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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 by Prahlada.
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.
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