River Cauvery has a special place as far as Srirangam is concerned. This island, as is well known, has the Cauvery on the one side and its tributary the Coleroon (Kollidam) on the other. Poets have said that it appears as though Lord Ranganatha, enshrined in the huge temple in Srirangam, has been garlanded by these two rivers. Tamil and Sanskrit literary compositions have spoken of this deity and this island in connection with the Cauvery.
One of the earliest is the famous Tamil epic Silappadhikaram (c.6th century A.D.), which contains a graphic description of Vishnu (Ranganatha) in this island, created by the wide-ranging waves of the Cauvery. It is well-known that among the twelve Azhwars or Vaishnavite saints, eleven have sung in praise of the Ranganatha Swami temple in Srirangam. In their devotional outpouring, time and again, there is reference to the River. Tondaradippodi Azhwar (Vipranarayana), who did not sing of any deity other than Ranganatha Swami, repeatedly mentions the Cauvery in his Thirumalai and Thirupalliezhuchi, especially in the former. “O Lord of Arangam, surrounded by the Cauvery waters,” “Thiruvarangam, surrounded by the Ponni,” “Arangam, where the waters of the Cauvery flow wide,” and the deity “reclining on the waves of the cool Cauvery” are some of his references.
Kulasekhara Azhwar, erstwhile monarch of the Chera dynasty, speaks of the feet of the deity being “caressed by the pure waters of the Cauvery” and the “ocean-hued Lord who reclines on his serpent couch in Arangam island in the middle of the Cauvery” in Perumal Thirumozhi. Nammazhwar, in Thiruvoimozhi, refers to the Lord of Thiruvarangam reclining on waters where fish gambol and the Lord lying in Arangam, girdled by cool waters.
Azhagiya Manavala Dasar, better known as Pillai Perumal Iyengar of the 12th century A.D. who resided in Srirangam, repeatedly wrote of this God in connection with River Cauvery, references to which are made in the epigraphs of the Chola times in the Srirangam temple. Numerous Tamil inscriptions of the reign of Kulottunga Chola I (1071-1122 A.D.) mention arrangements made to reclaim the temple lands in Srirangam silted due to floods in the Cauvery.
An interesting epigraph
There is a very interesting Vijayanagara era inscription etched on the wall of the third circumambulatory passage (prakaram) of the Ranganatha Swami temple. Dated February 8, 1546, this record is in the Manipravala style, using a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil words, used often in Vaishnava literature. This unique epigraph refers to flood-control measures adopted in Srirangam during the Chola period. A person named Srisailapurna Tatacharya also called Avuku Thiruvengada Ayyangar, received a village named Chintamani (situated on the south bank of River Cauvery, facing Srirangam on the other bank), as a gift from the Vijayanagara Emperors — Rama Raya and Sadasiva Raja — in the 16th century A.D., and in turn donated the land to the temple for food offerings to the deity as was formerly arranged by a person named Nalantigal Narayana Jiyar. In fact, Chintamani village was once given by a Chola king to Narayana Jiyar after settling a dispute regarding a stream channelled from the river.
Nalantigal Narayana Jiyar, also known as Kuranarayana Jiyar, belonged to Srirangam and rendered service to the Ranganatha Svami temple. The frequent flooding of the Cauvery, south of Srirangam, caused soil erosion. Thanks to the Jiyar, a new stream was cut, leading from the right bank of the south branch of the Cauvery (called in the inscription as Ten-Thiru-Kaveri), so that the water would flow out. Several other measures, including planting a certain variety of grass on the left bank, which served to protect the boundary, also are attributed to him.
Due to the cutting of the stream to the right of the Cauvery, the flood waters flowed into the agricultural fields of Chintamani village, to which the residents objected. The Jiyar allotted lands to them in another village in lieu of the lands submerged because of the cutting of the stream. The dissatisfied villagers appealed to the then Chola king, who, listening to the explanation given by the Jiyar, praised him for his efforts.
The date of Nalantigal Narayana Jiyar has been ascertained to be between mid-12th and mid-13th century. The name of the Chola king has not been given either in the inscription or in the Tamil literary work called the Koil Ozhugu (a register of the activities of the Srirangam temple), which corroborates the facts given in this epigraph. The inscription also uses many technical terms regarding the methods used to prevent erosion due to flooding.
There are also some copper-plate inscriptions of the Vijayanagara times, belonging to the Srirangam temple, which mention the donation of villages along the banks of the river to scholars and temple employees, who in turn gave them to the Ranganatha temple for its upkeep. One inscription dated 1414 A.D. mentions a village called Naruvuru (modern Nerur) by Prince Harihara to an official called Appannangalu, who in turn gave it to Uttamanambi (of the family of Uttamanambis who have done yeoman service to the Srirangam temple).
In 1514 A.D., Krishnadeva Raya donated a village called Ennakudi, renamed Krishnaraya Puram, situated on the south bank of the Cauvery to a scholar, while in 1528 A.D., the same monarch gave another village named Vadambur-Ekambarapuram, also on the south bank of this river, next to a rivulet called Rushi, with the name again changed to Krishnaraya Puram to scholars. That these documents came to be in the temple clearly shows that the beneficiaries at some point must have given these lands to this hoary institution. The income from these lush villages, watered by the Cauvery were used for the maintenance and festivals of the temple.
Even music composers of later eras mentioned the Cauvery when singing about Ranganatha. Tyagaraja in his Thodi raga composition ‘Raju Vedala’ sings of Rangapuri made holy by the river. Several festivals in this temple are associated with the Cauvery. During the full-moon day in the month of Chittirai (April-May), the processional image of Lord Ranganatha, called Azhagiya Manavalan or Namperumal) goes to the Cauvery when the episode of Gajendra Moksham (Vishnu saving the elephant-devotee from the jaws of the crocodile) is enacted in the river.
In the month of Adi (mid-July to mid-August), Namperumal again goes to the Cauvery and offers new garments, garlands, and other auspicious things to her. In Aippasi, the water of the Cauvery is brought in a golden vessel atop an elephant to be offered to the deity. River Cauvery is indeed an inextricable part of the ethos of the Ranganatha Swami temple in Srirangam.