Srikurmam Kurmanathaswamy Temple (also known as Srikurmam temple) is a Vaishnava temple in the Gara mandalam of the Srikakulam district in the
Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It is dedicated to the Kurma avatar of Sri Maha Vishnu, who is worshipped as Kurma Natha Swamy, and his consort Lakshmi, worshipped as Kurmanayaki. The presiding deity is regarded as the Kurmavatara who graced the kshetra to fulfil the wishes of Swetha Chakravarthi. Brahma then consecrated the deity with Gopala Yantra. The prominence of Sri Kurma Natha temple is mentioned in Bhramanda purana and Padma purana recorded by Vyasa Maharshi.
Srikurmam is the only Indian temple in the world where Vishnu is worshiped in his Kurma avatar. As in the case of Simhachalam, the temple was regarded as a Shiva temple. And corresponding custom was followed. According to the Shaiva custom, Shiva is referred to as Kurmeswara in this temple.
Ramanuja estabhlished the Vaishnava origin and sampradaya of the temple and established the kshetra as Srikurmam, in the 11th century AD. Since then, the temple came to be regarded as an important centre of Vaishnava tradition along with Simhachalam. The temple has two dhvajasthambas, a rarity for a Vaishnava temple. 108 ekasila (single-stone) pillars, with none resembling each other, bear inscriptions related to the royal lineages that existed in this area in the past.
A tortoise park has been built to conserve the adult and young star tortoises, making Srikurmam the only conservation centre for this species.
Srikurmam follows both Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions of archana. Four daily rituals and four annual festivals are celebrated in Srikurmam, out of which the three-day Dolotsavam is the major one. Gajapathi Rajus of Vizianagaram are the trustees of the temple.
There are an important inscriptions in the temple that reveal the antiquity and importance of the temple. The oldest discovered was installed in the year 1073 A.D, relating to Nannaya, the great Telugu poet and the Asthana kavi of Rajarajanarendra. This inscription was made by Vijayaditya, a descendant and successor of Rajaraja Narendra of the Eastern Chalukya dynasty.
The Indian postal department released a postage stamp of Sri Kurmam in 2013.
The most famous of the legends associated with the temple is that of Swetamahipati. After his death, when the king’s bones were thrown in the Swetapushkarini tank, they got converted in to “kurmas” or tortoises. hence this tank is considered sacred and it is believed that one should not enter the tank or even touch the water if they are impure physically.
The Sthalamahatyam of Srikurmam was told by Rishi Dattira to Vyasa Maharshi. The tale goes that, King Suta ruled on the mountain called Swetachala. He had a wife who was a pious lady and followed a vow of worshipping the Lord on Suddha Ekadashi day, regularly. On one particular Ekadasi, the king filled with love with his queen expressed his amorous intentions to his queen. The queen, in a dilemma whether to please her husband or stick to the vow, started praying Lord Sri Kurmanatha. The Lord ordered Gangatirtha (the river) to flow in between the king and the queen, so that the queen’s does not have to break her vow.
The king who was seperated from his wife started living on the banks of River Vamsadhara. According to the instruction of Maharishi Narada, the king performed tapasya upon the Kurma Mantra at the Vamsadhara samudra sangamam. Sri Maha Vishnu appeared before the King in his Kurmavatara with his Panchayudhas. The Lord and the King then proceeded to a nearby hill where a sage Vakranga Maharshi stayed.
While on their way to this hill, Lord Vishnu created a Ksheera Samudram (sacred tank) with His Chakra. Sri Maha Lakshmi Devi had emerged from the sea at this spot. This spot later came to be known as “Srikurmam” or “Kurmagundam”.
A few days later, when a tribal woman came to have bath here, experienced a divine presence. She shared the incident with her husband who later had a dip in the water and was blessed with the sight of Sri Kurma
Natha with his panchayudhas. He then constructed a temple for the Lord and attained salvation. Later, Suta Chakravarti fortified the temple with golden walls. Under the guidance of Narada and Brahma, the king consecrated Sri Kurma Natha kshetra with the Sudharshana mantra. Even today, a dip in this tank is customary, before visiting the temple.
Tilottama and the King
The avatara of Sri Maha Vishnu at the temple, Sri Kurma Natha, and the sthala purnana in themselves unmistakably suggest that this temple is made for stabilizing and refining the Muladhara Chakra. This is the foundation of the human energy system. It is therefore a most auspicious location for every spiritual aspirant to start adhyatma sadhana.
The Story of Narahatirtha
One of the inscriptions at the Srikurmam temple records the life story of a great saint Sri Narahari Tirtha. Sri Narahari Tirtha was a close disciple of Madhawacharya. Naraharitirtha was instrumental in reviving the spiritual life of Kalinga. He was also a disciple of Anandatirtha who in turn was a disciple of Purushottama Mahatirtha. One grantha called “Stotra Mahodadhi”, also records the life of Narahari Tirtha and his association with Sri Kurmam temple.
He received initiation from a guru named Purna Prajna, who instructed him to go to the court of the Gajapathi king and be a ruler there. But Narahari Tirtha, with his knowledge of the Upanishads, and intense spiritual inclination strongly preferred Sanyasa. Purna Prajna, his guru, on the other hand put forth that in the kingdom of Gajapathi there were most important murtis of Sri Rama and Sita Devi. These were left untended without the appropriate archana in the state treasury of the Kalinga kingdom. And so, he wanted Narahari Tirtha to establish the proper archana for these murtis.
Narahari Tirtha acquiesced with his guru’s instructions and set out for the Gajapathi kingdom where he was welcomed with joy to become their ruler. He then ruled Kalinga for twelve years as a regent to the minor prince. When the prince grew up to rule the kingdom, Naraharitirtha returned Kalinga to him and took the murtis of Sri Rama and Sita Devi, which was his actual purpose to become the ruler. He then handed over the murtis to his guru Anandatirtha, who offered his devotion to the murtis for nearly eight years and handed them over to Padmanabhatirtha. Padmanabhatirtha worshiped them for six years and handed them back to Narahari Tirtha.
Narahari Tirtha was among the earliest recorded Vaishnava saints to visit the Sri Kurma Natha mandiram.