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Books > Hindu > Ahobilam : Sri Narasimha Swamy Temple (An Old and Rare Book)
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Ahobilam : Sri Narasimha Swamy Temple (An Old and Rare Book)
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Foreword

 

Among India’s vast artistic heritage, the temples of South India stand out prominently. These temples are treasure houses of artistic creations. At the same time, these temples are closely intertwined with the lives of the people living around these temples. They are sources of great spiritual support and comfort.

 

Ahobilam is the home of Vishnu (Narasimha). In the avataras of Vishnu, the incarnation of Narasimha constitutes the transition from the stage of the beast to the human. The earliest reference to this Avatara is found in the Mahabharat according to which Lord Madhusudana took the form of Narasimha to protect the devatas and the people from the hands of asura. The complete myth of the Avatara is found in the Harivamsa. The Puranas such as the Kurma Purana, the Padma Purana, the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana narrate the myth differently.

 

The cave shrines of Narasimha at Ahobilam belong to the Srivaishnava tradition. It is one of the hundred and eight sacred centres (divya kshetras) of Srivaishnavism. This is a temple whose origins go back to almost 2000 years. Ahobilam is the only place, which exhibits nine distinct iconographical forms of Narasimha. In addition to this, this place is intimately associated with Van Satagopa Jiyar, the first Jiyar of the Ahobila math. It is being popularly believed that God Narasimha Himself came in the form of an old man and offered sanyasa to the Jiyar. Despite the spectacular setting of the cave shrines on the Nallamala hill ranges, pillared mandapas, mathas, and other structures at this hill, Ahobilam has not attracted sufficient attention of historians and archaeologists.

 

Dr. Vasantha’s research on Ahobilam, for the first time, brings Ahobilam to the attention of both scholars and the general readers. The scholarly work of Vas ant ha is a comprehensive and composite treatise on one of the less known Vaishnava cave shrines of South India belonging to early centuries and developed through the ages. As an introduction she has provided the evolution of the Srivaishnava religion and the regional history. Her book is a good example of how to benefit from traditional, epigraphical, artistic, architectural and iconographical evidences as well as prevalent ritualistic practices in the matter of developing a proper perspective of the history and role of any living temple. The author has made an interesting sociological study of how the temple grew from the position of a holy place to a centre of pilgrimage, capable of attracting devotees from far and wide. It is essential that a magnificent temple like this, with rich sculptural and iconographical wealth, should be properly studied and appreciated.

 

Professor Vasantha should be congratulated for having contributed a study of Ahobilam in this beautifully illustrated volume. Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams has to be congratulated on this publication.

 

Preface

 

The present work is an attempt to study the Narasimhasvami temples and caves at Ahobilam, Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh, comprehensively from both the historical and the art-historical angles. In fact this study is partially in fulfillment of a need to provide a comprehensive picture of the nature’ and development of temples in different parts of South India. Keeping in view that a temple is not only a work of art but also a religious and socio-economic institution, quite a few temples in Tamilnadu and Karnataka have been well studied, while such a study was a desideratum with regard to Andhra Pradesh. It is for this purpose we have taken up the present work. The choice for such a study fell on the Narasirnhasvami temples at Ahobilam because of the uniqueness of the place and availabilty of both literary and archaeological material useful for the purpose.

 

Ahobilam is one of the traditionally famous hundred and eight Srivaishnava centres in India. Secondly, Ahobilam is the only place where nine iconographic forms of Narasimha are found. Thirdly, Ahobilam is intimately associated with Van-Satagopa-Jiyar (the first Jiyar) of the Ahobila math.

 

Detailed studies on many other Srivaishnava centres, spread over South India are available although such a study is lacking. This book intends to fill the gap and as far as Ahobilam shrines are concerned, it gives a picture of the development of this holy centre of the Srivaishnavas.

 

I am grateful to His Holiness Srivan Satagopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikan for his holy blessings.

 

I express my profound sense of gratitude to Dr. Parabrahma Shastri for his scholarly guidance and permitting to study and make use of the unpublished epigraphs with him.

 

Several scholars have given advice, notably Sri Ramesh and other priests and Manager of the Ahobilam temple. Also I thank Sri N.V Ramakrishnaiah Achari and Sri Allabaksh, Allagadda for nice drawings and photographs.

 

I gratefully acknowledge the interest taken by Sri P. Krishnaiah, I.A.S., Executive Officer, T.T. Devasthanams, and Sri N .S. Ramamurthy, Editor, T.T.D. for accepting this work for publication under the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Publication scheme.

 

Introduction

 

Any historian interested in the study of ancient and medieval history of South India often meets with a peculiar situation while dealing with the source material. The inscriptions which provide a firm basis for the reconstruction of ancient history and which most of the times happen to be the only source material available are generally temple inscriptions. Similarly the majority of architectural monuments of the past now surviving are temples only. This situation may be due to the fact that the temples were bestowed more care in their execution, they being the houses of gods in contrast to the others associated with mortals. The temples were expected to be monuments to last perpetually and hence they would be constructed by utilizing better builiding materials and technology. They were also to be institutions to flourish for a longer time thus requiring perpetual endowments for their maintenance, the details of which would be recorded on imperishable stone for the guidance of future generations. This possibly accounts for the situation in which one finds the historical data availble for ancient and medieval periods of South Indian history being more numerous relating to the temples than any other aspect of human activity. This abundance of data also provides a picture to the historian that the temple was a major social and economic institution in those times - a fact that has attracted many historians to take up studies relating to these aspects.

 

Studies on temples are being done in South India for a considerable period. Many of these are either concerned with the temples as surviving works of art, or as works of religious activity or as social insitutions. We may mention here a few outstanding ones in this connection as those of K.K. Pillai, K.Y. Raman, Y.N. Hari Rao and K. Sundaram. In these most of the above mentioned aspects have been taken together, considering the temple as integral organic institution In which all these are inseparably interrelated. There are also a few works which confine themselves to the study of architectural and sculptural aspects of individual temples or regional and dynastic groups.’ In recent years there are also’ some interesting studies relating to temple economy, etc." Even though a lot of labour has gone into the study of various aspects of the temples, comprehensive studies of individual temples are confined to those in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu only. Another region of South India which is equally rich in temples, i.e. Andhra Pradesh, has not so far gained any attention in this regard.’ Therefore we felt that a study of the above type relating to some temple in the Andhra Pradesh region would be of value to have a better picture of the temple institutions in South India in general.

 

In this connection we opted to choose the Narasimhasvami temples at Ahobilam on two counts. The first aspect that attracted our attention towards these temples is that they have considerable architectural, epigraphical and literary data useful for a systematic study. Secondly, Ahobilarn is well nown as the nava-Narasimha Kshetra.

 

Jwala Ahobila Maha Lola

Kroda Karancha Bhargava

 Yogananda Kshatravata

Pavaneya Nava Moorthayah

 

Out of the 79 Narasimha temples spread over Andhra Pradesh (Rayalaseema-32, Coastal Andhra- 26, Telangana-13, centres not located region-wise for lack of proper historical material-8), Ahobilam is the only place, which exhibits nine distinct iconographical forms of Narasimha. In addition to this, Ahobilam is intimately associated with Van Satagopa Jiyar (the first Jiyar) of the Ahobila math, it is being believed that the God Narasimha himself came in the form of an old man and offered sanyasa to the Jiyar [PL 122], on the banks of Bhavanasini river. This fact has not only enhanced the importance of Ahobilam among the Srivaishnava Centres but also has made this centre a spear-head of the Srivaishanva movement in the region of Andhra. Further, this temple lends itself to an interesting sociological study in which the gradual growth of a centre of pilgrimage, from the earliest time of the establishment of a temple to a period when it gained a supreme position as a holy place capable of attracting devotees from far and wide, can be traced.

 

In this book, we aim at making a comprehensive study of the Narasimhasvami temple Complex at Ahobilam both as a religious structural complex and as a socio-religious institution as it developed through the centuries of its growth.

 

As far as the first aspect is concerned we have tried to provide a complete descriptive account of the architecture and sculpture of the temple, including the recognition of different chronological stages and their stylistic features. With regard to the latter aspect, it is our intention to provide a picture of the rituals and festivals, the administration, management and economy as well as the interaction between the temple institution and the contemporary society, as they obtained through centuries of history of this temple.

 

The sources available for the study of this temple, as usual for any other historical subject, include both literary and archaeological material.

 

Firstly, the Narasirnhasvami temples in the Upper and the Lower Ahobilam are sufficiently major monuments as they have been in a good state of preservation. As it would be noticeable even to a casual visitor, these temples are complexes that have grown through additions and alterations made from time to time. Still, however, many of these stages of growth are identifiable on the basis of structural features and stylistic forms. Thus these temple complexes lend themselves to the study of their growth on the very basis of the architectural data. Similarly, there are a number of sacred, secular and decorative sculptures providing a rich array of material for stylistic and iconographic study.

 

Secondly, there are altogether 30 inscriptions available at Ahobilam. These inscriptions are in the Upper and the Lower Ahobilam engraved on the walls, pillars and stray stone slabs. All are stone inscriptions connected with different monuments of Ahobilam. It appears that there were hundreds of copper-plate records preserved in the small room at the Upper Ahobilam, adjacent to the Chenchulakshmi Shrine, but, later, were melt for the sake of copper. All the available inscriptions are in Telugu script and language except three inscriptions. Out of three, two are in Sanskrit script and language and the other is in Kannada script and language. The earliest of the inscriptions of Ahobilam belongs to the time of Chalukya Kirtivarman II (744-755 A.D.) and the latest to the time of Venkatapatiraya II (1585-1614 A.D.). Most of the inscriptions are donatary records, and these inscriptions provide us rich data for the understanding of the various aspects of the temple. Many of these inscriptions are also highly valuable for fixing up the date of several monuments at Ahobilam

 

Thirdly, there is a wealth of literary data available for the reconstruction of the history of the Srivaishnava establishment. These include Sthalapuranas, Srivaishnava hagiologies, literary compoitions glorifying Ahobilam or dealing with the themes drawn from the legends connected with this place, stray references in other literary works and folk songs.

 

Contents

 

Part One : The Background

1-4

Chapter 1 Ahobilam : Location and Antiquities

5-23

Chapter 2 Historical Background

24-42

Chapter 3 Religious Background

43-65

Part Two : The Ahobilam Temple Complex

 

Chapter 4 Tradition and History

66-77

Chapter 5 Architecture

78-98

Chapter 6 Sculpture and Iconography

99-137

Chapter 7 Daily Worship and Special Festivals

138-147

Chapter 8 Functionaries and Management

148-154

Chapter 9 Economy and Social Interaction

155-167

Notes and References

168-228

 

Sample Pages



Ahobilam : Sri Narasimha Swamy Temple (An Old and Rare Book)

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2001
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Foreword

 

Among India’s vast artistic heritage, the temples of South India stand out prominently. These temples are treasure houses of artistic creations. At the same time, these temples are closely intertwined with the lives of the people living around these temples. They are sources of great spiritual support and comfort.

 

Ahobilam is the home of Vishnu (Narasimha). In the avataras of Vishnu, the incarnation of Narasimha constitutes the transition from the stage of the beast to the human. The earliest reference to this Avatara is found in the Mahabharat according to which Lord Madhusudana took the form of Narasimha to protect the devatas and the people from the hands of asura. The complete myth of the Avatara is found in the Harivamsa. The Puranas such as the Kurma Purana, the Padma Purana, the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana narrate the myth differently.

 

The cave shrines of Narasimha at Ahobilam belong to the Srivaishnava tradition. It is one of the hundred and eight sacred centres (divya kshetras) of Srivaishnavism. This is a temple whose origins go back to almost 2000 years. Ahobilam is the only place, which exhibits nine distinct iconographical forms of Narasimha. In addition to this, this place is intimately associated with Van Satagopa Jiyar, the first Jiyar of the Ahobila math. It is being popularly believed that God Narasimha Himself came in the form of an old man and offered sanyasa to the Jiyar. Despite the spectacular setting of the cave shrines on the Nallamala hill ranges, pillared mandapas, mathas, and other structures at this hill, Ahobilam has not attracted sufficient attention of historians and archaeologists.

 

Dr. Vasantha’s research on Ahobilam, for the first time, brings Ahobilam to the attention of both scholars and the general readers. The scholarly work of Vas ant ha is a comprehensive and composite treatise on one of the less known Vaishnava cave shrines of South India belonging to early centuries and developed through the ages. As an introduction she has provided the evolution of the Srivaishnava religion and the regional history. Her book is a good example of how to benefit from traditional, epigraphical, artistic, architectural and iconographical evidences as well as prevalent ritualistic practices in the matter of developing a proper perspective of the history and role of any living temple. The author has made an interesting sociological study of how the temple grew from the position of a holy place to a centre of pilgrimage, capable of attracting devotees from far and wide. It is essential that a magnificent temple like this, with rich sculptural and iconographical wealth, should be properly studied and appreciated.

 

Professor Vasantha should be congratulated for having contributed a study of Ahobilam in this beautifully illustrated volume. Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams has to be congratulated on this publication.

 

Preface

 

The present work is an attempt to study the Narasimhasvami temples and caves at Ahobilam, Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh, comprehensively from both the historical and the art-historical angles. In fact this study is partially in fulfillment of a need to provide a comprehensive picture of the nature’ and development of temples in different parts of South India. Keeping in view that a temple is not only a work of art but also a religious and socio-economic institution, quite a few temples in Tamilnadu and Karnataka have been well studied, while such a study was a desideratum with regard to Andhra Pradesh. It is for this purpose we have taken up the present work. The choice for such a study fell on the Narasirnhasvami temples at Ahobilam because of the uniqueness of the place and availabilty of both literary and archaeological material useful for the purpose.

 

Ahobilam is one of the traditionally famous hundred and eight Srivaishnava centres in India. Secondly, Ahobilam is the only place where nine iconographic forms of Narasimha are found. Thirdly, Ahobilam is intimately associated with Van-Satagopa-Jiyar (the first Jiyar) of the Ahobila math.

 

Detailed studies on many other Srivaishnava centres, spread over South India are available although such a study is lacking. This book intends to fill the gap and as far as Ahobilam shrines are concerned, it gives a picture of the development of this holy centre of the Srivaishnavas.

 

I am grateful to His Holiness Srivan Satagopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikan for his holy blessings.

 

I express my profound sense of gratitude to Dr. Parabrahma Shastri for his scholarly guidance and permitting to study and make use of the unpublished epigraphs with him.

 

Several scholars have given advice, notably Sri Ramesh and other priests and Manager of the Ahobilam temple. Also I thank Sri N.V Ramakrishnaiah Achari and Sri Allabaksh, Allagadda for nice drawings and photographs.

 

I gratefully acknowledge the interest taken by Sri P. Krishnaiah, I.A.S., Executive Officer, T.T. Devasthanams, and Sri N .S. Ramamurthy, Editor, T.T.D. for accepting this work for publication under the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Publication scheme.

 

Introduction

 

Any historian interested in the study of ancient and medieval history of South India often meets with a peculiar situation while dealing with the source material. The inscriptions which provide a firm basis for the reconstruction of ancient history and which most of the times happen to be the only source material available are generally temple inscriptions. Similarly the majority of architectural monuments of the past now surviving are temples only. This situation may be due to the fact that the temples were bestowed more care in their execution, they being the houses of gods in contrast to the others associated with mortals. The temples were expected to be monuments to last perpetually and hence they would be constructed by utilizing better builiding materials and technology. They were also to be institutions to flourish for a longer time thus requiring perpetual endowments for their maintenance, the details of which would be recorded on imperishable stone for the guidance of future generations. This possibly accounts for the situation in which one finds the historical data availble for ancient and medieval periods of South Indian history being more numerous relating to the temples than any other aspect of human activity. This abundance of data also provides a picture to the historian that the temple was a major social and economic institution in those times - a fact that has attracted many historians to take up studies relating to these aspects.

 

Studies on temples are being done in South India for a considerable period. Many of these are either concerned with the temples as surviving works of art, or as works of religious activity or as social insitutions. We may mention here a few outstanding ones in this connection as those of K.K. Pillai, K.Y. Raman, Y.N. Hari Rao and K. Sundaram. In these most of the above mentioned aspects have been taken together, considering the temple as integral organic institution In which all these are inseparably interrelated. There are also a few works which confine themselves to the study of architectural and sculptural aspects of individual temples or regional and dynastic groups.’ In recent years there are also’ some interesting studies relating to temple economy, etc." Even though a lot of labour has gone into the study of various aspects of the temples, comprehensive studies of individual temples are confined to those in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu only. Another region of South India which is equally rich in temples, i.e. Andhra Pradesh, has not so far gained any attention in this regard.’ Therefore we felt that a study of the above type relating to some temple in the Andhra Pradesh region would be of value to have a better picture of the temple institutions in South India in general.

 

In this connection we opted to choose the Narasimhasvami temples at Ahobilam on two counts. The first aspect that attracted our attention towards these temples is that they have considerable architectural, epigraphical and literary data useful for a systematic study. Secondly, Ahobilarn is well nown as the nava-Narasimha Kshetra.

 

Jwala Ahobila Maha Lola

Kroda Karancha Bhargava

 Yogananda Kshatravata

Pavaneya Nava Moorthayah

 

Out of the 79 Narasimha temples spread over Andhra Pradesh (Rayalaseema-32, Coastal Andhra- 26, Telangana-13, centres not located region-wise for lack of proper historical material-8), Ahobilam is the only place, which exhibits nine distinct iconographical forms of Narasimha. In addition to this, Ahobilam is intimately associated with Van Satagopa Jiyar (the first Jiyar) of the Ahobila math, it is being believed that the God Narasimha himself came in the form of an old man and offered sanyasa to the Jiyar [PL 122], on the banks of Bhavanasini river. This fact has not only enhanced the importance of Ahobilam among the Srivaishnava Centres but also has made this centre a spear-head of the Srivaishanva movement in the region of Andhra. Further, this temple lends itself to an interesting sociological study in which the gradual growth of a centre of pilgrimage, from the earliest time of the establishment of a temple to a period when it gained a supreme position as a holy place capable of attracting devotees from far and wide, can be traced.

 

In this book, we aim at making a comprehensive study of the Narasimhasvami temple Complex at Ahobilam both as a religious structural complex and as a socio-religious institution as it developed through the centuries of its growth.

 

As far as the first aspect is concerned we have tried to provide a complete descriptive account of the architecture and sculpture of the temple, including the recognition of different chronological stages and their stylistic features. With regard to the latter aspect, it is our intention to provide a picture of the rituals and festivals, the administration, management and economy as well as the interaction between the temple institution and the contemporary society, as they obtained through centuries of history of this temple.

 

The sources available for the study of this temple, as usual for any other historical subject, include both literary and archaeological material.

 

Firstly, the Narasirnhasvami temples in the Upper and the Lower Ahobilam are sufficiently major monuments as they have been in a good state of preservation. As it would be noticeable even to a casual visitor, these temples are complexes that have grown through additions and alterations made from time to time. Still, however, many of these stages of growth are identifiable on the basis of structural features and stylistic forms. Thus these temple complexes lend themselves to the study of their growth on the very basis of the architectural data. Similarly, there are a number of sacred, secular and decorative sculptures providing a rich array of material for stylistic and iconographic study.

 

Secondly, there are altogether 30 inscriptions available at Ahobilam. These inscriptions are in the Upper and the Lower Ahobilam engraved on the walls, pillars and stray stone slabs. All are stone inscriptions connected with different monuments of Ahobilam. It appears that there were hundreds of copper-plate records preserved in the small room at the Upper Ahobilam, adjacent to the Chenchulakshmi Shrine, but, later, were melt for the sake of copper. All the available inscriptions are in Telugu script and language except three inscriptions. Out of three, two are in Sanskrit script and language and the other is in Kannada script and language. The earliest of the inscriptions of Ahobilam belongs to the time of Chalukya Kirtivarman II (744-755 A.D.) and the latest to the time of Venkatapatiraya II (1585-1614 A.D.). Most of the inscriptions are donatary records, and these inscriptions provide us rich data for the understanding of the various aspects of the temple. Many of these inscriptions are also highly valuable for fixing up the date of several monuments at Ahobilam

 

Thirdly, there is a wealth of literary data available for the reconstruction of the history of the Srivaishnava establishment. These include Sthalapuranas, Srivaishnava hagiologies, literary compoitions glorifying Ahobilam or dealing with the themes drawn from the legends connected with this place, stray references in other literary works and folk songs.

 

Contents

 

Part One : The Background

1-4

Chapter 1 Ahobilam : Location and Antiquities

5-23

Chapter 2 Historical Background

24-42

Chapter 3 Religious Background

43-65

Part Two : The Ahobilam Temple Complex

 

Chapter 4 Tradition and History

66-77

Chapter 5 Architecture

78-98

Chapter 6 Sculpture and Iconography

99-137

Chapter 7 Daily Worship and Special Festivals

138-147

Chapter 8 Functionaries and Management

148-154

Chapter 9 Economy and Social Interaction

155-167

Notes and References

168-228

 

Sample Pages



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