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SRIRANGAM Great Temple

Tssundararajan_at_aol.com
Date: Tue Jun 06 2000 - 17:19:27 PDT

OFFER OF GOLDEN CHARIOT
TO THE SRIRANGAM GREAT TEMPLE

Thanks be to Mrs Prema Nandakumar (<premnand@tr.dot.net.in>) 
for the report of May 18 2000 on the offer of a ' golden chariot ' for 
Lord Sriranganatha in Srirangam.   

The offer seems to have been made by a devotee of Hosur.  The hereditary 
trustees ( 'sThalattAr') have reportedly disfavoured this, for the reason 
that 
"the Lord cannot be brought out in procession as and when one likes but 
only according to the centuries-old rules laid down by Sri Ramanuja and 
traditions".     Mrs Nandakumar has added that "the Executive Officer 
(appointed by the Government)  feels that golden chariot processions 
of the Lord for devotees to fulfil their vows would augment the income 
of the temple."

INITIAL REACTIONS

Sri Vijayaraghavan of Buffalo NY (<vijayaraghavan_s@hotmail.com>) has 
declared his support for the views of  the   ' sThalattAr ' and has gone on
to say, "One should not yield to money pressure....  The question becomes
where does one draw the line."

Sri Sampath Rengarajan (<srengara@hotmail.com>) expresses himself in
specific terms on  Srirangam traditions, and this merits full reproduction:-

"It is indeed painful to think that the century old protocols (as mentioned
in 'kOil ozhugu') is under threat of alterations.   Some of these procedures
go way back to even the time of Sri-thiru-mangai AzhwAr. It is always said
by our AchAryAs that, One should not attempt to alter these for the sake 
of getting more revenue. Everything for peria perumAL is unique and were 
laid out by poorv-AchArA-s.   It is not advisable to change them for the 
sake of one or the other irrespective of whether one likes it or not."

THE VIGILANTES

Mrs Nandakumar by her initial report, and Sri Vijayaraghavan and 
Sri Sampat Rengarajan by voicing unambiguous disapproval of the offer, 
have become an impromptu vigilante group on this issue.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE ?

This is an issue on which such  reasoned criticism should be registered
by a large number of devotees who would care to preserve the precious 
elements of our religious traditions and institutions.   The concerted
views expressed should also be placed with the Press in Chennai.

It is indisputable that any offering made in, or to, a temple should
conform to the religio-cultural traditions of that temple.    
Even if  intended well by the Hosur devotee, the present offer 
of a golden chariot would be a high offence to the ancient 
traditions and protocol of the Great Temple of  Srirangam as
this is not in the historic scheme of the Great Temple festivals.
It will be a diminishing of the spirit of  veneration and love 
in which Sri Ranganatha is held, as this would mean 
the Lord's ' purappADu ' every time any one pays fees, 
as though the Lord is some common moveable object held up
for mere display and for some good money-spinning fun.
To force such an alien practice on the Great Temple would
betray a grave disregard for all that represents its unrivalled
eminence.   [This is the kind of disregard that was behind all 
manner of savagery committed in this holy-of-holies by the
medieval iconoclasts who justified themselves in any loot,
massacre and vandalism against what they called 'idolatory'.  
svAmi dESikan's 'abheeti-stavam' is the prayer offered in this
saddest period of Srirangam history.    There is no religion or 
any other movement which has no symbol or venerated object 
or sanctified place of its own.   The ignorance and cynicism
implied in the derogatory expression 'idolatory' would not apply
to Sri vaishNava religion, but rather elsewhere to the orgistic 
fantasising and devising of macabre magic rites and bizarre 
cult objects raucously  propagated through the media.]

It is hoped  that by now the form of the offer has since been rejected, 
but it seems necessary nevertheless to re-state some of the basic 
and crucial characteristics of our religion and religious observances, 
as particularly vivified in the Great Temple ('periya kOyil') of Srirangam,
and to identify the reasons for rejecting the present idea of 'golden 
chariot' despite the arguments to the contrary.

WHAT THE RATHAM / CHARIOT IS NOT

The ' tEr tiru-vizhA ' ( rathOtsavam, chariot procession) is not to be 
viewed as an isolated commercial 'fun-time' binge or the tourist's
exotica or a hoop-la pageant with TV-value.  The 'ratham'  procession
is not something to be requisitioned as a 'command performance' 
any time on payment of fees.    

Revenue enhancement is one of the visible responsibilities of 
the administration, even though the revenue-devolution has
no high priority for proper repairs and physical upkeep of the 
temple structures as well as the adequate conduct of the 
prescribed rites and observances.   As things are  in respect of 
temple administration, one has to be wary of fancy innovations 
of revenue-harvesting.  Just two years back, the vociferous son 
of a farmer politician and sometime national-level V.V.I.P. 
hailing from the South, had attempted to rut his way to have an 
unprecedented 'puRappADu' (ceremonial excursion) of 
chakra-t-t-AzhvAr to mark the 'sudarSana-hOmam' sponsored 
by him for being performed in the Thousand Pillar hall of the 
Srirangam Great Temple.    Mercifully, public opinion prevailed 
against money-dazzle and political brawn and the 'hOmam', 
such as it was, got performed sans the 'puRappADu'.

TRADITION OF TEMPLE FESTIVALS

Temple festivals in general, and the festival-calendar of
Srirangam Great Temple ('periya kOyil') especially, are solemnly 
observed as ' paruva-vizhA ' (parvOtsavam) on the onset of 
seasons, as provided  in the pAncha-rAtra Agama work 
 ' pAramESvara-samhitA'.     The time, sequence, manner and 
symbolism of celebrating the temple festivals are also detailed 
in the padma purANam.   

FESTIVE PLACE OF 'RATHAM' / CHARIOT PROCESSION

The chariot of the Lord is  to be brought out only on the sequential 
day (usually near the conclusion) of the ten-day around-the-temple 
('oor-valam', 'parikramaNa') processions, before daybreak and after 
sunset, of the Lord issuing forth each time on His different mounts 
('vAhanam'). Thus, the 'ratham' procession is not an isolable activity, 
but is integral part, and a slotted part, of the full seasonal festival.   

SIGNIFICANCE OF FESTIVALS

Temple festivals signify a noble spiritual essence such as gets 
ignored in the bustle of to-day's life.   The devoted preservation 
of tradition and custom is necessary for the health and harmony 
of the religious faith treasured in the temple, and for ensuring 
the psychic soundness and cheer of the individual members 
of the community at large.    The sacred rituals and festivals of 
the temples are canonically prescribed and are observed 
precisely for this reason, and should not be tinkered with.

AMBIENCE OF SACREDNESS

It is important that in planning renovations and pilgrim-
management in temples, the over-all ambience of sanctity
should not be violated.   The ambience of our holy places 
partakes of the temple structure, the surpassing literature 
dedicated to the temple by great mystics, theologians and 
philosophers who are the pride of humanity, the poignant 
and meaningful ceremonies and festivals observed since 
antiquity, the self-denying community of devotees who 
stand committed to the worship and, above all, the precious 
Deity as the supreme object ('para-vastu') of worship.     

SRI-RANGARAJA  ~~ DEITY PAR EXCELLENCE

The Deity, Sri Rangaraja, is the one who is THAT very  
' para-vastu ', He is para-vAsu-dEva, and He is verily
azhakiya-maNavALan (the Bridegroom Beautiful) which 
He became as the Beloved of ANDAL who especially 
dedicated the special verse ~~

"ezhil-uDai ammanai-meer enn-arangat-t-inn-amudar
kuzhal-azhakar vAi-azhakar kaNN-azhakar, koppoozhil
ezhu-kamalap-poo-azhakar emmAnAr....,"

~~ to indulge in some few of the infinite elements of His 
beauty.   Sri parASara bhaTTar speaks of the enchantment 
of the reclining Lord affecting the yOga-slumber ("nidrA-
mudrA-bhirAmam"), and of nam-perumAL (the utsava-moorti) 
as the One of spell-binding looks ("paSyan -mAnasa-paSyatO-
hara-rucha:").     He is the brilliant gem of contemplation 
("chintA-ratnam"), so says svAmi-dESikan.   nam-perumAL
appears to his devotees in the same form in which the awe-struck
arjuna prayed of Sri-krshNa to appear for him ("kireeTinam
gadinam chakra-hastam, tEnAiva roopENa chatur-bhujEna",
In that very form in which you sport your diadem, four-armed
and holding your mace and the discus).   nammAzhvAr has the
identical vision of namperumAL ~~ Sanku-chakkarankaL enRu
kai-kooppum, tAmaraik-kaN enRE taLarum.   

This is what the devotees know of the lord of Srirangam, 
with the Great Temple of seven enclosures and rich in surrounding 
verdure ("ArAmam Soozhnda arangam"), the Srirangam extolled 
in the climes of the north, and in the climes of the south 
("ten-nADum vaTa-nADum tozha ninRa tiruvarangam").
Lord of the universe, He is yet pleased to have Srirangam 
for his favoured abode ("punal arangam oor-EnRu pOyinArE"). 

The 'archA-vigraham' is adored as the most dear of  the 
five forms of the Lord's manifestation ( 'ambhas-yapArE ' ).   
Religious faith is established in the symbolism of the
immutable relationship between the Creator and the 
creature, and the 'vigraham' is the symbolism animated.
The 'archA' it is where the Creator reaches forth unto His
creation, the infinite articulating through finite forms.   
Divinity is validly experienced ( ' bhOgyatvam ' ) in the 
assumed reversal of roles when the omnipotent Lord
yields to the protection and care of His worshipper.  

THE NAM-PERUMAL MANTRAM

This is the ultimate destination of the mystic's progress. 
Sri pillai lOkAchArya anoints nam-perumAL with a self-sufficient 
'mantram' distilled out of the entire literature of the AzhvAr 
and the AchArya savants.   The 'mantra' is available as an 
aphorism (No.142) in the ' dvaya-prakaraNam ' chapter of
Sri lOkAchArya's esoteric work ('rahasya-grantham')
'mumukshup-paDi'.

"tiruk-kAiyilE piDitta divyA-yudhankaLum, 
vAittu anjal enRa kAiyum,
kavitta muDiyum, mukhamum muRuvalum,
Asana-padmattilE azhuttina tiruvaDikaLumAi
niRkiRa nilAiyE 
namakku-t-tanjam."

He, this periya-perumAL  ('paramAtman'), is Our Own Lord, 
'nam-perumAL'.   There is complete adoration of the Lord implicit 
in the full compliment of the Great Temple's traditional 
festivals and festivities, without any need to introduce newly
any golden ratham which would an unpardonable diminishing
of the veneration in which the Lord is held.

DEVOTEE'S FULFILMENT IN A BETTER WAY

These religious factors and historical facts should ever be
in the minds of the temple administrator for he is there to 
dutifully protect them.   

The Hosur devotee who offered to build the golden chariot 
need not, on the other hand, feel disheartened that his offer 
has to be declined.     Can he be persuaded to underwrite
any of the numerous renovation tasks which have become
overdue in the temple ?   

He can have the fulfilment of his votive offering ('nErtti') 
in a much better way.   He could perhaps get the 'gO-ratham' 
chariot of Sri rangarAja renovated and refurbished in time 
for the next Adi-brahmOtsavam (April 7, 2001) of the month 
of pankuni ('meena') mAsam.   The gO-ratham is the smallest 
in size of the three chariots of Sri rangarAja, but is the 
only one which is fully built up as a veritable gallery of wooden 
sculptures, but has not for years been cleaned and sprayed with 
wood-preservative and painted. This is the only chariot in which 
the Lord rides out pleasurably on the day following the 
pankuni-uttiram.   It is well-known that the 'uttiram' marks the only 
day when Lord Sri-rangarAja and Sriranga nAcchiAr get together 
in the year in order to receive the recital of Sri rAmAnuja's moving
'gadya-trayam' submissions.    The name gO-ratham symbolises 
the corpus of the vEda as the Lord's vehicle, and that He is the
core meaning of the vEda.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja-dAsan, T.S. Sundara Rajan.  

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