This summer, indulge in a bit of history, a whiff of culture, a smidgen of religion, a hint of art and sculpture and most significantly, loads of family time. Indulge in a road-trip with a divine purpose, take a temple tour! The best part of Vizag is that it is a fairly modern city with some highly sacrosanct temples in its close vicinity.
In Vizag is the ancient Simhachalam temple. Situated on the Simhachalam range of hills the temple is dedicated to the man lion incarnation of Vishnu, Varaha Lakshminarasimha. The word Simhachalam etymologically means the hill of lion. The image of the deity is small and always kept covered with sandal paste. The exact age of the temple is not known, but it contains an inscription dated as far back as AD 1098-99 of the Chola King Kulottunga-1 who conquered the Kalinga territories. Another inscription shows that a queen of the Velanadu Chief Gonka 111(AD 1137-56) covered the image with gold. A third says that the eastern Ganga King Narasimha-I built the central shrine the Mukhamandapam, the Natya mandapam and the enclosing Varandah in black stone and the other grants inscribed on its walls make it a place of historical importance.
Driving Up North
Route: Via Madhurwada and AH 45/NH 5: Vizag – Arisavilli – Srikurmam – Sri Mukhalingham. (On the same route in the vicinity of Vizianagaram, there are also the Paidatalli Ammavari Temple, Ramatheertham, Kumili Temple and Jammi Vruksham)
Sri Suryanarayana Swami Temple – Arasavalli
Located about 120 Km from Vizag, near Srikakulam Town, the majestic Arasavalli temple was reportedly built by the Kalinga rulers of Orissa, King Devendra Verma during the latter half of the 7th century. This is the only sun temple in India where prayers and rituals have continued uninterrupted since its inception centuries ago. The idol, depicted as riding on a chariot driven by seven horses, has been carved from black granite, 5 feet in height holding lotus buds, surrounded by his consorts Padma, Usha and Chhaaya.
As per the Padmapuranam legend, the idol was installed by Sage Kasyapa for the welfare of mankind. But, according to the sthalapuranam (legend associated with the temple) the temple was built by Lord Indra and was designed by Vishwakarma, the chief architect of the Gods. Supposedly, Balarama, brother of Lord Krishna consecrated many temples on Earth. One such temple was the Sri Umarudrakoteswara Swami (Lord Shiva) temple in Srikakulam. One day Lord Indra, the Lord of Heaven, paid a visit to the temple at an odd time and was stopped at the entrance by Nandi, the dwarapalaka of Lord Shiva. When He tried to enter forcibly, Nandi kicked Lord Indra who fell about two miles away, unconscious. While unconscious, the Lord had a dream, according to which, when he regained consciousness, He unearthed a beautiful idol of Sun God with his three consorts Usha, Chaya and Padmini. He installed the idol of God at the very place where He fell and also built a beautiful temple. The most distinctive feature of the temple architecture is that on Ratha Sapthami the sunrays directly fall on the deity. Even during the months of March and September the early morning sunrays drench the feet of the presiding deity. It is believed that ailments like skin diseases, blindness and barrenness are cured when people worship at the temple.
Sri Kurmam Temple
Believed to be built before the 2nd century, this is the only temple dedicated to the second avatar of Sri Mahavishu- Kurmavatara in the entire country. The presiding deity is believed to be the fossil of an actual Tortoise. The most remarkable aspect of this temple is the mandapam, with 200 plus artistically embellished pillars. The original architects of the temple are unknown; however, this temple was developed during the time of Cholas and Kalinga Raja Dynasty. The temple received ample patronage from the Ganga Dynasty, Toorpu Chalukyas, Velnati, Velama dynasty and the Gajapathi rulers. Local rumour has it that this was originally a Siva temple converted into Vaishanva temple by Ramanujacharya during the 12th century AD.
Sri Mukhalingeswara Swami Temple – This great ancient Siva temple is about 40 km from the town of Srikakulam on the banks of river Vamsadhara. The lingam depicts facial features and hence became popular as Sri Mukha Lingam. Also called the Dakshina Kasi, a visit to this ancient temple is said to bestow ‘moksha’ to the devotees. This temple has been built during the rule of Kamarnava of the Ganga sect (720-1450 AD). During the 14th century the temple underwent reconstruction and renovation during the rule of Parlakimidi King Sri Vishnu Vardhana Madhu Karna. The temple is replete with carvings and remarkably beautiful sculptures in the Indo – Aryan style.
Driving Down South
Route: Via Anakapalle and AH 45/NH 5: Vizag – Annavaram (Travelling ahead on the same route are the ancient pancharama temples and the scenic Godavari River with boating facilities towards the picturesque Papi kondalu via the temple town Rajahmundry
Sri Veera Venkata Satyanarayana Temple – Annavaram
Located about 124 km from Vizag city, on the banks of the river Pampa, the Satyanarayana Swamy temple in Annavaram of East Godavari district is one of the most popular temples in north coastal Andhra and the adjoining districts in Orissa State. Located atop the Ratnagiri Hill, the temple resembles a chariot on four wheels. The name Annavaram is a derivative from 2 words ‘Anina+Varam; meaning the ‘place where boons are granted’. It is believed that all the wishes of devotees will be fulfilled when Satyanarayana Vrata is performed here. The name of the Goddess is Ananta Lakshmi Satyavathi Ammavaru.
The main idol is majestically tall, with the belief that the root represents Lord Brahma, in middle is Lord Shiva and on top resides Lord Vishnu ‘moolato Brahma rupaya, madhyate Siva rupine, agrato Vishnu rupaaya’. Hence it is believed that Sri Satyanarayana Swamy represents Brahma, Vishnu as well as Maheswara. According to the legend the Lord appeared in the dream of Raja Ramanarayana, the then Zamindar of Gorsa and Kirlampudi Estates and directed him to trace His idol on the hill. Accordingly the Zamindar built the temple and installed the idol in 1891. Since then, scores of devotees have performed Satyanaryana Vratam in the temple premises. The temple is also a highly popular venue for marriages. Legend has it that when Bhadra pleased Lord Vishnu with his penance and became Bhadrachalam on which Lord Sri Rama had permanently settled; Ratnakara emulated his brother and succeeded in pleasing Lord Vishnu by his penance to settle on him as Veera Venkata Satyanarayana Swamy, with Ratnakara remaining as the Ratnagiri hill. At the foot of Ratnagiri, is the Pampa River with a barrage built wherein boating is allowed.
At a distance of 15 kms from Annavaram, is the Thalupulamma Talli Temple is situated between Annavaram and Tuni in Visakhaptanam district. It is a village deity which has gained a lot of popularity with the devout believing that their wishes will get fulfilled after visiting this temple. People offer sacrifices of goats and fowl to this goddess.
Further on, at a distance of 40 kms from Annavaram, just 12 kms before Kakinada is Samalkota which is the abode of the famed Pancharama Sri Kumararama Bheemeshwara Swamy temple. Situated just beside the Samalkota Railway Station, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple was built by Chalukya Kumara Rama during the end of 9th century as a celebration of his victories in more than 300 wars. A mantapam supported with one hundred pillars is built here along with Eka Shila Nandi (Single Stone Bull) at the temple entrance opposite to Shiva Lingam. Goddess Shri Bala Thripura Sundari is also worshipped in this temple.
Just about 12 km from Samalkota is Pithapuram town famed for Sri Puruhootika Devi, Sri Kukkuteshwara Swamy, Sri Dattatreya Swamy, and Pada Gaya. Pithapuram is one of the Ashta Dasha (Eighteen) Shakthi Peethas and it came to be known as such because this was the place where a part of Satidevi’s body i.e. her left hand fell here. She is known here as Puruhootika Devi. Her temple is opposite to Sri Kukkuteshwara Swamy. The lingam at the Sri Kukkuteshwara Swamy temple is a Swayambhu Linga (self originating) of white marble and is about two feet in height. This place is one among the Trigaya Kshetrams and has become famous as Pada Gaya kshetram.
Taking a detour from here, at a distance of 65 Kms from Annavaram, is the Draksharama Bheemeshwara Swamy temple at Draksharamam. Situated in a green belt of river Godavari, this temple is one of the pancharama temples. This temple was constructed by the East Chalukyan king during 9th century. The temple also consists one of the Shakti Peethas called Sri Manikyamba. The speciality of this Shiva Lingam in this temple is that, the early morning tender Sun light falls on the Linga. There are nearly 800 ancient scripts on the walls of the temple. The Shiva Lingam is nearly 9 ft height and the top part is seen at the first floor.