Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, located in Srirangam, in Tiruchirapalli district, in the state of Tamil Nadu is dedicated to Ranganathan, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu. The temple is constructed Dravidian style of architecture. The temple had been praised in the Thiviya Pirabhandham, a Tamil literature written by the Alvar Saints, between the 6th and 9th centuries. The temple is also one among the 108 Divya Desams, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The rituals and pujas conducted in the temple is followed under the Thenkalai tradition.
The Ranganathaswami temple is one among the most beautiful temples in South India, rich with history and legends. The temple is located in an island surrounded by the Cauvery River, making it vulnerable to many natural calamities. The place was also exploited by invading armies of both Muslims and Europeans, and was a frequent spot for military camp. The main entrance of the temple, called Rajagopuram, covers about 13 cents of the temple area, and stands proudly at a height of 237 feet. One of the main attractions of the temple is the annual festival conducted in the holy abode, called the Margazhi festival, celebrated in the months of December-January. Millions of devotes and tourists visit the temple during this time to enjoy the festive. Srirangam Ramanathswami temple is considered to be the largest functioning temple in the world. The temple is considered as the largest temple in India, as it covers about 156 acres of Srirangam.
The complete religious accounts of the temple and details of its origin is given in Sriranga Mahathmiyam, according to which, Lord Rama, one of the Avatars of Lord Vishnu, after his victorious return from the war with Ravana, he meditated in front of the main deity for a long time, and then later gifted it to King Vibhishana, for his support to Lord Rama, in the war against his brother Ravana. The deity was mesmerized by the devotion of the King of Srirangam, King Dharma Varma, while it was being carried to Sri Lanka by Vibhishana, hence it decided to reside at Srirangam, and also promised Vibhishana, that it would always watch Sri Lanka. This is also the reason why the principle deity of the temple is facing South in the direction of Sri Lanka.
The temple has a long history attached to it, as it had been in Srirangam for a very long time, being the part of the history of the place as well as the whole country. The name of the temple had been mentioned many Tamil literary works, which were written during the Sangam period, including the great Tamil literary work, Silapadikaram.
Anyways the archeological inspection report on the temple states that, the inscriptions found in the temple are from around 10th century and are believed to be carved by the Pandya, Hosla, Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties, who had ruled the district of Thirichirapalli, time to time. The inscriptions written in the temple are found to be of the centuries 9 to 16.
It is said that, the place where the Ranganathaswami idol was kept later became a forest due to disuse of the area, it was later found by a Chola king who reached the forest chasing a parrot. He then built one of the largest temple complexes in the world and placed the idol in it.
History shows us that, all the dynasties, including the Chola dynasty, the Pandynasy, Nayakkas, all of them took well care of all the temple and devotional sites in the area. Even when the kingdoms of South faced internal conflicts, they never made any delay in renovations and well keeping of the temple. It is believed that, Rajendra Chola II had gifted the temple with a serpent couch, made out of pure gold.
During the invasion by Malik Kafur in South, the idol of the deity in the Srirangam ranganathaswami was stolen and carried away to Delhi. Later a group of devotees from Srirangam traveled to Delhi and meet with the Emperor, and performed their histrionics in front of him. The Emperor was amazed by this performance and gifted them with the deity. But by that time, the daughter of the emperor, Surathani had fallen in love with the deity, and followed the group to Srirangam. It said that, on reaching srirangam, she offered herself to the deity of Sri Ranganathaswami, and attained heavenly abode soon after that. Today when you visit the temple you can see the shrine build for Surathani situated adjacent to sanctum sanctorum, and near to the Arjuna Mandapam. Every day, the shrine of Surathani is offered with chapattis, and every year Kalyan Utsavam is celebrated in the temple, as a symbol of the marriage between Lord Ranganathan and Surathani.
The style of architecture followed in the Ranganathaswami Temple is Dravidian. The temple 39 pavillions, 7 enclosing walls, 21 gopurams, 1000 pillars, also known as Ayiram Kaal Madapam, fifty shrines and also several number of sacred water tanks inside the temple. Non Hindus are not permitted to enter the gold topped sanctum sanctorum.
The vimanam in the temple is in the shape of Om and is called the Ranga vimanam. This vimanam is covered in gold. The idol of Sri Ranganatha is shown reclining on Adisesha, the serpent. The images of Vibhishana, garuda, Brahma, Hanuman and symbolic representation of Lord Vishnu is also seen in the temple.
Opposite to the Sesha Mandapam you can see the famous 1000 pillar mandapam, which is note as the finest example craftsmanship. The hall is completely carved out of granite, and was constructed during the era of Vijayanagara (1136-1565). Sculptures of horse riders and rampant tigers has been artistically craved into the pillars, and is at its utmost perfection.
The main festivals celebrated in the temple are, Vaikunta Ekadeshi, a festival which lasts for 10 days and 10 nights, organized in the months of December-January. Jeystabisheka is one of other festivals celebrated in the temple, which is held in the moths June-July. Brahmotsavam, a prime festival in the temple, which is held in the months of March- April.
Tiruchirappalli has its own airport and is located just 15 km away from the temple. You can hire a taxi from Tiruchirapalli to the temple or catch a bus. The nearest railway station to the temple, Srirangam railway station is located just .5 km from the temple. There are regular bus service and train services to the temple rom all major cities near to the temple.