By Swami Harshananda
Śriraṅgam is one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage for the devotees of Viṣṇu, especially the Śrīvaiṣṇavas, the followers of Rāmānuja ranking next to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. This small town is situated just 5 kms. from the Tiruchirapalli railway station which itself is 320 kms. to the south-west of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. This little town, the whole of which is the temple-complex dedicated to Raṅganātha, is located on the island formed by the river Kāverī which splits into two streams, the Kāverī and the Kollaḍam, which later rejoin.
Different Names of The Temple
The temple proper is known by several names such as:
Mythology of Deity of the Temple
The chief deity is considered to be Svayaihvyakta and not man-made. According to the local legends this deity has a very ancient history. Originally worshiped by Brahmā, the creator, it was handed over to the kings of the Ikṣvāku race. Later on Śrīrāma gave it to Vibhīṣaṇa to take it to Laṅkā and establish it in a temple there. However, on his way to Laṅkā, Vibhiṣaṇa had to place it on the ground at the time of his evening prayer. The image got firmly fixed on the ground. It is grounded at the present place known as Śriraṅgam and Vibhīṣana had to return empty-handed. However, there is a belief that he comes once in twelve years in the night, quietly worships it and goes back. From this legend this much can be assumed that the original shrine is very ancient. It must have been renovated and rebuilt many times.
Legendary Visitors of Temple of Śrīrangam
In & Around Śrīrangam Temple
Śriraṅgam is the largest temple complex in India. Its area is 243 hectares. The actual temple area is 62 hectares. The main temple is surrounded by seven concentric prākāras or boundary walls enclosing or housing several subsidiary shrines and also the small township for the people living there. The total number of gopuras is 21.
Deity Raṅganātha, Lord Viṣṇu
The main deity is Raṅganātha, Lord Viṣṇu in the reclining posture. He is lying on Seṣanāga or Ādiśeṣa, forming the bed out of his coils and an umbrella of five hoods. The image of Raṅganātha is 6.4 metres long. Near his feet are seated Bhudevī and Nīlādevī, his consorts. In front of this original deity is kept the processional image or utsavamurti. Another image called Tiruvaraṅga used as a substitute for worship during the period of Muslim invasions, is also kept in the sanctum.
The sanctum sanctorum is a square inside and circular outside. Immediately round the altar, there is a circum-ambulatory passage used strictly for ritual purposes. Encircling the sanctuary there is a moat-like canal of stone which is filled with water in summer to keep the sanctum cool. On the upper wall there are paintings estimated to be 300 years old, depicting the 108 shrines dedicated to Viṣṇu and sacred to the Śrīvaiṣṇavas. Above the main altar there is a Raṅgavimāna containing carvings of four forms of Viṣṇu.
The outermost prākāra, the seventh in the series, has the main and most imposing gopuram, called the ‘Rājagopuram.’ It was completed and consecrated in A. D. 1987. It is 72 metres high and has a passage below it which is 26 metres long. The area of this prākāra measures 864 metres by 742 metres. The temple-tank is outside this prākāra. Houses and bazaars are situated in its enclosure.
- The sixth prākāra houses the rathas or processional cars in its enclosure. The houses of the brāhmaṇas serving in the temples are also situated here.
- The fifth prākāra-enclosure houses a museum apart from some temples.
- From the enclosure of the fourth prākāra, the temple proper begins. This prākāra measures 370 metres by 254 metres. It contains a hall known as Garuḍamaṇḍapa with 212 pillars. This prākāra itself has four gopurams in the four cardinal directions, the eastern one being the largest and the finest.
- The other three enclosures created by the three prākāras are smaller but contain several shrines.
Significance of Rāmānuja in This Temple
In this big temple-complex, there are several shrines dedicated to various aspects of Viṣṇu like Hayagrīva and Kṛṣṇa, the āyudhapuruṣas or the weapon-deities like Sudarśana, Ālvārs, consorts of Viṣṇu and the ācāryas of the Srīvaiṣṇava tradition, Rāmānuja, Vedānta Deśika and Pillai Lokācārya. One of the biggest attractions is the ‘thousand-pillared hall’ lying to the east in the inner campus. The actual number of granite pillars is 953 only, each being 5.4 metres in height and intricately carved.
Out of the several festivals celebrated at the temple, the biggest is the Vaikuṇṭha Ekādaśī. It is spread over twenty days. On this day, the utsavamurti is gorgeously decorated, dressed in a garment of rubies and taken out in a magnificent procession to the thousand pillared hall.
The temple was attacked by the Muslim marauders from the north led by Malik Kāfur and Ulugh Khān in A. D. 1311 and A. D. 1323. However, the devotees managed to save both the original deity and the processional icon. Several kings and dynasties have helped in renovating and also maintaining this great temple. Some of them are: * The Colas
There are as many as 600 inscriptions on the walls and other places in the complex. There is a popular story and belief that Śaṅkara installed a Janākarṣakayantra because of which this temple attracts a very large number of pilgrims and devotees throughout the year. The Śriraṅgam temple is considered by a long-standing tradition to be one of the Navagrahasthala-temples and stands for the Śukra or the Venus. There is no doubt that this temple complex is a fortress that is protecting religion in general and Vaiṣṇavism in particular.
- Rāmānuja lived in A. D. 1017-1137.
- It is approximately 3 miles.
- It is approximately 200 miles.
- Chennai means Madras.
- Raṅganātha means an aspect of Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu.
- Svayaihvyakta means self-manifested.
- He lived in A. D. 1485-1533.
- He lived in A. D. 1481-1531.
- He lived in A. D. 1767-1847.
- It is approximately 600 acres.
- It is approximately around 2.5 sq. kms.
- Gopuras means temple- towers.
- Ādiśeṣa means the great serpent.
- It is approximately 21 ft.
- Raṅgavimāna is a golden tower.
- It is approximately 235 ft.
- It is approximately 100 ft.
- This area is approximately 2880 ft. by 2475 ft.
- It is approximately 1235 ft. by 849 ft.
- He lived in A. D. 1260-1370.
- He lived in A. D. 1264-1327.
- It is approximately 150 metres by 48 metres or 500 ft. by 160 ft.
- It is approximately 18 ft.
- It is Puṣya-śuddha-ekādaśī, the eleventh day in the bright fortnight of the month Puṣya, generally in December/ January.
- He lived in A. D. 788-820.
- Janākarṣakayantra is a special and sacred magical diagram.
- It means temples representing the nine planets.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore