Temples of Andhra Pradesh - Sri Kalahasthi Temple

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

The Sri Kalahasti temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalams. The Pancha Bhoota Stalam is related to the temples celebrating Shiva as the embodiment of the primary elements. The air is the element of this temple and the other four elements are associated with the temples of the Tiruvannamalai for the Fire element, the Chidambaram for the Space element, the Tiruvanaikkaval for the Water element and the Kanchipuram for the Earth element.

There is a lamp inside the inner sanctum that is constantly flickering despite the lack of air movement inside. The air-linga can be observed to move even when the pujaris close off the entrance to the main deity room, which does not have any windows. The linga is in white color and is considered as Swayambhu, or self-manifested.

It is an amalgamation of the three animals, the spider, the elephant and the serpent. This main linga is untouched by human hands, even by the priest. The Abhisheka or bathing is done by pouring a mixture of water, milk, camphor, and panchamrita. Sandal paste, flowers and the sacred thread are offered to the utsava-murti, and not the main linga.

The Kalahasti temple is located 36km away from the pilgrimage town of Tirupati. This temple is also associated with Rahu and Ketu, of the nine grahams or the celestial bodies in the Indian astrological scheme. This temple is one of the most impressive Siva temples in India. This vast west facing Kalahastiswara temple is built adjoining a hill, and on the banks of the river Swarnamukhi.

It features an enormous, ancient gopuram or the tower over the main gate. The tower is about 36.5m or 120 feet high. The entire temple is carved out of the side of a huge stone hill. The temple was constructed in 1516 by the king, Sri Krishnadeva Raya.

The temple has rich ornate and splendid architecture with elaborately designed pillars, altars, and paraphernalia. The temple Prakarams follow the contour of the adjoining hill and hence the temple plan is rather irregular.

The entrance to the temple is crowned with a smaller tower. There is an underground Ganapati shrine in the outer Prakaram, while in the innermost Prakaram are the shrines of Shiva and Parvati.

The temple is surrounded by two sacred hills, namely the northern hill and the southern hill. The Durgamba temple is on the northern hill. On the south hill, there is a shrine of Kannabeswara, who offered an eye to the Lord. There is also a temple dedicated to Subramanya on one of the surrounding hills.

This temple legend is similar to that of the Jambukeswara temple at Tiruvanaikka. The legend says that Lord Shiva is said to have given salvation to a spider, elephant and a serpent who were the ardent devotees of the Shiva Lingam located here. The spider is said to have attained salvation in Kritayuga, while the elephant and the snake were the devotees in Treta Yugam. The elephant's devotional outpouring was a source of disturbance to the serpent's display of devotion and vice versa, resulting in animosity between the two, until Shiva's intervention gave both the devotees their liberation.

Another legend tells the story of Kannappa Nayanaar, a hunter who is said to have been a great devotee of Kalahasteeswarar. It is believed that he offered his own eyes to the Shivalingam. He earned the distinction of having his statue adorn the sanctum. Even Nakkiradevar, Indra, Rama, Muchukunda and others are believed to have worshipped Lord Shiva at this temple.

The Sri Kalahasthi temple is also famous for its Vayu deva temple, which is the only shrine of the god of wind in India. It was constructed in the 12th century by the Chola king, Rajendra Chola. Here, Vayu is incarnated as Lord Shiva and worshipped as Kalahasteeswara.

This temple is also referred to in pre-Christian Tamil literature. The Tamil Cholas and the Vijayanagara rulers have made several endowments to this temple. Adi Sankaracharya is said to have visited this temple and offered his worships to the lord. The Telugu poem 'Sri Kalahasti Satakam' elaborates the traditions associated with this temple. The popular composer of Karnatic music tradition, Sri Muthuswamy Deekshitar, has also sung in the glory of this temple in his kriti 'Sree Kaalahasteesa'.

The Maha Shivaratri which occurs in the Tamil month of Maasi from February 15th to March 15th is one of the greatest festival seasons. The celebrations are marked by the processions of the deities.


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