Pagalpaththu, Erapaththu celebrations throw open the Swarga Vaasal
The Srirangam temple is famous in the annals of India's religion, art, architecture, spirituality and literature. It is a festival-rich temple and the Vaikunta Ekadasi is the most important of them. Also known as Paramapada Ekadasi, Adhyayanotsava and, Swargavaasal, the festival is spread over 20 days, beginning with the waxing moon date of Margazhi or Margasirsa month (December-January). The origin of the festival is traced to Thirumangai Azhwar (9 century A.D.) It was the Azhwar who arranged for the utsava vigraha of Nammazhwar to be brought to Srirangam from Azhwar Thirunagari, and the Thiruvaimozhi (One Thousand hymns by Nammazhwar) recited for ten days before Namperumal. Later Nathamuni, first Srivaishnava acharya, made elaborate arrangements for such recitation during the Ekadasi period. When Ramanujar became the pontiff and took charge of the temple's administration, the recitation period was extended to 20 days, so that the rest of the hymns in the Nalayira Divya Prabandham could also be recited. .
The Vaikunta Ekadasi festival begins with the recitation of Thirumangai Azhwar's pasurams, ‘Thirunedunthandakam'. Every day, Namperumal is taken to the Arjuna Mandapam in Simha Gati (Leonine Walk). The Azhwars and Acharyas are also brought here from their respective shrines. The Thulukka Nachchiar Sannidhi (The Muslim Princess who became a devotee of Ranganathar) is in the Arjuna Mandapam. Betel leaves and nuts are sent to the Lord from Nachchiar shrine. The Araiyars present the hymns during day time. Hence these ten days are known as Pagalpaththu. Each day will have a special presentation. On the tenth day, the Lord takes the form of Mohini. Dressed in white silk, with the tresses long and ornamented, the Lord in Mohini Alankaram is a great attraction for devotees from all over the world.
On Ekadasi day, the Lord issues forth quite early in the morning (around 4 A.M.). He is decked with jewelled armour which is veiled by a muslin shawl. His garland has tiny parrots, a marvellous art of the garland makers of Srirangam. He is adorned with the Pandiyan Kondai. The Bhattar Swami is brought in with temple honours. At once, the Arya Bhatal doors are banged shut. Then the Araiyar recites the first verse of Nammazhwar's Tiruvaimozhi.
Namperumal leaves the sanctum and comes down the Karpura steps and turns west. This pradakshina is known as Rajamahendran circle. Here, the verses of Pillai Perumal Iyengar are recited. And finally, Namperumal's procession reaches the Paramapada Vaasal and its doors are flung open! Year after year, at the scheduled time, Ranganathar helps us cross this door. Issuing out of the door, the Lord moves to the Thousand Pillared Mandapam and ascends the Tirumamani Mandapam. Just as he had held court in the Arjuna Mandapam for ten days, from now onwards, he will be in this mandapa at night and listen to Thiruvaimozhi along with the Azhewrs and the Acharyas. Well, he is rightly called Kaveri theera rasika!
The Moolavar of Ranganathar is adorned with an armour of pearls on Vaikunta Ekadasi day. The Handsome Bridegroom (Azhagiya Manavalan) is All-Beautiful, a Divya Mangala Vigraha. Salutations to the Lord who never fails the devotee!