It is said that there are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven millions. Being in India sometimes makes me feel like a child. One of the seven million wonders I have seen is this little island of Sri Rangam.
It is not known when exactly this temple was built. It is known that great South Indian sage Ramanuja (11th century) made the temple his headquaters to preach his vaishnava philosophy. When Ramanuja came from Kanchipuram to Sri Rangam, all the great Vaishnavas assembled there and Sri Rangam became main Sri Vaishnava Temple in India.
It is said that the temple Deity was first worshiped by Lord Brahma, then by Lord Rama, then by Ravana’s brother Vibhishana. Vibhishana wanted to take the Deity to Lanka to worship. He was allowed to do it but there was one condition: If he placed the Deity on the ground, he would not be able to move it from that spot. On his way through South India he placed the Deity on the bank of the Kaveri river and since that time Sri Ranganatha has stayed in Sri Rangam.
There is an interesting story how the temple was built. It is said that about 300 years before the birth of Ramanuja there was a devotee named Tirumangai. Tirumangai was often travelling around the country and visiting the holy places. So once he came to the temple of Lord Ranganatha. By that time the temple was completely damaged and filled with rats and bats. When Tirumangai saw that he became very unhappy and decided to built a beautiful temple for Lord Ranganath. But he didn’t have any money and noone was willing to donate many for the temple. Tirumangai became very angry and decided to become a robber and humble all the rich people by building a magnificent temple. With the assistance of his disciples he became a leader of a gang of robbers and they soon accumulated a great wealth. It took 60 years to complete the construction of the temple with seven high walls and by this time Tirumangai was over 80 years old.
In the meantime all the robbers believed that Tirumangai had cheated them by spending all the wealth for temple construction so they decided to kill him. However, one of them said that on the bank of the Kaveri river there is a large amount of Tirumangai’s treasure and he can take them there. So they all agreed and got a large boat to cross the Kaveri river. But it was the rainy season and all of them were drowned by the roaring waves of Kaveri.
At the top of every gopuram there is a monster face called Kirtimukha (eng. face of glory). In Skanda Purana it is said that this all-devouring monster was created by Shiva. It symbolises the change that marks the entry to the temple.
Inside the temple enclosure, the 1000 pillars hall was constructed in the Vijaya nagara period (14th – 16th century). Pillars are made of granite and carved with sculputres of horses.
All the entrance towers (gopurams) are very colorful and covered with sculptures depicting lives of Gods, but there is also one white gopuram called Vellai gopuram. Once this were the gate where non-hindus were allowed to enter the temple enclosure and today it is reminder for the damage the temple suffered during the Muslim period and after that again durin the French collonial attacks.