Sri Sailam – The Heritage Shiva Temple In The Nallamallai Mountains, Andhra Pradesh, India
The road to this ancient temple passes through the Sri Sailam Wild Life Sanctuary. The thick, silent jungle is sylvan and cool with monkeys scampering between trees. Along the route to the temple precinct on the banks of the Krishna, gigantic flowering trees, thatched cottages in tribal villages and dancing sunflower fields offer incomparable visual feasts!
The joy of leisure travel begins as soon as you hit the road!
By Vimla Patil
(Sri Sailam Photos by Prabhakar Patil)
Going to the Sri Sailam Shiva Jyotirlinga temple is verily a double treat. Not only do you get to see one of India’s most venerated and historic shrines, but you also get to visit a forest sanctuary where, with some luck, you can see deer, snakes, monkeys, elephants and myriads of birds with splendid plumage – and on rare occasions, leopards or tigers! The highway, after leaving behind Char Minar – the famous landmark of Hyderabad – leads only to one destination – Sri Sailam, which stands in the Nallamalai Mountains at 476 metres above sea level in the Kurnool District of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, there is never any heavy traffic along the highway and you can enjoy the wooded hills with small rivulets criss-crossing along the landscape at leisure.
Once you leave behind the hubbub of the city, you hit the picturesque Andhra countryside with thatched cottages dotting the landscape. Sunflower fields, glistening in the winter sunshine sway in the breeze. Men sit around small fires in the misty morning, smoking their beedies and women begin their daily chores of collecting wood and water. As the road proceeds, the villages vanish and a wooded tree cover emerges. It becomes so thick as the forest looms ahead, that even the sunrays barely pierce the high dome of trees. All around you, there are bird cries and monkeys and deer scampering among the trees. Then suddenly, the magnificent River Krishna glistens along the rocky road. Its water reflecting the blue sky, the holy river runs almost parallel to the road that leads to Sri Sailam.
The temple town of Sri Sailam is ancient and rich in history and legend…
Entry to the temple town of Sri Sailam is a unique experience. It begins with a toll station where you pay an entrance fee for enjoying the facilities of the temple and its environs. Soon, the gold-touched spires of the various shrines begin to appear on the skyline and the buzz of the town hits your ears. Sri Sailam has many temples but among them, the main shrines of Mallikarjuna Shiva and his consort Bhramaramba are the main attractions. These are names given to Shiva and Parvati in this town because of the various legends connected with the temple. There are also temples of other deities and memorials to the many kings and warriors who helped to rebuild and enhance the temple and its ancillary structures. The main legend about the temple concerns Chandravati, the daughter of King Chandragupta. Legend says that after the birth of this daughter, the king left on expeditions to conquer neighboring lands and returned after more than a decade to find that Chandravati had grown up to be the most beautiful young woman in the kingdom. Despite being told that she was his daughter, the king lusted after Chandravati and pursued her relentlessly. Chandravati took refuge in Sri Sailam and became a devotee of Shiva. Every day, she would decorate the Shiva Linga with jasmine (Mallika) flowers and pray that the lord accept her as his bride. When Shiva appeared before her, she asked him to marry her and to wear her beloved flowers every day. This is how Shiva became Mallikarjuna in this temple. Chandravati, after taking the form of poisonous bees to kill evil demons, received the name of Bhramaramba and was worshipped in this form in the beautiful sculpted temple near to the main Shiva shrine. Other than this, there are many miraculous legends attached to this bustling town and the temples that lie at its heart.
Many royal dynasties and great kings contributed to the glory of the temple…
As far as history goes, many royal dynasties of South India are linked with the construction and maintenance of this temple. The first rulers of peninsular India, credited with the construction of the temple, are the Satavahanas. Several rock inscriptions say that these kings ruled in the first few centuries of the CE and constructed the first temple here. Thereafter came the rule of the Ikshvakus, who named Sri Sailam as the Sri Parvatam or the holy mountain. Later, the Pallava King Simhavarman constructed several structures around the temple. For the following one thousand years, many dynasties such as Vishnukundins, Kadambas, Telugu Cholas, Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, Chalukya Cholas, Kakatiyas and the Reddys of Kondavidu ruled the hills of the Deccan. In their turn, each of these dynasties refurbished the temple and added some structures to its precincts.
By the time the great Vijayanagar kingdom rose meteorically in South India, the temple was already established as one of the holiest twelve Jyotirlingas of Shiva in India. The greatest philosopher-seer of India, Adi Shankaracharya, included it in his Dwadasha Jyotirlinga Stotra and made it a hallowed pilgrimage centre visited by millions throughout the year. The temple of Bhramaramba was also counted among the prominent Shakti Peethas or centres of Devi’s energy and power in India.
The glory of Sri Sailam reached its zenith in the rule of Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar…
The glory of the temple reached its zenith during the reign of the great emperor Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar, the builder of cities and shrines all over South India. His rule was the golden age of South India. History says that the roads in his capital city were strewn with rose petals every day and ordinary citizens wore priceless gems in their ornaments. This valiant king put a gold dome on the temple and built rest houses and roads He also refurbished the huge wall around the temple precincts, which till today, has interesting sculptures of the legends of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. By this time, the temple – with its ancillary shrines – was enclosed within these strong walls and had four towers in the four major directions to give it grand proportions. But by this time too, the eyes of Bahamani Muslim rulers were turning towards the treasures of the temple and Aurangzeb’s armies looted the shrine, destroying the structures many times. The area became the Jagir or territory of Muslim nawabs and the temple was under the control of these nawabs. However, there are legends about nawabs like Ibrahim who maintained the temple with great devotion and provided funds for its repair.
One of the most wonderful chapters of the temple’s history refers to the great Maratha King Shivaji who visited the temple. He built the northern tower and added gold to the spires of the temple. Bringing its glory back to the temple, he left his efficient officers to manage its work and looked after it for decades. The town today boasts a grand Shivaji Memorial where Goddess Bhramaramba is seen giving him a sword for his valour. In time, however, Maratha rule also came to an end and the temple town passed into the hands of the British East India Company and later the British rulers of India. After Independence, in 1949, the management of the temple was handed over to the Devadaya Dharmadaya Sakha, a trust that manages the temple till today.
Main attractions of the temple…
According to rock inscriptions, the main temple – as seen today – was built in 1230 CE by Myala Mahadevi, a Kakatiya princess. The sanctum sanctorum contains a naturally formed Shiva Linga which devotees are permitted to touch. Before you arrive in this Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), you pass through the Ranga Mandapa, which has four entrances. According to historical records, this was built by the Vijayanagar King Harihara in 1405 AD. In this Mandapa are the shrines of Ganapati, Virabhadra and Bhadrakali. Yet another structure which comes before the Ranga Mandapa is the Vira Mandapa built in 1378 by a Reddi King. Before you enter this many-pillared hall, you pass through the Nandi Mandapa where a huge stone bull sits in devotion to Shiva. In the four-sided courtyard of the temple, stand temples of the seven mother goddesses, several shrines to other deities and also a row of Lingas, which are said to have been installed by the Pandava princes of the Mahabharat.
Increasingly, more exciting sightseeing has been provided in Sri Sailam. A cable car takes you down the mountain right to the banks of the Patal Ganga, a part of the sacred River Krishna. Here, devotees can bathe in the holy waters or send floating lamps and flowers downstream to worship the river. Boating in the huge reservoir formed by a modern dam is also a unique pleasure. Around the town, there are shrines devoted to Adi Shankara, Hatakeshwara, Shikhareshwara, Sakshi Ganesha and the five prominent Maths or centres of religious activity. Along all shrines, the roads are full of shops which sell bangles, bags, religious objects, music cassettes and CDs and VCDs, clothes, tribal handicrafts, sweets and fruits, sandalwood paste and holy Vibhuti.
Festivals at the temple…
Obviously, the festival of Mahashivaratri – which comes in the month of February-March – is the most celebrated day in Sri Sailam with lakhs of pilgrims travelling to this temple to worship Shiva. All Mondays in the month of Shravan (August) and Kartik (November-December) are holy. During the month of Kartik, devotees come to Sri Sailam to light thousands of lamps under trees in a gesture of thanksgiving for rich autumn harvests. This makes the precinct around the temple a fairyland of twinkling lamps on dark nights. The biggest day is the full moon of the month of Kartik (November). In the squeaking clean environment, the moon and all constellations of stars are clear against the blue-black sky. Just to lie down and relax on the moist grass under a tree after a day of hectic sightseeing is an unforgettable experience.
Did you know?
The Twelve Jyotirlingas of India…
Sri Sailam is famous all over India as one of the Jyotirlingas enumerated by Adi Shankara the founder of modern Hinduism. His Dwadashajyotirlinga Stotram states the location of each. The twelve Jyotirlingas are strewn all over India. Most are on the banks of sacred rivers or tanks. Two are on the seashore. The twelve temples are: Somnath on the seashore of Saurashtra (Gujarat); Rameshwaram on the seashore at the southern tip of India (Tamil Nadu); Sri Sailam on the banks of the River Krishna (Andhra Pradesh); Omkareshwar on the banks of the River Narmada (Madhya Pradesh); Mahakaleshwar on the banks of the sacred tank in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh)…
…Bhimashankar on the banks of the River Bhima (Maharashtra); Grishneshwar in the Ajanta-Ellora Caves (Maharashtra); Trimbakeshwar on the banks of the River Godavari (Maharashtra); Kedarnath on the banks of the River Mandakini (Uttaranchal); Kashi Vishwanath on the banks of the River Ganga (Uttar Pradesh); Nagnath in Aunda (Maharashtra) and Vaidyanath in Parli (Maharashtra). The last two are subjects of doubt in identification. Some people believe that Vaidyanath is in Bihar and Nagnath is in Gujarat. All devout Hindus dream of visiting all the twelve Jyotirlinga temples in their lifetime by travelling through the length and breadth of India.
NOTE: THE SCRIPT FOR THE SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW AT THE SOMNATH TEMPLE IN GUJARAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY VIMLA PATIL. SHE HAS ALSO DESIGNED THE MUSIC OF THE SHOW WHERE PANDIT RATAN MOHAN SHARMA HAS SUNG THE STOTRAS. SHE IS ALSO THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE SHOW WHICH CAN BE SEEN EVERY NIGHT AT THE TEMPLE PRECINCT.
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