Friday 16 November 2012

The other Venkateshwara

Billions of people across the globe are familiar with the Srinivasa, Venkatashwara or Balaji Temple in Tirupathi. The temple and the deity is so famous that it needs no introduction or write up.
However, there is another temple of Venkatesha that is not as famous as the one at Tirupathi. But the idol here closely resembles the one at Tirupathi.
This temple of  Venkateshwara is located at Nandalur which is on the Tirupathi –Cuddapah Road. The temple is dedicated to Venkatesha and Maha Lakshmi. There are shrines to a few other gods too. The temple is in Cadappa district which is part of the Dandakaranya forests that Rama, Lakshmana and Sita travelled during their exile.
It might take you an hour and half to the temple from Tirupathi and believe me it is worth a visit. The Venkateshwara here is called Soumyanatha Swamy and it is believed that it was installed by sage Narada several thousands years ago.
Unlike the idol at Tirupathi, the Venkateshwara here is visible from morning to night without any artificial lighting or source of light.
The temple has 108 pillars and it is spread over a vast area (10 acres to be precise). Another unique feature here is that the deity can be seen from a distance of 10 feet from the sanctum sanctorum. The rays of the Sun touch the feet of the deity once an year.
Another unique feature which you can see for yourself  on a full moon day is seeing the idol in a vessel filled with water. The vessel can be placed at a distance of 100 feet and you can see the full reflection of Venkatesha in the water.
I was just left wondering at this magnificent piece of  construction.
As you walk towards the sanctum, the temple and the deity begins to grow on you. The first thing you notice is that the structure is built of red sandstone. There are several inscriptions on the temple walls in Tamil. Many, and I counted about a dozen, of these inscriptions belong to the Telugu Cholas. These rulers are also known as Cholas of Pottapi. At least there of the inscriptions are dated in the 12th century and belong to the period of Vikrama Chola.
There is also an inscription of the Kakatiya ruler Pratapa Rudra Deva. One of the greatest kings of the kakatiya dynasty.
There are several symbols of animals on the temple walls. There is also a carving of  the Sun and the Moon and those of fishes. There is a huge fish engraved on the ceiling of the temple. Locals tell you that the fish will one day come to life and swim into the ocean.
The pillars of the Mantapa here are different from pillars of other temples. The pillars are standing on head of lions, while in other temples it is the other way around. When asked about this, locals say there is another hidden or underground temple beneath this structure.
The temple has four gopuras facing the four directions. The idol faces East-towards Tirupathi. The idol here has Abhaya Hasta while in Tirupathi, the idol has Kati Hasta. Apart from this, there is no other difference between the two Venkateshwaras.   
The temple was constructed by the Malti kings of Cuddapaha and is in Chola style The Pandyas, Kakatiyas and the Vijayanagar rulers have enriched the temple over the centuries. I could trace the construction of the temple to the 10th century. The style is very similar to the beautiful temple of Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.        
The State Government sends pearls to this temple every year during July when the Kalyanotsava of  Ventakesha takes place. Another temple nearby where the State sends pearls is to the Ramaswamy Temple at Vontimitta, which is 7 kms from Nandalur.  
There is a shrine of  Yoga Narasimha Swamy near the entrance to  the sanctorum.
Nandalur is 42 kilometers from Cuddapa. It is on the banks of river Cheyyeru. It is archaeologically important as several Buddhist relics were recovered from here This temple is 10 kms from Rajampet. There are plenty of buses plying from Tirupathi, Cuddapa and Rajampet.
The temple is 10 minutes from Rajampet and it is on the right side of the highway while travelling towards Cuddapa.
Vontimitta, nearby, is famous for the Kodandarama or Ramaswamy Temple. The images of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are carved on a single rock. Legend  has it that Rama, Lakshmana and Sita spent some time here during their Vanavasa.
There are buses and trains from Tirupathi to Nandalur. However, it is better to hire a shared taxi as you can see many other places on the way.

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