In his ‘Sarivadelina Kaverini’ (raga Asaveri), Tyagaraja says the river, after seeing Lord Ranganatha, has come to Tiruvaiyaru. There are plenty of places along the route, where it branches into two and joins again, thereby forming islands. Each of these is a rangam and sports a temple for Lord Vishnu as Ranganatha. Five of these make the Pancharanga Kshetras.
The first of these in terms of location, and therefore known as Adi Rangam, is Srirangapatna. The temple dates back to the ninth century and the original structure is accredited to a dancer named Hampi. The deity here is of granite. It is one of the shrines associated with the works of the Dasa Koota and some songs of Purandara Dasa, in praise of Lord Ranganatha, could have been composed here. But their descriptions could apply to Srirangam as well. But Kanakadasa’s ‘Yake Ninilli Pavadiside’ is unambiguous for it refers to Paschima (western) Ranganatha at the ‘beautiful Srirangapatna.’
The song, a long one, is structured as a series of questions asking the Lord if he is reclining owing to fatigue after several incarnations. It is significant that this 16th century composition is almost identical to the 19th century ‘En Palli Kondeerayya’ in Tamil of Arunachala Kavi, composed on Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam.
Both Tamil and Kannada traditions agree that Srirangapatna is the first of the Rangams. The latter has it that there are only three, of which Madhya Rangam is near Sivasamudram. Anta Rangam is Srirangam. The Tamil version has five, of which the second is Koviladi or Thiruppernagar. Around 15 miles from Tiruchi, the temple is on a mound known as Indra Saila and is accessed by a short flight of steps. The Lord here is Appala Rangar, as He is on the bank opposite to the better known Ranganatha of Srirangam. He is also referred to as Appa Kudaththan, which could be a corruption of Appu-ul-Kidanthan (He lay amidst water). From their elevated positions, the temple prakaras offer a magnificent view of the Cauvery.
Hymns of Azhwars
Thirumangai Azhwar refers to this Lord as being surrounded by the perennial river. It is significant that many of Thirumangai’s verses on this shrine sing of its high boundary walls, perhaps a flood protection measure. Nammazhwar’s Thiruvoimozhi too describes the glory of the place, especially its tall buildings and groves, filled with parrots and bees. The temple has also been sung by Thirumazhisai Azhwar and Periyazhwar.
The morphing of the Lord’s name to Appa Kudathan is now reinforced by a silver pot placed in the deity’s hand and with Appams being offered daily during worship. The Lord here is known as Adi Ranganatha and the place Koviladi because it is believed this shrine predates Srirangam (Koil). Which brings us to the third of the Rangams or Madhya Rangam or Srirangam. As it is well-known it is best we move on. Suffice it to say that it has hymns by eleven out of the twelve Azhwars and songs by practically every Carnatic music composer.
The fourth Rangam is at Kumbakonam and is known by its famous processional icon —Sarangapani. The main deity, Aravamudan, is a stunningly beautiful stucco figure of a reclining Vishnu. The Lord is said to be in the process of getting up based on a request by Thirumazhisai Azhwar and the posture is known as Utthana Sayanam. The sanctum is in the form of a stone chariot and also houses large figurines of Sridevi, Bhoodevi and the sages Bhrigu and Markandeya, respectively the fathers of the two Goddesses. The first song that comes to mind here is Ghanam Krishna Iyer’s ‘Paarengum Paarthalum’ in Kalyani.
Seven Azhwars have sung hymns here, namely — Bhoothathazhwar, Peyazhwar, Thirumazhisai Azhwar, Nammazhwar, Periyazhwar, Andal and Thirumangai Azhwar. There is, however, a theory that a temple on the banks of the Kollidam is the fourth Rangam and not this one.
The last one is Thiruindalur, a suburb of Mayavaram. Sung by Thirumangai Azhwar alone, it has two Muthuswami Dikshitar compositions, both beginning ‘Parimala Ranganatham’ and in raga Hamir Kalyani. Of these, the one with Samashti Charanam alone is in Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini. The Lord in this temple is reclining in a posture known as Veera Sayanam. What is significant is that the sanctum has idols of both Cauvery and Ganga. It is in this shrine that Lord Ranganatha assured Cauvery of a status superior to Ganga and it is believed that the latter comes each Tula (Oct/Nov) to bathe in the former and cleanse herself of her sins!