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Srirangam – The Life and Times of a Temple Town in India
At dawn, Alamelu Sarangapani drinks a cup of coffee, finishes her morning bath, and heads to the Ranganatha Swamy temple in Srirangam with a small container of rice paste, which she will use to draw intricate patterns on the ground, outside the temple area and internal. Alamelu has been doing this since she came to Srirangam as a young bride of 18 – she turns 62 today. Karunakaran leans patiently against a pillar at the temple’s east entrance, his registered guide ID card pinned to his shirt, waiting to guide pilgrims through the Ranganatha Swamy temple. This is the only world he has known and wanted to know since he first visited the temple with his father at the age of 9. There are many more people like Alamelu and Karunakaran in the temple town of Srirangam, whose lives and livelihoods are inextricably linked to the temple. The temple is their gateway to heaven.
South India is synonymous with Tamil Nadu, and Tamil Nadu immediately throws up images of temples. In this state, temples have been the raison d’être of towns since time immemorial. The Dravidian culture of Tamil Nadu was born and flourished in these temples and continues to this day. Tamil Nadu has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, three of which are temples and the other five are rock temples! The temple, its lore, its lore, its rituals, its festivals, and everything related to it builds a matrix around which the entire town operates.
In Hinduism, all creation begins and ends with the Trinity, Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Protector) and Shiva (Destroyer), Hindus are broadly divided into Shaiviite (followers of Shiva) and Vishnaviite (followers of Vishnu ). Vaishnavites consider Lord Vishnu to be the supreme being, while to Shaivaites Lord Shiva is the primus inter pares. Of the 108 temples in South India that are important to the Vaishnavites, Srirangam tops the list. It is here that one of the most important Vaishnavaite saints, a woman named Godha Devi, is believed to have merged with the idol and attained salvation.
Srirangam is located just 8 km from Trichy, the main district of Tamil Nadu.
It is not difficult to identify or locate temple towns in Tamil Nadu. Those traveling by road, can’t miss the huge advertisements featuring vivid color images of specific temple deities, while those coming in by train will see similar advertisements (albeit on a smaller scale) along the railway line as they approach the station in question. small). This is another temple art! If you miss these, you can always look for the temple’s ceremonial tower or gopuram, which in the case of Srirangam is the tallest in Asia and can be seen from miles away.
Srirangam is full of legends and legends. Said to rise from the Milky Way in the sky, the idol is a gigantic black statue of Lord Vishnu reclining on a couch made of the divine serpent Adisesha. The deity was received by Lord Brahma and kept by him until Vishnu, in his avatar (avatar), because Lord Rama gave it to Vibhusana, the noble brother of Ravana, the slain demon king. Vibheesana has expressed a desire to bring it back to Sri Lanka. The Lord told him not to let it go under any circumstances, because if it did, it would not be able to leave that place. Vibheesana did lower it for his bath and sure enough the idol remained rooted in place. It lay deep in the forest for a long time, covered with vegetation, until Dharma Varma, a prince of the Chola dynasty, stumbled across it and built a shrine to protect it.
Today, the Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy Temple covers over 156 acres, making it the largest “functional” Hindu temple in the world.
It has seven concentric walls and as many as 21 gopurams, or pyramidal towers – a sight no temple guide should miss. In fact, one has to climb a flight of stairs to reach a wide terrace from where you can count the gopurams – 21 in all. The main Gopuram or Rajagopuram rises to a staggering 236 feet (72 meters). It is the tallest in Asia. The walls of the temple are decorated with stelae, which are decorated with elaborate carvings of mythological figures and motifs. A corridor with a thousand columns (each a masterpiece) ends in a hall, which would have been the venue for concerts and dance performances. Looking up at these intricate forms, it’s incredible how sculptors can capture such tiny details, such as the intricate folds of clothing, the design of ornaments, the feathers of birds or the detail of a horseshoe on rocks and stones, In that era without electricity, machines, and automation. This is pure poetry. In fact, when Karunakaran showed us Garuda, the giant eagle on which Lord Vishnu rides, all we could do was look up at it in awe, marveling at its size and detail!
Srirangam temples are defined by their festivals. Every month of the Hindu calendar has a festival! In fact, the number of festivals at this temple exceeds the normal average of other South Indian temples. It is of the utmost importance to hold these festivals according to the principles laid down in the Vedas and Agamas (Hindu scriptures). During these festivals, idols of the deity are driven around town in elaborate chariots that are pulled or carried on the shoulders by devotees. Effort is dedication, and the opportunity to do so is seen as a privilege. During Vasanthotsavam, a festival that heralds spring, the procession deity is placed in the temple garden for nine days so that he can enjoy the blooming flowers. The festival of lights between November and December coincides with the onset of winter. Hundreds of lamps are lit inside and outside the temple, and the treasurer reads the accounts of the temple to the Lord. Vaikuntha Ekadasi falls between December and January and is the most important festival in Srirangam. Hindus believe that the gates of Paradise remain open on that day and that visiting any shrine of Lord Vishnu on Earth on that day guarantees entry to Paradise. Devotees on buses come from far and wide and wait for hours to get a glimpse of the main idol. Preparations for Vaikuntha Ekadasi begin in October when the first of 47 pillars of the grand “mandapam” (stage) is erected in front of the priests with the singing of sacred hymns. Every festival in Srirangam is a grand ceremony. After a ritual bath with milk, honey and sandalwood, the deity is draped in the finest silk and adorned with the most beautiful flowers.
Temple fairs are the main driving force for the social and economic growth of temple towns. Every festival is an expression of splendor and joy and unleashes a frenzy of activity. Most festivals coincide with changing seasons, providing a strong market for in-season agricultural and horticultural produce. Not only people from that town came, but also a large number of believers from other towns poured in, which suddenly pushed up the demand for various services. Although all were forgiven, the police force came out in full force. Women from orthodox families (and there are still many) were supposed to stay at home, but were allowed to go out in their finery and walk around town. Bazaars, selling everything from pins to elephants, have sprung up around the temple. Business is booming as shopping is almost a must after visiting the temples. Temple Town’s shops are a veritable treasure trove. Be patient. You might get some rare books and antiques for a one-off price, since the owners of these heirlooms have no idea of their value! But there are also unscrupulous people who deceive the gullible. We happened to meet one such character named Sridhar, an antique shop owner who ominously warned us that if we didn’t bring home a particular idol, our children would fall prey to evil the eyes of our enemies, and are badly wounded!
Srirangam is full of colorful sounds, even during non-festive periods. Exotic flowers, the aroma of incense, devotional songs blaring from trumpets, delicious food served by roadside restaurants, throngs of noisy families and energetic, persistent hawkers. For many urbanized Hindus, temple towns are practically an assault on the senses. But when you’ve done all that, what’s left in your mind is the devotion of the man who pierced his tongue with a needle and carried the god on his shoulder without the slightest pain, the ecstasy on people’s faces. Another devotee was pulling the rope of the heavy chariot. The quiet faith of the praying old lady with her eyes closed and the humble piety in the devotee’s voice, sang to the Lord in the most out-of-tune tone without any embarrassment.
For Vaishnavites and natives, Lord Ranganatha is a living entity. He is addressed in the first person. They visited him like a relative, confide in him in times of crisis, share happiness with him, dress him up with love, and take care of him with heart. When they came to the temple, it was with a sense of belonging and an unwavering belief that He was there! When they enter the temple, they believe they have completed their journey from the worldly to the spiritual – a journey they believe will give them the strength to face life’s trials and tribulations!
Seriously, Srirangam offers the best thumbnails of Indian culture!
You need to know:
How to Get to Srirangan
Srirangam is the closest to Trichy. Trichy is accessible from Chennai (320 km away) by rail, road and air. It is also accessible by train from Bangalore, Madurai and Trivandrum.
Trichy Airport has direct flights from Chennai and Trivandrum, connecting flights from Bangalore and international flights from Sharjah, Kuwait and Colombo. Kingfisher Airlines operates flights to Trichy from Bengaluru and Chennai. Paramount Airlines operates flights from Chennai to Trichy.
You can also drive to Trichy from Chennai (320 km), Bangalore (345 km) or Madurai (142 km).
where to live and what to eat
There are many accommodation options in Trichy, ranging from budget hostels to decent 3 star hotels. Hotel Sangam and The SRM Residency are at the top, tested and proven! There are many small hotels and trendy bars serving coffee, tea, cold drinks and world famous South Indian idlis and dosas. Remember, most bars here are non-alcoholic!
The most comfortable way to travel is to rent a car from Trichy, visit Srirangam and other temples around, and return to your hotel. Depending on the distance covered, this should cost you anywhere between Rs 1200 to Rs 2000 per day. There are also regular buses running between Srirangam and Trichy, but they are likely to be hot and crowded. But if you really want to see the locals up close, take the bus. People are generally friendly and helpful.
best time to visit
Srirangam Temple has festivals throughout the year, so Trichy is a place worth visiting all year round. Summer lasts from April to July and is unbearably hot. So the best time to visit Trichy is between August and February.
along the way
You can also visit the cigar factory in Woraiyur, where Sir Winston Churchill requisitioned his cigars! Then there’s the 128-year-old Gandhi Market in the heart of Trichy, one of Tamil Nadu’s most important yet oldest markets – almost a heritage site.
While in Rome…
Srirangam, Trichy and many other towns in Tamil Nadu have fairly advanced infrastructure but people remain conservative. Courteous and well-dressed visitors are always treated with respect. It is prudent not to provoke the feelings of the locals!
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