Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple – Srirangam, India
All right temple-philes, here’s the one you’ve been waiting for: quite possibly the biggest temple in India – so large, it feels like a self-enclosed city. It has 49 separate shrines, all dedicated to Vishnu, and reaching the inner sanctum from the south, as most worshippers do, requires passing through seven gopurams. The first, the Rajagopuram, was added in 1987, and is one of Asia’s tallest temple towers at 73m high.
You pass through streets with shops, restaurants, motorbikes and cars until you reach the temple proper at the fourth gopuram. Inside is the ticket desk for the nearby roof viewpoint, which gives semi-panoramic views of the complex. Take no notice of would-be guides who spin all kinds of stories to get you to hire them. Non-Hindus cannot pass the sixth gopuram so won’t see the innermost sanctum whose image shows Vishnu as Lord Ranganatha, reclining on a five-headed snake.
Turn right just before the fifth gopuram to the small but intriguing Art Museum, with good bronzes, tusks of bygone temple elephants, and a collection of superb 17th-century Nayak ivory figurines depicting gods, demons, and kings and queens (some erotically engaged). Continue round to the left past the museum to the Sesha Mandapa, a 16th-century pillared hall with magnificently detailed Vijayanagar carvings of rearing horses in battle. Inside the fifth gopuram is the Garuda Mandapa, with a shrine to Vishnu’s man-eagle vehicle.
The temple’s most important festival is the 21-day Vaikunta Ekadasi (Paradise Festival) in December/January, when the celebrated Vaishnavaite text, Tiruvaimozhi, is recited before an image of Vishnu.
Bus 1 from or to the Central Bus Station or the Rock Fort stops just south of the Rajagopuram.
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