Srirangam, the abode of the Supreme Lord, Sri Ranganatha,
the reclining form of Lord Vishnu, is situated in a picturesque island in
the hallowed South Indian River Cauvery, near
Trichy. The temple of
Ranganatha, the largest in India, is of particular reverence to all
Srirangam is also listed as one of the Navagraha Sthalas (places), or temples representing the planets. The South Indian temples in this group are Suryanarcoil - the Sun, Tirupati -the Moon, Palani- Mars, Madurai-Mercury, Tiruchendur-Jupiter, Srirangam-Venus, Tirunallaru-Saturn.
Srirangam is an eloquent symbol of age-old Indian culture, tradition and civilization, preserved and patronized by the great rulers of Tamil Nadu. It has a long history and the temple was built in stages at various periods by the ancient kings of Chola, Pandya, Hoysala, Vijayanagar dynasties and the Nayaks.
Legend Connected With The Temple
No one really knows when the Srirangam temple came into being. The actual shrine is supposed to have risen out of the "Paarkadal" (Ocean) itself as a result of Brahma's penance. According to legend, "Ikshvaku", a descendant of Surya, the Sun God, who was appointed to take care of the daily worship, is supposed to have kept it in his capital, Ayodhya . His descendant, Sri Rama presented the shrine to Vibhishana when he attended his coronation.
When Vibhishana, who was carrying it back on his head to Sri Lanka, rested briefly at Srirangam, the shrine got rooted there. Sri Ranganathaswami, the legend goes, then appeared before him and said he wished to stay on the banks of the Cauvery. He however promised the disconsolate Vibhishana that he would always lie facing Sri Lanka. Vibhishana, it is believed comes even today to pray at the temple.
About The Temple
The temple is surrounded by seven concentric walls (the outermost wall having a perimeter of over 3-km) and covers a vast area of 63 hectares. Most of the temple complex standing today was constructed between the 14th and 17th centuries.
The temple enshrines Ranganatha (also spelt as Rangathar) in the central sanctum, crowned with a gold plated Pranava Vimanam (also spelt as Vimana) or Paravasudeva Vimanam(also spelt as Vimana). A total of 7 concentric Prakarams (also spelt as Prakaras) surround this shrine, housing several Mandapams (also spelt as Mandapas), tanks and shrines. Gopurams (also spelt as Gopuras) on the south and east of the 4th Prakaram are the most impressive. A total of 21 towers adorn the temple.
The shrine of the Goddess, "Sriranga Nachiar" (also called "Thayar") is located in the 5th Prakaram. The image of the Goddess is never taken out of the shrine. There are two processional images.
The pillars here go back to the Chola period (13th century CE). The 1,000-pillared hall is also the product of the late Chola period, and is also in the 4th Prakaram; its entrance is in the south. It is here where the Adhyayanotsavam (involving the recitation of the Tamil Prabandam hymns) is held.
At the southern edge of the huge open courtyard, the Vijayanagara rulers added the hall with 8 pillars with huge horses. The Krishna Venugopala shrine on the southern side is also of great beauty. The Garuda Mandapam is located in the third Prakaram. Its pillars go back to the Nayaks of 17th century Madurai. The Chandra and Surya Pushkarini tanks are located in the 3rd Prakaram.
History Of The Temple
The temple does have a traceable history, which is quite awesome. It is mentioned in the "Silappadikaram" as well as in the Nalayiradivyaprabandham, which dates back to the third century. Koil Olugu, a chronicle of the temple, written around the 11th century attributes the construction of one of the enclosures to Tirumangaialvar, who is supposed to have lived there during the seventh century.
Periyalvar, whose adopted daughter Andal was an ardent devotee of Ranganathaswami, has also described the temple in his verses. Outside the main temple there is a small shrine supposed to have been built on the spot where Andal became one with the Lord.
The Great Reformer Ramanujacharya
Of course the most famous resident of the area, whose life and work have been well chronicled is Ramanujacharya. He was born in Sriperumbudur around the year 1137 and spent the early part of his life in Kanchipuram. He came to Srirangam as a young 'Sanyasi' and was responsible for completely revamping the administration of the temple.
Religious persecution compelled him to flee from Srirangam at the age of 80. With his band of devoted followers, he wandered all over the South before settling finally in Melkote in Karnataka.
Jatavarman Sundara Pandya 1, a Chola king who reigned during the 13th century was responsible for enlarging the temple and for covering the Lord with sumptuous gold and jewellery. According to temple chronicles, he once had two boats built on the Kaveri. In one boat he sat on the back of an elephant and in the other he poured jewels and gold till it sank to the same water line as the first. He donated all this treasure to the temple.
This king, known as "Hemachatina Raja" or the king who covered the temple with gold, is said to have built and covered many of the main parts in gold and even built a jewelled arch to cover the Lord.
Malik Kafur who caused the collapse of the Pandya dynasty in the 14th century, raided Srirangam and carried away most of its treasures. Ten years later, Mohammed Bin Tughluq (also spelt as Tuglaq) turned the temple of Srirangam into a fort. The priests of the temple took the Uthsavamurti of Ranganathaswami and whatever vessels and jewels they could save and fled. The idol of Thayar was buried in the temple courtyard itself.
For over 50 years, the Utsavamurti, lived in exile. The temple functionaries managed to keep the "Mulavars" (main idols) safe by building a wall over them. The Uthsavamurti is said to have traveled all over India and was finally kept at Tirupati, apparently hidden in a ravine. When peace returned, since the old idol could not be found, a new one was installed. The wall protecting the Moolavar was removed.
However, a couple of years later, suddenly the old idol resurfaced and there was a controversy as to which was the original one. A blind washer man, it is said, identified the true idol by the fragrance of Kasturi, which lingered on its vestments.
Apocryphal Stories Often Told By The Residents Of Srirangam
In Srirangam, myths, legends and history are inextricably blended into apocryphal stories, which the residents tell you as you walk down the corridors of the enormous temple. At one spot, for instance, there are five strange holes drilled into the solid stone floor, in front of a pair of elegantly carved feet.
Once, the story goes, Ranganatha decided to dress himself as Thayar and appear before his devotees because he wanted to understand why people only appealed to him through his wife. As he came down the corridor, dressed like a woman, Thayar is said to have stood in that corner of the passage hidden by the wall. As he neared, she inserted her fingers into those holes for grip and bent to peer around the wall to watch him coming.
The Lord of Srirangam has been endowed with some very human traits, which make it easier for the devotees to identify with him. During festive celebrations, for example a unique quarrel is enacted between the Lord and Thayar at the Woraiyur temple close by.
According to legend it is said that weeks before the day, which had been fixed for their marriage, Sriranga (Ranganatha) was nowhere to be seen. Thayar, heard stories of his wandering around, meeting other women and so, when he finally appeared on their wedding day, she became very angry and threw out all the fruit and butter and eatables prepared for the feast. He, however, finally pacified her and convinced her that he had only gone hunting and that the scratches on his back were made by a wild animal.
Services And Festivals
An elaborate protocol of worship services is offered here throughout the day. On about 120 days, the Utsavamurti is taken out in procession out of the inner sanctum. Aadi Bhramotsavam is celebrated in Panguni (March-April). The grand Adhyayanotsavam is celebrated in the month of Margazhi (December-January), involving the recitation of the Prabandham hymns or Alwar Pasurams in the thousand pillared hall.
Vaikunta Ekadasi in December, Chitrai Car Festival in April, Thai Car Festival in January, Theppam Festival in February and Goratham Festival in March are the other important festivals celebrated in Srirangam.
Air: The nearest airport is at
Rail: Srirangam is an important railway junction on the metre-gauge of Southern Railway and is well connected with the towns and cities of the state.
Road: Srirangam situated on the National Highway No.45 on Tiruchirapalli-Madras route is well connected by road with the major towns and cities within and beyond the state. For local transportation taxis, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and city buses are available.
Accommodation is available at the economy class hotels and Devasthanam choultries in Srirangam. All class of accommodation is available in Trichy.