Sunday, April 17, 2016

Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam – History

Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam – History
Srirangam is the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines (Swayam Vyakta Kshetras) of Lord Vishnu. It is also considered the first, foremost and the most important of the 108 main Vishnu temples (Divyadesams). This temple is also known as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam, and Bhogamandabam. In the Vaishnava parlance the term “Koil” signifies this temple only. The temple is enormous in size. The temple complex is 156 acres in extent. It has seven prakarams or enclosures. These enclosures are formed by thick and huge rampart walls which run round the sanctum. There are 21 magnificent towers in all prakarams providing a unique sight to any visitor. This temple lies on an islet formed by the Twin Rivers Cauvery and Coleroon.
The temple is mentioned in Tamil works of literature of the Sangam era, including the epic Silappadikaram (book 11, lines 35–40). However, archaeological inscriptions are available only from the 10th century AD. The inscriptions in the temple belong to the CholaPandyaHoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties who successively swayed the destinies of the Tiruchirapalli district. They range in date between the 9th and 16th centuries and are registered by the Epigraphical society.
The location where the Ranganathan idol was placed was later covered by an overgrowth of deep forests, due to disuse. After a very long time, a Chola king, chasing a parrot, accidentally found the idol. He then established the Ranganathaswamy temple as one of the largest temple complexes in the world.
According to historians, most dynasties that ruled the South—Cholas, Pandiyas, Hoysalas, Nayaks, assisted with renovation and in the observance of the traditional customs. Even during periods of internal conflicts amongst these dynasties, utter importance was given to the safety and maintenance of these temples.
The temple of Sri Ranganathaswamy at Srirangam boasts an historic past of great kingdom and a civilization thousands of years old. The reign of the Pallavas was marked by the creation of a solid religious foundation, for example the encouragement given by the dynasty appears to have contributed to the growth of Aryan institutions in Southern India more particularly in the Carnatic. Cholas reigned for about three hundred years over the Coromandel Coast and the greater part of Eastern Deccan, where they helped an advanced Hindu Culture to flourish.
The Sri Ranganatha Swami Temple has a rich historical past, owing to it being the headquarters of the Vaishnava Acharyas. Sri Vaishnava Acharya, Nathamuni is believed to have spent a considerable amount of effort and time in the management of the temple. The Hymns of Thirumalisai Alvar makes explicit references to the temple of Srirangam and its ambience.
It was Thirumangai Alwar who had taken the initiative to renovate the temple structure and the Dasavatara Shrine. Thirumalisai Alvar also played a crucial role in establishing the Adhyayanothsavam. Subsequently, the Pallavas, and later Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Emperors, the Hoysalas and the Nayak Kings patronized and maintained the temple. The Uttamanabhis family of Srirangam has long been associated with the management and administration of the temple. Currently the administration of the temple is under the direct control of the Hindu Management and Endowment Board.
Each pillar on four doors of the temple has Tamil inscriptions that contain labels and stories of Kaliyuga Rama. The Hoysala Kings had the emblem of two facing away from each other. This emblem is surmounted on the human body like structure on Kaliyugaraman pillar. The ceiling of this pillar has anchor like instrument flanking the fishes which is unique style show casing friendliness between Pandyas and Hoysala. The Hoysalas contributed equally to the benefit of temple without any compromise on quality of construction. The royal pillar at main entrance and four pillars built a few decades later possess the same style of construction. This ensured uniformity in the infrastructure and it is also an astonishing fact that none of the Rulers touched sanctum sanctorum of temple.
All the beautifications were made in and around the temple premises. The temple was extended as Rulers started donating villages and lands for the benefit of temple. The island where this temple is located was also developed. The temple is an architectural marvel, with streets, granaries, pillars, agraharams and other facilities fit to perform all festival rituals. Also the seers staying here find accommodation in one of the satras (rooms).
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.
Numerous inscriptions appear on the walls and other places. They exceed over 600. They furnish us with a variety of information about the benefactions made by the ruling classes from time to time and also about the social, economic and political conditions.
During Mythological Period:
The legacy of Ranganatha Swamy has it that the main idol was worshipped by Lord Brahma and then was presented to the King of Gods, Indra. He, in turn, handed over to Lord Rama as a gift on the occasion of the latter’s return to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. During his Pattabhishekam, the grand ceremony of crowning of a King, Lord Rama, in turn gifted the idol to Vibhishana, who had helped in the war with Demon King Ravana. Vibhishana requested Lord Rama to gift him the idol of Lord Ranganatha Swamy and humble Lord conceded to the request.
It was clearly indicated that Vibhishana must not place it on the ground, but apparently, on way back to Lanka, Vibhishana happened to halt at Srirangam. He had to take out the idol from the royal chariot called as Ranga Vimana and placed it on the ground. Thereafter, the idol is said to have fixed to ground where Vibhishana left it. The temple was then religiously maintained by Ikshvaku kings and his successors.
Under Chola Regime:
For instance, we learn that Parantaka I (907 - 955 AD), was an ardent devotee of Lord Ranganatha. During his reign, the temple received many benefactions. A gift of 30 pieces of gold for a permanent lamp, 40 for camphor, one for cotton wick and a silver lamp were received by the Sabha of Tiruvarangam which managed these endowments. A hundred Kalanju of gold was made for performing the Thirumanjanam of the Lord with a "Sahasradhara" gold plate (1000 holed). Provision for cake offerings to the Lord on the Ekadasi day during the Panguni festival was made through a gift of two plots of land.
The Anbil plates of Parantaka II (Sundara Chola 956 - 973 AD) record the grant to Srinatha, a native of Anbil (Premagriha). This Vaishnava teacher was an ardent devotee of Lord Ranganatha and is identified with Nathamuni, the first of the Sri Vaishnava Acharyas. He organized regular classes in which he expounded the import of the "Nalayira Divya Prabandham" and continued the festivals organized by Thirumangai Alvar and made arrangements for the recitation of the 'Naalayira Divya Prabandham'.
The contents of the Anbil plates also convey the very strong Vaishnava feelings of Aniruddha - the minister of Parantaka II (955 - 985 AD). He himself recited these hymns, illustrating them with appropriate gestures during the Tirumoli and Tiruvaymoli festivals and trained his two nephews, Kallaiyagattalvan and Melaiyagattalvan to sing and dance during the festivals.
During the regime of the greatest of the Cholas, Raja Raja I (985 - 1014 AD), a gift of gold and a gift of one hundred cows to the temple for daily supply of four 'Nali' of milk to the deity by one of his officers was recorded. It also provided for cattle sheds and grazing fields.
It is said that a Chola king presented the temple with a golden serpent couch. Some historians identify this king with Rajamahendra Chola, supposedly the son of Rajendra Chola II. But it is of interest to note that he never figures in the latter's inscriptions, neither in the 4th year (that shows various members of the family going on rampage in different regions) nor in the 9th year (that shows only one member of the second generation).
The second Prakara is known as Rajamahendran Veedhi, a prince of the chola dynasty. He is said to have gifted to the Lord a serpent couch with precious gem set. There are in all 105 Chola inscriptions in the temple. Of these, 65 are assignable to Kulottunga I and 14 to the reign of his son, Vikrama Chola between the years 1070 and 1125 AD. Vikrama Chola is also said to have built a Gosala and a shrine for Krishna in the North East of the fifth Prakara. He also built a shrine for Rama in the South West and for Nachiyar in the North West. The huge Garuda in the Periatirumandapa fourth enclosure known as "Alinadan Tiruveedhi" was installed during his reign. He was also known as "Akalanka". The fifth enclosure - Akalankan Tiruveedhi was paved during his reign.
It is significant that during the acharya-ship of Sri Ramanuja, numerous benefactions accrued to the temple. Ramanuja completely overhauled the administrative system and saw to it, that great care was exercised in the matter of control of temple affairs and for this purpose - the office of the Senapathi Durandhara was created and charged with the specific duty of superintendence of the temple. Mudali and his descendants held the office with great distinction for almost two centuries.
Kulottunga III and Raja Raja III also continued to bestow care and interest in the temple affairs. They appointed royal personnel as Sri Karyams. Thirteen Srikaryams are mentioned in the inscriptions. During Raja Raja III's reign (1216-1257 AD), the Odras of Orissa were in occupation of the temple for about two years between 1223 and 1225 AD. They were ultimately expelled by the Pandyan force under Mara Varman Sundara Pandya.
Under Hoysalas Regime:
The Hoysalas are found to have established themselves at Vikramapuri (Samayapuram). During their reign, the Venugopala shrine - a beautiful specimen of the Hoysala architecture was built.
Under Pandyas Regime:
The benefactions of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya (1251 - 1268 AD) are simply breath-taking. He is said to have covered the Ranga Vimana with gold. He built a shrine for Vishvaksena. He conducted many tulabharas (weighing himself against gold, silver, jewels etc. and gifting them to the temple). He is also said to have built a golden ship for the float festival (Teppattirunal). He erected three golden domes, gifted a garland of emerald, a crown of jewels, a pearl garland and even so many gifts of art of inestimable value and beauty. He also built a shrine for Narasimha on a gopura in the fifth enclosure. He built the 'Amudu Mandapa' which he equipped with golden vessels and many more.
He also appointed his officers as "Srikaryams" who were invested with full authority to administer the temple. It was during his period that the soul stirring lectures on Bhagavat Vishaya were delivered by Nampillai Acharya.
Under Muslim Rule:
In the year 1311 A.D and again in 1323 A.D, Muslim forces led by Malik Kafur and Ulugh Khan attacked the temple. In the first sack of Srirangam, all the golden gifts made to the temple were carried away but fortunately it did not affect the religious life at Srirangam. But the second sack resulted in fall of the Srirangam Temple in alien hands who used it as a garrison till they were persuaded to leave the temple precincts.
In the raid in 1331 AD, the processional deity itself had to be moved to safety by a band of devotees headed by Pillai Lokacharya.
The first onslaught on the Temple:
During the period of invasion by Malik Kafur and his forces in 1310–1311, the idol of the deity was stolen and taken to Delhi. In a daring exploit, devotees of Srirangam ventured to Delhi and enthralled the emperor with their histrionics. Moved by their talent, the emperor was pleased to gift them the presiding deity of Srirangam, which was requested by the performers. Things took a drastic turn immediately. Surathani, his daughter, had fallen in love with the deity and followed him to Srirangam.
She prostrated herself to the God in front of the sanctum sanctorum and is believed to have attained the heavenly abode immediately. Even today, a painting of "Surathani" (known as Thulukka Nachiyar in Tamil) can be seen in her shrine near the Arjuna Mandapam adjacent to the sanctum sanctorum for whom, chappathis (wheat bread) are made daily. The kalyana utsavam or wedding of Lord Ranganathar with Surathani is performed with great pomp every year.
The second onslaught on the Temple:
Having assumed that the magical power of the deity had killed his daughter, there was a more severe second invasion to Srirangam in 1323 AD. The presiding deity was taken away before the Malik Kafur's troops reached Srirangam by a group led by the vaishnavite Acharya (Guru), Pillai Lokacharyar, who died en route to Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Goddess Ranganayaki was taken in another separate procession.
13,000 Sri Vaishnavas, the people of Srirangam, laid down their lives in the fierce battle to ensure that the institution was protected. In the end, Devadasis, the danseuse of Srirangam, seduced the army chief, to save the temple.
After nearly six decades, the presiding deity returned to Srirangam and the same Swami Vedanta Desika, who had built a brick wall in front of the sanctum sanctorum, broke it open. The deity and the priestly wardens wandered southwards towards Madurai, then northeast towards Kerala, Mysore, Tirunarayanapuram, and finally in the hills of Tirumala Tirupati, where they remained until their reinstatement in 1371.
Under Vijayanagar Rule:
The restoration took place only in 1371 AD with the conquest of the South by the Vijayanagar. During the period from 1331-1371, the Madurai Sultanate exercised jurisdiction over the temple and we find traces of their influence in the temple routine and art.
An inscription in the second Prakara (Raja Mahendran Veedhi) records that 'Gopanna took the image of Ranganatha from Tirupati to Chenji, his capital and after the defeat of the Muslims, restored the image to Srirangam and had it installed with Lakshmi and Bhoodevi'. This reconstruction took place on the 17th of Vaikasi (in the year Paridapi), Saka 1293 (13th May 1371).
According to 'Prapannamritam', the inscription in two verses in Sanskrit, were composed by the great Sri Vaishnava acharya, Sri Vedanta Desika who had returned to Srirangam after the self-imposed exile following the Muslim sack and witnessed in great delight the reconsecration. Subsequent to the restoration, Vedanta Desika settled once again in Srirangam and spent a few years in a quiet and peaceful religious pursuit and brought out the famous work 'The Rahasyatrayasara' and dedicated it to Lord Ranganatha.
Gopanna Udayar is said to have donated to the temple through Uttamanambi, 52 villages at an expense of 17,000 gold pieces. Saliva Mangiu, another Vijayanagar General, is said to have gifted to the temple 60,000 madas of gold. A new flag mast was erected in the Aniyarangan court yard in the third enclosure (Kulasekharan Veedhi). The restoration of Srirangam meant, for all practical purposes, the liberation of Tamil Country from the Muslim Yoke and the beginning of a golden era for Vaishnavism.
During the siege, the temple worship had practically ceased, many structures had been wantonly damaged, precious jewels, gold vessels etc. had been removed, the gold plates covering pillars, walls and Vimanams had been peeled off and golden idols carried away. The temple treasury and the granaries were emptied, the jewels and valuables plundered, all the devadana lands having been usurped, the temple was reduced to a state of wretchedness and poverty.
To the credit of the Vijayanagar emperors, it must be said they realised the magnitude of the task of restoring this temple to its pristine glory and in this stupendous task, they were ably and faithfully assisted by the Uttamanambis of Srirangam - one of the most influential families associated with the administration of the temple for long.
There are plenty of inscriptions (254) which throw considerable light on the Vijayanagar hold on the temple. A characteristic feature of these inscriptions are, they contain the Saka (year) dates. This was the period which witnessed a spirit of religious enthusiasm and expansion.
A continuous flow of the royalty and high dignitaries from the Empire frequented the temple and made offerings on a lavish scale. Among these distinguished worshippers are Krishnadevaraya, Achutaraya and Sadasivaraya. During this period the sub shrine of the Alvars and Acharyas were furnished with a Vimana, Gopura and the mandapas. The construction of the Alagiya-Singar Koil (after clearing the forests) in the East, the erection of the mandapa and the installation of the Hanuman idol and renovation and installation of the Dasavatara images in 1439 AD, a Shrine for Dhanvantri, the Lord of Medicine in the North side of the fourth Prakara and the thousand pillared mandapa are some of the standing monuments that even today testify to the abiding interest of the Vijayanagar rulers.
Sometime before the Muslim invasion, the temple stalattars created the office of the Sriranga Narayana Jeeyar - Koora Narayana Jeeyar, being the illustrious first in the line exclusively intended to attend to all details relating to temple rituals and regulate them. Though not hereditary in succession, the Jeeyars have been able to contribute significantly to the preservation of the tradition.
While Vedanta Desika lived, propounded and expounded and wrote in the most troublous and turbulent days (as also Pillai Lokacharya and their associates), Manavala Mamuni whose birth almost coincided with the attaining of mukti of Sri Vedanta Desika, had comparatively a peaceful time when he established himself in Srirangam in 1405 AD. He was able to get over all difficulties that stood in his way of assuming the mantleship of Acharya at Srirangam and he has left a deep impression which lasts until this day.
By about the middle of the 15th Century (i.e., 9th March 1459 AD), Narayana Jeeyar assumed the mantleship of the Ahobila Mutt which was founded in 1398 AD. During his pontificate, Krishnadevaraya was reigning. Through the Jeeyar's intercession, Krishnadevaraya made a provision for taking out the Deity on the 'Jyesta' asterism (the birth star of the First Jeeyar of the Ahobila Mutt) and distributing a share of the prasadams to the disciples of the Satakopa Jeeyar Mutt at Srirangam. This inscription is found in the tiers of veranda on the western side of the second Prakara. This inscription is dated in the year 1517 AD.
Under Nayak Rule:
The Nayak Viceroys at Tanjore and Madurai having become independent of the Vijayanagar in the middle of the 16th Century, the Srirangam temple attracted their attention and patronage. Achyuthappa Nayaka (1580 - 1614) was so passionately devoted to the Lord of Arangam that he abdicated his throne in favour of his son, Raghunatha and retired to Srirangam to spend his time in the midst of devotees and pandits. He is credited with having covered the Vimana with gold afresh and reconstructed some of the outer Prakara walls, Gopurams etc.
In early 17th century, the rulers of Madurai happened to make Tiruchirapalli as their capital and the resident Vaduladesikas of Srirangam were considered as Guru of the Kings. The Royals Gurus enjoyed much fanfare with their wisdom and literary works. The early form of Tamil literature found much prevalence during this period only. The Vaishanavite link between the Rulers and Gurus paved way for benefactions in the temple.
Chokkanatha Nayak of the same dynasty made a number of contributions to the temple in the form of architectural facilities, streets, gifting away the surrounding peripherals to the temple trust and so on. The successors of the dynasty carried on legacy and 3 ivory idols of the family of Vijayaranga Chokkanatha in the temple grounds speak loud about contributions made by them. He built the "Vedaparayana Mantapa" in the 3rd enclosure and the 'Kannadi Arai' in the 'Chandra Mandapa'.
Further, it was during the Nayaka period, the ceilings and walls of several mandapas - particularly those on the enclosures surrounding the Nachiyar Shrine and the ceilings in the Dharmavarma Veedhi (Tiruvannali) were painted with scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata etc.
Under Nawabs Rule:
During the period of Nawabs rule, the Carnatic wars broke out as a result of the struggle for power between the English and the French. The temple was once again converted into a fortress but the temple worship was not affected. Hyder Ali occupied the temple for a brief while - in 1781 - while his son took it on 1790, but both pulled out quickly.
The Orlov diamond of 189.62 carats (37.924 g) is a large diamond that is part of the collection of the Diamond Fund of the Moscow Kremlin. The origin of this resplendent relic – described as having the shape and proportions of half a hen's egg. This diamond and a similar gem served as the eyes of the deity in the temple. Legends hold that a French soldier who had deserted during the Carnatic wars in Srirangam. Mention of the 2nd Carnatic war that was fought in Srirangam disguised himself as a Hindu convert and stole it in 1747 erected in the 17th century.
Under British Rule:
The victorious English took over the administration of the Carnatic in 1801. John Wallace was appointed as the Collector of the Tiruchirapalli District and in that capacity assumed the management of the temple. The British Government's direct control of the temple lasted for just about 40 years. On June 12, 1841, the Court of Directors of the East India Company ordered the immediate withdrawal of all interference with native temples and places of religious resort.
As an effect of this decision, the first Board of Trustees of the temple was constituted on 7th August 1841, consisting of Vedavyasa Bhattar, Vadhooladesika, Rangachariar, Parasara Bhattar and Utthama Nambi.
Pachaiyappa Mudaliar of Kancheepuram, a well-known philanthropist of the 20th Century, made benefactions for feeding Brahmin Pilgrims in the Srirangam temple and for engaging a tutor for teaching English to Hindu boys at Srirangam. The inscription recording this benefaction is on a slab fixed in the 3rd enclosure near the flag staff and a deposit of one lakh Varahas was made for this purpose. The Hindu Sabha of (Chennapatnam) Madras was to administer the same.
Now the temple management vests with the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board.
Saint Thyagaraja Visit:
We also hear of a visit to the temple by one of the greatest musical composers of devotional hymns - Saint Thyagaraja (1767 - 1847). He seems to have come during a 'Brahmotsavam'. Being a stranger to the place, he could not go near the horse-vehicle. But the bearers could not move forward. It was soon known that this sudden stoppage of the divine procession had come about because saint Thyagaraja could not come near and have darshan.
Only after the saint had darshan of the Lord, the procession continued. This incident is echoed in one of his songs "Vinarada na manavi" (won't you heed my appeal?). Later the saint was taken to the main shrine with due honors and he worshipped the Lord in the sanctum all alone - and he dedicated the piece "O Ranga sayee" to him after this exhilarating experience.
Ramanuja’s relationship with the Temple:
For brief details, please refer below link;