Encounter and experience the divine in the mystery shrouded land that more than lives up to the legends of its past.
Butter for Krishna, kheer for Lakshmi, milk for Shiva, modak for Ganesh… without the offering of Gods’ favourite food, the worship is incomplete. But have you ever heard of a deity consume half of the offering and leave half of it as prasad? Well, this deity at Mangalagiri does. As one drives along the Vijayawada-Guntur road in Andhra Pradesh, it is impossible not to notice the reclining elephant-shaped hill at a distance, which is Mangalagiri meaning ‘The Auspicious Hill’. The reigning deity here is lord Narasimha, the fourth avatar of Vishnu in a manlion form.
The Land of Legends
Temples are mostly constructed in places of historical relevance. The Mangalagiri hill shrine too is one such place, the description of which can be found in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana and the Skanda Purana. One of the eight Mahakshetras, Mangalagiri is believed to have existed in all the four yugas.
There are three temples of lord Narasimha here – the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy on the foothills, Panakala Narasimha Swamy on the slopes of the hill and Gandala Narasimha Swamy atop the hill. One can climb the steps or take the road to reach the hill shrine.
Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple
The temple’s, 153 feet high and 49 feet wide eleven-storied lofty Eastern Gopuram, is the 11th tallest temple tower in India. It was constructed in the year 1809 CE by Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu, the ruler of Amaravati. In contrast with the angry Narasimha on the hill, the Narasimha here looks happy and content with his consort Lakshmi sitting on his lap. The deity is said to have been installed by Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas during the exile. King Krishna Devaraya of the Vijayanagara dynasty constructed the temple’s mukha mantapa.
Panakala Narasimha Swamy – The God who drinks Panakam
It is here that the Ugra (angry) Narasimha killed the demon Namuchi with his Sudarshan Chakra dipped in the foam of the ocean to circumvent Brahma’s boon to Namuchi. To assuage the anger of lord Narasimha, nectar in Krita Yuga, ghee in Treta Yuga, milk in Dwapara Yuga and Panakam in Kali Yuga are offered. Hence, he is called the ‘Panakala Swamy’, the God who drinks panakam. Panakam is a delicious mixture of jaggery, cardamom, black pepper and edible camphor in water.
In the dimly lit sanctum sanctorum on the hill, one becomes awestruck to see a wide opened mouth of an angry lion, made of brass and set on a rocky wall. The Shankha (conch) and the Chakra (disc) are carved on either side of the face. The sacred scents of incense and camphor make you feel one with the divine. You stand in a state of absolute bliss, receptive to the spiritual communication with the God. Then begins the ritual of the priest pouring the panakam with a conch shell into the mouth of the deity. An audible gulping sound is heard as panakam goes down the idol’s throat; the lord consumes only half the panakam, throwing out some of it! The priest then adds it to the remaining half of the panakam and gives it to the devotees as prasad. Hundreds of litres of panakam is offered to the deity every day and no one knows where all of it goes. Interestingly, despite so much of panakam made and offered, not a single ant or fly is seen in the premises! Behind the temple, a huge rock cut idol of Hanuman, the kshetrapalaka or the maintainer of the hill, greets you. Further up are the temples of Rajyalakshmi and Ranganayaka, and a tunnel which is believed to lead to the Undavalli caves on the banks of the Krishna, around 10 km away. A tough climb further up leads to Gandala Narasimha, where people light lamps to get rid of their sorrows.
On your way back
The descent by the 600-step flight is a heady mixture of nature, history, mythology, culture, tradition and geology. The volcanic gneiss rocks with intricate dark and light-coloured bands look amazing. You spend time reading the stone inscriptions of conquests and land grants of the past and stop by the footprints of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who visited the place in 1512 CE. The bird’s eye views of the temple town down below look stunning. The magnificent Eastern Gopuram commands the view at every point.
The gorgeous Mangalagiri saris and dress materials produced here have placed Mangalagiri on the world textile map. The missing thread-weave with a net-like texture and Nizam border is the signature style of this 500-yearold cottage industry. The fabric comes in festive colours and patterns with a lovely drape and finish.
Words: ANURADHA MELANATURU