Mangalagiri – The Auspicious Hill
Mangalagiri means The Auspicious Hill. This place is one of the 8 important Mahakshetrams in India. The eight places where Sri Maha Vishnu manifested himself are
- Sri Rangam
Thotadri is the present Mangalagiri.
In a bygone age Sri Lakshmi Devi undertook deep tapasya on this hill. That’s why it got this name, Mangala Giri. There are three Narasimha Swamy temples in Mangalagiri. One is Panakala Narasimha Swamy on the hill. Another one is Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy at the foot of the temple. Third one is Gandala Narasimha Swamy (gandam means severe danger / difficulty in Telugu) at the top of the hill.
The shape of Mangalagiri hill resembles that of an elephant. This form is visible from several viewpoints around the hill. The sthala purana reports about the manner of the birth of the mountain. Pariyatra, an ancient king had a son Hrasva Sringi. Hrasva Sringi had the physical form of an elephant. He visited many teerthas to be freed from this unusual and inconvenient form and to gain normal bodily stature. After much travel he finally arrived at Mangalagiri and stayed for three years performing tapascharya. The devathas advised him to stay at Mangalagiri and continue his tapas for Sri Maha Vishnu. Hrasva Sringi’s father came with his retinue to take Hrasva Sringi back to his kingdom. But Hrasva Sringi took the shape of an elephant to become the abode of Sri Maha Vishnu.
The temple of Sri Panakala Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy is situated on the hill. On the right side of the steps, stands a stone inscription by Sri Krishnadeva Raya and a little further up, the foot prints of Mahaprabhu Chaitanya are located. About half the way up the mountain there is the temple of Sri Panakala Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy. It is only a face with the mouth wide open. A dhwajasthambham was erected in front of the temple in 1955. Behind the temple there is the temple of Sri Lakshmi, to the west of which there is a tunnel which is believed to lead to Vundavalli caves on the banks of the Krishna. The stone inscription of the kings of Vijayanagara relate the conquest of Rayalu over Kondapalli etc.. Another proclaims that Siddhiraju Thimmarajayya Devara granted a total of 200 kunchams (10 kunchams make one acre) land in 28 villages of which Mangalagiri was one and gift of 40 kunchams by China Thirumalayya to Ramanuja kutam, a public facility often associated with Vaishnava centers.
The steps to the temple were constructed by Sri Channapragada Balaramadasu in 1890. There was a cave next the devi temple on the hill. It is said to be a path to Vundavalli. The cave was often used by yogis and siddhas for their tapasya. Nowadays, the cave is off limits to the public.
Namuchi the Rakshasa
Sri Maha Vishnu established himself on the hill is in the form of Narasimha. He is also called as Sudarsana Narasimhaswamy. The purana reports that Namuchi, a Rakshasa after great penance obtained a boon from Brahma that he would not be killed by anything that is either wet or dry. He began to harass Indra and the Devathas. Encouraged and supported by Lord Vishnu, Indra commenced destroying the army of Rakshasa Namuchi, who hid in a cave in Sukshmakaram (small size) giving up his sthulakaram (Physical manifestation). Indra dipped Sudarsanam, the disc of Lord Vishnu in the foam of the ocean and sent it into the cave. Lord Vishnu manifesting himself at the centre of the disc destroyed the Pranavayuvu (life breath) of the Rakshasa with the fire of his exhalation. He thus got the name of Sudarsana Narasimha. The blood that flowed from the body of the rakshasa formed into a pool at the foot of the hill.
The swamy’s anger was not yet satiated by the killing of the rakshasa. The devathas were terrified by the flaming anger of Sri Narasimha and they prayed for relief. The swamy sipped amrutam and cooled down. This was the appropriate offering to Sri Narasimha Swamy in Krithayugam. The swamy said that he would be satisfied with ghee in Threthayugam, with milk in Dwaparayugam and with panakam (Jaggery water) in Kaliyugam. Hence the Lord is called in Kaliyugam as Panakala Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy.
The Pitru devatas in Threthayugam
The holy souls that enjoy heaven as a result of their good deeds in the world are most unhappy to return to this world when once the fruits of good deeds are exhausted. In the Tretayuga, they prayed to Indra, to save them from the impending fate. Indra advised them to spend their time in the world at Mangalagiri to attain heaven again. In Krithayugam, the first of the four yugas when the sinners were few, Yamadharmaraja, the Lord of hell advised them to wash off their sins through Tapasya at Mangalagiri. Mangalagiri was created with the creation of the earth with the names Anjanadri in Krithayugam, Thotadri in Threthayugam, Mangaladri and Mukthyadri in Dwaparayugam and Mangalagiri in Kaliyugam affording salvation to even those with many faults. In Krithayugam, Vaikhanasa Maharshi worshipped the Lord and his idol is worshipped even today in the temple. Sri Rama, after fulfilling his purpose in that incarnation advised Anjaneya to stay at Mangalagiri and left for Vaikuntam. Anjaneya after obtaining Sri Rama’s blessings to remain for ever in the service of the earth, took his adobe at Mangalagiri as Kshetrapalaka.
Panakala Narasimha Swamy
Sri Narasimha Swamy at this kshetram is Swayambhu. In the temple, there is no murti of the swamy, but there is only a mouth like aperture of about 15 cms. The mouth is covered by a golden face of the Swamy. The temple is open only till the afternoon, for the rest of the day and night the devatas offer their devotion to the deity. The swamy takes panakam as offering through a shankha. The panakam is poured into the mouth of the deity, a distinctive sound is heard as the deity accepts the offering. The sound stops after sometime and half of the offering is returned by the swamy as teertham to his devotees.
This phenomenon happens not once in a day but is a recurring feature during the course of the day whenever the devotees offer panakam. It is interesting to note that this continual offering of sugary water to the swamy does not draw even a single ant anywhere near the temple. There is another purana gatha about the offering of the panakam. It is said that the hill was once a volcano. Sugar or jaggery water quenches the flames of the volcano and prevents it from erupting. As with many other Pauranic tales, these several tales suggest deeper truths depicted in the form of a gatha.
Behind the temple there is the temple of Sri Lakshmi, to the west of which there is a natural cave. It is believed that it will lead to Undavalli caves on the banks of the Krishna river and the sages used to go to take bath in Krishna River. The cave is very dark and has not been explored in recent years. There are high steps leading to the temple and also a road-way. The steps to the temple were constructed by Sri Channapragada Balarama Dasu in 1890. In 2004 a ghat road was constructed.
Laxmi Narasimha Swamy Temple
At the foot of the hill, there is another temple whose origin is traced to the time of Yudhishtira, the eldest of the pandavas. Yudhishtira installed the mula virat of this temple. The deity here is Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy. In Vijayawada about 8 miles from Mangalagiri there is a hill called Indrakeeladri in which Arjuna undertook tapascharya to obtain the Pasupata astra from Siva.
About 200 years ago Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu who ruled from Amaravati as his capital constructed a stupendous gopuram (tower) on the eastern gate of the Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy mandiram. It is one of the highest gopurams in South India and only one of its type in this part of India. It is 153ft. in height and 49 feet wide with 11 storeys, and gates facing east and west. This great and imposing tower dwarfs the central shrine. The devoted patience of thousands of skilled craftsmen and the labour of many more apprentices which had gone into this great structure is a testimony to the devotional fervour of the builder. After constructing the gopuram, it started to lean towards one direction. The Kancheepuram architects suggested the digging of a tank opposite to the tower. This corrected the tilt in the tower.
The murtis of the deity, Sri Narasimha Swamy and that of Lakshmi Devi to his left are of stone. The garland of the swamy with 108 saligramams is a rare feature. Dakshanavrutha Sankham, a special conch used by Sri Krishna and presented by the Maharaja Sarfoji of Tanjore, is an ancient and sacred artefact of this temple. There is also an ancient ratha (temple car) belonging to the temple with ornamental wood carvings depicting the scenes from the Maha Bharatam, Bhagavatham and Ramayana.
Thimmaraju Devaraju a military chieftain of the Vijayanagara empire made extensive additions to the facilities in this temple. He constructed prakarams, mandapas, gopurams, five murtis of Bhairava, a festival chariot, ten varieties of courts for annual ceremonies, flower gardens lakes and tanks. He had also installed utsava vigrahas in the temple (murtis made of metal for festival processions). To the north of the temple there is a temple of Sri Rajyalakshmi to the south that of Rama with Sita and Lakshmana and to the west vahanasala (the store house for the vehicles of which the golden garudavahanam, the silver Hanumanthavahanam and ponnavahanam are noteworthy). The Lakshmi narayana temple and the Anjaneya Mandiram in Pedda Bazar are other ancient temples in the town.
The shrine at the top of the hill does not house a deity. There is only a covered area to light a deepam. Anyone seeking solace from any sorrow may light a lamp. That lamp is visible from many villages. The devatas and the devotees of the swamy will share their blessings with such seekers.
Sri Panakala Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Brahmothsavam is very important annual festival. The celebration was instituted by Dharmaraja at the behest of Sri Krishna. Pradyumna, the son of Sri Krishna, prayed that his birthday must be celebrated annually for a sapthaham (seven days) from Phalguna Suddha Sapthami. Lord Krishna entrusted this work to Dharmaraja, the eldest of the pandavas who has the successor to the throne at Hasthinapura.
At present the festival is celebrated for 11 days commencing from phalguna sudda shasti (february – march). One day before Phalguna Suddha Purnima i.e. on Chaturdasi, here the marriage of Santha Narasimha Swamy, and Sridevi and Bhoodevi will be celebrated. They follow Agama sastra in this celebrations. Before the marriage, Chenchus celebrate on the occassion of Narasimha swamy marrying their daughter Chenchu Lakshmi. On that day night, Swamy comes by Sesha Vahanam and participate in Eduru Kola. The next day after the marriage is Purnima, on which the Holi festival is celebrated by indians. The same day, here, people celebrate Tirunalla, and about 1,00,000 people, local and from distant places congregate. On a big chariat, the Lord will go on procession and hundreds of devotees will pull this cart with fervour and enthusiasm.
Srirama Navami, Hanumajayanthi, Narasimhajayanthi, Vaikunta Ekadasi, and Mahasivarathri are other festivals which are celebrated here on a large scale. On Mahasivarathri, the Swamy will go on procession on a small chariot.
Ksheera Vriksham (The milk tree)
Ksheera vriksham (the milk tree) on the Mangalagiri hill is of great attraction particularly to women. Maharaja Sasibandi was advised by Narada to go on pilgrimage. The Maharaja left his kingdom, and his queen, and went on pilgrimage. The queen came to know about this, and grew furious. She cursed Narada to become a Ksheera vruksham on the hill within the easy reach of devotees. The Vriksham must pour out blessings to women at sight. Prosperity in every form, property, children and liberation from sins. This was to be the atonement for having ill-advised her husband to desert her and take to tapasya. Narada took this not as a curse but as a boon as it meant service to humanity. He blessed the queen with happy life with her husband and a thousand children. Even today the milk tree is on the Mangalagiri hill and throughout the year thousands of women visit and worship the tree for begetting children.
There is a legend connected with the making of the utsava vigrahas of the temple. A reputed goldsmith was appointed to make the vigrahas of the deitis. In spite of all his skill and care, the panchalohas (five metals are melted together in a huge crucible and coated over a substrate form to form a brilliant coating) in the coating used to separate themselves and this bitter disappointment continued day after day. He began the process of lighting the furnace yet another day after praying for the swamy’s grace. Now he heard a voice that this process would required human sacrifice. Just then his son walked up to him and asked for water to quench his unbearable thirst.
The gold smith, in a daze, lifted his loving and affectionate son and threw him into the molten mixture of the five metals. The boy’s tender body disappeared into the boiling metal. The amalgam was cast and beautiful icons of the deities were completed. After completing the work, the goldsmith remembered his son and cried out in agony. The young boy emerged from the murtis and stood before his father.
Gali Gopuram (Tower)
Thoorpu Gali Gopuram (Tower on East Side) is the main attraction for the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple. Vijayanagara kings constructed three storeys and Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu constructed another 8 storeys. Raja Vasireddy constructed this structure between 1807 to 1809. The height of this structure is and imposing 153 feet. And the width is 49 feet.
It is a very rare feature for gopurams to be so tall and so narrow in comparison at the base. Utthara Gali Gopuram (Tower on North Side) is opened on the Vaikunta Ekadasi (Mukkoti) day. It was constructed by Rangapuram Jamindar Madapati Venkateswara Rao in 1911. When Padamati Gali Gopuram (Tower on West Side) was being constructed, accidentally some stones fell down and some workers died. Following this incident, the work was stopped and has not been restarted till now. Dhakshina Gali Gopuram (Tower on South Side) was renovated in 1992 for Krishna pushkaras by the initiative of the Executive officer Sri Nootakki Kotaiah.