Construction of the Ranganatha temple

THE GREAT DEVOTEE TIRUMANGAI

Of all the temples in India, that of Lord Ranganatha, situated on an island in the Kaveri River, is certainly the largest. The story of how this temple came to be built is very interesting.

About three hundred years before the birth of Ramanujacharya, which was in AD 1017, there lived in south India a devotee named Tirumangai. His heart was always filled with devotion for Lord Vishnu, and in this mood of pure love he would compose beautiful poetic prayers.

From the time of his youth he was in the habit of travelling throughout the country to visit the various holy places of pilgrimage. In the course of his travels four great mystics had become attracted by his exalted nature and had become his disciples. Each of these disciples had a particular ability that set him apart from ordinary men.

The first disciple was named Tola Vazhakkan, and he was famous for his ability to vanquish any opponent in a debate. The second disciple was named Taluduvan, and he had the ability to open any lock without the need of a key. The third and fourth disciples both possessed most unusual talents. The third, Nizhalai Mithippan, could force any man to remain still simply by stepping on his shadow, while the fourth, Nirmal Nadappan, had developed the laghima siddhi, which enabled him to walk on water.

TIRUMANGAI’S VISIT TO SRI RANGAM

After touring many holy places of pilgrimage, Tirumangai at last came to the temple of Lord Ranganatha. The Deity of Ranganatha had originally been installed by Vibhisana, the brother of Ravana, but at the time of Tirumangai the temple was completely dilapidated and filled with bats. Once a day a priest would come there to offer a few flowers and a little water to the Deity before hurrying away out of fear of the wild animals that dwelt in the surrounding forest.

When he saw this unhappy state of affairs, a strong desire arose in the mind of Tirumangai to build a beautiful, opulent temple for Lord Ranganatha. However, he did not have a penny to his name and no more did any of his disciples. After consulting together they decided to approach every rich man they could find and beg him to give money for the building of a temple. Unfortunately, the effects of Kali-yuga having set in, not one of these rich men would give even a small coin and they frequently blasphemed the devotees by calling them rogues or thieves.

ADOPTING THE WAYS OF ROBBERS

Being a humble devotee, Tirumangai was not disturbed by this treatment, but the thought of the Supreme Lord standing uncared for in a wild forest full of jackals and hyenas caused him great pain. At last he could tolerate the situation no longer and exclaimed in front of his four disciples, “We have wasted enough time trying to persuade these rascals to serve the Lord. They will always remain atheists and unbelievers. Which is better – to beg from these villains while Lord Ranganatha remains in this sorry condition, or to humble them by building a temple for the Lord so magnificent that it will force them to bow down at his feet?”

The disciples answered, “The service of the Lord is our duty, not acting as the servants of these rogues.”

“Then prepare yourselves,” continued Tirumangai, “for from this day we will see to it that the wealth of these greedy men is spent for building a temple. These wealthy landowners, who are cruel by nature, have passed their lives taking from the poor, hard-working people and leaving them without enough to eat. Now then, let us rob these rascals and use their money for building a temple and feeding the poor.”

The four disciples readily agreed to this proposal, and each of them spoke in turn. Tola Vazhakkan said, “No one can defeat me in argument. So, while I engage some rich man and his attendants in a debate, they will forget everything else and you will easily be able to carry off their wealth.”

Taludhuvan said, “I have the ability to open any lock without a key. Therefore, no treasury door will ever be closed to us.”

Nizhalai Mithippan said, “Anyone whose shadow is touched by my feet loses all power of movement. Therefore, it will be easy for us to stop rich travellers along the roads.”

Nirmal Nadappan said, “The big houses of rich landowners, which are surrounded by moats of water, are always open to me, for I can easily walk over water. Therefore from today, all the treasure of kings is yours”

CONSTRUCTION OF THE RANGANATHA TEMPLE

With the assistance of his four disciples, Tirumangai soon became the leader of a large gang of robbers. Together they accumulated a great hoard of riches that was kept concealed in a secret place on Lord Ranganatha’s island. Spending large sums of money, Tirumangai brought the best architects in the land to design a huge temple for the Lord and at an auspicious moment he laid the foundation stone.

The inner temple room, encircled by the first ring of walls and crowned with a high tower, was completed in two years. Thousands of builders were engaged to take part in the construction, but even so it took four years to complete the next ring of walls and apartments, six years for the second, eight years for the third, ten years for the fourth, twelve years for the fifth, and eighteen years for the sixth. In all it took sixty years to complete the construction of the temple, and by this time Tirumangai was over eighty years old.

After the construction of the inner temple, kings began to send money to Tirumangai of their own accord, convinced now that he was a genuine devotee. Moreover, he was now the leader of a gang of over one thousand robbers and other wealthy landowners gave money liberally to assist with the work, fearing that all of their property would otherwise be plundered. Despite all this, Tirumangai still lived the simple life of a devotee, eating only once a day prasadam cooked by his own hand and prepared from food he obtained by begging. He would also ensure that all the people in that area never suffered for want of food -only the rich lived in fear of the sage Tirumangai.

(This is taken from the book, The Life of Ramanujacarya, available online here.)

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