SRIRANGAPATNA: DUNGEONS, PALACES, FORTS AND THE ELABORATE TEMPLES TOWN OF RANGANATHASWAMY

SRIRANGAPATNA

Srirangapatna (20 kilometers north of Mysore) is an island fortress of the warrior king, Tipu Sultan. It looks like an egg and is situated on the banks of Cauvery river. Srirangapatna is dotted with architectural masterpieces, a legacy of the Vijayanagar and Hoysala styles. The major attractions are the Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tipu's mosque, Tipu's summer palace, the Wellesley bridge and the dungeons where British prisoners were once kept. According to legend Tipu Sultan was killed inside the fort by the armies of the Nizams of Hyderabad and the British, marking the last fight of the fourth Anglo-Mysore war. River Cauvery flowed around the perimeter of the complex on all sides, thus creating an impenetrable island fortress. On the banks of River Cauvery, around 2 kilometers from here, stands the Nimishambha (Goddess Parvati's incarnation) temple.

The Ancient Palace site and Remains, Sri Ranganatha Svami Temple, Srirangapattana, Sri Kanthirava Statue in Narasimha Temple, Srirangapattana, Obelisk Monuments and Fort walls near the Breach, Colonel Bailey's Dungeon, Thomas Inman's Dungeon Tippu Palace-Lal Mahal, Spot where Tipu's Body was found, Masjid-E-Ala, Daria Daulat Bagh, Gumbaz containing tomb of Tipu Sultan are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Srirangapattana Fort and Mote around the fort, Magazine House (Maddinamane), Mirsaddiq Palace, Hanging Bridge (Thugusetuve), Vijayanagara Viceroy’s Palace remains (Thuppada Kola), Mumudi Krishnaraja Wodiyar Birth Place, Webb's Monument Krishnamurti's Bungalow, Obelisks at Ganjam (Ranagambha) are protected by State Archaeology. Abbe Dubois Church and Garrison Cemetery are protected by by CSI Mysore.

The Monuments of Srirangapatna Island Town were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in. 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Srirangapattana located in Mandya district of Karnataka state in the course of River Cauvery. The island measures approximately 5 kilometers east to west and 1.5 kilometers south to north. It is well connected by Air, Rail and Road network. The nearest airport is Mysore and Kempegowda International Airport Bangalore. Approximately in the center of the Island state High way cross over to connect Mysore and Bangalore. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The island has an area of about 7.2 square kilometers. Near this town, river Cauvery divides into two branches called North and South Cauvery creating the central land mass as an Island. This Island is called Srirangapattana after the presiding deity of the place Sriranganatha. A little upstream, the river Cauvery deviates to west before it creates the island and called Paschimavahini. It is a well-known place of pilgrimage and the people of Southern Karnataka visit the place to perform the final rites of the deceased. There is a check dam in the dividing part of this river which was built by Ranadhira Kanthirava Narasaraja and excavated a channel called Bangaradoddi Nale. For a short distance it runs along the South bank and irrigates the southern part of the island right up to Sangam or Lalbagh. The fort is situated in the western part of the island. Except Dariya Daulath Bagh, Gumbaz and a few other monuments constructed after 1799 are situated outside the fort; the major monuments are within the fort area.

“Under continuous occupation since 12th Century, Srirangapattana displays a wide array of architectural influences that manifest themselves in unique features and components visible across the myriad of buildings across the property. Further, its setting as an island in the midst of River Cauvery is extremely picturesque and intrinsic to the cultural values of the property.” The site is important because: 1) “The group of monuments at Srirangapattana represents masterpieces of creative human genius in the form of assimilating the architectural and decorative elements of Indian, Indo-Islamic and British styles that had evolved until 16th century and achieving a balance between them for presenting perfectly balanced models of the late medieval period. 2) They exhibit an important interchange in the development and co-existence of the architectural forms, divergent beliefs and styles over a limited span of time (between 16th to 19th centuries) within a limited area of an otherwise insignificant island. 3) The group bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural and artistic traditions associated with the frequent political and socio-religious upheavals that the area/ region witnessed during the period from 16th to 19th centuries, as enunciated in the contemporary archival materials. 4) Thus the present group reflects an outstanding example of an ensemble of different types and styles of architectural models many of which are not to be seen in the subsequent periods.

History of Srirangapatna

The report submitted to UNESCO says: “According to the local tradition, the great sage Gautama lived here for a while and worshipped the lord Sri Ranganatha Swamy. Even today, a small island to the west of the main island in the course of river Cauvery is called Gautama Kshetra. The local people associate this place with sage Gautama and says that here in a natural cave sage Gautama did the penance and lord Sri Ranganatha blessed him. According to another tradition the principal deity of Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple of Srirangapattana was built by one Devadasi namely Hambi. This is referred in one of the works of Timmakavi, namely Paschima Rangakshetra Mahatmam. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The history of Srirangapattana commences from the 9th Century, as revealed in the record of a Ganga chief namely, Tirumalaiah. The record is dated 894, which credits the Ganga chieftain namely Tirumalaiah, founded two temples - one dedicated to Sri Ranganatha Swamy and the other to his tutelary deity Tirumala Deva, and named the place as Srirangapura or Srirangapattana. A record of Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple states that grant was given by the Hoysala king Ballala II to the Brahmanas and created the Tiruvaranga Narayana Chaturvedi Mangala at Srirangapattana. There are references to state that Udayaditya, the brother of Vishnuvardhana, built the town in 1120. The fort at Srirangapattana was built by Hoysala Udayaditya brother of Hoysala Vishnuvardhana around 1120 C E. In all probability this could be the fact. After the fall of Talakadu, it was necessary to build strong military reinforcement to stop the recapturing of this region by the Tamil forces.

“After the fall of Hoysalas the Srirangapattana region came under the sway of the Vijayanagara Empire. The works on the history of Mysore, states that Timmanna Hebbar the descendants of Nagmangala chiefs, visited the court of Devaraya at Vijayanagara and got an order to build the fort at Srirangapattana. Then, he was designated as Danayaka and ruled the region as feudatory of the Vijayanagara Empire. The descendants of this Hebbar family of Nagamangala seems to have continued to rule the region until the Ummattur chiefs rose to power and annexed it to their territory. The Srirangapattana city along with its adjacent region was captured by the chiefs of Ummattur and they strengthened the fortresses. This might have happened during the reign of Immadi Raya of Ummattur or earlier. This is very evident in the light of Venkataramanayya’s surmise. He surmised that the sons of Immadi Raja of Ummattur appear to have divided their ancestral estate. The elder kept the family seat Ummattur with independent territory and the younger was ruling from Srirangapattana and its neighbourhood.

“Srirangapattana was attacked by Salva Narasimha Nayaka (1485-1503 A.D.) the king of Vijayanagara who defeated the Ummattur chiefs and subjugated the Srirangapattana fort. Later on the Vijayanagara king Krishnaraya also attacked this fort to subdue the rebellious chiefs of Ummattur. Krishnaraya’s attack on this region concluded between 21st January 1511 and 3rd November 1511. He also appointed a governor at Srirangapattana province. After the attack of Krishnaraya of Vijayanagara on Srirangapattana, it became the seat of the Viceroy of Vijayanagara kingdom. From then on, the fort was ruled by the viceroys of Vijayanagara kingdom up to 1610, when Raja Wodeyar took over its possession.

“In 1610 C. E., when Thirumala Raya, the Viceroy of Karnataka Empire stationed at Srirangapattana, the ruler of Mysore, namely Raja Wodeyar, invaded the fort and captured it. Some sources say that the capture of Srirangapattana by Raja Wodeyar was without military action. According to some reliable sources Raja Wodeyar had an official order Rajanirupa to occupy the vice regal seat at Srirangapattana. In 1610 Raja Wodeyar captured the vice regal seat of Vijayanagara at Srirangapattana and started his rule as a subordinate king of the Vijayanagara kingdom. An inscription of Raja Wodeyar states this fact. From then onwards, it continued as the capital of Mysore until 1799, when the English captured it. Between 1610 and 1799, Srirangapattana was busy with political activities, especially during the period of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, i.e., between 1761 and 1799, it was the center of South Indian political activity.”

Sights Within Srirangapatna

Tipu Summer Palace is also known as Dariya Daulat Bagh (translating to garden of the sea of wealth). This summer palace was built in 1784 based on Indo-Islamic architectural style, the palace is mainly built in teakwood and located on the banks of River Cauvery, just outside Tipu's Fort. Wooden pillars stand on the edges of the plinth. Two wings of the palace have recessed bays with pillars supporting the roof. There are four simple staircases, built adjacent to the four partition walls that divide the audience hall into four rooms at the corners. There is also a central hall connecting the eastern and western corridors. What makes the palace truly spectacular though, is that almost every inch of the it is covered in frescoes that resemble Mysore paintings.

Gumbaz (just outside the fort of Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatna,15 kilometers north of Mysore) houses the tombs of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. A splendid example of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Gumbaz has doors made in ebony that have been inlaid with ivory and boast a magnificent dome. There are tiger stripes on the walls, an ode to the legacy of Tipu Sultan. Built during the period of Tipu Sultan is the Masjid-e-ala mosque with two minarets and flower designs carved on its pillars and roof. Delicately chiselled grape bunches and creepers have been carved in the center of the mosque. In the courtyard is a solar clock made in stone. The structure itself sits on a platform that comprises pillars made from black granite. Gumbaz also has lush gardens known collectively as Lalbagh.

Wellesley Bridge (in Srirangapatna, 15 kilometers north of Mysore) was built in 1804 by Dewan Purnaiah and is named after governor general Marquis of Wellesley. The bridge is located It showcases native architecture, with stone pillars, stone corbels, and girders. While it looks quite rugged, it has been able to withstand the test of time, and even survived several floods. It is still standing strong, and makes for a lovely spot for a photography session. The jagged rock structure built across a lovely river, surrounded by lush green vistas on either side creates an exquisite portrait, one that the locals and tourists alike love to visit all year round. Be sure to mark it on your itinerary while coming down here.

Fort at Srirangapatna

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The town is well-protected by the river Cauvery on all sides. The fort is confined to the Western part of the island and it has an area of about 5 square kms. Since, it is surrounded by the river Cauvery the fort may be classified under Jaladurga class of forts (See Aerial View). Though, the fortification of Srirangapattana started at the time of the Hoysalas it gained prominence at the time of the Vijayanagara Empire. Srirangapattana town was further fortified during the period of Vijayanagara. The evidences prove that in the latter half of 15th century Timmanna Hebbar rebuilt the fort. In addition to this, the fort wall consists of prisons along the inner fortification. There are six magazines or Armouries located between the gates. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“There are square or rectangular or oblong bastions, guarded by batteries. Each bastion is named after some important person, e.g., the bastion above the dungeon was called Sultan Bateri and a bastion in the Southeast corner of the fort, is called Kalegaudana Bateri. In the absence of epigraphical evidences, it is very difficult to identify the names of the bastions. The fort walls of Srirangapattana are strong. The first and second enclosure walls from the outer side were protected by stone casing. These walls are very thick and thickness is measured in meters. The third or innermost wall is designed differently. It is designed like a right angle triangle. The outer face is protected by stone wall and in the inside mud ramping is done. It has a considerable slope to move cannons to the top. At the top of the inside fort wall there is a 2 to 3 meters. wide platform made of natural pebbles and lime mortar and a parapet wall with provision to use cannons and long rifles. These portions of the fort walls were built of brick and lime mortar.

“Srirangapattana fort is famous for its splendor and strength. Probably it was a mud fort at the beginning. Then early ruler of the Wodeyar family and in 1654, Kanthirava Narasaraja had strengthened the fort and made provisions within the fort to store the essentials for the public and army for emergency. Tipu Sultan renovated the fort and constructed some gateways probably with the help of French engineers. He started the work of renovation of fort on Tuesday, the 9th day of the month of Khusravi of the year Zabrajad in 1219 Mauladi, which corresponds to 1791.

“The fort of Srirangapattana exhibits the best defense features like fort design, bastions and fortification method. It is very interesting to note that the fort has three man-made moats in the southern and eastern directions, whereas in the North and West, it has only two man-made and one natural moat. In other words the river Cauvery functions as the third moat in the North and West. The first fortification in the North and West was erected just on the bank of river Cauvery, and damaged due to floods and human vandalism. The fort was one of the unconquerable forts of India. A military authority of the 19th century (1888) who visited Srirangapattana opined that it was the second strongest fort in India.

Gateways of the Fort at Srirangapatna

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The fort has six gateways and among them two gates are very important, namely Aneya Bagilu or Anekote Bagilu which means Elephant Gate. It is situated in the Southern walls of the fort and the Bangalore or Ganjam Gate is situated in the Eastern enclosure walls of the fort. The relevance as well as a brief reference to Gateways is emphasized. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

Mysore Gate or Elephant Gate is known as Anekote Bagilu in the local tongue. It was constructed in 1791, by Tipu Sultan to enter the city on the back of elephant, sitting in the howdah. Actually the entrance had three Gates, each one in three enclosure walls. All the three gates had proper links to pass through. These gates were made of stone, brick and lime mortar. They measure 5.50 meters in height, 3.75 meters in width and 14.75 meters in length. The gateway in the central fort wall which was badly damaged was repaired in the recent past by the then Government, providing small key- stone arches.

Bangalore Gate, formerly known as Ganjam Gate, is also designated as the Elephant Gate. All the three fort walls have a gate, with a considerable height to pass through, sitting on the back of an elephant in a howdah. It is built of stone, brick and lime mortar. Now it is used as the main entrance to the town. In addition to the Gates, the fort wall is also known for the creation of dungeon in those days to keep the most wanted war captives. In the Northern and Northeastern side of the fort wall, there are dungeons named after Col. Bailey and Inman respectively.”

Dungeons at Srirangapatna

Colonel Bailey’s Dungeon: According to a report submitted to UNESCO: On the Northern side of the Srirangapattana temple, in the fort wall, there is an oblong bastion in which heavy battery was kept and it is called Sultan Bateri. Below the bastion, there is a dungeon which is not visible to any passerby. It measures about 30.50 meters in length and 12.20 meters in width. It is designed with vaulted roof and constructed using brick and lime mortar. In the Eastern, Northern and Western walls there are fixed stone slabs with holes, to which the chains of the prisoners were tied. In it many English war prisoners like Col. Bailey, Captain Baird, Col. Braithwaite, Sampson, Frazer, Lindsay and Captain Rulay were imprisoned by Tipu Sultan. Since Col. Bailey died on 13th November 1782 in the dungeon after a prolonged illness, it is named after him. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“At the Lalbagh, to the east of the entrance there is a monument erected in memory of Col. William Bailey. This monument was erected in 1816, by his nephew Lieut. Col. John Bailey, Resident at the court of Lucknow. This structure has an inscription stating the purpose of the erection and the date.

Inman’s Dungeon In the Northeast corner of the fort in the central fort wall, there is a structure with battery guard on its top. The structure was discovered by Mr. Thomas Inman, an engineer in 1895, which was named after him. It is a low arch structure constructed with brick and lime mortar, which is 13.75 meters in length and 9.75 meters in width. It resembles the Bailey’s Dungeon. It is said that the prisoners were kept under guard here even after the fall of Tipu. The Maratha chief Dhondia Vagh was one of the important persons imprisoned here. This is situated very close to the fort that was destroyed in the war of 1799 which is called Bidda Kote. The visitor can reach this point passing through this monument area which links to the ancient bridge which connects the island with the mainland.”

Ranganathaswamy Temple

Ranganathaswamy Temple (Srirangapatna, a town on the outskirts of Mysore) is an important temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The name of the town where it is located is derived from the temple. The presiding deity is worshipped as Lord Ranganatha. The idol of the god is seen resting on a bed of the serpent Aadi Sesha, who has seven heads and is often portrayed as a companion of Lord Vishnu. The shrine is believed to be among the eight self-manifested idols of the lord. One of the largest temples in the country, it is sprawled over an area of 156 acre and boasts over seven enclosures and 21 grand towers. It is situated on an island formed by Rivers Coleroon and Cauvery. The temple attracts large crowds during the 21-day annual festival held in December and January. It also finds mention in Tamil literature during the Sangam era, inscriptions on the walls of a 10th century temple and the epic Silapadikaram.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, also known as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, is one of the most illustrious Vaishnav temples in the country, dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Hindu deity, Bhagwan (God or Lord) Vishnu. Situated in an ethereal setting on the island of Srirangam that is bounded by the two rivers of Cauvery and Kollidam (a tributary of Cauvery), this living temple and sacred center of pilgrimage is counted as the first and foremost among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Bhagwan Vishnu. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Evidences prove the origin of the temple in 1st century during the Sangam period (3rd Century B.C. – 45th Century). However, as it stands today, the temple represents an accretion of building activity over centuries, the architectural idioms coming from the several royal dynasties who were captivated by and adored the Temple. Some of these were the early Cholas (1st Century) ruling from Uraiyoor situated to the south of Srirangam across the river, later Cholas (13th Century) of Pazhaiyaarai and Thanjavur, the Kongu rulers from Tamil west, the Pandyas from south (6th – 10th Centuries and 13th – 14th Centuries), the Hoysalas (10th – 14th Centuries), and the later rulers and viceroys of the celebrated Vijayanagara Empire of Karnataka (16th Century). The expansion schemes included addition of functional structures and pavilions of grand temple protocol (like the Mallikarjuna Mandapam) and its growth is a pointer to an antiquity since the time this unique center of religious devotion had been known to and extolled by a diversity of religious and linguistic groups across the nation periodically surging towards this center of pilgrimage par excellence.

“Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam is an outstanding example that displays the Sapta-Prakaram design of a Temple Complex, rather a Temple-Town, a planning/architectural typology unique to this part of the world. Highly venerated and a center of pilgrimage par excellence, the Temple Complex is architecturally astounding with a wide range of features, and highly ornate, and developed over centuries with contributions from various rulers and dynasties, all captivated by the spirituality, beauty and serenity of the place. Moreover, the size and scale of the Complex are unprecedented and make it the largest functioning temple complex in the world.”

“The site is important because Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple: 1) represents a materpiece of human creative genius and is the world’s largest functioning temple replete with astounding architecture and ornamentation; 2) it exhibits important interchange of values over centuries within a specific area that manifested in exceptional development of the typology of a Temple-Town, an architectural as well as town planning ingenuity. 3) It is an exceptional testimony to the Vaishnava cultural tradition since 1st Century which is still living. 4) it is a outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, a Temple-Town which is representative of Tamil Culture over the centuries.”

Architecture and Features of Ranganathaswamy Temple

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple “is not just a temple but a temple-town, unique in its Sapta-Prakaram formation, a temple centerd settlement pattern that comprises of Sapta (seven) concentric rectangular enclosures or prakarams formed by thick and huge rampart walls that run round the sanctum sanctorum in which the deity presides. While the inner five enclosures of the complex constitute the temple, the outer two enclosures function as the settlement. Thus, the distinction between the temple and the settlement gets blurred and the temple is also referred to as Srirangam many a times. This Temple-Town typology is unique to this part of the world and Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is an exceptional example of the same. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, the Temple Complex is massive in scale and spread over 156 acres (63.131 hectares). According to some scholars, this makes Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple the largest Functioning Temple in the World and is often found ranked amongst the largest religious complexes of the world, including the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobodur in Indonesia, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Vatican City.

“Vaishnavism is one of the three main sects of Hinduism and focuses on the veneration of Bhagwan Vishnu, whose cosmic function is deemed as a protector and preserver of the Universe. Even though it functions as a seven prakara temple, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple has eight enclosures. The outermost enclosure known as Adaiavalainjan is not a prakara. It takes a functional name – an encircling space. Seven is a sacred number with symbolic significance in Hinduism representing the seven centers of Yoga, or the reference to seven elements making up the human body, in the center of which dwells the Soul. In Indian Architecture, a prakaram is an outer path around the Hindu temple sanctum.

“In addition to the 7 prakarams with massive walls, the Temple Complex has 21 very colorful sculpted gopurams (consecrated gateways with towers), 50 sub shrines, 9 sacred pools, gilded Vimana (dome) over the sanctum sanctorum of the presiding deity, and other interesting features such as fresco paintings. Active interchange of human values was happening between the public and rulers in planning, designing, executing and using the Temple complex. Part of the temple is dedicated to the temple with its regular sevas, festivals and activities of Vaishnav Cult. The other part is vibrant with regular human settlement with all its daily routines and events. The temple is the nucleus and the life of people is centerd around it.

“Another unique feature of the Srirangam Temple-cum-Township lay-out is that starting with the eastern outer wall of the Sanctuary, there are consecrated mini-Mandapams housing the blessed feet of the Lord in collinear formation through the Seven Enclosures. The inner three enclosures taken together, with the Arya-bhata and the Parama-pada gates defining the south-north axis, constitute the Inner Court and the entire outer area occupied by the rest of the enclosures is known as the Outer Court.

Components of Ranganathaswamy Temple

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Description of some significant components is as follows: 1) Mandapams (Halls): There are many mandapams at Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. One of the finest is the Hall of 1000 pillars (actually 953), an example of a planned theater-like structure. Made of granite, it was constructed during the Vijayanagaraperiod (1336–1565). The great hall is traversed by one wide aisle in the center for the whole of its greater length, and intersected by transepts of like dimension running across at right angles. There still remain seven side aisles on each side, in which all the pillars are equally spaced out. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The most artistically interesting of the halls that the Nayaks added to the complex is the Sesharayar Mandapam on the east side of the fourth enclosure. The hall is celebrated for the 40 leaping animals carved on to the piers at its northern end. The Sesharayar mandapam consists of monolithic pillars with sculptures of wild horses bearing riders on their backs, trampling their hoofs upon the heads of rampant tigers and seem only natural and congruous among such weird surroundings.

The Garuda Mandapam (hall of the legendary bird deity of Vishnu, Garuda) located on the south side of the third enclosure is another Nayak addition. Courtly portrait sculptures, reused from an earlier structure, are fixed to the piers lining the central aisle. A free-standing shrine inside the hall contains a large seated figure of Garuda; the eagle-headed God faces north towards the principal sanctum.

The Kili mandapam is located next to the Ranganatha shrine, in the first enclosure of the temple. Elephant balustrades skirt the access steps that ascend to a spacious open area. This is bounded by decorated piers with rearing animals and attached colonettes in the finest 17th-century manner. Four columns in the middle define a raised dais; their shafts are embellished with undulating stalks. The Ranga Vilasa mandapam is a huge one, where the weary devotee may rest a while and watch others haggle and purchase items for rituals. The Ranga Vilasa mandapa carries the sculptures of Bala Ramayana and exquisité murals.

2) The Kottarams (Granaries): The Kottaram houses the huge Granaries which stand testimony to a systematic food security planning not only to the temple but probably to the entire population of the temple town. 3) Small shrines: The Venugopala shrine in the southwest corner is in the fourth enclosure of the temple with an inscription of 1674. The exterior of the vimana and attached mandapa has finely worked pillars with fluted shafts, double capitals and pendant lotus brackets. Sculptures are placed in the niches of three sides of the sanctuary walls. 4) Gopurams (Temple Towers): There are 21 huge Gopurams. The Rajagopuram is the second tallest Temple tower in the world rising to a height of 72 mts.

Water Harvesting Systems (Temple Tanks): The Temple complex has 2 large Temple tanks inside it, Chandra Pushkarini and Surya Pushkarini. The Complex has been built in a way that all the water collected flows into the tanks. The capacity of each Pushkarini is around 2 million litres and the water is cleansed by action of fishes in it. In addition to these there are 10 more Temple Tanks around Srirangam that come under the control and management of the Temple. Open sand beds and Nandavanams (Flower gardens) help in absorbing the rain water.

Inscriptions, Vahanas and Art at Ranganathaswamy Temple

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: 5) Inscriptions: Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is a veritable treasure trove for epigraphists. Over 640 inscriptions have been copied and published from the temple. The Archaeological Survey of India has devoted an entire volume (XXIV) in its South Indian Inscriptions series to record the inscriptions copied from the temple. The Big Temple in Thanjavur is the only other temple in Tamil Nadu to have such an exclusive volume devoted to the inscriptions found in a particular temple. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The inscriptions throw up interesting and valuable light on the history, culture and economy during a period of over a thousand years. The temple abounds in inscriptions dating between the early Chola and late Nayak periods. The documents, while mentioning the boundaries of the lands, provide useful information on irrigation facilities, land measures, tax structure and the names provided for the lands in the particular village. Inscriptions also throw light that the Srirangam temple was one among the handful of temples which have had an Arokyasala (Health Center) that had rendered medical service to the people.

“There are about 800-odd inscriptions dating back to the rule of different dynasties, available at various shrines of the temple proclaim the past civilisation, trusts, culture and land donation and even flood relief measures in the form of land reclamation. These inscriptions relate to the period of the Adhithyan-I; Paranthagan-I; Paranthangan-II also known as Sundara Chola; Rajathirajan - I; Athi Rajendran; Kulothungan - I; Vikrama Chola; Kulothungan - II; Rajarajan II; Rajathirajan - II; Kulothungan - III; Rajathirajan - III; and Rajendran - III. The oldest inscription pertains to the period of the Adhithyan-I who was also popularly known as Rajakesari Varman.

“6) Fresco & Mural Paintings: The walls of the Temple complex are painted with exquisite paintings using herbal and vegetable dyes. They speak volumes about the culture and tradition followed at those times. The figures of gods and Goddesses tell us stories and teach us morals. The high end technologies used in these paintings ensured a long life for these paintings and poses a tough challenge to reproduce them in these modern days. The idol of the main deity is unique that it is not made of granite as in many temples, but Stucco (a unique combination of lime, mortar and stones bound together by a special paste (Thailam), made of musk, camphor, honey,Jaggery and sandal).

“7) Vahanas: The Vahanas (Vehicles on which The Lord is mounted and carried on the shoulders by devotees) are by themselves excellent pieces of architecture on wood. Wood is carved into the shapes of animals, exotic birds, sun, moon, trees etc and elegant gold or silver plating is done on them. The Garuda vahana, Simha vahana, Yanai vahana, Kudirai vahana, Hanumantha Vahana, Yazhi vahana, Sesha vahana, Annapakshi Vahana, Otrai and ettai Prabhai vahana are all examples of unmatched beauty. To see Lord Ranganatha mounted on them is a treat to watch especially as he moves along the streets of Srirangam inch by inch amongst a sea of devotees.

“An interesting piece of history is the Yanai Vahana. An ordinary eye would describe it as an Elephant, however on a closer look one would observe that it has four tusks. A quick search on the Encarta Encyclopedia will let us know that these four-tusked elephants were known as Mastodontoidea, which are said to have evolved around 38 million years ago and became extinct about 15 million years ago when the shaggy and two tusked Mastodons increased in population.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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