Intricate sculptures and historical significance, the temple boasts of many fascinating aspects

The story of Vibhishana receiving the idol of Lord Ranganatha from Rama and Ranganatha’s refusal to leave Srirangam is a familiar one. However, there is no reference to this in the Valmiki Ramayana, which just says that Vibhishana received a gift from Rama at the latter’s coronation. It is the Parameswara Samhita, a Pancharatra agama, which gives all the details.

Parameswara Samhita is a commentary on Paushkara Samhita. Yamunacharya and Ramanujacharya placed the Pancharatra agamas on the same footing as the Vedas. Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta, traced the seeds of the Pancharatra to the Rig Veda. Bana (7th century C.E.) in his Harshacharita, mentioned Pancharatrikas, and Dr. D.C. Sircar said that by Pancharatrikas, Bana meant a sect of Vaishnavas.

“Otto Schrader dated Paushkara Samhita roughly to 300 C.E., and Parameswara Samhita, to 700 C.E. Parameswara Samhita says that the entire temple complex, along with the parabolic (Vrttayata) - Vimana, appeared before Brahma, with all structural details: from foundation, up to pinnacle (Uppana-Jagati..Griva-shikhara-Vedi-ghata -shikha), incorporating all iconic sculptures. Brahma also saw in the temple Ananta (the serpent bed) in the substratum of the basement, the Lord’s discus Sudarsana and also the syllabic wheel, beginning with ‘a’ and ending with ‘ksa’ (Akaradi Ksakarantam),” says Sanskrit scholar Dr. P.P. Apte.

Brahma's gift

Brahma later gifted the vimana and idol to King Ikshvaku, and Lord Rama, Ikshvaku’s descendant, gave them to Vibhishana. Rama also instructed Vibhishana on the mode of worship. Is present day Sri Lanka, Ravana’s Lanka? “If we calculate the distance covered by Rama on the basis of details in Iswara Samhita, present day Sri Lanka would be Ravana’s Lanka,” says Apte.

“Iswara Samhita, also a Pancharatra text, corroborates the account given in Parameswara Samhita, and takes the story further. It says Rama was saddened upon parting with the Ranganatha idol. Brahma then gave Rama an idol of Narayana. This Narayana idol was brought to Melkote, in Karnataka, through Rama’s granddaughter, that is Kusa’s daughter, who married into the Lunar dynasty which was ruling in that region.”

The Agamas enjoy a reciprocal relationship with the silpa texts, according to Apte. Where technical aspects of temple building are concerned, Silpa sastras are invoked, and the dictum is – Silpasastra vidhaanena. So here, the Agama experts should defer to the Silpa texts. In ritualistic matters, the Agamas prevail - Agamokta vidhaanena.

Apte’s research on the Pancharatra Agamas, points to their importance from an architectural standpoint. Paushkara Samhita talks of 25 mandalas (site plans). Out of these, Parameswara Samhita elaborates on four - sarvatobhadra, which architecturally means symmetrical on all sides; agha nirmochana, which means getting rid of sins; sadadva- good paths; and dharmakhya- meaning ‘named dharma.’ “Parameswara Samhita, refers to these four as ‘salas’, that is chambers or halls, and says they are present in the outermost periphery of the Srirangam temple. A possible area of research would be to try and identify these ‘salas’ in the Srirangam temple. The interesting thing is that a two dimensional plan mentioned in Paushkara Samhita of the fourth century, has evolved into a three dimensional one by the eighth century. The Agamas are of Kashmiri origin, but we find the practical representation of their architectural plans in the Srirangam temple!” says Apte.

“Srirangam has a 1,000-pillared mandapam, and as in the case of such mandapams, people usually count the number of pillars and say it falls short of a thousand. But one’s focus should not be on the number of pillars,” says Silpa scholar, Umapathy Acharya, whose brother Veezhinathan Acharya made the utsava idol of Anjaneya, in the Mela Pattabhiramar sannidhi in Srirangam in the 1970s. “A Viswakarma’s mind is focused on the sacredness of any pillar,” Umapathy says. “We see every pillar as a representation of the entire Cosmos. Dr. Muir wrote that skambha (pillar) spoken of in Atharva Veda hymns (verses 7 and 8) indicates the fulcrum of the world in all its aspects, physical, religious, etc.”

Umapathy has an interesting take on the horses in the pillars of the Sesharaya mandapam in Srirangam. “Our father Acharya N. Panchapakesan always insisted that any horse in a place of worship must be seen as Dadhikravan, who is celebrated in the Rig Veda. Iconographically, these riks (verses) are very important.” A peculiarity of the horse pillars in Srirangam, is that, unlike in most other temples, vimanas are sculpted at the top of the pillars. “My guess is that this is to emphasise the sacredness of Srirangam, which is called Bhooloka Vaikuntam,” says Umapathy.

“The significance of worshipping in Srirangam is that it is like worshipping in all the divyadesams at the same time,” says Sanskrit scholar Adur Asuri Madhavachari. “The deities of all the divyadesams are a part of Ranganatha, and it is believed that every night they come to Srirangam for their repose, and leave the next morning after Viswaroopam. That is why Viswaroopam here is so important.”

“In her Nachiyar Tirumozhi, Andal says the citizens of Srirangam are ‘Nallargal’-righteous people.

Vedanta Desikar too, in his Paduka Sahasram, refers to the people of Srirangam as ‘santaha’ (righteous people),” Madhavachari points out. “From the Paduka Sahasram, it can also be inferred that in Swami Desikan’s time, the Cauvery must have flown much further inside Srirangam, than at present.”

Srirangam presents a lot of potential for inter-disciplinary research, from the topographical, historical, architectural, artistic and literary angles.

Parameswara Samhita gives details about the entire Srirangam temple complex. “It lists devatas in avarana (enclosure) - like Vamana, Vajradhara; kona (corner) - like Pradyumna, Govinda, Madhava; sobha (recess) - like Mahadbhuta, Amarasri; upasobha (inverse sobha) – like Yugamsa, Nirtanka; and upadvara (side door) - like Amsumali, Sanatana, Trivikrama and so on. It gives a list of 230 images in the Srirangam temple,” says Apte.

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