The Telgu states are dotted with Shiva temples, each with its own deep rich history.
What does one say of a region and its language that takes its name from a belief that Lord Shiva descended on the three mountains there? The ancient name of both the Telugu states is Trilinga Desa, meaning “The Land of Three Lingas”. It is believed that the Telugu language too gets its name from this. Folklore says that Lord Shiva descended in the form of three Lingas located at Kaleswaram in Telangana, Srisailam in Rayalaseema and Draksharamam in coastal Andhra, which made up the Trilinga Desa. The belief apart both the Telugu states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have close connect with Shaivism. Both these places, have the Pancharamas, the five temples dedicated to Shiva, as well as one of the Dwadasa Jyotirlinga at Sri Sailam and one of the Panchabhuta Lingams at Sri Kalahasti.
Pancharama Kshetras are called so, after the five temples dedicated to Shiva, in coastal Andhra. All Shiva linga at the five temples were apparently, derived from a single linga. Supposedly, this massive Shiva linga was owned by an Asura ruler Tarakasura, which made him practically invincible. It was finally Kumara Swamy who attacked Tarakasura and used his power to kill him. However, Kumara Swamy discovered that the torn pieces of Tarakasura’s body would rejoin, repeatedly, making his efforts go futile. It was then on the advice of Lord Vishnu, to break the Shiva linga which Taraka was wearing into five pieces, that Kumara Swamy could destroy the Asura king. He also cautioned Kumara Swamy, that the pieces of the linga would reunite, and hence should be fixed to the ground.
Soon Swamy, used the Agni-asthra, the weapon of fire, to break the Shiva linga into five pieces, which then Lord Surya erected by fastening them with nails and building temples over them. If one notices the five Shivalingas carefully, they have scaly markings, believed to be caused by the Agni-asthra. Now, the five different temples are collectively called as Pancharamas (five places of rest).
Amararamam is situated at Amaravati, in Guntur district, and the reigning deity is Amaralingeswara Swamy. The name comes from the fact that Amarendra installed the Shiva linga here. Located on the southern bank of the Krishna River, Bala Chamundika is the consort of Amaralingeswara Swamy. The temple is noted for its massive Shiva Linga, which covers two floors.
The temple was developed by Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu, the ruler of Dharanikota, and a devotee of Amaralingeswara. His work towards the temple is considered a penance to atone his act of massacring the Chenchus, to put down a revolt. He not only renovated the temple but also appointed nine Archakas, providing them with the means of livelihood.
Draksharama located in East Godavari district, near the town of Ramachandrapuram, is also picturesque surrounded by lush green paddy fields.
Shiva here is called as Bhimeswara Swamy, and the Shiva linga was believed to be installed by Lord Surya himself. It is believed that Draksharama was where the infamous Daksha Yagna took place, and that is the reason no yagna happens at this temple. It is also called as Dakshina Kasi, and Godess Shakti here is Manikyamba Ammavaru. The pond here is believed to contain the waters of the Sapta Godavari.
The Shiva Linga at Draksharama again is quite tall, and one part of it lies in the basement floor, only the top part is seen. Another legend of Draksharama goes that the outer wall could not be completed in time, and to date it remains incomplete.The Draksharama Temple is one of the oldest in Andhra, dating back to 10th century, built by Bhima, the Eastern Chalukya king of Vengi.
Somarama, located at Bhimavaram, is the third of the Pancharamas, and the Shiva linga here is believed to be installed by Lord Chandra. The pond called Chandrakundam is covered with flowers and located at the entrance of the temple. It’s believed that Chandra, got rid of his sins by worshipping Lord Shiva here, and hence the name Somaramam. The unique aspect about the Shiva linga is that it keeps changing its colour, based on the phases of the moon. During Pournami, the Shivlinga at Somarama turns white in colour, and during Amavasya, it turns a shade of black. Another very unique aspect of this temple is that the temple of Annapurna, is built on top of the Shiva temple, which one doesn’t find anywhere. Shakti is worshipped here as Sri Rajarajeswari Ammavaru.
Ksheerarama Temple at Palakollu on west Godavari is where Lord Shiva is worshipped as Ksheera Ramalingeswara Swamy. It is believed that Upamanyu, son of Kaushika, requested Shiva for desired quantity of milk for a certain ritual, and the Pushkarni overflowed with milk, which also accounts for the name of Palakollu (Palu is the Telugu word for Milk).
It is believed that Vishnu installed the Shiva linga here, and Shakti is worshipped as Parvati Ammavaru. It is noted for its tall gopuram, and the temple itself is around nine floors high. The Shiva linga here is milky white, and the mandapa with 72 black pillars is worth a visit. Palakollu is located on Gosthani, one of the tributaries of Godavari river, surrounded by lush green paddy fields.
The Kumara Rama temple at Samarlakota, in eastern Godavari district, is the last of the Pancharamas. The Shiva linga here was installed by Lord Karthikeya. Shiva is worshipped as Kumara Bhimeswara Swamy here, and his consort is Bala Tripura Sundari. The temple was built during the time of the Chalukya ruler King Bhima, hence the name too. The Shiva linga at Kumara Rama is around 16 feet tall, rises to two floors and is made entirely of limestone. Again the temple is famous for its 100 pillar mandapa and an Ekasila Nandi at the entrance.
Kotappa Konda in Guntur district, is one of the more well known Shaivite temples, the Tirunallu (Jatara) on Shivratri here draws massive crowds. Kotappakonda contains one of the older Saivite temples, dating back to around 1172 AD, located a hill at a height of 1587 feet. Located close to Narasaraopeta in Guntur district, the Kotappakonda temple received regular grants during Krishnadeva Raya’s time. Surrounded by three peaks, Shiva at the Kotappakonda temple is referred to as Trikooteshwara Swamy.
Kotappa Konda in Guntur district, is one of the more well known Shaivite temples, the Tirunallu (Jatara) on Shivratri here draws massive crowds. Kotappakonda contains one of the older Shaivite temples, dating back to around 1172 AD, located on a hill at a height of 1,587 feet. Located close to Narasaraopeta in Guntur district, the Kotappakonda temple received regular grants during Krishnadeva Raya’s time. Surrounded by three peaks, Shiva at the Kotappakonda temple is referred to as Trikooteshwara Swamy.
The Kotappakonda temple is surrounded by three major peaks, which one can see from any angle when you climb the hill. It is believed that Shiva imparted the knowledge of Brahman to the other Gods in the form of Dakshina Murthy at Kotappakonda. As Dakshina Murthy had observed strict celibacy during his stay here, no marriages are conducted to date at the Kotappakonda temple. Trikutaparvam is another name for this place, but people prefer to call it as Kotappakonda.
During the Shivratri festival at Kotappakonda, huge rectangular frames called Prabhas are carried in a procession. The temple can be reached through a long trek, which rises to a height of 1,587 ft, though a ghat road has been laid too. While many devotees at Kotappakonda still prefer the trek, the ghat road has been constructed for the benefit of those who can’t walk all the way up.
Bugga Ramalingeswara Temple in Tadipatri, Anantapur is one of the ancient Shaivite temples in Andhra Pradesh. This was built during the 13th century, by Pemmasani Ramalinga Nayaka, the chieftain of Gandikota, and also the military commander of the Vijayanagara Empire.
The temple here is known for its architectural excellence. The Shiva linga here is surrounded by water always, which in a way accounts for its name too, Bugga being the Telugu word for the water drop. The ceiling of the temple is richly decorated with carvings.
Srikalahasti located near Tirupati gets its name from the belief that a spider (Sri), snake (Kala) and elephant (Hasti) worshipped Lord Shiva here. The temple is one of the Panchabhuta Kshetras built as an ode to the five elements of nature – Tiruvannamalai (fire), Kanchi (earth), Chidambaram (sky), Jambukeshwara (water). Shiva is worshipped here as Vayu Linga, representing wind. While the Pallava kings built the initial part of Srikalahasti, it was developed in later years by the Chola dynasty and the Vijayanagar rulers. Srikalahasti also contains a shrine in honour of Kannappa, the tribal devotee of Lord Shiva, who had offered his eyes.
Vemulawada in Karimnagar district of Telangana has one of the oldest Shiva temples, dating back to the time of Chalukya rulers. The Rajarajeswara Temple at Vemulawada, Karimnagar is one of them. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Raja Rajeshwara Swamy at Vemulawada, also more popularly referred to here as Rajanna, while the tank here is called as Dharmagundam.
Another well known Shaivite Kshetra in Karimnagar district is Kaleswaram, where Lord Shiva is worshipped along with Lord Yama here. It is believed to be one of the Trilinga Kshetras, other two being Draksharama and Srisailam.
Here you have Shiva and Yama on the same platform as Kaleshwara (Yama) and Muktheshwara (Shiva).
While Kurnool is well known for Srisailam, another equally famous Shiva Temple is at Mahanandi. Located amidst the Nallamalla Hills, Mahanandi is also famous for its huge Nandi statue.
One of the main features of the Mahanandi Temple are the fresh water pools, Pushkarni, dotting it. The pushkarnis are perennially filled with water, thanks to the springs here.
Alampur is also called as Dakshina Kasi and is noted for its Navabrahma temples. Surrounded by the Nallamala hills, Alampur is a noted Shaivite centre down South, and its temples constructed in the Chalukyan style of architecture, are worth a visit.
The Navabrahma temples are primarily nine in number dedicated to Shiva, dating back to the 7th century AD, built during the rule of the Badami Chalukyas. The Swarga Brahma temple is the most prominent of the lot, noted for its ornate sculptures.
Alampur is also home to one of the 18 Shakti Peethas. These shrines are dedicated to Shakti. Apparently, when a grief-stricken Shiva, was walking around with the corpse of Sati on his back, the Gods appealed to Vishnu to save them from his wrath. Vishnu cut the corpse into pieces with his Sudarshana Chakra, and the places where different parts of the body fell are revered as Shakti Peethas. Alampur is where the teeth are believed to have fallen, and Shakti is worshipped here as Jogulamba. Incidentally, another Shaktipeetha is also located on Krishna River at Srisailam, where the neck is believed to have fallen, and she is worshipped as Brahmaramba there.
And from Alampur, the Krishna traverses through some of the thickest forests, and valleys, touching the sacred place of Srisailam, one of the Dwadasa Jyotirlingas. Shiva is worshipped here as Mallikarjuna, while Shakti is worshipped as Brahmaramba. Incidentally, Alampur is also believed to be one of the four gateways to Srisailam, the others being Tripurantakam (Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh), Siddhavatam (near Kadapa), Umamaheswaram (Mahboobnagar district, Telangana). Adi Shankar’s famous Sivananda Lahiri was composed here at Srisailam.
Srimukhalingam in Srikakulam district, has the Shiva temples built in Kalingan style of architecture, on the banks of the Vamsadhara River. Srisailam is also famous for its huge dam and hydroelectric project, that is one of the main sources of power for the Telugu states.
Srimukhalingam in Srikakulam district, has the Shiva temples built in a Kalinga style of architecture, on the banks of the Vamsadhara River.
This piece was first published on the author’s blog, and has been republished here with permission.