Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Danseuse Vellayi who saved Vishnu's idol from Muslim invasion - tale of vellai gopuram, Srirangam

Vellai gopuram (east)srirangam Ranganathar temple. TrekEarth
Any person visiting  the temple town of Srirangam, near Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu can not miss the massive tall temple tower (236 feet / 73 m tall; tallest in Asia) on the  south side built at the initiative of Jeer  Swamilkal of the Ahobila Mutt in 1987. The temple tower  dominates the landscape for miles around this place. The path under this tower leads us directly into the Sri Ranganathar temple's  main entrance gate. Here, people line up to get into the temple complex.  In this temple complex, considered first  among the 108 Divya Desams (dedicated to Sri Vishnu), there are 20 other gopurams (towers) of various sizes that were built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The Vijayanagara rulers and the Nayaks of Thanjavur made valuable contribution to this temple. Among them is the tall tower called Vellayi gopuram - Eastern tower (44 meter 
Vellai Gopuram (eastern tower). ommons.wikimedia.org/
tall)  above the eastern gate of the fourth enclosure that no body can miss and the striking feature of this gopuram is  it's white color.  Hence the name Vellayi gopuram (in Tamil "Vellayi" means white). For centuries it has been that way and the temple authorities, during renovation of the  temple, paint this tower only in white.  A small percentage of visitors or people living in this part of the city may  know why this particular tower is painted fully in white.

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.

Ref:
http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/the-legend-of-vellayi/article2774700.ece

http://navrangindia.blogspot.in/2015/03/srirangam-ranganathar-templetamil-nadu.html