Srisailam is one of the most ancient and sacred pilgrimage located on a flat top of Nallamala Hills, on the right side of River Krishna in Kurnool district of Andhrapradesh. The name ‘Sri Sailam’ means ‘Auspicious Hillock’, also called as Sri Giri, Sri Parvatham, Sri Nagam, Siridhanam etc. The shrine of Lord Mallikharjuna (form of Lord Shiva) and his consort Goddess Bhramaramba (form of Goddess Adi Parashakti) on the Vrushabhagiri Hill (Vrushabh = bull) in Srisailam made this place a ‘divya kshetram’ (divine place).
1. Jyotirlinga and Shakti Peetha
Srisailam is very important for two Hindu sects ‘Shaivam’ and ‘Shakteyam’, as it is one of the three Shiva-Shakthi peethas of India. These peethas have one of the twelve ‘Jyothirlingas’ of Lord Shiva and also one of the eighteen ‘Shakti Peethas’ of Goddess Adi Parashakti within same shrine. The other two Shiva-Shakti peethas are Ujjain ‘Mahakal-Mahakali’ and Varanasi ‘Vishweshara-Vishalakshi’.
As per ‘Shiva Puranam’, once Lord Brahma (God of Creation) and Vishnu (God of Preservation) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge Jyotirlinga (pillar of light) and asked them to find out the ends of the Linga. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to either direction to find the end of the Linga. When they returned, Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva then appeared from the Linga, and said while Vishnu would be worshipped on the Earth, Brahma would have no temple and no worship. Both Vishnu and Brahma realised that there is no supremacy in the creation. The Jyotirlinga is the supreme reality, out of which Shiva partly appears. There are 12 Jyotirlinga shrines in India, each take the name of the presiding deity, and each considered different manifestation of Shiva.
Shakti Peetha: According to Hindu Mythology, Lord Shiva’s first consort ‘Sati’ attended to a ritual performed by her father Daksha, as an uninvited guest. But seeing the disrespect shown by her father toward her husband, Sati felt insulted and immolated her mortal body. Anger-stricken Shiva killed Daksha and carried Sati’s body on shoulder wandering in grief. To reduce Shiva’s anger, Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body and threw the body parts in different places. Sati’s neck fell at Srisailam, thus this place became Shakti Peetha.
2. Importance of Srisailam in Daily prayers:
Hindus living in Andhrapradesh and Telangana consider Srisailam as a reference point with respect to their existing location, during ‘sankalpam’ (determination) of their daily prayers. For example,
‘श्वेत वराहकल्पे, वैवस्वत मन्वन्तरे, कलियुगे प्रथम पादे, जम्बूद्वीपे, भरतखण्डे, भारतवर्षे, मेरोः दक्षिण दिग्भागे, स्रीशैलस्य ——— प्रदेशे‘’ (in the blank we specify the direction of the city where we live with respect to Srisailam. Example – Hyderabad- वायव्य/ Tirupathi- आग्नेय/ other places- ईशान्य)
According to Historians, Srisailam was formed during 10th century, and Bhramaramba temple was formed during 16th century. But as per Epics, Srisailam has very ancient history earlier to 10th century.
Hillock and God formation: According to ‘Srisaila Khandam’ in ‘Skanda Purana’, ‘Parvatha’ son of sage Shilada performed penance to seek a boon that Lord Shiva stays on his body. Shiva blessed him with a boon that ‘He’ along with all other Gods and sacred theerthas permanently remain on Parvatha, and the devotees visiting this scared place will attain salvation. Then Parvatha took form of a Hillock ‘Srisailam’ and Shiva stayed as deity ‘Sri Parvatha Swamy’ in the form of Shiva Linga
‘Sri’ name formation: According to Hindu legend, Vasumathi, daughter of a Sage pleased Lord Brahma with her hard penance on this Parvatha hillock, and asked to grant her the name ‘Sri’ and associate with the name of this hillock. Brahma granted her the boon and named hillock ‘Sri-sailam’.
Mallikharjuna name: According to Sthalapurana (history of the place), Kumaraswamy, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, was hurt because the Gana leadership was given to His brother Ganesha. He reached ‘Krouncha’ hillock (now Srisailam) and sat under Maddi Vruksha (Arjuna Tree). There is a jasmine creeper grown around the trunk of this tree. When Lord Shiva came in search of His son, He manifested Himself (Swayambhoo) as deity of this Hillock, in the form of Shiva Linga. Since then presiding deity in the form of Linga is called Mallika (Jasmine) + Arjuna (Maddi) + Swamy (Deity).
As per literary sources, Chandravathi, daughter of King Chandragupta was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. She obtained a boon that the Jasmine garland (Mallika mala) she had put on His head should never fade. Thereafter Sriparvatha Swamy is called as Mallikharjuna Swamy (Mallika – Architha – Swamy: deity worshipped with jasmine flowers).
Vruddha Mallikharjuna: After leaving Her mortal body, ‘Sati Devi’ took re-birth as Parvathi, daughter of Parvatha. Goddess Parvathi performed penance on this hillock to marry Lord Shiva. Pleased by Her penance, Lord Shiva appeared as an old monk to test the Goddess. When Goddess asked Him about the appearance, Lord Shiva said He is indeed aboriginal, and said she can refuse to marry if not willing. As Goddess still insisted to marry, Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvathi and remained as ‘Vruddha Mallikharjuna’ deity in the form of Linga, on Srisailam. The shrine of Vruddha Mallikharjuna is on the right side of the main temple complex, considered to be 80 thousand years oldest structure.
There is another temple of ‘Artha Nareeshwaree’ of deity as half of Lord Shiva joined with half of Goddess Parvathi, in the same complex near the main temple in Srisailam. This deity is considered Kshetra Devatha (Main Goddess Mahashakti) of Srisailam. This is stated in the ‘Maha Sankalpa’ of Srisailam as
‘अर्धनारीश्वरी भ्रमरा परमेश्वरी मुख्यदश कोटि महाशक्ति स्थानानाम्’
The North Gate of Srisailam is called ‘Uma Maheshwaram’. ‘Bhramari Shakti’ story is being specified in Ekadasha Chapter of ‘Markandeya Purana’ from Devi Mahatyam.
‘यदारुणख्य स्त्रैलोक्य महाबाधां करिष्यति| तदा हंभ्रामारं रूपं कृत्वा संख्ये य षट्पदम् ||’
This was during Savarni Manvantara period, which confirms that the Kshetra is very ancient.
Bhramaramba formation: According to another legend of Vaivaswata Manvantara period, there was a demon named Arunasura who worshipped Lord Brahma. Brahma blessed him with the power that he cannot be killed by any two or four legged living being. With the pride of the power, Arunasura took pleasure in troubling sages. Goddess Adi Para Shakti acquired the form of Bhramaram (bee with six legs) and killed Arunasura on the Srisailam Mountain. As per Sages’ request the Goddess remained at Srisailam as deity Bhramaramba. The idol has eight arms. There is a Sri Chakra in front of Garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum).
Chenchu Mallayya: The local tribal Chenchus consider the Goddess as their daughter, and God as their son-in-law ‘Chenchu Mallayya’. This story is also depicted through a picture on the Prakaram wall (bailey) of the temple. The temple is maintained and administered by Chenchus.
4. Temple Architecture:
There are four Gopurams (gateway towers) of this temple. While the main shrine which is the oldest of the temple is of Lord Mallikharjuna and Goddess Bhramaramba, there are numerous shrines of other Gods within same complex of the temple. There are many mandapams (atriums) in the temple, and the center mandapam has huge idol of Nandi. The Mukhamandapa (atrium) leading to sanctum sanctorum has many intricate sculpted pillars.
5. Important places near Srisailam
Sakshi Ganapati Temple: Before visiting Srisailam the devotees visit Sakshi Ganapathi shrine on the highway. It is said that Lord Ganesha is the record keeper of visitors to Srisailam. Devotees will tell their names and gotram, Ganapathi will note down to inform Lord Shiva (as a Witness), so that there will be salvation for the devotee.
Phaladhara-Panchadhara: About 2.5 miles before reaching Srisailam, there is ‘Phala Dhara – Pancha Dhara ‘, two streams of water flowing down a cliff. These streams are considered to be the sacred flows from Lord Shiva’s forehead and from his 5 faces (Panchamukha). (‘Phala’ – forehead, ‘Dhara’ – flow, and ‘Pancha’ – five). According to history, Jagadguru Sri Adi Shankaracharya meditated at this place and wrote ‘Shivananda Lahari’.
Hatakeshwaram: Hatakeshwaram is an ancient temple, exactly opposite to Phaladhara-Panchadhara, dedicated to Lord Shiva. As per legend, Hatakeshwaram was a deep forest where Sage Agastya did penance. As per Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s life story, Shankaracharya did penance in this place for many days. During that time, a Kapalika, by name Kirakashan appeared before him. He asked Sankaracharya that he should give his body as a human sacrifice to Lord Shiva, to which Shankaracharya happily agreed. Kirakashan was about to cut off Shankaracharya’s head when Lord Narasimha appeared in the form of a lion and killed Kirakashan. It is then Shankaracharya recited ‘Lakshmi Narasimha Karavalamba Stotram’ praising Lord Narasimha. According to a story, there was a potter by name ‘Keshappa’ who was devotee of Lord Shiva. One day he saw golden Shiva Linga in a broken piece of Pot at this place, so he had put effort for getting a temple constructed in the very same place. It is believed that if childless couple do pradakshina (taking 3 rounds around temple) they will be blessed with children.
Patala Ganga: About 2 miles from the temple, there is sacred ‘Patala Ganga’, River Krishna flowing at the bottom of 500 stone steps. People take a holy bath in Patala Ganga before taking darshan of God. The water is supposed to be very pure and have healing properties for skin diseases.
Shikhara Darshanam: About 6 miles from Srisailam there is a hillock ‘Shikhareshwaram’ where ‘Shikhareshwara Swamy’ temple is constructed. On this hillock, there is a small ‘Nandi’ (Bull) statue arranged on a grinding stone, facing the Srisailam Mallikharjuna temple.
‘श्रीशैल शिखरं दृष्ट्वा पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते’
It is believed that by pouring handful sesame on Nandi and turn him on the grinding stone, and then by holding thumb and forefinger of right hand on the horns of this bull, if the devotee is able to spot through the horns ‘Srisaila Sikharam’ (peak of Mallikharjuna temple), then it is certain that he/she gets salvation after death.
6. Srisailam History
Traditions say that the sacred Lingam was worshipped by Hiranya Kasipa in Kritha Yuga. There is a Sahasra Linga (1000 lingas within one Linga) commissioned by Lord Sri Rama in Tretha Yuga after the assassination of Ravana. There are 5 lingas enshrined by Pandavas when they visited Srisailam during their exile. Lord Dattatreya performed penance under the ‘Triple beneficial tree’ besides the Mallikharjuna shrine. Acharya Nagarjuna resided on the Srisailam for long period. Srisailam is also associated historically with great rulers such as Chalukya kings, Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagara, Chatrapati Shivaji etc.