April 22, 2013

Sri Rangam - The Temple

Site Name: Ranganathar Temple  
Site Type: Hindu Temple
Location:  Sri Rangam, near Trichy city, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: One of the most important Vaishnaivite temples; the first and foremost among 108 Divya Desam temples; second tallest tower in the world; the biggest functioning Hindu temple
Nearest Railway Station: Sri Rangam
Nearest Airport: Trichy
How to reach: Well connected by road
Hotel: A lot of options in Trichy city 
Restaurants: Few small but traditional restaurants can be found near the temple; for more options, go to Trichy

Sri Rangam is an island with the river Cauvery and the river Kollidam on either sides and is located near Trichy city in Tamil Nadu state of India. Sri Ranganathar Temple, located in this town, is one of the most popular Vaishnavite temples in India. 

Sri Ranganathar Temple is the first and foremost among the 108 Divya Desam temples. It remained as the capital city for the Vaishnavites for many centuries. In Vaishnavism, the term 'Kovil' refers directly to this temple, as it is given much significance. The glory of this temple is such that it is considered equivalent to Vaikuntha, the adobe of Vishnu. Hence, it is also called as Bhooloka Vaikuntha.

Tiruvandikkapu Mandap
Background about this article:

I have written more than 1000 travel articles in my blog. My articles about the temples have become comparatively popular than my articles about the other travel destinations. Although I have tried to cover all aspects of the temples in my articles, I do not get the sense of completeness when it comes to some of the magnificent temples. The huge temples have so much of lesser known tales, history, epigraphs, sculptures and architectural features. I realize that I am not doing justice by visiting the temple just for one time and write about it. Hence, I wanted to spend few days on the site and cover every nook and corner of some specific magnificent temples. This article on Sri Rangam temple is my first mega write up about a mega sized temple.

I wrote this article originally in 2013. I visited the town again in 2016. I spent three days and visited the temple again and again in these three days. I also spent more than three months to rewrite this article. As of today (Feb 2017), this is my longest article in my blog. I have never taken so much of time to write any article so far. 

If Ranganathar wishes, I would write about more such magnificent temples in a very detailed manner. 

Source Materials:

I know it is very likely to have difference of opinions and different interpretations, when it comes to the history of Sri Rangam. The legends are interlinked with historical events. Some dates in the records do not appear to be correct. There are different interpretations about few incidents. Hence, I would like to clarify about the source materials that I used to write this article.

  • I spent few days in the town and captured the details of architecture, sculpture and layout on my own.
  • I interacted with few people of the town as well as with the priests of the temple to gather few information about the temple and history.
  • Koyil Olugu, the famous chronicle book about the temple
  • The book about Sri Rangam Temple written by Dr. V.N. Hari Rao, which was published by Sri Venkateshwara University Publication
  • South Indian Inscriptions series volume (XXIV) of ASI
  • Few other books, papers, talks and presentations about the temple.

Highlights:
  • The biggest functioning Hindu temple in the world covering an area of about 6,790,000 sq. feet. 
  • Considered as the first and the foremost Divya Desam temple.
  • One of the most important Vishnu temples in India.
  • The foremost among the eight self manifested shrines of Lord Vishnu.
  • Almost the entire town lies within the temple complex; there are seven huge prakaras and 21 towers
  • All the Alwars except Madurakavi have sung about this site. This is the only Divya Desam temple, which has been sung by the maximum number of Alwars. 
  • It is believed that Kamban wrote the first poem in his version of Ramayana here.
  • Ramanuja got the title 'Udayavar' in this temple.
  • The holy body of Ramanuja is still maintained in a shrine in this temple (around 1000 years old).
  • It is the birth place of Periya Nambigal (Guru of Ramanuja).
  • It is one of the five Pancha Ranga Kshetrams.
  • The ancient Tamil texts such as Aga Nanooru and Silappadhikaram have references about Sri Rangam temple. 
  • There are eight consorts for Ranganatha in this temple - Ranga Nayaki, Sri Devi, Bhoo Devi, Neela Devi, Andal, Thulukka Nachiar, Chera Kula Valli and Kamala Valli
  • Four girls born as humans on the earth married to Ranganatha - Chera Kula Valli (a Chera Princess), Kamala Valli (a Chola Princess), Thulukka Nachiar (a Muslim Princess of Delhi) and Andal (the daughter of a Brahmin Priest)
  • It is one of the few temples that follow Pancharatra Agama (The texts that deal with the worship protocol are called Agamas. Pancharatra Agama is one of the two authoritative Agamas of Vaishnavism; the other one is Vaikhasana Agama).
  • This temple has the maximum number of inscriptions.
  • God - Ranganathar a.k.a. Periya Perumal a.k.a. Nam Perumal; Utsava -  Azhagiya Manavalan 
  • Goddess - Ranganayaki
  • Teerth (holy water) - Chandra Pushkarani, Surya Pushkarani (as per Tirumangai Alwar, there were eight Teerthas around the temple in the olden days)
  • Vimana - Pranavaakriti Vimana

Alwars and Pasurams:

The temples of Vishnu that were sung by the Alwars are classified as Divya Desams. There are totally 108 Divya Desam temples. The hymns sung by the Alwars in Tamil language were compiled by Nathamuni and they are together called as Nalayira Divya Prabandham Pasurams. 

Venu Gopalan Shrine
Sri Rangam, the first and foremost Divya Desam, was sung by all the Alwars except Madurakavi Alwar. No other temple has been sung by all these Alwars. 

The number of Pasurams (verses) sung be each of these Alwars is as given below:

Poigai Alwar - 1
Bhootath Alwar - 4
Pei Alwar - 2
Tirumazhisai Alwar - 14
Periya Alwar - 34
Andal - 9
Kula Shekhara Alwar - 31
Tondaradi Podi Alwar - 45
Tiruppan Alwar - 10
Tirumangai Alwar - 73
Nammalvar - 12

Total - 235 verses

Venu Gopalan Shrine
Self Manifested Shrine:

Sri Rangam is the first and foremost among the self manifested shrines. The idol or Vimana, if it is found on its own, in other words, if it is created by God, it is called as Svayamvykta or self manifested. If it is created by the Devas, it is called as Divya. The idol that is created by Siddhas and humans are respectively called as Saiddha and Manusya.

The eight self manifested shrines are Sri Rangam, Sri Musnam, Venkatadri, Saligram, Naimisaranyam, Totadri, Pushkar and Badrinath.


Venu Gopalan Shrine
Pancha Ranga Kshetrams:


There are five important temples on the banks of the river Cauvery, where Vishnu is found as Ranganathar; they are called as Pancha Ranga Kshetrams. They are Sri Ranga Patna (Adi Rangam), Kovil Adi (Appala Rangam), Mayiladuthurai (Parimala Rangam), Vada Rangam near Sirkazhi or Sarangapani Temple of Kumbakonam (Vada Rangam) and Sri Rangam (Adya Rangam). 

Venu Gopalan Shrine
Legend and History:

It is difficult to separate history from legend, when it comes to Sri Rangam temple. Hence, I call this section as "Legend and History". The legends and historical records are mostly interconnected. For example, it is accepted that the Alwars were there; but there is no agreement between the religious people and the historians on their dates. Similarly, there are many characters and legends associated with few historical incidents. They are recorded in the chronicles, but there is no historical evidence. 

It is upto the reader to decide if the content of this section given in the next few paragraphs are myth or history.

The origin of Vimana

As per Sri Ranga Mahatmiyam, the Sthala Purana of Sri Rangam, the golden Vimana of Ranganathar was formed on its own. The image of Para Vasudeva in this Vimana is hence called as Swayam Vyakta Murti. Lord Brahma, after his vigorous penance towards Vishnu, got this Vimana, which sprang from the milky ocean. Brahma installed the Vimana in Satya Lok. He worshiped Ranganathar in his Lok (world) for many years. Then, he passed it over to Surya. Surya also worshiped Ranganathar and performed regular poojas in Satya Lok. His son was Manu. He followed the same process in Satya Lok. Then, he passed the Vimana over to his descendant Ikshvaku.
Venu Gopalan Shrine

Ikshvaku found it difficult to travel to Satya Lok to do poojas to the Vimana. Hence, he did penance and got permission from Brahma to install the Vimana in his capital city, Ayodhya. The Vimana was being worshiped by all his descendants, the rulers of Ayodhya. Ultimately, Lord Ram, the hero of the epic Ramayan, who ruled Ayodhya, worshiped Ranganathar in his abode. 

Ram presented the Vimana to his friend Vibhishan, during the coronation ceremony of the former. On his way back to his country, Lanka, Vibhishan had placed this Vimana on the banks of the river Cauvery. He could not lift it from this place thereafter as it got fixed there permanently. Thus, the Vimana remained in this holy site, which is named as Sri Rangam later. 

Sri Ranga Mahatmiyam has two different versions namely Satadyayi and Dasadyayi. It is claimed that Mahatmiyam is part of Garuda Purana and Brahmanda Purana. It should be noted that only essential information from the Purana is presented in this article. The Purana talks elaborately about the creation of Brahma, the reason why he had to do penance and more details about the worship of Vimana. 

The construction of the Temple

As per the legend, an early Chola King Dharmavarma constructed the temple around the Vimana. There is no historical record about this King though. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the Cholas had constructed this temple originally and later the temple was renovated by the Pandyas and the other Kings.
Venu Gopalan Shrine

Interestingly, the chronicle claims that Dharmavarma was the contemporary of Ram and his father Dasarath. When Dasarath did Ashwamedha yagna, he had invited the Chola King for the yagna. Dharmavarma, who got the darshan of the Vimana in Ayodhya, wanted to have it in his own country. He did penance to fulfill his wish. 


Later, Vibhishan had placed the Vimana in the Chola region. Dharmavarma did poojas to the Vimana. He built a shrine and a prakara around the shrine. The first prakara is named after him even today. 

Kili Chola

Many years passed since the construction of the temple. By now, the water from the two rivers Kaveri and Kollidam covered the temple with sand and it was completely hidden. Everyone had probably forgotten about this temple. 

Once, a Chola King was resting under a tree in the site, which had become a forest by now. Then, he heard a parrot singing a song praising Lord Ranganath and the glory of the Vimana. The poem equated the Vimana to the holy Pranava Mantra Om and the four towers to four Vedas.
Three Southern Towers

The King after hearing this song, realized the existence of the temple. He made arrangements to discover the temple. Then, he renovated the rediscovered temple and brought back the original glory. He is being referred as Kili Chola, as the word Kili means parrot. There is no historical reference available about this king. Nevertheless, it is believed that this king might have lived during the Tamil Sangam period. 


Sangam Literature

Sri Rangam temple has been referred in Aga Nanooru and Silappadhikaram, the Sangam period Tamil texts. Although Aga Nanooru does not directly refer the temple and hence some scholars disagree the claim, Silappadhikaram definitely talks about the famous Vishnu temple of Sri Rangam. The period of Silappadhikaram is probably 2nd century CE. 



Arya Bhatta Gateway

It is said that a King from Bengal in the 5th century CE wanted to donate all his riches to Lord Ranganath. He came to this temple with all his wealth. Due to some reasons, the temple authorities did not accept his offers. He dropped all his wealth and made his people to guard the wealth. The place where his wealth was lying for many years is Arya Bhattal Gateway. Ultimately, his offers were accepted. 

Nanda Chola and Kamalavalli







Nanda Chola ruled his kingdom with Uraiyur as his capital, as per the legend. This childless king was a great devotee of Vishnu. He found a female child in lotus pond. He named that child as Kamalavalli. (It is said that Maha Lakshmi was born as Kamalavalli on the earth due to a curse.) As per her wish, after she attained adulthood, the King sent her to Sri Rangam and got her married off to the deity, Ranganath. She had her eternal union with the Lord. After that, the King used all his wealth in making additions to the temple by constructing gardens, towers and mandapas. 




Kamalavalli Thayar's shrine is found in the fourth prakara of the temple. Nowadays, the priests have started calling her as Maha Lakshmi perhaps to attract the North Indian devotees who do not know the background.

Kamalavalli is also called as Urayuravalli. As per an inscription, a Telugu Chola named Chennaya Balaya Deva installed the processional image of Urayuravalli Nachiar in this temple in 1530 CE.


As per different version of the legend, the Chola King Dharmavarma founded the city Uraiyur and named it as Nisulapuri, after his wife Nisulai. He had Kamalavalli as his daughter who married to Ranganathar. The Nachiar temple of Uraiyur is associated with this version of the legend.



Alwars

From the above sub-sections, it is evident that the temple was in existence in the Sangam age. We could also conclude that the temple was built by the early Chola Kings. The fate of the temple during the dark age (Kalabhras' period) is not known. Importantly, there is no inscription of Pallavas found in this temple. Some of the sites around Sri Rangam have the cave temples or the stone inscriptions of Pallava period. It is surprising why we could not find any Pallava contribution to this temple. After a gap of few centuries, we find contributions and activities from the Cholas again. In the medieval period, the records and evidence about the temple are found only in the poems written by Alwars.

If we take religious texts into account, the period of few Alwars would be around 5000 years. Some scholars date the age of earlier Alwars to the Tamil Sangam Age. There are many other scholars who date the Alwars' period to much later period such as 7th or 8th century CE. The discussion about the period of Alwars is beyond the scope of this article. However, we can assume that the Alwars' period would be between the original construction of the temple and the revival of the Cholas in the 10th century CE. 
Sesha Rayar Mandap

Whatever be the period of the Alwars, it is widely accepted that Pei Alwar, Bhoodat Alwar and Poigai Alwar were the earliest Alwars. Next comes the period of Tirumazhisai Alwar. All these four Alwars had visited Sri Rangam and sang hymns about Ranganathar. 

Nammalvar never went outside his own village, and hence he had not visited Sri Rangam. However, he had written verses about Ranganathar. His disciple Madurakavi Alwar had reportedly installed the idol of Nammalvar in this temple. 

Kulasekhara Alwar stayed in Sri Rangam along with his daughter. Periya Alwar got his daughter married off to Ranganathar. Tirumangai Alwar had stayed in Sri Rangam and he changed certain things in temple administration and rituals. Tondaradi Podi Alwar migrated from his village to Sri Rangam. Tiruppan Alwar got merged with the idol of Ranganathar. Starting from Nammalvar, all these Alwars are nearly contemporaries. Except Madurakavi Alwar, all other had rendered hymns called Pasurams on Sri Ranganatha. More details about these Alwars are given in the next few sub-sections. 






Kulashekhara Perumal and Chera Kulavalli

Kulashekhara Perumal was a Chera King who ruled Kongu country with Kolli as his capital city. He is also considered as one of the Alwars as Kulashekhara Alwar. He spent his last few years in Sri Rangam.

The King got his daughter married off to the deity of this temple. Her name is not known. But she is referred as Chera Kula Valli. Her painting is being worshiped in the first prakara of the temple. It is believed that she was an incarnation of Neela Devi. (Neela Devi is a consort of Vishnu apart from Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. In Ranganathar temple, all the three consorts are found along with the Lord in a shrine).


Periyalwar and Andal


Periyalwar was one of twelve Alwars. His daughter Andal was the only female Alwar. As per Andal's wish, Periyalwar accompanied her to Sri Rangam. The Pandya King Vallabha Deva a.k.a. Nedumaran, who considered Periyalwar as his Guru, sent his people to escort them. 

As soon as reaching the temple, it is said that Andal ran towards the sanctum and merged with the Lord. It is believed that Vallabha built a temple for Andal in Sri Rangam after this divine incident took place.

Tirumangai Alwar 

Tirumangai Alwar was originally a Prince. He ruled a small territory called Ali Nadu. The capital city of that territory was Tirumangai. 

This Alwar had contributed a lot to Sri Rangam temple. He had built a gopura. The fourth prakara is named after him as Ali Nadan Tiruveeti. It is said that he had looted the golden image of Buddha of Nagappattinam Vihar and used that gold to renovate certain parts of Sri Rangam temple.

It is said that he introduced the system of bringing the idol of Nammalvar to Sri Rangam every year for the Adhyana Utsav festival. He also made Tiruvaimozhi in Tamil language to be recited along with the Sanskrit Vedas in this temple. 

Tondaradi Podi Alwar

Vipra Narayana, who was called as Tondaradi Podi Alwar later, is one of the Alwars. He was a native of Madanagudi village. Being the great devotee of Vishnu, he migrated to Sri Rangam. 

In Sri Rangam, his poor fate played a vital role in his life. Devadevi, a courtesan successfully seduced him. He spent his time regularly with her and lost all his money. When he had no money to pay her, she did not allow him to enter into her house. He was lingering near her house. 
Sesha Rayar Shrine

Lord Ranganatha took pity of his devotee and disguised himself as the servant of Alwar. He took a gold vessel from the temple and presented it to the courtesan so that she would permit Alwar into her house. The next day morning, both the courtesan and the Alwar were arrested by the King's soldiers. Ranganathar appeared in the dream of the King and ordered him to release the Alwar. Thus, Vipra Narayana developed into an Alwar and started singing hymns on Ranganathar. He lived all his remaining years in Sri Rangam. He devoted his daily service to the Lord by making garlands. He was also actively involved in other temple rituals. 


Tiruppan Alwar 

Tiruppan Alwar lived in a village near Sri Rangam. He belonged to the most backward community. In those days, his community people were not allowed to enter the temple. He, being a great devotee of Vishnu, used to sing Lord's praises facing towards the direction of the temple. 

As per the legend, a priest of Ranganatha temple, Loka Saranga by name, came to the river Cauvery to draw water. He saw Tiruppan Alwar on his way. He asked Alwar to move away. But, Alwar was immersed with his song on Ranganath and did not hear the words of the priest. The priest hit Alwar with a small stone. Alwar's forehead started bleeding. 

When the priest entered into the sanctum, he was taken aback to find blood on the forehead of the idol of Ranganatha. Ranganath appeared in the dream of the priest on that very night and ordered him to carry Alwar on his shoulders and bring him to the temple. 

The priest took Alwar on his own shoulders and brought him inside the temple. Alwar composed ten beautiful verses on Ranganath and laid his life at the foot of the Almighty. 

Inscriptions




Historically, it is not possible to date the origin of this legendary temple. Based on whatever legends we have seen in the earlier sub-sections, we can assume that the early Cholas had built this temple originally. After the decline of the Cholas, the references about this temple made by the Alwars are the only source materials in the interim period. From 10th century CE onwards,  we do have evidences in the form of inscriptions. 

Other than the Thanjavur Big Temple, this is the only temple which has maximum number of inscriptions. There are about 644 inscriptions found and recorded so far. The dates of these inscriptions vary from the period of the Cholas to the Nayakas. 
Sesha Rayar Mandap

Not only stone inscriptions, but even the inscribed pieces of jewellery, copper inscriptions of Vijayanagara period and inscriptions on vessels are also found in this temple. 

Most of the inscriptions in this temple are Tamil inscriptions. The inscriptions of other languages such as Mani Pravala, Sanskrit, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu and Odiya. Mani Pravala is a kind of writing which mixes up Tamil and Sanskrit. It is rare to find inscriptions in this text. Similarly, it is not usual to find Odiya and Marathi inscriptions in the temples of Tamil Nadu.


Cholas in 10th century CE

The earliest stone inscription of the temple is dated in the 17th year of Parantaka Chola I (907-955 CE). The second earliest inscription is also from the same king and it is dated in the 38th year of his reign. The Anbil plates of Sundara Chola (957-970 CE), the inscriptions in the temple that belong to the period of Uttama Chola (970-985 CE) and that of the great Emperor Raja Raja Chola I (985-1014 CE) all clearly indicate the presence of the Chola Kings and their control on the temple in the 10th century CE. 

Koil Olugu talks about Raja Mahendra Chola, who had built the second prakara around the sanctum. This prakara is named after him. There is difference of opinion whether he was a mythological King or historical. Some scholars believe that he was a son of Rajendra Chola II and his period was 11th century CE. 

Nathamuni

Nathamuni, considered as the foremost Vaishnava Acharya, was the one who compiled 4000 hymns rendered by the Alwars into Nalayira Divya Prabandham. His period is generally considered as the 10th century CE or 11th century CE. 
Sesha Rayar Mandap

Nathamuni lived in Sri Rangam for few years. The procedures that were introduced by Tirumangai Alwar were lost in due course. It was Nathamuni who reintroduced those procedures in Sri Rangam temple. He also made Pasurams from Prabandham to be recited in Sri Rangam temple. He is also believed to have started Arayar Sevai, a kind of ritual singing and enactment of Prabandhaam hymns. 

It is believed that Kamban delivered his version of Ramayan for the first time in Sri Rangam temple in presence of Nathamuni. 

After handing over the task of Sri Rangam temple administration to his two nephews, namely Kizhai Ahattalvar (Manavala Perumal Arayar) and Melai Ahattalvar (Nada Vinoda Arayar), Nathamuni returned to his native, Mannarkudi.

Apart from his nephews, Nathamuni had two disciples, namely Uyyakondar (Pundarikaksha) and Manakkal Nambi (Rama Misra). After his demise, they were carrying on the rituals of reciting Prabandha in the temple. 


Alavandar

Yamunacharya, who was also called as Alavandan, was the grand son of Nathamuni. He was leading a luxurious life. Manakkal Nambi changed his attitude and brought him into devotional path. Alavandan renounced his riches and settled down in Sri Rangam. He authored few Vaishnavism texts and propagated the philosophy called Vishitadvaita. 


Entry of Ramanuja

Sesha Rayar Mandap
Ramanuja, the great Vaishnavite Guru and the preacher of Vishitadvaita, lived in Sri Rangam for many years. It is believed that his divine body is kept for worship in this temple even today. The history of Sri Rangam temple is incomplete without mentioning about Ramanuja. His period is identified as 1017 CE - 1137 CE. 

Ramanuja was the student of Yadava Prakasha, an Advaita scholar. Alavandar heard about Ramanuja. He came to Kanchipuram to take Ramanuja along with him and make his as his successor to take care of Sri Rangam temple administration. However, he realized that Ramanuja's studies under Yadava Prakasha was not over. Hence, he returned back to Sri Rangam. 

After few years, when Alavandar learnt that due to difference of opinion with Yadava Prakasha, Ramanuja discontinued his studies, he sent his disciple Periya Nambi to Kanchipuram. It is said that he composed Stotra Ratna, the hymn on Kanchi Varadara Perumal. When Periya Nambi recited this hymn in the presence of Ramanuja, the latter was impressed much and decided to go to Sri Rangam along with Periya Nambi. 

Unfortunately, when Ramanuja and Periya Nambi were on their way to Sri Rangam, Alavandar passed away. On hearing this sad and shocking news, Ramanuja did not proceed to Sri Rangam. He returned to Kanchipuram. Later, as per the advice of Tirukkachi Nambi, Ramanuja decided to have Periya Nambi as his Guru. Periya Nambi taught him about Vishistadvaita philosophy in Kanchipuram. 

After Periya Nambi returned to Sri Rangam, the Vaishnavas there wanted Ramanuja to be their leader. They persuaded Alwar Tiruvaranga Perumal Arayar, the son of Alavandar, to bring Ramanuja to Sri Rangam. He accordingly went to Kanchipuram, pleased Lord Varadaraja with his music and brought Ramanuja to Sri Rangam. (Arayar was also called as Koyil Udaya Perumal Arayar. He was a great musician and had enacted the leelas of Ranganathar in the form of plays.) 

Ramanuja took over the administration of Sri Rangam temple. Lord Ranganath bestowed upon him with the title 'Udayavar'.

Challenges faced by Ramanuja

Although Ramanuja quickly took over the temple administration and other related tasks, he faced tough challenges from the temple functionaries. They did not like to orders that he was trying to enforce. It is said that they even tried to poison him.

Meanwhile, Ramanuja assigned Koorathalwan in assisting him in spreading his philosophy. Mudali Andan was assigned with the task of assisting Ramanuja on the temple administration related tasks.

Due to troubles from the temple servants, Ramanuja was forced to live in Tiruvellarai for about two years. Later, he was invited by Vaishnava community of Sri Rangam. This time, Ramanuja managed to restore the Pancharatra system of worship by replacing Vaikhanasa system. A new set of priests called as Bhagavata Nambis was thus established. He also carried out renovation work on Dhanvantri shrine with the help of disciple Garuda Vahana Bhattar. Additionally, Ramanuja made key improvements and reforms in temple rituals and daily routines. A Chola chieftain, Akalanga Nattalvan by name, who became the disciple of Ramanuja, was assigned with the tasks of inquiring about the temple income and funds.   

Ramanuja installed the image of Nammalvar in the temple and stopped the ritual of bringing the idol of Nammalvar from Tirunagari during the festival times. He also installed the idols of Alwars, Nathamuni and Andal in the temple. 

Periya Koyil Nambi

Ramanuja, in due course of time, became very popular and powerful in Sri Rangam. Periya Koyil Nambi, an influential person of Sri Rangam, had the monopoly rights to perform religious ceremonies and do Puranic discourses at temple. He did not join Ramanuja's camp. 

At one point, Ramanuja was so irritated with the monopoly enjoyed by Nambi that he wanted to leave Sri Rangam. However, his disciple Koorathalvan somehow changed the attitude of Nambi and made him as the disciple of Ramanuja. Ramanuja, who was pleased with his new disciple, bestowed upon him the title as Tiruvarangathu Amudanar. Now, Ramanuja was able to reform in ceremonies and Puranic discourses too. Amudanar composed Ramunajar Nootrandadi in praise of Ramanuja.

The departure of Ramanuja

Ramanuja authored few important religious texts such as Sri Bhasyam and Vedanta Deepam when he was staying in Sri Rangam. His disciple Koorathalwan helped Ramanuja in writing these texts.
Sesha Rayar Mandap

Ramanuja wanted travel all over India and visit many shrines across the country. Before his departure, he assigned Mudali Andan with the task of temple administration. 

After few years, Ramanuja returned back to Sri Rangam. It is said that he lived in Sri Rangam for about 60 years. Under him, Vaishnavism grew much stronger in Sri Rangam.

A Shaivite Chola King had dislike for Vishnu. He reportedly damaged many Vishnu temples. He sent his soldiers to Sri Rangam and ordered Ramanuja to accept the superiority of Shaivism. 

Somehow, Ramanuja came to know about the plans of the King. He requested Periya Nambi to protect the temple from any possible danger. He along with Mudali Andan and few others managed to escape to Mysore. He successfully converted many Jains and even the Hoysala King Bittideva into Vaishnavism. With the royal support, he was able to grow his religion in that region. He even renamed the city as Tirunarayanapuram. 

Koorathalvan and Periya Nambi were brought to the court of the Chola King. The Chola King ordered to blind them. Periya Nambi's eyes were blinded; he could not bear the cruel punishment and he soon died. Koorathalvan blinded his own eyes by applying a kind of camphor. He returned to Sri Rangam and shocked to find that the temple did not allow the followers of Ramanuja. He along with his family migrated to Tirumaliruncholai.

Thousand Pillared Mandap

When Ramanuja came to know about the ill fate of Periya Nambi and Koorathalvan, he uttered a curse towards the Chola King. It is believed that the King died due to this curse.

There is difference of opinion among the scholars to identify this Chola King. The Vaishnava texts call him "Kirumi Kanda Cholan". Few scholars claim that he was Kulotunga Chola, whereas others feel that he must be Adhi Rajendra Chola. 

It is said that Ramanuja stayed in Mysore for about 12 years and returned to Sri Rangam after the demise of the King. Adhi Rajendra Chola did not rule for 12 years. So, can we conclude that the king was not Adhi Rajendra? Kulotunga Chola had contributed to Sri Rangam temple and his inscriptions are also found here. So, is it not illogical to conclude that Kulotunga Chola had gone against Vaishnavas? Why cannot he would be Virarajendra Chola? Was this incident real or imaginary?  I will leave it to the readers to decide. 

Return of Ramanuja

As per Koil Olugu, the son of deceased King repented for his father's activities. He had sent Maruti Andan to fetch Ramanuja back to Sri Rangam. The book calls that King as Kulotunga Chola.

Now the question is who was this Chola King? Can it be Kulothunga Chola I? It cannot be, as his father was not a Chola. His predecessor Adhi Rajendra's father was a Chola King, Virarajendra Chola. Else, this episode is also fictitious?

Ramanuja returned to Sri Rangam and lived there till end. 

Cholas in 11th century CE

Thousand Pillared Mandap
The period of Ramanuja is 11th century CE. During his period, there were many Chola Kings who were very powerful and were controlling major portion of Tamil Nadu. The inscriptions of all these Chola Kings are found in the temple. From this, it is evident that the Cholas had stronghold in Sri Rangam and they had made some contributions to the temple. 

The inscriptions of the 11th century Chola Emperors such as Rajendra Chola I (1014-1044 CE), Rajadhi Raja Chola (1044-1052 CE), Adhi Rajendra Chola (1067-1070 CE) and Kulotunga Chola I (1070-1120 CE) are found in the temple. 

Cholas in 12th century CE

The Cholas of the 12th century CE also made many contributions to the temple. Their inscriptions are also found in abundant number. 

As per Koil Olugu, Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 CE) constructed the fourth prakara wall and it is named after him. There are 14 inscriptions that belong to his period are found in the temple. 

The inscriptions of Kulotunga Chola II (1133-1150 CE), Rajaraja Chola II (1146-1173 CE) and Rajadhi Raja Chola II (1166-1178 CE) are also found in the temple. Kulotunga Chola III's period was the end of 12th century CE and the beginning of 13th century CE (1178-1218 CE). It appears that there was a boundary dispute between the Sri Rangam temple and Jambukeshwara temple due to flood. It was sorted out by Kulottunga Chola III, as per an inscription in his 20th year of rule. 

Successors of Ramanuja

Ramanuja was succeeded by Parasara Bhattar in the 12th century CE. He took care of the temple administration. After the demise of Parasarar, his brother Veda Vyasa Bhattar took charge of the temple. Then, Nanjeeyar succeeded him. He was the disciple of Koorathalwan. He composed the famous Sudarshana Satakam Stotra. 

Jeeyar was very popular due to his divine and magical powers. He had vanquished the Shaivites through Narasimha Yantra. It is said that they were constantly opposing him. Once the river was flooded and it was about to carry down the idol of Ranganatha which was on the boat. He protected the idol with his powers. A Sanyasi from Mysore tried to life the idol using his supernatural powers. His attempt was averted by Jeeyar.

Two Sects of Vaishnavism


Nanjeeyar's disciple was Nampillai. During his period (13th century CE), his contemporary was Varadacharya. He was also a Vaishnavite Guru. On account of difference with Nampillai, he moved to Kanchipuram. The two sects of Vaishnavism, namely Ten Kalai and Vada Kalai, emerged during this period. The followers of Varadacharya were called as Vada Kalai people and Nampillai's followers in Sri Rangam were Ten Kalai people.

Nampillai was succeeded by Periyachan Pillai and later by Vadakku Tiruveeti Pillai. The famous Pillai Lokacharya was the son of Vadakku Tiruveeti Pillai. 

Pandyas and Hoysalas

During the period of Kulotunga Chola III, the Cholas became very weak. The decline of the Cholas and the revival of the Pandyas had started. 

Rajaraja Chola III (1216-1246 CE) was the successor of Kulotunga Chola III. During his period, an East Ganga King invaded Sri Rangam. Out of fear, the idol of Azhagiya Manavalan was removed from this temple and was kept in Alagar Koil (a village near Madurai city) for about a year. The Ganga King reportedly brought a lot of non-Vaishnavites to Sri Rangam. They interfered in the temple administration. They also introduced a lot of changes in the mode of worship and rituals in the temple.

The East Ganga King who invaded Sri Rangam is identified as Ananga Bhima III. It is believed he had controlled the town for two years, 1223 to 1225 CE. Based on an inscription from Maravarman Sundara Pandya I (1216-1238 CE) in the temple, it is known that he had defeated and driven away the Gangas from Sri Rangam. 

Rajaraja Chola III and Rajendra Chola III (1246-1279 CE) were the Chola Kings from the 13th century CE. The inscriptions from these two Kings are also found in the temple, although Sri Rangam was not under their control permanently. 

The Hoysalas took advantage of the weakness of the Cholas and they advanced in the Tamil land. In 1231 CE, Rajaraja Chola III was defeated by Maravarman Sundara Pandya I and was imprisoned. The Hoysala army of Veera Narasimha II (1220-1235 CE) had camped near Sri Rangam. They had helped the Chola king to restore to his original status. Hence, during the period of Rajaraja Chola III, a lot of inscriptions of Hoysala officers are found in the temple.

The real objective of the Hoysalas was to capture the lands of Tamil Nadu and not to help the Cholas. Hence, they shifted their support to the Pandyas during the period of Maravarman Sundara Pandya II (1238-1251 CE). They helped him to fight Rajendra Chola III. As a result, the Hoysala King Someshvara (1235-54 CE) managed to establish a subsidiary capital in Kannanur, which is located very near to Sri Rangam. From this, we can conclude that the Hoysalas made their presence in the temple during the Chola period as well as the Pandya period, based on their alliance.

In 1254 CE, the Hoysala King Veera Someshvara made his son Veera Ramanatha as the King of Kannanur. His inscriptions are also found in Sri Rangam temple. The rise of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I (1251-1268 CE), the Pandya King who succeeded the weak King Maravarman Sundara II, could not affect the power enjoyed by Veera Ramanatha in and around Sri Rangam in the beginning. Nevertheless, the temple has a lot of Sanskrit and Tamil inscriptions of this Pandya King too. 

Kampaya Danda Nayaka was a general of Ramanatha. His brother was Kariya Manicka Danda Nayaka. The thousand pillared mandap, the front side mandap of Ranga Nayaki shrine and few other structures in the fourth and fifth prakaras were built by these two brothers.

The Hoysala forces were defeated at last in 1263 CE and even the King Someshvara was killed in the battle against the Pandyas. Jatavarman Sundara Pandya was successful in all his battles and won over all his enemies that include Cheras, Cholas and Hoysalas. He built the shrines of Narasimha and Viswaksena and covered them with gold. Besides covering the vimana of the sanctum with golden plates, he presented a lot of gold ornaments to the temple. He covered many pillars and walls with gold. He contributed a lot to the temple. He lavishly spent the funds that he acquired from his enemies on Chidambaram and Sri Rangam temples. 

The Pandya King was called as Hema Sadana Raja Hari, after covering the Vimana of Ranganathar with gold plates. He wanted to install his own image in Sri Rangam temple, which was not approve by the temple authorities. He acquired the garland of emerald from Kodava King and presented it to Ranganathar. He made changes in the Sri Rangam temple administration. He had also contributed a lot to the architecture of the temple. 

Even after the defeat of the Hoysalas, we could find many inscriptions of Ramanatha in the temple. This leads us to assume that he was either friendly with the Pandyas or had accepted their sovereignty. 

Maravarman Kulasekhara I (1268-1312), who succeeded Jatavarma Sundara I, defeated Rajendra III and his ally Ramanath aabout 1279 CE and annexed their regions. Thus, Sri Rangam and the adjoining areas came under the full control of the Pandyas. 

The inscriptions of the other Pandya Kings (mostly the later Pandyas) such as  Maravarman Kulashekhara I (1268-1310 CE), Jatavarman Sundara Pandya II, Jatavarman Veera Pandya, Jatavarman Sundara Pandya III, Maravarman Kulashekhara II and Veera Kulashekhara are also found in the temple.

Pancha Pandyas 

In the last few years of Maravarman Kulashekhara I, two of his sons, Veera Pandya and Sundara Pandya by name, started claiming self as the heir. After his period, they started ruling different regions of Pandya kingdom. The civil war grew further when three other Kings called themselves as the original Pandya Kings. The names of those three Pandya Kings are identified as Maravarman Kulashekhara II, Vikrama Pandya and Parakrama Pandya. The chaos in the political condition of the state however not affected the temple of Sri Rangam. All these Pandya Kings continued to contribute to the temple and many of their inscriptions are found as the evidence.

Kaliyugaraman is the title of Veera Pandya. He had built the tower in the East Chitrai Veeti, which is named after him. 

Vedanta Desikar

Vedanta Desikar, a popular Vada Kalai Guru from Kanchipuram, lived in Sri Rangam for few years. He was there when the Muslim invasion took place in 1323 CE. He had to flee from Sri Rangam due to invasion. 



Malik Kafu's Invasion and Thulukka Nachiyar

In 1311 CE, Malik Kafur, the commander of Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji, invaded South India. He attacked the magnificent Sri Rangam temple.  His force entered the temple  through Arya Bhattal gateway. The Brahmins who opposed the Muslim army were easily defeated. The utsava (bronze) idols of Ranganathar (Azhagiya Manavalan), Chera Kula Valli and few other deities as well as the golden image of Vishnu which was presented by Jatavarman Sunara Pandya I were all stolen by Malik Kafur and taken to Delhi. Along with these idols, Malik Kafur plundered a lot of valuable items, jewels and treasures from this temple as well as from the other South Indian cities.

It is said that a lady devotee from the nearby Karambanur village disguised herself and followed the Sultan army. In Delhi, the daughter of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, Surathani, fell in love with the bronze idol of Azhagiya Manavalan. She kept this idol with her forever. The lady devotee managed to infiltrate into the palace of the Sultan. She witnessed everything and returned back to Sri Rangam. She reported everything to the temple authorities. They recognized her service by bestowing upon her with the title "Pin Thodarnda Valli", which means the lady who followed the Lord.

A group of 60 people from Sri Rangam followed Pin Thodarnda Valli and went to Delhi. They disguised themselves as an entertainment troop. They somehow managed to perform in front of the Sultan. The Sultan was happy with their performance and based on their request he gave back the idol to them. When Surathani came to know about this, she determined to follow the group. As shew was adamant, the Sultan had to send a small group of army following her. The devotees group somehow came to know this. They split among themselves and took different routes to confuse the army. Surathani came to Sri Rangam; as she could not find the idol there. It is said that she gave up her life in the temple.

It should be noted that there are variations in the legend of Surathani. Few people claim that Sri Ramanuja had installed Surathani's idol/painting in the temple. It is definitely a baseless claim as the Muslim invasion happened only in the 14th century CE, whereas Ramanuja's period was 11th century CE. Similar legend about 

Thulukka Nahiyar tale is told in Tirumalai temple too. It is debatable if the same girl is referred in both these temples. 

There are variations about the incidents that happened after the devotees managed to get back the idol. As per few versions, they sang a beautiful song which attracted the idol towards them. The idol made Surathani to fall asleep which enabled the devotees to take the idol with them. Some versions even claim that the Sultan himself accompanied his daughter to Sri Rangam in search of the idol. 

As per few sources, the Sultan assumed that the magical power of Sri Rangam priests was the reason for his daughter's death. Hence he sent his army to Sri Rangam again. This is also a baseless claim as the next Muslim invasion happened only in 1323 CE. At that time, Delhi was ruled by Tughlaq. 


Lord Ranganathar reportedly appeared in the dream of the chief priest and informed him that he married the daughter of Sultan. Accordingly, a shrine for Surathani was built in the temple; she is worshiped as 'Thuluka Nachiar' in the form of painting.

After the Invasion

After the invasion of Malik Kafur, the political condition of South India remained same. The civil war between the Pandya Kings continued. In between, a Kerala King called Ravivarma Kulasekhara who had married to a Pandya Princess became powerful in South Indian politics. He defeated Sundara Pandya in a battle. He donated a lot to Ranganathar temple. He even founded a Agrahara called Ravivarman Chaturvedi Mangal in 1312 CE. His inscriptions in large number are found in the temple

Ulugh Khan's Invasion

The first Muslim invasion was merely to sack and loot the Sri Rangam temple. In 1323 CE, there was another Muslim invasion. This time, Delhi was under the rule of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq. His general and son Ulugh Khan invaded South India. The intention was to capture and control South India and not merely to loot. As the Pandyas became very weak, the task became much easier for the Delhi army.

Although it is mentioned that Ulugh Khan's army invaded Sri Rangam, it is not mentioned that Ulugh Khan himself lead this invasion of Sri Rangam. Ulugh Khan was called as Muhammad bin Tughlaq later. He succeeded his father Ghiyasuddin and ruled Delhi.

A citizen of Sri Rangam, Kulasekharan by name, was returning to Sri Rangam after completing his training in warfare from the Hoysalas. On his way back, he found that the Muslim army had camped in Samayapuram near Sri Rangam. He ran towards Sri Rangam temple and alerted everyone. When he reached the temple, the annual temple festival was in full swing.

The temple authorities soon built a brick wall closing the sanctum and few other important shrines. Few stone idols were hidden within the giant size pillars. Near the holy neem tree, they dug up and placed the stone idol of Ranga Nayaki (the presiding Goddess of the temple) there. Vedanta Desikar took lead in these tasks of protecting the shrines and stone idols.

Another team of 60 people under the leadership of Rangaraya, took the utsava idols of Azhagiya Manavalan and his consorts. Pillai Lokacharya was also among those 60 people. They carried all the idols and crossed the river before the Muslim army could enter into the city.

Kulasekharan, who had alerted everyone in the city, along with Panju Kondan, was busy in gathering the group of people to fight with the Muslims. Panju Kondan sent messages to all five Pandya Kings and Hoysalas seeking their help. However, no one was in a position to help Sri Rangam.  The staunch Vaishnaivites under the leadership of Panju Kondan held out the Sultan army for three days. At last, the Muslim army won the battle. They killed around 12,000 to 13,000 Vaishnavites in this battle. Panju Kondan was also killed by the Muslims. Sudarshana Bhatta, the author of Sruta Prakashika, was also killed in that battle. 

Sudarshana Bhatta had handed over his two young sons and his texts of Sruta Prakshika to Vedanta Desikar, before he was getting killed. The army stayed in Sri Rangam whereas the general alone went to Madurai. A Devadasi lady devotee pretended to be intimate with the Chief of the Army; a devotee named Singappiran managed to get the confidence of the Chief. Thus, they managed to dissuade the army and thus the temple was saved from further destruction. 

Vedanta Desikar and Kulasekharan escaped from the Delhi army. They went out and started looking for the utsava idol of Azhagiya Manavalan. Vedanta Desikar lost his way and reached Uraiyur. After seven days, Kulasekharan alone managed to join the original group of devotees who were carrying the idol.

In between, the devotees along with the idols were passing through the Thondai Mandalam forest. Twice, they were interrupted by two different groups of robbers. Pillai Lokacharya managed to hide all the jewels and valuable items of the deities for the first time. However, they lost all those valuable items to the second robbers group.

The Journey of Idol

The team managed to safely carry the idol alone along with them till a place called Jyothishkudi. Almost after one month, Pillai Lokacharya passed away. The Muslim soldiers were searching for the idols everywhere. Kulasekharan removed the idol of Azhagiya Manavalan from the palanquin and took along with him in the horse. As per his advice, two men carried the idols of Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi with them. Thus, they managed to escape from the enemies.

It is not known what happened to those two idols of Devis. Kulasekharan along with the idol of Azhagiya Manavalan went to Azhagar Koil, a village near Madurai city. He and around 12 people in his group were hiding there. They installed the idol temporarily there and three Kodavars in the group took charge of performing daily poojas to the deity. 

By then, Madurai was completely under the control of Delhi Sultan. It is said that the Sultan's soldiers once reached this place and got hold of these Kodavars. However, the Devadasi lady who had dissuaded the Army General earlier had accompanied the same person now. She managed to save them from the army. She also helped the Kodavars to hide the idol from the sight of the army. 

Almost after staying for about one year in Azhagar Koil, Kulasekharan wanted to move the idol to a safer place. As per the advice from his queen, the originally reluctant Hoysala King Veera Ballala III agreed to help Kulasekharan. Kulasekharan accompanied by the Hoysala soldiers carried the idol of Azhagiya Manavalan towards Kerala. On their way, they had to face the Delhi army. Many soldiers lost their lives in this fight. Kulasekharan was lucky enough to escape from this fight. He brought the idol safely to Nagerkoil. 

Then, Kulasekharan took the idol to Tiruvanantapuram; traveled to many places in Kerala and ultimately reached Kozhikode. In Kozhikode, similar to this utsava idol, there were many utsava idols which had traveled from many other temples of Tamil Nadu. Importantly, the idol of Madurai Meenakshi and Azhwar Tirunagari Nammalwar were also found there. 

All the Pandya Kings managed to mobilize army and fought with the Madurai Sultan army. But, they could not succeed in their attempt. This lead Kulasekharan to decide that even Kozhikode was not a safer place. He faced a lot of challenges and at last he brought the idol to Tirunarayanapuram. 

There is no record exactly in which year, Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan, the General from Madurai, declared independence from Delhi Sutanate. It must be probably in 1335 CE. (He was the father in law of the famous historian Ibn Battuta). The Hoysalas had become stronger enough to fight the Sultan army by now. Kulasekharan reportedly joined his hands with the Hoysolas in their fight against the Madurai Sultan army. Unfortunately, they were defeated in the battle. 
Ahsan Khan was killed by one of his own men. In 1340 CE, Alauddin Udauji Shah became the Sultan of Madurai. The Hoysalas wanted to fight the Sultan army once again. They made Kulasekharan as their General. 

Kulasekharan somehow wanted to bring the deity back to Sri Rangam. By now, out of 60 people in the group, only three Kodavars and two others were left. 

The Hoysala army defeated the Sultan army in Tiruvannamalai. By then, Vedanta Desikar travelled to Tirunarayanapuram. Under his guidance, the deity was taken to Satyamangalam, the city which was under the control of the Hoysalas. 

The Hoysalas attacked the Kannanur fortress and won the battle. However, much stronger army from Madurai Sultan came after few days and unexpectedly attacked the Hoysala army when they were not prepared. In this battle (in the year 1343 CE), the Hoysala King Veera Ballaba III and Kulasekharan were killed. Veera Ballaba III was the last Hoysala King. With his demise, the Hoysala dynasty came to an end. 

After the defeat of the Hoysala King and the death of Kulasekharan, the deity was secretly carried to Tirumalai Hills. Now, the group had only five members. They were Singalagar, Maalalagar, Tirukkurugoor Das, Srivillipputhoor Das and Sree Rama Das. On their way to Tirumalai Hills, Maalalagar lost his life fighting the Muslim soldiers. Singalagar's legs stopped functioning. Hence, he could not move further. He went to Kanchipuram and stayed thereafter in that city. However, the other three managed to take the idol safely to Tirumalai Hills. 

When the Sultan army was searching for the idol in many places came near this hill, Kurugoor Das tied himself with the idol and rolled down on the hills. Thus, he could protect the idol but he lost his life. On seeing the sudden demise of his brother in law, Srivillpputhoor Das also lost he breath out of shock. Now, only Sree Rama Das, the son of Kurugoor Das, was left to protect the deity. The idol was guarded by him on the northern slope of the hills. 

After few years, Kulasekharan's son Vallabhan, who had grown up as a youth now, wanted to bring back the idol of Azhagiya Manavalan to Sri Rangam. He discovered that the deity was taken to Satyamangalam and then to Tirumalai Hills. 


After discovering the deity, Vallabhan sought the help of Chandragiri King Sri Ranganatha Yadava Rayar. As the deity was there in the forest on the hills, no proper pooja was performed for about 33 years. The King arranged to build a shrine and also made arrangements for performing daily poojas to the deity. 

Meantime, Gopanna, the King of Gingee as well as the officer of Harihara II, went to Tirupati and came to know about the idol of Sri Rangam. He brought the idol to Gingee. He installed the idol in a local shrine in Singapuram near Gingee for sometime. He under the leadership of another Vijaya Nagara chieftian Kampanna, who was the son of Bukka, attacked Sri Rangam in 1371 CE. It was perhaps a big battle. They defeated the Muslim forces and captured captured Sri Rangam from them. They reinstalled the idol in Sri Rangam temple. Thus, the bronze idol of Azhagiya Manavalan came back to his original place almost after 70 years. 

 As hardly anyone in Sri Rangam could identify if this idol was the original idol, a 90 years old native blind person could identify the idol from the smell of the water in which the idol's dress was washed. He was serving as the Dhobi in the temple 60 years ago. Thus, the original deity returned to its original place. The Dhobi was recognized with the title of 'Irankolli'.

After the idol was brought to the temple, the VijayaNagaras took the help of Uttama Nambis to restore the temple to the original fame. The worship had been ceased. The riches of the temple such as the gold plates and other ornaments had gone. The granaries and treasury were emptied. Uttama Nambis were from Sri Rangam and their family tree could be traced back to the ancient time. They helped the Vijayanagaras in terms of temple administration and other activities. Periya Krishnarayar Uttama Nambi was the head of the family during this period.

Kampanna donated 16,000 gold pieces to the temple. After few years, few more donations from the Vijayanagaras helped the Uttama Nambis to reinstall the golden plates and Kalasa for the Vimana of Ranganathar.

There are about 254 inscriptions from the Vijayanagaras found in the temple. The inscriptions are mainly from the Vijayanagara Kings or chieftains such as Kampanna, Virupaksa II, Bukka II, Devaraya II, Krishnadeva Raya and Acyuta Raya.

The period of Devaraya II (1422-1446 CE) is said to be the golden age of the restoration of the temple. Uttama Nambi and his brother Chakraraya had given a lot of donations to the temple in this period. Chakraraya had made a lot of structural additions or changes to the temple. 

Boundary Dispute

Due to an annual ritual in which the utsava idol of Ranganathar would be brought to the tanks of Jambu Teerth, the dispute erupted between the Vaishnavas of Sri Rangam and Shaivites of Jambukeshwaram. It resulted in physical conflict. The Vijayanagaras resolved this issue between two groups. This is sometime in the 15th century CE, but the exact year is not known. 

The dispute continued between the two temples in several occasions. It seems that Uttama Nambi had erected the boundary wall between the two regions in 1433 CE. 

Manavala Mamuni


Manavala Mamuni, along with his eight disciples, lived in Sri Rangam from 1425 CE. He was also called as Periya Jeeyar. His disciples were popularly called as Ashtha Diggajas. 


Apart from the Alwars and the Ten Kalai Acharyas, the Jeeyars of Sri Ranga Narayana Jeeyar Matha were also popular Vaishnavites who lived in Sri Rangam. It is believed that the Math was started by a Yogic Guru in 1126 CE. 


Nayakas and Others

The inscriptions and copper plates of the Madurai Nayakas and Thanjavur Nayaks from the late 1500s to the early 1700s are found in the temple. The inscriptions of Telugu Cholas are also found.


Acyutappa Nayaka of the early 17th century CE had renovated the walls of many prakara and towers and covered the Vimana with gold. Chokkanatha Nayaka of 17th century CE built many mandapas and laid few streets in Sri Rangam. Vijayaranga Chokkanatha of 18th century CE constructed the famous Kannadi Arai (mirror hall). The life size ivory statues of this king along with his family members are found in the first prakara. The paintings in the walls and ceilings were all done by the Nayakas.

The Carnatic wars broke out as the result of power struggle between the British and the French in 1751-52 CE. The French army captured the temple and used it as their fortress.  


Temple Layout:

It is impossible to give every minute details about the sculptures, shrines and towers of this massive great temple of Ranganathar. With my little knowledge, let me try to cover the temple as much as possible.

There are towns which contain massive temples; however, here the entire town is located within this magnificent temple of Sri Rangam. There are seven enclosures; each enclosure has massive walls and towers; there are totally 21 towers in this huge temple complex. As there are seven prakaras, this temple is considered as Uttamottama class.

Are there only seven prakaras or eight prakaras? Are there only 21 Gopurams (towers) or more than that? I have given my thought about the number of prakaras and towers in this article.

The total length of all the enclosing walls is about 9.7 kms (6 miles). The total area occupied by the temple is about 156 acres. The height and width of the enclosing walls as well as the size of the towers diminish gradually as we approach towards the sanctum, which is in the center.

It is impossible to give credit to one king or dynasty as the builder of this great temple of Sri Rangam. The Cholas have contributed to the architecture of this temple in the original period. In the 13th century CE, the Cholas became weak. There were incursions from  the Hoysalas and the Pandyas. Both these dynasties played an important role in expanding the temple. Most of the shrines were constructed in the 13th century CE. It is also known that some of the structures that had suffered damage during the Muslim occupation were repaired or reconstructed subsequently by the chieftains of Vijayanagaras and Nayakas.


Ranganathar

The presiding deity of the temple is Ranganathar or Nam Perumal, who is found in the reclining posture on the holy serpent Sesha Naga. Although this temple is considered as the greatest of great Vishnu temples, the deity is not very big as found in few temples such as Tiruvanantapuram. He is neither tiny nor huge; he is of moderate size of about five feet. Normally, Brahma is found emerging out of his navel; his two consorts are also usually found along with him if he is in the reclining posture. However, in this sanctum Ranganathar is found alone without his consorts or son. This form of Sayanam (reclining posture) of Vishnu is called as Yoga Sayana Murti. Yoga Sayana Murtis are rare, whereas we find Bhoga Sayana Murtis (along with his consorts) in many temples.

Being Yoga Sayana Murti, Vishnu has only two arms. His right arm is folded and is rested near his head, whereas his left arm extends alongside his body reaching upto his thigh. He faces the southern direction with his head rested in the western direction. 

The idol of Ranganath is not a stone idol, but it is made of mortar.The utsava Murtis of Azhagiya Manavalan along with his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi are also found in the sanctum. 

The Vimana of the sanctum is called as Ranga Vimana. It is gold plated and the image of Vishnu is embedded on it. He is called as Para Vasudeva. Vasudeva is a form of Vishnu, in which he is found with four arms; his two upper arms hold conch and discus whereas his two lower arms lie flat with his palms downwards touching two lotus flowers. His discus is in the form of Prayoga Chakra. Para Vasudeva is considered as the supreme form of Vishnu among varieties of his forms. In Sri Rangam, Ranga Vimana and Para Vasudeva are equally popular like Ranganathar, the presiding deity. 

Mostly the sanctums face east direction. However, this sanctum of Ranganathar faces the southern direction.

The entrance of the Garbha Griha is called as Kulashekharan Padi


First Prakara

The prakara around the sanctum and the Vimana is called as Dharma Varma Pradikshana. This is the first prakara and there are totally seven prakaras around the sanctum. As mentioned already, it is believed that the temple was originally constructed by a Chola King Dharma Varma, by name. Hence, this prakara is named after him. This prakara is around the sanctum and is located behind the Maha Mandap. Tiruvunnaazhi Chutru is another name of this small prakara. Unfortunately, due to security reasons, the devotees are not allowed to enter into this prakara nowadays.

There are people and even Koil Olugu book consider the small prakara around the sanctum as the first prakara. However, there are few people who do not consider this as the prakara. If we consider this as the first prakara, then the temple has eight prakaras and not seven. 

In this prakara, the niche images of Ganesha, Yoga Ananta and Durga are found. In a niche in the opposite direction to Ananta, there is an image of Yoga Narasimha. Narasimha and Ananta are life size images, whereas Ganesh and Durga are small images. It should be noted that it is very rare to find Ganesh and Durga as the niche deities in a Vishnu temple. 


Maha Mandap

There are no deities found in Ardha Mandap. The Maha Mandap is big and the murtis of Yagna Murti and Yoga Hayagreeva are found here. The entrance of the Maha Mandap has two gigantic metal idols of Dwarapals - Jaya and Vijaya

There are two Mandaps found in front of Maha Mandap. They are called as Gayatri Mandap and Shantanu Mandap. In Shantanu Mandap, a small idol of Garud is found facing towards the sanctum. 

Second Prakara

Nowadays, the devotees do not have complete access to the second prakara. Hence, we may miss out to get darshan of some of the important shrines located here. This prakara is called as Raja Mahendran Tiruveeti

The sub-shrine of Vishwaksena is located in this prakara on the back side of the sanctum. In this shrine, Vishwaksena's stone idol and procession idols are found. Along with him, the procession idols of Hanuman and Vibhishan are also located here. Hanuman depicts the posture of a humble devotee by keeping his right arm slightly above his mouth (obeisance posture).

The site from where the devotees could view the holy Vimana is located near a Mandap called Arjuna MandapThe sub-shrines of Chera Kula Valli and Thulukka Nachiar are found in this prakara. Both of them are considered as the consorts of Ranga Nathar. Thulukka Nachiar a.k.a. Bibi Nachiar is found in the form of a painting. The Garbha Griha has another entrance. Opposite to that entrance the painting is found. 

Who are they? Let me brief about them for the sake of those who are not familiar with these two divine women. Chera Kula Valli was the daughter of Kulashekhara Alwar. He was an Alwar and was also a Chera King. His daughter was a staunch devotee of Sri Ranganath. On the auspicious day of Sri Rama Navami, she married to Lord and devoted rest of her life in his service.

The daughter of Delhi Sultan, Surathani, was named as Thulukka Nachiar. In the legend section of the article given above, the history related to Delhi Sultan and his daughter are mentioned in detail.

There is a mandap called as Kili Mandap, where the shrine of Kannan (Krishna) and a big painting of Srinivasa Perumal are located.

The Dwara palas at the entrance of this prakara are Bhadra and Subhadra. The south facing entrance gateway has a tower and it is called as Nazhi Kettan Gopura Vaasal. As this place is covered with the ceiling, the devotees would not be able to view this tower.


Third Prakara

In the third prakara called as Kulashekharan Tiruveeti, Oonjal Mandap with a lot of pillars carved with sculptures is located. Kambathadi Hanuman idol is found near this mandap.

Madappalli, the holy kitchen, is situated in this prakara. This is the place where the prasad is getting prepared. At the entrance, the image of Vishnu holding a pot in his lower arms is found. He is called as Anna Murti. Inside, there is an idol named Aravinda Nachiar

The bali peetha and flag staff are also found in this area and they face towards the direciton of sanctum. 

A big pillared mandap called Pavitra Mandap is located nearby. In that mandap, the shrines of Saraswati, Hayagreeva and Dasa Murtis are found. In the shrine of Saraswati, the idols of Lakshmi and Varaha are also located.

The inner side of Parama Pada entrance is also located in this prakara. The doors in this entrance get opened once a year for ten days during the Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival. 

The entrance is called as Arya Bhattal Vaasal and it has Garud and Sudarshan as the Dwara palas. The entrance has a three tiered gopura (tower). The broad covered enclosure that is found after entering through this gateway is called as Aniyarangan Tirumurram. Oonjal Mandap is located near this enclosure. 

While the south facing tower is called as Arya Bhattal Tower, the north facing tower is called as Parama Pada Gopura or Swarga Vaasal Gopuram.


Fourth Prakara


The fourth prakara is wider. There is no ceiling and it is an open space. It is named as Ali Nadan Tiruveeti. Ali Nandan refers to Tirumangai Alwar. The entrance of this enclosure is called Karthikai Gopura Vaasal. Ganga and Yamuna are found as Dwara palikas in this entrance. The entrance has a three tiered Gopura.

There are three towers in this prakara. The south facing tower is called as Karthikai Gopura. The north facing tower is called as 5 Kuzhi 3 Vaasal Gopura. Near Manalveli, there is another tower facing the east direction. It is called as Tattarai Vaasal Tower.

There are a lot of sub-shrines and mandaps located in this prakara. Almost all the shrines have their own long and pillared front side mandap. Most of the deities are bigger in size. The mandaps that are found along with the shrines as well as the independent mandaps have many outstanding sculptures on their pillars.

The list of all shrines that are located in this prakara are given below:

    Therku Vaasal - South Gate - Main Tower
  • Gigantic Garud - Similar to any other Vishnu temple, Garud shrine is located facing the sanctum; however it is unusal to find such a massive and huge idol of Garud. It is a 12 inch high stucco image seated on a 5 inch high pedestal. He is flanked by Angad and Sugreev, which is again unusual.  The figures of Angad and Sugreev are also stucco idols. The mandap that is lcoated on the back side of this magnificent Garud is called as Garud Mandap. It is believed that the shrine was built by Vikrama Chola in the 12th century CE. The Garud Mandap was built probably by the Madurai Nayakas.
    Therku Vaasal - South Gate - Main Tower
  • Tirukkachi Nambigal - This is a big shrine with a long front side mandap located within Garud Mandap. Although the shrine is named after Tirukkachi Nambigal, the sub-shrines of Lakshmi Narayan and Varadaraja Perumal are also located here. Narasimha in nine different forms are found as the carvings in the pillars of the mandap. They are called as Nava Narasimhas. Lakshmi Narasimha, Yoga Narasimha, Garuda Anugraha Narasimha, Narasimha seated with Abhaya and Varada Mudra, Narasimha coming out of pillar, Narasimha fighting with Hiranya, Narasimha killing Hiranya and two other postures, totally make Nava Narasimhas. 
  • Pandaram - This is the place where the Prasad stalls are located. There is a small sub-shrine of Kurathalwan is located near Pandaram.
  • Nammalvar - It is located in Garud Mandap. The shrine for Nammalvar is slightly big, with a small front side mandap. Few beautiful mural paintings are found on the wall of the mandap. In the shrine, Nammalvar, Madura Kavi Alwar and Kulashekhara Alwar are found. The utsav idols of all these three Alwars are also located in the same shrine. A sub-shrine for Polindu Ninra Adi Piran is also located within this shrine. Perumal is found along with Nammalvar. The utsav Murtis of Perumal with his two consorts are also located in this sub-shrine. 
    Therku Vaasal - South Gate - Main Tower
  • Maha Lakshmi  - Many devotees mistook Maha Lakshmi in this shrine as the presiding Goddess. She is also called as Kamalavalli and Chenkamalavalli Nachiyar. Her idol is very small though attractive. This is the first shrine found once you start circumambulate this prakara. In this shrine, the small murtis of Narasimha and Krishna are also located. As mentioned earlier, this is technically not Maha Lakshmi.
  • Kurugu Nachiyar - Near the shrine of Maha Lakshmi, the relief image of Kurugu Nachiyar with Shankha Nidhi and Padma Nidhi on her either sides is found. Also, an old mural painting depicting Ram Pattbhishek is located within a small sub-shrine. I am not sure if it needs to be spelled as Kurugu or Kuruku. In Alwar Tirunagari near Tirunelveli, Bhoo Devi is named as Kurukoora Valli and the village was originally called as Kurukoor. Also, it is said that Tirunagari was the capital of Kurugu Nadu, a small princely state. Nevertheless, that has no connection with this deity called Kurugu Nachiyar. As two Nidhis are found along with her, she should be a form of Maha Lakshmi. Else, similar to Thulukka Nachiyar and Andal, she might be a woman from Kurugu Nadu, who had married to Sri Ranganath. I am not sure. I could not find details about her in any source so far.
    Therku Vaasal - South Gate - Main Tower
  • Tirukottaram - The sub-shrines of Kurugu Nachiyar and Maha Lakshmi are located in a place called Tirukottaram. A set of five gigantic octagonal brick granaries which were used to store the agricultural produces is called as Tirukottaram. The identically looking granaries are very ancient but each one appears to have been constructed in different period of time. The height of the granaries is nine meters and the diameter is six meters.
    2nd South Gate Tower -  Chitrai Veeti Gopuram
  • Mela Pattabhi Ramar - Ram and Sita seated in the Pattabhishek (coronation) posture and they are surrounded by Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughna, Hanuman and Vibhishan; It is very rare to find all these deities in a single shrine; all Murtis are very big in size and they look very attractive. This shrine belongs to Vijayanagara period.
  • Teerthakkarai Vasudeva - The gigantic Murtis of Vasudeva along with his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi are found in this shrine. It should be noted that it is not Krishna but Vishnu, who is named as Vasudeva here. He has Prayoga Chakra in his right arm. (If the chakra is held straight as if it is about to be released, it is called as Prayoga Chakra. Chakra means discus).
  • Mudal Alwars - Out of twelve Alwars, Poigai Alwar, Pei Alwar and Bhootat Alwar are considered as the first three Alwars. In Tamil language, they are refered as Mudal Alwars. In this shrine, these three Alwars are found along with Adi Narayan. 
    2nd South Gate Tower -  Chitrai Veeti Gopuram
  • Krishna - It is a small shrine for Krishna with interesting Pallava type lion pillars.
  • Dhanvantri - An Avatar of Vishnu, he is the deity of Ayur Veda. It is rare to find such a big idol of him and such a big independent shrine. This shrine was built in the 13th century CE by Singhana Dandanayaka, who was serving under the Hoysala King Veera Ramanatha. The shrine was destroyed during the Muslim invasion. It was rebuilt by Garuda Vahana Pandit in 1493 CE. 
  • Paramapada Vaasal Gopura- Near Chandra Pushkarani, the Paramapada Vaasal Gopura is located. This gateways leads to third prakara. There is a gopura in the opposite direction that leads to the fifth prakara and Ranga Nayaki temple. It is called as 5 Kuzhi 3 Vaasal Gopura.
    2nd South Gate Tower -  Chitrai Veeti Gopuram
  • Chandra Pushkarani - The beautiful and well maintained circular shaped holy tank called Chandra Pushkarani is located near Dhanvantri shrine. A small sub-shrine of Vyasa is located nearby. The shrines of Radha Alingana Krishna and Santana Gopalakrishna are also located in this area. There is a way near this tank which leads us to the shrine of Ranga Nayaki. We will learn more about this later in this article.
  • Varadaraja - A shrine for Varadaraja with his two consorts is find near Chandra Pushkarani.
  • Tondaradi Podi Alwar - A small sub-shrine for Tondaradi Podi Alwar is located next to the sub-shrine of Varadaraja.
  • Kodanda Ramar - A shrine with gigantic and beautiful Murtis of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman
  • Kulashekhara Alwar - This is a small shrine found inside the shrine of Kodanda Ramar
    2nd South Gate Tower -  Chitrai Veeti Gopuram
  • Paramapada Nathar - This is a very important shrine. Although the idols in this shrine are not gigantic as compared to the other shrines, there are many important Murtis found here. Generally, Vishnu is found with two consorts in all temples. In this shrine, he is found with three consorts namely Sri Devi, Bhoo Devi and Neela Devi. He is called as Paramapada Nathar in this shrine. He is in the sitting posture. One set of small idols of all the four deities are also found in the same shrine. The big and small Murtis of all the twelve Alwars, Vishwaksena, Garud, Ramanujar, Manavala Mamuni, Mudali Andan, Ram, Sita and Anjaneya are all found in this shrine.
    3rd South Gate Tower - Kattai Gopuram
  • Andal Kannadi Sevai - In the shrine of Paramapada Nathar, a very beautiful festival idol of Andal is also located. A set of big mirrors are found on the other side of the shrine from where the devotees get the darshan of Andal. It is being referred as Andal Kannadi Sevai. The word Kannadi means mirror in Tamil. The beautiful Andal in this shrine is always seen with alankars (dressed up well).
  • Bhoja Ramar - The festival (utsav) idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman are found in this shrine.
  • Keezhai Pattabhi Ramar - Ram and Sita seated in coronation posture, surrounded by Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughna and Hanuman. Ramanuja is also present. Compared to Mela Pattabhi Ramar shrine, the idols are smaller in size here. The utsav idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman are also found. 
    3rd South Gate Tower - Kattai Gopuram
  • Dasavatar - Near Keezhai Pattabhi Ramar shrine, the idols of ten incarnations of Vishnu are found without any sub-shrine. Parasuram and Balaram are not found; instead of them, Vishnu seated on elephant and Vishnu seated on Garud are there. Ram with four arms holding conch and discus and seated on the shoulders of Hanuman is a rare idol.
  • Manalveli Srinivasa - Srinivasa in the standing posture is found in this shrine. Manalveli means open ground. As this part of the temple is open space with lot of sand, it is referred as Manalveli.
  • Manalveli Venkata Krishna - Venkata Krishna is found along with his two consorts, namely Rukmini and Bhama. Andal is also found in this shrine.
  • Chonna Vannam Cheida Perumal - Vishnu with a beautiful Tamil name, Chonna Vannam Cheida Perumal, which means the Lord who achieved as per his own promise. In this shrine, he is found along with his two consorts, Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. 
  • Tirumizhisai Alwar - A small sub-shrine
  • Krishna - A small shrine where Krishna is found. The vaahanas are also kept in this shrine.
  • Manalveli Gopura - A gopura is found in Manal veli which connects to the fifth prakara.
  • Venu Gopan - A small shrine near Nammalvar shrine
  • Thondra Mallar Naidu and his wife - A very small sub-shrine near Nammalvar shrine. Who is this person dressed like a warrior? As per few sources that I read, this might be Lala Todar Mall, a general of Sadatullah Khan, the first Carnatic Nawab. He lived in the 18th century CE and had played a major role in preserving the temples. 
  • Surya Pushkarani - the holy tank is located near the shrine of gigantic Garud.

Fifth Prakara


Similar to the fourth prakara, the fifth prakara is also bigger and wider. Dharmatyaksha and Niyanta are found as Dwara palikas in the entrance of this prakara. This prakara is named as Akalankan Tiruveeti. Akalankan refers to Kulotunga Chola I.

There are three towers in this prakara. The south facing tower is the main entrance and prominent one. It is called as Ranga Ranga Tower. The other name of this tower is Nanmukhan Gopuram. The north facing tower is called Vadakku Vaasal Gopuram. The east facing one is the most popular white colored tower called as Vellai Gopuram

Even the sanctum of Ranga Nayaki is located in this prakara. There are many other important shrines and mandaps located in this circumambulation.

Some of the shrines that are located in this prakara are listed below. The remaining prominent shrines are mentioned in the next few sections.

  • Natha Munigal - A small shrine that is located opposite to Koorathalvan shrine.
  • Lakshmi Narayan - A small shrine for the Salagrama idols of Narayan with Lakshmi on his lap is located on the way to the sancutm of Ranga Nayaki. A small idol of Krishna is also found nearby.
  • Desikar - Near Mettazhigiya Singar shrine, the small shrine for Desikar is located. 
  • Periyavachan Pillai - The shrine of Periyavachan Pillai is located near the thousand pillared Mandap. Periyavachan was a disciple of Sri Ramanuja. He authored hundreds of works, mostly to explain the original Vaishnaivite works such as Nalayira Divya Prabhandam. 
  • Vasudeva - There is a small shrine in the adjoining area of Ranga Nayaki shrine, where Vasudeva Perumal with four arms along with his two consorts namely Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi, Periyalwar, Narasimha, Maha Lakshmi and few utsava idols are found.
  • Kodanda Ram - Near Rayar Mandap, a shrine with gigantic images of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman is found. It is very rare to find such magnificent figures of Ram and his companions. 
  • Krishnan - Near Kodanda Ram shrine, the shrine of Krishna is located.
  • Pillai Lokacharya - He was a great Vaishnava leader who had authored several works. Under his leadership, many Vaishnaivites took the idol of Nam Perumal, when Sri Rangam was invaded by the Muslims. A small shrine for this saint is located near the thousand pillared mandap.
  • Parthasarathy - Krishna is also called as Parthasarathy. His shrine with a front side mandap is located near the famous Ramanujar shrine. In this shrine, he is found in the form of a charioteer with a whip in his right arm. Arjun is found nearby. The images of Nara and Narayana are also found in a corner in this shrine.
  • Varaha - A small shrine for Varaha near Ranga Nayaki sanctum. 
  • Krishna with Radha and Rukmini - Not sure why it is Radha and not Bhama in this shrine. This is a small shrine located near Ranga Nayaki shrine. 

Gigantic Bali Peetha and Flag Staff

Hanuman shrine is found facing towards the Karthikai Vaasal tower.

The huge bali peetha is located behind Hanuman shrine; it can be reached only by climbing up the steps. A tall flag post is found near the bali peetha. The bali peetha and flag staff are too magnificent in size and it is rare to find such big structures in the other temples. The devotees hang bells as part of their prayer around the gigantic bali peetha in this temple.



Ranga Vilas Mandap

Near Tondaradi Podi Alwar shrine, a very big mandap is found. It is called as Ranga Vilas Mandap. This is the first big mandap that is found if we enter through the Ranga Ranga Tower entrance. There are totally four rows with 14 pillars in each row. All the pillars have interesting images. Many sculptures of elephants and Yazhis are also found over here. 

Nowadays, religious lectures and other functions took place in this mandap. The entrance arch of this mandap has very interesting stucco images that depict Ranganath and other Vaishnavite deities.


Veera Anjaneya

In Ranga Vilas Mandap, the shrine of Veera Anjaneya, a big relief idol along with the utsav Murti of Koorath Alwan is located. This is also a big shrine having separate prakara and mandap in front.

This shrine was built by Denayakkar in 1432 CE. He was serving under the King Devaraya II.

Vithal Krishna

Next to Veera Anjaneya shrine, within the Ranga Vilas region, Vithal Krishna's shrine is located. This shrine is also big with a prakara and a front side mandap. The idol of Vithal is very attractive.

This shrine is believed to have been built by Kura Narayana Jeeyar in the 13th century CE. 


Tondaradi Podi Alwar 
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Next to Vithal Krishna's shrine, the shrine of Tondaradi Podi Alwar is located. It is also a big shrine that has a separate prakara and front side mandap.


Koorath Alwan 

If you enter through the southern entrance of the temple, this is the very first shrine located to your right side. This is a very big shrine more like an independent temple with a prakara, a sub-shrine and a tower. Technically, this is located within the fourth prakara.

Technically, what this shrine has is a tower (gopura) and not a Vimana. Somehow, this is not calculated as part of the total number of Gopuras. 


Koorath Alwan was the main disciple of Ramanuja. He helped his Guru in all his endeavors. In this shrine, the idol of Koorath Alwan with beard in the sitting posture is found. The utsav Murtis of Koorath Alwan and Nanjeeyar are also located within the same shrine. 



Additionally, a bigger idol of Parasara Bhattar, the son of Koorath Alwan, another smaller idol of the same saint and a small idol of Nanjeeyar, the disciple of Koorath Alwan, are also located in the same shrine. 


In the prakara, there is a sub-shrine where the idols of Lakshmi Narasimha, Lakshmi Narayana, Yoga Narasimha and utsav idol of Narasimha are found.


The four pillared mandap that is located opposite to the main shrine has many interesting and beautiful carvings. It belongs to Nayak period.The image of a Nayaka king is also found in this mandap. It is named as Tiruvandikkappu Mandap. 



Ul Andal Shrine


To the true right of Ranga Vilas Mandap, Ul Andar shrine is located. It is a big shrine with a front side mandap. Although the shrine is named after Andal, the stone Murtis of Ram, Sita and Lakshman are found in the sanctum. The utsav Murtis of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman are also found in the shrine. Additionally, a beautiful Utsav Murti of Andal is also located here. The shrine is named after this Andal. She is in Kalyana Kolam (wedding posture) and is found seated. Usually, she is in the standing posture in all other temples. It is a unique posture for her. Next to her, a small idol of Krishna called as Vennai Krishnan is found.


It is said that due to political reasons, the Utsav idol of Andal which was originally located inside the temple was moved to this shrine which is located near the entrance. Due to this, Andal turned Ugra Devi (ferocious). She was pacified only after placing the Krishna idol next to her.

In this shrine, there is a small sub-shrine where the big stucco image of Ramanuja and the utsav idols of Ramanuja and Periyalvar are located.


Chakra Raya built this shrine in the first half of the 15th century CE.

3rd South Gate Tower - Kattai Gopuram


Amrita Kalasa Garud

Near Andal shrine, a small shrine of Garud is located. Here, he is found holding a pot which has Amrita. Hence, he is called as Amrita Kalasa Garud.


Venu Gopalan

The architecturally beautiful shrine of Venu Gopala is popular among the art lovers; this shrine was probably built by the Hoysalas. However, some features make us to wonder if there were additions done by  the Vijayanagaras or the Nayakas too. Whoever built this, it is definitely the most beautiful shrine in the entire temple. (It should be noted that few people argue that it was not built by the Hoysalas as there is no direct evidence for the same).

Krishna in this shrine has four arms. His upper arms hold conch and discus, whereas his lower arms play flute. As he is playing flute, he is called as Venu Gopalan.



4th South Tower - Ranga Ranga Tower
The vimana, exquisitely carved walls and the sculptures in the pillars are all extremely attractive. The mandap that is found on the front side of the shrine (after the Maha Mandap) which is lying low, has six rows with eight pillars in each row. The pillars have rectangular base and polygonal shaft.

Females in different postures such as holding the musical instruments, mirror and creeper, Krishna playing flute, the miniature size elephants and lions, the romancing couples, the sages holding the musical instruments and the windows with designs are some of the notable sculptures that are found on the niches of this shrine.

This shrine is located in the south west corner of the temple.




4th South Tower - Ranga Ranga Tower
Chakrathalvar




Chakrathalvar shrine is located on the western end and it is directly opposite to Udaiyavar (Ramanuja) shrine, which was discussed above. This shrine was built by Kampaya Dandanayaka, the chief minister of Hoysala King Ramanatha in the later half of the 13th century CE. The Vimana and the mandapa of this shrine were built by Viruppanna Udaiyar in 1400 CE. 



It is one of the biggest and popular shrines of this temple. It is so big and can be considered as a separate independent temple. The outer mandap has Pallava style lion pillars. Some lion pillars are found even inside the shrine.



4th South Tower - Ranga Ranga Tower
The shrine has a prakara. In the shrine, the big idol of Chakrathalvar (Sudarshan) with Yoga Narasimha on his back side is found.



Adjacent to the shrine, a well maintained garden and Vasanta Mandap are located. The entire region in this prakara between this shrine and Ranga Nayaki shrine is full of trees and plants.

Ranga Nayaki

The presiding Goddess of the temple is Ranga Nayaki. She is indeed very beautiful and attractive. Probably, due to this reason, Ranganathar has kept her as his main consort, although he has so many consorts. :-)

2nd West Tower - Thalaiyari Gopuram
The east facing shrine of Ranga Nayaki is more or less a separate temple. It is located on the north west corner of the temple. 

In the sanctum, there are two stone idols of Ranga Nayaki and one festival (utsav) idol found. One idol is found below the other idol. The one which is located behind is an older idol. Although, it is so big like a separate temple, it is technically located in the fourth prakara of Ranganathar. 

Let us briefly talk about the reason for having two idols in the sanctum. In the beginning of the 14th century CE, Malik Kafur invaded and looted Sri Rangam. The devotees hid the idol of Ranga Nayaki under Tulsi Madam near Bilva tree in this temple. After the invasion was over, they could not find the original idol. Then, they made another idol of Ranga Nayaki and installed the same in the temple.


After 48 years, when the utsav deity of Ranganathar returned back to Sri Rangam, the original idol of Ranga Nayaki was discovered. Thus, the sanctum has two idols of Ranga Nayaki.  

3rd West Tower
The shrine has separate prakara. There is Vasant Mandap in the prakara. The front side Mandap is long and has a lot of pillars with sculptures. It was built during the Vijayanagara period. 

The ceilings of the shrine and the mandaps have very good paintings. 

Mettazhagiya Singar

Near the front side mandap of Ranga Nayaki, the shrine of Narasimha is located. It is an elevated shrine. Narasimha is called as Mettazhagiya Singar. It is said that this important shrine of the temple was built by Jatavarman Sundara Pandya in the 13th century CE. In this shrine, Ugra Narasimha is found as a utsav (festival) Murti. He is found killing Hiranya, who is lying down on his lap. Near his feet, Prahalada is seen.

The walls of the front side mandaps has interesting mural paintings of Nayaka period. Most of them depict Narasimha in different postures. The painting of Berunda, who is found with 30 arms, lion faced and two wings destroying Sharbeshwara as well as Hiranya is interesting and rare.

3rd West Tower
The four pillared Mandap facing this shrine is where the great poet Kamban recited Ramayan for the first time. It is as per the legend but not as per the historical records though. It is also believed that Narasimha applauded his work by laughing out aloud, which was considered as approval for the work of Kamban.

It should be noted that the current structure of this mandap is not very old. It can be dated only to the 17th century CE.

Thousand Pillared Mandap

The thousand pillared mandap, which is called as Ayiram Kaal Mandapam in Tamil, is a beautiful Mandap with a lot of interesting sculptures and relief images on the walls and the pillars. A big size sculpture of elephant is very attractive in this mandap. 
3rd West Tower

Most of the thousand pillared mandapas do not actually have one thousand pillars exactly. This mandap too has less than one thousand pillars, just 864 pillars in sixteen rows.

This hall was built in the 13th century CE by Kampaya Dandanayaka, the chief minister of the Hoysala King Ramanatha.

It is sad that the devotees are not allowed to enter into the mandap, which might reveal much more hidden beauty of this mandap to the outside world.

Sesha Rayar Mandap

After Venu Gopala shrine, the thousand pillared mandap and Sesha Rayar Mandap are the most beautiful places of the temple. 

Sesha Rayar Mandap is located to the south of the thousand pillared mandap. There are totally 96 pillars in twelve rows, each of six feet high stand in this mandap. It is said that the Vijayanagara kings completed the first tier of Raja Gopuram. The work was apparently going on in this site. As they were defeated by the Muslim Sultans of Deccan in the Battle of Tallikota in 1565 CE, the work got stopped abruptly. After many years, Sesha Rayar, who was working for Thanjavur King, built this mandap with those abandoned pillars and sculptures. Hence, this mandap is named after him.

2nd West Tower - Thalaiyari Gopuram
The first row of pillars have the life size sculptures of the eight horses leaping forward. They are not identical sculptures. The warriors on the horses carry various weapons and fight with tigers or Yazhis. The infantry and the ladies are also depicted in those pillars.

The other rows of pillars have sculptures depicting mostly the scenes from Ramayan. The fight of Vali with Sugreev, Hanuman in different poses, Ravan tied by Vali and the Avatars of Vishnu are some of the notable sculptures. 


Ramanuja Shrine

One of the highlights of the temple is the shrine of Ramanuja. The great Vaishnavite Guru is found in the sitting posture; it is said that the temple priests maintain his holy body for more than 1000 years through some herbs and it is merely not an idol. There are people who claim that his tomb (samadhi) is found in this shrine and it is a wax idol. 

North Tower - Vadakku Vaasal Gopuram
The utsav (festival) Murtis of Varadaraja with his two consorts are also found in this shrine. It is believed that Ramanuja had these idols for his daily Poojas. 

The utsav idols of Ramanuja and his Guru Periya Nambigal are also located in this shrine.

Near this shrine, there is a sub shrine for Kanchi Varadaraja. Varadan is found along with his two consorts, Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi.


Sixth Prakara

The entrance of the sixth prakara has Shanka and Chakra as the Dwara palas. This prakara is called as Uttara Veeti or Tiruvikrama Tiruveeti. Tiruvikrama is named after Vikrama Chola, the King. As this prakara is outside the temple, there are many houses and Ashrams found in these four streets around the temple.

North Tower - Vadakku Vaasal Gopuram
It should be noted that all the prakaras mentioned so far did not have four towers in all the four directions. However, this prakara has four towers in all the four directions. The three towers in the south, north and east directions share the same name as Kattai Gopuram. The one which faces the west side is called as Sakkiliyan Kottai Gopuram. 

The temple carts are kept in this prakara in North Uttara Veeti. Veda Vyasa Bhattar Tirumaligai is also located in the same street. 
North Tower - Vadakku Vaasal Gopuram

Who was Veda Vyasa Bhattar? He was the twin brother of Parasara Bhattar and the son of Koorathalwan. He authored more than 18 Vaishnava literary works. He lived in Sri Rangam and his holy residence is called as Veda Vyasa Bhattar Tirumaligai.

Manavala Mamunigal Shrine, Periya Tirumaligai and Parasara Bhattar Tirumaligai are also located in North Uttara Veeti. 

In West Uttara Veeti, Thathacharya Tirumaligai and Desikan shrine are located. 

In East Uttara Veeti, the Uttaradi Mutt and Ahobila Mutta are located. 

Koil Kandadai Tirumaligai is located in North Uttara Veeti. Koil Kandadai was the son of Mudaliyandan and the disciple of Ramanuja. He lived in Sri Rangam and his holy residence is called as Koil Kandadai Tirumaligai.



Seventh Prakara


North Tower - Vadakku Vaasal Gopuram
The entrance of the seventh prakara has Poorna and Pushkara as the Dwara palas. This prakara is called as Chitrai Veeti. It is also called as Kaliyuga Raman Tiruveeti. Kaliyuga Raman is the title of the King Maravarman Veera Pandya. As this prakara is outside the temple, there are many houses and Ashrams found in these four streets around the temple.

There are four towers in all the four directions in this prakara. The south facing tower is called as Chitrai Veeti Gopuram. The one in the west side is named as Thalaiyaari Gopuram. The tower that faces the north direction is called as Vadakku Kattai Gopuram whereas the last one in the east direction is called as Kaliyuga Raman Gopuram.

3rd North Tower - Kattai Gopuram
Patala Krishna - If you enter through the magnificent Therku Vaasal gatweay, after crossing the second three tiered Gopura, you can find a four pillared Mandap and a very small sub-shrine below the ground level. The deity is named as Patala Krishna.

In North Chitrai Veeti, Vedanta Desikan Shrine, Srimad Andavan Ashram and Jagannath Math are located.

In East Chitrai Veeti, Alwan Tirumaligai, Temple Cart, Periya Nambi Tirumaligai, Rangacharya Swami Tirumaligai, Mudaliyandan Tirumaligai, Vanamamali Mutt and Anatalvan Tirumaligai are lcoated. 

Eighth Prakara

The streets after the seventh prakara are not well organized. There are hundreds of shops, houses and encroachments. Few people consider this as the eighth prakara and the others consider this as the seventh prakara. These streets are together called as Adaiyavalaindan Tiruveeti.
East Gate - Vellai Gopuram

As per the inscriptions, this prakara was renovated during the period of Kulotunga Chola III. As per Koil Olugu script, the wall of this prakara was constructed by Annappa Udaiyar in 1444 CE. 

There are four Gopuras around this section of streets too. The south facing is the magnificent Therku Vaasal Gopuram. The other three sides have unfinished towers and they are called as Mottai Gopurams.

After crossing the Therku Vaasal gateway, there is a small four pillared mandap. Then, there is a small temple administered by Ahobilam Math. The temple has the idols of Kuralappan (Vamana Avatar), Kamalavalli and Desikan. 

The shrine of Veli Andal is also found in this prakara. It should be noted that the stone image of Andal is found only in this shrine. Inside the temple complex, only the utsava image of Andal is found.

Near the west side unfinished tower called Mela Vaasal Mottai Gopuram, there is a small shrine for Paramapadanathar and another for Anjaneya. A moderately big Shiva temple is also located near this tower. It is called Chandana Medai Temple. The presiding deities are Chandra Mouleeswarar and Mangala Gauri

East Gate - Vellai Gopuram
After crossing the Mottai Gopuram, we could find a very big holy pond called as Mela Vaasaal Kulam.


Gopuras or Temple Towers


Sri Rangam is popular for its temple towers. There are 21 gopuras for this temple.

1) Therku Vaasal Gopura - This is the foremost and most popular Gopuras among all Gopuras of Sri Rangam Ranganathar Temple. This 236 feet Raja Gopuram is the second tallest Gopura in the world. (Murdeshwara Temple Tower is taller than this). The gopura has 13 tiers or talas. The magnificent gopura which is visible even from the nearby Trichy is very attractive and impressive. However, there are no stucco images found in this tower. As this towers faces the southern direction, it is called as Therku Vaasal Gopuram (the word Therku means south in Tamil language).
3rd East Gate - Kattai Gopuram

This tower is the latest addition of the temple. It was built in 1987 CE. The original structure only had the walls. It took 8 years to construct this tower. It was built by Jeeyar Azhagiya Singar.

In this gateway, below the tower, the small sub-shrines of Muneesvaran (the guardian deity of Sri Rangam), Srinivasa Perumal along with Hanuman and Anjaneya are located. 

2) Chitrai Veeti Gopuram - The second tower from outside that faces the south direction after the magnificent Therku Vaasal Gopura has three tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the seventh prakara. It is called as Chitrai Veeti Gopuram. There are many stucco images found in this tower. Dasavatars, Vishnu with his three consorts, Narasimha in different postures, Sudarshan, Ram Pattabhishek, Vali-Sugreev fight and Samudra Manthan are some of the important sculptures in this tower.

3) Kattai Gopuram - The third tower from outside that faces the south direction after the magnificent Therku Vaasal Gopura has five tiers or talas. It is called as Kattai Gopuram. It is one of the gateways of the sixth prakara. Compared to the 2nd south gate tower, this tower has less number of stucco images. Most of the images depict the Vaishnavaite saints. Garud and Hanuman as the gate keepers in the first tier is very notable feature of this gopura.

3rd East Gate - Kattai Gopuram
4) Ranga Ranga Gate Tower - The fourth south tower after the magnificent Therku Vaasal Gopura has four tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the fifth prakara. As the 6th and 7th prakaras are outside the temple complex, this is the main gateway through which the devotees enter into the temple complex. As it's written as Ranga...Ranga in this gopura, the devotees often refer this tower as Ranga Ranga Gopura. The other name of this tower is Nanmukhan Gopuram. There are hundreds of stucco images of Vishnu in different forms and the Vaishnaivite sages and other deities are found in this tower. Berunda destroying Sharbeshwara and Hiranya is the notable sculpture in this tower.

5) Mela Vaasal Mottai Gopuram - The first west facing tower from outside is unfinished and it is called as Mela Vaasal Mottai Gopuram. This is the most unfinished tower among the three unfinished towers of Adaiyavalaindan Tiruveeti. 


2nd East Gate - Kaliyuga Raman Tower
6) Thalaiyari Gopuram - The second west facing tower around seventh prakara is called as Thalaiyari Gopuram. It is a three tiered tower. Except for Dwarapalas in each tier, there is no other stucco image found in the tower. The tower is plain without any idols.

7) Sakkiliyan Kottai Gopuram - The third west tower from outside is called as Sakkiliyan Kottai Tower. It is a four tiered tower with few stucco images. It is one of the gateways of the sixth prakara. Two wrestlers and Krishna stealing the clothes of Gopis are some of the notable sculptures in this tower.

8) Vadakku Mottai Gopuram - The first north facing tower from outside is unfinished and it is called as Vadakku Mottai Gopuram. It is one of the four towers found around the eighth prakara.

2nd East Gate - Kaliyuga Raman Tower
9) Vadakku Kattai Gopuram - The second north tower  has three tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the seventh prakara. It is called as Vadakku Kattai Gopuram. It has lot of stucco images and most of them are Avatars of Vishnu or Vaishnava Parivara deities.

10) Kattai Gopuram (North) - The third north tower  has three tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the sixth prakara. It is called as Kattai Gopuram. It is devoid of stucco images except for two pairs of Dwarapalas.

11) Vadakku Vaasal Gopuram - The fourth north tower  has four tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the fifth prakara. As the 6th and 7th prakaras are outside the temple complex, this is one of the gateways through which the devotees enter into the temple complex. There are multitude of stucco images in this tower. Vishnu is found seated on varieties of Vaahanas such as Hanuman, Garud, swan, horse, cart, group of horses, lion, elephant, Yazhi, etc. Few Avatars of Vishnu are also found as the stucco images. The prominent idol is Sudarshan with sixteen arms holding various weapons. Interestingly, an image of Vishnu Durga is also found in this tower.
Karthikai Gopuram

Some people call this as Thayar Gopuram, as this is the gateway to the shrine of Ranga Nayaki (Thayar) in the north direction.

12) Mottai Gopuram (East)- The first east facing tower from outside (around the eighth prakara) is unfinished and it is called as Mottai Gopuram. Even the first tower in the north and west directions are unfinished. However, they hardly have pillars and not proper walls. This Mottai Gopuram in east direction is comparatively better and has walls on both the sides. Only the tower is missing.



13) Kaliyuga Raman Gopuram -The second east facing tower  has seven tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the seventh prakara. It is called as Kaliyuga Raman Gopuram. It has less number of stucco images and most of them are found only  in the first tala. Most of the images are of Vishnu's different forms and Avatars. Very few are of erotic images. The sculptures of Narasimha and Hanuman as the gate keepers are the highlight of this tower. There is a small sub-shrine for Damodara Krishna in this gateway. 
Arya Bhattal Gopuram

As mentioned already, Kaliyuga Raman was the title of Jatavarman Veera Pandya. The tower can be dated to Pandya period. However, some features of Hoysalas such as the figure of Gandabherunda are also found in the tower. Hence, it can be assumed that the Hoysalas have carried out some works in this tower.

Apart from Therku Vaasal Gopuram and Vellai Gopuram, this is one another impressive tower of Sri Rangam Temple.

14) Kattai Gopuram (East) - The third east tower  has two tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the sixth prakara. It is called as Kattai Gopuram. It has lot of stucco images and most of them are erotic or amorous.

15) Vellai Gopuram - The fourth east tower  has nine tiers or talas. It is one of the gateways of the fifth prakara. As the 6th and 7th prakaras are outside the temple complex, this is one of the gateways through which the devotees enter into the temple complex. Also, this is one of the most popular Gopurams of Sri Rangam. There are multitude of stucco images in this tower. However, as this tower is in white color, it is not easily to identify them. The word 'Vellai' means white in Tamil language. As this tower is white in color, it is called as Vellai Gopuram.

As the old tower was damaged by lightening, a new tower was constructed by Kandadai Ramanuja in the 15th century CE.

16) Karthikai Vaasal Gopuram - The fifth south tower if counted from outside is called as Karthikai Vaasal Gopuram. It is the main entrance gateway around the fourth prakara. The three tiered Gopura is plain and just has the stucco images of Narasimha killing Hiranya and the Dwarapalas in the first tala.

This tower was damaged during the Muslim invasions. It was repaired by Kampaya Raja, a revenue officer under the Vijaya Nagaras in 1457 CE. 



17) 5 Kuzhi 3 Vaasal Gopuram - The north facing tower around the fourth prakara is called as 5 Kuzhi 3 Vaasal Gopuram. It has two tiers and has multitude of tiny stucco images. Most of them depict Narasimha, Vishnu and Krishna in different postures. This gateway connects the fourth prakara with the fifth prakara. It is located near Ranga Nayaki shrine. 

As the original tower fell into ruins, Tirumalai Raja rebuilt the tower in 1470 CE. 

18) Tattaraivasal Gopuram - There is a small two tiered plain gopura without any stucco image around the fourth prakara. It is located near thousand pillared mandap and slightly opposite to the famous Vellai Gopuram. It corresponds to the east direciton. It connects the fourth prakara with the fifth prakara near the Manalveli (open ground) area. It was built by Tirumalai Raja in the later half of the 15th century CE. 

19) Arya Bhattal Gopuram - A simple and plain two tiered tower structure facing the southern direction around the third prakara is the popular Arya Bhattal Gopuram. It is the main entrance which all the devotees use to enter to get darshan of the sanctum and the other inner shrines of the temple. 

The original tower was destroyed during the Muslim invasion. The current tower was built in the first half of 15th century CE by Chakra Raya. 

20) Paramapada Vaasal Gopuram - The tower that is found around the third prakara in the back side (north direction) is called as Paramapada Vaasal Gopuram or Swarga Vaasal Gopuram. It has the colorful stucco images of Garud, Hanuman and few other Parivara deities in the gateway. It is a 3 tiered tower with very few stucco images.

21) Nazhi Kettan Vaasal Gopuram - The tower that is found around the second prakara corresponding to the south direction is the famous Nazhi Kettan Vaasal Gopuram. It has two talas or tiers. 
Paramapada Vaasal Entrance

 Although only the above mentioned towers are considered as 21 towers of this magnificent temple, there are few more Gopuras in this temple. They are technically Gopuras and not Vimanas. If we take count of them too, the number of towers would be 26. Interestingly, even the details of 21 towers that are listed above cannot be seen in any other site. I am happy to give a detailed report about them for the first time on the net.

22) Koorathalwan Gopuram - The first shrine if we enter to the temple through the Ranga Ranga south gopura is Koorathalwan shrine. There is a small gopura at the entrance of this shrine, which is as big as a small independent temple.

23) Ranga Nayaki Gopuram - The presiding deity of the temple is Ranga Nayaki. As seen earlier in this post, her shrine is located in the fifth prakara. Her shrine is more like a separate temple within this bigger temple. There is a big gopura at the entrance of her shrine. As there is a front side mandap before the tower, the complete tower is not visible for us.

24) Dhanvantri Gopuram - As indicated already, it is very rare to find such a big shrine for Dhanvantri. It is located in the fourth prakara. This shrine has a separate big gopura.

25) Chenkamalavalli Thayar Gopuram - Maha Lakshmi a.k.a. Chenkamalavalli Thayar sub-shrine is located in the fourth prakara. The entrance has a small two tiered tower.

26) Ramanuja Gopuram - The shrine of Ramanuja a.k.a. Udaiyavar is very prominent and popular in this temple. There is a slightly bigger gopura at the entrance of this shrine.


Happy travelling.



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4 comments:

  1. Thank you for such a detailed and excellent summary as guide. Next time i viist Thiruvarangam, I shall enjoy better with care

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing detail. Amazing thought... Thanks for writing. I will read it again and again... to know more.

    ReplyDelete