Srirangam Ranaganatha temple gets the covetous Merit Award, 2017 from UNESCO

Srirangam temple, Tamil Nadu

Above image: The golden Vimana  with its gable with Paravasudeva image over the sanctum (garbagraha/Srikovil) at Srirangam. The idol of Sri Ranganatha is there - both moolavar and utchavar;  there are other small  gopurams as well........

Among the Hindu temples of India, in particular south India, the  Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple of Srirangam, Tamil Nadu,  dedicated to Lord Vishnu in a reclining form (anandasayanam) on the recoiled bed of serpent Adishesha   is not only a popular pilgrimage center but  also an important tourist place.  This  temple is glorified in the Thiviya Pirabandham, the early medieval Tamil literature canon of the Alvar saints of Bhakti movement from the 6th to 9th centuries is foremost in the  the list among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu. Regarding the history of the evolution of  Vaishnavism  starting with Ramanuja  in the 11th-century  and his predecessors Nathamuni and Yamunacharya, the temple played an indispensable role in the spread of bhakthi.  

The recent good news about this temple of great antiquity is that it has won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Merit 2017 for cultural heritage conservation. The temple bagged one of the four Awards of Merit from a jury comprising nine international conservation experts convened from 9 -11 Aug. 2017 at UNESCO, Bangkok, which considered conservation projects from 10 countries in the Asia Pacific region. According to a communique from UNESCO sent to the temple, dated November 1, the temple has been selected for the Award of Merit for 2017.

Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple Imgur

Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is the first temple in TN to receive a UNESCO award.  The other monuments in India that received the Award of Merit this year were Mumbai's colonial structures Christ Church and Royal Bombay Opera House. The selections were made from  43 applications received from 10 countries across the Asia Pacific region, 

As for the Srirangam temple, the UNESCO team gave due importance to the massive restoration work undertaken way back in  June 2014 at the initiative the late CM. Ms. Jayalalitha (who represented the Srirangam constituency).

The mammoth  restoration project was  carefully done in phases, at a cost of about ₹25 crore, with financial support   from the  state government as well as private donors. The kumbabishekam was performed in two stages — in September and November 2015. The renovation of the temple  was a tedious one, involving painstaking work by experienced sthapathis, under the guidance of experts in archaeology for over a year. This kind of massive restoration work was not undertaken in the last two centuries or so. The crucial aspect of this project, covering the vast temple was the daily puja and temple rituals were not intercepted and they went on as usual regularly. 

Srirangam temple, restored granaries. TripAdvisor

Including seven prakaras and 21 towers, along with the huge  236-feet-high rajagopuram,  the restoration work covered every part of the temple without tampering with their heritage value. Even the age old giant temple granaries to store grains donated by the devotees were restored back to old glory. The path from thayyar sannidhi was reopened. 

1000 pillar hall, Srirangam temple, Tamil nadu. ghatroads.in9

About mind-boggling 60,000 tonnes of construction wastes /debris were  removed in the course of  renovation. The public, for the first time, had an access to see such awe-inspiring  restored structures like hundred-pillar and thousand-pillar mandapams (halls) and various other mandapams, Several sculptures in the numerous sub-shrines were also restored.  Among the 40 sub-shrines, majority of them were closed for decades  earlier. The restoration work, for the first time, revealed the presence of  fine historical structures at the base of the shrines of Thondaradipodi Azhwar and Vitala Krishnan near the southern entrance.  According to the temple official, "It is very satisfying that the hard work has been recognized".
 "The project has revealed the original fabric of 
the shrines, water bodies and landscape within 
the temple’s four inner enclosures, which were 
once obscured under layers of inappropriate modern additions and tons of debris. Employing traditional construction materials and techniques, the restoration work was carried out in an authentic manner by local craftspeople in accordance with ancient building principles and rites. The temple today attracts great attention among its devotees 
and supporters, whose renewed sense of pride 
and  custodianship will ensure its long-term 
sustainability,” commented the (UNESCO) jury".

Srirangam. 1870 photo-temple gopurams

Inside, Ranganatha Swamy temple, Srirangam.

01. The location, on an island between the Kollidam and Cauvery rivers, has  made the temple  vulnerable to flooding  and the government takes precautionary measures during the Monsoon seasons. 

Fortified boundary wall, Srirangam

Above image: The temple is surrounded by 7 concentric huge, tick walls; this is a portion of the outermost wall. And the total length of these walls around the temple is slightly more than six miles.  The walls were fortified after the 14th century invasion from the Delhi Sultanate...........

Painted “map” of Srirangam Temple,

Srirangam Old Mottai gopuram,

Above image:  Gateway at Srirangam - 1847 - "This is plate 23 from James Fergusson's 'Ancient Architecture in Hindoostan'. Srirangam near Tiruchirapally is the site of one of the largest temple complexes in India. The gateway sketched by Fergusson is incomplete: the tower had not yet been added. It belongs to the Ranganatha Temple, a pilgrimage site famed for its annual Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival, dedicated to Vishnu. The scale of the gateway impressed Fergusson as nearly unrivalled in India.  The present temple has seven concentric walls and 21 towers or gopurams. Although worship at the site goes back earlier, the temple itself was founded in the 11th century. It was continually augmented between the 13th and the 17th centuries. The mostly 16th and 17th century gateways are brick and plaster pyramidal towers increasing in size from the innermost enclosure. The gateway of the seventh enclosure is one of the tallest in India (72 metres, or 236feet)......................

02. The temple was looted and destroyed by the Delhi Sultanate armies during the reign of Alauddin Khilji of the Khilji dynasty (from 1296 to 1316) in a massive raid on various cities of the Tamil Pandyan kingdom (including Madurai) in early 14th century. During the murderous invasion (1323 AD) led by military general Ulagh Khan of Delhi Sultanate, according to 'Koyilozhugu,' a true  record of events relating to Srirangam temple, about 12000 Vaishnavites were brutally murdered while they were defending the army to prevent entry into the temple.

03. The main idol of Sri Ranganatha was already been taken  to the Vishnu temple - Sri Adhinayaka Perumal at Gopurapatti village where it had been kept for decades and the daily puja rituals for Ranganathar were done here.  The idol was taken back to Srirangam only  when normalcy was restored  and later the temple rituals commenced after a long break. So was the tradition of singing and dancing as part of  Bhakti movement that had a long break.  

Sriragam location map.

04. Thanks to the Thanjavur Nayak rulers, the temple was rebuilt in late 14th century,  the site became fortified and expanded with  additional  gopurams (towers) in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

05. The temple  covers a vast area of  155 acres (63 ha) with 50 shrines, 21 towers, 39 pavilions and many water tanks, forming the complex. 

06. The temple town is an important archaeological site, showcasing  the early and mid medieval South Indian society and culture. 

07. Not only was the temple  a spiritual center, but also a major economic and charitable institution that ran  education and hospital facilities, a free kitchen etc. Besides, with temple donations and gifts it received, the administrators  financed regional infrastructure projects for the benefits of the people. 

08. The Surprising fact is the  Srirangam temple is the largest one in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world. The outer tower that is 72 metres (236 ft) tall was  completed in 1987 at the initiative of the late Jeer of the Ahobila Mutt. 

09. Srirangam temple is often considered as one of the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, the still larger Angkor Wat, Cambodia  being the largest existing temple, not a functional one.  

10. The temple follows Thenkalai tradition of Sri Vaishnavism, but surprisingly, all the temple priests (Bhattacharyas) working here  are staunch followers of Vadakalai Sampradayam!! 

 The award of Merit Certificate by The UNESCO  Award of Merit to Srirangam temple will go a long way and  encourage the administrators of other great old temples and other monuments across India to seriously engage in conservation and restoration exercises  to get them  back to ancient glory without disturbing their heritage values. The tough restoration work done at the Srirangam temple  few years ago  will positively give a fillip to such future restoration work at other historical temples of Tamil Nadu that are not well managed.