Some interesting facts on Vaikunta Ekadasi and Paramapada vaasal, Srtrangam Ranganathar temple

Srirangam temple. GyaniPandit

Paramapada vaasal, Srirangam Srirangam

In the Hindu pantheon there is no dearth of gods, goddesses, demigods, etc, so are Hindu temple festivals and age-old  rituals that are being strictly adhered  to by respective temples - both Shiva and Vishnu temples. In the case of Vishnu temples, the presiding deity Sri Vishnu is Alankara Priyar (fond of colorful dress and jewelry) unlike Sri Shiva who is supposedly the god of ''yoga''.  So the rituals in Vishnu temples are elaborate, interesting and catchy. Among the Hindu temple festivals, Vaikunta Ekadasi is an important one and is celebrated at all Sri Vishnu temples across Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. It is quite famous at Sri Ranganathar temple, Srirangam, near Tiruchirapalli city.

Vaikunta  Ekadasi, also referred to as Suklapaksha Ekadasi comes in the month of  Margazhi  (derived from the Sanskrit word Margasirsi) - December-January. In the same month is held Arurthdra, an important auspicious festival for the Saivites.   At no other temples it is celebrated with great  pomp, fanfare  and grandeur than at Srirangam Ranganathar temple, the foremost among the 108 Divyadesam shrines  recognized by Tamil Vaishnava saints Azhwars. Since it is Mokshada Ekadasi, the belief among Vaishnavites is  that opening of Paramapada vaasal, the gate to the Lord's  abode - inner sanctum (garbagriham or srikovil) is  an auspicious event and if devotees pass through the Paramapada vaasal or Swarga vaasal (gate), they will be blessed with prosperity and peaceful life by the lord. Most importantly, they can get rid  of their sin and be eligible to get moksham. Often referred to as Booloka Vaikuntam, you can not resist the benign grace and  charm of the lord. Hence lots of people visit this shrine to get immersed in His divine charm and attributes and by the same token  Emperumal rejoices in the intense and unalloyed devotion of his devotees.

1000 pillar hall, Ranganathar temple srirngam.

At this temple on the day of Ekadasi, the presiding deity Ranganathar -Perumal will leave the sanctum (in Virchiga lagna) with Muthangi Alangaram (cloth woven with pearls) around 4.15 am. Accompanied by bhaktas  and priests.  He will emerge through the Paramapada vaasal around 5.30 am. After some rituals, He will proceed in a procession to Thirumamani Asthana mantap around 8 am to bless the devotees. Perumal will leave this mantap after some important rituals around 11.30 pm.

Ariyar sevai, Srirangam temple, TNt he Hindu

The Adhyayana Utsavam is a major event and  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. Soon after following the Vaikunta Ekadasi day,  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 with singing and dancing.

Namperuman emeging from paramapadavasal.

Initiated by Nathamuni (10th century Vaishnavite scholar), ''Araiyar sevai'' is an integral and  important ritual in which Araiyars  (hailing from families of hereditary performers engaged in  dancing and singing devotional hymns during festival time) will recite 110 Pasurams in Tamil before the deity. They also play on Veena as well and in this regard old timers can not help recalling  Prof. Ranganathan of National College, Tiruchi  who had had been doing a yeoman service for a pretty long time in the 1960s and 1970s till his old age. After Araiyar sevai around 1.30 am (19th December) Perumal will reach the sanctum accompanied by priests and devotes in the midst of Veena music. 

Araiyar Sevai is associated with Vaikunta Ekadasi only at three Divyadesam  shrines - Sri Villiputhur and Azhwar Thirunagari besides Srirangam.

Garuda mantap, Ranganathar temple, Srirangam,

On 19th Dec. there will be Muthangi Seva and appearing in this stunning alankaram, the lord will bless the devotees from 7 am till 7 pm.

Paramapada vaasal (on the north side) will be kept open from 5.30 am till 10 pm night for the benefit of devotees who throng the gate.

During Pagal pathu (10 days) after 9 pm no  seva in the Moolasthanam (garbagraha). From Ekadasi day for 10 days (Rapathu) Paramapada vaasal will be kept open during certain hours for darshan. After this festival, it will be closed for ever to be opened only following year.

Pilgrims normally will pass  through this gate  for darshan. They want to be blessed by the lord on this day in order to get rid of their past sin and  to be free from rebirth. The itheegam / traditional belief is Jeevathma (human soul) in people passes through the gate to reach paramathma (divine).

During the long 21-day festival at least 400000 devotees will visit the temple under heavy security cover. Roughly 3000 police men will be guarding the crowd and the temple. 

Fasting on the Ekadasi day by devotees is significant. According to Agni Purana no mantra is equal to Gayatri mantra, no Thertham is as holy as the  Ganges water and no deivam (deity) is comparable to mother (Thayar); so is the vratham (fasting) undertaken on this auspicious day. Mind you, certain norms have to be followed to observe vratham. Anyway, fasting as specified during Ekadasi day is good for physical as well as mental well being.

According to a legend to contain  Trinity God Brahma's ego and arrogance, Lord Vishnu created two Assuras - demons  to subdue him.  But the Assuras were  on the verge of killing  Brahma, Vishnu intervened and told them not to kill him. Assuras agreed  on condition that Lord Vishnu should fight with them for a month and then only they would attain siddhi (salvation). Lord Vishnu agreed to fight with them and at the end He defeated them by killing. Assuras requested them that they wanted to be ever present at the lotus feet of the lord. So, Lord Vishnu, on the Ekadasi day in the month of Margazhi (during the waxing phase of the moon), opened the Paramapada vaasal on the north side and allowed them to merge with Him. Pleased as they were, the Assuras  also requested the almighty that their salvation on this day should be celebrated in all Vishnu temples and the people should also get blessed by the lord just like He blessed them. Hence Vikunta Ekadasi assumes much religious significance and divinity here.

Very much impressed by saint  Thirumangai Azhwar's  sincere devotion to Him, Lord Vishnu appeared before him and asked him what boon he wanted from Him.  Overwhelmed with joy mixed with ecstasy, the saint requested Ranganathar that Ekadasi at Srirangam should also honor and mark the devotional literary work of Namazhwar who wrote ''Thituvaimozhi''. Hence here Namazhwar Moksham  (reaching heavens) is a great event on this day.
An interesting feature is Sri Ranganathar is glorified  by all Azhwars except Madurakavi Azhwar who sang about Namazhwar, his mentor. Of them, 11 Azhwars had their Mangalasanam here. So, this temple is highly sanctified, heralding the glory and divinity of the lord and his consorts. Further, the atmosphere in this temple is charged with spirituality and devotion because  a plethora of festivals is going on through out the year. As for the presiding deity and His retinue, there is no respite as the devotees  keep coming here and showering on the inimitable Lord with  devotion and Bhakti. This festival has been in vogue at this temple since the time of Thirumangai Azhwar. He composed ''Thiruthandakam'', a compilation of devotional hymns in praise of lord Vishnu which was recited on the night of 7th Dec (7 pm) this year in the sanctum. Later  after 7.45 pm there was Upanyasam - discourse/explanation of the devotional hymns in santhanu mantap.

Yet another legend has it that the Dwarapalakas (sentinels)  Jaya and Vijaya closed the gates to vaikuntam. When Perumal asked them why they had closed the gates, they replied that on Earth Kaliyuga had begun, so, adharma, violence, dishonesty, cheating and other sins will become part of life and no person from Kaliyuga would be fit to enter vaikuntam. Vishnu said that on earth number of people who had trust in god and engaged in charity would multiply despite dominance of characterless and dishonest  people. So you must keep the Paramapada vaasal open for those righteous and  charitable people who will seek my blessings. This incident took place on the Ekadasi day (Sukla paksha) in the month of Margazhi.
At all Perumal temples there is a Paramapada vaasal (facing north) that remains closed through out the year except on Vaikunta Ekadasi day. When Perumal passes through the gate, devotes also follow the deity in the procession. The belief is they will be absolved of all sins and will get salvation. At Srirangam people in lakhs pass through Paramapada vaasal on this day seeking  His blessings so that they will never be tortured by rebirth!!

Srirangam Ranganathar temple.Sri. Ramanujar shrine.

Sri Ramanujar, who propounded Vaishnavism and who shed his mortal remains to get eternal glory, had meticulously codified certain rituals to be followed at  Srirangam temple and, for the past 900 years, temple festivals, daily rituals, puja protocols etc have been followed by the temple administration as per his wish.

Vaikunta Ekadasi day is equally celebrated with gaiety at Tirupati Balaji temple, Triplicane Parthasarathy temple, Sri Andal temple at Srivilliputhur, Uppiliappan kovil and Sri Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam.

Srirangam Ranaganathar temple, which was with great difficulty resurrected after Delhi Sultanate army's invasion in the 14th century,  occupies a unique place in Tamil Nadu. The new Rajagopuram, 236 feet in height - tallest temple tower in the world, built 33 years ago (thanks to the dedicated efforts put in by the then Ahobila Mutt Jeer) is a symbol of resurgence and glory of Srirangam in the recent past.