Celebrating the Azhwars and the Divya Desams of Lord Sriman Narayana!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Raja gOpuram at Sri Rangam

[Images from www.srirangaminfo.com. The completed gopuram, above and the unfinished gopuram from an old picture, below]

Click here for a couple of wonderful Youtube videos [courtesy of Sri vAsudEvan] of the samprOkshanam of the rAjagOpuram in 1987. Sri mukkUr Azhagiya singar is seen in the second video.

Video part 1: Click here
Video part 2: Click here

The glories of the temple of Sri Ranganatha at SriRangam are endless. It would be apt to describe this temple (town) as the global headquarters of Sri SampradAyA. It is impossible to fathom the antiquity of the of idol of Sri Ranganatha and the PraNavAkAra vimAnam, which are supposedly from Brahma lOkam. SriRangam is the only Divya Desam that has been glorified by all eleven of the twelve AzhwArs (the remaining AzhwAr – Sri Madhurakavi – has only sung about his guru Sri nammAzhwAr – and not about any Divya Desam). In total , AzhwArs have showered 247 pAsurams on this super-sacred shrine. Part of the temple was built under the supervision of no less than Sri Tirumangai AzhwAr himself. Among other notable attributes, the temple includes a hall of one thousand stone pillars. Easily the biggest temple complex in India, the temple encompasses a whole town. Several Sri Vaishnava AcharyAs including Sri Ramanuja and Sri Desika have spent several decades of their lives in this Divya Desam. We could go on and on about the glories of this Divya Desam, but instead it is easier to quote Swami Desikan's verse from the AdhikAra sangraham (verse #42):

ஆராத அருளமுதம் பொதிந்த கோயில்
அம்புயத்தோன் அயொத்தி மன்னர்க்கு அளித்த கோயில்
தோலாத தனிவீரன் தொழுத கோயில்
துணையான வீடணற்க்கு துணையாம் கோயில்
சேராத பயனெல்லாம் சேர்க்கும் கோயில்
செழு மறையின் முதலெழுத்து சேர்ந்த கோயில்
தீராத வினையனைத்தும் தீர்க்குங்கோயில்
திருவரங்கம் எனத்திகழும் கோயில் தானே

To paraphrase this verse, the temple at SriRangam has the following attributes:
-It is filled with the uncloyingly sweet grace of the Lord
-It was gifted to the Emperors of AyodhyA by Brahma
-It was worshipped by that invincible warrior (Rama)
-It offers protection to Vibeeshana
-It can help attain even the most unattainable of blessings
-It is the embodiment of the primordial sound (praNavam) of the vEdAs
-It is capable of eliminating the vilest of sins

For a long time, this Divya Desam had a rather strange and glaringly obvious shortcoming. The main gopuram (temple tower) crowning the outermost wall of the temple was a mottai (unfinished) gopuram . It was extremely bizarre and also inappropriate that the grandest and holiest of shrines should have an awkward unfinished tower. The construction of the tower had been started during the reign of the King Achyuta Deva RayA over 400 years back. Over the centuries, many emperors and men of power and influence had contributed handsomely to the maintenance and upkeep of the temple. However, for whatever reason, none of them had the inclination to complete the project. Perhaps, they were turned off by the sheer enormity of the endeavour. The tower’s base was huge, and whoever had conceived the design obviously had dreamt of a tower of epic proportions. Constructing a tower to match the mammoth base was no ordinary task. And so the tower remained incomplete – an unfulfilled tribute by mankind to the Lord of the Gods. Pilgrims could only sigh at the incomplete structure and wonder how grand it might have been if only someone had had the resourcefulness to finish it.

The sight of the mottai gopuram was a major eyesore for the head of the Ahobila Mutt – His Holiness the 44th Pontiff Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar. To him, it was simply unacceptable that the Supreme power in the Universe enshrined at SriRangam and venerated by the AzhwArs should have a flawed temple tower. And unlike those before him, he decided to do something about it instead of merely sighing wistfully. Yes, he would take upon himself the task that had daunted kings and emperors. He would complete the Rajagopuram of Srirangam.

When His Holiness told others of his intent, there was probably incredulity mixed with amusement in the minds of the listeners. After all, the Swami himself was approaching 90 years of age. The hurdles that lay in the way were humongous. There were political problems (the Ahobila Mutt did not have direct control over the temple), religious issues, architectural challenges and above all, financial constraints. How would the money for this gargantuan undertaking be obtained ? At that time, the Ahobila Mutt itself was not exactly a very prosperous institution. Money for even the day-to-day upkeep of the Mutt was hard to come by. Who would finance this project ? And even if someone did, would they trust a 90-year-old person at the helm of affairs ? It is impossible for a 90-year old to convince a bank to advance a loan for constructing an ordinary house. Who would trust a nonagenarian with a vision of completing a project that had been beyond the dreams of megalomaniacs for centuries ?

It was perfectly reasonable to dismiss the project as a doomed one. However, the naysayers had not factored in the ironclad willpower of Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar. When Swami decided to do something, it would be done, and that was it. After all, he derived his directions not from the blinkered vision of mankind, but from the Supreme Force that controls the universe. He knew (as only he could) that the temple tower would be completed.

And so the project started. And much to the astonishment of the doubters, it took a (literally) concrete form. Money started pouring in from all quarters. Displaying project management skills that would put a Harvard management graduate to shame, Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar transformed the mottai gopuram into a complete, handsome edifice. Often he would himself go atop the structure using crude makeshift elevators to personally supervise the construction, at an age when most people need help to get seated on a chair (if they make it to that age in the first place!). Confounding his critics and making his admirers marvel, Sri Azhagiya Singar completed the gopuram and personally supervised its inauguration. Not only that, he also went on to complete a hundred years of age and passed away after seamlessly transitioning his duties to the next pontiff.

The Raja gopuram at SriRangam stands today, tall and resplendent, invoking awe in the minds of all and reminding everyone of the Holy Willpower of Sri Mukkur Azhagiya Singar.

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