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Sri kaalahasti, close to Tirupati, is one of the highly visited pilgrim centre in South India that draws crowds round the year. It is surrounded on either side by hills on the banks of the Swarnamukhi and has a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of "Vayu Linga," which is one of the five great Lingas representing the five elements of Water, Fire, Air, Ether and Earth. The Pancha Bhuta Kshetras are Kanchipuram representing Prithvi (earth); the Jambukeswara representing Ap (water); Arunachalam representing Tejas (light); Sri Kaalahasti representing Vayu (air); and Chidambaram representing Akash (ether).


Legend says that the Linga was worshipped by a spider (Sri), which built its web over it, protecting it from the sun and the fog; by a snake (Kala), which placed a gem on the Linga in veneration and as an offering; and by an elephant (Hasti), which washed the Linga bringing water in its trunk. The place had thus acquired the name Sri kaalahasti derived from this legend.

The uniqueness of this 'Vayu Linga' is that the "oil lamp" placed in the sanctum sanctorum in the place of this "Linga," flickers eternally even though there is no scope for moving air to enter that place from any side. In the hoary past, as far back as Krita Yuga, a spider, a snake and an elephant were said to have discovered the presence of this "Vayu Linga" and they all started worshipping it separately without knowing what the other was doing. The elephant cleared the cobweb and precious stone everyday and washed the Linga with the water brought in its trunk from the nearby river. The spider and the snake thought that it was the act of some miscreant and were greatly disturbed. The watchful snake, one day, saw an elephant bringing water through its trunk and pouring it on the Linga and placing some "Bilva" leaves on it. The serpent mistook the elephant's Pooja as desecration of the Shiva Linga. The serpent got wild and entered into the trunk of the elephant in a bid to teach him a permanent lesson. When the serpent repeatedly bit the elephant in its trunk it could not bear the pain, and dashed its trunk against the Shiva Linga and the pedestal. The meek and mild spider, which cuddled up to the Linga, was crushed to death in the melee. The serpent dropped dead from the trunk. The elephant, trumpeting at its top as if praying to Lord Shiva for help, fell dead due to snake poison and concussions. Lord Shiva gave Moksha to the three devotees at a time. Most surprisingly the Linga bore the images of these three unique animal devotees. Hence the name Sri kaalahasti to the shrine.

Another legend:
Once a great devotee named Kannappa. He was a hunter. His earlier name was Tinnappa. He daily offered the raw and fresh flesh of the animals he hunted to Lord Shiva. He was not in the habit of eating food without offering it to the Lord. Not only that. He also tasted the flesh before he offered it to the Lord to ascertain the quality of it. Lord shiva one day wanted to put Kannappa (Tinnappa) to test. So He made one of the eyes on the Linga shed tears continuously. Tinnappa thought that the eye was either diseased or injured by some miscreants. He could not control the dripping from the eye by any means. Without a second thought he plucked out his eyeball with the help of an arrow and fixed it on the diseased eye of the Linga. Dropping of tears was promptly controlled. But soon water started dripping from the second eye also. Guided by the first experiment, he attempted to pluck out his second eyeball. If the second eyeball were plucked out he would become totally blind, and so could not locate the watering eye. In his own wisdom he put one of his toes on the diseased eye and his arrow on the eye to pluck out the eyeball.

Pleased with Tinna's devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before him and blessed that he would stay nearer to the Linga forever and ever. He also restored his lost eye. At that very moment the Lord called him 'Bhakta Kannappa' meaning the devotee who gave his eyes. An idol of Kannappa was installed near the Linga. Poojas and offerings are first made to Kannappa and then to the Lord. Atop the hill there is a shrine dedicated to Bhakta Kannappa. There is another temple for Brahma. The Goddess here is known as Gnana Prasunamba, as She bestows Gnana or the Knowledge of the Self on the true devotees.

It is also said in the Puranas that Brahma installed the Linga given by Lord Shiva to him in Mount Kailasa. He worshipped it, as per the instructions of Shiva so as to recollect the process of creation in tranquillity which he forgot for some reason. Therefore this hill is also called Kailasagiri. There is also a hill on the top of which a Durga shrine is situated. The Lord and the Goddess are taken out in a procession on two occasions---on the ninth day of the 10-day Maha Shivaraathri festival and on the Makara Sankranthi day, which are the two big festivals out of the 85 in a year here.

Around Sri kaalahasti there are Tirthas like Harihara Tirtha, Kalinga Tirtha, Sahasra Linga Tirtha, Markandeya Tirtha, Mayura Tirtha, Bharadwaja Tirtha, Narada Tirtha, Saraswati Tirtha, Suka Tirtha, Brahma Tirtha, Manikarnika Tirtha and Tatwa Prakasa Tirtha.

The main Linga at the shrine is not touched by human hand. All the Abhishekams and applications of sandal paste are done only to 'Utsav Murtis' (processional idols).

River Swarnamukhi has been lavishly quoted in the Puranas. It is said to have been brought to earth by Sage Agastya.

Adi Shankara, a great religious reformer, who extensively toured India establishing Shiva shrines (Mattas), made a special mention of Bhakta Kannappa in his mystic poetical work "Shivananda Lahari."

Pallava kings built the temple at the foot of the Kailasagiri. Tondaman Chakravarti later developed it. The main temple was built by Chola kings and renovated the old one. Kuloththunga Chola, in the 11th century AD, constructed the imposing Galigopuram, the main entrance. In the 12th century AD King Veeranarasimha Yadavaraya built the present outer Prakaras, and the four Gopuras linking the four entrances of the temple. The Vijayanagar Kings later made improvements to the temple by building Mandapams inside the temple. An inscription of Sri Krishna Devaraya says that he had built in 1516 AD the 100-pillar Mandapam, which faces from west to east. The coronation ceremony of Achyutaraya of Vijayanagar empire was performed in the presence of Lord Sri kaalahastiswara in 1529 AD. The Natukottai Chettiars of Devakottai, the renowned philantropists, gave finishing touches to the temple in 1912 spending lakhs of rupees.

How to reach? Sri kaalahasti is about 30 miles away from Tirupati. A number of bus services have been provided from different places to this shrine. From Gudur, which is a main railway station on Madras-Vijayawada main line, also there are several transport facilities. Besides other days, tens of thousands come to this pilgrim centre on Shivaraathri day. Those who visit Tirupati will also generally go to Sri kaalahasti.


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