Sri Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Simhachalam is situated on the Simhachalam Hill, at a height of 800 metres above the sea level in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It is dedicated to Bhagwan Vishnu, who is worshipped here as Varaha Narasimha.
The form of Varahanarasimha (Dwayavathara) was assumed by Him, on the prayer of his devotee, Prahalada, who wanted to see both the incarnations of Bhagwan Vishnu, the one (Varaha) by which he had already killed Hiranyakasha and the other (Narasimha) by which he would kill Prahalada’s father Hiranyakashipu.
A temple with the moolavirat being a dual incarnation (Ugalavatara), a combination of the third (Varaha) and the fourth (Narasimha) avataras of Sri Maha Vishnu named as Sri Varaha Lakshmi NarasimhaSwamy is found only at Simhachalam.
Except on AkshayaTrutiya, the murti of VarahaNarasimha in this temple is covered with sandalwood paste throughout the year, which makes it resemble a linga.
Hiranyaksha with his power made the earth to lose its vitality and sink into the rasatala (patala). Vishnu assumed the form of a boar (Varaha) and restored earth to its normal position and killed Hiranyaksha.
Hiranyaksha’s brother Hiranyakashipu vowed to seek revenge, did penance and received a boon from Brahma which made him invulnerable to death either in the morning or the night, and either by a human or a beast. Then Vishnu assumed the form of Narasimha avatar (mixed form of man and beast) and kills Hiranyakashipu at the junction of day and night.
The earliest inscription at the temple belongs to 1087 CE which mentions about a gift by a private individual in the era of Chola king Kulottunga I. In the later half of the 13th century, the temple complex underwent lot of changes during the reign of the Eastern Ganga king Narasimhadeva I.
An inscription dated 1293 CE refers to the addition of sub shrines by the Ganga Kings in the temple, which were dedicated to manifestations of Vishnu: Vaikunthanatha, Yagnavaraha, and Madhavadevara. NarahariTirtha, a Dvaita philosopher and Eastern Ganga minister converted the Simhachalam temple into a renowned educational establishment and a religious centre for Vaishnavism.
The temple received patronage from Reddy dynasty, Gajapathi Kings and many other royal families, of which Tuluva dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire is a notable one. During his military campaigns at the Kalinga region, Krishnadevaraya erected a Jayastambha (pillar of victory) at Simhachalam.
The Tuluva kings patronized Simhachalamtemple up to 16th century CE. The temple underwent 40 years of religious inactivity from 1564 to 1604 CE that coincides with the Muslim invasion in the region.
Simhachalam temple resembles a fortress from outside with three outer courtyards and five gateways. The architecture is a combination of the architectural styles of the Kalinga, Chalukyas, Kakatiyas, and the Cholas.
The temple faces west instead of east which is unusual to the normal temple traditions. As per the Hindu texts PurushottamaSamhita and the Vishnu Samhita, a temple facing west signifies victory whereas the east facing temples denotes prosperity.
There are two temple tanks: Swami Pushkarini near the temple and Gangadhara at the bottom of the hill. The religious practices and customs of the temple are formulated by the Vaishnavite philosopher Ramanuja based on the SatvataSamhita, one of the 108 texts of the Pancharatra Agama.
The temple has a five-tier rajagopuram (main tower) on the western gateway. This leads into the Kalyanamandapa (wedding hall) which has 96 pillars. It has columns and walls on which the images of Vishnu, his consort Lakshmi and the Azhwars are carved.
Near the entrance, the foot prints of Hindu saint ChaitanyaMahaprabhu installed by BhaktisiddhantaSarasvathi in the year 1930 can be seen. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is cubical-shaped whose walls feature sculptures carved in Hoysala style.
The three-tier vimana, similar to that of the Konark temple, is shaped like a stepped pyramid with carving of sculptures. The corners of the base of the vimana bear lion statuettes symbolising Narasimha. On the eastern face of the vimana, images of Indra and Gajalakshmi are found.
A gold plated dome with a Vaishnavite symbol can be found on the top of the vimana. On the southern wall of the sanctorum, a sculpture of Narasimha in standing position killing Hiranyakashipu in Prahlada’s presence can be seen.
The fore arms lay on Hiranyakashipu whose body is kept on the left thigh, and the rear arms hold a weapon and a conch. On the northern wall, a sculpture of Varaha is seen, which is similar to the ones found in the Belur Chennakeshava and Hoysaleswara temples.
The southern wall depicts a scene of KaliyaMardhana and the northern wall has an image of Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill.
In the north western corner of the temple, there are two halls named Vaisakha and Jyesthamandapas where special occasions are celebrated. To the right of the northern entrance, there is a 16-pillared Natyamandapa (dance hall) featuring lion heads at their base.
In the Mukhamandapa (main hall), there is a pillar named Kappa Stambham which is believed to have curative powers and fulfill the wishes of devotees. The moolavirat of Varaha Narasimha is kept in a separate hall named Prahlada mandapa.
In its original form, the Murti of VarahaNarasimha is two and a half feet tall. The deity stands in a tribhanga posture with a boar’s head, a human torso and a lion’s tail.
On either side of the deity, the murtis of Sridevi and Bhudevi holding lotus flowers are seen. The moolavirat is covered with sandalwood paste which resembles a four feet tall Shiva Lingam.
A number of sub shrines are housed inside the temple complex. Two of them are dedicated to Andal (i.e., one of the 12 Azhwars) and Lakshmi, the consort of the principal deity. Lakshmi in this temple is called Simhavalli Thayar, and her murti is in a lotus position with four hands.
The fore arms display abhayamudra and varadamudra, and the rear arms hold a pair of lotus flowers.The remaining eleven Azhwars murtis can be found in separate enclosures. Sub-temples are dedicated to Ramanuja, Manavala Mamunigal and Vishvaksena inside the main complex.
Shiva’s manifestation Tripurantaka is the kshetrapala (guardian deity) of Simhachalam. Tripurantaka and his consort have a temple dedicated to them which is located on the way to Gangadhara (i.e., temple tank at the bottom of the hill).
The other prominent sub-temples are the ones dedicated to Rama, Anjaneya, and Kasi Vishweswara. These temples are located near Gangadhara.
There are five metallic murtis associated with the deity which serve as the substitute of the moolavirat for certain rituals. Yogananda Narasimha is the snapanabera (bathing murti), Govindaraja is the utsavabera (festival murti), and Sudarshana Chakra is the balibera (guardian murti).
Madanagopala and Venugopala, two forms of Krishna, are the kautukabera (representative murti) and the shayanabera (sleeping murti) respectively.
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.
The celebrations timing is decided by the Suryamaana (sun-centric) system of calendar followed in Tamil Nadu, unlike that of Andhra Pradesh which follows Chaandramaana (lunar-centric) system.
Kalyanotsava, the annual celestial marriage of Varaha Narasimha, is celebrated on the 11th day of the first quarter of Bharat’s lunar Chaitra month. This utsava is celebrated for five days.
Chandanotsava (sandalwood festival), also known as Chandan Yatra, is the most important festival celebrated in the temple. It is celebrated on the festival day of Akshaya Tritiya (April – May). On this day, the Sandalwood paste, commonly referred to as Chandanam, covering the moolavirat throughout the year is removed.
As a result, devotees can see the original form of the deity’s murti for 12 hours once in the whole year during this time.
Narasimha Jayanti is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first half of the Vaisakha month (Vaisakha Suddha Chaturdasi). As Vishnu manifested as Narasimha from a pillar in the evening of this day to save Prahlada, the celebrations are held in the twilight.
The ten day Dussehra festival is celebrated in the month of Ashvin as Navaratrotsava (Festival of nine nights) with Vijayadashami being the last day. This festival is celebrated for the principal Devi Lakshmi.
Kamadahana (Burning of desire) occurs on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna. Followers of Sri Vaishnavism consider Kamadahana as a self-purification ceremony.
Dolotsava (swing ritual) is performed as a prelude to Kamadahana on the same day. It is celebrated to mark the death of the demon Holika. This festival has an influence of Orissan culture.
Giripradakshina is an annual festival celebrated on the full moon day of the Ashadha month. It is based on the custom that the devotees can receive Narasimha’s blessings by circumambulating around the hill on which he is seated. They cover a distance of 30,000 metres (98,000 ft).
VarahaNarasimha is also known by the names Simhadrinatha ,Simhadri Appanna and Appadu in this region. It is believed that the deity is capable of giving progeny to women and fulfilling wishes of devotees.
The Sinhachalam hill is full of greenery, jack and pineapple groves, flora and fauna emitting pleasant fragrance from various flowers, champaka or sampangi flower ( Magnolia Champaca) being prominent among them.
How to reach Simhachalam?
Simhachalam is around 20 KMs from Vizag City. Simhachalam is also connected by train route and has a railway station. Several local buses are available throughout the day that run between Vizag City and Simhachalam temple.
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