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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.