Sri Ranganatha Swami
"ka:ve:ri: viraja: se:yam vaikuntam ranga mandiram
sa va:sude:vo range:sah pratyaksham paramam padam
vima:nam pranava:ka:ram ve:da srungam maha:dbhutam
sri:ranga sa:yi: bhagawa:n pranava:rtha praka:sakah"
Meaning: The river Kaveri in SriRangam is the very same Viraja River flowing in Vaikuntam and the temple in SriRangam is Vaikuntam itself, the abode of Lord Vishnu. The Lord of SriRangam is none other than Lord Para Vasudeva himself from Parama Padam. The fascinating Vimanam in the form of O:mka:ra - the life sustaining mantra. The towers of the SriRangam temple are like the Vedas and the Lord Ranganatha is enunciating the importance of the Pranavam(O:mka:ra).
Lord Srimannarayana created Lord Brahma to in turn create the universe. Brahma saw Lord Srimannarayana reclining on five-headed A:di Se:sha and was so mesmerized by this divine sight that he prayed to the Lord to replicate this form into a stone deity for his daily worship. Thus the deity form, called “Sri Ranganatha” was incarnated by Srimannarayana himself, and Brahma was worshiping the deity daily in Satya Lo:ka.
Ikshva:ku, the renowned emperor of Surya Vansham dynasty, performed a severe penance to please Brahma. To reward Ikshvaku, Brahma gave him the Sri Ranganatha deity. Until and during Lord Rama’s era in the Treta Yuga, all the emperors of Surya Vansham worshiped Lord Ranganatha in their puja mandir as their hereditary God (Kula- Daivam). Thus, Lord Ranganatha is called Ikshva:ku Kula Dhanam. After being crowned as emperor of Ayodhya, Lord Rama gifted Sri Ranganatha to Vibhishana as a token of gratitude.
On the way back to Lanka, Vibhishana carried Sri Ranganatha on his head. Noting the time, he placed Sri Ranganatha on a beautiful island in the middle of river Kaveri so that he may perform Sandhya Vandanam. To his surprise, the deity could not be lifted anymore. Lord Ranganatha promised to Vibhishana that he would eternally gaze towards Lanka. Therefore, we find Lord Ranganatha reclining on Adi Sesha and facing the South. The island on which the Lord resides in reclining posture is called Srirangam.
Since then, several kings have built a large temple around the deity. SriRangam is the first and foremost of 108 Divya Desams, praised by all of the 12 Alwars, and also the first and foremost of the eight “Swayam Vyakta Kshetras” (self-manifested holy places of Lord Vishnu), the others being Tirumala, Badrinath, Muktinath, Srimu:shnam, Va:nama:malai, Naimisha:ranyam and Pushkar.
The SriRangam temple is the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world spanning 156 acres.
Vishnu Chittha and Go:da Devi
Around 5000 years ago, at the beginning of Kali Yuga, Vishnu Chittha (Bhatta Natha / Periyalwar) was a brahmin who used to weave garlands in the Vatapatra Sa:yi Perumal temple (one of the 108 Divya Desams) of SriVilliputhur (near Madurai). He constructed the 193.5 ft tower for this temple which was the tallest until recently. Such was the grace of this tower that the Indian state of Tamil Nadu adopted this as their state emblem.
Go:da Devi, who is said to be the incarnation of Bhu: Devi - appeared as a beautiful baby, in the Tulasi garden of the same temple. She is one of the 12 Alwars who grew up as an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna learning about divine acts of Lord Krishna and all Divya Desams. As a child, she would assist her father in weaving the garlands to Vatapatra Sa:yi Perumal. Out of divine love and innocence, Go:da would try out the garlands made by her father and peer into the well and see her own reflection, checking them to see if they are fit to be offered to Lord Vishnu. This innocent act of Go:da Devi went on for quite some time unnoticed by Vishnu Chittha. One day, upon discovering this, Vishnu Chittha became extremely upset and didn’t offer them to the Lord. However, Lord Vishnu appeared in his dream, addressed him as “father-in-law”, and said he would adorn the garlands only after they were worn by Go:da Devi ! Because she used to wear the garlands meant for offering to the Lord, she is called ”Chudi Kodutha Nachiyar'. She has composed Thiruppavai and Nachiyar Thirumozhi, which are part of Divya Prabandham.
Dhanurma:sam and Thiruppavai
Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita 10.35 said - “ma:sa:na:m ma:rga-shi:rshoham”
Which translates to - “ Of all the 12 months, I am Margashirsha Masa”
In divine role play, where Go:da Devi imagines herself to be a Go:pika, she sang the Thiruppavai which comprises 30 pasurams (verses). Inspired by the actual Go:pikas who performed similar vratam to obtain the grace of Lord Krishna in Dwa:para Yuga, she details the manner in which she, along with the other imaginary Go:pikas, approach and try to obtain the grace of Lord Krishna. Each song has a superficial meaning and a more profound implication on a deeper look. It is considered to be very auspicious to chant the Thiruppavai, which is truly the essence of the Vedas, during the Dhanurma:sam/Margazhi Maasam/solar calendar month of mid December - mid November. “Dhanurmasa Vratham'' is the only other vratham for Sri Vaishnavas apart from the E:kadashi vratham. Performing Dhanurma:sam vratam that culminates with the Go:da Kalyanam is known to bestow all-round prosperity on the entire region surrounding the place where it is performed.
Go:da Devi desired Lord Ranganatha with intensity, passion, and love that would be befitting of a woman who yearns for communion with a man by way of marriage. Lord Ranganatha granted her this desire by appearing in the dreams of the priests in SriRangam and Vishnu Chittha. He instructed them to facilitate a grand wedding, and to escort Go:da Devi in the same palanquin used to carry “Namperumal'' - the utsavar of SriRangam and with the same worshiping procedures offered to him, from SriVilliputhur to SriRangam. Vishnu Chittha immediately approached the King of Madurai - Vallabha Deva Raya. Go:da Devi was escorted with an ultimate grandeur and a very big procession comprising of the Vishnu Chittha and his family and friends, King Vallabha Deva Raya and his royal entourage and multiple carts loaded with royal gifts, and the group of priests who came from SriRangam. By the time the procession reached SriRangam, it was late in the night. Vishnu Chittha and Go:da Devi rested at a house outside the SriRangam temple. In today’s world, this house has been converted into a temple called Veli Andal Sannidhi. The wedding was performed the next day to Go:da Devi and Namperumal outside the sanctum sanctorum in a mandapam in SriRangam called “Ranga Vilasa Mandapam''. After the ceremony, when the utsava murthy was being taken back into the sanctum sanctorum, Go:da Devi merged into the Lotus Feet of Lord Sri Ranganatha (Moolavar). Thus Go:da Kalyanam is an event representing the pinnacle of Bhakti that culminates in the jivatma merging into the paramatma. From that point on, Go:da Devi was called A:nda:l (She Who is our savior).
Upon Vishnu Chittha’s prayers, Lord Ranganatha promised that he, along with Go:da Devi and Garuda would appear as deities in SriVilliputhur in the very house where Vishnu Chittha used to live with Go:da Devi. This duly occurred by the time Vishnu Chiththa returned to SriVilliputhur. There is a beautiful temple for Go:da and Krishna there, and people worship the form of Go:da and her beloved Lord in grand ways. The Velli Andal temple and Ranga Vilasa Mandapam can also be seen even today in SriRangam!
Ramanujacharya & Go:da Devi
Go:da Devi vowed to Sundara Bahu Perumal in Tiruma:liran Solai, otherwise known as Azhagar Ko:il (temple) near the town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, that she would offer 100 vessels of “Akka:ru Adisil” (rice payasam). But as she merged into Sri Ranganatha after the divine wedding, she could not fulfill this vow.
Bhagwad Ramanujacharya who was born 4000 years later, was a staunch devotee of Go:da Devi. After a deep-dive learning of the life-history of Go:da Devi, he immediately fulfilled the desire to offer 100 vessels of “Akkaru Adisil'' prasadam and 100 vessels of butter to Sundara Bahu Perumal Tiruma:liran Solai. He traveled to Srivilliputhur to pray to and inform Go:da Devi about the offering. Deeply moved by this gesture, Go:da Devi in the form of deity moved two steps forward and addressed him as “Anna” (elder brother). Even today, we can see the Go:da Devi deity 2 steps forward in SriVilliputtur. Ever since then, Ramanujacharya was conferred the title, “Go:dagraja,” Go:da’s brother.”
Ramanujacharya would fervently chant the verses of the Thiruppa:vai and would often deliver sermons expounding on the intricate depths of the verses. Thus, he was conferred with another title of “Thiruppavai Jeeyar''. From then onwards, devotees chant “Om Yathiraja Sahodaryai Nama'' while praying to Go:da devi and “Om Go:da Agrajaya Namaha'' while praying to Ramanujacharya, highlighting their brother-sister bonding.
The prominence of Go:da Devi in Divya Desams
In Tirumala, during the 30 days of Dhanurma:sam, each song of Thiruppavai is sung during the Suprabhata Seva instead of the verses from Venkatesha Suprabhatam (“Kausalya Supraja..”)
Till this date, the garland and the parrots made out of leaves that is adorned to Go:da Devi in Srivilliputhur is offered to Malaya Perumal (utsavar of Lord Venkateshwara) during Garuda Seva on 5th day of the Brahmotsavam in Tirumala.
The garland that adorns Go:da Devi is also offered to Sundara Bahu Perumal in Azhagar Koil, Madurai during the Chithirai Festival, which is the most prominent of the utsavams in the temple.
In all Vaishnavite temples including Divya Desams (and in pujas performed by Vaishnavas across the world), “Satrumurai”, which is verily the last two pasurams of the Thiruppa:vai is chanted after Mangalasasanam (Harathi).
So let’s all chant Thiruppa:vai with fervor and devotion like Go:da Devi, and obtain the grace of Sri Go:da Ranganatha.