Awe-inspiring Simhachalam temple, Simhachalam, AP

Simhachalam Varaha Narashimha temple, AP

Sri Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Simhachalam atop the 300 meter high hill in Visakapatnam, is a famous temple dedicated to  god  Vishnu, who is worshipped as Varaha Narasimha.  It is one among the  32 Narasimha temples in Andhra Pradesh which are considered major centers of pilgrimage. 

 Simhachalam Varaha Narashimha temple, AP

Simhachalam Varaha Narashimha temple, AP

What is unique about this temple is  the main idol (moolavar) Varaha Narashimha is covered with sandalwood paste throughout the year except on  Akshaya Trutiya, Considered as the 2nd richest temple in terms of Hundi collection after Thirumala, it looks like a fortress from outside with three outer courtyards and five gateways. One can see a blend of   Kalinga, Chalukyas, Kakatiyas, and the Great Cholas  architectural styles.  The earliest stone inscription in the temple (11th-century CE) mentions about the  gift by a private individual in the era of Chola king Kulottunga I.

In the 13th century  during the reign of  the Eastern Ganga king  Simhachalam temple became a seat of learning and canter for  Vaishnavism under  Sri Narahari Tirtha, a Dvaita philosopher and a minister in the court. Many royal families sought the patronage including the Tuluva dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire

The reason why God Vishnu took the avatar of Narasimha (half human-half lion) was  demon king  Hiranyakashipu's atrocities went beyond the limit and at one stage he was about to kill his his own son  Prahlada,  an ardent devotee of God Vishnu. Ferocious Narashimha killed the demon king in a manner he would never come back alive.    

Simhachalam AP location map.

It is belied that Prahlada, a true devotee of Sri Vishnu, once requested  the lord to take the ''idol form'' of  Varaha and Narasimha together,  the former avatar to kill  Hiranyaksha  and the latter to kill demon  Hiranyakashipu.   Vishnu immediately obliged and assumed the form of Varaha Narasimha, for whom Prahlada is said to have built a temple after Hiranyakashipu's death. Worship was conducted and the place was named Simhachalam (lion's hill); vide - legend.- Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana 

With the passage of time the temple that was built by Prahlada became ruined and in the later years the moolavar (primary idol) of Varaha Narasimha was covered with soil. In the later years     king Pururava of lunar dynasty along with his apsara  wife  Urvasi located the idol  and consecrated it after renovation. However, the ruler was unhappy as the idol's feet were missing. His wife Urvasi had a dream in which she was  advised that the   idol of Varaha Narasimha  be covered with sandalwood paste for the whole year except on the third day of the Vaisakha month. This custom is being in practice even today.

When Saint Ramanuja visited the temple the controversy arose over the sandalwood paste cover on Varaha Narasimha's idol, which looked like Shivalinga. When the paste was removed the idol would bleed.  The general consensus was that  the deity wished to look like a Lingam and  and the tradition continues even today for a day.
In the past  a few Vaishnavites objected to this tradition that was against the puja norms established by saint Sri Ramanujar.  

This temple has 5 tier Rajagopuram on the west gate way. Much of the Simhachalam  temple's present configuration is due to king Narasimhadeva I who had rebuilt the temple in the form a big fortress from outside with three prakaras (outer courtyards)and  5 gates.  The reason why this temple faces west, an unusual one in as per temple  sthala sastras instead of east is   according to  the Hindu texts Purushottama Samhita and the Vishnu Samhita, a temple facing west symbolizes victory whereas  the east denotes only prosperity.

Inside the temple the  Kalyana mandapa (wedding hall) is  an interesting one with 96 ornate stone pillars.  On some of them one can the images of  Vishnu, his consort Lakshmi and the Azhwars  nicely carved.  It was in 1930 the addition of the foot print of  Hindu saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu installed by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. 

The garbagriha is an interesting one - cuboidal  shaped  and the walls on all sides  have religious sculptures carved in ''Hoysala'' style. The three-tier vimana over the sanctum is similar to that of the Konark temple, characteristic of  a stepped pyramid with proper carving of sculptures. The  lion statuettes symbolizing Narasimha adorn the corners of the base of the vimana. The vimana is  gold plated with Vaishnavite symbol ''Thirumun.''  A fine stone  sculpture of Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu in Prahlada's presence on the southern wall of the sanctorum gets the attention of the visitors.  The standing posture  of Narasimha here is  a unique feature of the temple Also present is a scene of Kalinga Marthana sri Krishna dancing on the Serprnt Kalinga.  On the northern wall, one can see  the a sculpture of Varaha (likes  ones found in the Belur Chennakeshava and Hoysaleswara temples) and  of  god Sri Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill.

This ancient temple is replete with  sculptures of lion-heads in many places and they are meticulously stone carved.  Mention may be made of  the 16-pillared Natya mandapa (dance hall) that   has  pillars featuring  simhalalathas (lion heads) at their base. Even the railed parapets (two jagattis) - the outer jagatti around the artha mandapa carries a row of sculpted elephants denoting strength  and the inner one, around the sanctum has  a row of swans. The supporting pillars carry  carved  simhalalatas on elephant sculptures.

The moolavar  of Varaha Narasimha  two and half foot tall in standing posture  is enshrined in  a separate hall named Prahlada mandapa. 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, lord's consorts  - the idols of Sridevi and Bhudevi holding lotus flowers are seen. The moolavar is covered with sandalwood paste specially prepared in Srivilliputhur, TN (famous for poetess Sri Andal or Kothai Nachiyar temple).

A rare religious feature of this temple is  Shiva's manifestation Tripurantaka - which is the kshetrapala (guardian deity ie.Bhairava) of Simhachalam. and as he is more fierce than Narashimha, devotees visit  the Bhairava shrine first and then come over here. This shrine is not in good condition due to official apathy and its obscure location. 
Since1949,  the Simhachalam Devasthanam Board, a state govt. body has been running te management