Ranganathaswamy Temple: The Tale Of A Colourful Temple

India houses lakhs of temples within its borders. Temples may be found on practically every street and corner, whether the largest or the oldest. Let us look at one such temple from the state of Karnataka, which is among the most significant Hindu temples in the world. The temple is a combination of strength, a sanctuary of serenity, a place of learning, a place of enlightenment, and home of covenants.
The Colourful Tale of Ranganathaswamy Temple; Image Source: Tamil Nadu Tourism

The Colourful Tale of Ranganathaswamy Temple; Image Source: Tamil Nadu Tourism

He prayed to Lord Ranganatha, and Ranganatha told Vibhishana about his promise to Kaveri. This broke the heart of Vibhishana. To fulfill his devotee’s wish, Ranganatha laid down facing the south direction to bless Vibhishana, who stayed in Lanka. King Dharma Varma too constructed a vast temple to worship the Ranga Vimana, and this constant devotion of his led to his liberation.

The River Kaveri once swamped the whole city of Srirangam. Ranganatha temple was buried beneath slits and sand. Even the kalasha of the gopuram was obscured. After it, the Chola monarch relocated his headquarters from Trichy (Uraiyur) to Thanjavur. With the flow of time, the Ranga Vimana became lost.

Kilikanda Chola, a Chola prince, went on a hunt after many years. He took a break under a tree in the forest that had sprouted above the Srirangam temple. A bird on the tree informed the prince about the sunken Ranga Vimana close beneath that location. This sign had also shown in the prince's dream. Soon after, the Chola king began excavating and discovered Lord Ranganatha's temple. He also expanded on it and made changes to the temple. He had a mantapa built to remember the parrot and christened it to Kili Mantapa. He re-established temple worship, became an enthusiastic follower of the Lord, and attained nirvana.

During the reign of Raja Mahendra Chola, a spring unexpectedly spilled during a flood, causing a momentous change in history. The massive amount of water obstructed the temple's entrance and threatened to overrun the temple's foundation. The monarch ordered the tunnel sealed and a gopuram built over it, creating a second prakara as a defensive wall. He, too, gained emancipation as a result of his excellent activity.

Lord Ranganatha came up with a novel solution to the situation. He said that he would go to Ayodhya, where the descendants of the Solar dynasty would worship him for four yugas. By the end of the fourth yuga, he would be on his way to the Chola empire in Southern India, on the banks of the river Kaveri, where he would dwell for the next seven hundred years until returning to Satyaloka.

Brahma then gifted the Ranga Vimana to Ikshwaku and all the four generations of the Solar dynasty, starting from Ikshwaku to Rama. Finally, Rama handed over the chariot to Vibhishana as a token of love. Keeping the chariot in the middle of the Kaveri ocean, he started worshipping it. However, after completing the prayer, Vibhishana tried to lift the chariot but could not. While Vibhishana was going to Sri Lanka, the Chola kings and sages requested him to perform the Adi Brahmotsava in Srirangam instead of Sri Lanka.

There are numerous legends surrounding this temple. Some say that it all began with a duel between Ganga and Kaveri, while others say that it started because of the appearance of Ranga Vimana. Let's look at both of these tales to understand better how the temple came to be.

Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna, and Saraswati were frolicking in the Himalayas one lovely day when a Gandharva observed them and worshipped them from the skies. When the rivers realised this, they began disputing who the Gandharva adored. Though Yamuna and Saraswati stopped arguing, Kaveri and Ganga couldn’t reach a conclusion. At last, they approached Lord Vishnu for their answer.

Ganga argued that since she originated from Vishnu’s lotus feet, she had greater importance than Kaveri. On the other hand, Kaveri wanted to become more significant than Vishnu and performed severe penances to please him. Pleased by her, Vishnu decided to give her a boon. Kaveri asked Vishnu to rest on her convergences and her banks and bless her. He accepted and assured her and said she would flow from his breast like a garland, a far stronger spot than Ganga had.

Another story comes from the legend of Ranga Vimana. According to legend, when Brahma focused on the holy words om tat sat, he was bestowed with four Vedas, and the formation of the cosmos started. However, a demon called Madhu Kaitabha emerged from Brahma's ear, seized the book, and vanished into the sea. Though Brahma tried to search for the demon, he failed miserably.

To Brahma’s surprise, Lord Vishnu came to his aid and recovered the Vedas from the demon. Finally, Brahma was able to create the cosmos and laws of Karma. However, the laws of Karma were considered to be a decisive factor in deciding one’s future, and Brahma thought that these very laws might trap him in the cycle of birth and death.

Worried about this, he sought advice from Lord Vishnu. But meeting Vishnu was not easy. Brahma had to perform strict penance for years to see Vishnu in his original form. Finally, Vishnu came before him in the form of a Ranga Vimana from the sea of milk. Ranga Vimana was the Lord's unique chariot, in which the Veda murtis carried the Lord on their heads, Nagaraja held a white umbrella, Vishwaksena a cane, and the chamara. All the gods in heaven folded their hands in front of the chariot. Brahma circled the chariot four times while chanting the hymns from the Vedas.

Vishnu was in its original form- laying on coils of Ananta Shesha. When Brahma sought permission to worship Vishnu, he gave the permission. Both of them went to Satyaloka in the chariot, and there, he worshipped Lord Vishnu, thus getting free from the cycle of birth and death.

Soon the news of Ranga Vimana spread too far and wide areas. The son of Sun-god, Manu, too desired to have its darshana. To get entry into the Satyaloka, he performed strict penances. Ikshwaku, Manu’s son, too wanted to worship Ranga Vimana and bring it to earth for the benefit of humanity. Like father, like son. However, Ikshwaku’s penance was something that scared demigods. Lord Indra tried his best to disturb Ikshwaku but failed miserably. Finally, all the demigods approached Brahma for a solution, but he said that all of them should instead come to Lord Ranganatha.

Namperumal was transported to Delhi as plunder during the invasion of Malik Kafur and his soldiers in 1310-1311. In a daring feat, Srirangam devotees travelled to Delhi and charmed the king with their music and dance performances. The monarch, moved by their ability, was glad to present them with the supreme Lord of Srirangam, as asked by the performers. Surathani, his daughter, quickly accompanied the Deity to Srirangam, and things took a severe turn. She was madly in love with God and couldn't exist without Him. She arrived in Srirangam and, failing to find Her Lord of Life, relinquished her body, achieving Vaikuntha.

Srirangam is located seven kilometres from Thiruchirapalli and is bordered on one side by the holy waters of the river Kaveri while on the other by its branch Kollidum. This sacred island is six hundred acres in size, with the shrine of Lord Ranganatha occupying one hundred and fifty-six acres. Along with Srimushnam, Venkatadri, Shaligrama, Naimisharanya, Totadri, Pushkara, and Badri, this place is one of Lord Vishnu's eight svayam-vyakta kshetras (self-manifested temples). It is also one of the five pancha-ranga kshetras on the Kaveri River's banks, along with Srirangapatna, Koyiladi, Kumbhakonam, and Thiruindalur (Myladuturai).

This Lord Vishnu temple has a vast scope of aesthetics, history, and tradition. The splendor of this temple will take you towards its rich historical ages, making your journey very memorable.

Temples have been an integral part of India’s past and will continue to remain so in the coming days. Though considered a secular country, Hinduism is still considered a predominant religion. And this very predominance explains why so many Hindu temples are present in the subcontinent. Several dynasties came and went by from the last thousand years, leaving behind grand temples that still remind people of their power and grandeur.

Since the Indus Valley civilisation, Hinduism has been practised and was widespread long before the founding of other significant faiths such as Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. Before the advent of any other religion globally, India experienced various rules, monarchs, and kings.

Let’s explore one such temple, considered the foremost of the 108 divya desham kshetras. Known by the name of Ranganathaswamy temple, it is regarded as one of the largest functioning Hindu temples in the world. The temple has the deity of Lord Vishnu, who is reclining on the coils of the enormous snake Adi Sesha. The temple is described in old Tamil literature as follows:

The Lord, who has Lakshmi decorated on his breast, is lying on a beautiful cot with a thousand heads stretched out, worshipped and revered by many, on an island encircled by the river Kaveri with her roaring waves.

Lord Vishnu in his original form; Image Source: Om Swami Ashram

Lord Vishnu in his original form; Image Source: Om Swami Ashram

Brahmotsavam at Srirangam is celebrated with full excitement; Image Source: Adotrip

Brahmotsavam at Srirangam is celebrated with full excitement; Image Source: Adotrip

Brahmotsavam at Srirangam is celebrated with full excitement; Image Source: Adotrip

Brahmotsavam at Srirangam is celebrated with full excitement; Image Source: Adotrip

Interiors of Ranganathaswamy Temple; Image Source: Flickr

Interiors of Ranganathaswamy Temple; Image Source: Flickr

Structure of Ranganathaswamy Temple; Image Source: Royal Collection Trust

Structure of Ranganathaswamy Temple; Image Source: Royal Collection Trust

Golden Ranga Vimana hidden between the colorful gopuram and temple; Image Source: Blogspot- Tamil Nadu Tourism

Golden Ranga Vimana hidden between the colorful gopuram and temple; Image Source: Blogspot- Tamil Nadu Tourism

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