Tiruchirappalli – Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple and Rockfort

Next day, I checked out bit late from Thanjavur, I had actually planned to leave early to explore Trichy (Tiruchirappalli) for whole day. But the fever and weakness came back again (It happens if I am very tired, body’s way of saying take a rest now :)). I decided to rest a bit more in the morning and left for Trichy late by 11:00 am. I took an Auto (because of luggage,caretaker called for an auto) to New Bus Stand and from there further to Trichy, I took the local Bus.

After an hour, I alighted closer to the Railway Junction, because as per my plan, Trichy was a Day trip. I had a train to board in the night. I preferred to keep the luggage in the Station Cloak Room. The road junction was closer to Railway station. The luggage was put in the Cloak Room. There are two waiting rooms in the Station. One was Private outside and another one managed by Railways inside. The Cloak room was outside. I carried my small day bag and asked an auto driver for Srirangam. He quoted Rs. 400, which was exorbitant, since I knew the distance was not that far. I declined and went outside the Railway Station, saw few people waiting for Bus. I enquired with one gentleman, he guided me perfectly. Many buses ply between Trichy Railway Station & Srirangam. The transportation facilities are very good. It was already noon, hence, I knew the Temple will be closed.

Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple is also known as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam, Bhogamandabam. It is a magnificent Vaishnav Temple dedicated to Shri Ranganatha, reclining form of Lord Vishnu (huge magnificent black idol in the Garbagriha).

It is one of the eight self-manifested shrines (Swayam Vyakta Kshetras) of Lord Vishnu. It is considered as first & foremost among 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

I reached by 01:00 PM. I just followed the Gopurams, which was one after another. There are many shops and restaurants within these Prakaras. Town has settled within these enclosures. I had my lunch at one of the Restaurant, usual Thali (Meals as called here). There are eight high walled enclosures. However, only seven Prakarams (Sapta Prakaram) formed by huge walls in this massive Temple Complex spread across 156 acres are considered as functional.

The outermost one known as Adaiavalainjan is not considered as Prakara. It is a largest religious complex in the World. There are 21 colorful Gopurams, 50 sub shrines, 9 Tanks, Golden Vimana over the sacred Garbagriha and several Fresco paintings. As per the Historians, there are evidences proving origin of this temple during the Sangam Period. However, the present Temple has many additions and expansion schemes from various dynasties that ruled the area from Early Cholas, Later Cholas, Pandyas, Hoysalas etc.

After crossing these extensively decorated Gopuras, I reached the ticket counter, bought the ticket, also, there was a special ticket for Temple Top View (Rs. 20). Here, the person takes you to the first floor level and shows different Gopuras, also, one can view the main Golden Gopuram, which is not visible from below.

There is a distinct white Gopuram on the among the 21 Gopurams called as Vellayi (means white) Gopuram.

(Devadasi called Vellayi who had sacrificed her life to protect the idol of Namperumal from the Sultanate forces who had invaded the temple. Srirangam was attacked by the Sultanate forces in the year 1323 during the Tamil month of Vaikasi. Nearly, 12,000 residents of Srirangam island had laid down their lives fighting to protect the temple. The forces attacked the temple and Lord Ranganatha’s jewels and the temple gold were taken away. The forces also wanted to seize the idol of Namperumal, which they believed was made of pure ‘Abaranji’ gold. They searched for the idol but the Vaishnavite Acharya, Pillailokacharya had taken the idol away and fled to Madurai. (The idol of Namperumal that left Srirangam in 1323 returned back only in 1371). Unable to locate the idol, the Sultanate forces killed the temple authorities and later launched a massive hunt for Pillailokacharya and Namperumal. Fearing that the forces would capture the Acharya and the idol, Vellayi, performed a dance before the commander of the forces thus gaining time for Pillailokacharya to escape with the idol. Her dance lasted for hours together and finally she took the commander to the eastern gopuram and pushed him down. After killing him, Vellayi jumped to her death from the tower chanting the name of Ranganathar. Hailing Vellayi’s sacrifice, the chief of Vijayanagara forces, Kempanna, who drove away the Sultanate forces, named the tower after her. The gopuram continues to be painted white in her memory. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/the-legend-of-vellayi/article2774700.ece)

I climbed down, walked around, since the main temple was closed for afternoon, I sat down for sometime in the Mandapa, around 3 PM, went around, visited Goddess Mahalakshmi temple within the Complex, there was an afternoon aarti going on. There are many mandapams in the Complex.

There is a granite 1000 Pillared Mandapam (in actual 953 PIllars), constructed during the Vijayanagara Period. The main gate was locked. I saw it from outside.

Next was Sesharayar Mandapam, very intricately carved with 40 leaping Horses with warriors on back. The hairstyles of the warriors below the Horses were very interesting.

This Mandapam was added to the expansive Complex by the Nayak Rulers. The Pillars are caved with individual Dashavtars of Lord Vishnu. This was the favourite Mandapa here for me. There are stories from Ramayana carved on the Pillars.

The other interesting Manadapams to note are the Garuda Mandapa, Kili Mandapam, Yagasala, Tondaiman Mandapa and Ranga Vilasa Mandapam. Garuda Mandapa was added by Nayak Rulers. The Shrine has a huge seated figure of Garuda, facing the main Sanctum.

Kili Mandapam has huge Elephant Balustrade on the sides of the Stairs that lead to the huge open Mandapa. Yagasala and the Tondaiman Mandapa of which ceiling is decorated with paintings of figures. The Ranga Vilasa Mandapa carries the sculptures of Bala Ramayana and exquisité murals.

There are many sub-shrines (smaller temples) as mentioned earlier. The Venugopala temple has an inscription from 1674 CE. The exterior of Vimana & Pillars of the Mandapa is carved with Sculptures. There are sculptures in niches of the walls too.

The Rajagopuram is the second tallest Temple tower in the world rising to a height of 72 mts. 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.  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 temple abounds in inscriptions dating between the early Chola and late Nayak periods.

The first innermost Prakara has only one entry called as Nazhikettan Gopura with images of Sankhanidhi (Conch)and Padmanidhi (Lotus) on either sides.

Below the Golden Gopuram lies the reclining Lord Vishnu. Just to watch the huge idol I waited for the temple to open at 3.30 PM. I was happy for covering the temple with such an important ancient history and amazing architecture. I left the premises to cover the Rock Fort before leaving Tirucharappali.

The fascinating part of this temple is, you will find every form of Vishnu carved on the Pillars, niches or walls.

I left the temple, stopped at one of the shop to buy the pure cotton towels, got each for Rs. 50/-.

There are regular buses to and from Temple to Railway Station which passes through Rock Fort. These buses wait outside the temple for passenger to fill in. I alighted at Rock Fort entrance.

There was a long narrow lane almost for 2 kms with shops on both sides till the entrance of Rock Fort. It is also called as Ucchi Pillaiyar Kovil. I saw some ancient pillars overtaken by modern day construction. Indeed, sad sight to see. There is a climb of around 437 steps to reach temples at various levels with shade. This hillock (275 ft, around 3.5 billion years old) with temple, is visible throughout City.

At the base there is Mannikka Vinayakar Temple, halfway through the rocky stairs leads to a Shiva Temple called as Sri Thayumanaswamy Temple with 100 Pillared Mandapam and Vimana. There are inscriptions dating back to 3rd Century BC. I decided to visit while returning.

There are two Cave Temples in the Fort, the Upper Cave temple called as Lalitankura Cave Temple, located after the Thayumanaswamy Temple, built by Mahendravarman Pallavan and the lower Cave temple located at 200 mtrs from Rockfort Entrance, built by Narasimhavarman Pallavan. The Upper Cave Temple was locked while I missed out on lower Cave Temple.

The top Temple was Ucchi Pillayar (Ganesh) temple, with entire Trichy City view. Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple with River Cauvery was also visible from here. I climbed down to visit the Temples on the way.

Once touching the base, I checked out the Saratha Mall, because I wanted to buy a Proper South Indian Half Saree (It was too costly, decided to check in Kanchipuram) and some cotton bed sheets(Good ones).

It was a large Mall to accommodate different sections across two floors. I had Fruit Juice to keep the health in check. The market was buzzing with people in the evening.

I got the bus again from the Rock fort entrance to the Trichy Railway Station. I booked AC lounge inside the Platform (Rs. 40) for 4 hours, since the train was at 10.30 PM. It was clean and maintained very well. Train came on time, got in 3AC and slept till it reached Chengalpattu for Kanchipuram.

P.S. In this Place, there are few more temples worth visiting like Jambukeswarar Temple at Thiruvanaikkaval, Erumbeeswarar Temple and Kallanai Dam (On the way from Thanjavur to Trichy). I missed out on these, maybe next time!

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