‘Thiruvarangam’ is a temple located in Srirangam dedicated to Ranganatha Swamy, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu. It is one amongst the few illustrious temples in South India, dating back to the Sangam era [I], according to the Tamil Literature , and is even mentioned in the epic Silappadikaram by Ilango Adigal .
Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, it is known by several names such as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Bhoologa Vaikundam, Periyakoil, Bhogamandabam, and is the first among the Divya Desams [II] .
According to Divya Prabandha, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses by twelve Alvars [III], there are entirely 108 Vaishnava Divya Desams . Out of them, 105 are located in India, one is in Nepal, and the last two are believed to be outside the Earthly realms.
In India, up to eight-five of them are in the state of Tamil Nadu, eleven of them are in Kerala, three of them are in Uttarakhand, two of them are in Andhra Pradesh, and one each in Gujarat & Uttar Pradesh.
This first Divya Desam is massive in scale and is spread across 156 acres . It is even the largest functioning temple in the world and is ranked amongst Angkor Wat in Cambodia & Borobudur in Indonesia . Though Angkor Archaeological Park spreads over 40,000 hectares, unlike Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, the deity isn’t offered prayers anymore.
Another unique element for Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple is that around its main shrine, there are seven concentric rectangular enclosures formed by thick rampart walls.
Within these enclosures, the inner five enclosures of the complex constitute the temple, and the outer two enclosures function as the settlement. These seven rectangular enclosures are called Sapta-Prakaram and these make the temple more of a temple-town than just a temple . Thus, the distinction between the temple and the settlement gets blurred and the temple is often referred to as ‘Srirangam’ .
However, Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple isn’t the only temple with these enclosures. Meenakshi Temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati in Madurai has four prakarams followed by four concentric rings of settlement. Similarly, Nataraja Temple dedicated to God Shiva in Chidambaram has five prakarams followed by a few concentric rings of settlements . A slight difference is that Madurai and Chidambaram are examples of settlements around a temple while Srirangam has settlements within the temple. It is even considered as the best enclosure based temple-town in Tamil Nadu or arguably the entire world.
I. The Sangam Era period was from the sixth century BCE to the third century CE in ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala and parts of Sri Lanka which were then known as Tamilakam. It was named after the famous Sangam academies of poets and scholars who were centered in the city of Madurai.
II. Divya means divine and Desam indicates place or abode.
III. Alvars are saints.
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