All my friends who had done the Chola temple trail before me kept telling me that I should spend at least a day in Trichy and Srirangam temple itself needs at least half a day. As a North Indian who has now lived in South for almost a decade, I had never heard of this huge temple, so I could never imagine its extent. This being the last temple to be visited on the trail, I was exhausted and did not even read anything about it. As I reached its first Gopuram, I was awed by its size, only to realize that it is one of the 21 Gopurams in the temple complex. Located on the island formed by rivers Cauvery and Coleroon, it spreads across 156 acres and has 7 Prakaras or concentric enclosures around the temple, 39 pavilions and many big and small water bodies. This is the largest practicing temple in the world, though Angkor Wat in Combodia is bigger than this but that is no longer practicing. Exact date of the construction of this temple cannot be placed, going by mythological beliefs God chose to appear in this place. There are evidences that say that all the dynasties and kings who ruled this area did contribute to the upkeep and expansion of this temple.
Dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Vishnu, this is considered to be the holiest of the 108 places devoted to Vishnu across the country. Inside the main temple only Hindus are allowed, and this is a place where you can see the Brahmin orthodoxy in practice. Everyone is scared of priests and the arrogance is written all over them. When I visited the idol of the God was being taken around in a palanquin and devotees rushed to the palanquin to have a look at the idol that was so deep inside the flowers and clothes that you can hardly see anything. On an ordinary day, there were so many people and one of the priests I spoke to said this is nothing, come on a festival day and you will not find space to stand.
This is not just a living temple, it is a city in itself, with as much as 40,000 people living inside the premises. There are a few viewing points where you can go on top of some roofs and see the array of Gopurams and temple Shikharas. Some are colorfully painted, some are somber white and some are covered in pure Gold. As you walk along the main street, you keep passing below the Gopurams, till you reach the one where you are supposed to take off your shoes. Between the Gopurams and temples you see lot of pavilions made with stone pillars, and you know they are probably the oldest standing structures on the complex. Some of these pavilions are small and open while others are huge and covered. There was a small shrine with a lots of locks locked around a pillar and they were apparently worshipped here as there were diyas and kumkum all around them. Many scholars, saints and poets have composed hymns here in the temple complex including Sri Bhashyam of Ramanuja.
I know I need another detailed visit to see and experience this temple completely.