Srirangam is the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines (Swayam Vyakta Kshetras) of Lord Vishnu . It is also considered the first, foremost and the most important of the 108 main Vishnu temples (Divyadesams). This temple is also known as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam, Bhogamandabam. In the Vaishnava parlance the term "KOIL" signifies this temple only. The temple is enormous in size. The temple complex is 156 acres in extent. It has seven prakaras or enclosures. These enclosures are formed by thick and huge rampart walls which run round the sanctum. There are 21 magnificent towers in all prakaras providing a unique sight to any visitor. this temple lies on an islet formed by the twin rivers Cauvery and Coleroon.
The temple of Sri Ranganathaswami at Srirangam boasts an historic past of great kingdom and a civilization thousands of years old. The reign of the Pallavas was marked by the creation of a solid religious foundation, for example the encouragement given by the dynasty appears to have contributed to the growth of Aryan institutions in Southern India more particularly in the Carnatic. Cholas reigned for about three hundred years over the Coromandel Coast and the greater part of Eastern Deccan, where they helped an advanced Hindu Culture to flourish.
The cholas were defeated in the thirteen century by the Pandyas of Madurai and Hoysalas of Mysore. Hoysalas had taken particular interest in the building of the Temple of Srirangam, leaving behind both the inscriptions and buildings. The Hoysalas were then driven away by the Pandyas in the early part of fourteenth Century. Later, the Mohammedans began frequently raiding the Deccan facing strong resistance from the Hindu Kingdom, which was established in Vijayanagar in 1336. The Kingdom maintained its independence until 1565.
During this time, the Europeans had appeared in the south of India. In the sixteenth century a number of foreign travelers and traders passed through but taking least interest in the hinterland except for the routes it provided for their trade with the Kingdom of Vijayanagar. In 1600, the English East India Company was formed, and 1664 the French company.
In 1680, King Aurangazeb (1658-1707), launched a campaign in western Deccan. After long sieges and a great loss of life, the fortress cities of Bijapur and Golconda fell to him, and the campaign lasted until his death.
In Europe, however, the war of Austrian succession set the English and the French at each other’s throats. Duplex captured Madras (1746), which was given back to the English two years later. The French were forced to surrender in 1752 and Duplex was disavowed and recalled in 1754.
In 1760, a further French attempt, led by Lally-Tollendal, was unsuccessful and the French trading post was dismantled in 1763. From then on, the English Company gradually annexed the whole of the territory of India. Though the French came near to victory, later on they were defeated in 1798 by the English led by Wellessley and who invaded Mysore and in 1799 captured the fortress of Srirangapatnam. There after all of the Southern India came under the supremacy of England. The Carnatic was included in the direct administration of the Madras Presidency where it remained.
Structure of Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple
The temple of Srirangam is situated at 10 degrees 52’N and 78 degrees 42’ E towards the southern tip of India on an Island formed by two arms of the River Cauvery. The temple covers a vast area of about 6,31,000 Sqm. (156 Acres). The temple consists of seven Concentric rectangular enclosures round the sanctum sanctorum. The temple of Srirangam is the only one in India with seven enclosures, a sacred symbolic number which for present day Vaishnava believers represents either the seven centers of Yoga, or a reference to the seven elements making up the human body, in the center of which dwells the soul.
The gopuras of the seventh enclosure are unfinished. They are called Rayagopuram. The impressive dimensions of their bases prove that when finished, they would have risen to a height of at least 50.m.
The sixth enclosure has four gopuras; the eastern gopura is the most impressive of all on account of its size the inscriptions in Thirteenth Century characters. The processional cars are kept in this enclosure.
The fifth enclosure contains the Shrine of Manavala Mamunigal in the Chola Style.
In the fourth court, non-Hindus may admire in its southern wing the Temple of Venugopala Krishnan, whose outside walls are decorated with very beautiful sculptures in high relief like young women playing the Zither (Veena) or with a parrot or putting the finishing touches (Tilaka) to their appearance before a looking glass. A climb to the terrace overhanging this temple affords a general view of the Temple of Srirangam. This court also has a museum with highly interesting objects. Non-Hindus are also admitted to the eastern courtyard of this enclosure, which is dominated by the Vellai gopura. In the south there exists the famous Sesharayar Mandapa. Opposite to this mandapa can be seen the Hall of Thousand Pillars, wherein the Statues of God and Goddesses, Alwars and Acharyas are set out for the great annual festival of Vaikunta Ekadesi in December and January.
The third enclosure has the Karthikai gopura where leading to the Garuda Mandapa, which consists of 14 rows and it, is the most beautiful Mandapa in the Temple. In the western wing kitchens and rice storehouses are found. In the eastern part of this wing is the sacred tank (Chandrapushkarani), which has been hollowed out in the form of a circle with flights of steps in the east and west. The eastern wing contains several isolated sanctuaries and mandapas.
To reach the second enclosure one must go through the Southern Aryabhattal. The whole of this second enclosure, which is comparatively narrow, strikes the visitor by its pervading full light, since there is an almost broken series of mandapas. Towards the northeast corner are the kitchen premises of the god; here in the past were kept the milk and gifts of food, which were distributed, to pilgrims
The visitor at last reaches the first enclosure to which, like the second, there is only one entry, by a gate in its southern part; the Nazhikettan Gopura and on either side has images called Sankhanidhi and Padmanidhi, the conch and the lotus respectively, which are the attributes of Vishnu. To the southwest storerooms have been fitted up. Large mirrors have been placed in the corners to reflect the statue of the god when it issues from the sanctum. In the northwest corner are the Yagasala and the Tondaiman Mandapa of which ceiling is decorated with paintings of figures. The eastern part contains two Mandapas- Arjuna Mandapa and Kili Mandapa.