Beevi Nachiyar of "Cheluva Narayana temple", Melkote, Karnataka - legend similar to Srirangam

The popular legend of ''Thulukka Nachiyar'' associated with Srirangam - how the young daughter of Alauddin  Khilji of Delhi Sultanate became enamoured of the lord's idol (Urchava moorthy, a small idol made of five metals including gold, used for temple procession, festivals, etc) brought  by the Sultanate army to Delhi  and how she came down to Srirangam from Delhi in search of the idol (taken back by the priests with Sultan's permission), finally  merging  with him by dying  in the shrine and attaining the status of lord's consort,  has been known to  many of us for centuries. As the idol was not in the temple, unable to bear the pangs of pain and separation,  the rich princess fell dead before the lord and attained divinity. 

Accepting the princess of the Delhi Sultanate as his consort, the lord in the dream strictly instructed the temple priests to give her all the  temple honors and worship worthy of her devotion like other nachiyars.  As of today, the temple priests  follow the tradition for centuries without any break. 

Named ''Thuluka nachiyar.''  a separate shrine was built and as per Islamic tradition she is being worshiped in the form of painting on the wall (No idol worship). As for daily divine food - naivedyam chapatis, butter and traditional North Indian food are offered to the deity. On special days, the Vishnu idol appears in Muslim regalia in  lungi, etc., instead of a dhoti. 

The story of Surathani being taken as the consort of Lord Ranganatha is a paradox as the records are vague. There are no substantial records to prove the story and its authenticity. It could be fictional  but the interesting legend is intertwined with a blend of history, tradition. and fiction bringing out the  secular aspect of Hinduism and blending two religions and maintaining  religious harmony.  

The legend of  ''Srirangam "Thulukka Nachiyar'' is not confined to Srirangam alone. This legend is  very much alive today at Melkote (Thiru Narayanapuram) Perumal temple, Mandya district, Karnataka  where  the Muslim consort of Sri Vishnu  is worshipped with all temple honors. 

Legend of Thuluka nachiyar, Melkote version

Cheluva Narayana temple, Melkote, KA

Cheluva Narayana temple, Melkote, KA

Above image: Cheluva Narayana temple, Melkote, KA.12th CE great saint Ramanuja lived at Melkote (35 km from Srirangapatna) for 12 long years during his self-imposed exile from Srirangam. The 13 day festival in March -Panguni is quite popular and the idol of Cheluva Narayana is decorated with diamond-studded crown (Vairamudi). More than 400000 devotees attend the festival here.There is a separate shrinee for the Utsava deity(‘Selva Pillai’ -Sampath Kumaran) not seen anywhere else. Yearly only once both Moolavar and urchavar idols are seen together at this temple to celebrate the home coming of Selva Pillai Sampath Kumaran.....................

The incident is purported to have taken p  lace in the early 12th CE before the massive Muslim invasion of 1311 CE at Srirangam by the Khilji's army commanded by Malik Kaufer.  At Melkote, the legend of   Thulukka Nachiyar has more or less similar version  and Bibi Nachiyar is celebrated with devotion and is part of the history of the temple. 

Vishnu giving darshan to Bibi Nachiyar.

Having found an unfavorable political situation emerging  in the reign of Kulothunga Chozhan in the Chola nadu, who unlike other rulers of Chola dynasty, who also patronized Vishnu temple,  Ramanuja  decided  to  go to  Thondanoor, where  he met the Hoysala King Vittala Deva Raya and converted him to Sri Vaishnavism. Changing his name to Vishnu Vardhaman, he was instrumental in construction Pancha Narayana temples there to popularize Vaishnavism.

The seer Ramanujar moved over to Melkote to tale a long sojourn there till normalcy was restored  in Chola Nadu. At  Melkote, soon he  got involved in rebuilding damaged Cheluva Narayana temple with help from Hoysala ruler Sri Vishnu vardhaman.

The missing processional idol of the lord in the garbhagriha without which temple festivals could not be carried out bothered Ramanujar. He spent several sleepless nights pondering over the missing urchava idol.  Overwhelming with worries, one night Ramanujar fell asleep and that night  the lord appeared in his dream and told him that the Uchava murthy was not an ordinary one and it was given by Brahmadeva to Sri Rama, It passed several hands and finally it was worshipped by Yadushekara Maharaja of the Yadu dynasty, Vasudeva of Mathura and finally by Balarama and Krishna. It was Sri Krishna who had the idol installed at Melkote as he found the place most suitable for the divine idol. The idol is called Rama Priyan

In the reverie the lord revealed the whereabouts of the divine utsava idol which Ramanujar had been searching far. Lord told him it was  presently in the palace of the Badshahi in Delhi and is in possession the Sultan;s daughter. Lord advised him  to bring the idol back home with his permission and install at Melkote, thus bringing the divinity back to the temple and establish the old glory. When Ramanujar came out of the reverie, pleased as he was with divine intervention, he was overwhelmed with joy,  and devotion, Soon  he left for Delhi with his decuples to procure the idol at any cost,   

He sought his audience of the Sultan and upon hearing the story, Sultan not only treated him with respect and allowed him to take the idol back to Melkote  to install in the rebuilt temple. However, the sultan's daughter was adamant not to part with the idol. Despite his daughter's protest the ruler  allowed Ramanujar to take the idol back to his place, After s long journey, he finally reached Melkote after surmounting several hurdles on the way. On an auspicious day he finally installed the idol in the temple. As for the sultana who came from Delhi to Melkote with her retinue in search of idol. Unable to acquire the idol, she fell dead in the shrine and reached the lord through  her devotion. 

She is also known variously as Bibi Nachiyar, Beevi Nachiyar and Sultani Naachiyaar. Even today, when the Thiruvaradhana is offered at the Melkote sanctum, the priest first waves the lamps before the idol of Beevi Nachiyar at Thirunarayanan feet and then only proceeds to worship Perumal – a very small way to show our respects to a lady, who left behind her her opulent and luxurious lifestyle in this transient world and took refuge in the shadows of the lord to lead a quiet life .