Srirangam is a small island town in Trichunappali district commonly called Trichy with river Cauvery flowing on one side and one of its tributary Kollidam on the other side. Srirangam is visited mainly as a religious place for the famous temple Sri Ranganathaswamy temple. There are several other temples too that one can visit here and the most important among them is the Jambukeswara Akhilandeshwari temple commonly known as Tiruvaanaikovil.
Getting here : Trichy city is the closest to Srirangam. It does have an airport and is well connected to other cities by road and train. Its roughly around 330ks from either Bangalore or Chennai and daily trains and buses ply between these towns. Within the city local buses or autos ( tuk-tuks) can be used to move around.
My visit to this temple city was a while back as a part of the road trip I did covering Kanchi, Srirangam and Madurai , basically being a trip visiting temples in these towns and those that were on the way.
One thing to note in Indian temples is that the main door to view the deity is open only during specific timings of the temple. Also varies on the month of the year and any special poojas happening which are again temple specific. Generally all temple doors will be closed in the afternoons post 12, 12:30pm and then open again around 4:00 4:30pm. So although you may have the whole day with you, you may really be able to cover fewer temples.
Sri Ranganathswamy temple is the main temple of Srirangam and the temple visit will take anywhere from 2-4 hrs. This is a huge temple and claimed to be the biggest working temple at present in Asia covering 156acres of land. It has 7 prakaras (enclosures or concentric walled sagemets) and 21 gopurams or towers among which the Rajagopuram (the royal temple tower), the southern gopuram, is the biggest and tallest and the main entrance to the temple. The main deity here is Vishnu in the sleeping pose on a five headed serpent. And as usual with the sleeping Vishnu statues when you are at the main door to get a glimpse of him you are not sure if you should concentrate on his face or look towards his feet. The statue is pretty huge and as at every Indian temple there is someone asking you to move ahead and not stall the queue. The day we visited there was not much crowd, so I stood in the queue twice so that I could have a look at the statue again and the second time I was able to stand at the door for a few extra minutes and hence admire and take in the full statue of Vishnu.
One of the temple gates with the beautifully decorated gopuram
The story of this temple goes that Lord Rama on his way back to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana gifted the statue of Vishnu which he worshiped to Vibhishana (brother of Ravana) who helped him win the war against Ravana. Rama also asked Vibhishana not to rest the idol on land unless he reaches his destination as the idol would rest permanently wherever it was laid to rest. Vibhishana on his way back to Lanka stopped by the island of Srirangam and placed the idol here while a temple festival was in progress. The Lord refused to move from here however blessing Vibhishana that he would face towards Lanka ie the south.
Usually the main deity of the temples in India will face the east, there are of course temples where the main deity faces other directions and usually there will be an interesting story associated to why this difference. The other interesting fact in this temple is that the Ranganatha statue in the sleeping pose is not accompanied by his consorts Bhudevi nor Sridevi who are usually seen along with the statue near his feet.
Many halls with richly carved pillars throughout the temple
There are several other temples within this complex. Lord Ranganathas consort here is Ranganayaki and her temple is in the second enclosure. This is another interesting part of this temple that the goddess does not leave her shrine ever and for several festivities its Ranganatha who will visit the shrine of Ranganayaki. The Chakkarathazhwar temple is another unique thing seen in Tamilnadu vaishnava temples. Chakkarathazhwar is suppose to be the embodiment of the powerful Sudarshana chakra of Vishnu and represented as the deity Sudarshana depicted with 16 hands holding various weapons. And another interesting part to this is there will always be a Yoga Narashiman (lion form of Vishnu) on the back of this idol. The Vengopala temple in the fourth enclosure is another beautiful part of the temple. There is also a temple for the physician Dhanvantari.
Several parts of the temple you will see clusters of pillars with beautiful sculptures on them. One such is the Sesha Mandapa where the pillars have wildly rearing horses with riders trampling tigers with their hoofs. There is also a 1000 pillared hall.
The pillars with the rearing horses with riders on them
Another important part of this temple is the Paramapada Vaasal which is the door opened only once a year for 10 days around the Vaikunta Ekadashi. The belief is that going through this door will pave your path to heaven when you die.
The Paramapada Vasal with the pillared hall in front of it
I am not sure if non-Hindus are allowed all the way to the inner enclosures of the temple. We had to deposit our phones at the entrance and were allowed cameras to be carried inside the temple though photography of the deities are not allowed.
You can really spend a lot of time in this temple if you so wish admiring the architecture, peace and serenity of the temple. There are also shops within the outer enclosures selling souvenirs to clothes and daily household stuff.
Jambukeswara Akhilandeshwari temple is a Siva temple and you could spend about 1-2hrs here. The temple was built by Kochenga Chola in 2nd century AD. It is one of the major Panchabhoota(five elements) Sthalams of Saivaism representing water. The main sanctum has a stream which is always full of water.
As you enter the temple complex
The story of the temple is that Siva condemned his consort Parvati to earth for having mocked him. Parvati in the form of Akhilandeshwari reached Jambu forest, made a lingam out of water and worshiped Siva under the Venn Naval tree till she was blessed again by Siva. There is also another story associated with the two Gannas (warriors) of Siva, Malyavan and Pushpadanta who were cursed to become spider and elephant respectively and live on earth. They worshiped Siva here under the Jambu tree. The elephant collected water from river Cauvery and did the abhishekam (pooja) of the lingam which was under a Jambu tree while the spider built a web over the lingam to protect it from leaves. The elephant would destroy the web everyday and pour water on the lingam while the spider would spin the web again. One day the spider got angry, crawled into the trunk of the elephant and bit it to death and in the process killing itself. Siva impressed by the devotion released both of them from the curse, however the spider for the sin of killing had to be reborn again as king Kochengot Chola. The legend goes that remembering his enmity with the elephant he built the sanctum sanctorum such that even a small elephant cannot enter it.
Huge pillared halls throughout the temple
And this is true that the entry to the sanctorum of the temple is unique, 4ft tall and 2.5ft width entrance. The sanctum sanctorum is a square structure and a set of three steps descend into this from the outer Mukha Mantapa. The sanctorum has a Ardha Mantapam and a Garba Griha. The western wall of the Ardha Mantapa has stone window of nine viewing apertures, believed to represent Navagraha, through which the main idol of Jambukeshwara is to be viewed. The Ardha Mantapam is 4×4 ft, so devotees are allowed in groups of 6 into this. As you enter you will see the statue of Akhilandeshwari on the right side of the door to the Garbha Griha and the Garba Griha itself has the self-manifested linga of Jambukeshwara. A stream of water always flows out of the lingam and usually the clothes the lingam is draped in, is always wet. During monsoon the water levels increase significantly.
The outside courtyard of the temple
As you go around the temple you will see the White Jambuka tree which is considered to be the holy tree here. There are several halls with pillars beautifully carved in the traditional Chola and Vijayanagar temple architecture style. Several smaller temples that one can visit in the premises too.