Note: Perumal is the common/colloquial way of Tamilians addressing Lord Vishnu.
Contents - Read all the way though.
Tambaram to Sriperambudur
I should have actually titled as Chennai to Sriperambudur but I stay at the other end of Chennai and I took the Tambaram to Sriperumbudur route and hence providing that info. 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 turn into Sriperambudur arch. It is about 25km from Tambaram. I saw one bus of Tamabaram – Kanchipuram operating in this route, however am not very sure of the bus routes. The pleasant surprise was how quickly the city turned into paddy fields and a thick canopy of tamarind trees almost through out the drive. Note that on this road there are not many restaurants or places to stopover. 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, buses ply from Chennai to Sriperambudur through Poonamallee. And Bangalore to Sriperumbudur is pretty much straight forward, there is no way you will miss the arch welcoming you to Sriperambudur on the Bangalore Chennai highway. Sriperambudur temple timings is from morning 6am to 12pm and opens again at 4pm till 9pm. I being the lazy bone 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 seen this arch at Sriperumbudur which reads, “Birthplace of Sri Ramanujacharya” but seldom people know about Him and 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 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 Sriperumbur, 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 embraces the same, passing on 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 starts to bleed from His eyes, because His soul is actually inside the sculpture. Few weeks after establishing the temple He turns weak as He has passed on His powers to the idol and passes 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.
Sriperumbudur Ramanuja Temple History
Though this temple is significant for the reason that Ramanuja Himself is residing 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) get cursed by Shiva and they are 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 approach Brahma for a solution and Brahma asks them to pray to Lord Vishnu. Vishnu blesses them to take bath in a tank created by Aadhi Seshan (the snake bed of Vishnu). The Boothas take bath in the tank, get relieved of their sins and as a mark of gratefulness build the Adhi Keshava Perumal temple. Hence called Boothapuri which turned into Sriperamboothur and now Sriperambudur. 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 am sticking to the one that is being said 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 all looked 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 Dwajastambham (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 impeccable to see 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 symbolizes more power 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 utsavamurthy. Utsavamurthy is the bronze idol representation of the deity which is usually taken out on processions. And to the left is the AdiKesava Perumal along with His consorts, facing opposite this shrine is Garudalwar. Garuda (Brahmini Kite) considered 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 am not sure if you guys will know. The story of Ramanuja is represented around the main shrine in the form of framed paintings. Outside is the hall of mirrors were during festival time the utsavamurthy will be placed and God will be admiring Himself looking at all the mirrors around. There is a separate shrine for the Goddess Yathirajavalli. Walk around the temple, the walls are adorned with colorful paintings of Lord Vishnu as found in 108 Divya Desam Temples.
Note: The temple is wheelchair accessible.
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, to His own place. Every year on the annual Vaikunta Ekadasi festival day the door will be opened for we earthly creatures to get rid of our sins and try to attain a space 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 diving nectar to have.
Margazhi Celebration at the Temple
Every year from December 16 to January 13 according to Tamil calendar 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 thirupaavai. Goddess Andal falls in love with Vishnu, she fasts, sings songs in praise of Him (thiruppavai) and does pooja for this entire month and in the present day, spinsters and bachelors do the same. Vaikunta Ekadasi is also celebrated in this month. It is a 21 day celebration where for first day pagal-pathu will be read, 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 DivyaPrabandam compiled by the 12 Alvars.
I visited on one of the days of ira-pathu and the verses on the particular day was sung by Nammazhwar. What you see above is not a Goddess dressed so pretty. It is Nammazhwar dressed as woman to grab the attention of lord 😀 The Azhwars usually adorn the Nachiyar thirukolam (the woman form) so that they can be more close to the lord and shower more love, embrace Him and so on with right. The temple priest giggles, “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 Him, lost in the beauty of 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 see around 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.
How To Reach 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.
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