Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trichy and Srirangam Temple

Prolouge :

I land from Rameswaram by train in the midnight @ Trichy and quickly check in for a slumber. I get up early morning and quickly shower and start proceeding to Srirangam by Bus. Well my co-passengers enquires where am I from I tell him I am from Bangalore. He exclaims “ Super city “. I wonder whether the concrete and glazed buildings is a term for a Super city. However I find Trichy railway station has a look of neat city. Now imagine if they just have a mono rail along the banks of the river cauvery and connecting the airport and tourist spots, Trichy too will become a fabulous city.


A checkered history of Srirangam is dished out by various historians. Who is to be credited to have constructed this massive temple which can be equated almost to Angkor Wat which was built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II in Cambodia.

The temple has 7 massive enclosures, wherein the main shirne is of Lord Vishnu in his majestic avatar. The first enclosure is credited to have been built by Raja Mahendra Chola ( 1060-1063 AD ) but the contradiction here is that in 924 AD Parantaka I ( 907-953 AD ) had gifted a silver lamp for the diety.

My surmise is that the original temple seems to have been built by feudatories of Pulekesi II ( 608-642 AD) from the Chalukyan Empire. Then the temple seems to have expanded and renovated by the Chola King Mahendra Chola ( 1060-1063) adding the local elements of architecture. The Pallavas too seem to have contributed to construction of the temple, based on Mahaballipuram style. The Cholas had been for several years under the Pallavas and their domination began once Raja Raja Chola ( 985-1014 AD ) emerged on the scene with construction of the great temple at Brideswar Tanjore.

There have been many intrigues and conspiracy dominating the rulers of the time. The city of Trichy had been under constant sieze from times immemorial. There are interesting stories that Raja Raja chola had to shed blood to succeed the throne and in repentance he built the great temple. The idea of creating his own identity seems to have inspired Mahendra Chola to renovate and build some portions of the temple. Pandyas took over from Cholas along with the help of Hoysala Kings. Since Hoysala were great builders they seem to have contributed by sending their artisans to lend expertise. However due to lack of availability of soapstone in the area they seem to have compromised on the artform. The influence of Hoysala style is seen in the form of Sala slaying a tiger on some of the pillars.

There has been influence of Vijaynagar Empire in the main gopuram. This portion was left incomplete by the builders. The completion of the massive arched enterance was obviously aborted in 1565 when Vijaynagar empire fell to the invasion of Bahamani sultans. Thereafter Nayaks who were feudatories of Vijaynagar empire seems to have contributed to construction of some portions of the remaining enclosures. The biggest proof for the influence of Vijaynagar empire architecture is the installation of Ugranarashima in all the gopurams of the temple. Ultimately the biggest gopuram in the world which stands tall @ 236 feet tall which was completed on 25/3/1987. It is known as Rajagopuram.


Ramanujam who is one of the greatest exponent of Vedanta philosophy settled at Srirangam and propounded his theology. He was actively engaged in temple activities and teaching in the school, after taking a vow of bramchari. As soon as the Moghuls from Malik Kafur ( 1311 ) Muhammad Bin Thuglak ( 1323 ) invaded he vacated the temple and traveled across India. When he returned he was again subject to humiliation by last Chola King Kulottunga I ( 1070-1120 AD) This forced Ramunja to take refuge in Mysore state in Melkote and Sringeri area. The temple seems to have mired with controversy of Saiva and Vaishnav traditions, which shows inconsistency and architectural changes.

During the invasion of the Muslims most of the statues, jewels and treasures were taken away and hidden in Tirupati where they remained till 1371 AD. There seems to other hideouts too wherein huge treasures were hidden and probably never returned to Srirangam temple. The muslims luckily did not destroy the temple and used it as a military garrison where they stored the food grains and parked their horses and elephants in the huge complex. The Vijaynagar rulers regrouped and vacated the temple from the infidels from unauthorized occupation of the temple.


The temple is located on an isle formed by the tributaries of Cauvery. The northern arm of the Cauvery is known as Kolroon, which is artificially created to protect the temple from annual river water flooding. The temple is built in seven rectangular enclosures. On each enclosure there is an enterance and exit gopuram. The main enterance of the temple is facing South, which may explain the misfortune visiting the temple. This is against the hindu tradition of Vaastu. The temple covers a vast area which is bigger than any religious place in the world. The actual area might have been larger than Angkor Wat ( currently largest non functioning temple) which is encroached upon by commercial and residential area.

The temple encompasses an area with a perimeter of 8 km and covers an area of 6,31,000 sq meters. ( 156 acres ) The seven enclosures have 21 gopurams with enterance and exit archways on all sides. One of the enclosures contains 1000 pillared hall ( actual count is 953 ). Foreigners and other religious visitors can visit upto the 6th enclosure and are prohibited in the main sanctum sanctorum which is adorned with Gold Gopuram. Photography is prohibited in this area.

The three outer enclosures are filled with shops, commercial establishments and houses inside the temple complex. Generally the outer enclosures used to be occupied by priests, artisans, servants for cleaning the temple and shop keepers who sold flowers and coconuts essential for pooja. There were more than 10,000 people housed in these enclosures.


This contains the Rajgopuram which raises upto a height of 236 feet, the highest temple gopuram in the world. It was completed in 1987 with concerted effort of the local administration and temple management. The unfinished edifice was interrupted by French invaders in 1751-58 according to some historians, but it seems to slightly older dating back to Vijaynagar empire who were great temple builders. The original plan was to build the gopuram to around 60 meters, but with modern technology the height was enhanced to 72 meters.


This enclosure is known as Chittiral or Kaliyuraman. The construction of this enclosure is credited to Hoysala artisans and Pandayan rulers. The eastern gopuram is most impressive of all the four gopurams. It bears inscriptions of Twelfth & Thirteen century characters. The construction seems to have been undertaken during the Veera Bhallal II ( 1173-1220 AD) The processional chariots are housed in this enclosure.


The fifth enclosure is inhabited and is known as Uttara. It contains the shrine of manavala mamuni in the traditional Chola style.


Non Hindus are allowed free to move around in this portion of the temple. There is Venugopala temple, which has pillars beautifully decorated. The period of construction is approximately between 1240 to 1330 which is obviously close to the reign of Veera Bhallal II or his successor Vir Narasimha II ( 1220-1235 AD ). One can witness the magnificience of the entire temple complex by visiting the terrace which manned or regulated through the information booth. One can buy various books associated with the temple.

This enclosures contains a museum with interesting artifacts, such copper plates, ivory sculptures and number of bronze cast statutes and ancient coins. A courtyard contains eight pillars with rearing horses and soldiers battling the tigers in typical Hoysala style.

Opposite this mantap is the thousand pillars hall which leads to the northern portion of the temple. A huge pandal is erected whenever there is festivity in the temple. There are other enclosure which are barricaded to the visitors. A group of enclosures contain inscriptions dating back to Vijaynagar empire.

On the western wing there are kitchens and five storehouses ( kottaram ) which are in the form of large cylindrical towers. They acted as grain storehouses for storing rice and lentils used for preparation of food. Inscriptions state these were destroyed by Infidel invaders and later restored.


On the eastern wing once again there are some abandoned mantaps which dates back to Vijaynagar era. There are shrines which date back to chola period in this enclosure. There is a sacred tank which is barricaded for visitors. There is shed which houses the materials used for procession and palanquins for statues.


One has to reach the second enclosure ( Kulasheran) through the Aryabhattal Gopuram which was re- built during the first half of the fifteen century, which was burnt down by infidels invasion of the temple. The whole of the second enclosure is narrow when compared to other enclosures.

The flagstaff is said to have been installed by Sundara Pandya ( 1251-1268 ) It was destroyed once again by invaders and replaced in 1461, by Mallikarjuna Raya of the Vijaynagar dynasty.


This is the main place where Lord Vishnu is in reclining position. He is known as the Lord Ranganathaswamy. The Lord is well ornamented with Golden crown, pendants, necklaces, and bracelets. The statue of the LORD is 21 feet in length which and blackened like carbon black, which anointed specially every year to preserve its structure. At the feet of the Lord there is a Pink Lotus.

The roof of the temple is golden Vimana, which non Hindus can witness from the terrace. There are four golden Kalasas rising from the corolla of a lotus. There are engravings of Lord Vishnu South, Achyuta to North, Ananta to the East and Venugopala or Krishna to the west.

All these jewels are renovated from time to time. One needs to pay special enterance fee of Rs 50 to have dharshan or Rs 20 and Rs 5, which goes to upkeep of the temple and helps in tracking the number of visitors to the temple.

There is an ivory painting of the donor Vijayranga Chokkanatha Nayaka ( 1706-1732) his wife, son and daughter-in-law which hangs on the wall of the temple. Golden vessels were donated by future King Edward VII in 1875 and also necklaces which were inlaid with gold, precious stones which were used to deck the Lord.


During the invasion of Malik Kafur ( 1310-1311) raided the Srirangam temple to loot the treasures in the Ghazni style, but majority of the idols and jewels were secretly pirated to safe haden. No ruler worth his salt was able to protect the temple and hundreds of priests laid down their lives. The temple corridors and river was flooded with blood stains much more gory than Jallianwala Massacre.

The infidels took away the main statue Namaperumal to his capital as a booty and sign of victory over weak resistance. In a daring move the remaining priests regrouped and took a procession to plead with Muslim invader to return deity to its original place. They narrated miracles and curse to scare the invaders to compel him to return to its rightful abode. Moved by the dramatic revelation of the powers of the deity Kafur decided to gift back the Lord to the priests. One of the daughters of Kafur fell in love with iconic statue and she decided to travel to Sri rangam along with the deity. Surathani, the princess seems to have prostrated in front of the Lord and collapsed in front of the Lord. However this seems to highly unlikely masking of history, some localities would have sought revenge and poisoned the princess and a concoted story was dished out once again to Kafur. This enraged him no end, and he invaded the temple once again in 1323.

The priest realizing that this time the destruction will be unleashed with much more intensity, they hid most of the statues of the deities. The anticipated reprisal took toll of more than 13,000 brahmins were slaughtered with blood flowing into the river cauvery. After the man slaughter Kafur’s men occupied the temple and used it as a fortress. The devadasis decided to showcase their talent to save the temple from destruction. Hundreds of devadasis engaged the infidels in orgy and sexual pleasures day and night for more than 6 months. Kafur was forced to recall all his men looking into their meek pleasure seeking routine, which would make them unfit for future battle. He recalled his entire troop with a decree. Thus the tribute for saving the temple from total annihilation should go to the 100 odd devadasis who entertained the soldiers with their dance and sexual favours.


OPENS @ 6.15 am for one hour and again there is a break and it reopens for dharsan @ 9.00 am and closes 1 pm. Again re-opens at 4 pm. So one has to be careful not to land in between. Most of the temples follow a similar pattern. Vaikunta Ekadasi is celeberated in a grand manner.

ROCK FORT TEMPLE : ( Malai Kotai )

The original temple is attributed to have built during the reign of the Pallavan king Mahendravarma in the 6th century ad inspired by the cave temples of Badami and Aihole. There are several inscriptions on the fa├žade of the temple and rock cut caves. This temple is a small replica of the grandeur of Badami Cave temple. One can see the posture of Lord along with his consorts and numerous animals surrounding his dancing posture. There are as many as 5 other temples in this massive rocky edifice.

One has to climb into 3 different phases. The temple which is located on the ground floor or the presiding diety is known as Arulmigu Thayumanswamy temple. At the enterance one finds Manika Vinayagar.

Legend of Chetti Girl :

In epic times Lord Shiva gave solace to one devotee. Ratnavathi was married to Dhana Guptan in Trisirapuram. She prayed to the lord to bless her and she became pregnant. As the normal tradition she kept praying for normal delivery of the child daily. But when on the appointed day when she was about to deliver there was flood in the river cauvery, her mother could not return with oil and medicines. Lord came in the form of her mother gave solace and ensured normal delivery. From that onwards Chevvanthinathar is known Thayumanavar. Devotees come to the temple for normal delivery and offer banana and milk to the Lord after delivery.

Vasantha Mantapam :

From this location one can have a good view of the town below. The French and the British used it as watch tower to track enemy movements. There was a telescope too installed to view the town below. It was built by Trinelveli Dalavai Mudaliar in 1630.

Manimandapam :

It was built in 1918 enroute to the hilltop. There is big copper bronze bell weighing 2.5 tonnes with 4.8 feet and 4.6 breadth. It was manufactured by Railway industries in Nagapatinam. Everyday it rings at 4 am 6 am 10 am and 12 pm. 6 PM AND 10 M.

Ucchi Vinaygar :

After the incarnation of Sri RAMA, Vibhisana took leave. Lord present him with an idol of Sri Ranganatha which was worshipped by ancestors. It was given to Vibhisana with a instruction wherever he desired to settle he can place it on the earth. Enroute to Sri Lanka he wanted to take bath in Cauvery river, he handed over the statue to a small boy. The boy unable to bear the weight and ran out of patience and he shouted for vibhisana, who did not return. He therefore placed the statue on the ground, which Vibhisana was unable to uproot. He gave a strong stroke on the head of the boy who turned into Vinayaka, till today one can notice a deep gash on the head of the Lord. One can see the foot prints on the rock of Vibhisana.


Morning : 5.30 am – 12.00 pm
Evening : 4.00 pm 8.30 pm.

Enterance Fee : Rs 2
Camera Fee : Rs 25
Video Camera : Rs100


The Ranganathaswamy temple follows the Vaishnava tradition and is handicapped by inhabitants who have encroached the temple premises. The grandeur of the temple can only be resurrected with co-ordinated endeavour, which needs clearance of encroachments in front of the temple. The entire temple complex needs a circular ropeway transporting the visitors on the banks of cauvery river and maybe even a monorail traveling at safe distance so that piligrims and visitors are reminded of the grandeur. It is said that more stones and bricks were moved than Pyramids to construct this magnificient temple. The temple complex is so huge that it can house more than 50 Taj Mahals. Now it is for the government & people to undertake a co-ordinated effort to resurrect the past glory. Just imagine each and every day people paying respect to Lord Ranganatha in a semi circular motion from on a mono rail East to West reversing the bad effects of South enterance.

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