Sri Kalahasti Temple
Sri Kalahasti Temple is one of the many famous Shiva temples in South India.Like most temples it was developed in stages, the initial structure being established in the 5th century by the Pallava dynasty.It was later developed by the Cholas and Vijayanagara kings between the 10th and 16th century.Known as the ‘Kailas of the South’, according to ancient Tamil sources,the Kalahasti Temple is situated about 36 kms from Tirupati in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Shiva, the symbol of purity and auspiciousness,is greatly revered and Kalahasti is a symbol of that reverence,not only in terms of the architectural manifestations over time, but also because of the number of devotees it draws everyday.There are many associations attached to the construction of this temple,that make it all the more special in the list of famous Shiva temples.
Kalahasti is one of the Panchabhoota Sthalams,the five major temples signifying the five elements: earth,wind, water, fire and sky.This mystical abode is dedicated to the ‘Vayu linga’ representing the wind. Here,Shiva is an incarnate of Vayu and worshipped as Kalahasteeswara.
The Sri Kalahasti Temple is also dedicated to two of the nine celestial bodies in the Hindu astrological scheme – Rahu and Ketu. Rahu and Ketu are significant in the Indic context as they are believed to have varying effects on the zodiacs and in turn,the lives of people astrologically.For those who believe in this, special rituals are conducted to free them from these doshas.
The name Sri Kalahasti comes from combining the names of Shiva’s three loyal devotees –a spider(sri),a serpent(kala) and an elephant(hasti).Legend has it,that a spider resided in the inner sanctum and sculpted elaborate temples and icons of Shiva.One day the wind blew causing the fire at the altar to destroy the offerings. In a fit of rage,the spider almost gulped the fire,causing danger to its life (also interpreted as destroying the ego).This degree of devotion for the divine pleased Shiva and he granted the spider a boon of liberation or moksha.
The story of the serpent and the elephant’s love for Shiva also immortalised them. According to legend,the serpent was a devout worshipper of the lord and offered precious gems and ornaments daily at the altar. Soon, an elephant too started visiting the temple to pay homage to the lord.It would wash the temple with water stored in its trunk scattering the gems and replacing them with leaves from a holy tree. When the serpent returned, it would put the gems back.As this ritual of dispersal and rearrangement continued, angered, the serpent decided to teach the elephant a lesson.
One day it snuck into the elephant’s trunk and injected its venom.In an attempt to kill the snake the elephant dashed its head against the wall causing the snake to slide out in trauma and die.The elephant too succumbed to the effects of the poison and lost its life.Shiva, impressed by the kind of love these two devotees felt for him,resurrected them, giving them a boon of liberation, just like the spider. Today, these three special devotees of Shiva are represented at the foot of the linga at the Sri Kalahasti temple.
Sri Kalahasti Temple is associated with legends held very close to the hearts of people,and sacred rituals attached to the mystical power this space is believed to hold.Be it rituals associated with doshas that people come to relieve themselves from(Rahu,Ketu,Kalsarpa), or to honour Shiva’s most revered devotees, or to simply admire the architectural marvel this structure is,this temple is special. Constructed and established in different stages,changing hands as the regimes changed, this historical-spiritual abode also reflects the romance of art and the divine.