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Srirangam

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Mon Mar 23 1998 - 17:57:00 PST

SRIRANGAM VAIKUNTHA EKADASI FESTIVAL

[By Sri T.S. Sundararajan, resident of Srirangam and
    erstwhile member of our list.]

Srirangam, situated on a densely green island in river Kaveri, has historic
claims as the nucleus of the Bhakti movement which originated in the Tamil
region in (circa) 5th century AD, spread to the Maharashtra segment and
gradually reached the Gangetic plains of the north where it emitted
humanistic and egalitarian vibraions during the Mughal times.

The Bhakti literature in Tamil had its seeds in the collective body of the
Azhwar hymns known as aruli-cheyal, or the Divya Prabandham.  This  work is
characterized by a sensitive humanism, philosophic richness, surpassing
literary excellence, and a passionate adoration of the dieties of the 108
Vaishnava temples (divya desam) situated in different parts of the country.
The Great Temple of SRIRANGAM is regarded as the Temple par excellence.

Tradition regards Lord Sri Ranganatha as the family deity of Sri Rama.  Sri
Ranganatha is worshipped in two forms, the moola (=achala) moorti, the
stationary; and the utsava (=chala) the mobile one.  In the moola form, the
Lord is known as Peria Perumal, and is depicted as two-armed and
majestically reclining in serene yoga-avastha (cosmic contemplation) on the
couch of Ananta (Time infinite).  The Ananta-Narayana image, and its
imagery, have been popular all over the country such as Tiruppallani near
Rameswaram, Tiruvananthapuram, SRIRANGAM, Mahabalipuram, Namakkal,
Srirangapatnam in district Mandya in Karnataka, Angul in Orissa, Deogarh in
Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh, and in Budha Neelaakaant off Kathmandu in Nepal.

The utsava deity is affectionately known as Nam-Perumal, our Lord, and is of
surpassing beauty and unknown antiquity.  He, verily like the eternal child
Krishna of Brindavana, has been the unrivalled darling of our sanctified
memories, and had animated the entirety of the Divya Prabandham hymns, and
the subsequent philosophical exegetic (vyakhyana) literature initiated by
Sir Parasara Bhatta, extended by Nampillai and later expounded by Manavala
Mahamuni.  He, this Namperumal, is believed to have been the household deity
of the ancestors of Sri Rama, as referred to in the Sri Ramayana
(Ayodhya Kanda) verse, Saha-patnya vishalakshya Narayanam upagamat.  A
sculpture each in the third and fourch enclosures of the Great Temple
testifies to installation of the deity by Vibheeshana in Srirangam
(Ikshvaku-kuladhanam labdhva Lankam pryat Vibheeshanah).

In his Ram-Charit-Manas, the sain-poet Goswami Tulasidas addresses a
significant prayer to Sri Ranganatha in the lines 

	Baar-baar bar mangoon, harshi dehu Sri Rang
	Pada-saroj anapayini bhagati sada sat sang!

Guru Arjun Dev's fragment sequel (entitled Sahansar-nama) to the Adi Granth
Saheb refers to 'Srirang, Vaikunth-ke-vasi'.  The Rajas of Bundi in
Rajasthan styled themselves as Sriranga-dasa.  The Keshav Rai Patan temple
situated on the northern bank of river Chambal (off Kota in Rajasthan) has a
stone tablet of Sanskrit inscription which commences with the invocation,
Sri Ranganatho Jayathu!

Sri Ranganatha, or Namperumal as the archa manifestation par excellence, has
been hymned by one and all of the Azhwars, and by the feminine incarnation
of Andal.  Azhwar Tiruppan of humble origin, as well as Andal, are believed
to have attained mystic union with Sri Ranganatha.

In the Sri Vaishnava tradition, Sri Ranganatha is God Absolute in
communication with man, and just to gaze at him fervently (sada pashyanti
soorayah) is fulfilment itself. He is the Transcendant in proximity of human
sensibilities, the Deity in person who leads men through lfe's mysteires and
the duality of distress and delight.

The systematic consolidation of the Great Temple's traditions is owed to the
great personage, Sri Ramanuja, reverently known as Udaiyavar.  This great
acharya's mission was accomplished in Srirangam and, in a sense, it was Sri
Ramanuja who made what Srirangam grew to be, the foremost center of
organized worship, the principal center of learning and aesthetic
sensibilities and human values.  Outside of the Sri Vaishnava community, Sri
Ramanuja (1017-1137 AD) is remembered as an eminent successor of Sri Sankara
in the Vedic tradition, one who proposed a pragmatic philosophic
modification of Sri Sankara's doctrine of monism and its corollary of
phenomenal illusion  (avidya and maya).

Sri Ramanuja was, however, much more than a mere dialectician.  He had a
natural and abiding faith in the Veda, his dialectics was always informed by
pragmatism and enlivened by a deep humanitarianism, he was lovingly devoted
to the Tamil scripture of Divya Prabandham which represented the peak of
human achievement in philosophic profundity, humanistic solace and literary
elegance.  He was, like Gautama Buddha, a charismatic leader of men, a
sensitive organizer and administrator, and he ranks among the best known
apostles of truth.  His multifaceted personality is best described in the
words of John Dryden addressed to Shakespeare, as the “large and
comprehensive soul”.

Sri Ramanuja was the only personage whose remains were interred inside the
Great Temple precincts.  The moola image of the Acharya was fashioned over
his relics and hence is known as the Image Per Se.  (This image receives,
twice a year, a coat of camphor mixed with saffron, and this special
observance had continued for the last eight centuries and a half.)  The
iconic image at his birth place, Sriperumbudur, vividly captures his
youthful and handsome appearance and is known as the Image Dear to Devotees.
The one in Melkote (off Mandya in Karnataka), cast before his return to
Srirangam, reflects his old age and was blessed by himself;  it is known as
the Image Which Pleased Him.

Srirangam has earned veneration, not only in the Vaishnava literature of the
Azhwar saints, but in the post-Sangham work Silappadhikaram, and the
venerated classics of other Indian languages, like Samartha Ramadasa's
Dasabodham, Krshnadeva Raya's Amukta Malyada, Goswami Tulasidasa's Ram
Charit Manas, Guru Sri Arjun Dev's Sahansar Nama, etc.

It deserves to pointed out that the Great Temple (Peria Koil) of Sri
Ranganathaswami in SRIRANGAM ranks among the largest-sized temples and
religious centers of the world, the others being the Potala in Lhasa in
Tibet, Boroboudor in Indonesia, Angkor Vat in Cambodia, the Vatican in Rome,
and Machu Pitchu in Peru (South America).   SRIRANGAM has of course, far
remoter antiquity than the other temples mentioned.

The Vaikuntha Ekadasi Festival in SRIRANGAM

The major festival of SRIRANGAM occurs in the winter months of
Kartikai-Margazhi and is observed over a span of twenty days.  The first
half of the observance is known as pagal-pattu (the diurnal ten) and the
second half as irap-pattu (the nocturnal ten).  Vaikuntha Ekadasi marks the
start of the second half.

The festival is devoted to a systematic recital of the Divya Prabandham
hymns, accompanied by the classical gestures delineated in the Natyashastra.
Those who render this recitation are known as Araiyar (descended from the
distaff side of the great Sri Nathamuni, the compiler of Divya Prabandham).
The festival itself was started by the unequalled poet saint Tirumangai
Azhwar in the 9th century.

On the day of the Vaikuntha Ekadasi, the dear deity Namperumal Sriranganatha
is decked in a suit of rubies, emeralds and diamonds set in gold, and a
command is issued to the Araiyar to commence recitation of the
Tiru-voy-mozhi thousand hymned by saint Nammazhwar.  This scripture, like
the Kaushitaki Upanishad, describes the pilgrim's progress towards
liberation and God awareness.  On the final day is the Azhwar Moksham which
depicts the beatitude of the saint at the lotus feet of Sri Ranganatha.

Text by Tirumanjanam S. Sundararajan,  Srirangam.