Indian architecture and spirituality have both been referred to with quite a bit of reverence since millennia. In the temples of India, we find magnificent examples of either.
Ranganathaswamy temple in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, is an important example of the same. This has been described as the home to Lord Ranganatha, which is Lord Vishnu in a reclining pose.
The pose itself has a deep rooted significance. As per Alwar, the tradition of Tamil poet saints, this one of the eight Swayambu Kshetras of Lord Vishnu. The glory of the temple is such, that it has been praised by each of the Alwar saints in their hymns. The numbers of hymns combined is 247, in praise of the temple and Lord Ranganatha.
The Ranganathaswamy temple also has a fascinating bit of history associated with it. Visiting the temple is not just a divine experience for the devotees; it fascinates historians from across the world as well. The history of the temple goes right back to 3rd century B.C. Some historians nevertheless believe that it was in the 9th century AD that the temple was built. The dynasty that built the temple was the Gangas, based in Talakadu, on the banks of the river Kaveri. Across the centuries that would follow, the temple would come across as a hub for culture and religion.
The Srirangam temple has been very often referred to as the world’s largest functioning Hindu temple. It is spread across a 155 acres complex, and features the tallest Gopuram in all of South India. The Rajgopuram at the temple is a staggering 237 feet above the complex. It moves up in 11 ascending tiers.
The location of the temple, right at the junction of two rivers made it a relatively easy point of access for invaders. It was invaded many times over the course of its history. The shrine stayed an important centre for Bhakti Movement through times.
The format in which we find the temple today is a result of a number of reconstructions and revamps. In the late 14th century, the temple was rebuilt. A number of additions were also made to the prevailing structure of the times, in 16th, 17th and 21st centuries.
The Ranganathaswamy temple is reminiscent of the cultural exchange and diversity which used to prevail centuries back, at the time when the temple was constructed. There are a number of languages in which 800 inscriptions are sculpted over the temple. They include Tamil, Kannada, Oriya, Marathi, Telugu and Sanskrit. They come across as fascinating specimens for linguistics. The scripts used for creating these inscriptions are Tamil and Grantha. Grantha is a script which was used to write Sanskrit, in the 6th century by the scholars of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Beyond the vast historical significance of Ranganathaswamy temple, the monument is also recognized for its exquisite architecture. Its complex is the largest among all functional Hindu temples, and is a true specimen of the ancient Dravidian style of architecture.
It is over 155 acres that the temple is spread over. Within the complex are seven Parikramas, walking through which is undoubtedly a spiritual experience. It is the seven chakras in the body that the seven Parikramas represent.
Within the compound area, there are 50 sub sannithees in total. The temple also features 21 astounding Gopurams and 39 huge pavilions. Each artifact within the temple is reminiscent of the culture that prevailed during the medieval era. Some of the other top attractions of the temple include scenic representation from Hindu sculptures, and depiction of the lives of religious scholars.
Among the most spectacular architectural marvels within the temple is a complex hall that has 1000 pillars. It was built during the 13th and 15th centuries using granite. The granite structure includes a hall, along with water tanks towards the centre. There are eight pillars over here which have been carved using a single stone. Over them are inscribed sculptures regarding warriors in action.
When a visitor comes to the Ranganathaswamy temple, he finds an opportunity to worship lord Ranganathaswamy right within his abode. It is in a reclining pose that Lord Vishnu rests over the Adishesha. Adishesha is a coiled serpent that has 5 hoods. This idol is unique in many ways. It has been crafted using the most pious of materials, they include thailam, which is a paste made from musk, along with stucco. Other ingredients within the idol are sandal, jaggery, honey and camphor.
It is with a gold plated vimanam or a crown tower that the sanctum is adorned. This is shaped just like OM in Tamil. Over the gable, one comes across paravasudeva, who is the Supreme Being. One also comes across an etching of Ramanuja, an 11th century scholar.
There are essentially 50 sub sannithees within the temple complex. They primarily involve segregated formats of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. Other shrines are dedicated to Bhakti and Alwar poet saints, and religious scholars. A few of the shrines are dedicated to deities such as Gopal Krishna, Narasimha, Rama, Sridevi and Bhudevi.
There are a number of special features in the Ranganathaswamy temple Tiruchirappalli which fascinate visitors regarding the civic facilities that used to prevail over here through the medieval era. One finds huge water tanks and granaries over here.
There are 12 water tanks over here in total. Among them, the Surya Soc is named after the Sun Lord. It makes a part of the visit itinerary for the temple for every single tourist. Another important tank over here is the Chandra Pushkarani, named after the moon. Together, these two tanks can hold 2 million liters of water combined. The temple kitchen hence is always well equipped to serve visitors and the local population alike.
There are number of temple chariots over here as well, which play a very important role during special occasions and festivities. The most significant among them are Sesha Vahana, Hanumantha Vahana, Simha Vahana and Garuda Vahana.
Srirangam temple timings are 5:00 am to 9:30 pm every day. Timings for Aarti/Puja are variable, so they must be checked before visiting the temple.