Srirangam temple is the foremost of the 108 divya desham kshetras. It is the largest functioning Hindu temple of the world and the heart of Srivaishnavism. Srirangam temple houses the Deity of Lord Vishnu known as Lord Ranganatha Swamy, who is reclining on the coils of the great serpent Adi Sesha. A classic Tamil literature describes Srirangam temple as follows:
āyiram viritteḻu talaiyuṭai aruntiṟaṟ pāyaṟ paḷḷip palartoḻu tētta viritiraik kāviri viyaṉperu turuttittiruvamar mārpaṉ kiṭanta vaṇṇamum
On a magnificent cot having a thousand heads spread out, worshipped and praised by many, on an island surrounded by the river Kaveri with her roaring waves, is the reclining pose of the Lord who has Lakshmi adorned on his chest. (Silapadikaram, book 11, lines 35–40)
Srirangam is located seven kilometers from Thiruchirapalli and is surrounded by the sacred waters of river Kaveri on one side and its tributary Kollidum on the other. This sacred island measures six hundred acres out of which one hundred and fifty six acres are occupied by the temple of Lord Ranganatha. This place is also one among the eight svayam-vyakta kshetras (self-manifested temples) of Lord Vishnu; the other seven being Srimushnam, Venkatadri, Shaligrama, Naimisharanya, Totadri, Pushkara and Badri. It is also one of the pancha-ranga kshetras situated on the banks of Kaveri; the other four being Srirangapatna, Koyiladi, Kumbhakonam and Thiruindalur (Myladuturai).
The legend of Lord Ranganatha descending on this earth
It all began with a duel between Ganga and Kaveri
Once in the Himalayas, the personified rivers Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna and Saraswati were playing. One Gandharva saw these sacred rivers and offered obeisance and worshiped them from the distance in the sky. Seeing this all the rivers started arguing amongst themselves – whom did he worship? Yamuna and Saraswati stopped arguing after sometime however Kaveri and Ganga didn’t seem to reach any agreement. Finally they both approached Lord Vishnu for the answer.
River Ganga told Lord Vishnu that since she originated from His lotus feet, she was greater than Kaveri. Lord Vishnu agreed. However Kaveri did not agree and wanted to become greater than Ganga. Thus she performed penances to please Lord Vishnu. Soon the Lord was pleased by her penances and asked her to ask for a boon. She requested Lord to sleep on her confluences and her bank and thus bless her. Lord agreed and told her that she would flow like a garland on the Lord’s chest – a better position than Ganga. (Also read: The penances of Kaveri in Srirangapatna)
The appearance of Ranga Vimana
In the beginning of the creation, Lord Brahma meditated on the sacred words – om tat sat. He was awarded the four Vedas by the Lord and then the creation began. At that time a demon named Madhu Kaitabha appeared from the ear of Brahma who snatched away the Vedas from him and disappeared in the ocean. Brahma tried searching the demon and the Vedas but could not. Lord Vishnu took the form of a horse, recovered Vedas from Madhu and taught them to Lord Brahma. Brahma then continued to create the cosmos. He also created the laws of karma. Since laws of karma were the decisive factor in this universe to decide one’s future lives, Brahma thought that there would be a time when he would be judged based on these laws. He thus sought advice from Lord Vishnu. After prayers on the bank of ocean of milk, Lord Vishnu appeared to Brahma and asked him what he wanted. Brahma requested Lord Vishnu to show His original form. Lord Vishnu suggested Brahma to further perform the penances chanting the mantra ‘om namo narayana’ in order to have darshan of His original form. After long years of penances, Lord Vishnu appeared to Brahma in a Ranga Vimana from the ocean of milk. Ranga Vimana is a special chariot like entourage of the Lord carried by the Veda murtis on their head. Nagaraja held a white umbrella. Vishwaksena, the commander-in-chief held a cane and the chamara. Narada was singing the glories of the Lord while playing on his veena. The other demigods stood joining their hands in front of the Lord. Sages like Sanat Kumara and other transcendental associates of the Lord followed the Vimana. As a respect Brahma went around the Vimana four times chanting the hymns from the four Vedas. For the first time Lord Vishnu gave His darshan to Lord Brahma in His original form sleeping on the coils of Ananta Shesha. Brahma wanted to worship the Lord in the Vimana. Lord agreed and thus Brahma took the Vimana to Satyaloka. By worshiping the Lord in the Ranga Vimana he would transcend the laws of karma and get liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Lord Ranganatha desires to travel to Ayodhya
Soon the news spread all over the universe about the Ranga Vimana. Manu, the son of the Sun-god desired to have its darshana. He performed penances and gained an entry to Satyaloka to have darshan and got liberated. King Ikshwaku, the son of Manu too wanted to worship the Ranga Vimana and bring it to Earth for the benefit of the human beings. He consulted Sage Vasishtha who advised him to perform penances chanting the mantra ‘om namo narayana’. Accordingly King Ikshwaku started performing the penances so hard that even the demigods got scared. Indra tried to disturb him constantly but failed miserably in front of King Ikshwaku’s determination. At last they approached Brahma for a solution. Brahma thought it better to seek advice from Lord Ranganatha Himself. Lord Ranganatha expressed His desire to go to Ayodhya where He would be worshiped by the descendants of Solar dynasty for four yugas. At the end of the fourth yuga He would go to the kingdom of Cholas in South India, on the banks of River Kaveri, where He would stay for seven hundred years and then return to Satyaloka.
Lord Ranganatha fulfills His promise to River Kaveri
Brahma gave the Ranga Vimana to King Ikshwaku. From Ikshwaku till Lord Rama, this Vimana was worshiped in Ayodhya. After the pattabhisheka, Lord Rama gifted Ranga Vimana to Vibhishana as a token of love. While carrying the Vimana, Vibhishana passed the province of Srirangam. There the Chola kings and the sages requested Vibhishana to perform the Adi Brahmotsava in Srirangam instead of Lanka. Vibhishana agreed. He kept the Vimana in midst of the River Kaveri and worshipped it. King Dharma Varma Chola and the other sages joined in the great celebration. Even today, the Brahmotsava is celebrated on the day of full moon in Panguni month to commemorate this event. After finishing the pujas, Vibhishana went to lift the Vimana but he was unable to even move it.
He prayed to Lord Ranganatha to save him from this situation. Lord Ranganatha told Vibhishana about His promise to River Kaveri and would not want to move from there. This broke the heart of Vibhishana. Understanding the heart of his dear devotee, Lord Ranganatha laid Himself facing south to constantly bless Vibhishana in Lanka. To this day Lord Ranganatha is being worshiped in Srirangam temple and blessing His devotees. King Dharma Varma constructed the gigantic temple in order to install the Ranga Vimana. He worshiped the Ranga Vimana for a longer time and at last achieved liberation.
Re-discovering the Ranga Vimana
Once, River Kaveri got flooded devastating the entire city of Srirangam. The Ranganatha temple got buried into slit and sand. Even the kalasha of the gopuram could not be seen. Chola king then shifted his capital from Trichy (Uraiyur) to Thanjavur. The Ranga Vimana got lost with the passage of time.
After many years, Kilikanda Chola (King who saw the parrot), a Chola prince went on a hunt. He rested for some time under a tree in the forest which had grown above the Srirangam temple. A parrot living on the tree told the prince about the submerged Ranga Vimana just underneath that place. The prince had also received this indication in his dream. Soon the Chola king started excavation and unearthed the temple of Lord Ranganatha. He also developed it further and made alterations to the temple. He got a mantapa constructed in the memory of the parrot and named it as Kili Mantapa. He re-established the worship in the temple as before and became an ardent devotee of the Lord and achieved liberation.
The major change in the history occurred during the reign of Raja Mahendra Chola, when suddenly a spring overflowed during the flood. The huge quantity of water blocked the passage of the entrance to the temple and threatened to engulf the temple base. The king had the passage blocked and gopuram constructed over it, making a second prakara like the wall of defence. For this beneficial work done by him he too attained liberation.
During the period of invasion by Malik Kafur and his forces in 1310-1311, Namperumal was taken to Delhi as a loot. In a daring exploit, devotees of Srirangam ventured to Delhi and enthralled the king with their musical and dance performances. Moved by their talent, the king was pleased to gift them the presiding deity of Srirangam, which was requested by the performers. Things took a drastic turn immediately when Surathani, his daughter followed the Deity to Srirangam. She was in love with the Deity and could not live without Him. She reached Srirangam and unable to find Her Lord of the life, she gave up Her body and achieved Vaikuntha. Even today, a painting of Surathani (known as Thulukka Nachiyar) can be seen in the Arjuna mantapa adjacent to the sanctum sanctorum.
The structure of Srirangam temple
The Ranganathaswamy temple consists of 7 prakaras; concentric rectangular enclosures around the sanctum sanctorum. Srirangam temple is the only temple in India with 7 enclosures, representing the 7 upper planetary systems. The cumulative length of the prakaras is more than 6 miles. The temple complex is embellished with 21 gopurams. The 236 feet high, 13 storeyed rajagopuram is the largest gopuram in Asia. Its construction began by Sri Krishnadeva Raya but after his death, the construction stopped due to the political reasons. Sri Azhahiyasingar Jeer Swamigal, the 44th Jeeyar of the Ahobila Mutt got it completed in 1987 and the kumbhabhisheka was performed on Mar 27, 1987. The remaining 20 gopurams were built between 14th and 17th centuries. This temple has been developed and expanded by the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas, Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar kings, and the Nayaks of Madurai. Even after many invasions by Mughal kings, the Srirangam temple still stands without losing its beauty and fame.
The prakaras of Srirangam Temple
The 7 prakaras of Srirangam temple have been named after the kings who built them and each represents a planetary system.
Kaliyugaraman Thiruveedi (Bhuloka)
When you enter the temple through Rajagopuram on the southern side, you enter the Kaliyugaraman Thiruveedi. The gopurams of this 7th prakara are unfinished. They are called Rayagopuram. The dimensions of their incomplete bases prove that when finished, they would have risen to a height of at least 50 meter. There is a small temple of Andal in the south-west corner of the 7th enclosure. This temple is built in the Chola style. This enclosure is also called Chitra street and buzzes with a row of shops and offices.
Thiruvikraman Thiruveedi (Bhuvarloka)
The next prakara is Thiruvikraman Thiruveedi also known as Uthara Street. This 6th enclosure has four gopurams; the eastern gopuram is the most impressive of all on account of its size and the inscriptions in 13th century characters. The chariots of the Lord are kept in this prakara. In this enclosure’s south-east corner, there is temple for Manavala Mamunigal.
Akalankan Thiruveedi (Swarloka)
Through the Ranga Ranga Gopuram one enters this 5th prakara. In this enclosure there is Ranga Vilasa mantapa on the southern side, temple of Andal, temple of Lord Venugopalan, the temple of Sri Chakkarathalwar on the south-west, temple of Sri Ramanujar on the south-east, the temple of Srimati Ranganayaki Nacchiyar on the north-western side, and the Kamban Mantapa on the northern side.
In the eastern side is the Sesharaya Mantapa, 1000 pillared mantapa where the Vaikuntha Ekadashi festivities and the recital of Naalaayira Divya Prabhandam as well as the Araiyar Sevai takes place. This enclosure has the only white gopuram known as Vellai gopura at the eastern entrance to the temple. In Tamil vellai means white, however this gopura is named in the memory of a devadasi and devotee of the Lord, named Vellai Ammal. She sacrificed her life to protect the Deity of Namperumal from the muslim army led by Malik Kafur who attacked the temple. The then muslim ruler wanted to loot Srirangam temple and particularly the Deity of Namperumal because he learnt that the Deity was made of pure abharanji gold. He ordered an attack in the year 1323. In the fight, 13,000 Sri Vaishnavas laid their life to protect the Deity. However the jewels and the gold of Lord Ranganatha were looted. They then started searching for the Deity but could not find it. Sri Pillailokacharya had taken away the Deity to Madurai. Unable to locate the Deity, they killed the temple authorities and started hunting for Sri Pillailokacharya and Namperumal. Fearing that the army would capture the Acharya and the Lord, a devadasi named Vellai performed a dance before the commander-in-chief and seduced him buying some time for Pillailokacharya to reach Madurai. She finally took him on top of the eastern gopura and pushed him down. After killing him, she jumped from the gopura chanting the name of Lord Ranganatha. Following her sacrifice, Kempanna, the chief of Vijayanagara army drove away the muslim army and named the eastern gopura after Vellai Ammal. Even today this gopura is painted white in her memory.
Alinadan Thiruveedi (Maharloka)
The walls of this 4th prakara were built by Thirumangai Alwar and hence this prakara is named after him. Through the Karthikai gopuram one can enter this 4th enclosure. This enclosure houses one of the biggest mantapas for Garuda among the 108 divya deshams. The mantapa has over 200 pillars and is the most beautiful mantapa in the temple. One can also have darshan of the sacred Surya pushkarini near the Garuda Mantapa.
On the northern side of this enclosure, is the Paramapada vaasal, also called as the Swarga vaasal (the door to Vaikuntha). This door opens only once a year during the Vaikuntha Ekadashi festival. Opposite to Paramapada vaasal is the Dhanavantri temple. Among the 108 divya deshams, this is the only temple to have a shrine for Lord Dhanavantri. Beside Sri Dhanavantri shrine, there is the sacred Chandra pushkarini. On the north eastern corner of this enclosure is the temple of Sri Kodanda Rama, Paramapadanathan, Keelapattabhirama and Lord Srinivasa. There is also Andal glasshouse.
Kulashekharan Thiruveedi (Janoloka)
This 3rd prakara was built by Kulashekhara Alwar, a great devotee of the Lord. One can enter this 3rd enclosure only through the Arya Bhattal gopuram. This houses several mantapas. Inside this prakara one should first have darshan of Dhwaja Sthamba and Bali Pitha. On the south west corner of this enclosure there are temples of Sri Dasamurthy, Sri Hayagriva, and Saraswathi devi. On the northern side are the temples of Sri Senaimudaliyar and Thulukka Nachiyar. In the eastern side is the Arjuna Mantapa.
Rajamahendran Thiruveedi (Tapoloka)
The 2nd prakara, which one enters through the Naazhiketaan entrance is called the Rajamahendran street in memory of the Chola king who built it. Large mirrors are placed in the corners for the Lord to see Himself while on procession. In the northwest corner are the Yagashala and the Tondaiman mantapa which is decorated with beautiful paintings. The eastern part contains Arjuna Mantapa and Kili Mantapa.
Dharmavarman Thiruveedi (Satyaloka)
This 1st prakara was constructed by the Chola King Dharma Varma. There are 24 pillars inside this enclosure where Lord Ranganatha is in His reclining pose, facing South (Lanka). These 24 pillars denote the 24 letters of the gayatri mantra.
Temples inside the Srirangam temple
Sri Thayar Sannidhi
On the north-western side of the 5th enclosure one can find the temple of Ranganayaki Thayar. Sri Ranganayaki Thayar is the utsava vigraha with Sridevi and Bhudevi behind Her in the same sanctum sanctorum. After Lord Ranganatha declared Thulukka Nachiyar as His wife and ordered the priests to worship Her like other Nachiyars of the temple, Lakshmidevi became angry. Hence She came out of the temple in a different temple. Lord tried to pacify Her, however She did not agree to return. She is also known by the name of ‘padi thandi pathni’ meaning one who does not cross Her limits or the doorstep. She is the quintessence of all the feminine qualities.
This temple by itself with its Kolu Mantapa, Unjal Mantapa, Panguni Uthira Mantapa and Vasantha Mantapa is a feast to the eyes. These mantapas contain fine sculptures and paintings.
Kamban Ramayana Mantapa
The great tamil poet Kamban had mentioned about the Lord destroying Hiranya in his composition of Sri Ramayana, which did not find universal acceptance. Kamban stated that if the Lord accepted his version, then the world could not dispute it. He stood outside the Thayar sannidhi and recited his version. Lord Azhagiya Singar, who heard his composition, accepted this version. In memory of this, there is a Mettazhagia Singar temple near the Thayar temple. Recognizing the importance of this event, there is a separate Kamban Mantapa opposite the Thayar temple.
Sri Garuda Sannidhi
In the 4th enclosure one can find the biggest mantapa for Garuda amongst the 108 divya deshams. This has over two hundred pillars and is also possibly the most beautiful mantapa in this temple. 25 feet tall Deity of Garuda is seen graciously joining His palms and sitting opposite the temple of Lord Ranganatha. He is adorned with ashta nagabharana. He appears in such a majestic form ready to take off with the Lord. The dhoti of Sri Garuda is 30 meter long. Abhisheka or thirumanjana is not performed to Sri Garuda. Kozhukkattai – the sweet pudding balls are offered as naivedya on every Thursday. Sugriva and Angada are the dwarapalakas of the sanctum-sanctorum of this temple. On the Margazhi Tiruvadirai star day, a festival for Sri Garuda is celebrated.
Sri Chakkarathalwar Sannidhi
The temple of Sri Chakkarathalwar or Sri Sudarshana is in the 5th prakara (Akalandan Thiruveedhi) in the western wing, and faces east. Sudarshana is the weapon of the Supreme Lord gifted to Him by Agnideva, the fire-god. Behind Sudarshana is Sri Narasimhadev. In Tamilnadu Sri Chakkarathalwar shrine is only at Srirangam, Thirukovilur, Thirumohur (near Madurai) and Kanchipuram.
Sri Ramanujam Shrine
The history of Srirangam occupies an important place in the spiritual history of India as one of the major worship place of Sri Vaishnavism, which grew vigorously particularly in the south from the 7th to the 13th centuries. It was the seat of a school of philosophy whose most outstanding leader was the Vaishnava teacher Sri Ramanuja. The philosophy of Sri Ramanuja is known as Vishishta-advaita.
His thirumeni (the body) is preserved and offered prayers even today after 8 centuries in Srirangam temple in a shrine in the 5th prakara of the temple, just opposite to the temple of Sri Chakkarathalwar. His thirumeni is preserved in the temple in a seated position holding a jnana-mudra. A paste of saffron and camphor is applied every six months over the body in order to preserve it.
In the eastern side of the 5th prakara we can find the Sesharaya Mantapa. There are eight monolithic pillars having several battlefield sculptures that reminds one of the great times of Vijayanagara rulers. The figures are approximately life sized. To the north of Sesharaya mantapa is the thousand pillared mantapa which actually has 953 pillars.
Srirangam Temple Timings
Sri Ranganathar temple is open for devotees from 06:00 am to 09:00 pm daily.
Viswarupa seva: 06:00 am to 07:15 am
Darshan timings: 09:00 am to 12:00 pm
Darshan timings: 01:15 pm to 05:45 pm
Darshan timings: 06:45 pm to 08:45 pm
Darshan timings are subject to change on the festival days. In such a case, darshan timings are mentioned on a board outside the Arya Batal Gopuram of Alinadan Thiruveedhi.
Festivals celebrated in Srirangam temple
Of 365 days a year, 322 days are engaged with festivals in Srirangam temple. Vaikuntha Ekadashi, Rama Navami, Pavitra Utsava, Vasantha Utsava are some of the major festivals celebrated.
Except Madhurakavi Alwar, all the other eleven Alwars have performed mangalasasanam in Srirangam temple.
Periyalwar – 31 paasurams
Sri Andal – 10 paasurams
Kulashekhara Alwar – 31 paasurams
Thirumalisai Alwar – 14 paasurams
Thondaradipodi Alwar – 55 paasurams
Thirupaan Alwar – 10 paasurams
Thirumangai Alwar – 72 paasurams
Poigai Alwar – 1 paasuram
Boothath Alwar – 4 paasurams
Peyya Alwar – 2 paasurams
Nammalwar – 11 paasurams
A total of 246 paasurams
Vimana: Pranavaakriti Vimana
Pushkarani: Chandra, Vishwa, Sambhu, Pakala, Palasa, Ashwa, Aamva, Kadamba and Vritchi Pushkarini
Sthala Vriksham: Punnai Maram
Mulavar Perumal Name: Sri Ranganathan
Utsavar Perumal Name: Azhagia Manavaalan, Nam Perumal
Hastam / Mudrai: Abhaya Hastam
Pose: Adisesha Shayanam facing South
Mulavar Thayar Name: Ranganayaki, Sridevi and Bhudevi
Utsavar Thayar Name: Ranganayaki
Purana: Brahmanda Purana
How to reach Srirangam
The nearest railway station to Srirangam is Trichy. It is well connected by railways and roadways. From Trichy frequent buses are available to Srirangam.
References and Photo Credits
Temples of Thiruchirapalli – A Pilgrim’s Guide by Sakambharee
Srirangam City View – TR Ramesh, Sri Ranga Vimana – Srirangam Temple Calendar 2015, Rajagopuram – Prabhu B Doss, Paramapada Vaasal – Manfred Sommer, Ranganayaki Thayar – Srirangam Temple Calendar 2015, Thayar Sannidhi Mantapa – Manfred Sommer, Garuda Mantapa – Manfred Sommer16