Srirangam – I have heard the name so many times from people belonging to Sri Vaishnava sect. My perception about it was like another temple town, thriving around a temple specially after not so divine or happy experience in Tirumala. All my perceptions went wrong when I visited Srirangam last Sunday. Before going into details, I can declare honestly that it has cast a spell of heavenly bliss in my mind. It is the place where one can truly feel the divinity. Srirangam is an riverine island bounded by Kaveri and Kollidam rivers in suburbs of Trichy and a major pilgrimage mainly due to the Ranganathaswamy Temple. It is one of the 108 Divya Deshams and called Bhooloka Vaikuntha(Heaven on Earth) and indeed it is.
Legend of Sri Ranganath
The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu. After the war of Ramayana, when Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya, Bibheesana accompanied him to his coronation ceremony. When he was returning to Lanka, Lord Ram presented him the beautiful idol of Sri Ranganatha to install in Sri Lanka. When he reached Srirangam he put down the deity here and Lord Ranganatha refused to move from there. He wished to stay at the place though promised to look towards Sri Lanka for eternity.
Srirangam As Is
Srirangam today is a bustling pilgrimage town. The Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple functions as the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world. The temple is actually a living fortress distributed in seven concentric bastions or prakara with the innermost two precincts are dedicated to the shrines and sanctum and outer ones serves as settlements. The temple traces back to antiquity over thousands of years with evidences on record as early as 10th century. All Hindu powers ruling over the region from Chola, Pandya, Hoysala, Vijayanagara and Nayaks contributed to the construction, maintenace and upkeep of the temple. The temple bore brunt of savage attack, plunder and genocide by Muslims once by Malik Kafur in 1323 and then by Ulugh Khan few years later. The temple is home of many ancient and living rituals and incidents of supreme devotion and love of the Vaishnava sages, Alvars, and devotees and reverberates with a blissful divine environment.
The Seven Grand Gateways
The temple has 21 gopurams(gateways). The tallest one is the 1st one called Rajagopuram on the south. This is the main entrance to the temple enclosure. It is a majestic structure with beautiful coloring and intricate designs.It can be seen from far. Then the smaller yet beautiful gopurams comes. Shops and houses are all along the road. From the 5th gopuram the main temple enclosure starts and only Hindus are allowed beyond the 6th one where the sanctum starts. Once in the sanctum devotees need to go to either of three queues(free, Rs 50, Rs 250). Once in the queue moves in clockwise direction and enters the Garbhagriha where the beautiful image of the reclining Lord mesmerizes the devotee though for a minute only.
Sub Shrines of Srirangam
There are about 50+ sub shrines in the temple complex of different Gods, Godesses, demi gods, saints and a Muslim princess too and each one of them have lores associated with it.
Sesha Rayar Mandapam
It is a beautiful hall erected by the Nayak dynasty. It is very artistic with sculputres of warriors riding horses. Each pillar has different carvings. Inside pillars depict mythological references like Dashavatars, Ramayana events.
The legend loosely tracks its origin in Malik Kafurs raids to South India. During plunder of Srirangam in 1300s the Muslim generals took away Lord’s Utsav Murti(Processional deity) to Delhi along with the loot. A princess of Delhi took the idol with her used to play and take care of it. Meanwhile, devotees from Srirangam vowed to recover the Lord from Muslim household went chasing them to Delhi. They met the Sultan, pleased them with songs and music. When Sultan asked for remuneration, they wanted only the idol and the Sultan did not agree first. But later he agreed and the devotees went away in a voyage back to Deccan with their prized possession. But the princess got depressed and could not stay without the idol. So she chased them, but fearing an attack devotees took many covert detours. Hence, the princess reached Srirangam only to see that the idol has not arrived. She was so passionate about the idol, she died in shock in front of the main deity. The priest was instructed by Lord Ranganatha that due to her devotion and care, her soul has merged with Him. So a shrine should be erected to respect her devotion and sacrifice despite being a Muslim.
Sri Ramanujacharya Sannidhi
He was a polymath(1017-1137 CE) of Srirangam who was instrumental of establishment of Sri Vaishnava sect or Visishta Advaitavad in Srirangam as well as entire South India. He lived 120 yrs of which he has spent about 80 years in Sri Rangam and the rituals, administration even today is laid by his guidance through the different scriptures, books he wrote. His mortal mummified body is still preserved in the shrine.
This the only white gopuram among the 21 gopuram and has a story associated with it. Vellai meanWhite in Tamil. In 1323, Ulugh Khan invaded Srirangam. Meanwhile wiser from the earlier experience of invasion of Malik Kafur, devotees hid the idols and the weath. Out of frustration of finding an empty temple, he vandalized many parts of temple and left his generals to occupy the temple.The generals defiled the temple by eating meat and doing many sins in the pious temple. Sadened by this a devdasi called Vellaiamman devised a plan to kill the general. She seduced him and told him that she knows where are the treasures. She lured him up to the Gopuram and point to some idol and pushed the General to his end. She soon followed the same as she chose death over getting violated by his soldiers. The Gopuram is painted white to honour her supreme sacrifice and courageous act.
With so many Shrines and enchanting legends Srirangam is bound to mesmerize every visitor.It is a place that elevates the mind away from mundane world and fill with a heavenly spiritual bliss.