Sarangapani temple is the largest Vaishnava (the sect of the god Vishnu) shrine present in Kumbakonam. The present structure of the temple having a twelve storey high tower was constructed by Nayak kings in the 15th century. It is one of the “Divya Desams”, the 108 temples of Vishnu revered by the 12 Alvar saint-poets. The Ramaswamy temple, which has scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana depicted on its walls, was constructed by Govinda Dikshitar, the minister of successive Nayak rulers, Achuthappa Nayak (1560–1614) and Raghunatha Nayak (1600–34). He added a commercial corridor between the temple and the older Chakrapani temple, which in modern times is called Chinna Kadai Veethi, a commercial street in the town.
Lord Perumal’s reclining postures are different in different places. The one in Kumbakonam Sarangapani temple is praised as Uddhana Sayana. Saint Thirmazhisai Azhwar in his Mangalasasanam hymn asked Lord “Are you resting as your legs pain due to long walk”. Perumal tried to get up to grace Azhwar. Azhwar asked Perumal to give the darshan in the half-waking up posture. He is not in a complete reclining posture here as such.
The hymns sung by the 12 Azhwars on Lord Vishnu-Perumal had been edited as Nalayira Divya Prabandam – 4000 verses. Lord Sarangapani was instrumental for this compilation. One of the Vaishnava Acharya Sri Nadamuni who came here for worship heard some devotees sing the glory of Lord in ten verses saying that it may be included in the 1000s. Sri Nadamuni wondered and asked them to sing those thousand verses too. But they could not as they did not know them. Lord Perumal appearing in Nadamuni’s dream, advised him to go to Azhwar Tirunagari (praised as Nava Thirupathi in Tuticorin district) and seek the blessings of Saint Nammazhwar to get the hymns. Sri Nadamuni came to Azhwar and gave him 4000 verses far above – four fold-his expectation, his joy knew no bounds. He compiled them. Thus, the great Vaishnava Tamil scripture with all its poetic beauty speaking the spiritual experiences of Azhwars came into being to elevate the soul’s generation after generation.
Perumal in the temple is also praised as Aravamudha Azhwar as He was instrumental for the compilation of Nalayaira Divya Prapandam – 4000 verses about the glory of Perumal. Of the Perumals in Divya Deshas praised by Azhwars, Srirangam has Mangalasasanams of 11 Azhwars, Tirupathi Venkatachalapathi 10 and Kumbakonam Lord Sarangapani from 7 Azhwars. Perumal came to this place to wed Mother. He hid under the earth for a while to play with a mother. He appeared before Her then and took Her hands in marriage. The place where Lord played the hiding is now called as Padala Srinivasa shrine. The one after the marriage is known as Mettu (higher level) shrine where He graces with Mothers.
The majority of the Divyadesa temples have Sorgavasal open on the Vaikunta Ekadasi day occurring in December-January. But there is no one such in this temple as Perumal came to this Divyadesa directly from His Vaikunta Divyadesa. The very worship of Perumal Lord Sarangapani would take devotees to salvation. It is also believed that passing through the Uthirayana and Dakshinayana entrances are no different from the Sorgavasal passing. According to the system followed here, people enter the temple through the Uthrayana entrance from Thai to Aani ( January-February to June-July) and through Dakshinayana entrance from Aadi to Margazhi month covering the English months July-August to December-January. As such only one gate is kept open to enter the temple.
In most Divyadesa temples, the presiding deity occupies the highest prominence. All pujas and Alankaras are offered to presiding deity alone. In the Kumbakonam temple, such respects are offered to the procession deity as He acts on behalf of the presiding deity. Hence, this temple is revered as Upaya Pradhana Divyadesa with due respect to the procession deity too.
Perumal usually appears with His discus and conch. The presiding deity and the procession deity of the temple are holding a bow to known as Sarangam, hence, the name of the Lord, Sarangapani. The bow in the hands of the presiding deity is not visible. As Kumbakonam is the place of sacred theerthas, deities of rivers and Devas appear here worshipping Perumal. Kumbakonam is the birthplace of Mother Komalavalli. Afer the marriage Lord chose to stay here itself with His consort – that is in his mother-in-law’s house. In Tamil, this called as Veettodu Mappillai. Hence, Mother is dominant in the temple. The first worship goes to Mother only. As a philosophy, as Mother is first in all respects, to establish this rule, the way to Perumal shrine is also structured accordingly. The Go-Puja-puja to cow- is performed in Komalavalli Thayar shrine. Pujas to Lord are offered only then. The mercy of Lord Perumal Sarangapani towards His devotees is above the power of words. A devotee Lakshmi Narayanaswami served Lord throughout his life. He is the one who built the Rajagopuram of the temple. But he was childless. He reached the Lotus feet of Lord on a Deepavali day. Anyone having no heir to perform the last rites would go to hell, according to sutras. But Lord cannot ignore His devotee. He performed the last rites for His devotee. Next day, when the temple was opened, people saw Him with a wet dhoti and His sacred thread – Poonool in Tamil and Yagnopavitha in Sanskrit – changed on the right shoulder, darba in hands in a rite-performing manner. This event is followed in the temple on Deepavali days during the midday puja but devotees are not allowed to see this puja.