Temples of India have always been a thing of fascination to me. The different architectural styles, the colourful rituals, the mythical stories woven around them, the food offered as prasadam, the aroma from turmeric and incense, I like everything about them. One such temple that I adored was the Sri Ramanuja Swamy Temple.
I started the year 2018 with a visit to Sri Ramanuja Swamy temple at Sriperumbudur and I thought that this might be a good time to begin to write about Temples of India as a series. I also happened to be at the temple when some interesting rituals were going on and all the people would be surprised and excited if they got to know about these rituals :D
Let's go on a virtual tour of the Ramanuja temple at Sriperumbudur and listen to stories that are about a 1000 years old. Note that this temple is also known as the AdiKesava Perumal Temple.
Note: Perumal is the common/colloquial way of Tamilians addressing Lord Vishnu.
Tambaram to Sriperambudur
I should have actually titled this as Chennai to Sriperumbudur but I stay at the other end of Chennai and so, I took the Tambaram to Sriperumbudur route,.Thus, I am providing that information.
On a convenient weekday afternoon with some transport strike also going on and almost no traffic, it was a super pleasant drive through Tambaram - Manimangalam - joining the Bangalore Chennai highway - and turning into Sriperumbudur arch.
It was about 25 kilometres from Tambaram. Although, I saw one bus plying on the route joining Tambaram - Kanchipuram, but I am not very sure about the bus routes. Throughout the drive, we were accompanied by a paddy field and thick canopies of tamarind trees, which came as a surprise. Note that on this road there are not many restaurants or places to stopover. There are only one or two small tea shops near the industries. However, if you are on a bike ride then I would suggest this scenic route.
If you are visiting from Chennai, then there would be buses which ply from Chennai to Sriperumbudur through Poonamallee. And Bangalore to Sriperumbudur is pretty much straight forward, there is no way you will miss the arch welcoming you to Sriperumbudur on the Bangalore Chennai highway.
Sriperumbudur temple timings are from morning 6am to 12pm and opens again at 4pm till 9pm. I, being the lazy one, went in the evening
Little bit about Sri Ramanuja Life History
Sriperumbudur is the birthplace of Sri Ramanuja. Anybody traveling on the Bangalore Chennai highway would have been able to see the arch at Sriperumbudur, which had, "Birthplace of Sri Ramanujacharya" written, but seldom people know about him or the significance of the place.
Born in the 11th century at Sriperumbudur, sometime during the Chola period, he is known as a great philosopher and theologian of the Vaishnava tradition. He questioned the then ideologies of Vedic interpretations and followed the Azhwar's tradition.
Ramanujar was named as Illayalwar, synonymous to Lakshman and he was always true to that He devoted his life to Lord Vishnu. His life spans across three important places; Sriperumbudur where he practiced Vaishnavism, Melkote Karnataka where he lived for about 12 to 14 years and SriRangam Trichy where he reformed the temple complex and from there, spread Vaishnavism.
These three temples are significant also because Ramanuja, himself, sanctified the images presiding here.
At Sriperumbudur, the idol representation of Ramanuja is known as Thaan Ugantha Thirumeni, which means Ramanuja himself resides in the sculpture. He directs his disciples to make the sculpture and then embrace the same, passing over all his power to the sculpture.
It is said that when the sculptor sculpted the eye of the idol after establishing it in the shrine, Sri Ramanuja began bleeding from his eyes, because his soul was actually inside the sculpture. Few weeks after establishing the temple, he became weak as he had passed on his powers to the idol and after some time, passed away at SriRangam.
Till date you can see his preserved body at SriRangam! Embalmed with just sandalwood paste and saffron the body has been preserved for more than 800 years now. Read: Melkote and places to see around Melkote
Sri Ramanuja Temple History
Though this temple is significant for the reason that Ramanuja himself had resided here, the AdiKesava Perumal Temple is much older than the time of Ramanuja.
I had no idea about this until the Temple Iyer aka Poojari said SriPerambudur was actually called as Bhoodhapuri (the land of Boothas). The Bootha Ganas (the army of Lord Shiva) got cursed by Shiva and they were sent to Earth! So you see, if you sin you land up on earth. With Lord Shiva not ready to free them of the curse, they approached Brahma for a solution and Brahma asked them to pray to Lord Vishnu.
Vishnu blessed them and told them to take a bath in a tank created by Aadhi Seshan (the snake bed of Vishnu). The Boothas bathed in the tank and were relieved of their sins. As a gesture of gratitude, they built the Adhi Keshava Perumal temple.
Hence called Boothapuri which turned into Sriperumbudur and now Sriperumbudur. It is still believed that bathing in the temple tank called Ananth Saras, relieves one of their sins. I read one more history about the temple, however, I am sticking to the one which had been told in the temple.
Tour of AdiKesava Perumal Temple
The colorful temple gopuram built according to the Dravidian architecture, towers above the main entrance of the temple. The temple must have been renovated sometime recently, for it looked all new.
Opposite this entrance, is another shrine or maddam types which is kept closed and this is where Sri Ramanuja was born. Upon entering one can see the Dwajasthambam (the flag post) and to the left is the entrance to the Ramanuja swamy shrine.
Photography is not allowed once you are near the main shrine. I particularly wanted to photograph the entrance of one of the shrines close to AdiKesava Perumal shrine.
The architecture of that entrance was mesmerizing to see, having chains, links and small pillars made of stone. The pillars are adorned by Yazhi (pronounced Yaalli), a mythical animal which is part lion, part horse and part elephant; sometimes part of some more different animals. This symbolized that the power which it possessed was more than any animal on the planet. The Main sanctum has the statue of Sri Ramanuja which is about 5 to 6ft and in the front is the utsava murthy.
Utsava Murthy is the bronze idol representation of the deity which is usually taken out when there are processions. And to the left is the AdiKesava Perumal along with his consorts.
Opposite to this shrine is Garudalwar. Garuda (Brahmini Kite), considered to be the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, is always seen facing Him. There are many other shrines like that of Aandal, alwars and some more, half of which I am not sure if anyone would have any knowledge about.
The story of Ramanuja is narrated around the main shrine, in the form of framed paintings. Outside is the hall of mirrors where, during festival time, the utsava murthy would be placed and God would be admiring himself by looking at all the mirrors around.
There is a separate shrine for the Goddess Yathirajavalli. Walking around the temple, the walls are adorned with colorful paintings of Lord Vishnu as found in 108 Divya Desam Temples.
Note: The temple is accessible by wheelchair too..
Unique things about AdiKesava Perumal Temple
The temple does not have Swarga Vaasal, the door to heaven. This is a door that can be seen in prominent Vishnu temples. It is also known as the Vaikunta Dwaram meaning the gate to the Lord's Inner Sanctum, in other word, to his own place.
Every year on the annual Vaikunta Ekadasi festival day, the door is opened for us, earthly creatures, to get rid of our sins and to try and attain a place in heaven.
This temple does not have one because it is said that getting the blessing of Ramanuja itself is equivalent to crossing the heavenly doors. Everyday ablution is done to Sri Ramanuja in the morning and the water squeezed out of the cloth adorning the Lord, is given as divine nectar, which is to be had by the devotees
Margazhi Celebration at the Temple
Every year, from December 16 to January 13, according to Tamil calendar, it is known as Margazhi month. It is one of the holy divine months for Tamilians where we wake up early, draw colorful rangolis in front of houses, visit Vishnu temple and sing Aandal's thiruppavai.
Goddess Andal fell in love with Vishnu, she fasted, sang songs in his praise (thiruppavai) and did pooja for this entire month and so, in the present day, spinsters and bachelors do the same.
Vaikunta Ekadasi is also celebrated this month. It is a 21 day celebration where on the first day, pagal-pathu will be read, the eleventh day the door is opened and the next ten days ira-pathu will be recited in the temples. The pagal-pathu and ira-pathu are verses from the holy book DivyaPrabandham compiled by the 12 Alvars.
I happened to visit on one of the days of ira-pathu and the verses on the particular day were sung by Nammazhwar. What you see above is not a Goddess dressed to be pretty. It is Nammazhwar dressed as a woman to grab the attention of lord :D
The Azhwars usually adorn the Nachiyar thirukolam (the woman form) so that they can be closer to the lord and shower more love, embrace him and do so, with some rights. The temple priest giggled and said, "for him, he is the only Maha Purushan and everyone else should be Mohini".
The whole procession is so beautiful with Nammazhwar waiting at the entrance of the temple looking forward for AdiKesava to come out. They meet, the procession goes around the temple and then the Lord sits like a king in the hall of mirrors with Nammalwar sitting right opposite to him, lost in admiring the beauty of the Lord.
I was lost in the beauty of both too, but Nammalwar in particular. How tasteful can one get in decking up a statue which is that of man? To make a bun, braided hair, flowers, simply beautiful. I stood there watching the beauty of the heavenly love that was on stage before I moved on to roam around and explore the temple.
Like any Vishnu temple, the visit is not complete if we do not have the Puliyodurai as prasadam. Yup! It is not puliyogare and all, it is called Puliyodurai in Tamil and that is exactly what you should be having at the Vishnu temples. It is very tough to replicate this recipe at home! Spicy and tangy, I always get this and pack couple of prasadam packets with laddu and thattai to home.
Hope you enjoyed this read. If you found it too tough to read or difficult to understand do let me know, will try to simplify it in the next series of Temples of India.
Where to Stay at Sriperumbudur?
Sriperumbudur, being an industrial area, one can find many hotels around that area to stay. Alternatively, you can also stay at Chennai and drive down to the temple as a half day trip.
To book your stay - Click HERE
How To Reach Sri Ramanuja Swamy Temple Sriperumbudur
Adding the map here so you can find the best way to reach the temple.
The other places nearby are Vallakottai Murugan temple which is about 10km from Sriperumbudur. And then the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial is also situated on the highway very close to the arch. This is where he was assassinated.[mappress mapid="31"]