One fine afternoon ( april 1985 ) my boss and myself were traveling across the Srisailam town. He being a devout follower of Shiva got down and visited a small miniscule looking temple with huge tree. He said it was one of the famous jyotilinga places in India. I was not impressed by the structure which was simple to the core. It is believed that tigers and used to freely roam around the temple premises. The temple itself was opened to piligrims two days in a year on the Shankranti and Mahashivaratri days in a year. No wonder my boss prayed outside the temple and just circumbulated the tree and returned quickly to continue the journey towards Hyderabad. It is fact that Srisailam was re-discovered with the 52 kms ghat road was re-linked to the world thanks to the dam construction at Srisailam.
Srisailam is named because of sacred Bilva trees availability in abundance, surrounding the valley and hills of Nallamalai. The plateau is in the form of Sri Chakra. Rajeev Gandhi tiger sanctuary is housed in these Nallamalai ranges, surprisingly devoid of any safari. Srisailam is located at an altitude of 476 meters.
The presiding deity of this holy shrine is Lord Shiva known as Mallikarjuna. The Mahalinga is believed to be Svyambu Linga or naturally formed cylindrical stone. Srisailam is also know as the Dakshin Kasi in view of the flowing Krishna river in a deep gorge like valley. The river flows from Alampur in Mehboonagar district to Srisailam and beyond towards Nagarjunsagar.
The dam on this river was commissioned by J.Nehru on 24th July 1963. The dam has a height of 791 feet and width of 1680 feet. It produces 150 MW and 110 MW at peak power generation. The dam is supposed to have displaced 117 villages, out of which 86 villages got submerged, who were re-located. 26784 familes were displaced and re-habilitated.
After the construction of the Srisailam dam the roads leading to the temple have been well laid out. One route passes through Alampur, Atmakur, Dronala, Chintala, Shikaram and Srisailam which is approximately 165 kms. Another route which originates from Kurnool, Atmakur, Dronala, Chintala and Srisailam, which is 182 kms. The next route is down south one can travel to Ananathpur, Tadipatri, Nandyal, Giddalur, Markapur cross, Dronala, and Srisailam. The last approach is from Hyderabad to Srisailam. The nearest railway head is Markapur, and the distance is approximately 85 kms.
According to Talagunda inscription Mayursharma went to Kanchi ( Pallava capital ) to pursue his vedic studies along with his guru. He was humiliated and insulted by a Pallava guard. In a swift rage, he decided to give up his Brahminic studies and took to sword to avenge his insult. So goes the inscription :
“ The hand dexterous in grasping the kusha grass, fuel and stone, ladle, melted butter and the oblation vessel, unsheathed a flaming sword eager to conquer the land “
Mayursharma retreated to Shriparvatha ( Srisailam ) and began to prepare for the battle against the Pallavas. He thus carved out a niche and ultimately the Pallavas were compelled to recognize his warrior like qualities. Thus Mayursharma carved himself Kadama Kingdom ( 345 – 365 ) In honour of the Lord he established a small temple at the place of his reformation. The Shikara or the simple gopurams adjescent to the main temple points to Kadamba architecture.
Due to the proximity of Nagarjunakonda to Srisailam some historians claim that Ishvaku dynasty may have contributed to the growth of Srisailam which was unlikely since they were followers of Buddhism to a large extent.
The Chalukya emperors too extended their patronage to the temple according to inscriptional evidence. Pulakesi II ( 609 – 642 ) seems to have installed one of the 4 gopurams in the temple. Srisailam formed a nucleus during the reign of Vinayaditya ( 680-696 ) Since Chalukyans were firm believers of Shaivism it can be safely assumed that they donated large sums for upkeep of the temple.
Kakatiyas ( 953 – 1323 ) seem to have contributed to the development of the temple to a large extent. Several administrative procedures were adopted by regulation of the temple temple management was undertaken during their reign. Prataprudra the last king of the kakatiyas, according to inscription dated 1313 AD, gifted 70 villages to Srisailam temple for maintainence of the temple expenses incurred.
Reddy Kings succeeded the Kakatiyas from 1323 AD. It is stated in incriptions that in 1378 AD, a mantap was constructed for the purpose of offering their own heads to the Lord.
The inscriptions state “ How wonderful it is that here, in this mantap premise, hosts of kongaviras highly excited with religious fervour, chopped off their heads, tongues as an offering to the Lord. The next moment they shine with three eyes, ten arms, five faces and five tongues and become the eight bodied. “ Anavema’s father is credited to have constructed the flight of steps to Patalganga. Anavema Reddi ( 1364-1386 ) is credited to have constructed Virasiromandapam.
Srisailam came under the reign of Harihara Raya II ( 1377 – 1404 ) who defeated the Reddis and took over their territory of Srisailam and adjoining coastal Andhra districts. The earliest inscription related to Vijaynagar era mentions that Kadamba princess Vithalamba, queen of Harihar II registered the construction of flight of steps by her order. 1393 AD. Since the construction was completed in 1345 it is assumed that she renovated and strengthened the previous structure. Krishnadevarya ( 1509 – 1529 ) commissioned the intallation of Gopuram and row of mantaps in front of the temples.
In 1674, Chatrapathi Shivaji, the Maratha king visited Srisailam to pay homage to Lord Mallikarjun. He commissioned installation of Gopuram on the Northern side of the temple. The Marathas protected the shrine for a brief period, later it came under the Moghuls. The Moghuls placed the temple under the jagir to Nawabs of Kurnool. After the fall of Moghuls it was taken over by Nizams. The Nizam in turn ceded the Kurnool district to East India company in 1800 AD. Major Munro took possession of the district and entrusted the management of the temple to Pushpagiri math.
In 1929 the management of the temple was handed over to a committee and than in 1949 the temple came under Endowments Department. When the road was constructed connecting Srisailam to the mainland during 1950s the pristine glory was restored.
GATEWAYS TO SRISAILAM :
Before the well laid roads were connected from 4 different directions to Srisailam Piligrims were depended on the four gateways. They are :
TRIPURANTAKAM : Before the construction of Guntur-Guntakal railway line, piligrims from coastal Andhra used to pass through this place for their onward journey to Srisailam. It they proceeded by foot they need not pass Dornala which is a circuitous route, instead they can trudge to Erragondapalem, Teluguayacheruvu and reach Chukkalaparvatam, and reach Srisailam.
The presiding deity in this temple town is Tirupurntakadeva, with Goddess Tripuansundaridevi. This place is also known as Kumargiri. The temple walls contain more than 100 incriptions, which belong to Chalukyas, Kakatiya and several local chieftains. In 1289 AD. Kayastha chiefs revolted against Kakatiya queen Rudramadevi and proclaimed independence. This is recorded in lengthy Sanskrit inscriptions on the wall of the temple.
SIDDAVATAM : It is a taluk in Cuddapah district of AP. Piligrims used to visit this temple town and than proceed to Srisailam via Dornala. The presiding deity is Jyothi Siddhavateswara.
Pusphagiri is also on the banks of the river Pinakini. It is located 12 kms away from Cuddapah. The antiquity of this place refers to Ishvaku period. An inscription in Nagarjunakonda refers to Pusphagiri, where certain Buddhist is said to have built a stone pavilion called Silamandapa. The Rashtrakuta inscription of Krishna II ( 878 – 914 ) clearly mentions this place as southern gateway to Srisailam.
On the left bank of Tungabhadra river is the Mehbubnagar district where the Western gateway is located. The Nava Brahma temples are located which belong to the Chalukyan era. A detailed study on Alampuram can be referred to Alampur post in my blogspot.
The fourth gateway is located 6 km away from Achampet in Mahabubnagar district. It is situated on the edge of the hill forming vast plateau. The present bus route does not touch this place, it deviates 3 km away from this place. The presiding deity in this place is called as Sri Parvatha. The Velama king Madanayaka constructed a pathway covering nearly 50 kms from this place to Jatararevu which is on the banks of river Krishna. After crossing the river by ferry the piligrims have to climb up the Chukkala-parvatham and walk about 4 km to reach Srisailam.
Currently secondary gates Pushpagiri and Elesvaram surroundings are now submerged in the Nagarjunasagar Dam area. At Elesvaram we have inscriptions from time of Ikshvaku dynasthy. This place is located 6 km from the famous Nagarjunakonda the famous Buddhist centre. The presiding deity is Elesvaradeva.
AKKAMAMAHADEVI CAVE TEMPLE :
Inorder to visit this place one has to board a ropeway in Srisailam and be ferried away by APSTDC boat and reach this destination. On sharing basis Rs 180/- per head is charged including the Ropeway fee of Rs 30/-. The entire journey takes around 3 hours which includes trekking to and fro along with a guide provided by tourism board.
On the confluence of a hill stream called Buggavagu which joins Krishna river at this place, a natural cavern is formed with compartments to accommodate 20 persons. Some statues of Kapala Bhairavi, Veerabhadra, Mahisshamardini and others are found here.
It is believed that famous ascetic, poet, lyricist and philosospher Akkama hailed from Karnataka in the 12th century AD. Akkama a Virasaiva princess spent some years in these caves performing penance and worshipped the Shiv Ling which naturally existed in the deep dark end of the cave. Since Akkama attained spiritual knowledge from this place, the cave was named after her as Akkamamahadevi Caves.
Similarly there is another spot 6 km away called Kadalivana, named after a Bhikshavritti. Allamaprabhu, the great mystic Saiva saint and other disciples performed penance.
Both the places are generally visited by Verasaivas coming from Karnataka, particularly on the new year day, which falls on Ugadi when they perform Davanostava at Kadalivana. These two spots owing to their isolation are considered to be abods of Siddhas who are said to have practiced yogic arts like alchemy for which Srisailam was renowned in ancient times.
The Siddha cult attained supernatural powers through yogic powers and practices. They are supposed to be experts in yoga and possessed the 8 siddhas. Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakamya, Isatva and Vasikarna. The Srisailam forests became a suitable abode for performing the yogic penance. On the rocky pathway to Srangadhara matha an inscription states “ Sa ra sa pa ra ma tma “ It refers to a Siddha saint who possessed immense yogic powers. Atreya is said to have established a laboratory in a cave near Patalganga to convert base metals to gold. Probably it helped in discovering bronze and copper as a means of forming the statues.
VIRA SAIVISM :
It can be safely assumed that there was a wholesale destruction of evidences of all inscriptions took place before 1313 AD, during the upsurge of Vira Saivism. Fearing the aggressive spread of Vira Saivism, Isvara Sivacharya ordered the destruction of records, which may have been buried. There is a clever ploy used to connect the two sects of Siddha saivism and Vira saivism, in the bargain precious records of the Mallikarjuna temple is lost. The lingual divide of Kannada and Telugu seems to be the prime reason for the destruction.
TEMPLE STRUCTURE :
The four gopurams and the boundary wall of the temple which is filled with scenes from Mahabharat and Ramayan and other epics stories of Lord Shiva and his antics are elaborately sculpted. The war scenario is also beautifully displayed on the tablets which in 8 levels. The boundary walls represent the Vijaynagar style of architecture which can be noticed at Hazarama Temple façade and boundary walls.
Mallikarjuna Shrine : A peculiar custom in this shrine is that the piligrims visiting this shrine are supposed to bang their head in order to make their presence to the deity who is supposed to be deaf. This custom was obviously derived from the trekking of the piligrims who used to utter Lord Mallikarjun to help them transverse the jungles which were infested with wild animals and complete their journey without any incident.
The main shrine represents the Kadamaba architecture with simple gopurams. Later on the Chalukyan and Kakatiya and Vijaynagar kings added during the multiple renovations carried out. The credit of construction can be safely attributed to Mayursharam ( 345 -365 AD ) who began his journey from this very holy place.
The loss of original inscriptions points to the fact that the cover up was undertaken to discredit the original builder Mayursharma of Kadamba dynasty. The gopuram which of simple structure in stepped pyramid is distinct style of Kadamba architecture. The incorporation of Nandi images on the upper most platform is a subsequent development during the Chalukyan era.
Main shrine pyramid is now covered in gold plate upto the lentil portion. This may help in prevention of water seepage and convert the donation of gold by pilgrims. There are some scholars hell bent on attributing the shrine to Kakatiya Kings in the 10th century.
There are many minor shrines which can be credited to Kakatiya kings. The Mukhamandapa was presented to the god by the Vijaynagar king Harihara II in the saka year 1326 which corresponds to 1405 AD.
Virasiramandapa is another important structure. It was obviously built by Anavema Reddy of Kondavidu in 1378 AD. This was a sacrifical mantap wherein people donated their tongues, finger etc to attain the supreme form. Human sacrifice too seems to have prevailed which seems to have been disbanded and now this mantap serves as the queue formation before entering the main shrine.
Nandi Mantap : Adjescent to the Reddy mantamp is the Nandi mantap where a medium size bull faces the main shrine.
Bhramaramba shrine stands in the back courtyard of the main temple. The goddess belongs to the early Sankara period. The goddess is considered to be one of the 18 shaktis. It is reliably learnt that Chatrapathi Shivaji visited and worshipped this deity in the form of Durga and ordered some renovations in 1674.
Vriddha Mallikarjuna : This shrine was worshipped by Princess Chandravti who worshipped the Linga. The compound boundary walls contain different form of Linga, known as Vayu Linga, Swarga Linga, etc. These Lingas seem to have installed by different kings in their dedication to the lord. The same compound contains various artifacts which were retrieved in the demolition and renovation of the ancient temple.
TEMPLE WALLS :
Lingayya is stated to have constructed the temple boundary wall which is the most impressive structure in 1515 AD, which exactly coincides with the period of Krishnadevaraya’s reign. The bottom row of the wall depicts horses and elephants. War scenes are displayed in the third row, A number of Shiva legends like story of Arjuna penance, story of Chandravati, penance of Lord Shiva and his marriage to Parvathi, worship of Siva by the rishis etc are beautifully potrayed.
FOUR GOPURAMS :
The main gopuram is called as Krishnadevaraya gopuram which seems to have been constructed during his reign in 1514 Ad, the northern gopuram is dedicated by Shivaji in 1674. The other two gopurams seems to have been constructed by Kakatiyas and the Reddy kings.
Overall a visit to Srisailam is soul freeing experience if one visits the Shikaram temple and prays from the peak of the temple gopuram. The visit to the main shrine and tapping one’s head on the Linga is a unique experience. One can see foreigners now have started flocking Srisailam due to the close proximity to Hyderabad.
TRIBAL MUSEUM :
A tribal museum is located at the enterance, of the main circle. One can witness the rich heritage of the tribals livelihood in and around Srisailam forests. One has to pay an enterance fee of Rs 7.
SAKSHI GANAPATHI :
A small shrine is located about 3 km from Srisailam which is frequented by piligrims enroute. The Lord Ganesha keeps track of the people visiting the pilgrim centre. This is the primary reason why it is named as lord with evidence. The sculpture of this deity is exquisitely etched with Lord Ganesh holding a book in his right hand and pen in his left hand in such a way as if he is jotting down the names of all the pilgrims visiting the Lord.
One has to be careful with their footwear, it is better to keep costly footwear in the room and trudge barefoot to the temple. There is every possibility of one’s footwear being switched for a cheaper brand. It is projected that this temple is bound to catch the fancy of piligrims with Sabrimalai piligrims flocking in huge numbers every year. It is poised to become the second richest Lord after Tirupati due to the donations of the Piligrims. It is advised that all donation has to be deposited in the official Hundi so that the temple develops by leaps and bounds. The Mineral water is sold at a premium, it is better to carry the mineral water from the base town such as Kurnool, Ananthpur, Nandyal, Guntur or even Hyderabad. One of the basic facility of Urinals are lacking for the public, which is surprising, unlike Tirumala where plenty of urinals are provided around the temple. Now the temple is directly under the AP govt. administration therefore red tapism is quite visible in the administrative procedure, a TTD type of trust would go a long way in promotion of the temple and building infrastructure to Pilgrims and tourists.