|Vellai gopuram (east)srirangam Ranganathar temple. TrekEarth|
|Vellai Gopuram (eastern tower). ommons.wikimedia.org/|
There is a real story behind it and it bears testimony to the poignant life of a danseuse / Devadasi by the name of Vellayi after whom the tower has been specifically named. Vellayi, centuries ago, had sacrificed her precious life with the sole intention to protect the venerable idol of Namperumal in the sanctum - garbagraha from the marauding Delhi Sultanate forces who had invaded the temple town to loot the treasures.
If you turn the Indian history pages backward and go to the 1300s, the Muslim rule in Delhi had already been established by the invaders from NW of India, and it it was politically a volatile period for the natives. The Muslim invaders were more interested in looting the various rich Hindu and other temples in various regions for their vast treasures than expansion of their kingdom. Many northern states were invaded by the powerful Muslim armies and mercenaries and the rich temples were ransacked and looted.
Though such raids were not common in the southernmost states for various reasons, Srirangam town was again attacked by the Sultanate forces for the second time led by the Khilji dynasty's (1296 to 1316) military commander Ulagh Khan in the year 1323 (early invader was Malik Kaufer - 1310–1311) during the Tamil month of Vaikasi. According to 'Koyilozhugu,' a true record of events relating to Srirangam temple, nearly, 12,000 residents of Srirangam were felled down, fighting hard till their death to protect the temple and the precious idols, etc. However, they could not safeguard Lord Ranganatha's jewels and the temple gold that fell into the Delhi forces.
The forces had their eyes focused on the idol of Namperumal, which they believed was made of pure ‘Abaranji' gold. They searched for the idol and it ended in futility because, knowing the intention of the invading army from Delhi before hand, the Vaishnavite Acharya, Pillai Lokacharya had taken the idol away and fled to Madurai. But later he died on the way to Tirunelveli. (The idol of Namperumal that left Srirangam in 1323 returned only in 1371). Consort Reganayaki's idol was taken to a different place in a separate procession.
Terribly disappointed over the missing golden idol, the Sultanate forces killed the people associated with the temple and later were after Pillai Lokacharya and Namperumal. The situation in Srirangam was tense and chaotic and anything could happen to the main idol Namperumal and its protector.
Fearing that the forces would capture the Acharya and grab the idol, Vellayi, being smart as she was, performed a seductive dance before the commander of the forces, thus allowing more time for Pillai Lokacharya to escape with the idol. After the dance, she told the commander that she knew where the golden idol was kept and took the commander to the top of the eastern goupram - tower. There she asked him to look down at a particular place where the idol was kept and before he could blink his eyes, she pushed him down from the tower and killed him. To avoid being caught
and humiliated by the Muslim forces, uttering the name of Ranganathar, she jumped to death from the tower. Thus a young danseuse gave her life to save the precious idol of Ranganathar.
The chief of Vijayanagara forces led by one Kempanna, drove away the Sultanate forces, and after coming to know about the sacrifice made by Vellayi, he named the tower after her. Her timely sacrifice will go down in the history of this famous Hindu temple and thus this valiant woman, a devotee of Ranganathar has become an immortal figure. Indeed, she was exceptionally a pious and courageous woman whose exploits in times of danger will inspire young Indian women.