Simhachalam Lakshmi Narasimha temple




The Shri Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Simhachalam is a South Indian Hindu temple situated on the Simhachalam hill, which is 800 metres above the sea level at a distance of ten miles to the north of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It is dedicated to one of the Hindu trinity deities Vishnu, who is worshipped there as Varaha Narasimha. As per the temple’s legend (which is divided into 32 chapters), Vishnu manifested in this peculiar form, with a boar head, human torso and a lion’s tail, after saving his devotee Prahlada from a murder attempt by the latter’s father Hiranyakashipu. Except on Akshaya Tritiya, the idol of Varaha Narasimha is covered with sandalwood paste throughout the year, which makes it resemble a Shiva Lingam.

Simhachalam is one of the 32 Narasimha temples in Andhra Pradesh which are important pilgrimage centres. It was regarded as an important centre of Vaishnavism in the medieval period along with Srikurmam and others. The temple has been recognised by historians with the help of a 9th-century AD inscription by the Chalukya Chola king Kulottunga I. In the later half of the 13th century, the temple complex underwent radical physical changes during the reign of the Eastern Ganga king Narasimhadeva I. It later received patronage from many royal families, of which Tuluva dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire is a notable one. The temple underwent 40 years of religious inactivity from 1564 AD to 1604 AD. In 1949, the temple came under the purview of the state government and is currently administered by the Simhachalam Devasthanam Board.

Simhachalam temple resembles a fortress from outside with three outer courtyards and five gateways. The architecture is a mixture of the styles of the Orissan, Chalukyas and the Cholas. The temple faces west instead of east, signifying victory. There are two temple tanks: Swami Pushkarini near the temple and Gangadhara at the bottom of the hill. The temple houses a number of sub-shrines and a few mandapams. The religious practices and customs of the temple are formulated by the Vaishnavite philosopher Ramanuja. They are modelled based on the Satvata Samhita, one of the 108 texts of the Pancharatra Agama.

Simhachalam is the second-largest after Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh in terms of income earned. It is believed that the deity is capable of giving progeny to women and fulfilling wishes of devotees. Kalyanotsava and Chandanotsava are the two major festivals celebrated in the temple, followed by Narasimha Jayanti, Navaratrotsava and Kamadahana. The festivals celebrated in Simhachalam have an influence of the Dravida Sampradaya, the customs followed in Tamil Nadu. Apart from those by well known poets, the temple found many literary references and lyrical works dedicated by anonymous writers which are preserved in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Chennai.
The Sthala Purana (local legend) of Simhachalam consists of 32 chapters; the number denotes the manifestations of Narasimha. According to Dr. V. C. Krishnamacharyulu, the legends of Simhachalam and other Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh were written in the 14th century after the attempted establishment of Islam in the region. He added that the writers wrote the legends inspired from the stories of Narasimha available in the Hindu puranas. Hence, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana form the major sources. However, the legend of Simhachalam provides new information about the previous life of the temple’s founder Prahlada. The first four chapters of the legend cover the importance of Simhachalam, its deity and the principal water body Gangadhara.
Simhachalam temple has a past of nearly a thousand years. Epigraphists discovered nearly 500 inscriptions in the temple complex. Almost all of them were dana sasanas (donation records) which referred to the contributions made by the kings, their officers, and the citizens. Majority of the inscriptions are bilingual, written in Sanskrit and Telugu languages. While some are exclusively in Sanskrit, there are 46 Odia and three Tamil language inscriptions. As per the common acceptance of historians, Simhachalam temple has been recognised in the 9th century AD due to an inscription by the Chalukya Chola king Kulottunga I. The earliest inscription discovered in the temple, it belonged to the 11th century and was dated 1087 AD. It recorded the gift of a garden by a private individual. The temple functioned well during this period and received liberal patronage from the Chalukya Cholas.After the Chalukya Cholas, the Eastern Ganga dynasty extended their patronage for the promotion and preservation of the temple complex. Their inscriptions ranges from 1150 AD to 1430 AD. In the later half of the 13th century, the temple complex underwent radical physical changes during the reign of Narasimhadeva I. Many additional architectural adjuncts were added to the temple which had a simple and modest look. An inscription dated 1293 AD refers to the addition of sub shrines by the Gangas in the temple, which were dedicated to manifestations of Vishnu: Vaikunthanatha, Yagnavaraha, and Madhavadevara. The renovators used the original slabs as much as possible and discarded a few of them. The removed ones were later used in the kitchen and other small shrines. The feudatory chiefs of the Ganga dynasty too contributed towards the temple’s architecture and made donations in various forms.

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