after losing the throne to his brother Veera Pandian, in a rage, made a grave blunder that changed the entire history of  South India. Subsequently, they lost the kingdom that was taken over by Madurai Sultanate. In order to ascend the throne, in haste, Sundara Pandyan  sought the help of Alauddin Khilji, the most treacherous of Muslim rulers of Delhi Sultanate and a religious bigot. Only upon Sultan's  instructions,  Malik Kafur moved into Tamil Nadu from Devagiri in Andhra. His target was Madurai and the treasures in the kingdom and certainly not resolving the dispute between the princes. He led the military expedition, consisting of merciless, vicious mercenaries  through the present day Karnataka to Madurai in 1311 CE. He plundered all the places  along the way to loot any kind of  valuable wealth.
On his way to Madurai,  Malik Kafur and his army plundered the vast Srirangam temple. Because of prior information received far ahead of time, the priests  and others covered the main garbhagriha (sanctum) with brick wall. The Delhi Army took away every valuable thing they could lay their hands on, including the most important idol-Urchava moorthy (A small idol made of five metals including gold, used for temple procession). The priests did not find  enough time to hide the idol safely before the army's arrival. Back in Delhi upon taking a look at the enormous loot  from Tamil Nadu and other places, the Sultan's daughter fell in love with the lord's idol from Srirangam and kept it herself closely all the time. Literally, the young princess was attracted by the lord's aura and charm. Otherwise this idol along with others would have been melted and converted into jewellery.

Thulukka Naachiyaar,

At Srirangam, the temple town wore a forlorn look and the mood was one of desperation, pain and suffering. The more painful event was the loss of small Utachava moorthy idol and a group of people mustered  enough courage and traveled to Delhi to meet the Sultan face to face. With respect and some gifts along with entertainment, they pleased the Sultan. After long persuasion and  great efforts, they got the  idol and were on the way to Srirangam. According to one version the idol got lost in a forest as the people carried  the idol died.  After  long deliberations, the priests at Srirangam had another Utchava moorthy idol made  and resumed the  regular pooja protocol after a long hiatus. 

The princess of Delhi Sultanate, unable to bear the pangs of love  she had for the lord, became  distressed. She with sultanate soldiers came all the way to Srirangam temple to  be with the lord. Unabl to find the idol that she loved dearly,  she died before the lord's feet unexpectedly  and attained divinity.

Lord Ranganatha Swamy,

Lord Ranganatha Swamy appeared in the chief priest's dream  and pronounced that he had now taken Surathani (derived from Sultani) to be his consort and she too had to be given all the temple honors and worship  that were given to the other Nachiyars (Nachiyar is a term used in Tamil Vaishnava  theology for the divine consort of the presiding deity). The Bhattar then conveyed this dream to the temple authorities and, accordingly, a shrine was built for the Muslim consort of Lord Ranganatha.

Vishnu giving darshan surathani  

The Muslim princess not only had  gained divinity through her deep devotion but also the status of Lord's consort. Idol  worship in Islam is a taboo, so, she was worshiped in the form of a painting, richly decorated with gems and gold and still regular pujas and other rituals are held to day. The daily naivaidhyam (divine food) will include chappathis, butter, etc, traditional North Indian food. On special daysthe Vishnu idol is dressed in a red, checked tehmet, a Muslim dress, instead of a dhoti.

Terribly upset over Lord accepting the Muslim woman as his consort, Ranganayaki Thayyar (goddess), Lord's consort moved away from him in anger and rage. Hence, there is  a  separate  shrine  for Thayyar. In the recent Samprokshanam held at Srirangam temple on the 18th of November, 2015, a separate Yagasala and Agni Kundams were arranged on the premises of Thayyar Sannidhi (shrine) as she is ''Padi Thaanda Pathini.'' Tradition has it that Goddess Ranganayaki has never come out of the shrine after Lord's acceptance of Surathani. Lord made several vein attempts to make a compromise with Thayyar but it never worked out.

There  are  some rituals associated with the lord cajoling his consort during Navaratri festival. In Tamil, Muslim consort is  referred to  as  ''Thulukka Nachiyar.'' Tulukkar in Tamil means a Muslim, a word derived from "Turukiyar" or Turks

The same tradition is being observed at the Thiru Narayana temple at Melukote in Karnataka where the Muslim princess is known as ''Bivi Nachiyar.'' In the popular  annual Chithirai festival in Madurai,Tamil Nadu,  Kallazagar, (a form of Vishnu), travels to Madurai to attend the wedding of his sister Meenakshi with Lord Sundareswarar, the presiding deities in the famous Meenakshi  temple  there. After crossing the nearby Vaigai river, tradition has it that he spends a night with Thulukka Nachiyar before going to Madurai to conduct the  divine wedding. 

As for historical records about Tulukka Nachchiyar it is vague. The first invasion of Srirangam did take place in 1311 by Malik Kafur, a commander in Alauddin Khilji's army. The ''Guruparamparai Prabhavam'', temple's own chronicle written in the 14th century mentions about possible  installation in the 12th century. The incident also finds mention in the Koil Olugu, a temple manual. Anyway, the question of Thulukka Nachiyar worship in thisVishnu temple is a subject of debate and discussion.