By Swami Harshananda
Kālahasti literally means ‘spider, serpent and elephant’.
It is a well-known place of pilgrimage situated in the Chittor district of Andhra Pradesh. It is 27 km (16.5 miles) to the north-east of Tirupati, one of the foremost places of pilgrimage in India. It lies between two hills, Śrīpuram and Mummiḍicolapuram, which forms part of the seven hills surrounding Tirupati. The river Suvarṇamukhi flows on one side of the town.
Kālahasti is famous for its Śiva temple known as Kālahastīśvara. This Śivaliṅga is one of the five elemental liṅgas and is called Vāyuliṅga. There is a lamp in the inner sanctum that is constantly flickering to prove this point, despite the lack of movement of air inside it.
The entrance to the temple is from the south whereas the deity faces west. The main liṅga is said to be svayambhu or self manifested. It is white in color and has the shape of the trunk of an elephant with tusks on either side. It is untouched by human hands, even by the priest. Abhiṣeka is done by pouring a mixture of water, milk, camphor and pañcāmṛta. Pujā is offered to the utsavamurti or processional idol. Neatly dressed Śaivaite brāhmaṇas conduct the worship which includes various idols of deities kept inside.
The temple structure is very impressive. The gopuram is 36.5 meters (120 feet) high. The entire temple seems to have been carved out of the side of a huge stone hill. There is an underground shrine 9 meters or 30 ft. below the ground level. Underground shrine has the idol of Gaṇeśa called Pātāla-Vināyaka. Many royal dynasties have contributed to the construction of the temple complex. The Pallavas, the Colas and the rulers of Vijayanagara are more prominent among them.
The famous hundred-pillared hall of the temple was built by Kṛṣṇadevarāya in CE 1516. It is believed that Kālahastiśvara liṅga was worshiped by the hunter-saint Kaṇṇappa. He is considered as one of the 63 Nāyanmārs or Nāyanārs, the well-known saints of the Tamil country.
According to the sthalapurāṇa this liñga had been worshiped by Brahmā and a galaxy of the ancient ṛṣis in all the four yugas. Arjuna is said to have visited it during his pilgrimage. In the historical period, Nakkīrar, the great Nāyanmār Sambandhar, Appar, Māṇikkavācagar and Sundaramurti also visited this temple.
Pārvatī, the divine consort of Lord Śiva and the sister of Lord Veñkateśvara, is known as Jñānaprasannāmbā. She has a separate shrine.
The temple has quite a few rare idols like those of Vallabha-Gaṇapati, Mahālakṣmī-Gaṇapati and Sahasra- liṅgeśvara. The temple campus contains a few minor shrines dedicated to Kāśi Viśvanātha, Annapurṇa, Suryanārāyaṇa, Sadyogaṇapati and Subrahmaṇya.
Apart from the big hundred-pillared maṇḍapa, there are other smaller ones like the Jalakoṭi-maṇḍapa and Palagar maṇḍapa. There are two sacred wells known as Suryapuṣkariṇī and Candrapuṣkariṇī. Two other separate temples dedicated to Durgāmbā and Kaṇṇabeśvara are situated on the surrounding hills.
Total 85 festivals are celebrated during the year. Out of these the Mahāśivarātri is the biggest festival celebrated for ten days. The utsavamurti is taken out in a procession on the third day during the Saṅkrānti festival.
There are twelve tīrthas or holy places with ponds (or rivulets) in the nearby Kailāṣagiri hills. The water of the Sarasvatī-tīrtha is believed to be endowed with the power. It is believed that if the water of that tank is drunk it can make the dumb speak.
- They are known as pañcabhutaliṅgas.
- Vāyuliṅga is the liṅga associated with vāyu or air.
- Abhiṣeka means bathing.
- Gopuram is the main tower.
- Kṛṣṇadevarāya lived in CE 1488- 1529.
- Sthalapurāṇa means local mythology.
- Nakkīrar was the celebrated Tamil poet who flourished in the 3rd century B. C.
- Utsavamurti is the processional idols.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore