Impressions from Srirangam

In addition to writing on the early modern cities of Lyon and Hamburg, Susanne Rau also works on early modern Indian cities, especially Calicut on the Malabar coast. In September 2022, her itinerary took her to, amongst other places, Srirangam. We are sharing some of her impressions, originally shared on twitter, below.

Before arriving in Srirangam, it’s a good idea to stop at the Rock Fort in Tiruchirappalli. From the top of this rock you not only have a great view of the city, but also of the river Kaveri flowing around Srirangam, at least of the gopurams, the entrance towers of the temple.  

It is about 350 steps to the top of the fort and a small Ganesha temple. which holds two cave temples built by the Pallavas in around 600 CE. Rededication as a fort took place during the Vijayanagara empire and under the Nayaks of Madurai.

The temple town can only be reached via a bridge, as it is located on an island between Kaveri and Kollidam. The Ranganathaswamy Temple, whose main gate is visible from afar, is dedicated to the god Vishnu. In his honour, pilgrims regularly make their way to Trichy, some settling in the town.

This city breaks all “holy” records: it is considered the first of the 108 Divya Desams, or holy temples in Hindusim, has a circumference of four kilometres, with the Rajagopuram is the highest with its 72 metres. The complex has a total of twenty-one towers, including this beautiful white eastern tower.

The temple structure, however, becomes legible only from the inside. It consists of seven concentric walls with prakarams or courtyards and features countless pavilions, shrines, water basins and halls with thousands of columns. James Burgess’s plan of 1910 conveys some of this complexity and elaboration.

Here are some more impressions and the timings in the temples: only the devotees may participate in the pooja (ritual offerings to the deities), but darshan is for everyone: 6:45-9 pm. And true to our time and age, those with very little time can participate in a ‘speed darshan!

Darshan literally translates as ‘seeing’ and denotes the interaction between a human being and a deity – seeing and being seen. Our former UrbRel fellow Meera Dass has discussed this religious concept and its spatial implications in another blog entry:

Likewise, our former fellow Ranjeeta Dutta has written on the production of religious and urban space in Srirangam on our blog: She has also published an article on the subject:

Dutta, Ranjeeta. 2021. ‘Temple, Urban Landscape and Production of Space: Development of Srirangam in Early Modern Tamil Region.’ In Religion and the City in South Asia, edited by Supriya Chaudhuri. New Delhi: Routledge. 30-47.

Cite this blog post
Susanne Rau (2022, December 23). Impressions from Srirangam. Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations. Retrieved June 15, 2024, from

Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau is professor of spatial history and culture at Erfurt University. Since 2018, she is directing the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (Kollegforschungsgruppe) "Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations" (DFG, FOR 2779).

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