''Vaikuntha Ekadashi'' and Sri Ranganathar temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu -unbroken age-old tradition

Sri Ranganathar Temple in Srirangam  .tripadvisor.com.

Sri Ranganathar Temple in Srirangam zeenews.com

The Tamil month of Marghazi is an auspicious one for the Hindus, particularly, in South India. Among the temple festivals of this  month,  Vaikuntha Ekadashi is a grand  one. and  is celebrated in all Vishnu temples across south India.  In Tamil Nadu, at Srirangam town close to Tiruchy city, at Sri Ranganathar temple, the largest functional temple in the world,  it is a long- drawn and colorful festival.  Vaikuntha Ekadashi  is actually the Shukla Paksha Ekadashi that comes  during the Dhanu/Margazhi month of  the Hindu calendar (late December - early January ). Associated with Vaishnava  samprathayam, Vaishavites believe  ‘the gate to the Lord's inner Sanctum/ Garbagriha’ is opened on this day. This  Margashirsha Shukla Paksha Ekadashi (according to Lunar calendar) is  also referred to  as 'Mokshada Ekadashi.' - giver of salvation (no birth- death cycle). The Hindu tradition has it that  during this long festival there will be several  centuries-old religious activities  and rituals  all for the benefits of the people.  Common features are  special pujas, yagnas, religious  discourses  accompanied by music, etc. A foremost Divya Desam shrine it is  busy round the year with more than 400 temple festivals celebrated.
Closed Paramapada vasal, sri Ranganathar temple, Srirangam divyadesam.com

Vaikunta Ekadasi celebrations at  Sri Ranganathar Temple in Srirangam  are quite popular; there will be festivities all through     21 days divided into two halves, each lasting 10 days . First half  being Pagal Pathu - morning first ten days before Vaikunta Ekadasi and the other one is  Erapathu..  During the twenty one days period Thiruvaimozhi (One Thousand devotional  hymns composed by Nammazhwar) and Nalayira Divya Prabandham composed by various Azhwar saints are recited with  Passion and devotion  by Pundits (Ariars).   

God Vishnu emerging thru Swarga Vaasal, Srirangam, TN.knramesh - blogger

Normally,  the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival begins with the recitation of Thirumangai Azhwar' s pasurams‘ ‘Thirunedunthandakam'.
The main venue of the temple premises is
the Arjuna Mandapam and every day during  festivities, Namperumal is  brought to the  Mandapam in Simha gait (Lion Walk).  So are the idols of Azhwars and Acharyas from their respective sannidhis/shrines. The Arjuna Mandapam has a  shrine of Thulukka Nachiyar (a Muslim princess, a devotee of Sri Vishnu) from where betel leaves and nuts are sent to the Lord.

Ariyar Sevai, Srirangam temple. arangham.com

Above image: Centuries-old  Tamil performing art form, involving  ritual singing and enactment of the hymns of the Divya Prabandham. Araiyar sevai is generally performed only inside Sri Vishnu temples before  the temple uthsavar (processional deity). It is done only by hereditary performers. Once it was a common practice during the Vaikuntha Ekadashi at countless temples, now is held at the shrine of Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Temple, the shrine of Alvar Tirunagari and the temple of Andal at Srivilliputhur, Tamil Nadu. Ariyar sevai is an important part of pagal pathu and Erapathu events during the annual Vaikuntha Ekdashi festival, Srirangam. .........

Among interesting and traditional rituals associated with Ekadasi at this temple,  the Araiyar Sevai is an inspiring one, bringing out the essence of devotion. Bhakti and Saranagathi (utter surrender to the lotus feet of the lord). It is done by hereditary Araiyars  who chant  hymns during morning for ten days (Pagal Paththu) before the  decorated Utchavar idol. Each day the Emperumal idol will have special, eye-catching  alangaram (decoration). On the 10th day, the lord blesses the devotees in  Mohini Avataram wearing fine ornaments and  white silk. This Alankaram draws thousands of  devotees to see the lord to get blessed on this annual event.
On Ekadasi day,  in the early morning, around 3 to 4 am Utsavar Namperumal will bless the devotees in an armor of diamonds (rathnaangiafter emergeing  from the sanctum/garbagrihaAdorned with the Pandian Kondai and a  garland containing  tiny parrots, the lord has a dazzling appearance. Soon the Arya Bhatal doors are closed  and  the Araiyars  begin to recite the first verse of Nammazhwar's Tiruvaimozhi.

From the  sanctum Utchavar  idol (procession(al) idol is carried on  the Prathakshana path (clock-wise) called  Rajamahendran circle  amidst the recitation of holy  verses of Pillai Perumal Iyengar.  Now, the most important event is to take place that is  as soon as the  Namperumal's procession reaches the Paramapada Vasal (gate to the God's abode) and its doors are flung open. Now Sri Vishnu emerges through the gate in a decorated  palanquin blessing a select group of devotees  and the common  people for their health, wealth and peace of mind. This gate (to the Heaven) is opened once in a year, only on the Vaikuntha Ekadashi day and rest of the year is closed. The belief has been that  whoever goes through the Paramapada Vasal will reach vaikuntham (get salvation).  Observing a rigorous fasting on the Vaikunta Ekadasi day is a must for all devotees and it is equal to fasting  on the other 23 Ekadashis falling throughout the year.
 According to Padma Purana,it was the female energy of  God Vishnu who saved the lord by slaying  demon Muran and  protected the 'Devas'. As this incident took place on the eleventh day of lunar month during the sun's journey in the Dhanu Rash, Sri Vishnu, as a token of his appreciation,  named  her as 'Ekadashi' and gave her the  the boon  '' that those who worship 'Ekadashi' on the day of her victory over Muran  (the evil force) would reach 'Vaikuntham' (His abode; meaning ''Salvation'').
 Later, the devotees are allowed to go inside the temple to pray to the Moolavar and then come out through the  Paramapada Vasal (the northern gate) and pray to the Utchavar idol. It is just one way walk  across the gate.   At many Vishnu Temples across  India, the temple administrators  make a door kind of structure (depicting Paramapada Vasal ) on this Ekadashi day for devotees to walk through.
The lord is  then taken to the Tirumamani Mandapam, just the way he was blessing the devotees in  the Arjuna Mandapam for ten days. And  from now on  he will be in this Mandapa at night (Erapathu) and listen to the chanting of Thiruvaimozhi along with Azhwars and  Acharyas. This is the reason  why he is called  Kaveri theera rasika!
Yet another feature is 
during the Vaikunta Ekadasi  festivities - 20  days  Moolavar Ranganathar (main deity) in the garbagriha  is nicely decorated with an armor of  expensive pearls - 'Muthangi' People throng the temple to receive blessings from Azhagiya Manavalan ( the charismatic Bridegroom whose aura isall-pervading. If you stand before him in supplication in all your humility he will never fail you and help you go past the  Maya around you.  

At Srirangam the Ekadashi festivities follow the following schedule that may vary every year:

Dec. 27, 2019:   Vaikuntha Ekadashi   celebrations begin, First day of Pagal pathhu. 
Jan, 05, 2020:  Pagal Pathu 10th day; Mohini Alangaram (decoration).Jan. 06, 2010:  Opening of Paramapada vasal  at early morning 4.45 am.  Beginning of Erapaathu on the same day Ist day. Moolavar Muthangi Seva ( up to 7th night; also Namperumal Kaithala seva same night). Namazhawar Mohini Avatharam).
 Jan, 13, 2020: Erapathu- 8th day. Thirumangaimannan Vedupari - Namperumal Horse (kuthirai) vahanam.
Jan.15, 2020:  10th day of  Erapathu.  Therthavari,
Jan 16, 2020:  11th day, one of the twelve saints in Sri Vaishnavism  poet 'Namazhvar'' attaining salvation (Moksham).