Today, we are going to see a very rare and unique sculpture. It gives me great pleasure to present this post, since it brings out the true essence of our blog site. We had earlier seen the amazing pillar sculptures of Sesharaya Mandabam, while i was posting about this in mintamil forum, Sir Srirangam Mohanarangan, asked me about a unique sculpture in one of those pillars. I did not have it then and hence requested my ever resourceful friend Mr. Ashok to source it for me. Being such an ardent enthusiast, Ashok made the trip and ensured that i get the correct pictures ( he did get many more – and we will see this in subsequent posts). Writing about the foremost of shrines of Vishnu and one of the most revered of holy places gives me great joy, i thank the will of God for making this possible.
Rudra expounds to Narada the origin, growth and greatness of Srirangam thus:
When God created Brahma from his navel and deputed him to create the earth the latter was at his wit’s end when he saw a sheer expanse of a water. When he was thus perplexed God came to him in the form of a swan (hamsa) and saying ‘Om’ disappeared. Then Brahma worshipped God saying ‘Om’. Once again God appeared to him as a swan and preached the Vedas, which were stolen away by the two asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha. Brahma, unable to trace them even after an elaborate search, appealed to God, who appeared to him in the form of a fish, killed the asuras in His manifestation of a horse (hayagriva) and disappeared after restoring the Vedas. Then Brahma created the universe.
He was displeased, however, with his creation, for he found that everything was transient and disappeared in course of time. He went to Ksirasagar (‘Ocean of milk’) and worshiped God, who appeared to him as a tortoise. Brahma was puzzled and prayed to God to show him His real form. Thereupon God advised him to worship Him by repeating the Astaksara or the eight-lettered mantra (Om Namo Narayanaya). Brahma, so doing, lost himself in penance and contemplation. As a result of his penance the Sriranga Vaimana sprang from the Ksirasagar radiating luster allround.5 (The expression Sriranga Vimana is used to denote the turret as well as the oval shaped sanctum beneath it, containing the image of the reclining Ranganatha. The turret, the sanctum and the image form a single whole and are inseparably associated with one another.) It was borne by Garuda. Sesa, the Serpent God, had spread his hood over it. Visvaksena, with a stick in hand, cleared the way for the God. The sun and moon were fanning the deity with chowries. Narada and Tumburu followed singing. There was the Jayaghosa of Rudra and other gods and the ‘Dundubighosa’. The celestial courtesans danced. Clouds rained flowers. There were great hurrahs and tumult.
Brahma awoke from his penance and prostrated himself before the vimana. He stood up saying the four Vedas through his four mouths and was lost in amazement. Sunanda, a celestial watch at the gate (dwarapalaka), told him that the three lettered Vimana, ‘Sri-ra-nga’ was the result of his penance, that God was resting with His consort inside and that he could see Him and worship Him. Then Brahma worshiped the Almighty for a long time. Finally the God spoke to him thus: “Listen O Brahma! I have appeared as a result of your penance.” Then he explained to him the four types of idols and vimanas, – (1) Svayamvykta – created by God, i.e., God Himself choosing to come down as an idol, (2) Divya – created by the Devas, (3) Saiddha – created by a great seers and (4) Manusya – created by mortals. “The Vimanas of the first class, viz., Svayamvyakta will appear in eight places – Srirangam, Srimusnam, Venkatadri, Saligram, Naimisaranyam, Totadri, Puskara and Badrikasrama. Rangavimana is the first and the earliest of these” Speaking of the second class of idols the God said, “I will come to Kanci as Varadaraja, where my idol will be installed by you. Ananta will instal my idol in the south, Rudra in Kandikapura, Visvakarma at Nanda, Dharma at Vrisabagiri, Asvini at Asvatirtha, Indra at Cakratirtha, etc. So also great seers will install me in certain places and men everywhere.” Then the God explained to Brahma the procedure for conducting the worship and lay down in the characteristic pose at Srirangam and kept silent.
Brahma took the vimana from Ksirasagar to his abode in Satyaloka and established it on the banks of the Vraja. He appointed Viwasvan, the sun god, to do the daily puja of the God. After Viwasvan his son Vaivasvata Manu continued the puja. Iksvaku, a son of Manu, became the king of Ayodhya and found it difficult to worship the vimana at Satyaloka. Hence he did penance, which extended over hundreds of years, and obtained the permission of Brahma to take it to Ayodhya. After Iksvaku his descendants worshiped the God. Rama gave the vimana to Vibhisana, who established it on the banks of the Kaveri.
At this stage Narada asks Rudra to give details of the above account, viz., the coming of the vimana to Srirangam. Rudra replies:
Vasista told Iksvaku, his disciple, the origin of the Sriranga Vimana and added that after being worshiped by him and his generations, it would establish itself in Srirangam and be worshiped by the Cola monarchs. As advised by his guru Iksvaku did penance near the former’s asrama with the object of bringing the vimana to Ayodhya from Satyaloka. Indra, the king of the gods knew the purpose of the penance and consulted Brahma about the possibility of their losing the vimana. Brahma went to Visnu, who told him that it was His intention to go to Ayodhya and thence to Srirangam. Then Brahma brought the vimana to Iksvaku on the back of Garuda. Iksvaku carried the vimana to Ayodhya, established it between the rivers Sarayu and Tamasa, built a shrine and organised worship.
Dasaratha, in the line of Iksvaku, performed the sacrifices of Asvamedha and Putrakamesti for which celebrations he invited monarchs of all India, one of whom was Dharmavarma, the Cola. Dharmavarma saw the Rangavimana, knew its history and wanted to have it in his country. So, when he returned home he began performing penance on the banks of the Candrapuskarani.6 (A tank in the Srirangam temple.) The risis around said to him, “Nearby lies your old city in ruins.7 (The reference is to Uraiyur, the capital of the Colas.) Rudradeva burnt it in anger. Close to it there was a risi-asram, where we had congregated under the leadership of Dalbya risi, who worshipped God. When God appeared to him, he requested Him to stay there and sanctify the place, to which the latter replied that in His avatar as Rama, He would come to that place as Ranganatha, for the sake of Vibhisana. We are expecting the Sriranga Vimana even now. Hence your penance is unnecessary”. On hearing this Dharmavarma stopped his penance and retired to Nisula.
Rama worsted Ravana in battle, crowned Vibhisana king of Lanka and performed the ‘asvamedha’ sacrifice in Ayodhya. To it all were invited including Dharmavarma. Rama presented the Rangavimana to Vibhisana out of his munificence as the latter was very much helpful to him in his fight against Ravana.
Vibhisana bore the vimana on his head and, on his way to Lanka, stopped at Srirangam and placed the vimana on the banks of the Candrapuskarani. The risis immediately informed Dharmavarma about the arrival of the vimana. The Cola king came to the spot and received Vibhisana with great delight. The latter bathed in the sacred waters of the Kaveri and worshipped the vimana. Dharmavarma also performed puja and requested Vibhisana to stay with him for a few days. To this Vibhisana did not agree and said that an utsava had to be performed in Lanka the next day. The cola replied that the festival might as well be performed in his own country and that he would meet all the expenses. Vibhisana then agreed to stay, and the festival was begun and celebrated for nine days in a grand fashion. After a stay of a fortnight Vibhisana started for Lanka. To his utter amazement and sorrow the vimana had got itself fixed to the spot where he had placed it and had become irremovable.8 (According to the popular local version Vibhisana had been instructed by Rama not to place the vimana on the ground. At Srirangam Vibhisana entrusted it to a Brahmana boy for a short while. The latter placed it on the ground as the former did not return in time, as promised. When he returned Vibhisana found the vimana on the ground and irremovable. He became angry and chased the boy, who ran up the rock on the other side of the Kaveri. He was no other than Ganesa (Uccipillaiyar). See also Parameswara Samhita (10:279-281) ) Vibhisana shed tears. The God then said to him, “This place is good, so also its king and people. I desire to stay here. You may retire to Lanka”. He also related to Vibhisana the sanctity of the river Kaveri. “Visvavasu, a Gandharva of the Vindhyas, met on the hill side a congregation of river goddesses and made his obeisance to them. Immediately a debate arose as to whom it was meant. All except Ganga and Kaveri withdrew from the contest. Both the disputants went to Brahma, who declared that Ganga was superior. Kaveri did penance as a result of which Brahma granted to her a status of equality. Still dissatisfied she is performing penance at Saraksetra. To give her the first place among the rivers I have to raise her sanctity to the utmost by remaining in her midst. I will recline here facing your country. You may go back to Lanka.”
Dharmavarma built a shrine for the vimana, the surrounding prakaras and organised worship.
Long post, but here come the pillar sculpture. You can see Vibhisana in his royal bearings – crown and staff, lovingly carrying the Srirangam Vimanam. Sadly this amazing treasure trove of sculptural beauty – the sesharaya mandabam is currently neglected and used as a …..ok, dont want to end a good post on a sad note, we see that in a subsequent post. Enjoy the sculpture for now.