Srirangam, the premier Vaishnava temple in South India is the first and foremost among the 108 Vaishnava divyadesas. All the Alvars have sung in praise of the deity enshrined in the huge temple in the center of the town. The Sri Vaishnava Acharyas from Nathamuni are found to have taken an active and abiding interest in the management of the temple. During Ramanuja’s time, far reaching reforms were introduced both in the religious and secular management. Thus Srirangam has an eventful history, both secular and religious, as the great Vaishnava Acharyas made it the headquarters of the wider Vaishnava movement. Here is an attempt to present its eventful history in a nutshell – both the traditional and historical.In the Vaishnava parlance, the term “Koil” signifies the Srirangam temple only. The temple is enormous in size. The temple complex is 156 acres in extent. It has seven Prakaras or enclosures or Tiru Veedhis. These enclosures are formed by thick and huge rampart walls which run round the sanctum. The total length of these seven walls is 32,592 feet or over six miles. There are magnificent towers in all Prakaras providing a unique sight to any visitor. The latest addition is the 236 feet high stupendous thirteen tired Rajagopuram built at the southern rampart by the late 44th Jeeyar of the Sri Ahobila Mutt and consecrated in 1987 with great fanfare and religious piety. The grandeur of the towers decrease as one moves away from, them towards the sanctum signifying that the devotee has to move away from the lofty earthly attachments in his spiritual quest.
The Peria Koil is complete in all respects. It has the full complement of seven Prakaras. It has a main shrine where the Lord (Ranganatha) is found in a reclining posture in his serpent bed. There are also sub shrines for Vishvaksena, Rama, Krishna, Nachiyar, Chakratalvar, Garuda, Hanuman, Andal etc. and for all the alvars and the acharyas upto Vedanta Desika within the precincts. The Peria koil lies on an islet, formed by the twin rivers Kaveri and Kollidam. The river has always been a very important adjunct of a Hindu temple or religious institutions and therefore held as sacred as the temple.The origin of the glittering Sriranga Vimana is said to have been narrated by Rudra to Narada. According to the Sriranga Mahathmya the glittering Sriranga Vimana sprang as a result of the tapas of Brahma in the depths of the Milky ocean. It was borne by the celestial bird Garuda. Adisesha, had spread his hood over it. Vishvaksena, the Archangel-in-chief walked in front clearing the way. The Sun and Moon were fanning the Deity. The celestial Musicians Narada and Thumburu followed singing His Glory. Rudra and other gods raised the “jayaghosha”. The celestial maids danced. There was a rain of flowers. Awakened from his deep tapas, Brahma prostrated before the Vimana. He recited the four vedas and gazed in wonderment. Sunanda, a celestial guard informed him that the Lord was pleased with his penance and had come in answer to his prayers.
When Brahma looked into the Vimana, he found there the Supreme Lord resting with his Consorts. The Lord informed Brahma that he had come as a Svayamvyakta — on his own volition — as an idol. He would appear likewise in eight places on earth — Srirangam, Srimushnam, Venkatadri, Saligram, Naimisaranya, Totadri, Pushkara and Badri. Ranga Vimana is the first and the earliest of all these. The Lord directed Brahma to worship him strictly according to the procedure for worship laid down in the Agamas and lay down in his characteristic posture, in Yoganidra.Brahma carried it to Satyaloka and installed it on the banks of the river, Viraja. He appointed the Sun god to do the daily pooja. After him, Vaivasvata Manu, performed the worship. When his son Ikshvaku, became the King of Ayodhya, he wanted to have it installed at Ayodhya. He entered on a tapas which lasted for many hundred years at the end of which he was permitted by Brahma to take it to Ayodhya.Thus, the Vimana came to Ayodhya. After Ikshvaku, his descendants continued the service. Rama, himself an avatara of the Lord worshipped him and thereafter the Lord came to be known as “Periya Perumal”. On his triumphant return from Sri Lanka, in the coronation held in grand style, Rama gave the Vimana as gift to Sri Vibheeshana for worship. When Vibheeshana set out for Sri Lanka, He got down on the Kaveri bank to perform his mid-day prayers. He placed the Ranga Vimana at a place known as “Sesha Peetam” near the Chandrapuskarani. He returned after taking his bath and performed the Pooja and lo! when he tried to lift the Vimana, it would not move. It had got stuck up. Vibheeshana was overcome with grief and shed tears. The Lord appeared before him and consoled him saying that he need not grieve as He had already decided to make the place His abode. He could come and worship him daily. It is said that Vibheeshana worships the Lord daily at midnight.
A chola by name Dharma Varma who was then ruling the territory, had seen the Ranga Vimana at the Yagasala when Dasaratha performed the Putrakameshti Yaga. He was so fascinated that he wanted to have it installed in his region. When he undertook a tapas on the banks of Chandrapushkarani, the sages told him that Sri Ranga Vimana was expected to arrive any time and requested him to give up the penance.Soon the “Sriranga Vimana” carried by Vibheeshana had arrived and the episode (explained above) had taken place. Dharma Varma was overjoyed as the Lord had willed to make it his abode. He built a shrine for the Vimana, the surrounding Prakara known as “Dharma Varma Veedhi” and arranged for proper daily worship.In course of time, Nature devoured the site. The Sri Ranga Vimana and the structures disappeared and became a habitat for wild animals. A ruling prince of the Chola dynasty hunting to that spot overheard a parrot repeating a sloka.
Kaveree Viraja Seyam Vaikuntam Rangamandiram Sa Vasudevo Pangeshah Pratyaksham Paramam Padam | Vimanam Pranavakaram Vedasrungam Mahadhbhutham Srirangasayee Bhagavan Pranavarthaprakasakah ||
The river Kaveri is the very same river Viraja that eternally flows in Vaikunta, Srirangam Temple is verily Vaikuntam itself, the Abode of Lord Vishnu where he sits in all splendour and majesty in the company of Nityasuris.The Lord of Arangam, is none but Vasudeva, the Primeval Lord Himself. The Vimana is verily the external Paramapada itself.The Vimana is in the form of the Pranava (the life sustaining mantra). The four towers are marvelously akin to the four Vedas and the Lord, Sri Rangasayee is expounding the import of the Pranava.On understanding the import of this sloka, the chola caused the earth towards the west of the tree (known as Tirumudikkurai) to be dug deep to lay a secure foundation for the Sriranga Vimana. But the Lord appeared before him in a dream and pointed out to him the exact spot wherein he lay. The king was overjoyed at finding the glittering Ranga Vimanam there. He cleared the forest, constructed all the essential parts of the temple, laid down flower gardens, instituted temple services and forms of worship. The shrine became widely knows as “Tiruvaranga Tirupathi”, thanks to the benefactions of Kili Chola and his successors who ruled from Uraiyur. With the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the Tamil country, there arose a strong reaction against their growing influence. This found expression in a wide movement among the worshippers of Vishnu and Siva. The Vaishnava resurgent movement was spearheaded by the Alvars who brought religion to the heart of the people. They employed Tamil (the local language) as the medium of expression and composed the exuberant devotional songs – celebrated as the “Nalayira Divya Prabandham”.
The shrines visited and glorified by them became holy places (Divya Desas). The temple at Srirangam and the Deity enshrined therein have been sung by all of them.A total of 247 hymns in the Nalayiram is found to be dedicated to the Lord of Srirangam as shown below:
- Periyalvar 35
- Andal 10
- Kulasekhara Alvar 31
- Tirumalisai Alvar 14
- Tondaradippodi Alvar 55
- Tirruppanalvar 10
- Poygai Alvar 1
- Bhoothatalvar 4
- Peyalvar 2
- Nammalvar 12
Total 247All the Acharyas have composed stotras in praise of the Lord and Ranga Nachiar. Vedanta Desika composed Paduka Sahasram (1008 slokas) in different metres.
Of these, Tirumalisai Alvar refers many a time in his hymns to the shrine of Srirangam and the Kaveri and its branch – Kollidam – encircling the shrine, luxuriant gardens and the beautiful Tiruvarangam, the eight tirthas (pools) in which people from far and near bathe and worship the Lord (Tiruchanda Viruttam 49 & 50). Tirumangai Alvar renovated many shrines, towers and Prakara walls and the Dasavatara Shrine. He instituted the “Adhyayanothsavam” for which in the good old days, Nammalvar’s image was brought all the way from Tirunagari. The Kings and their chiefs vied with one another in bestowing attention on the temples. After the early Cholas, the Pallavas, the later Cholas, the Pandyas, the Hoysala and the Vijayanagar Emperors and the Nayak Kings took care of the shrine and made significant additions and benefactions. Pious pilgrims, saints and scholars from all over the country visited the shrine and worshipped the Lord year round.
Major Festivals at Sri Aranganathaswamy Temple
This is a festival dedicated to a sacred thread worn by Lord Vishnu and is celebrated in the month of August-September. During this festival, the idol of Lod Vishnu is thoroughly cleaned.
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple also has a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna inside its campus. Sri Jayanthi celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna.
This festival is celebrated in the month of June-July to get rid of impurities. Jestabishekam is actually an annual gold cleaning festival. Water from the Kaveri River is brought to the temple in gold and silver pots. The gold is cleaned by goldsmiths and the idol of Vishnu is adorned back with gold plates in the evening.
Onjal or Dolothsavam is a festival of nine days which is celebrated in October-December. The origin of the festival dated back to 15th century A.D. During this festival stains or imperfections in the Swing (Lord’s golden cradle) are removed. The festival commences eight days before Ekadesi. The last day falls on the first day of Ekadesi. On 1st and 7th day both god and goddess come together in the cradle and in the remaining days only god remains in the cradle. Also on the seventh day of the festival paddy belonging to the Lord Namperumal (given as a gift to the Lord by kings and His devotees) is measured to know the prosperity of the region. After this the Lord goes through Northern entrance of the temple to meet Ranganayaki Thayar. Followed this, the Lord makes his way to Oonjal Mandapam where he enjoys the presentation. It is believed that the Lord Namperumal during this period is completely relieved from all the tensions. The Lord then showers all his blessings on His devotees. As per an age-old belief His presence at Oonjal Mandapam is supposed to remove any dosham in the swing.
This festival is celebrated thirty days before Ekadesi. 365 poojas are performed and the idol of Lord Vishnu is adorned with 365 garments.Ekadesi:This is the most important festival that is celebrated in the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. The festival continues for 21 days and is held in the month of December/January. For one day during this festival, Sri Ranganatha takes the seat of the virtual king and for that one day he is known as Sri Rangaraja. The hall in the temple becomes his divine durbar. It is after midnight that he goes back to his temple. A magnificent procession during this festival is the main attraction.Sri Ranganathaswamy has been mentioned many times in Tamil literature, especially during the Sangam era. Almost all the ruling dynasties of South India, such as the Cholas, Pandiyas, Hoysalas, Nayakkas contributed towards the renovation and construction of this temple from time to time. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is one of the most prominent Hindu pilgrimage destinations in India.