The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple or Tiruvarangam is a Hindu temple dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Hindu deity, Vishnu located in Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India . Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, this temple is glorified in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil literature canon of the Alvar saints from the 6th–9th centuries AD and is counted as the first and foremost among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu. It is one of the most illustrious Vaishnava temples in South India rich in legend and history. Its location, on an island in Cauvery river, has rendered it vulnerable to natural disasters as well as the rampaging of invading armies – Muslim and European – which repeatedly commandeered the site for military encampment.
The main entrance, known as the Rajagopuram, rises from the base area of around 13 cents (around 5720 sq ft) and goes up to 237 feet (72 m), moving up in eleven progressively smaller tiers. The annual 21 day festival conducted during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December–January) attracts 1 million visitors. Srirangam temple is often listed as the largest functioning Hindu temple in the World, the still larger Angkor Wat being the largest existing temple. The temple occupies an area of 156 acres (631,000 m²) with a perimeter of 4,116m (10,710 feet) making it the largest temple in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world.
The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric walls with a total length of 32,592 feet or over six miles. These temple has 21 gopurams (towers), 39 pavilions, fifty shrines, Ayiram kaal Mandapam (a hall of 1000 pillars) and several small water bodies inside. The space within the outer two prakarams (outer courtyard) is occupied by several shops, restaurants and flower stalls. Non-Hindus are allowed up to the second prakaram (outer courtyard) but not inside the gold topped sanctum sanctorum. Though the term Kovil is generally used in Tamil to signify any temple, for many Vaishnavas the term Kovil exclusively refers to this temple, indicating its extreme importance for them. The presiding deity Ranganathar is praised in many names by his devotees, including Nam Perumal, Azhagiya Manavalan (beautiful groom in Tamil).
The vimanam (shrine over the sanctum sanctorum), the Ranga vimana is shaped like omkara and is plated with gold. Sri Ranganthar reclines on Adisesha, the coiled serpent, and at his feet sits Ranganayaki. Images of Vibhishana, Brahma, Hanuman, Garuda, the symbols of Vishnu – conch and discuss are seen inside the sanctum. Ranganayaki shrine is in the second precint of the temple. The common reference to the goddess is padi thaanda pathni, meaning lady who doesn't cross the boundaries of ethics. Literally, the festival deity of Ranganayaki also does not come out of the shrine and it is Ranganthar who visits Ranganayaki. There are three images of Ranganayaki within the sanctum. The complex houses shrines of dozens of forms of Vishnu including Chakkarathazhwar, Narasimha, Rama, Hayagreeva and Gopala Krishna. There are separate shrines for Ranganayaki and the major saints in the Vaishnava tradition, including Ramanuja.
The Hall of 1000 pillars (actually 953) is a fine example of a planned theatre-like structure and opposite to it, "Sesha Mandap", with its intricacy in sculpture, is a delight. The 1000-pillared hall made of granite was constructed in the Vijayanagara period (1336–1565) on the site of the old temple. The pillars consists of sculptures of wildly rearing horses bearing riders on their backs and trampling with their hoofs upon the heads of rampant tigers, seem only natural and congruous among such weird surroundings. The great hall is traversed by one wide aisle in the centre for the whole of its greater length, and intersected by transepts of like dimension running across at right angles. There still remain seven side aisles on each side, in which all the pillars are equally spaced out.
There are 21 gopurams (tower gateways), among which the towering 236-feet Rajagopuram (shrine of the main gateway) is the second tallest temple tower in Asia. The 73m high 13- tiered rajagopuram was built in 1987 by Ahobila Mutt and dominates the landscape for miles around, while the remaining 20 gopurams were built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The gopurams have pronounced projections in the middle of the long sides, generally with openings on each of the successive levels. The Vellai gopura (white tower) on the east side of the fourth enclosure has a steep pyramidal superstructure that reaches a height of almost 44m.
Sriranga Mahathmiyam is the compilation of religious accounts of the temple, detailing the origins of its greatness. According to it, Brahma, the Hindu God of creation in Hindu Puranas was once in a state of deep meditation and in His supreme trance received the gift of the Vishnu's idol, "Ranga Vimana". He was told by god that there would be seven other appearances of such idols on earth – Srirangam, Srimushnam, Venkatadri (Tirumala), Saligram (Muktinath), Naimisaranya, Totadri, Pushkara and Badrinath. The idol was then passed on by Brahma to Viraja, Vaiswatha, Manu, Ishwaku and finally to Rama. Rama, himself an Avatar of Vishnu, worshipped the idol for a long time, and when he returned victoriously from Sri Lanka after destroying Ravana, he gave it to King Vibhishana as a token of appreciation for the latter's support for Rama against his own brother, Ravana. When Vibhishana was going via Trichy en route to Sri Lanka, the deity wanted to stay in Srirangam. Ranganatha, captivated by the devotion of a King called Dharma Varma, who was doing penance to have Lord Ranganatha to permanently stay Srirangam, stayed put, promising to cast his benign glance eternally on Lanka. Hence it is that the deity faces South.
Invasion of Srirangam Temple:
During the period of invasion by Malik Kafur and his forces in 1310–1311, the idol of the deity was stolen and taken to Delhi. In a daring exploit, devotees of Srirangam ventured to Delhi and enthralled the emperor with their histrionics. Moved by their talent, the emperor was pleased to gift them the presiding deity of Srirangam, which was requested by the performers. Things took a drastic turn immediately. Surathani, his daughter, fell in love with the deity and followed him to Srirangam. She prostrated herself to the God in front of the sanctum sanctorum and is believed to have attained the heavenly abode immediately. Even today, a painting of "Surathani" can be seen in the Arjuna Mandap adjacent to the sanctum sanctorum for whom, chappathis (wheat bread) are made daily.
Having assumed that the magical power of the deity had killed his daughter, there was a more severe second invasion to Srirangam in 1323 AD. The presiding deity was taken away before the Malik Kafur's troops reached Srirangam by a group led by the vaishnavite Acharaya (Guru), Pillai Lokacharyar, who died en route to Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Goddess Renganayaki was taken in another separate procession. Swami Vedanta Desika, instrumental in planning the operations during the siege of the temple, closed the sanctum sanctorum of the temple with bricks, after the processions of the presiding deities had left, thereby protected the temple for generations to come. 13,000 Sri Vaishnavas, the people of Srirangam, laid down their lives in the fierce battle to ensure that the institution was protected. In the end, Devadasis, the danseuse of Srirangam, seduced the army chief, to save the temple.
The Orlov Diamond:
The Orlov diamond 189.62 carats (37.924 g), is a large diamond that is part of the collection of the Diamond Fund of the Moscow Kremlin. The origin of this resplendent relic – described as having the shape and proportions of half a hen's egg. This diamond and a similar gem served as the eyes of the deity in the temple. Legends hold that a French soldier who had deserted during the Carnatic wars in Srirangam disguised himself as a Hindu convert and stole it during 1747.
- Vaikunta Ekadeshi