Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sri Ranganäthaswämi Temple, Srirangam


Çré Raìganäthaswämi Temple, Srirangam

Sri Rangam is one of the celebrated 108 Vaiñëava Divya Desam located nine km from Trichy. It is ranked above (?) Tirupati as the most important Vishnu shrine. This ancient and most sacred shrine situated in an island formed by River Käveri on one side, and its tributary Kollidam on the other. The 600-acre temple-town Sri Rangam has developed around the Temple. The gigantic Temple of Sri Ranganathaswamy and his consort Sri Ranganayaki, occupying 156 acres, is the pride of this island.

Period & Builder/s
Almost all the major dynasties that ruled this area over many centuries, such as the Pallavas (600-900 CE), the Cholas (900-1150 CE), the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Hoysalas have contributed to make it the biggest temple-complex in the country. (The characteristic feature of Vijayanagara period is the development of Temple-Complex: prakäras - concentric series of rectangular enclosure walls with gopurams (towered gateways) in the middle of each side.) The numerous prakäras (now 7) and maëòapas perhaps were added during this period. The Temple owes its present prominence to the Vijayanagara Empire (1350-1565 CE) and its successor, the Nayakas (1600-1750 CE). There is a statue of Tirumalä Näyaka, the greatest of the Madurai Näyaka rulers, sculpted on one of the pillars of this vast Temple.

Contribution of various Dynasties to South Indian Temple Architecture
(4 of the Temples are World Heritage Sites)

Dynasty
Period*
Temples
Style
Place
The Pallavas of Kanchi
(Initiaters of Rock-cut Temples)
600-900 CE
Five Rathas,
Shore Temple

rock-cut,
architectural
Mahabalipuram
(World Heritage Site)


Kailasanath Temple

architectural
Kanchipuram
Chalukyas of Badami
(in west/north?Karnataka)
500-753 CE

Vesara
Aihole(cradle of Indian Architecture), Pattadakal
(World Heritage Site)
Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta
750-983 CE
Ellora
cave temples,
Monolithic rock-cut Temple
Ellora
(World Heritage Site)
Chalukyas
Of Kalyani
983-1195 CE
Lakkundi, Dambal, Gadag


Hoysala
Of Karnataka??
1100-1350 CE


Belur, Halebid
Somanathapura (proposed as World Heritage Site), Srngeri
Chola
Of Tanjavur
900-1150 CE
Brhadiswara Temple
Dravida
Tanjavur
(World Heritage Site)


Brhadiswara
Temple

Gangaikonda
(World Heritage Site)


Airavateswara
Temple

Darasuram
(World Heritage Site)


Sarangapani sanctum

Kumbakonam
Vijayanagar
Of Hampi?
1350-1565 CE


Tiruvannamalai


Sarangapani Gopuram/s

Kumbakonam


Rajagopuram of
Ekambareswar


Nayakas
Of Madurai
(succeeded Vijayanagara)
1600-1750 CE
Sri Rangam
(expansion)


* Period is indicative since historians will not agree to one period.

Temple architecture/style/specialty
Sri Rangam is the foremost of the 108 Divya Deçams - shrines glorified by the Älwärs (Vaiñëava Saints) in their poems, and is referred to as the ‘Heaven on Earth’. Undoubtedly, the largest Temple in India, it boasts of the tallest gopuram in India. The Temple compound (of 156 acres) and has seven concentric prakäras (enclosures) surrounding the shrine, and a total of 21 gopurams (average 3 gopurams per prakära. I am trying to understand the arithmatic, and visualise) and several maëòapams, shrines (for Sri Ranganayaki, Garuda, Narasimha, Anjaneya, the Alwar Saints, Sri Andal, and Bibi Nachiar) and tanks. The outer most seventh prakäram is the outer wall, is more like a fort, and was built after the aftermath of the Islamic invasion.




The Temple has number of firsts to its credit, the latest being the tallest gopuram in India. The 13-tiered and 240-feet tall Räjagopuram was built in 1980s (so late?), and can be seen from several miles (I photographed the Räjagopuram from the road). It is painted with the typical païcavarëam (five colours) – blue, red, green, yellow and black, a style seen in many Dravidian temples (also in Little India in Singapore). There are 20 more gopurams in this temple-complex (my own arithmatic), and as many shrines.


Famous Gopurams
Place
Tier
Height
Builder
1
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
Trichy
13-tiered
240 feet
1980
2
Arunachaleswara Temple
Tiruvannamalai

217 feet

3
Ekambareswara Temple
Kanchipuram

194 feet

4
Sri Andal Temple
Srivilliputhur
11-tier
192 feet

5
Southern Rajagopuram of Minakshi
Madurai
9-tier
-1511 sculptures
160
feet
Sevvanti Murty Chettiar in 1559 CE
6
Eastern Rajagopuram of Minakshi
Madurai

153 feet
Maravarman
Sundara Pandyan
7
Sarangapani Temple
Kumbakonam
12-tier
146 feet

8
Suchindram
Kanyakumari

134 feet

9
Rameswaram
Rameswaram

126 feet






Deity
The colossal form of Lord Ranganatha is seen in His anantaçayanam posture with Çrédevé and Bhüdevé by His side. The first time (in 2009) when I had darçan, I was overawed, and asked a fellow devotee whether the eyeballs are of gold. He reprimanded me saying ‘You should not say like that.’ Later on I discovered that the eyes and the crown are plated/painted gold. The gold-plated/painted crown is known as praëava-vimänam or paravasudeva-vimänam. (Photographs are not allowed, but surprisingly a good distinct photo clicked by a famous westerner is on the net.)

Nam Perumäl, the utsava (festival) deity is in a standing posture placed in front of the mülavar (as is the custom in all Vaiñëava temple, preventing a complete darçan of the main deity (mülavar).

The divine consort Çré Raìganäyaké is enshrined separately (Hail! Women Power!) in the fourth prakäram. There is a separate shrine for Sri Andal, who married Lord Ranganatha in Sri Rangam. There are separate shrines for Narasimha, Anjaneya, Garuda Alwar, and Bibi Nächiar (only her painted image is there).




The ‘Hall of a Thousand Pillars’ was left incomplete with 936 pillars. I could visit the 1000-pillared hall only in my second visit, after seeing the exquisite sculpture/s in a Temple-Guide book. The hall has exquisite sculptures of gods and goddesses, Äÿwärs and Äcäryas. The front of the maëòapam is embellished with Vijayanagar/Näyaka specialty - equestrians fighting lions. 





An equestrian in Kailashanath, Kanchipuram





Rows of equestrians in Varadharaja Perumal Temple,  Kanchipuram
Equestrians in Srirangam Temple

The stone carvings above and below the tapestry are equally rich in detail. The base depicts women in different postures. One of the pillars shows a rider, with the horse reared up, while below are a number of foot soldiers.



Some of the pillars have episodes of the Puräëas sculpted on them.







Paintings
The shrine contains fine sculptures of the Näyaka period, and paintings on Rämäyaëa and Viñëu Puräëa.



Festivals
The most important festival is the 21-day Vaikuëöha Ekädasi (Paradise Festival). Other festivals are Chitirai car (April) Thai (Jan), Theppam (Feb) and Goratham (March).

Literature
The early Sangam literature mentions about this Temple. The earliest extant inscriptions date back to 10th century. All the twelve Älwärs (with the exception of Madhurakavi) have sung in praise of Lord Ranganatha. Çré Rämänuja, Nätha Munigal, Vedänta Deçika, and other Vaiñëava Saints were closely associated with Sri Rangam. Tamil poet Kambar is said to have recited his epic work Kamba Rämäyaëam here.


The twelve Alvärs are – i) Periyä* Äÿvär (600-900 CE), ii) Äëòaÿ* (600-900 CE), iii) Kulaçekhara Äÿvär (600-900 CE), iv) Tirumaliçai Äÿvär, v) Tiruppän Äÿvär, vi) Madhurakavi Äÿvär, vii) Tirumaìgai Äÿvär, viii) Nammäÿvär, ix) Bhudattäÿvär and x) Pey Äÿvär, xi) Näthamuni (824-924 CE), xii) Yamunä (918-1038 CE).

*Äëòaÿ was the foster daughter of Periyä Äÿvär (600-900 CE).


Historical Background
The Sri Rangam Temple as well as the Jambukeswaram Temple suffered terrible blows during the Muslim invasion in 14th century. The first attack was in 1311 CE by Malik Kafur, the iconoclast general of the Khiljis. The second attack was in 1323 CE under Ulugh Khan (the later Mohammed Bin Tughlaq), the son of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq. These two Muslim raids crippled the Temple to such an extent that worship ceased. The 1323 attack was particularly devastating. Worship was restored in 1371 CE (after 48 years), when the forces of Vijayanagar stormed the Temple-complex. From then on, for next 350 years, the Vijayanagar Kings and the Nayakas lavished their riches on this Temple (How wonderful).

Legend
Legend has it that, the image of Sri Ranganatha worshipped here was originally worshipped by the clan of the Ikñväku Kings, and was passed on to Rama. At the time of Sri Rama’s pattabhiñeka, Vibhéñaëa obtained the Raìga Vimäna (a special chariot-like conveyance carried by Veda Murtis with Viñëu inside) from Sri Rama as a gift, and proceeded to Lanka with the said image. While carrying it to Sri Lanka, circumstances caused him to place it on the banks of River Kaveri at Sri Rangam. Contrary to the injunction he had received, Vibhéñaëa placed it on the ground, and it was rooted there. A disappointed Vibhéñaëa returned to Sri Lanka with the consolation that the image of Sri Ranganatha at Sri Rangam would face south – in the direction of Lanka.

***
Work in progress
***


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