The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple or Thiruvarangam Tamil : திருவரங்கம் is a Hindu temple dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Hindu deity, Vishnu located in Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India . Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, this temple is glorified in the Thiviya Pirabandham, the early medieval Tamil literature canon of the Alvar saints from the 6th to 9th centuries AD and is counted among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu. The temple follows Thenkalai tradition of worship.
It is one of the most illustrious Vaishnava temples in South India rich in legend and history. Its location, on an island in Cauvery river, has rendered it vulnerable to natural disasters as well as the rampaging of invading armies – Muslim and European – which repeatedly commandeered the site for military encampment. The main entrance, known as the Rajagopuram (the royal temple tower), rises from the base area of around 13 cents (around 5720 sq ft) and goes up to 72 m, moving up in eleven progressively smaller tiers. The annual 21 day festival conducted during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December–January) attracts 1 million visitors. Srirangam temple is often listed as the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, the still larger Angkor Wat being the largest existing temple. The temple occupies an area of 631,000 m² with a perimeter of 4,116m making it the largest temple in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world.
Sriranga Mahathmiyam is the compilation of religious accounts of the temple which detail the origins of its greatness. According to it, Lord Rama, himself an Avatar of Vishnu, worshiped the idol for a long time, and when he returned victoriously from Sri Lanka after destroying Ravana, he gave it to King Vibhishana as a token of appreciation for the latter’s support for Rama against his own brother, Ravana. When Vibhishana was going via Trichy en route to Sri Lanka, the deity wanted to stay in Srirangam. Ranganatha, captivated by the devotion of a King called Dharma Varma, who was doing penance to have Lord Ranganatha to permanently stay Srirangam, stayed put, promising to cast his benign glance eternally on Lanka. Hence it is that the deity (in a reclining posture) faces South.
The temple is mentioned in Tamil works of literature of the Sangam era, including the epic Silapadikaram (book 11, lines 35–40):
However, archaeological inscriptions are available only from the 10th century AD. The inscriptions in the temple belong to the Chola, Pandya, Hoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties who successively swayed the destinies of the Tiruchirapalli district. They range in date between the 9th and 16th centuries and are registered by the ephigraphical society.
The location where the Ranganathan idol was placed was later covered by an overgrowth of deep forests, due to disuse. After a very long time, a Chola king, chasing a parrot, accidentally found the idol. He then established the Ranganathaswamy temple as one of the largest temple complexes in the world.
According to historians, most dynasties that ruled the South – Cholas, Pandiyas, Hoysalas, Nayaks – assisted with renovation and in the observance of the traditional customs. Even during periods of internal conflicts amongst these dynasties, utter importance was given to the safety and maintenance of these temples. It is said that a Chola king presented the temple with a golden serpent couch. Some historians identify this king with Rajamahendra Chola, supposedly the son of Rajendra Chola II. But it is of interest to note that he never figures in the latter’s inscriptions, neither in the 4th year (that shows various members of the family going on rampage in different regions) nor in the 9th year (that shows only one member of the 2nd generation).
During the period of invasion by Malik Kafur and his forces in 1310–1311, the idol of the deity was stolen and taken to Delhi. In a daring exploit, devotees of Srirangam ventured to Delhi and enthralled the emperor with their histrionics. Moved by their talent, the emperor was pleased to gift them the presiding deity of Srirangam, which was requested by the performers. Things took a drastic turn immediately. Surathani, his daughter, had fallen in love with the deity and followed him to Srirangam. She prostrated herself to the God in front of the sanctum sanctorum and is believed to have attained the heavenly abode immediately. Even today, a painting of "Surathani" (known as Thulukha Nachiyar in Tamil) can be seen in her shrine near the Arjuna Mandap adjacent to the sanctum sanctorum for whom, chappathis (wheat bread) are made daily. The kalyana utsavam or marriage of Lord Ranganathar with Surathani is performed with great pomp every year.
Having assumed that the magical power of the deity had killed his daughter, there was a more severe 2nd invasion to Srirangam in 1323 AD. The presiding deity was taken away before the Malik Kafur’s troops reached Srirangam by a group led by the vaishnavite Acharaya (Guru), Pillai Lokacharyar, who died en route to Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Goddess Ranganayaki was taken in another separate procession. Swami Vedanta Desika, instrumental in planning the operations during the siege of the temple, closed the sanctum sanctorum of the temple with bricks, after the processions of the presiding deities had left, thereby protected the temple for generations to come. 13,000 Sri Vaishnavas, the people of Srirangam, laid down their lives in the fierce battle to ensure that the institution was protected. In the end, Devadasis, the danseuse of Srirangam, seduced the army chief, to save the temple.
After nearly six decades, the presiding deity returned to Srirangam and the same Swami Vedanta Desika, who had built a brick wall in front of the sanctum sanctorum, broke it open. The deity and the priestly wardens wandered southwards towards Madurai, then northeast towards Kerala, Mysore, Tirunarayanapuram, and finally in the hills of Tirumala Tirupati, where they remained until their reinstatement in 1371.
The Orlov diamond of 189.62 carats (37.924 g), is a large diamond that is part of the collection of the Diamond Fund of the Moscow Kremlin. The origin of this resplendent relic – described as having the shape and proportions of half a hen’s egg. This diamond and a similar gem served as the eyes of the deity in the temple. Legends hold that a French soldier who had deserted during the Carnatic wars in Srirangam. Mention of the 2nd Carnatic war that was fought in Srirangam disguised himself as a Hindu convert and stole it in 1747.
The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric walls (termed prakarams (outer courtyard) or mathil suvar) with a total length of 32,592 feet or over six miles. This temple has 21 gopurams (towers), 39 pavilions, fifty shrines, Ayiram kaal mandapam (a hall of 1000 pillars) and several tiny water bodies inside. The space within the outer two prakarams (outer courtyard) is occupied by several shops, restaurants and flower stalls. Non-Hindus are allowed up to the 2nd prakaram (outer courtyard) but not inside the gold topped sanctum sanctorum.
The vimanam (shrine over the sanctum sanctorum), the Ranga vimana is shaped like omkara (om symbol) and is plated with gold. Sri Ranganthar reclines on Adisesha, the coiled serpent. Images of Vibhishana, Brahma, Hanuman, Garuda, the symbols of Vishnu – conch and discuss are seen inside the sanctum. Ranganayaki shrine is in the 2nd precinct of the temple. The common reference to the goddess is padi thaanda pathni, meaning lady who doesn’t cross the boundaries of ethics. Literally, the festival deity of Ranganayaki also does not come out of the shrine and it is Ranganthar who visits Ranganayaki. There are three images of Ranganayaki within the sanctum.
The complex houses shrines of dozens of forms of Vishnu including Chakkarathazhwar, Narasimha, Rama, Hayagreeva and Gopala Krishna. There are separate shrines for Ranganayaki and the major saints in the Vaishnava tradition, including Ramanuja. The Venugopala shrine in the south-west corner of the 4th enclosure of the temple is the work of Chokkanatha Nayak. An inscription of 1674 specifies this Nayak king as the patron. The exterior of the vimana and attached mandap (hall) have finely worked pilasters with fluted shafts, double capitals and pendant lotus brackets. Sculptures are placed in the niches of three sides of the sanctuary walls; maidens enhance the walls in between. The elevation is punctuated with secondary set of pilasters that support shallow eaves at different levels to cap larger and smaller recesses. The sanctuary is crowned in the traditional fashion with a hemisphrical roof. The double-curved eaves of the entrance porch on the east side are concealed in a later columned hall. Dhanvantari, a great physician of ancient India is considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu – there is a separate shrine of Dhanvantari within the temple.
The Hall of 1000 pillars (actually 953) is a fine example of a planned theatre-like structure and opposite to it, "Sesha Mandap", with its intricacy in sculpture, is a delight. The 1000-pillared hall made of granite was constructed in the Vijayanagara period (1336–1565) on the site of the old temple. The pillars consists of sculptures of wildly rearing horses bearing riders on their backs and trampling with their hoofs upon the heads of rampant tigers, seem only natural and congruous among such weird surroundings. The great hall is traversed by one wide aisle in the centre for the whole of its greater length, and intersected by transepts of like dimension running across at right angles. There still remain seven side aisles on each side, in which all the pillars are equally spaced out. The Garuda Madapa (hall of the legendary bird deity of Vishnu, garuda) located on the south side of the 3rd enclosure is another Nayak addition. Courtly portrait sculptures, reused from an earlier structure, are fixed to the piers lining the central aisle. A free-standing shrine inside the hall contains a large seated figure of garuda; the eagle-headed god faces north towards the principal sanctum. The Kili mandapa (Hall of parrot) is located next to the Ranganatha shrine, in the 1st enclosure of the temple. Elephant balustrades skirt the access steps that ascend to a spacious open area. This is bounded by decorated piers with rearing animals and attached colonettes in the finest 17th-century manner. Four columns in the middle define a raised dais; their shafts are embellished with undulating stalks. The most artistically interesting of the halls that the Nayaks added to the complex is the Sesha Mandap on the east side of the 4th enclosure. The hall is celebrated for the leaping animals carved on to the piers at its northern end.
There are 21 gopurams (tower gateways), among which the towering 236-feet Rajagopuram (shrine of the main gateway) is the 2nd tallest temple tower in Asia. The 73m high 13- tiered rajagopuram was built in 1987 by Ahobila Mutt and dominates the landscape for miles around, while the remaining 20 gopurams were built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The gopurams have pronounced projections in the middle of the long sides, generally with openings on each of the successive levels. The Vellai gopura (white tower) on the east side of the 4th enclosure has a steep pyramidal superstructure that reaches a height of almost 44m.
The structure of the rajagopuram remained incomplete at the base (‘kalkaram’, 17 meters high), for over 400 years. Started during the reign of Achyuta Deva Raya of Vijayanagar, the construction was given up after the king’s death and apparently was not resumed owing to some political preoccupations or crisis. The Rajagopuram (the main gopuram) did not reach its current height of 73 m. until 1987, when the 44th Jeer of Ahobila Mutt initiated the process with the help of philanthropists and others. The whole structure was constructed in a span of eight years. The Rajagopuram was consecrated on 25 March 1987. The length and breadth at the base of the Rajagopuram is 166 feet and 97 feet, while the length and breadth at the top is 98 feet and 32 feet. Befitting the gargantuan dimensions of the structure, every one of the 13 glistening copper ‘kalasams’ atop the tower weighs 135 kg and measures 3.12m (height) by 1.56m (diameter).
ADMINISTRATION AND VISIT
The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu. An Executive officer appointed by the Board manages the temple along with Sri Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Temple, Pundarikakshan Perumal Temple at Thiruvellarai, Sri Vadivazhagiya Nambi Perumal Temple and Mariamman Temple at Anbil. There are three trustees and a chairman for the board of trustees. Annadhanam scheme, which provides free food to devotees, is implemented in the temple by the Board. Under the scheme, free food is offered to two hundred devotees every day in the temple and the expenditure is fully funded by the contributions from devotees.
The temple celebrates annual festival for almost 250 days a calendar year and Srirangam translates to cosmic stage or cosmic arena during the utsavam (festivals).
Pagal Pathu (10 day time) and Ra Pathu (10 day night time) festival is celebrated in the month of Margazhi (December–January) for twenty days. The 1st ten days are referred as Pagal-Pathu (10 day day time festival) and the 2nd half as Ra Pathu (10 day night-time festival). The 1st day of Ra pathu is Vaikunta Ekadashi. The eleventh day of each fortnight in Tamil calendar is called ekadesi and the holiest of all ekadesis as per vaishnavite tradition is the Vaikunta Ekadashi. Nammazhwar, one of the 12 azhwars, is believed to have ascended to vaikuntam (the heavenly abode of Vishnu) on this day. The devotion of the 9th-century poet, Nammazhwar, and his perceived ascent to heaven are enacted annually. During the festival, through song and dance, this place is affirmed to be Bhoologa Vaikunta(heaven on earth). Araiyar Sevai is a divine colloquim of araiyars, who recite and enact Nalayara Divya Prabanda, the 4000 verses of azhwars (Vaishnavite poets of the 7th–10th century). Araiyars are born to Araiyar tradition most prevalent in Sri Vaishnava families in Srirangam, Alwar Thirunagari and Srivilliputhur. The tradition of Araiyar Sevai was started by Nathamuni, a 10th-century Vaishnavite who compiled the works of azhwars. It is believed as per Hindu mythology that 33 crores of gods come down to witness the event. The festival deity is brought to the 1000-pillared hall on the morning of Vaikunta Ekadashi through the Paramapada Vasal (gate to paradise). Lakhs of pilgrims rush to enter it after the gate is opened and the deity passes through it as it is believed that one who enters here will reach vaikuntam (heaven) after death. The gate is open only during the ten days of Pagal Pathu (10 day day-time festival). On the last day of the festival, the poet Nammazhwar is said to be given salvation. The performance is enacted by priests and images in the temple depicts Nammazhwar as reaching heaven and getting liberation from the cycle of life and death. At that point, a member from the crowd of devotees, who are witnessing this passion play, goes up to the centre stage and requests Vishnu to return Nammazhwar to humanity, so that his words and form in the temple will continue to inspire and save the devotees. Following this performance of the salvation of Nammazhwar, the cantors are taken in procession round the temple.
The annual gold ornament cleaning festival is called Jyestabisheka (1st of anointing) and is celebrated during the Tamil month of aani (June–July). The idols of all deities are abluted with water brought in large vessels of gold and silver.
Brahmotsavam (Prime festival) is held during the Tamil month of Panguni (March–April). The preliminaries like ankurapuranam, rakshabandanam, bherira thanam, dhrajarohanam and the sacrificial offerings in the yagasala are gone through as usual. The processions go round the Chitrai street in the evenings. On the 2nd day, the deity is taken to a garden inside the temple. The deity is taken in a palanquin through the river Cauvery to a village on the opposite shore namely Jiyarpuram on the 3rd day.
The annual temple chariot festival, called Rathothsavam is celebrated during the Tamil month of thai (January–February) and the processional deity, utsavar is taken round the temple in the temple car. Chitra Poornima is a festival based on the mythological incident of Gaj-graha (elephant crocodile). The elephant suffered in the jaws of crocodile and god rescued the elephant. Vasanthothsavam is celebrated during the Tamil month of vaikasi (May–June) which according to inscriptions is celebrated from 1444 AD.
Ranganathaswamy temple is the only one out of the 108 temples that was sung in praise by all the Azhwars(Divine saints of Tamil Bhakthi movement), having a total of 247 pasurams (divine hymns) against its name. Acharyas (guru) of all schools of thought – Advaita, Vishistadvaita and Dvaita recognise the immense significance the temple, regardless of their affiliation.
Nalayira Divya Prabhandam is a collection of 4000 hymns sung by twelve azhwars saints spread over 300 years (from the late 6th to 9th century AD) and collected by Nathamuni (910–990 AD). Divya Desams refer to 108 Vishnu temples that are mentioned in Nalayira Divya Prabandham. 105 of these are located in India, 1 in Nepal, while 2 are located outside of the Earthly realms. Divya in Tamil language indicates premium and Desam indicates place or temple. Periyalvar begins the decad on Srirangam with two puranic stories according to which Krishna restored to life the son of his guru Santipini and the children of a brahmin. Thondaradippodi Alvar and Thiruppaana Alvar have sung exclusively on Ranganatha. Andal attained Sri Ranganatha on completion of her Thiruppavai (a composition of 30 verses) in Srirangam. In total there are 247 hymns of the 4000 Pasurams dedicated to Ranganthar deity of this temple. Except Madhurakavi Alvar, all the other eleven azhwars have created Mangalasasanam (praise) about the Ranganathar in Srirangam. Out of 247, 35 are by Periyalvar, 10 by Aandaal, 31 by Kulasekara Alvar, 14 by Thirumalisai Alvar, 55 by Thondaradippodi Alvar, 10 by Thiruppaan Alvar, 73 by Thirumangai Alvar, one by Poigai Alvar,4 by Bhoothathalvar, two by Peyalvar and twelve by Nammalvar.
Kambar is a 12th-century Tamil poet who composed Kamba Ramayanam, a work inspired from the epic, Valmiki Ramayana. He is believed to have come to the temple to get the approval of his work from scholars. The Jain scholar Tirunarungundam honoured the work and it resulted in Tamil and Sanskrit scholars approving the work. The open hall where he recited his verse lies close to the Ranganayaki shrine within the temple.
Some of the religious works like Sri Bhashyam by Ramanuja, Sriranga Gadhyam by Vaikunta Gadhyam and Saranagadhi Gadhyam (Gadhyathrayam) by Ramanuja, Sri Renganathashtakam by Adi Shankaracharya, Paduka Sahasram by Swami Vedanta Desika, Rengaraja Stavam and Gunaratnakosham by Sri Parasar bhattar, Rengaraja Sthothram by Kurathazhwar, Bhagavaddhyana Sopnam and Abheethi Stavam by Swami Vedanta Desika are works that were exclusively composed in praise of Srirangam temple.
The term Kovil is generally used in Tamil to signify any temple, for many Vaishnavas the term Kovil exclusively refers to this temple, indicating its extreme importance for them (for saivas and all other Tamil people the term kovil refers to Thillai Natarajar Golden Shrine (Chidambaram Temple)). The presiding deity Ranganathar is praised in many names by his devotees, including Nam Perumal (our god in Tamil), Azhagiya Manavaalan (beautiful groom in Tamil).
The temple is considered in the Alwar traditions as one of the eight Sywayambu Kshetras of Vishnu where presiding deity is believed to have manifested on its own. Seven other temples in the line are Bhu Varaha Swamy temple, Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, and Vanamamalai Perumal Temple in South India and Saligrama, Naimisaranya, Pushkar and Badrinath Temple in North India.
Ramanuja was a theologian, philosopher, and scriptural exegete. He is seen by Śrīvaiṣṇavas as the 3rd and most important teacher (ācārya) of their tradition (after Nathamuni and Yamunacharya), and by Hindus in general as the leading expounder of Viśiṣṭādvaita, one of the classical interpretations of the dominant Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. Ramanuja renounced his family life and went to Srirangam to occupy the pontificate – Srirangam became the stronghold of him and his disciples. The doctrine of Vishishtadvaita philosophy, Sri Bhashyam was written and later compiled by him over a period of time. During his stay in Srirangam, he is said of have written "Gadhya Thrayam", which is recited in the temple during the ninth day (Panguni Uttaram) of the festival of Adi brahmotsavam. The temple is a center for the Vishishtadvaita school where Sanskrit Vedas and Tamil works are preached and taught with great reverence. He attained divinity in Srirangam. His Thaan-ana Thirumeni (the symbolic body) is preserved and offered prayers even today after eight centuries. The disciples of Ramanuja got his permission to install three metallic images, one each at Sriperumpudur, Melkote and the 3rd, at Srirangam. The shrine is found in the 4th prakaram (outer courtyard) of the temple and the idol is preserved in the temple by applying saffron and camphor every six months in a ritualistic style. He is found seated in the Padmasana (yogic sitting posture), depicting the Gnyana-Mudrai (symbol of knowledge) with his right palm. "Kovil Ozhugu" is a codification of all temple practices, religious and administrative, shaped and institutionalised by Sri Ramanuja after receiving the due rights from Sri Thiruvarangathamudanar. A stone inscription to this effect is installed in the Arya patal vasal (main gate before the 1st precinct).
Pancharanga Kshetrams (also called Pancharangams, meaning the "five Rangams or Ranganathas") is a group of five sacred Hindu temples, dedicated to Ranganatha, a form of the god Vishnu, on the banks of the Kaveri River. The five Pancharanga Kshetrams in the order of their successive locations, on the banks of the Kaveri River are: The Srirangapatnam called the Adi Ranga, the 1st temple on the banks of the Kaveri River from the upstream side; the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam known as Adya Ranga (the last temple), Appalarangam or Koviladi at Tiurppernagar in Tamil Nadu, Parimala Ranganatha Perumal Temple or Mayuram at Indalur, Mayiladuthurai and Vatarangam at Sirkazhi. The Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam is mentioned in place of Vatarangam in some references.