Simhachalam temple in Visakhapatnam is not just a temple that holds its place among the revered religious sites of the country. It is also a monument that speaks to the aesthetics lovers, history buffs and travelers who wish to imbibe the essence of a city by visiting places that are a mirror of the past.
This sacred edifice is located on top of Simhadri hill, at a height of 800 mts above the sea level and is also known as Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Temple.
The Sanskrit translation of the word ‘Simha’ is a lion and ‘Achala’ means a hill and that is why the name Simhachalam was given to the temple.
In Odia language, ‘Simha’ means Lion and ‘Adri’ or ‘Anchala’ means a hill. The temple pays homage to Lord Narasimha, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Simhachalam temple in Vizag is one of the 32 temples of Lord Vishnu in the country and it is believed that it dates back to the medieval age.
The temple looks very impressive because of its stone carvings that showcase the excellent craftsmanship of the artisans and masons of that era. Even before you reach the temple, you are awestruck by its beauty from a distance.
Like most temples, Simhachalam temple has a fixed daily routine of prayers which is followed by devotees as well as tourists. The beauty of this temple has inspired several poets such as Adidam Sura Kavi and Kuchimanchi Timma Kavi, to base their works on it.
The history behind Simhachalam Temple in Vizag
Every temple has a story that either the locals or that historians have attached to it and it is this story and history which adds to the significance of that particular temple.
In the case of the Simhachalam temple too, there is a legend that talks about the origin and birth of the temple. The legend surrounding this temple talks about the story of Hiranyakashyap and Prahalad.
Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyap were brothers and demon kings who were strong adversaries of Lord Vishnu. When Hiranyaksha took control of the kingdom of the entire earth he decided to carry it to the nether region or ‘patal lok’.
Lord Vishnu then took the avatar of Varaha and rescued earth, in the process of killing Hiranyaksha. The death of his brother at the hands of Lord Vishnu angered Hiranyakashyap to no end and he pledged to kill Lord Vishnu to regain control and power over Earth.
Hiranyakashyap started praying to please Lord Brahma and after he had demonstrated his dedication, he was granted a boon by the Lord. This boon granted him immortality as he could not be killed when it was day or night, in the morning or at night, and neither by a human nor by a beast. Hiranyakashyap had framed this boon very carefully as he wanted to become invincible and immortal.
Hiranyakashyap’s son Prahalad was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu and this angered his father, who decided to kill his own son out of rage and jealousy. Hiranyakashyap pushed his son Prahalad off the Simhadri hill after trying various means to kill him and not succeeding.
This time Prahalad was saved by Lord Narasimha who not only saved him but also killed Hiranyakashyap in his Narasimha form which was neither human nor beast. It was Prahalad who built the Simhachalam Temple in Vizag dedicating it to Lord Narasimha.
Historians believe that after the end of that era which was known as Krita Yuga, the temple and the deity fell into neglect and decay. Crests of earth started consuming the idol at the temple slowly.
Several years later, the temple and the deity were discovered by Emperor Pururava from the Lunar Dynasty who was in the vicinity of the temple along with his wife Urvasi on an aerial chariot.
According to legends, the emperor was drawn towards the temple by divine powers and he found the idol almost immersed in the earth at the top of the hill. As he was clearing the Earth around the idol he heard a voice from the heavens addressing him not to uncover the image but to cover it with sandalwood paste.
The emperor was further instructed by this voice that the idol of Lord Narasimha should henceforth always be worshipped in this form. It decreed that only on the third day in the month of Vaisakha, once a year should his nijaswarupa be revealed to the devotees.
The king acted upon all the instructions, covering the idol with sandalwood paste. He built the temple again, grander than before and since then the temple has been visited by scores of devotees.
Stories vs history about the origin of the Simhachalam temple in Visakhapatnam
It is believed by historians that the scriptures in the temple date back to 1098-1099 AD which leads to the fact that the temple was built before the reign of Chola king Kullotunga-I. There are several old texts at this temple, one of which is an ancient illustration of a queen of Kalinga.
An inscription at the temple states that the eastern Ganga king of Orissa, Narasimha Dev, had built the main shrine of the temple approximately in 1267 AD. There are almost 252 texts in Oriya and Telugu at the temple and these texts talk about the long line of predecessors of the Simhachalam temple.
This has created several conflicting theories about the date of construction of this temple. No one ruler or dynasty can be given the full credit for the construction of this majestic structure.
Historians also believe that after he defeated the Gajapati ruler of Orissa Gajapati Prataparudra Dev twice, Sri Krishnadeva Raya had visited the temple twice: once around 1516 AD and then again in 1519 AD.
The walls of the Simhachalam temple in Vizag still bear the inscriptions that were made during the reign of Sri Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagara.
Saint Ramanujam, who was a renowned Indian scholar & mathematician, is said to have visited this temple in search of salvation. The religious practices and customs followed at the temple were laid down by him and they are based on Satvata Samhita which is a part of the 108 texts of the Pancharatra Agama.
For a period of 40 years from 1564 AD to 1604 AD, the temple was dormant in terms of religious activity. When the temple came under the purview of the state government in 1949 it regained its religious fervor. The temple is currently being managed by the Simhachalam Devasthanam Board.
Simhachalam temple: an architectural delight
The architecture style of the temple reflects the Kalinga-Dravidian style, with a square two-tier structure like a verandah, atop which there is a small tower. There are three courtyards and five gateways in the temple.
A long flight of thousand stairs cuts through this two-tier square structure to take you to the top of the temple. The verandah is made out of dark granite and is adorned with traditional floral designs and scenes from the Vaishnav Puranas. It houses a statue of a horse-driven chariot as well. On the porch of the temple, there is a sixteen pillared mandapam.
The temple has a five-tier rajagopuram on its western gateway but the devotees are allowed inside the temple through a side door that takes them to the Kalyana mantapa (wedding hall). This mandap is outside the main sanctum of the temple and is also known as natyamandapam. It was here that the marriage rites for the divine are performed.
The magnificent natyamandapam is supported by 96 black stone pillars that have been arranged in sixteen rows. Each of these pillars has beautiful carvings that are different from each other. The thirty-two avatars of Lord Narasimha are carved on the pillars of the Kalyana mantapa.
One of these pillars is called the kappa stambham or ‘tribute pillar’ and it is believed by the locals that this pillar has healing powers and of granting the wish of children to women.
There is a stone car with stone wheels and prancing horses made out of stone in the verandah. Two tanks in the temple premises: Swami Pushkarini tank which is near the temple and Gangadhara tank which is at the bottom of the hill add to its grandeur.
Simhachalam Temple is visited not just by devotees but also by tourists who are enchanted by its architectural finesse.
Interiors of Simhachalam temple
A unique feature of Simhachalam Temple is that it is the only temple in the country with the idol of the Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Swami form of Lord Vishnu. This avatar of Lord Vishnu is a combination of his third and fourth incarnation and the idol is in the tribhanga posture.
The two and a half feet tall idol of the deity has two hands, the head of a lion and a human torso: a form which is neither human nor beast. This idol of Varaha Narasimha has been placed in a hall which is called Prahlada mandapa. On both sides of the idol of Lord Narasimha, there are idols of Sridevi and Bhudevi which are seen holding lotus flowers.
An interesting fact about the idol of Lord Narasimha is that there are no ornaments or drapery on it. The temple celebrates the traditions of the Vaishnavite culture, and this is reflected in the inscriptions that grace the temple.
Festivals celebrated at Simhachalam Temple
If you wish to see the idol of Lord Narasimha then you must visit the temple during the Akshay Tritiya festival. At this time the statue of the deity can be seen in its true form for 12 hours whereas at all other times the idol is kept covered with sandalwood paste.
It is one of the most important festivals observed at the Simhachalam temple and is also known as Chandanotsava or Chandan Yatra.
On this auspicious day, chandan or sandalwood paste which covers the idol of Lord Narasimha all the year-round is removed for a short duration of 12 hours only at around 4:00 AM.
Thereafter, prayers and ‘abhisheka’ are offered till 6:00 AM, after which the devotees are allowed to enter the shrine and witness the holy beauty of the deity. This sandalwood paste is applied to the idol on full moon days of the Vaisakha, Jyeshta, and Ashadha months.
In the evening, several rituals are performed at the temple like bathing services which start with Chandanabhisheka in which water mixed with sandalwood powder is used.
This is followed by Sahasrakalasabhisheka in which water from a thousand metal pots is used for the ‘abhisheka’ of the idol. After the prayers, the last ceremony is offering three different kinds of ‘Prasadam’ to Lord Narasimha.
Another important festival celebrated every year on ashada purnima at the temple is the giripradakshina, in which lakhs of devotees walk around the Simhachalam hill. Some other festivals that are zealously celebrated at the temple are Narasimha Jayanti, Navaratrotsava and Kamadahana.
How to reach Simhachalam Temple from Vizag
You can reach the temple by taking a bus, auto or a private taxi from Vizag which has well-established connectivity of roadways and railways.
The nearest railway station to Simhachalam temple is Visakhapatnam Railway Station while the airport closest to the temple is Visakhapatnam Airport. The distance from Simhachalam temple to Vizag is 16 km.
Location of Simhachalam temple
The temple is located at Simhachalam Hill, Near Gopalapatnam Police Station.
Simhachalam Temple timings
Simhachalam temple is open for its visitors from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM and from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM on all days of the week. These timings are subject to change on special occasions and festivals.
Timings for Daily Seva and Darshan at Simhachalam Temple
- Suprabhata Seva – 4:00 AM
- Darshanam Timings – 7.00 AM to 8:30 PM
- Breaks – 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM; 2:30 PM to 3:00 PM ; 7:00 PM to 7:30 PM
- Ekantha Seva – 9:00 PM
Entry fee for Simhachalam temple
Simhachalam Temple’s Special Darshan ticket is priced at Rs. 100 per person.
The tickets are available at special counters near temple darshan lines. You can also book these tickets online.