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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Kurmanathaswamy Temple, Srikurmam, Andhra Pradesh

Kurmanathaswamy temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Kurma avatharam in the town of Srikurmam in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh,Bharata. This is the only temple in the whole universe where Bhagavan Vishnu is worshipped in tortoise form.

The presiding deity is Kurmanathaswamy in black stone, with the head facing the west,the middle stone representing the body and the rear stone representing the tail with Maa Kurmanayaki.


The legend runs as follows. There existed a mountain, Swetachala, which was ruled by the king Sutha. His wife being profoundly attached to the religious chores was to observe a vow (Vratham) on a Suddha Ekadasi day and shunned herself from the sensual pleasures. As the king made amorous advances to her on the very same day set for prayers and worship she reproached his advances and made a fervent appeal to Bhagwan himself for the unhindered continuance of the Vratham which ought not be violated.

In answer to her prayer, Bhagwan Kurmanatha bade Ganga to flow in between the king and queen, thus segregating the couple and as a result the queen started living on the banks of the river, while the king was pining for his beloved in solitude.

Sage Narada advised him to please Bhagwan Vishnu by doing a penance at the confluence of river Vamsadhara and the sea. He taught Kurma-mantra to meditate upon. Pleased with his prayer, Bhagwan appeared before him with all his divine attributes such as Sanka, Chakra, Gadha and Padma.

Another interesting story associated with a prince of Anandapuri, who on seeing the divine nymph, Tilottama, dancing before the god, fell in love with her. The nymph cursed him and the prince fell prey to a nasty disease. He did penance here for three hundred years and was relieved from the curse by the grace of the Lord. Kurmantha accompanied by Narada and the king went to the neighboring hill where Vakranga Maharshi was living. Bhagavan Vishnu on seeing an enchanting and beautiful place on his way, created a tank with his Sudarshana Chakra.

The tank is known thereafter as the milky ocean (Kshira Samudram). Mahalakshmi, consort of Bhagwan Vishnu, joined him and settled there. Thus the place came to be known as SriKurmam or Kurmagundam.

A tribal Bhil woman and her husband who had the unique experience of washing off their sins and warding off their physical ailments, were blessed by the sacred darshanas of Kurmanatha. Having realized the sanctity of this place, King Sutha built a temple and got it consecrated by Brahma, the creator, with the Sudarshana mantra in the august presence of Sage Narada embellishing it with golden walls.

The God agreed to appear before them in 10 different avataras and finally took his original form Kurmanatha here after being pacified by the Gopala Mantra. Another anecdote gives very interesting details of how a prince of Anandapuri on having spotted a golden faced dear chanced to visit Sudha Gundam (a place very near Srikurmam) and also the temple Kurmanatha, where the divine nymph Tilolottama was engrossed in the divine service of dancing. Enchanted by the beauty of the divine damsel, the prince failed to notice the holy presence of Bhagavan and fell in love passionately with her. She repudiated his love and cursed him.

The penitent prince stayed on here and did penance for three centuries and finally he was absolved of his sins and blessed by Bhagwan. As a token of gratitude, the prince settled there permanently and dedicated himself heart and soul to the deity.

History and Architecture

This temple is a million years old where outer structures were reconstructed many a time, the present structure is 700 years old. These temple stories were mentioned in Kurma, Vishnu, Agni, Padma, Brahmanda Puranas. This temple was visited by many great kings and saints, which includes Lava and Kusha (Son of Sri Rama), Balarama and Krishna, Sage Durvasa, Adi Sankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Naraharitirtha, Chaitanya Maha prabhu. His Holiness Sri Ramanujacharya prayed for Bhagwan Vishnu at this place in the 11th century.

The deity, facing East till then, turned towards West to bless Archarya (similar to Udupi temple in Karnataka). The Second Flag post was installed as the deity is facing West since then. Swetha Pushkarini was created by MahaVishnu’s Sudarsana Chakra. It is said that Devi Lakshmi emerged from this holy tank in Garuda Vahana and self manifested here as Kurmanayaki.

Those who take holy dip on Magha Shuddha Chavithi, will be relieved from their sins. It is also said that Kashi Dwaram (gate) which is North-East to Pradakshina Mantap connects Varanasi. This gate is closed now.

The temple of Sri Kurmanatha is situated on the eastern coast and sandwiched between the Andhra and Orissa (Kalinga) regions as a result of which the influence of both the Kalinga and Andhra schools of architecture could be noticed in many of the temples located in this buffer region. Sri Kurmanatha temple is also situated in such a buffer region and has a fusion of both Kalinga and Andhra styles of architecture and deviates to a certain degree from the Kalinga school of architecture which is basically Rekha-nagara style architecture. The Sri Kurmanatha temple resembles a Dravidian structure i.e Vimana from having pyramid structure unlike the rekha-nagara prasada.

The temple has mukha-mandapa which leads to antarala, then to garbhagriha. The interesting aspect of the structure is the basement (adhisthana) which is a combination of padabadha and pratibandh types of adhisthana. On the exterior of the shrine, the wall has bhadra, karna and salilantara elements. And in between them, the pilasters and jalis (trellis) are found.

The Kuta and Sala elements are fashioned above the niches in the bhadra portion and in the karna part they house mahanasikas. It is interesting to note that the koshas (niches) house images of Vishnu, Gajalakshmi, Ganesa, Durga, Trivikrama, Narasimha, the last two being incarnations of Vishnu, and ashtadikpalakas (guardian deities). The super structure has an octagonal Sikhara adorned by a Kalasa. The sala element is conspicuously absent as in the Bhimeswara temple. The garbhagriha houses the image of Sri Kurmanatha, the tortoise incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu.

The utsava deities of Govindaraja Swamy and his consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi were found in the Swetha Pushkarani in the 12th century AD. The utsava deities of Rama, Sita, and Laksmana were presented by Naraharitirtha. All these deities are located in a small room near the sanctum sanctorum and are worshipped daily.

The temple architecture is a blend of Orissan and Dravidian styles. Inside there are many beautiful carvings of Lord Vishnu and other transcendental personalities. The mandapam in front of the temple sits upon lion pillars. There are dwajasthambam pillars both in the front and back of the temple, which is quite unusual. This is because the Deity faces the back of the temple, to the west. Although deities are often facing east, Bhagwan Kurma faces west due to the pastimes of the great Vaishnava saint, Bilvamangala Thakur.

He prayed to Bhagwan so fervently while leaning against the west wall, at the temple entrance, that the Deity of Bhagwan Kurma turned His head to look at His devotee. Bilvamangala Thakura’s samadhi is located in the Kurma-sthana temple complex, to the left of the main temple, and his body is said to be in samadhi beneath the temple. B

ilvamangala Thakur’s murti is four-armed, as he is understood to be an associate of the Lord and a resident of Vaikuntha. Srikurmam temple is known for its distinctive architectural style. The design of the gopuram is different from the regular style seen at other Vaishnavite temples.It also has two dhvajasthambas, one on the west and the other on the east, which is another rare element in a Vaishnavite temple. The upper part of the sanctum sanctorum is built in the form of an astadala padmam (eight-petaled lotus). The devotees can directly enter the sanctum sanctorum to offer prayers, unlike the method specified by the traditional rules of Vaishnavism.

Hatakeswara, Karpureswara, Koteswara, Sundareswara, and Pathalasiddheswara are among the temple’s guardian deities. The temple’s tank Swetha Pushkarani is also known by the name Sudha Kundam. In the middle of the temple tank, there is a small construction named Narasimha mandapam. The sand below the waters of the temple tank is white in colour, and is known as Gopi Chandanam. Legends say that Krishna played with gopis in these waters, after which the sand turned white when a sage saw them.

The temple contains 108 ekasila (single-stone) pillars, with none resembling each other. They bear few inscriptions related to the royal lineages that existed in this area in the past.

Unique Features

1. Within the temple premises, a conservation park to protect young and adult star tortoises which is unusual.

2. Two dwajasthambas are present in the east and west which is unusual for any Vishnu temple.

3. The deity originally facing east, now faces west in order to respond to Sri Ramanujacharya’s prayers.

4. The deity is installed on the Gopala yantra, which is again very unusual.

5. Both Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions are followed here with devotees participating in the Abhishekam.

6. Ancestor worship is very popular in Srikurmam.




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