A. SRIVATHSANA. SRIVATHSAN
An island formed by the Cauvery and its tributary, Srirangam, is unique in many aspects.
Palm trees and temple towers make a typical skyline of many a historic town in Tamil Nadu. Most of these towns are concentrically arranged around the temple and you can see the towering gopurams or entrance towers even from a distance.Tamil Nadu is a land of temple towns and Srirangam is unique among them. We know of temples within towns, but only in Srirangam an entire town is located within a temple.The geography of Srirangam is also unique. It is an island formed by the Cauvery and its tributary Kollidam. The temple town is located in the centre of this 18 km island and is on higher ground.There are eight concentric rectangles around the sanctum. The inner five make the temple and the outer three the town. Each of these prakaras or enclosures are defined by tall walls and punctuated by gopurams or entrance towers. In all there are 21 gopurams in Srirangam. In 1996, the outermost southern gopuram was completed and it is the tallest in Asia.
The eight enclosures were open space till the 15th Century and were used to temporarily rehabilitate people affected by the floods. It is bereft of any sacred function. Hence, the town is also known as saptha-prakara kshetra or place with seven enclosures. It is believed that each street is named after the king who built it. However, research does not completely support this.Srirangam was an exclusive religious town. The temple was wealthy, employed many hundreds of people, patronised art and was wealthy enough to lend money to adjacent villages. There was a library or Saraswathi Bandaram and a hospital inside the temple. There were festivals round the year and pilgrims flocked to this place to worship.In the 20th Century, Srirangam became a municipality and the town started to grow outside the fortified enclosure walls. Today it is spread all across the island.The ecologically sensitive and beautiful landscape of Srirangam once inspired many poets, but now it is fast deteriorating. Many beautiful groves and gardens are giving way to dense building blocks. The quaint riverbanks are buzzing with building activity. Old buildings are being demolished rapidly. The ecology of the island and the life within the town needs to be protected and sensitively planned for.