Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam - Sevaral historical facts that we may not be aware of !!

1000 pllar hall. Sri Ranganathar temple at Srirangam Flickr

Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, South India. Navrang India

The famous Sri Ranganathar temple at Srirangam near Tiruchirapalli city is the most popular temple in South India. It is a great pilgrimage center for the Hindus, in particular, those who follow Vaishnavism. As mentioned in one of my posts, it is the largest functional temple complex in the world. The great Acharya Sri Ramanujar attained divinity here and there is a shrine here with his mortal remains intact. The 44th Jeer of Ahobila Mutt brought glory to this temple by raising the Rajagopuram (main tower) to a height of 237 feet in 1985, indeed a great monumental work considering his age. Since then, the popularity of this temple has gone manifold. 

The presiding idol of Sri Ranganathar is unique here for two reasons:  a. It is believed the deities of Vishnu at 108 ''Divyadesam'' shrines get merged with Sri Ranganathar here at Srirangam  at night  and in the morning they get back to their respective places. Hence, this Shetram is the most revered among 108 Divyadesams. b. The idol of Sri Ranganathar is believed to have been  worshiped by King Ishvaku, great grandfather of Rama in Ayodhya. Later Rama had gifted the idol  to Vibishina, brother of Ravana as a token of his love. His condition was the idol should not be placed on the ground.  Vibishna wanted to take the idol to Lanka. Devas and others did not like it and wanted the idol to be consecrated in the place now called Srirangam. During his sojourn in this place, Vibishna, troubled by Nature's call, asked a boy standing near by to hold the idol till his return. The boy, who happened to be Lord Ganapathy (Ucchi Pilliyar) placed  the idol on the spot where the temple is  now. Unable to take the idol off the ground, Vibishna left the idol right there and  went to Lanka disappointed.  Hence, Sri Ranganathar idol  at this temple was worshiped by Sri Rama himself (in Rama avatar)! No doubt, this temple is known to have hoary tradition.

The following are some additional interesting facts which many of us may not be aware of:

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple Srirangam, TN
01. The presiding deity of Srirangam temple is glorified by all great Vaishnavite saints - Azhwars except Madurakarakavi Azhwar who sang in praise of his mentor Namazhwar.

02. The great devotee and poetess Sri Andal, daughter of Periyazhwar of Srivilliputhur, TN who enthralled the devotees with her ''Thirupavai'', a collection of devotional hymns  on Lord Vishnu, at last merged with the lord only here on the 14th of January - on Pongal day.

03. Here, the lord is refereed to as ''Pathinmar Padiya Peruman'' because it was here the Mangalassanam of 11 Azhwar took place.

04. This temple is famous for ''Thruadhayana Utsavam'' (festival) during Vaikunda Ekadasi (December -January) and it marks the recital of Nalayira Divya  Prabhdandham  (Tamil Vaishnava canon) verses by Araiyars and Pandits  The Tamil devotional hymns reverberate during ''Pagal Pathu'' and ''Ra Pathu'' festivities during Vaikunda Ekadasi celebrations.

05. ''Kamba Ramayanam''  in chaste Tamil, was first recited in this temple. Poet Kambar had introduced one chapter on Narasimha avatar in his Ramayana, but it is not in Valmiki Ramayana.

06. Azhagiya Manavana Munigal (1370–1450), a great Vaishnavite seer's contribution  to this temple is outstanding. In the aftermath of treacherous  army invasion from the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century,  a pale of gloom descended on Srirangam as the main  temple and others were severely ransacked by the marauding army for treasures.  The holy town was aesthetically dilapidated, sacra- mentally bare, intellectually barren and spiritually, socially and morally down to the core. It was this great saint  and others  who instilled discipline and bhakti  among the people and slowly  brought the temple back to glory and spiritual exhilaration after decades.

07. Srirangam is often referred to as Bhoologa Vaikundam (paradise on earth) because in this highly sanctified place between  Cauvery and Kollidam rivers, the mystifying grace  and timeless beauty of Lord Ranganatha is just overwhelming. 

08. Countless festivals are celebrated here with devotion and the lord and his consorts are adorned with valuable jewels gifted by great rulers. On festival days different alangarams are done to the deity and the devotees, obviously get immersed in his various charming forms, attributes and divine grace.

9. The temple possesses rare jewelry donated  by various rulers The great Pandiya ruler Sadayavarman Sundara Pandiyan (reign 1250-1284) donated plenty of gold to this temple. He conducted Gaja (Elephant) Thulaparam, weighing mounds of gold against him  sitting atop his royal elephant above   the  Cauvery waters supported by two barges. This meant he wanted to donate gold as much as he could.

10. There were solid gold life-size statues of Serakulavalli and Thuraiyurvalli Thayars, Vishnu's consorts.

11. According Vaishnavite scholar Sri Krishnamachari, Pranavakara Divya Vimanam, Kodiyetru Mandabam and the Dwajasthambam (Flag pole) were all gold plated way back in the 12 th century

12. The benign beauty and grace of the lord had spread far and wide. So was the rumor of the treasure trove of gold, etc at this temple. Enticed by the treasures of this temple Allaudin Khalji's army invaded Srirangam in 1311. While Army Chief Malik Kaufer and his men plundered the town it was Ulugh Khan (reign 1325 to  1351) and his men went on a killing spree that resulted in the death of 12000 unarmed Vaishnavites who tried to save the main idols in the temple. In 1327 Army chief of the Delhi sultanate Kutz Khan raided this place and scooped the left-over treasures.

13. When the utchavar idol was taken to Delhi by the army led by Malik Kaufer,  Sultan Khalji's daughter fell in love with the idol.  The vaishnavite scholars went to Delhi to get the idol back, the sultan was impressed with them and allowed them to take the idol back to Srirangam. But, sultan's daughter, came to Srirangam in search of the idol and fell dead right before the deity. The lord in the dream asked the priest to give all the  honors to the Muslim princess as they would to his consorts. The Thuluka nachiyar shrine is quite popular. There is no idol and only a sketch of the princess. The main offering is Roti. The death of Sultan's daughter here caused the later invasions mentioned above. The main deities were taken to different locations across the south and finally reinstated in 1370s.

14. Yet another acharya Sri Pillailokacharya (1205-1311 CE), despite his old age, managed to secretly move the deity of Lord Ranganatha (NumperumaL) to an unknown place in the south (he died near Madurai) prior to the Muslim invasion. The Thayyar idols were moved over to another destination. Sri Desika (1268–1369) and his sons, during the invasion at Srirangam. protected rare manuscripts like the Sruti-prakasha, a commentary on the Sri Bhashya of Ramanuja by taking them to Karnataka. Before the invasion, Vedanta Desika was in charge of saving the deities  He had a brick wall built to hide the garbagriha that had a duplicate deity and roughly 6o years later when Nampermal returned to his abode, the same Vedanta Desika broke open the brick wall.  While between 1321 and 1373, the  main deity- Namperumal was in exile at Gopurapatti village  near Tiruchi, at Sri Adhinayaka Perumal temple the puja protocol  for Sri Ranganathar had been

Sultan  Alauddin Khalji Alchetron

done. After the final return of Emperumal to the temple, a flourish of festivals, celebration, etc resumed  with a view to let the people  experience the spiritual and divine exhilaration.

15. Azhagiya Manavana Munigal, a great Vaishnavite seer's contribution is outstanding. In the aftermath of treacherous  army invasion from the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century,  a pale of gloom descended on Srirangam as the main  temple and others were severely ransacked by the marauding army for treasures.  It was this great saint and others brought the temple back to glory after decades. 

Uichavar. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple Srirangam

 16. Within the hallowed prescient of this huge temple complex  that is stepped in history there lie huge  historic and architecturally rich mandabams that are venues for certain  important festivals. Among them the popular one is 1000 (actually 953 pillars) pillar Mandabam built by the Vijayanagara rulers. Nayaks of Thanjavur built Sesharaya mandabam, yet another masterpiece of nicely stone carved sculptures and highly decorative pillars. 

17. Nayak's yet another contribution is the Garuda mandabam with huge ornate pillars and elegant statues. The other attractions are Kili mandabam, Santhanu mandabam and the Gayatri mandabam close to the Garbagriha. 

18. The idol of Garudan made of black hard stone, is perhaps the largest one in India, according to many experts

19, The Ranga Vilas Mandabam before entering the shrine is an independent mandabam, a sort of community hall where one can relax.

20. The processional deity is often referred to in Tamil as Azhgya Manavalan (handsome bridegroom). 

21. One important and interesting festival is called ''Serthi  Uttsavam''- the union of the lord with his consorts - Raganayaki Thayyar, Kamavalli Nachiyar (daughter of Chola King; her temple is at Woraiyur) and Princess Cherakulavalli. Exception being  Sri Andal. 

22. The ''Serthi'' festivities with lord's consorts are held on different days.

23. Serthi  Mandabam comes alive on the occasion of lord's divine  union with Ranganayagi (an interesting tradition is the lord has to cajole her to accept him as she does not like his escapades to Woraiyur). On the 6 th day of Panguni Uttiram  Lord Ranganathar visits Woraiyur where the ''Serthi Uttsavam'' is held with  Kamalavalli Nachiyar. Soon, the lord  secretly gets back to Srirangam scross the Cauvery. Here, ''Serthi  uttsavam'' with Cherakula Valli (daughter of Chera ruler Kulasekara Azhwar) is held on the Sri Rama Navami day.

24. The interesting fact is though the ''Serthi'' celebrations of the lord's first three consort  are celebrated with great joy and bhakti every year, the union of the lord with that of poetess Andal is not celebrated here. It is said in the last 700 years, it has not been observed. It is a simple affair whereby Sri Ranganathar exchanges the garlands with Andal to mark the divine union.

25. Only at Srirangam Vaikunda Ekadasi festival is celebrated on a grand scale, attracting roughly 400000 devotees.

26. Except Sri Ranganathar temple, Srirangam  Andal temple, Srivilliputhur and Perumal temple at Azhwar Thirunagari, TN no other Vishnu temple in India celebrates Araiyar Sevai. - recitation of pasurams/ Nalayira Divya Prabandham by Araiyars and Pandits.

27.  Many devotees may not be aware that the  main deity  of Srirangam Sri Ranganatha swami is called Periya Perumal refering to his huge stone image in reclining posture in the sanctum. Thirupati Balaji swami is called Venkateswara Perumal and in Kanchipuram Vishnu is called Varadaraja Perumal..

Never in the sanctified divine precincts of Sri Ranganathar temple, Srirangam is there a dull or gloomy moment for the ardent devotees who are charmed by the divine beauty of the deities whose grace never fails to rejuvenate them  and helps them attain  the ecstasy  of  devotion to god.,_Srirangam
 The Hindu Suppliment,'' Ranga Mangalam'' - December 18, 2018