Fascinating Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival, Srirangam Ranganathar temple

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

Ranganathar temple, Srirangam. commons.wikimedia.org

Margazhi, the 9th month of the Tamil Calendar is  derived from the Sanskrit word Margasirsi  and it  covers the period  between mid-December, ending with the Bogi Pandigai (a part of Pongal festival) on 14 January in the following year. The full moon in this month  happens on the day mid-January when the star, Marugasirsa  is  powerful. Normally, social events like Upanayanam, wedding Giruha Pravesam (Moving into s newly built house) and other rituals / family functions are avoided in this month and much importance is given to spiritual activities and temple celebrations.  Margazhi is dedicated to activities related to divinity as in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna  says that he is Margazhi among the 12  and resides in the best of everything. In this month,
the Brahma Muhurtham is especially dedicated to the Devas. It is the time between  4.00 am to 6.00 am and is believed to be auspicious to  engage in puja, studies, practicing music, etc.  (Actually Brahma Muhurtha is a period one and a half hours before sunrise or more precisely 1Hr 36 Mins before sunrise, an auspicious time for religious practices, etc.)Many religious rituals and  activities related to Vaishnavisam and Shivaism are scheduled to take place in this period.
In the case of Vaishnavism, rendering of  the Tirupaavai Pasurams in all Vishnu temple in Margazhi is a great event, in particular, at Sri Villiputhur Andal temple dedicated to Sri Andal (Lakshmi) and Vishnu (Rengamanner), who composed the divine songs Thirupavai. 

 Yet another festival of  great religious importance at the Vishnu temple is Vaikuntha Ekadasi - the most renowned and auspicious festival for which Srirangam Ranganathar temple is famous and is held in grand style which you can not see any other temple.  Here, the Adhyayana Utsavam is held for 21 long  days. During the first 10 days prior to Vaikuntha Ekadasi, the  recitation of the first 1000  divine verses, the beautiful Tiruvaimozhi by Nammazhwar – the  most important part of the - Nalayera (four thousand) Divya Prabhandam Pasurams  dedicated to Lord Vishnu / Narayana takes place. It is chanted by a group  of selected people  with intense dedication and devotion. This period before Ekadasi is called  Pagal Pathu.

 On the day of Vaikuntha Ekadasi temple festival, the presiding deity Sri Ranganathar, well dressed and adored with valuable jewelry comes out of  What is called Pramapadha Vaasal ' Swarga Vaasal (Door of Heaven; a specially designated door in every Vishnu temple).  People in thousands worship the lord when he emerges from the Swarga Vaasal. The tradition has it that devotees who pray to the Lord while comig out of the Door to Paradise, will be blessed with no rebirth. They will be free from the cycle of birth and death and will attain eternal rest in the shadow of the divine lord. Normally, this ceremonious ritual will be held before dawn around 4 am.
Ariyar sevai, Srirangam. Araya samajam - blogger

Following the Vaikuntha Ekadasi day,  at Srirangam temple, yet another  interesting celebration takes place for the next ten days called  Raapathu or Irappathu. It involves the recitation of the remaining 3000 divine verses of the Divya Prabandham. This is done exclusively by Ariyars who are the clans of a set of people dedicated to this Ariyar Seva. In this Seva,  the recitation of  divine hymns of Nalayara Divya Prabandham is gracefully done with dance performance by ariyars and their disciples. Brahmins (Vadakalai tradition or thenkalai sampradayam), hailing from the traditional Ariyar families are allowed to take part in the Seva). This  ritual is also performed at many Divya Desam centres including Srirangam town. At Srirangam, Ranganathar wears Muthangi' an armor of Pearls on all 20 days - both raa pathu and pagal pathu. On the 10th day of Pagal Pathu (previous day of Vaikuntha Ekadashi) Utsavar Namperumal will bless devotees in Mohini Alankaram.

 Vaikunta Ekadasi is a very important significant celebration in Vishnu temples like Tirupati, Srirangam, Kumbakonam and Kanchipuram.  At  the Bhadrachalam Temple it is celebrated on a grand scale. So at Vishnu temples in Kerala where   it is known as Swarga Vathil Ekadashi. Here, the presiding deity (Utchavar) is taken in a  procession around the temple.

For the Vaishnavites, Srirangam is the most important temple next to Tirupathi, AP. During the Vaikuntha Ekadasi celebrations, all the 21 days devotees throng the temple to seek the lord's blessing to start the New Year afresh  with positive attitude to achieve success, prosperity and peace of mind. Fasting the whole day is an important aspect this important festival. So are devotional activities like meditation, Japa or bhajans. 

Vaikuntha Ekadasi". The Hindu. 2003-12-29. Retrieved 2007-04-19.