Historically it can be seen that various religious systems and sanathana dharma in specific have thrived in and around holy places. In fact all the religious systems have their own dedicated holy places which spot the entire world.  In times of calamities and repressions they had been the only source of refuge for many religious men. A holy place is also called a shrine, for it is a place of worship that has been rendered holy by association of a sacred person or the Lord Himself. As these shrines are associated with various pastimes of the Lord and His devotees, a visit to a holy place can easily imbibe in the mundane mind the transcendental pastimes of the Lord and His devotees.

One such important shrine lies down in south eastern India located in the Eastern Ghats. It represents the transcendental pastime of the Lord, wherein He comes immediately for the rescue of His beloved devotees, for whom, He is the only refuge. The worship in this temple, as with many temples in India, predates the recorded history of modern man. As per the sthala purana, the worship of this deity dates back to Sri Prahlada Maharaja’s time. The holy place we are referring to is Simhachalam or Simhadri.

SimhachalamSri Varaha Laxmi Narasimha Swamy Temple

Simha means “lion” and achalam means “hill”. So this is lion’s hill, the hill of Lord Narasimhadeva. The Deity here, Varaha Laxmi Narasimha Swami, is popularly known in Sanskrit as Simhadrinatha or in Telugu as Simhadri Appanna (“the Lord of the Lion Hill”)

SimhachalamSimhachalam Temple of Varaha Laxmi Narasimha Swami

Pastimes / Local History

The Sthala Purana of Simhachalam recounts the history of the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja and his demonic father, Hiranyakashipu. After many unsuccessful attempts to kill Sri Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu orders, as a last resort, to hurl Sri Prahlada into the sea and place a huge mountain over him. The servants chose to do this at Simhachalam. But before they could finish, Narayana rescued Prahlada by jumping over the hill and lifting him from the sea. Simhachalam, therefore, is the place where the Lord rescued Prahlada. It is also said that since the Lord jumped at once to rescue Prahlada, the Lord’s lotus feet went into Patala. The local Sthala Purana says that the Darshana of Lord’s lotus feet is available only to inhabitants of Patala Loka.

At Prahlada’s request, the Lord then assumed the form of the Varaha-Narasimha Deity, so that Prahlada could see both aspects of the Lord—the one by which He had already killed Hiranyaksha and the one by which He would soon kill Hiranyakashipu.

Simhachalam - Rock Architecture

Lord Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu – Rock Architecture behind the temple

After the death of Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada built a temple around the Deity. It is said that after Prahlada handed over the kingdom to his son, he worshipped the deity personally.  However at the end of Satya Yuga, owing to neglect perhaps, a huge anthill gathered around the Deity. But at the beginning of another yuga the Deity was rediscovered by Pururava, the king of the lunar dynasty, who is mentioned in the Ninth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Riding with his wife, Urvashi, in an aerial chariot over the hills of the South, Pururava was drawn by a mysterious power to Simhachalam. Some say that Narasimhadeva had appeared in Pururava’s dream and then he went to Simhachalam and he discovered the deity in a Garden of Malati trees.

Nonetheless, he discovered the Deity and cleared the earth around Him. Pururava then heard a voice from the sky which told him to cover the Deity with sandal paste, worship the Lord in this form, and expose Him only once a year, on the day of Chandana-yatra. Following this instruction, Pururava covered the Deity with sandal pulp equal to the earth he had removed, worshiped the Deity, and rebuilt the temple, which has flourished ever since.

More facts on the temple

The Simhachalam Temple faces west unlike others which face east, it is said that a west facing temple brings in victory. It is said that when the Muslims during one of their invasions were about to destroy and plunder the temple, a poet by name Kurmanatha implored Lord Varaha Narasimha to save his temple and the Hindus. In response to his fervent prayers, a huge swarm of copper hornets suddenly appeared and attacked the invading army and drove them out of the city. The swarm disappeared behind a hillock after driving out the Muslim armies. That hillock is now known as Tummedala Metta (Tummedala=of hornet, Metta=hillock).

The Deity of the temple Sri Varaha Narasimha Swamy is worshiped always in the form of a shila, except for on the day of Akshaya Tritiya. On the day of Akshaya Tritiya, the Lord’s original form of Varaha Narasimha Swamy is unveiled. This festival is known as Chandanotsvam.

On that day the temple would be immensely crowded and it’s definitely a very good opportunity for book distributors!!! But definitely it’s a once a life time opportunity to see the Lord in His original form. The original form of the Lord (nija roopam) is open for darshan on that day for 12 hours only. On the night before the Akshaya Tritiya, the old Chandanam (sandal) paste is removed and in the early hours of Akshaya Tritiya the Lord is offered Sahasra Ghatabhiskekam (Abhishekam / Bathing of the Lord with thousand sacred pots) and followed by special items like incense and lamps. After that the devotees are allowed to view the nija roopam of the Lord. After the 12 hours darshan Sandal would be again applied to the Lord immediately.

Simhachalam - Nityarupa and Nijarupa darshana
Nityaroopa (regular form for darshan) and Nijaroopa (true form avaialable only on Akshaya Trithiya)

On every Thursday the deity is adorned in the alankara of Narasimha Deva and everyday in the morning there is Suprabhata seva, followed by Aradhana and pallakki utsava of the utsava murtis of the Lord. Someone who can reach early in the morning at 3:30 A.M., can definitely feast their eyes in witnessing all these daily festivities of the Lord.

Prominent Acharyas who visited or rendered service to the deity:

  1. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
  2. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur
  3. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
  4. Krishnamacharya
  5. Narahari Tirtha
  6. Other Acharyas

Prabhupada’s Pastime

Srila Prabhupada visited Simhachalam during his stay at Visakhapatnam, i.e., between 17th February 1972 and 22nd February 1972. The following is an excerpt from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita.

“One day Srila Prabhupada took his disciples to see a famous temple of Lord Narasimha, Sri Simhachalam, on top of a hill about five miles north of Visakhapatnam. Thousands of stone steps led up the hill to the temple, which was situated in a natural amphitheater on the side of the hill. Prabhupada said the temple, which was now run by followers of the Ramanuja sect, was particularly important because Lord Chaitanya had visited there on His tour of South India.

Srila Prabhupada chose to approach the temple by car, riding up the winding road past orchards of mango, jackfruits, and cashew, and fields of pineapple. On arriving at the temple, Srila Prabhupada and his disciples met one of the temple brahmanas, who showed them around the grounds. The temple buildings were of black granite, and carved into the rock were the forms and pastimes of Vishnu, especially in His incarnation of Lord Narasimha. As Prabhupada moved from place to place, building to building, he sometimes rode up steep stairs on a palanquin carried by four men.

When Prabhupada came upon an immense banyan tree at the lower end of the temple grounds, he said that the tree must be thousands of years old. As he stood beneath the tree, his servant, Nanda-kumara, handed him a small champaka flower. Extending his thumb and forefinger from his bead bag, Prabhupada held the champaka flower and looked fondly at it. "This flower," he said, "is the color of Lord Chaitanya. And this flower is the most loved all over India. This flower is beautiful to look at and beautiful to smell." He carried the small saffron-gold flower between his fingers throughout the rest of the morning.

When Prabhupada and his group entered the inner sanctum, where the Deity of Lord Narasimha resided, their guide explained that the murti dated back to the time of Prahlada Maharaja. An ancient king named Pururava and his consort Urvashi had once visited this hill, and at the request of Urvashi, the murti, who appeared to her in a dream, had been excavated. The Lord had ordained that He should be worshiped in this place but that He would give darshana only one day a year, during the month of Vishakha. The rest of the year He would be entirely covered with ground sandalwood pulp mixed with camphor and other scents. Therefore, the Deity now appeared to be only a lump covered with a layer of sandalwood. Prabhupada commented that the sandalwood was to keep the Deity "cool-headed."

Madhavananda: When Prabhupada was at the Narasimha temple in Visakhapatnam, it was the same as when he was in Vrindavana. When he got out of the car, he was very grave. We went into the temple, and there was a chamber. Then we went down. The walls were four feet thick, and it seemed like hundreds of feet of tunnels before we got into the inner sanctum. There was the Deity with just a mound of sandalwood paste on Him. As soon as we entered, Prabhupada said, "Begin chanting the Narasimha mantra." So we started singing tava kara-kamala-vare nakham adbhuta-srngam. And we circumambulated the Deity. Then we stood before the Deity, and Prabhupada offered obeisances.

Gurukripa: When we came into the Deity room, Prabhupada had us sing the Narasimha prayers. He always manifested such devotion. That was what separated him from us – not only his learning or his knowledge, but his devotion. In these places we would see him become very silent, very grave, and when he would speak, such peace would fill us from within. When he would speak, you could feel it. He was constantly convincing us of Krishna consciousness. Not purposely, but he was just being himself. In these places it would come out.

When Prabhupada stood with us before the Deity, we couldn't even see. There was just a mound of sandalwood. There was one brahmana with big earlobes, and he had a ring in his ear. We offered some money. But it was a very devotional time. Prabhupada didn't say much and the main reason was that these places are appreciated according to one's spiritual advancement. The details and facts and the history are not really that important. There is nothing really to say. Prabhupada would just make sure we had the proper respect and didn't commit any offense.”

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur visited Simhachalam in 1905 and again in 1930. In order to commemorate the visit of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to Simhachalam, on 27th December 1930, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaj had footprints of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu made there.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited Simhachalam in 1510 AD, during his tour to South India. The famous Darshan Arati Song of “Sri Narasimha Jaya Narasimha….” was sung by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in this place. In Madhya Lila 8.3-8.9 of Chaitanya Charitamrita, we find a great deal of information about Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s visit to Jiyada-Narasimha Kshetra or Simhachalam.

Madhya 8.3: “According to His previous program, Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went forward on His tour and after some days arrived at the place of pilgrimage known as Jiyada-Narasimha.”

Madhya 8.4: “Upon seeing the Deity of Lord Narasimha in the temple, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu offered His respectful obeisances by falling flat. Then, in ecstatic love, He performed various dances, chanted, and offered prayers.”

Madhya 8.5: “‘All glories to Narasimhadeva! All glories to Narasimhadeva, who is the Lord of Prahlada Maharaja and, like a honeybee, is always engaged in beholding the lotus like face of the goddess of fortune.’”

Madhya 8.6: “‘Although very ferocious, the lioness is very kind to her cubs. Similarly, although very ferocious to nondevotees like Hiranyakashipu, Lord Narasimhadeva is very, very soft and kind to devotees like Prahlada Maharaja.’”

Madhya 8.7: In this way Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu recited different verses from the shastra. The priest of Lord Narasimhadeva then brought garlands and the remnants of the Lord’s food and offered them to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Madhya 8.8: As usual, a brahmana offered Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu an invitation. The Lord passed the night in the temple and then commenced His tour again.

Madhya 8.9: The next morning, in the great ecstasy of love, Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu started on His tour with no knowledge of the proper direction, and He continued the whole day and night.

Krishnamacharya

Amongst all the saints connected with Simhachalam Kshetra, Krishnamacharya’s presence was most contributing to the Glories of the Deity. While there are many legends connected to him, I tried to get a brief of life sketch of, now largely forgotten, Acharya of Sri Sampradaya.

Krishnamayya, also known as Sri Krishnamacharya, was a renowned devotee and poet belonging to the 13th century. Krishnamacharya inaugurated the rendition of Bhakti literature in Telugu language by composing over four lakh vachanas. Krishnamacharya‘s vachanas written in praise of the deity of Simhachalam, Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha swami, are named by him as Simhagiri Vachanas or Simhagiri Narahari Vachanas.

Following the style of Sri Ramanujacharya’s Gadyatraya, these were rendered in a very simple easy to understand prose format.  They contain the most advanced Vaishnava philosophy in a simple to understand story / prose format. Krishnamacharya used simple language to express ideas which were also straight forward. He avoided ornamentation and high vocabulary. He believed that linguistic complexity would distract attention from the essential philosophy of his writings. His style and simplicity had a lasting impression on later acharyas/saintly poets. He was venerated as the father of Sankirtana literature in Telugu. Tallapaka Chinnanna praises him as the one who has rendered the Vedas in Telugu. Tallapaka Tirumalacharya paid tribute to him by composing about one hundred and twenty vachanas in praise of Lord Venkateshvara called Venkateshvara Vachanas. Similarly other famous poets like Bamera Pothana, Srinath also followed his path.

Knowing about the saintly qualities of Krishnamacharya and also about his pastime of bringing back a dead child to life, King Prataparudra of Kakatiya dynasty had invited him and honored him with a place in court. Unfortunately, he was soon charged with mismanagement of funds and the King was displeased. When he was presented before the King, Lord Narasimha came to his rescue. There was, we are told, kanaka varsha or the rain of gold with which to pay off the debt (one may recollect the most famous Kohinoor diamond was excavated during the regime of this King only). The King humbled by the act of Lord Narasimha wanted to honor the Acharya for his devotion. However Krishnamacharya, who is above all the mundane honor and dishonor, rejected the offer and immediately set off on a journey to Srirangam, the holy place for all Vaishnavas. He carried with him his four lakh vachanas on copper plates. It is not clear whether the saint came back after his pilgrimage to these parts of the country. Therefore his vachanas are practically lost, except for around 75 Vachanas, to us forever.

Of all the principles of Vishishtadvaita, the Acharya attacked the Kali yuga variant of caste as birth right. He also hated dry scholarship and spoke about the uselessness of knowledge unless tempered by qualities like kindness; his doctrines were not merely theoretical. As an acharya he practiced them in his own life. For instance, when he was getting married, his maternal cousin came in the disguise of an outcaste. The bridegroom gave this lowly guest all respect, much to the anger and disgust of his father-in-law. But he tolerated all insults and was even ready to give up his bride.

In conclusion one can gauge the popularity of Krishnamacharya’s writings by noting that even today they are recited by devotees. Villagers living near Simhachalam temple sing these Vachanas in chorus on special occasions.

Narahari Tirtha

Su-Madhva Vijaya, a detailed chronicle on the life and pastimes of Sripada Madhvacharya Bhagavatpada, glorifies Shri Narahari Tirtha as the closest disciple of Sripada Madhvacharya Bhagavatpada and as one who had resorted to the lotus feet of Lord Narasimhadeva at Simhachalam. Inscriptions at the temple tell us he was active at Simhachalam at the end of the thirteenth century and the start of the fourteenth.

Narahari Tirtha was a statesman, scholar, and saint. Inscriptions at the temple of Sri Kurma, north of Simhachalam, tell us he was born in a family that served as righteous ministers to kings. We learn that he served as a minister to Bhanudeva I (1264–1278) and Narasimha II (1278–1305), kings of the Ganga dynasty who ruled the old realm of Kalinga. It is while serving as minister, perhaps, that he saved the country from an invasion by the Sabaras, barbarians, as reported in an inscription from 1281.

After meeting Madhva and before going to Udupi, Narahari Tirtha stayed in Kalinga (one source says for twelve years), and with his help the temples of Sri Kurma and Simhachalam flourished. Through his connections in the royal court, he was able to persuade kings and princes to donate land to the temples. He spread bhakti, devotional service, throughout the kingdom. Sri Narahari Tirtha had tremendously influenced the local kings and converted them into Madhva tradition. He also established a branch of the Udupi Mutt near to Kurmakshetra / Srikakulam.

At Simhachalam, Narahari Tirtha was followed by Madhvaite saints who looked after the temple until the end of the fourteenth century, when that duty passed to the Sri Vaishnavas, the followers of the great teacher Ramanuja. Since then, the Sri Vaishnavas have guided the spiritual affairs of the temple, and they do so even today.

Other Acharyas

All the prominent acharyas like Madhvacharya; Ramanujacharya visited this holy shrine and paid tributes. It is said that Ramanujacharya had reintroduced the standards of worship that are continuing to this date. It was also visited by almost all the Alwars and many pasurams (Tamil songs) were composed by them in praise of this deity and hence it is also considered as part of 108 Divya Deshams of Sri Vaishnavas.

How to Get there, Where to Stay

Simhachalam is now within the expanded city of Visakhapatnam, the second largest city of Andhra Pradesh, so this place is very well connected by land, air and sea as well. The temple board has number of guest houses and definitely we can book them either in advance or on reaching. Except for festival days we can generally expect the guest house facility to be available, even otherwise we can reside at the many guesthouses/hotels available in the city.

Bibliography

  1. Article titled “On Pilgrimage” in  Back To God head magazine dated 28th Feb 1994 by Bhakti Vikas Swami
  2. Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita by Satsvarupadasa Goswami
  3. English translation by Srila Prabhupada of Chaitanya Charitamrita
  4. “Poet Saints of India” by M Sivaramkrishna & Sumita Roy
  5. Information booklet released by Simhachalam Temple Board in Telugu and English
  6. “Krishnamayya” in Telugu released by Simhachalam Temple Board.