The Saga of Thulukka Naachiyaar, Sri Rangam

I wonder how many people who visit the gigantic temple at Thiruvarangam, the first of the 108 Divyadesas and the very heart of the ShriVaishnava cult, know that the lord of the temple, Sri Aranganathan, got married to a muslim princess out of her love for him. And still fewer do actually know the tide of events that lead to this divine union and the series of interesting events that followed it. Here I lay forward the story of this strange marriage, a story that spans over sixty years, a story that transcends all religions to prove once again that God is indeed one.

It was a time when the atrocities of the Muslim inveders were reaching new heights. Their hatred for idol worship made the hindus tremble, not in fear for their lives, but in fear of the possible damages that the holy idols in their hallowed temples would suffer. Drastic measures were made to save the idols from disrespect. The ruthless Muslims, used to destroy the idols and if that was not possible, deface them. The smaller utsavar idols made of the expensive Panchaloha were carried off in large heaps to Delhi, to be melted into new ornaments. The priests did their very best to cover the sanctum with bricks and send the smaller idols for safekeeping with trusted families. The Muslim forces however, kept driving further south in conquest.

Headed by Malik Kafur, the crushing army came to the banks of the Kaveri. On an island between the Kaveri and Kollidam stood a magnificent temple, gleaming with riches. Sri Rangam, the holy abode of Lord Ranganatha. Malik Kafur was astonished by the grandeur of the temple and by its sheer size. But his instincts immediately kicked in. “Charge”, he thundered and his army broke into the largest functioning temple complex in the world. 

So huge was Sri Rangam that Malik Kafur took days going around the Prakarams, plundering the people. The inner temple,was fiercely protected by the staunch vaishnavas, who refused to let the muslims defile their holiest shrine. They held out the army for three days, time sufficient enough to build a wall in front of the main sannidhi and to hide out the reclining god. The priests even managed to bury the utsavar of Ranganayaki under a neem tree, but alas, before they could save the utsavar of Ranganathar, the army broke in. They killed every one in sight, took the utsavar and marched back to Delhi.

Ranganathan in Rathna Angi

Ranganathar in Rathna Angi

The whole city of SriRangam wore a forlorn look. People mourned the deaths of their near and dear. More so, they mourned the loss of the utsavar from their temple. A few brave, bright men came forward and vowed to bring back the idol from Delhi. “We will not return without Arangan”, they said and over the next few days, they hatched their master plan. A couple of days later, the group set out to Delhi, disguised as an entertainment troop.

Meanwhile at the palace of Malik Kafur in Delhi, strange things were afoot. When the soldiers brought in the idol, the daughter of Malik Kafur, Princess Surathani, was overwhelmed by the charming face of Arangan. “Baapa”, she called out to her father, “Can I have this sweet idol as my doll? I like him a lot. Please do not melt him too.”, she begged. Malik Kafur allowed her to play with the idol and Surathani imediately carried him to her room. Over the next few weeks, Surathani never used to be away from Arangan. She bathed the idol, dressed it, offered food and even slept with the idol. Pleased with her acts of love, Ranganathar used to appear before her every night and offer her darshan in various forms and avatharas. Without actually realising it, Surathani fell in love with Rangar.

Ranganathar offering Darshan to Surathani, a quick sketch

Ranganathar offering Darshan to Surathani, a quick sketch

The entertainment troop from Srirangam finally reached Delhi and asked for permission to perform before the sultan. When the permission was granted, on a sacred Ekadashi day, they performed before Malik Kafur’s court. They put up their best dance and song skills and ultimately won the sultan’s liking. Malik Kafur was so overjoyed by the performance, that in return he gave them what they expected. “You have been excellent, just excellent. For your talent I offer you anything within the confines of this palace. You are free to take anything”, he offered. “Shahenshah”, said the lead man, bowing deeply, “we would like to have the statue of Arangan back. That is all that we need.” “You got it”, granted Malik Kafur and walked away. The troop however knew that the princess was deeply involved with the idol and that she would make a fuss if they took it away. So they waited for night to come upon, and when the princess was deep in sleep, they retrieved the idol and started out of the city.

They ran as fast as their carts could take them, lest the sultan sent his army behind. But to their bad luck, Surathani was so distressed to find her idol gone, that she immediately jumped on to her horse and followed the entertainment troop. Malik Kafur followed with his humungous army. Frightened by the army, the troop split into various smaller groups and decided to meet back in Sri Rangam. The man carrying the idol, his father and his son, ran into a dense forest and totally lost their way. The grandfather soon succumbed to the shock of the past few days and attained the lotus feet of Vishnu. The child too tripped and fell into a deep ravine, and ultimately reached Vaikuntha. Now, this was too much for the man carrying the idol. He lost his senses and became mad. Totally lacking any interest in life he wandered around the forest. He wandered and wandered…

Back at Srirangam however, Surathani searched all over for the idol. Not finding it, she gave up her life before the very doors of the sanctum. Seeing this, Malik Kafur was so enraged that he ordered every Vaishnava to be killed. A bloody war followed in which close to 13000 Vaishnavas lost their life. The beautiful Devadasis of the temple, finally,managed to seduce the army generals and sent them back home.

The temple somehow survived the catastrophe. But a lot of things were not in order. The utsavar was not with them and the temple festivities had to go on. The head priests, then secretly ordered for another identical utsavar to be made and installed it, saying that this indeed was the original one.

Ranganathar also appeared in the head bhattar’s dreams and pronounced that he had now taken Surathani to be his wife. She too had to be given all the respects that were given to the other Naachiyaars. The Bhattar then conveyed this dream to the temple head. A shrine was built for the muslim wife of Lord Ranganaatha. Since Islam shuns idol worship, she was worshipped in the form of a painting, richly decorated with gems and gold and is still worshipped today.

Sixty long years passed by. One fine day, a group of traders found themselves to be lost in the same dense jungle we had talked about. And wonder of wonders, they came across a totally unkempt man, with hair so long that it trailed behind him. His eyes lacked any hint of sanity. In absolute silence they followed this man. In the very depths of the forest they found the man, pouring water crudely over a statue of Vishnu. “That looks like the utsavar of Srirangam”, shouted the eldest among them. “But what is it doing here?” Puzzled, they confront the bear-man for an explanation. The moment they took the idol in their hands, the man dropped down. His soul fled from his body to the higher reaches of Vishnuloka. Now totally perplexed, the traders brought the idol back to Srirangam and placed it before the Bhattar. It had been sixty long years and the people who had witnessed the disaster were long since gone. Confusion reigned at the temple.

It was then that the old, blind temple washerman came to their rescue. “Bhattarperuman,” he told, meekly “If permitted I can find out which of the two statues is the original one. Days earlier, when I was but a small boy, my father used to give us theertham squeezed from the clothes of the utsavar. I have been used to the taste of the theertham. Therefore by drinking the Thirumanjana Theertham of the utsavars, I could possible point out the original one.” he offered. The bhattar too agreed. Thirumanjanam was performed to both the idols and the theertham was given to the washerman. The washerman identified the original statue to be the one that was brought in from the forest. Everyone rejoiced at the recovery of the ancient statue. The original utsavar was reinstalled in the temple. However, the other utsavar could not be left alone, for it too had been worshipped for sixty years. The bhattar, therefore, placed it near Rangan’s feet and continued to offer poojas to it. To add on to this interesting series of events, Ranganayaki appeared in a boy’s dream and asked him to lead the Bhattar to a particular neem tree and dig under it. The boy too dutifully did the same and out came the long buried statue of Ranganayaki. It is indeed a surprise that she revealed herself only when the original utsavar was back in the temple. The mysterious ways of our gods!!!

Ranganathar, with the two Utsavars

Ranganathar, with the two Utsavars

So even today, in SriRangam, at the sannidhanam, we can see two utsavars receiving worship. Also, the shrine to Surathani is found near the Arjuna Mandapa, next to the main sanctum and she is lovingly called Thulukka Naachiyaar. Once a year, the Kalyana utsavam of Thulukka Naachiyaar with Arangan is celebrated with great pomp and show. In testimony to her unflinching love, to this day, Arangan’s breakfast naivedhyam consists of Butter Roti’s and Sugar, cooked Mughalai style. They are first offered to the Naachiyaar and then only offered to Rangan.

And so, the temple continues to exist, with all its grandeur refurbished and shining bright, the Naachiyar shrine, a standing example of what true devotion and love is actually supposed to be.


[P.S. I would love to dedicate this post to Varun [Gultee], Vinoth [Dubukku] and Ram [Kama], who were the ones who let me in on this story, one bored night, at the hostels in college :D]


~ by deepaksaagar on March 7, 2009.

31 Responses to “The Saga of Thulukka Naachiyaar, Sri Rangam”

  1. Hey, lovely…thank you so much!! Keep them coming Deepak 🙂

    By the way, you probably know- there is a Bibi Naachiyaar worshipped in Melkotte as well with a similar story (with some embellishments) as to how Ramanujar got the utsava murthy of Cheluva Narayana back from a king in Delhi after winning over his scholars in a debate on Sri Vaishnavism! Legend has it during a fight between the princess and Sri Ramanuja over ownership of the idol Ramanuja called out to the idol saying it was time to go back…and Cheluva Narayana came to him! 😀

  2. Yeah.. I know that one too… A short post follows on that version Sid.. Thanks for reminding me 😀

  3. Hi,
    Great post. Btw where did u get the full info? I rem the day when i narrated the same story in our hostel. Well it was fortunate for me to hear this story right in the pragaram of Srirangam.:) …There are many other interesting stories about Sriram…one about why foreigners not allowed to enter he the main pragaram ..also great pictures [:)]

  4. But, the Utsavar of Ranganatha was not taken to Delhi as far as adiyen’s knowledge. Instead, it was taken to Tirupati and was placed there for 60 years. . Led by Pillai Lokacharya, the seniormost acharya at the time, a group of Sri Vaishnavas hurriedly left Srirangam with Namperumaal, the Ranganatha utsava-mUrti, and headed to Jyotishkudi. There, an exhausted Pillai Lokacharya breathed his last, unable to take the stress of the invasion and journey. Meanwhile, the mUla-vigraham of Ranganayaki Thaayaar was buried in the courtyard in front of Her sannidhi, and Desika is said to have supervised the building of a wall in front of the Ranganatha’s sannidhi to hide the mUlavar. The aged Sudarsana Suri was also among those who died during the invasion. Before his death, he entrusted his two young sons and the only manuscript of the Sruta-prakASikA to Desika’s care. Desika, the boys, and others hid themselves among the dead bodies to escape slaughter.With the invasion of the temple came the need for Desika himself to leave Srirangam, so he took his family and the sons of Sudarsana Suri and headed northwest, settling down first in Satyamangalam, in present day Karnataka. Please read Abiti Stava of Swami Desika for more details.. If any mistakes kindly forgive this adiyen

  5. Raghav, many versions of the story exist. The one I wrote was what I heard through word of mouth. I totally accept your point of view and the authority of the sacred literatures that you have mentioned. Thank you for the eye opener. I would be glad to know more details.

  6. hallo!!!!!

    I am simply ecstatic reading your posts on my beloved deities!!!!
    and your sketches are so ‘lively’,especially of ambA’s-simply divine!
    I am beyond happy to stumble upon your blog!!!!

  7. The Story of Bibi Naachiyar(s) is a shammeful cover up of Muslim invasion and destruction of Srirangam-Madurai-Helebid temples.What happened is a more serious event- plundering of temples and wealth of India! The 1st attack by Malik Kafur(c/o Ala-ud-din) in 1311 AD was relatively sudden!As per historian Jiauddin Barani, Kafur went back to Delhi with 241 tonnes of gold/20,000 horses/612 elephants laden with huge looted treasure from Helebid Madurai and Srirangam incldg golden idol of Ranganatha ! The 2nd attack was in 1323 AD by Ulugh Khan (c/oTuglak).12000 devotees sacrificed life and a handful of acharyas carried the idols of Ranganatha/Ranganayaki (both installed post 1311 AD )to Thiruppathi through a circuitous route: Thirukkoshtiyur,Jyotishkudi,Azhagar Koil, Srivilliputtur, Calicut, Gundulpet,Chittoor & Melukote. Idols came back to SRGM after a 60 year ordeal all along ! This was made possible by the rise of Vijayanagara empire who drove away the Muslims from SRGM Madurai.They reinstalled the holy deities in Srirangam and rebuilt the temple.Even more gigantic was the task at Madurai Meenakshi Temple complex ransacked in full.So let us realise again that the story of Thulukka Nachiyar is a shameful compromise prpjected in history by some crazy devotees to placate and assuage the Muslim rulers of the time! Bad news was that they could not save the temple(s) despite such gimmicks…. Good News was that the mosque at Madurai and SRGM/Kannanur were replaced with more glorious temples by Vijaya Nagara Kings in 1371 AD! South suffered much less damage compared to Somnath Dwarka , Mathura Kasi and of course Ayodya ! History repeated at Melukote/Seringapatna 500 years later when Hyder and Tipu plundered all gold! Tipu of course gave some silver vessels! History repeated at SRGM-Madurai too when both father-son attacked/looted.I beg all youngsters not to lighten the history of Muslim invasion in this manner ! Of course,we should not develop hatred against today’s Muslims for what happened then !In a light vein, they are also victims like our forfathers then… Let us read more authentic pieces of history on record by Muslim-Chinese-European-Indian authors !

  8. dear Sir,

    after the invasion of malik kafur, swamy namperumal returned to srirangam. then after that again the invaders came from delhi. at that time acharyan pillai lokachariyar took arangan utsavar with him and placed it in jyothishkudi now known as kalaiyar kovil. then the utsavar went to alwar thirunagari. after that arangan finally rested in thirunarayanapuram. after 12 long years the hoisalas were ready for war against the sultans. so swamy desikan took the idol with him to sathyamangalam, but due to bad luck the hoisalas were defeated and the king was killed, only five people in the arangan goshti took him back to thirunarayanapuram. but the sultan’s army found them and chased. so they changed their direction towards chandragiri ( the thirupathi forests). at that time one person, the maalazhagar killed by the army and one singazhagar escaped. the three vaishnavas thirukurugurdasar,villiputhurdasar, and sreeramadasar took the deity with them and found one huge valley around the hills. the one thirukurugurdasar tied the deity with him and roll over the steep valley and the other two followed him. but in that thirukurugur dasar was died and becos of the shock villiputhurdasar also attained paramapadam. sreeramadasar remained as a mentally shocked person but he kept the deity with him for more than 18 long years by doing manasa pooja.

  9. these informations are got by me from thiruvarangan Ula book by sri venugopalan and smt rajalakshmi’s namperumal vaibhavam. if there is any fault in this please forgive me. but from desikar’s life history, he made the stone wall to thiruvarangan moolavar at the age of 60. after 42 long years, at the age of 102, he came back to srirangam after of the victory of kopanacharya against madurai sultans, the stone wall was removed by him.

  10. Good work, By the way, what made you write about thulukka naachiar. I was looking for this for long and at last i got it. The sketch is very good. I guess i can get more info from Thiruvaranga ula, as i have heard about that from others too.
    Thank you very much

  11. I read that there is a Sri Rangantha temple south indian temple in Mathura, also very ancient. No written history about this temple is available online. Wonder if this was connected to the above story!

  12. RadheKrishna

    I read the story – so lovely to read anything about the Lord. But this is not what actually transpired.

    When the deity was given to the princess(the muslim king’s daughter) to play with and she got soo attached to it, the great Sri Ramanuja Acharya went to the king’s palace in person and told the king that he wanted the deity back. The muslim king said ‘ may call him (the deity) and if he’s willing to come with you, you may take his back..’ Sri Ramanuja, without any pause, just beckoned the deity saying ‘let’s go’ nonchalantly. The deity immediately started tottering towards Sri Ramanuja and he took it in his arms and left the king’s place at once. The princess who was besotted with the deity couldn’t stand the separation and ran after Sri Ramanuja who had by then installed the deity back in the temple.

    The king who followed her with his army was a second too late. He witnessed with own his two eyes that the his daughter out of unbearable viraham (separation) went running to embrace the deity and just disappeared/merged into the deity itself !!

    The king who saw this utterly divine sight attained parama-jnaanam at once – everything that he saw from there on was Krishna Himself ! (as said in the gita – ‘vaasu deva saravam iti sa mahaatmaa su-durlabha’). The king had become so realised that he once ran after a dog with butter in hand calling out ‘Krsnaa..Krsnaa..’ because it had run away with a piece of roti in its mouth. He could see Krsna in every being !

    This is what really happenned. Whilst I know this is true I won’t be able to tell you the source of it. I could find another link that narrates this episode more in line with the the actual/true happenning i’ve given you all above.


    • Krishna,

      The story you tell is related to a second famous Vaishnava Sthala called Thirunarayanapuram. I have written a blog entry on the Thulukka Naachiyaar there too. Anyways, I have done a more detailed writeup here and

  13. I was told this story as a young boy by my great grandmother and she’d say to me that is the united India that Gandhi wanted too…how history teaches us is amazing!

  14. Amamzing… Thanks a lot for this writeup. Had tears in my eyes when I was reading this…


    • rajaraja chola had only one sister whose name was Kundavai who married vandiyadevan. it is a historical fact and it is mentioned in Tanjore inscriptions. They are staunch saivaites. where is the proof that Kundavai converted to Islam?

  16. VERY nice to hear these stories.

  17. @ Mohamed: Is her Name SurathaRani. Ans is mentioned to be a Parsi and not a Tamil speaking Lady from Chozha Dynasity. You may be right that the Daughter of Choza King could have converted her self. ironically both has happened in Srirangam and Trichy. This is completly different as this has Historical proofs behind Malik Khafur’s invasion etc and the Idol did get lost. All these are recorded evidences. There is another details of Thuluka Nachiyar in Melkorte in Srirangam. All these has Historical evidence and authenticated by Historians.

  18. Hi Mohamed, As you would be knowing – “Thulukka” is the tamil word for Muslim and “Nachiyar” is the word “Noble lady”. So there might be several instances in history where we would come across such noble ladies. So if you feel there is only one person that can be noble in entire islamites, you are hurting yourself. Even if you feel all these are fake stories including the trichy one that you mentioned, please be conscious to the fact that these contributes to communal hormany like the way we worship Vaavar swami. Enough of so many distructions including temples and masjids out of communal hatred, lets us not destroy the stories atleast. Just think what will you gain by calling this “FAKE”…

  19. Thanks for such a great information

  20. Most fascinating. Unfortunate that that our temples were looted. But I wondered why the Almighty kept quiet when all this happened? Id it to bring out the true love of a muslim girl? Or is it as Ramakrishna paramahamsa said about Somnathpur, that the Lord wanted to liberate himself from silver and gold?

  21. On further contemplation i feel that probably Arangan decided that it is a fitting punishment to a temple looter to deprive him of his most prized treasure, that is, his daughter.

  22. I went to Srirangam to see the Renganathar and also Thulukka Naachiar, but there is no way to reach Thulukka Naachiar . The shrine is locked and protected by roped. I really felt ashamed of Internet bogus news. Even for
    Renganathar Rs.250/- queue, those gentle men take one hour to issue ticket. The queue was idle for more than 45 minutes, No issue of tickets.
    Why ??????????

    • Srirangam temple has some age old traditions . The deity can be seen only during some fixed timings . The person at counter issuing tickets will come at that time only . You can see the Deity without paying also in the general line . It is not that crowded as in Thirumala . Even the KIng who ruled from Madurai had to wait in Srrirangam for one year to attend one particular function since he was late for the function in that year and the temple will not wait for the KIng’s arrival .

  23. Thanks for posting this.

  24. The story is true only i also hered from some bodies mouth

  25. @Satya…. Ticket counters will be operational only when it is SEVA Time. During the Kala Puja Times Queues will have to wait in Position. We dont want another Tirupathi Style 24 hours Mela in Srirangam also. Let the lord to have his time.

  26. The Lord Vishnu reclined in the bed of Adishesha( serpent ) is magnificent to see at Srirangam . The Urchavar deity is corroded may be due to contact with earth for long time . In the prime story the idol was always with some one and cared cannot be true . The corroded deity was found in the forest of Tirupathi is more probable . It may be of interest to some readers that the black object in the Milky way Galaxy from which 800 billion stars including our Sun and planet earth came out in 4 streams has coincidence with the concept of Lord Vishnu . The serpent associated with all Hindu Gods is a representation of rotating object as in a sine curve over time base similar to figure of ac current in all gadgets . The source for our Milky way galaxy with the stars coming out is visualized as multiple headed Adishesha . This black Object is situated in the direction of group of stars called Sagittarius which looks like a bird hence the Garuda to be seen first in the temple before Lord Vishnu .

  27. Bibi Nancharamma or Bibi Nachiyar is said to have married Tirupati Balaji… though the story might be true coz Paramatma, we just don’t know how he charms his bhaktas in what way 🙂 Well written 🙂 Narayana||
    P.S. There is a mandapam in Tirumala- Srivari temple, called as Ranga Mandapam, where Arangan’s poojai and utsavam were done to him, along with the utsavar of Balaji, for 60 yrs…. do give that a check too…

  28. I have read the entire discussion and related threads here. There had been instances of ladies of different religion falling in divine love and merging with the hindu lord. I, as the author of ‘Athisaya Siddhar Bogar’ (karpgam Puthakalayam, T.Nagar) and ‘Bogar-7000 Sapthakaandam Vilakkavurai’ (Leo Book publishers, T.Nagar), stand to clarify certain facts from my limited knowledge and research.

    Somebody raised questions like, ‘why the almighty kept quiet when the treasures were looted?’, ‘why should a daughter of a muslim looter be glorified?’.. etc. Discussions are based on limited evidences, propagated stories of legends and through temple epigraphy. Plundering happened across the country at Shiva/Vishnu temples.

    In Kaliyuga, such acts were imminent and god had lesser intervention because he had destined it to happen. The gold that was carried away will also be looted by someone and the relay goes on. As per the words of Krishna in Geetha, nothing is permanently owned. Saint Ramanuja who lived beyond 100 years had spiritual gnanadrishti about the passing of Thulukka Nachiyar and her merging in to the lord. Ramanujacharya understood everything during his Bharatha desa Digvijayam.

    In the melee, idols would have been misplaced at different temples like Melukote, Tirupati or elsewhere. So the authenticity of fact dwells with the lord himself. This was a common feature during the days of invasion and the revelation of hidden idols by divine dreams. All had happened with a purpose. Little known and much unknown about other incidents. Saints and siddhars appear as messengers of god to guide us and protect dharma.

    Several lakh tonnes of gold is buried under earth across the geographical range from Srilanka, Matsya, Goa (Rathidweepam), Rajasthan to Ayodhya. These were hidden by Ravana, Matsaya kings, Harischandra and Rama. It is almost like hillocks of hold submerged under earth and will be revealed at the right time before the end of kaliyuga. The mapped areas are described by Sidhar Bogar in one of his magnificent compositions called Bogar-7000.

    Let us not be frustrated or aggressive based on the bad pages of history. A lot more uglier/ugliest adharma is yet to come in the next 4,25,000 years before the end of kaliyuga. I remember the quote of Jesus, ‘Who haveth ears may hear’… Let us not argue anymore on this. God does not personify or exhibit ownership towards this. Saivam or vaishnavam, Dwaitham or Adwaitham, plundering or thiruvilayadal, everything is in our conception.

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