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Kumbakonam - Sarangapani temple
Text & Photographs by Lalitha Venkat

The Sarangapani temple is the principal and largest of the Vishnu temples in Kumbakonam dating to the thirteenth-century. It is among the 108 Tirupatis and is given third place next to Srirangam and Tirupati. The shrine is in form of a chariot. A beautiful tank called Hema Pushkarni separates this shrine and the Adi Kumbeshwara temple.

Entry, into a hundred-pillar hallway from the seventeenth century (Nayak period), is through a twelve-storied pyramidal gopuram, more than 40m high which is considered one of the largest gopurams in South India. Pass through a smaller gopuram that leads into a second courtyard that contains another columned mandapa and to the right, a shrine to Lakshmi. The central shrine dates from the late Chola period with many later alterations.
Its entrance, within the innermost court, is guarded by huge dvarpalas, identical to Vishnu whom they protect.
Between them are carved perforated stone screens in different designs, and in front of them stands the sacred, square fireplace (to do homam). During the day, pinpoints of light from ceiling windows penetrate the darkness around the sanctum, designed to resemble a chariot with reliefs of horses, elephants and wheels. A painted cupboard contains a mirror for Vishnu to see himself when he leaves the sanctum sanctorum.

There are 2 entrances to the sanctum. One is kept open throughout the Uttarayan period and the other during the Dakshinayan period.

By the side of the temple is the Golden Lotus tank also known as Lakshmi Theertham. Goddess Lakshmi performed penance here and Vishnu came down as Lord Aravamudhan and married Her. Sarangapani, Aravamudhan and Komalavalli are the presiding deities.