The origins of the name of Vishakhapatnam city are unclear. That the city is of great antiquity definitely more ancient than Ashoka’s Kalinga war is certain. One story tells of a king who built a temple for the Vishakha nakshatra and hence the name. Another version refers to the lady named Vishakha, one of the closest disciples of the Buddha. Another version states that the city was named for a king named Vishakha Varma. One more version refers to a gopi named Vishakha born on the same day as Radha, the divine consort of Krishna. Vishakha carried messages between Krishna and Radha.
Vishakhapatnam is the second city of Andhra Pradesh and is in many ways also the primary city of the state. It is the industrial hub of the state and possibly the most important port on the Indian east coast. It is a major naval base for the Indian navy and a rapidly rising IT center. It is the port of choice for a vast hinterland of central India, for transportation of mineral ores and agricultural and forest produce.
Vishakhapatnam lies nestled between the Eastern Ghats and the east coast at close to the halfway point between Kanyakumari and Kolkata on the east coast of India. It is one of the most scenic cities of India.
History of the Simhachalam temple
The Simhachalam hill lies in a part of the Eastern Ghats in a range called the Kailasa range. It lies some 10 kms from the sea west of the famous Ramakrisha beach. The exact age of the temple is not known, but it contains an inscription, dating as far back as 1098-99 A.D. of the Chola king Kulottunga-I, who conquered the Kalinga territories, and it must thus have been a place of importance even by that period. Another inscription shows that a queen of the Velanandu chief Gonka III (1137-56) covered the image with gold a third says that the Eastern Ganga king Narasimha I built the central shrine,the mukhamandapam, the natyamandapam, and the enclosing verandah in black stone in the later half of 13th century and other grants inscribed on its walls. 525 inscriptions relating to the temple and the history of the region have been discovered so ar.
The Simhachalam temple still contains inscriptions left here by Sri Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagara empire recounting his successes and relating how he and his queen made an offerings of a necklace of 991 pearls and other precious gifts. The temple contains architectural elements contributed by the Cholas, the Chalukyas, the Kalingas and the Vijayanagara kings.
Architecturally the temple deserves high praise. This temple contain a square shrine surmounted by a high tower, a portico in front with a smaller tower above it, a square sixteen pillared mandapam (called the mukhamandapam) facing this, and an enclosing verandah, all made of dark granite richly and delicately carved with conventional and floral ornament and scenes from the Vaishnava puranas. Some of the carvings were mutilated apparently by Muhammadan marauders. One of the pillars is called the kappa stambham or ‘tribute pillar’. It is credited with great powers of curing diseases and granting children. In the verandah is a stone car with stone wheels and prancing stone horses.
Outside this inner enclosure there is the excellent natyamandapam on the north side of the temple, where the Kalyanotsavam is performed. This is supported by 96 pillars of black stone, arranged in sixteen rows of six each, which are more delicately carved than any others in the temple, are all different in the details of their design, and yet avoid incongruity of effect by adhering to one general type – especially in their capitals, which are usually of the inverted – lotus shape.
The deity is kept covered with an unctuous preparation of sandal paste. Once a year i.e, on Akshaya thritiya (3rd day of Vaisakha masam) this deity is uncovered in a ceremony called Chandana triya or Chandanotsavam. Nija roopa darsanam of the Swamy is afforded to devotees. This is the most important festival in this temple.
The temple has two tanks. Swami Pushkarini located close to the temple and the Gangadhara kund located at the base of the hill.
Hiranyakasipu and Hiranyaksha were two brothers and mighty demon lords resolved upon limitless expansion to their physical possessions and prowess .
Hiranyaksha, seized the earth and carried it to neither regions. Sri Maha Vishnu killed him and delivered the earth from the clutches of the demon by assuming the Varaha Avatara. Hiranyakasipu wanted to avenge the death of his brother Hiranyaksha. He wanted to become immortal and hence performed tapasya to propitiate Brahma deva. Brahma informed him, as he did with many before him, that the very nature of existence prohibits such a demand, and defence of the mortal frame could only be conditional. Such is a recurring theme with demonic nature that seeks freedom from the mortality of their physical frame but still hankers for limitless enjoyment from the same mortal frame.
Hiranyakasipu, like others of demonic nature, was not wise enough to understand the mortal nature of the physical. Now he made what he thought was a most unassailable guarantee against death. “Grant that I may not be killed either my man or animal, neither in the morn nor at night, neither in the sky nor on earth, and by no weapon must I perish”. This, the creator and ordainer of all existence, was pleased to grant.
Hiranyakasipu returned to his kingdom filled with pride and the arrogance that comes with unmerited power. In one campaign he conquered the three worlds. The physical, the subtle and the transcendent. Nothing remained that he could perceive that lay outside his command. Now he thought himself greater than all. Greater than nature itself. The creator has surrendered the very sinews of nature to my will he exulted. None must be worshipped in my realm but I. The Veda must extoll me and none else he insisted. The Yajnas must adore me. The mantras must be offer obescience to me. And now he tormented every living being and particularly the devotees of the Jagannatha, Sri Maha Vishnu.
Strange are the ways of Jagannatha. And to Hiranyakasipu, was born Prahalada. The joyous one. The little child was a joy to all. His lovely eyes, his gentle manner, his joyous nature, and his quick comprehension mesmerised even the stern arrogance of his father Hiranyakasipu. And the father’s joy and pride knew no bounds. Here was a child who was the envy of the gods.
But this joy was not to last very long. This child, was a devotee of Vishnu even from his birth. And quickly this aspect of the child revealed itself. And thus roused the arrogant indignation his father. Have your tutors taught you in secret to pervert your intellect he thundered darkly. That evil Narayana is a sworn enemy of our race, why do you pour devotion upon such an object. Why do you insist upon becoming a disgrace to the Rakshasa race. Hiranyakasipu tried to mend the ways of his son, but found him adamant and incorrigible. No threat, no pain, no punishment, not even death could make him yield to the demands of the demonic king.
Hiranyakasipu at the end of his wits, resolved that this evil may be redeemed only by the speedy destruction of this boy. This lovely boy of delicate frame, of gentle playful ways, who was barely more than a babe, Prahalada, was to be cast into the sea and buried under a mountain. His mother cried for mercy, her heart broken. So horrific is this imposition for so trivial an infraction, for one born of your own blood. A child that adores you and plays in your lap. A boy that brings joy to all that lay their eyes upon him. Let him be she cried, I will ensure that he will offer no offence to your will. But to no avail. Such is the unlimited horror of demonic nature.
Mighty demons brought Prahalada to the sea near the mount Simhadri to do their master’s bidding. But before they could effect their evil deed, Narayana retrieved Prahalada from the sea. Jagannatha was offering Prahlada a vision of the form by which the world must be redeemed of the evil of Hiranyakasipu’s arrogance.
Simhadri is the place where Sri Maha Vishnu rescued his devotee Prahalada.
Prahalada, prayed to see both the avataras of the lord, the one by which he had already dealt with Hiranyakasha and the other by which he would release Hiranyakasipu. And so Sri Maha Vishnu assumed the form of Varaha Narasimha a “Dwayavathara”.
After Narasimha ended his father’s mortal existence, Prahalada built a temple to Varaha Narasimha at Simhachalam. But at the end of the Krita yuga, the temple was neglected and began to decay. And the earth drew the deity and his abode back into her embrace.
At the beginning of another yuga, the deity was once again was discovered by Pururava of the Lunar Dynasty. Pururava, with his spouse Urvasi, riding a vimana over the dakshinavarta, was drawn to Simhachalam by its mysterious power. He discovered the temple on the hill and retrieved the image of the deity therein.
Then the Akaasavani spoke to him and instructed him not to expose the image but cover it with sandal paste. It also added that the Lord should be worshipped in this form, and only once in a year, on the third day in the month of Vaisakha his nijaswarupa could be revealed. Pururava overjoyed by the favour that the gods had bestowed upon him followed these instructions with deep devotion. He had the temple rebuilt and offered his devotion to Varaha Narasimha, the protector of Prahalada. The deity has graced the temple and has bestowed blessings upon his devotees ever since.
Shiva’s manifestation Tripurantaka is the kshetrapala (guardian deity) of Simhachalam. The guardian deity is identified with Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of Bhairava. Tripurantaka and his consort have a temple dedicated to them which is located on the way to gangadhara, the temple tank. It is one of the oldest South Indian temples dedicated to this deity. Bhairava is believed to be more fierce than Narasimha.
After winning a debate at the Jagannatha mandiram at Puri, Sri Ramanuja visited this temple.
The temple was following some Shaiva practices from the notion that it was a Shiva temple. Ramanuja referred to the architecture and established sampradaya of the temple itself to establish its Vaishnava nature. But it was revealed to him by the deity himself that he desired to be covered in Sandal wood paste and appear in the form of a Shiva linga. This hoary devotional custom continued with unanimity. There is some controversy regarding the details of this episode, but the story of Ramanuja’s visit to the temple is part of the established tradition of the temple.
The purana of the chandanotsava at Simhachalam
Historian, Scholar, Journalist, Activist –Sri Suravaram Pratap Reddy
The Magnificent Temple Heritage of Sri Bhujangeshwara at Ummatturu