study of the history of the Srirangam temple has been rendered possible mainly
by the remarkable advance of epigraphy in
The inscriptions help to furnish the appropriate political background to the Vaisnava tradition, enshrined in the Guruparamparai, which gives a continuous account of the succession of pontiffs at Srirangam. But the Guruparamparai belongs purely to the realm of hagiography and is not of much help to the historian. However, the correlation of political and religious data in inscriptions is not as complete as one might wish. Direct references, in the host of inscriptions, on the walls, pillars and plinths of the Srirangam temple, to the affairs and activities of the Vaisnava movement at Srirangam can be counted on one’s fingers’ ends. It is surprising that Ramanuja, who according to the authentic tradition of the Arayirappadi Guruparamparai, was for long (more than sixty years according to the Koil-Olugu) the manager of the affairs of the Srirangam temple, both spiritual and temporal, is not mentioned as such in any of its inscriptions. This applies also to his immediate predecessors and successors. Thus to all appearances we possess two sets of material for the reconstruction of the history of Srirangam temple, viz., the hagiologies and the inscriptions, which have nothing in common between them. But actually the position is not to be despaired of. The inscriptions of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries contain important references, though indirect and also few and far between, to the affairs and organisation of the Srirangam temple. An inscription of Kulottunga I dated 10881 (62 of 1892; Sii. III.70.) and another of Maravarman Sundara Pandya I dated 12252 (53 of 1892; SII.IV.500.) contain such references, casual in themselves and hence quite reliable. These references, for instance go to confirm the traditional account of Ramanuja’s activities in Srirangam. There are also a few inscriptions, of the same period, which mention Srirangam, Ramanuja and a few of his immediate disciples like Embar and Accan.3 (MAR.1913. p.36; 1908. p.9.) With the help of these and a few other inscriptions it is possible to check and verify the traditional account to some extent.
The major South Indian temple was the result of a gradual process of accretion; the number of sub-shrines containing the images of minor deities and sublimated devotees clustering around the main shrine were raised in different periods by beneficent princes. The only source for a proper study of the structural growth of the Srirangam temple is epigraphical. Here again a chronological list of the inscriptions in the temple furnishes a clear sketch of the physical growth of the temple. From a study of such a list it can be seen that a majority of the minor shrines were constructed in the 13th century, when the region round Srirangam was under the occupation of the Hoysalas and after them the Pandyas of the Second Empire. It is also known that some of the structures that had suffered damage during the Muslim occupation were repaired or reconstructed subsequently by the chieftains of Vijayanagar. The Koil-Olugu, which gives a detailed account of the several structures with the names of their builders and Saka dates, has, it is found, drawn its information largely from inscriptions.
Over and above these, the inscriptions furnish various minor details useful for the history of the temple. For example a couple of inscriptions in Srirangam supply the rare and interesting information about the transfer of the management of certain shrines (the Dasavatara shrine and the Tirumangai Alvar Sannidhi) to new arcakas and the duties they were expected to perform in respect of their offices4. (100 and 102 of 1936-37) Again two inscriptions on the jambs of the Vellai gopuram in the temple tell us an episode of topical interest. They give us details of the self-immolation of a few Jiyas and Ekangis of the temple, as a protest against insufficient allowances made by the local governor for the conduct of puja.5 (87 of 1936-37; pt.II, para 78) From the inscriptions we know that munificent Hindu kings founded in their names festivals that continue to this day, and established agraharas or Brahmin-habitations going by the name of Caturvedimangalams. Such are the Bhupati Udayar festival, called after Bhupati Udayar, a chieftain of Vijayanagar of the First Dynasty and Ravivarman-caturvedi-mangalam, called after the famous Ravivarman Kulasekhara.
The Early Tamil literature and the Prabandas of the Alvars
One of the Aham odes refers to Arangam and the Panguni festival on the banks of an adjacent river.6 (Aham 137) It is likely that this has reference to one of the important festivals of the Srirangam temple. Aham 400 or the Ahananuru is one of the oldest anothologies included in the classical Tamil literature, better known as the Sangam works. By common consent this group is assigned to the same age in which Ptolemy and the anonymous author of the Periplus wrote about South India, i.e., the first two or three centuries of the Christian era.7 (This period is sometimes extended so as to include the 5th century also) The Silappadikaram which is also included in this group, refers more definitely to the Srirangam temple.
Roughly speaking the age of the Sangam literature is succeeded by the age of the historical Pallavas of Kanchi. Foe a history of the temple of this period the Prabandas of the Vaisnava mystics, going by the name of the Alvars, call for special notice. All the Alvars did not belong to the same age. A few were earlier and the rest later. The early Alvars are variously assigned to the 2nd century and the 5th century A.D. It has to be said that the Prabandas of the later Alvars furnish much interesting information about the state of the Srirangam temple 1,200 years ago. Though the poems contain very often idealized pictures yet they give some unfailing details about worship in the temple and the devotees of the god. The lives of the Alvars, as they are preserved in the hagiologies, again confirm these references and furnish fresh details, though these have to be utilised with great caution.
The legendary Stalamahatmya
People have generally loved to ascribe a hoary antiquity and invent sacred and edifying legends to glorify the sanctity of their sacred shrines. This has led to the rise of a whole mass of literature going by the name of ‘Stala Mahatmyas’ and ‘Stala Puranas’, mostly of recent origin. Though of little value because they bear no relation to the historical dates or events still they do not lack a quaint interest for the student of folk-lore and popular tradition. The Sriranga Mahatmya, which gives such an account of the Srirangam temple, is known in two varsions, viz., the ‘Satadyayi’ and the ‘Dasadyayi’, or the versions of ‘hundred chapters’ and ten chapters’, said to form part respectively of the Garuda Purana and the Brahmanda Purana; and surprisingly enough they are not to be traced in their originals. Such apocryphal Mahatmyas are not histories, nor are they even chronicles; at best they are local ……………. of foundation-legends cherished by the popular mind.
Between legend and history stands the chronicle; and to this intermediate class is to be assigned the Koil-Olugu. The word ‘olugu’ means a record or a register, and ‘Koil’, in Vaisnava parlance, denotes Srirangam. Genealogical accounts were, sometimes, called ‘Olugus’, e.g., the ‘Annan Tirumaligai Olugu’, which is an account of the family of the Kandadaiyar of Srirangam.
The Koil-Olugu is stated to be the work of ‘Purvacaryas’, i.e., the Acaryas of the past’, in other words it was not the work of a single writer belonging to a particular period but a temple record written and maintained by successive wardens of the temple or their accountants or writers. Events are narrated, especially in the latter portions of the Olugu, under specific dates, and a perusal of the entire book conveys the idea that it was a diary kept up by successive generations, true to its name, ‘Olugu’. On these grounds a categorical statement that the Koil-Olugu was a late composition of about the 18th century cannot be taken as altogether justified.8 (EI. XXIV. p. 91.) It is not improbable that an original and early cadjan existed in the Srirangam temple before the latter suffered during the Orissan and Muslim invasions of the medieval period. From the fact that Udayavar or Ramanuja receives the most exhaustive treatment it may be hazarded that the Olugu was commenced after his death. The comparatively scrappy treatment of the earlier period strengthens this view.
The most instructive portion of the Koil-Olugu is that which treats with the reforms of Udayavar in the temple, the foremost of them being a thorough reorganization of the various groups of temple servants. The administration of the temple was improved and purified in manyaja respect. A five-fold division of the temple servants was expanded into a ten-fold division and the duties of each group were specified. In a lengthy account these duties are described elaborately and to the minutest detail in the peculiar temple jargon. To a person intimately connected with the temple ritual and custom this is undoubtedly the most interesting part of the entire chronicle.
A perusal of the Koil-Olugu shows that the sequence of events adopted is jumbled, e.g., the period of the Acaryas is dealt with after the first Muslim attack on Srirangam. Certain events or names are repeated in a different context; this was perhaps because an accountant recorded certain past events in the diary without liquiring whether the same had been recorded or not by a predecessor of his. The jumbled sequence might have been due to the constant resuscitations of the original due to the vicissitudes of history and the imperfections and shortcomings of scribes. It is also possible that a scribe while making a copy made his own interpolations. The Olugu maintains a fairly correct sequence of events while dealing with the Vijayanagar period and after.
With its many imperfections in sequence, chronology and language9 (The language of the Olugu is supposed to be the familiar manipravala style of the Vaisnava hagiologies, i.e., a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil. There is also an admixture of the jargon of the Vaisnava temple, a part of it being peculiar to Srirangam. Many of the sentences are unmangeably long and deal with a variety of details.) the Koil-Olugu is still a valuable source-book for a history of the Srirangam temple. Mr.R.Sewell made a correct guess of the worth of this chronicle when he said, “The priests of the (Srirangam) temple have in their possession a document which ought to be of real value, the mahatmyas of temples being almost invariably an absurd jumble of mythological fables. This is a chronicle called the ‘Varagu’, which is said to give a list of all the priests of the temple, with details of temple management from the earliest times.”10 (Lists of Antiquities. 1 p.268; see Introduction to Koil-Olugu in English, edited by the writer.
The Guruparamparai of Pinbalagiya Perumal Jiyar and the Divyasuricaritam
The Guruparamparai belongs to that type of chronicle known as hagiology. It records the history of a religious movement by tracing the list of its successive spiritual preceptors. Its usefulness for an attempt at reconstructing the history of Vaisnavism in South India cannot be exaggerated. To this type belong the Arayirappadi Guruparamparai of Pinbalagiya Perumal Jiyar, the Guruparamparai of the third Barahmatantra Swatantra Jiyar, the Divyasuricaritam and the Prapannamrtam of Anantarya, the first two being Tamil (Manipravalam) works and the next two Sanskrit. The Acaryasuktimuktavali by Namburi Kesavacarya, also called Vaduga Nambi or Andhrapurna, is a similar hagiology in Telugu. Of these the earliest is the Aryirappadi Guruparamparai whose author is, according to well-known Vaisnava tradition, assigned to the first half of the 13th century. So far as the lives of the Alvars are concerned much of the chronicle is legendary in character. Yet the astronomical details of the nativity of these Alvars as well as their original homes and their early activities provide a starting point for further research. The Paramparai is more dependable when it deals with the Acaryas, who were certainly less remote; in fact Pinbalagiya Perumal Jiyar himself was living in the age of the Acaryas. He was the student of Nampillai. Nampillai was the successor of Nanjiyar on the Vaisnava pontifical seat at Srirangam; Nanjiyar was the student of Bhattar; and Bhattar in his turn was the successor of Ramanuja. Manavala Mahamuni came almost a century after Nampillai; and Pillai Lokam Jiyar continued the narrative of Pinbalagiya Perumal Jiyar and dealt in detail with the life of Manavala Mahamuni in his ‘Yatindra Pravana Prabhavam’.
It was once believed that Garudavahana Pandita, the author of the Divyasuricaritam, was a contemporary of Ramanuja, but it has been effectively shown that he came much later and that his work was posterior to and based on the Arayirappadi Guruparamparai.11 (Cf. B.V.Ramanujam’s article on the ‘Divyasuricaritam’ (JIH XIII, pp. 181-202) and A.S.Ramanatha Aiyar’s edition of the Srirangam inscription of Garudavahana Bhattar, S. 1415. (EI. XXIV. pp.90 ff). The author, who perhaps composed the Caritam in the first years of the 15th century, did not trace the account of the Divyasuris upto his own time. He stopped with Ramanuja; and he himself, in the opening verses, tells that his set purpose in composing the Kavya was to trace the lives of the Divyasuris upto Ramanuja, which in itself forms a convenient period in the history of the Vaisnava movement and about which there is a continuous and unanimous tradition. In this work the lives of the Alvars are briefly traced in the first eight sargas. Sargas 9 and 10 are taken up by the subject of Andal’s marriage with Sriranganatha. The ‘Mahatmyam’ of Srirangam finds mention in the 10th sarga. Tirumangai Alvar is again brought in as the thief who waylaid the marriage party consisting of Andal, Alagiyamanavalan and their attendants. The 15th sarga is taken up by a recital of the festivals celebrated for the God at Srirangam throughout the different seasons of the year.
The Lakshmi Kavyam
The author of the Lakshmi Kavyam was Uttamanambi Tirumalacarya. He, says that he was the grandson of Uttamaraya, who had a brother named Cakraraya. The Koil Olugu speaks prominently of an Uttamanambi who had the titles ‘Meinilaiyitta’, ‘Ellainilaiyitta’, and ‘Valiyadimainilaiyitta’, and his brother Cakraraya and assigns him to the date S.1337. It is obvious that the Uttamaraya of the Lakshmi Kavyam, who is said to have administered the Srirangam temple with royal insignia, is the same as Valiyadimainilaiyitta Uttamanambi of the Koil-Olugu. A copper plate inscription belonging to the Srirangam temple mentions Valiyadimainilaiyitta Perumal Uttamanambi as the donee and is dated S.1356 or A.D.1434.12 (E1. XVIII. Pp. 138 ff) His grandson Tirumalainatha Uttamanambi also, viz., S.1366 or A.D.1444. The Uttamanambi Vamsaprabhavam mentions Srirangacarya Uttamanambi and assigns him to the period S.1328-1372. It also mentions Tirumalainatha Aiyan Uttamanambi and says that be began to collect donations for the temple after S.1372 (A.D.1450).13 (‘Uttamanambi Vamsaprabhavam’, Taylor III. p. 438.)
There is much common ground between the Divyasuricaritam and the Laksmikavyam; the two were not far removed from each other in date. Probably the kavyam appeared a little earlier than the caritam. While the latter deals first with the lives of the Alvars and then dwells extensively on the marriage of Andal with the God at Srirangam, the former is entirely concerned with the marriage of Uraiyurvalli (another consort of the God) with Sriranganatha. This kavya deals with the various festivities of the Adibrahmotsava in great detail and as such is of considerable interest to a person intimately connected with the shrine, but unfortunately it has not been printed.
Local dynastic accounts
Two genealogical lists called the Annan Tirumaligai Olugu and the Uttamanambi vamsa-prabhavam deal respectively with the families of Kandadai Andan, the son of Mudaliyandan, to whom the control of the temple was entrusted by Ramanuja, and the Uttamanambis, who played a notable part in the history of the Srirangam temple, especially during the Vijayanagar period. Both the accounts were collected by Col. Colin Mackenzie. The latter is also available in print.
The Parameswara Samhita of the Pancaratragama
The Agamas form a voluminous part of Sanskrit literature. Like the stalamahatmyas they claim great antiquity and are attributed to the risis or the sages of yore and appear in the form of discourses. There are three varieties of agamas, viz., Saiva, Vaisnava and Sakta. The Vaisnava agamas are of two kinds, viz., Pancaratra and Vaikhanasa. While the latter is attributed to the sage Vikhanasa, various explanations are given for the former, viz., that it explains five principles, that it was told during five nights, that it expels five-fold darknesses, etc. Each has numerous guide books called samhitas, those of the Pancaratra being more numerous. They are said to number more than 200. Of these the Satvata, the Pauskara and the Jayakhya are said to be the most important. Different Vaisnava temples following the Pancaratra have chosen different samhitas and have stuck to them at least so far as the rituals and mantras are concerned, and hence they serve as text-books for the priests. The Srirangam temple follows the Parameswara Samhita of the Pancaratragama.14 (‘Sripancaratrantargata Sriparamesvarasamhita’, edited by U.V.Govindacarya, Srirangam, 1953. The printed part deals with the Kriyakanda of the samhita, the gnanakanda having been lost.)
The samhita consists of 26 chapters and deals with the following: snanavidhi, bhutasuddhi, mantranyasa, berapuja, agnikarya, vimana devata, dvara-avaranadi devata, Garuda-Visvaksenadi parivararcanam, pratista-vidhanam, pavitrotsavam, sayanotsavam, dhvajarohanam, naivedyas, prayascittas, rules governing tulapurusa and hiranyagarbha danas, samproksnam, Sudarsana yantra, its puja, etc. It gives full details of disposition of the gateway gopuras of all the seven prakaras, dvarapalas and upadvarapalas, dvara devatas, avarana devatas, sobha devatas and upa-sobhadevatas, and the devatas of the various parts of the vimana including the sanctum.
It is not easy to fix the age of the samhita. It need not be held that it belongs to a period when full blown temples with seven prakaras and elaborate rules regarding pujas, festivals, etc., were known, for such a view presupposes that the temple came first and then the agama. It is more likely that the agamas, in a very early period, laid down rules, as elaborately as possible, governing the architecture and iconography of an ideal temple as well as pujas, prayascittas etc., and that temple builders tried to follow them as best as they could. If it is accepted, on the authority of the Koil-Olugu, that the Vaikhanasas were doing worship in the Srirangam temple and that they were replaced by Udayavar by priests trained in the Pancaratra, as expounded in the Paramesvara-samhita,15 (KO. pp.45, 46, 55, 100 and 173) the latter was certainly known in his period and perhaps long before. One thing appears to be plain. Whoever the author of the samhita was he seems to have had the Srirangam temple in his mind, for Chapter X, which deals with the vimana devatas, mentions the Ranga-vimana and relates its mahatmya. It is also possible that it was the product of more than one author belonging to different periods.
Coming to the modern period the monographs on the Nayaks of Madura and those of Tanjore, compiled with the help of inscriptions, the Jesuit letters and the native chronicles, help in checking the accounts of the Koil-Olugu on the relations of the Nayaks with the Srirangam temple.16 (‘The Nayaks of Madura’ by R.Sathyanatha Aiyar and the ‘Nayaks of Tanjore’ by V.Vriddhagirisan.) For the period of the rule of the Nawabs of Arcot and the Carnatic Wars have been utilised, in the main, Robert Orme’s ‘Military transactions of the British nation in Indostan’ and Burhan Ibn Hasan’s Tuzaki-walajahi. Burhan, the son of Hasan, was a resident of Trichinopoly and he wrote his work in the reign of Muhammad Ali Walajah when Haidar Ali invaded the Carnatic.17 (‘Tuzaki Walajahi’ (Madras University Islamic series 1. Translated and edited by M.Hussain Nainar), pt.1. p. XXVI.) Three collections of “Collectors’ and Magistrates’ Orders and Judicial affairs and decisions in the Adalut Courts” with reference to the details of administration and religious ceremonial of the Srirangam temple that arose between the years 1803 and 1894 by K.S.Rangaswamy Aiyangar of Srirangam compiled in the latter year are useful for a study of the recent history of the temple. The well-know Diary of Anandaranga Pillai has also been found to be useful.