Temples of Karnataka
Melkote located near Mysore
in Karnataka houses an ancient shrine to Vishnu, worshipped as TiruNarayana.
This shrine is known for its long standing association with the spiritual leader Ramanujacharya.
Melkote is also known as Yadavagiri, yatistalam, Vedadri and Narayanadri.
The presiding deity here (moolavar)
is known by the name Tiru Narayana, while the processional image of Vishnu
goes by the name Selva Pillai or Sampath Kumara.
Vishnu's consort is known by the name Yadugiri Taayaar. The image of Selvappillai is
housed in the Rangamandapa. There are shrines to Yadugiri Taayaar and Kalyani
Nachiyaar. The temple tank is known by the name Kalyani theertham.
Legend has it this image of Vishnu
was held in worship by Bhrahma. It is believed that the festival image
Sampatkumara was worshipped by Rama and his son Kusha;
hence the name Ramapriya. Legend has it that Krishna
installed this image here at Melkote.
Melkote has two distinct temples. The
Tirunarayana temple at the foothills and the hill temple to Yoga
Narasimha. Legend has it that the Yoga Narasimha temple image was installed here
King Bittideva of Karnataka who
embraced the Sri Vaishnava way of life and patronized the saint Ramanujacharya, assumed
the name of Vishnuvardhana and built five shrines known as the
Panchanarayana temples. It is believed that at that time the Narayanapura
shrine was in ruins and that both the images of Tirunarayana and Sampathkumara were
missing and that Ramanujacharya discovered the image of Tirunarayana in the midst of Tulasi
shrubs on the Yadavagiri hill and installed it back in the temple.
Legend has it that during the Muslim
raids of South India, the festival image of Melkote was stolen and taken away and that Ramanujacharya
restored it from the court of the ruler. It is said that it a muslim princess
had gotten attached to the image of Selvappillai and that being unable to part with it,
she followed the Acharya to Melkote and then merged into the shrine there. In honor of
this, there is an image of Bibi Nachiyar here.
This temple is known for its Vairamudi Sevai
in the month of March-April, when the image of Selvappillai is adorned
with a diamond crown and taken out in procession. It is traditional belief
that this crown is not to be looked at when it is not worn by the festival image; hence
each year, during the occasion, the officiating priest picks up the crown from its chest
with his eyes blindfolded and then places it upon the head of the image of Selvappillai.
Thousands congregate to celebrate this occasion each year.
Such was the hospitality of the residents of Melkote
that they were reluctant to let Ramanuja leave for Srirangam.
Hence, Ramanujacharya made an image of himself and left it behind. It is
to be noted that Ramanuja's body in its preserved state is maintained at Srirangam and
that there is another image of Ramanuja at Sriperumpudoor near Chennai.