Policemen stood guard at the entrance of the main arch restricting all vehicles except the ones with the VIP cavalcade. Every now and then the gates were opened for a High court judge, a freshly elected MLA, functionaries of the endowments department or high-end donors mostly jewellers from the area. Devotional songs and dance recitals on a specially erected stage were witnessed by an enthusiastic audience who cheered the different cultural groups with gusto. As we walked past the main arch and two others ornately decorated entrances, we saw the barricaded queue lines spilling over with men, women and children decked up in bright clothes.
Vaikunta Ekadasi celebrated with gaiety
All along the pathway, one saw petty shopkeepers selling toys, balloons, books and knick-knacks. The air was agog with festivity, typical to important places of pilgrimage, replete with the din and chatter, announcements made by the priests and relentless efforts of the omnipresent security personnel nudging the crowds to “keep moving”. The ancient 400-year-old Ranganatha Swamy Temple in Jiyaguda in the old city of Hyderabad resonated with chants of ‘Govinda nama’ where thousands of devotees gather each year. “Vaikunta Ekadasi is a grand celebration here and devotees begin to stand in the queue from 3 am in the morning. They continue to pour in till late at night and come back on the next day Dwadasi, which is celebrated with equal gaiety. People come from faraway places as they believe in the power of Ranganatha Swamy, who draws the third largest crowds after Srirangam and Tirupati on this day,” informs Padma, whose brothers are the temple trustees as she leads me to the mandapam of Lord Ranganatha.
While the area in which the temple is located is commonly called Jiyaguda, I was intrigued by locals whom we asked for directions refer to it as “Jeeyarguda”. “The place was named Jeeyarguda after Kalyana Vanamamalai Ramanuja Jeeyar, the head of the Vaishnavite Nanganur Prathama peetham, who stayed here and conducted rituals as per the Vaishnava Sampradaya. The local Muslims in the area found the name difficult to pronounce and it became Jiyaguda,” explains Purushottam Das, a regular devotee and donor. The temple built in the Dravidian style on the banks of the Musi River has a three-tier Rajagopuram and a central shrine with the idol of Ranganatha reclining on Adisesha. There are separate shrines for Lakshmi, worshipped as Ranganayaki, Andal, Garuda and Hanuman. The sanctum sanctorum has images of Vishnu’s Dashavataras etched beautifully while the Dwajasthambha is said to be special as it is made of Panchaloha or five metals.
The Ranganatha temple resonates with the rendering of the ‘Thiruppavai’ in Dhanurmasam where the peal of temple bells, the smell of camphor and delicious ‘naivedyam’ are all-pervading. Mamatha Reddy, a devotee who has been a regular visitor every year on Vaikunta Ekadasi for the past three decades, says the number of devotees coming to this temple from different parts of the country has risen steadily. The hereditary priests residing in the temple premises perform the pujas without breaking away from tradition and there are many families like hers who do not miss the temple festivals she says. The ancient architecture, elaborate decoration (alankarana) and devotional fervour of the devotees make a visit to the abode of the reclining Ranganatha a memorable one and set the tone for the ensuing good days of ‘Uttarayana’.
BY Aruna Ravikumar