Vellayi, brave devadasi woman prevented the loot of Vishnu idol of Srirangam temple by Delhi Sultanate army!!

Srirangam, Vellai Gopuram.

That the  Srirangam temple is not only the largest temple and religious complex  in India but also in the world is true and  has attracted lots of tourists year round. This popular  temple, dedicated to lord Vishnu,  is recognized as one of the largest functional  Hindu temples in the world. The other existing temple Angkor Wat in Cambodia is much larger, but not a functional one like Srirangam temple. This temple that follows Thegalai  tradition or ''Samprathayam''(of Ayyengar sect of Brahmins of Tamil Nadu) is the first  among 108 Divya Desam shrines and it  attracts several lakhs of people during the month of Margazhi (mid December to mid January) when the annual 21 day festival including Vaikuntha Ekadasi that had been observed yesterday - December 29 1917. To-day on, an important 'Seva' called ''Ariyar Seva'' is held as part of  Raa Pathu (pagal pathu ended on 28 December) that will end on Bogi Pongal on 14 January 2018. It is a huge temple covering 155 acres (63 ha) with 50 shrines, 21 towers, 39 pavilions and many water tanks - all integrated into the complex.

Location of Tiruchirapalli City, Tamil

Among the 21 towers (gopurams), the Eastern Gopuram called Vellai Gopuram (tower) by the local people that is painted in white  has an interesting history behind it, but it is a poignant one.  This historical tower, also known as the ''Tower of Sacrifice'' is named after a courageous and good-looking  Devadasi woman Vellayi  whose life was dedicated to the service of god Ranganatha. But for her timely intervention and sacrifice done at this tower, the Srirangam temple would have been either severely damaged beyond  redemption or more people in and around this temple would have lost their lives.

Notorious Alauddin Khilji of Delhi Sultanate

 In the 14th and 15th centuries, invasions of rich Hindu temples in the north by the Muslim rulers of Delhi (who came from the NW of India) became frequent. The attack was quite rampant during the reign of the Slave Dynasty part of the reason was they were after the temple treasures, gold jewelry, etc. Surprisingly, in the year 1323 during the Tamil month of Vaikasi, a large Delhi army under the command of Ulgah Khan ( Almas Beg - died c. 1301/02), better known by his title Ulugh Khan) was a brother and a general of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji raided the Srirangam temple and looted the treasures. The loot was not good enough.

Vellayi  jumping off the tower, Srirangam
Srirangam Vellayi and the Delhi Sultanate Commander,

Knowing the attack well in advance, the acharyas and others  made efforts to protect the temple. The processional idol (Urchavar) of Namperumal had been removed and was on the way  to Madurai  under the efforts of the Vaishnavite Acharya, Pillailokacharya.  But later he died on the way to Tirunelveli. Consort Reganayaki's idol was taken to a different place in a separate procession. According to 'Koyilozhugu,' a true  record of events relating to Srirangam temple, the invaded Muslim army, including mercenaries without remorse killed 12000 Vaishnavites who were guarding the temple. Their purpose of attack was to grab the main idol - Namperumal, which they believed was made of pure ‘Abaranji' gold. Somehow they got the scent  the idol had been taken out of  town. The situation was chaotic and the people were in the grip of  fear as  one section of soldiers went on a rampage and damaged the temple, while the other group under the commander was on the lookout for the Pillilokacharya and the idol.

Srirangam temple, TN interior.

Sensing trouble, emergence of grave situation and the impending danger of Delhi army catching up with the Acharya, his followers and the idol, Vellayi, the temple dancer (Devadasi) came up with a strategy to save the acharya and the idol at the same time unmidful of her personal risk.  Taking advantage of the respite the army had, she performed a dance before the commander and his forces to divert their attention and to get gain more time  for Pillailokacharya and his entourage  to escape with the idol be out of reach of the treacherous Muslim army.  After the end of the spell-binding dance, Vellayi took the Commander to the top of the tower promising him  to show him the purported location of the golden idol of Perumal in the temple. On top of the tower, no sooner had he begun  looking down for the spot than she pushed him down off the tower and killed the military head. To avoid harassment and punishment by the invading army  she jumped to death from the tower chanting "Narayana''.
 Soon, the Vijayanagara forces began to attack the invading Muslim army and recaptured the temple under the chief  of Vijayanagara forces, Kempanna.  When Kempanna came to about Vellayi's bravery, timely help and her supreme sacrifice, he named the tower / Gopuram Vellayi Gopuram in her honor; the name Vellayi became Vellai Gopuram, meaning in local parlance white tower. The Gopuram stands as a great memorial to a humble woman, who not only saved the idol of Namperumal (Vishnu) but also thousands of lives.  Here, she  made a niche for herself in the history of Sri Ranganather temple. 

Srirangam Ranganathar (Vishnu)

The idol of Namperumal that left Srirangam in 1323 returned  only in 1371 CE  with the conquest of the South by the Vijayanagar. During the long interval, the regular pujas for Sri. Ranganathar were done at the  Gopurpatti  Perumal kovil. Besides, on the Aadi Ammavasai day every year, the  ''tithi'' (homage) is performed  for those 12,000 Vaishnavites who were killed while protecting the temple from the invading  Delhi Sultanate army.