Kurmanathaswamy temple




Srikurmam Kurmanathaswamy Temple (also known as Srikurmam temple) is a Hindu temple in the Gara mandal of the Srikakulam district in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It is dedicated to the Kurma avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, who is worshipped as Kurmanathaswamy, and his consort Lakshmi, worshipped as Kurmanayaki. According to Hindu legend, the presiding deity is believed to have manifested here in the form of a tortoise-shaped idol upon the wishes of Swetha Chakravarthi. Brahma then consecrated the idol with Gopala Yantra. The temple is famous for ancestor worship.

Srikurmam is the only Indian temple in the world where Vishnu is worshiped in his Kurma avatar. Initially dedicated to Shiva and referred to as Kurmeswara temple, Ramanuja is said to have converted Srikurmam into a Vaishnavite temple in the 11th century AD. Since then, the temple was regarded as an important centre of Vaishnavism in the medieval period along with Simhachalam. The temple has two dhvajasthambas, a rarity for a Vaishnavite temple. 108 ekasila (single-stone) pillars, with none resembling each other, bear few 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 Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions of worship. 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, which is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Andhra Pradesh. The Indian postal department issued a stamp featuring the temple on 11 April 2013.
The temple is situated in the Gara mandal of the Srikakulam district, which is located at a distance of 130 kilometres (81 mi) from Visakhapatnam. Considered the only Indian temple where the Hindu deity Vishnu is worshipped in the form of a tortoise, Srikurmam is 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) away from Srikakulam town and 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) away from the Suryanarayana temple, Arasavalli. Believed to have been built before the 2nd century AD, the temple is popular among the Tamil diaspora as well because it is a Vaishnavite temple. Initially dedicated to Shiva and referred to as Kurmeswara temple, Ramanuja is said to have converted Srikurmam into a Vaishnavite temple in the 11th century AD. His disciples established Vaishnavism in the temple with the support of Kalinga king Anantavarman Chodaganga, the eastern Ganga king. After this incident, a group of devadasis were employed to sing and dance daily before the deity in the morning and evening.

Srikurmam was regarded as an important centre of Vaishnavism in the medieval period along with Simhachalam and others. It was also regarded as the Gurupitha (sacred place of the master) of the Ganga kings of Utkal. Naraharitirtha, the disciple of Madhvacharya, was instrumental in making Srikurmam the seat of Vishnavite religious activities. He also defended the place from an attack of the Sabaras, a group of savage inhabitants of the Ganjam forests. Srikurmam influenced the kings, officials, and Vaishnavite devotees to change their names in accordance with the religious faith they followed. Due to his close association with the eastern Ganga kings, Naraharitirtha created the office of Bhoga Pariksha (religious head) with the aim of having the successive Madhwa saints supervise religious matters and pray for the welfare of the royal family and kingdom. Naraharitirtha later built a temple dedicated to Yogananda Narasimha in front of Srikurmam. The temple inscriptions mention Narasimha Dasa Pandita and Purushottama Deva as the Bhoga Parikshas. Currently, Srikurmam is under the trusteeship of the Gajapathi Rajus of Vizianagaram.
During the reign of king Swetha Chakravarthi, this area was referred to as Swetha Giri. Swetha Chakravarthi’s wife Vishnu Priya was a devotee of Vishnu. When she was observing a fast on an Ekadashi day, Swetha Chakravarthi approached her with the intention of making love. When she refused, saying the time was not ideal, the king became adamant. She prayed to Vishnu, who created a stream of water, separating the couple. Swetha Chakravarthi was carried away in the ensuing flood and Vishnu Priya followed him to the hilly terrains of Swetha Giri. The sage Narada initiated an upadesam of the Kurma Narayana mantra and asked the king to pray to Vishnu using it. By the time Vishnu appeared in the form of the Kurma (tortoise) avatar, the king’s health had deteriorated. Vishnu then made his Sudarshana Chakra make an impression in the nearby land, forming a lake. Swetha Chakravarthi bathed in the lake and regained his health, after which it was referred to as Swetha Pushkarani. Upon the king’s request, Vishnu manifested as the idol of Kurmanatha. According to the Padma Purana, Brahma officiated the celestial rituals and consecrated the idol with Gopala Yantra. Vishnu is worshipped as Kurmanatha Swamy or Kurma Narayana, along with his consort Lakshmi, who is referred to as Kurmanayaki.

Later, a tribal king visited the Swetha Pushkarani and was impressed with it. After learning about the story of its origin from Swetha Chakravarthi, the tribal king constructed a tank around the lake and began worshipping the deity regularly. The tribal king used to stay in Sage Sampangi’s monastery, which was situated in the Western side of the temple. Upon the king’s request, the idol of the deity started facing west. The sage Durvasa visited the temple later with his disciples; the event of his arrival was considered significant. Rama’s sons Lava and Kusha were said to have worshipped Vishnu as Kurmanatha in Srikurmam. In Dwapara Yuga, Balarama visited the temple and was denied entry by Bhairava, who was serving as the temple’s Kshetrapala (guardian deity). Infuriated, Balarama threw Bhairava away from the temple premises. Kurmanatha came to know this and gave Balarama permission to enter the temple. Balarama, in resentment, cursed that Srikurmam would be the only temple where Vishnu would be worshipped in the form of Kurma Narayana. Legends also say that upon Vishnu’s request, Anjaneya agreed to guard the temple.

Festivals :

Srikurmam is one of the rare Indian temples that follow both Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions. Abhisheka is performed daily to the idol, and devotees are allowed to participate in person; this is a feature seen more often in Shaivite temples than in Vaishnavite temples. Akhanda Deeparadhana (Lamp worship), Nitya Bhogam (Daily offering) and Kalyanam (Marriage) are regularly performed to the deities. Devotees visit the Pathalasiddheswara temple before entering the sanctum sanctorum of Kurmanathaswamy.

Ancestor worship is famous in Srikurmam, because of which it is known as pitrukshetra. People believe that their ancestors’ souls shall gain salvation if offered prayers here. Because of this, hundreds of devotees perform ancestor worship. Devotees use the Gopi Chandanam while applying thirunamam on their forehead. The three-day Dolotsavam is the major festival celebrated in the temple. Kamadahanam is celebrated on the first day, followed by Padiya and Dolotsavam. The annual Kalyanotsavam is celebrated on Vaisakha Shuddha Ekadasi. Other festive activities include Kurma Jayanthi on Jyeshta Bahula Dwadasi and Mukkoti Ekadasi.

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