Having heard a lot about the religious significance and mythical tales associated with the famous Panaka Narasimha temple in Mangalagiri, I decided to visit the holy town on my recent visit to Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh. As I drove leaving the dry and dusty roads of the city behind, the terrain changed rather dramatically. The environs got greener, roads narrower and steeper and air much cooler. I knew we were approaching the auspicious town. Located at a distance of just 12 km from the city of Vijayawada, Mangalagiri, whose name translates as “Holy Hill”, is considered to be one of the eight important Mahakshetrams aka sacred places in India.
Legacy of Narasimha Swamy in the town
A historical town that was an integral part of the Vijayanagar empire in the 16th century, the highlights of Mangalagiri are the three temples of Narasimha swamy, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. While the Panakala Narasimha Swamy temple is located on the hill, the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple is below and further on top of the hill is the Gandala Narasimha Swamy temple. This one does not have a conventional deity or statue but is flocked by people to light lamps of ghee as and when they are faced with any adversity.
The most famous and revered temple is the Panakala Narasimha temple that is patronised by devotees from all over. Located on the hill whose shape resembles that of a reclining elephant, there is no statue of Lord Narasimha in the temple but only a mouth that is about 15 cm wide and it is covered by a metal face of the God.
Legend and mystery
Legend states that in order to appease the Lord, different offerings were made during different eras. Honey was offered in Kritayuga, ghee in Dwaparayuga, milk in Tretayuga, and jaggery water in the present age or Kaliyuga. Panakam — the jaggery water with a hint of cardamom is offered to the Lord multiple times in a day here. Considered as highly auspicious, the highlight of the offering is that as the jaggery water is poured, a clear gargling sound akin to actual drinking can be heard for some time, after which it stops and the remaining water is thrown out. Irrespective of the size of the container, only half of the panakam is accepted through the opening and hence the Lord here is known as Panakala Narasimha or the God who drinks Panaka/jaggery water.
Another theory states that the hill is situated atop a passive volcano, a fact that is ratified by the historical records of the geological survey of India. It is believed that the sugar content in the Panakam reacts with sulphur compounds of the volcano and prevents any possible eruption. While this is being researched scientifically, devotees see this as God’s way of protecting the town. The shrines of Goddess Lakshmi, Hanuman and Anantha Padmanabha are other significant features.
Town of many facets
The bustling town below the hill is home to the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple that is linked to Yudhishthira, the eldest among the Pandavas. The garland of Lord Narasimha with 108 shaligramas is of great significance here. The highlight of the temple is the magnificent tower (gopuram) that is over 150 ft tall and 49 ft wide with 11 storeys. Constructed from 1807 to 1809 by ruler Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu, the tower is an architectural marvel and an ode to the brilliant craftsmanship of the Vishwakarma Sthapathis.
The town is also famous for its handwoven fabrics and sarees that have a market world over. Known for their grace and elegance, the sarees have a thick Nizam zari border that makes them unique. The fabrics are brightly coloured and usually have checks and stripes. Most people of the town belong to the Padmasali community whose traditional occupation is weaving and hence are involved in the craft. The method of weaving is traditional and is done in one pit looms which lends the fabrics its characteristic durability. Tradition has it that people who visited the temple here, always bought a saree from the local weavers as a ritual before leaving the town.
Interestingly, today the town of Mangalagiri is witness to major changes and is being touted to be developed on the lines of USA’s Silicon Valley. Large investments are being made for IT skill development in order to generate employment and make it a hub for the youth and the future generation.