Abode of faith

Print edition : July 31, 2009

A depiction of Varaha Narasimha at the temple.-K.R. DEEPAK

THE Simhachalam temple, located on a hill 800 feet (244 metres) above sea level about 15 km from Visakhapatnam city, is a famous pilgrimage centre in north Andhra Pradesh. The presiding deity is Varaha Narasimha, a unique combination of man (nara), lion (simha) and boar (varaha).

Though the temple is said to have been established in the ninth century A.D., inscriptional evidence is available only from the reign of Kulotunga, the Chola ruler of A.D. 1076-1118. In the 13th century, the temple was renovated by the Ganga ruler Narasimha Deva, who was instrumental in building the Konark temple in Orissa.

The idol of Varaha Narasimha is covered with a thick sandal paste all through the year, and the nija rupam, or the actual form of the deity, is shown to devotees only on Akshaya Tritiya day, the most important event in the temple calendar. The idol has two hands, the head of a boar and the tail of a lion on a human torso.

The Simhachalam temple is also known for its unique architecture, combining the Dravida and Orissa traditions. The iconography is rare, and several forms of Narasimha are depicted. There are also many standing images of Vishnu. Besides stone icons, the temple has many metal images of the deities.

The walls of the temple are made of stone and have inscriptions carved on them, the bulk of which can be traced to the royal family of the Gangas. There is also a Vijaya stupa near the temple.

In recent times, the temple has been under the patronage of the Pusapati royal family of Vizianagaram. Devotees from Andhra Pradesh and Orissa throng the temple every day, and the Simhachalam Devasthanam is implementing a Rs.30-crore plan to create amenities for pilgrims and develop the temple so that it is recognised as a divyakshetram.

According to C. Prem Kumar, the executive officer of the temple, public amenities at a cost of Rs.1.3 crore and a Nrusimha mandapam at a cost of Rs.2 crore are being built. Besides these, a queue complex at a cost of Rs.45 lakh and two buildings with cottages and dormitories are coming up.

The Gangadhara waterfalls area is being renovated at a cost of Rs.30 lakh and so is the temples pushkarini (tank) at a cost of Rs.1 crore. A Rs.2.5-crore Annadanam building complex is also being planned. The Rs.30-crore plan is at the halfway stage and is likely to be completed in a couple of years. Thanks to the divyakshetram project, roads are being widened and encroachments removed. The tribal people on the hills are being relocated downhill, near the goshala.

Prabhakkar Sharma
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