The name ‘Ranga’ may bring several things to your mind. At least it does to my mind! If you are a fan of Dr Rajkumar, you’d definitely know this song from one of his movies in the 1980s.
Although the movie is from the 1980s, the song predates it by a few centuries. This is a composition of Purandara dasa, and the tune used in the film pretty much sticks to how it has been sung traditionally, in shankarabharana raaga.
If you are a history buff, I bet you’d think of Sriranga pattana – The capital of Tippu Sultan. The town takes its name from the the temple of the presiding deity Ranganatha. Sriranga Pattana is an island in the river Kaveri. In fact there are three such places where the river branches off into two parts creating a large island. There is a temple dedicated to Ranganatha at each of these places – Sriranga Pattana and Shivana Samudra in Karnataka, and Srirangam in Tamil Nadu.
In all these three places, Ranganatha is depicted in a reclining position on his serpent bed, the seven- hooded Adishesha.
However Sriranga Pattana or Srirangam is not the first place that comes to my mind when I hear that name Ranga, but instead it takes me to memories of Mavina Kere. Perched atop a hill in southern Karnataka, a little temple houses the deity well known to locals as “Mavina Kere Ranga” or the “Ranga @Mavina Kere”. The view from the top of the hill is very nice, showing the countryside.
I’ve visited Mavina Kere several times. In fact one of my early memories is of a trip to Mavinakere which I did not make! I was probably 4 years old then. I was really looking forward to going to the hill with all my cousins, during one of the yearly summer gatherings. But as luck would have it, I did not wake up in time. Rather than trying to wake me up, the party had left me home, with a few others who could not climb the hill for health reasons!
At every visit, I have enjoyed climbing the hill at Mavinakere. During my latest visit a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a road to the top. However, not to miss the joy of climbing the hill, I climbed down and went up again . Back in those days, the path up the hill was patchy. Now, there are nice steps all along.
Unlike the Ranga at Srirangapatna, and Sriranga, the Ranga of Mavina Kere is not in a sleeping position. Actually, he is not even depicted in a human form. Instead, a saligrama represents him. The inscription in the temple calls him ‘TiruvengaLa natha’ – another name for Venkateshwara (The master of Venkata hills). The floral decorations done around the saligrama also support this name.
I’m not sure how the name Ranga caught up with Tiruvengalanatha. In general it is said that during the time of Hyder Ali’s and Tippu Sultan’s rule over Mysore, devotees often called their temples by the name of Ranganatha, to save it from any possible attack or damage. I too thought that was a very reasonable explanation, till I came across this song of Purandara Dasa.
ರಂಗನ ನೋಡಿರೆ ರಾಜಕುವರ ನರ-
ಸಿಂಗದೇವ ನಮ್ಮ ದೇವಕಿ ಸುತನ ||ಪ ||
ಹಮ್ಮಿನ ತಾಯಿತ ತೋಳ ಬಾಪುರಿಯೊ
ಘಮ್ಮನೆ ಘಲ್ಲೆಂಬ ಗೆಜ್ಜೆಯ ಧ್ವನಿಯೊ
ಸುಮ್ಮಹಿಮನ ಕಿವಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಚೌಕುಲಿಯೊ
ತಿಮ್ಮರಾಯನಿಟ್ಟ ಸೊಬಗಿನ ಬಗೆಯೊ ||
ಸಕ್ಕರೆ ಪಾಲ್ ಮೊಸರು ಬೆಣ್ಣೆ ಮೆಲ್ಲುವನ
ಘಕ್ಕನೆ ಸುರರಿಗೆ ಅಮೃತವಿತ್ತವನ
ರಕ್ಕಸಕುಲವೈರಿ ರಾವಣಾಂತಕನ ||
ಪಾಪವಿನಾಶಿನಿ ಸ್ನಾನವ ಮಾಡಿ
ಪಾಪಗಳೆಲ್ಲವು ಬೇಗ ಬಿಟ್ಟೋಡಿ
ಈ ಪರಿ ದಿನ ದಿನ ಮೂರುತಿ ನೋಡಿ
ಶ್ರೀಪತಿ ಪುರಂದರವಿಠಲನ ಪಾಡಿ ||
Here the references to Papanashini and the name Timmaraya, clearly indicate that the song is about the deity at Tirumala (Tirupati) – However, at the same breath, Purandara Dasa calls the deity at Tirupati as Ranga too!
So, that makes me come back to thinking the validity of any theories involving Tippu Sultan, and Lord Ranganatha!