A Pancha Bhoota Sthana, a Shakti Peetham & Rahu-Ketu Kshetra
13th February 2022
What a legacy, our ancients have left behind for us in India. With every visit to a new spot or a temple, it is thrilling to peel the layers, and discover the mysteries and truth of the cosmos and the universe. I felt something similar, when last week we found ourseleves in a small town in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh known as Sri Kalahasti which counts among the most sacred pilgrim centres of India. It is barely an hour from Tirupati, and is located at the foot of Kailashgiri on the right bank of Suvarnamukhi River. The river originates in the Adaram Hills in Chitoor District and flows into Nellore District before draining into the Bay of Bengal.
Our drive from Bangalore took us a little over four and a half hours on a early morning Saturday and we were at the temple at 8.30 am.
The town is well known for the ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the Pancha Bhoota Sthanas (temples celebrating Lord Shiva representing the five elements). Air or Vayu is the element at Srikalahasti and the Shiva linga is known as ‘Vayu Lingam’. The other four temples are in Tiruvannamalai (Fire), Chidambaram (Space or Ether), Thiruvannaikaval (Water), and Kanchipuram (Earth), which are all located in the state of Tamil Nadu.
We are all permutations and combinations of the 5 elements of nature. Vayu (air) , Jal (water) , Agni (fire), Akasa ( Ether) and Prithvi ( Earth). Of all the elements, air is perhaps the most powerful to cleanse the body of toxins. It is prana, the life force. When it is made to circulate through the body and the other elements, it automatically purifies us. No wonder the seers put so much of emphasis on the proper use of breath during asana and incorporating Pranayama practice into our daily routine.
It is believed that ‘Vayu’, the god of wind performed penances to get Lord Shiva’s grace, by worshipping a lingam made of camphor. Shiva was pleased and gave him a boon that he could be everywhere – hence, it came to be that the wind blows everywhere. SriKalahasti is also known as Dakshina Kailasam or ‘Kailasha of the south’.
The origin of the name of this town is interesting. It is a compound of three words – Sri, Kala, and Hasti. Sri Kalahasti is named after three staunch devotees of Lord Siva, who belonged to the animal kingdom in the Krita Yuga . Sri was a spider; Kala was a serpent and Hasti was an elephant. The spider Sri would worship by protecting the linga by spinning a web over it, the snake Kala would place gems over the linga and the elephant Hasti would bring water in his trunk and wash the linga. So pleased was Lord Shiva with their devotion, that he gave them a boon that their names be merged with the Vayu Linga and be called Sri Kalahasteeswara. The Lord also granted them moksha or liberation.
Architecture: The west-facing Kalahasteeswara temple is built adjoining a hill which serves as a wall at many points. North of the temple is Durgambika Hill, in the south is Kannapar Hill (dedicated to Kannapan- a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva) and in the east is Kumaraswamy Hill. The temple was built by Rajendra Chola I, while the 120 feet (37 m) high main gopuram and the 100 pillar mandapam were constructed by Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagara king in 1516. The temple gopuram, however, had a crisis in May 2010 when a crack that had developed many years ago, suddenly widened during the ‘Laila’ cyclone that lashed Andhra Pradesh, and a lot of debris fell to the ground, and it was feared that some security personnel and monkeys were buried under the debris. The Endowments Department and the Andhra Pradesh Government came under severe criticism for neglecting the temple. Even now, a lot can be done to improve the car park facilities and also toilets for pilgrims. But this did not take away the immense vibrations that the temple exudes.
The Shivalinga inside the sanctum sanctorum is white and is considered Swayambhu, or self-manifested. It has a heavy base and is seen in the shape of the trunk of an elephant with tusks on either side or like that of the spider at the bottom. When seen from the top, the Shiva Linga looks like that of a snake with five hoods. The main Sivalinga of Sri Kalahasti Temple is not touched by human hands, not even by the priests. A mixture of water, milk, camphor, and Panchamrita is used for Abhishekam.
The goddess or the consort of Sri Kalhastishwara is Gnana Prasunambika Devi. She is represented as the flower of divine knowledge, and she confers the ultimate knowledge to her devotees. This sthala is also considered one of the 108 Shakti Peethas of Goddess Shakti and is also a manifestation of Santana Lakshmi.
Other deities found in Kalahastiswara Temple complex are Sri Balambika, Sri Kalimatha, Lord Shanishwara, Kanakadurga, Lord Venkateswara, Lord Subrahmanya, Sri Kasi Visweswara, Sri Ramalingeswara and Sri Dakshinamurthy. The sacred pond inside the temple is Sri Saraswathi Theeram, commonly known as the ‘Pathala Ganga’. It is said that the holy water of this pond relieves devotees from chronic diseases and physical defects.
The temple also has a statue of the hunter Thinnan who offered his eyes (kannu) to this Shivalinga and hence got to be known as Bhakta Kannappa. According to some legends Kannappa was the reincarnation of the Pandava Arjuna. The story of Kannapan is one of pure devotion and innocence, as he offered even meat to the Lord with devotion.
Legends say that Lord Shiva created a tremor and the roof-tops of the temple began to fall. while everyone fled the scene, Kannapa covered the linga with his body to prevent it from any damage. Thinna noticed that Lord Shiva’s eyes on the linga was oozing blood and hence to stop the bleeding, he proceeded to pluck one of his eyes. So pleased was Lord Shiva with his devotion that he appeared before Thinna, restored his eyes, and made Thinna, the 10th amongst the 63 Nayanars and liberated him from the cycle of birth and death. The Kannapa temple at girivanam is a sacred Shiva sthala.
Sri Kalahastishwara is also known as the Rahu and Ketu sthala. Rahu and Ketu, as the reader may be aware are the two lunar nodes. You can read more about the nodes in my astrological section. There is a separate hall called the Sri Krishnadevaraya Mandapam, where the pooja is performed throughout the day, though many devotees prefer to perform the pooja during ‘Rahu Kala’.
Cost of Rahu-Kalu Pooja: Rs. 500/- (for a couple)
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