By Swami Harshananda
Places of pilgrimage have played a very important role in preserving and reforming religion and culture. Some places have acquired importance due to the location of famous temples while some places are famous due to it's association with great saints.
Religious Significance of Melkoṭe
Melkoṭe is a small town in the Mandya district of Karnataka State of South India. It is distinct in both the ways. The ancient temple of Nārāyaṇasvāmi and the intimate association with Rāmānuja, the doyen among the teachers and propagators of the Viśiṣtādvaita Vedānta school, over a period of twelve years have made this little sleepy town one of the four chief fortresses of the sect of Srīvaiṣṇavism.
Geographical Location of Melkoṭe
It is Situated 48 kms. north-west of Mysore and 157 kms. south-west of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. The Melkote town is perched on a small hillock of pink granite that rises about 150 meters above the surrounding plains. It has a salubrious climate and agriculture is the main occupation of the residents.
Historical Significance of Melkoṭe
Melkoṭe was known variously, over the centuries, as Melgoṭe, Yādavagiri, Tirunārāyaṇapuram, Bhuloka-Vaikuṇṭha and Dakṣiṇa- Badarikāśrama. Its political control had changed hands several times due to the vicissitudes of history. The Gaṅgas, the Colas and the Hoysalas were the main dynasties that ruled over Melkoṭe before Rāmānuja’s arrival. Rulers of Vijayanagara empire and the Woḍeyars of Mysore controlled it in later times.
During the rule of Viṣṇu-vardhana of Hoysala dynasty, Rāmānuja arrived at Melkoṭe incognito from Srīraṅgam, now in Tamil Nadu, to escape from persecution at the hands of the Śaiva rulers there. Sometime during this period of his stay at Melkoṭe, he renovated the ancient Nārāyaṇasvāmi temple with the King’s help and reorganized its rituals and management. Over the years, this temple town has grown into an influential seat of the sect of Śrivaiṣṇavism with several temples and maṭhas. accruing to it.
The Nārāyaṇasvāmi temple is also called Celuvarāyasvāmi temple in the local language. It is the most sacred and important structure situated at the southern end of the flat plateau occupied by the present town. It is rectangular in plan with the specifications of 75 x 60 meters. It faces east. The garbhagṛha and the ardhamaṇḍapa are the oldest part of the structure built probably during the early part of the 11th century. Additional structures like pradakṣiṇā and pillared corridors or halls were continually added till the early part of the 19th century. Apart from the shrine for the main deity Nārāyaṇa, there are subsidiary shrines for:
- Devī known as ‘Tāyār’ or Mother
- ‘Yadugiri Nacciyar’
- Procession image known as ‘Śelvapillai’
- Few other saints
The gopuram or tower over the main entrance is imposing. Out of the several annual festivals of this temple the Brahmotsava conducted during March-April is the biggest. It spreads over twelve days. Since the deity is adorned with the ‘Vairamuḍi’ on the night of the sixth day, the festival is also called ‘Vairamuḍi Utsava’. This attracts a very huge gathering every year.
The only other temple of almost equal importance in Melkoṭe is the Narasimha svāmi temple located at the highest peak of the eastern fringe of the hill. There is a flight of steps leading to it. Half-way up, two rock-cut caves are also seen. There is a Sanskrit school attached to the main temple. In the recent times, a big institute has come up in the town for encouraging studies in Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and research.
Apart from the Nārāyaṇasvāmi temple complex, the only other major temple is that of Narasimha situated on the top of the hillock adjoining the Kalyāṇī or temple-tank. There are several minor but independent shrines outside the temple-complex. Shrines dedicated to Veṅkaṭaramaṇa, Varāha and Rāma are near the Kalyāṇī. Two shrines, one of Gaṇapati and another of Kāli, are situated in two different corners a little away from habitation.
Apart from these temples and shrines, there are also four mathas or well-known monasteries in the annals of the history of srivaisnavism. They are:
- Ahobila maṭha
- Parakala maṭha
- Vanamamalai maṭha
- Yatiraja maṭha
- He lived in A. D. 1017-1137.
- He lived in 8th century.
- He lived in 10th and 11th centuries.
- He lived in 12th century.
- He lived in A. D. 1106-1142.
- He lived in A. D. 1117-1128.
- They are the traditional monasteries.
- It means cella.
- It means passage-hall.
- Pradakṣiṇā means the passage for circumambulation.
- It is a huge diamond crown of unknown antiquity.
- It means pāṭhaśālā.
- Narsimha is the ‘Man-lion’ incarnation of Viṣṇu.
- Veṅkaṭaramaṇa is an aspect of Viṣṇu found in Tirupati.
- Varāha is the ‘Boar-incarnation’ of Viṣṇu.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore