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A TRIP to Visakhapatnam stands incomplete without a visit to Sri Lakshminarasimha Swamy or Varahanarasimha Swamy temple at Simhachalam.
Simhachalam, 15 km from Visakhapatnam is situated atop the thickly forested Ratnagiri hill. Buses ply from Visakhapatnam up to the foot of the hill. From the foot of the hill to the top, there is a separate bus service run by the Andhra Pradesh State Transport Corporation. The ghat section runs over a distance of five kms.
The temple faces west. With its hilly backdrop covered with verdant vegetation, it looks resplendently beautiful, with a five-tier Rajagopuram and a white coloured sikara rising over the sanctum sanctorum. A flight of steps leads to the northern gateway, an elaborately decorated three-tier gopura, which gives access to the visitors to the side entrance of the ardha mantapa. The icon, a combination of Varaha and Narasimha is always anointed with sandal paste in order to mitigate its `ugra'. It is believed that the presiding deity was originally Shiva, but He was replaced by the incarnation of Vishnu after the Vaishnavite apostle, Shri Ramanuja visited the place in the 11th century.
The cubical shaped sannidhi is centrally located in the quadrangle. The dwajasthamba, a metallic piece with an artistic design, is in front of the maha mantapa. The walls of the garbagraha carry fine sculptures in the niches, which have been sculpted in Hoysala style. Lord Narasimha in a standing posture tearing open the entrails of Hiranyakasipu with ferocity by placing him on his left thigh is well delineated in a sculpture on the southern wall of the garbagraha. While His fore arms are laid on Hiranyakasipu, the rear right and left arms hold the ghatyam and conch respectively. Prahalada is found beneath the panel supplicating to the Lord. Just above this is a beautiful panel of Kalinganardhanam of Lord Krishna. The delineation of Narasimha is rather unique in this temple. Another piece of sculpture, on the northern wall, is that of Varahamurthy, which attracts attention with its sculptural delineation, similar to that of Belur and Halebedu. Just above this panel is that of Lord Krishna holding aloft the Govardhanagiri over the herd of cows which seek protection from the torrential rain caused by Indra.
The architecture of the temple is a combination of that of Konarak's Sun Temple, those of Chalukyas and the Cholas. In fact coastal Andhra — from Visakhapatnam to Srikakulam — was under the Gajapathis of Orissa (1470-1541 A.D.) As in Konarak, the three-tier sikara rising over the sanctum sanctorum is shaped like a stepped pyramid, and is profuse with ornamentation. The temple was built in the 9th or the 10th century, and was extensively rebuilt in the 13th century. There are 525 inscriptions in this temple, and the earlier one dates back to 1087 A.D.
The corners of the base of the sikara bear lion statuettes symbolising Lord Narasimha. On the eastern face of the sikara are found the sculptures of Indra on his mount, Iravatha, and lower down Gajalakshmi. Capping the sikara is the gold plated dome with the Vaishnavite symbol held aloft.
Around the inner prakara is found the 96-pillared Kalyana mantapa. The shape of the pillars, the ornamentation on them, and the cornices stand on a unique pedestal. To the right of the northern entrance is the 16-pillared natya mantapa. These pillars carry simhalalathas or lion's head at the base. While the `jagatti' or the railed parapet around the ardha mantapa carries a row of well-sculpted elephants, which denotes strength, the inner `jagatti' around the garbagraha carries a row of swans. Just above this is the scrollwork with sculpted figures at intervals. Then above this is a row of smaller simhalalathas interspersed with other figures. By the side of niches are the simhalalathas riding over elephant on the supporting pillars. The capital, architrave, frieze and cornice of the column are beautifully shaped. In between the pillars is the convolution carrying figures. The eaves of the sidewalls carry excellent filigree work in stone. A study of the pillars in the Kalyana mantapa and the sculptures in the niches reveals that basalt and schist appear to have been the media with which the artisans worked.
Devout pilgrims have their heads tonsured as a sort of offering to the Lord. Since Simhachalam was for sometime under Vijayanagar empire, its influence is also felt on this temple.
In fact Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagar captured Udayagiri (Nellore district) in 1541 A.D. and Kondavidu (guntur district in 1515 A. D. from Prataparudra Gajapathi of Orissa.
In the following year he advanced as far as Simhachalam and erected a pillar of victory.
The Chandanotsavam or the Nijaroopa Darshanam Day, is the annual ritual conducted at the temple. It is only on this day that devotees would have a chance to see the actual shape of the lord ( Nirjaroopam ). On normal days, the Lord in the temple is visible with a layer of Chandanam (Sandalwood paste) covered. This process is conducted on the Vaisakha Suddha Tadiya as per the Telugu almanac. It is on the Chandanotsavam day that the Lord's Sandalwood paste is removed and is covered with a fresh layer of Sandalwood paste brought from Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. The ceremonial process would take some time and during the process of removal of the sandal paste, the sanctum sanctorum doors will be closed. Abhishekam and special pujas will be performed after the diety is fully uncovered.
Millions of people from round the world, particular from the coastal states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu vist the Temple to take the darshan of the Lord in his true form.
Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex (17 15 N - 83 23 E) Lies about 15 km from Visakhapatnam city on the way to Bheemili town on a hill about 128 mts. Above Mean Sea Level overlooking the sea. The Telugu name Thotlakonda derived from the presence of a number of a rock-cut throughs hewn in the bedrock of the hillock (cisterns).
Thotlakonda was well within the influence of ancient Kalinga region which was an important source of dissemination of Buddhist culture to Sri Lanka and various parts of south-east Asia. It provides an insight into the process of Trans Oceanic diffusion of Indian culture, especially Buddhism.
A hill on the sea coast with salubrious climate was an ideal attraction for the Buddhist monks to build a monastery complex here. The placid sea sheltered by the deeply in curved coastline here, provided a safe haven for anchoring ships.
Thotlakonda came to light during an aerial survey by the Indian Navy for setting up a Naval Base. After its discovery, major excavations have been conducted by the Andhra Pradesh State Archaeology Department during 1988 - 1993. The excavations established the existence of a Hinayana Buddhist complex which flourished 2000 years ago.To the South of the complex there is a tank which served as a water source to the inhabitants of the monastery.
The excavations reveal Satavahana period lead and Roman silver coins indicating foreign trade; Terracotta tiles stucco decorative pieces, sculptured panels miniature stupa models in stone, Buddha padas etc.; were also found. The excavations also yielded 12 Brahmi Label inscriptions. From the Polygraphic studies, it appears that the hill might have been known as senagiri. "Sena" in Pali means elder, superior.
Thotlakonda witnessed peak activity between the 2nd Century B.C. and the 2nd Century A.D. owing to brisk Roman trade and religious missions sent abroad.Thotlakonda did not exist in isolation. It came into existence along with nearby sites in Visakhapatnam district like Bavikonda and Pavurallakonda.The lofty stupas shining during the day with their light lime plaster and with rows of wick lamps during nights might have served as guiding landmarks of Nautical Commuters. There appears to have been no royal patronage for this monastery. However traders and local believers seem to have supported the complex. In its heyday Thotlakonda might have accommodated more than 100 Buddhist monks.
The complex had arrangements for storing food, clothing, medicines and served as a religious cum academic centre. Hinayana Buddhism appears to have been practiced here which involved worship of Gautama Buddha through symbols like Pudukas and other material remains and not in human form. Thotlakonda declined by the end of 3rd Century A.D. Historians opine that it could be due to the rise of Hinduism and decline in maritime trade.
(Data source: wikipedia)
SANKARAM (BOJJANNAKONDA & LINGALAKONDA)
Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda are two Buddhist sites which exist on adjacent hillocks near a village called Sankaram. It is located at about 45 km from Vishakhapatnam and just a few kilometers from Anakapalle. The sites are believed to date between 4th and 9th Century A.D, that was when at Sanakaram (Sangharam as it was called then) when the 3 phases of Buddhism (Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana) flourished.
Sankaram, a small village, is situated about a mile to the east of Anakapalli in the Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh. Within a short distance to the north of the village are two hills, one on the east called Bojjannakonda and the other on the west called Lingalakonda both surrounded by paddy fields. Both the hills contain numerous monolithic stupas, rock-cut caves, chaityas and monasteries forming one of the most remarkable Buddhist establishments in Andhra Pradesh during the period of 4th to 9th Century AD. The name of the village Sankaram is evidently a corruption of Sangharama(Boudha-arama) as these Buddhist establishments are generally known.
This is the eastern hill, is covered with a large group of monolithic stupas surrounding the rock-cut platforms of the Maha stupa. The dome of the stupa is found to be constructed of brick.
Groups of rock-cut and brick stupas and small chaityas surround this stupa. In two of the brick stupas, stone relic caskets in the form of miniature stupas were found. There is also a stone [Linga being the name locally applied to the stupa].An image of the Goddess Hariti is found at the foot of the hill as per the archaeological sources.
On this hill there are six rock-cut caves of which some have sculptured panels. One main cave has sixteen pillars, of which five are broken, and it enshrines a monolithic stupa in the centre. There is a pradakshina-patha around it. On the ceiling over the stupa is a carving of a chhatra, i.e., umbrella which was originally connected with the top of the stupa, the shaft being now lost and gone. Above this cave is an upper storey with the figures of Buddha. In all, on this hill [Bojjannakonda], there are six rock-cut caves of which some have sculptured panels. In general, each panel consists of a seated Buddha and attendants.
Buddhist monks used to worship on the hill 2,000 years ago. It was originally known as Buddhuni konda (hill of the Buddha) but it came to be known as ‘Bojjannakonda' in course of time. Vaisakha Pournami is also celebrated on a large scale here at Bojjannakonda.
The western hill is known as Lingalakonda is covered with a large number of rock-cut small stupas forming into the shape of a ridge. Numerous antiquities were recovered during the excavations conducted by Mr. Alexander Rea in 1907-08 on both the hills.
During Excavations from this area, as per the archaeological sources, pottery,seals, terracotta inscribed tablets, terracotta beads, and terracotta figures, one gold coin belonging to Samudra Gupta of the Gupta dynasty who ruled Magadha from 340 to 375 A.D, some copper coins belonging to the Eastern Chalukya king Vishnuvardhana surnamed Vishamasiddhi (633 A.D.) and only one lead coin were recovered. It has the impression of a horse and as such might belong to the later Satavahanas. It is on the evidence of these antiquities that it has been possible to date the Buddhist settlement here as lying between the 2nd and the 9th century A.D. For, among the earliest coins discovered at the site is that of Samudra Gupta of the 4th century AD.
As Buddhism began to spread, many learning centres and aramas for the monks were set up in various regions. They can also be seen at Thotlakonda, Bavikonda, Pavurallakonda around Visakhapatnam. They all flourished around 3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE, but then gradually faded out, probably due to the revival of Hinduism.
(Data source: wikepedia)
Bavikonda Buddhist Complex (17 49 N - 83 23 E) Lies about 16 km from Visakhapatnam city on a hill about 130 mts. Above Mean Sea Level. The term Bavikonda in Telugu language means a hill of wells. As per its name, Bavikonda is a hill which has wells for the collection of rainwater. Bavikonda Monastery dates back to the 3rd century BCE and is an immensely significant Buddhist site.
Excavation carried out in 1982-87 revealed an entire Buddhist establishment comprising a Mahachaitya, embedded with relic caskets, large vihara complex, numerous votive stupas, a stone pillared congregation hall, rectangular halls, a refectory etc. Artifacts discovered from the site include Roman and Satavahana coins and pottery dating back to the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD. A significant finding here is a piece of bone stored in an urn. This bone is widely supposed to be the mortal remains of the Buddha. In the urn, there is also a large quantity of ash.
The Bavikonda site, today, is counted amongst one of the oldest and immensely sacred Buddhist sites in the Asia. The ruins of the site stand reminder to the great Buddhist civilization that once existed in the southern part of India.
The nearby Buddhist sites to bavikonda are Thotlakonda and Pavurallakonda.
Buddhism flourished in Visakhapatnam region between third century BC and third century AD. The contemporary Buddhist heritage sites - Thotlakonda, Bavikonda and Pavuralakonda - are all located atop hills along the sea between Visakhapatnam and Bheemunipatnam.
Pavuralakonda lies about 25 kilometres from Visakhapatnam near Bheemunipatnam. The site was unearthed during 1990-91 and a number of artefacts found in the excavations done so far. The site must have derived its name from the presence of a large number of white stones (pavu rallu) on the hill.
The heritage site has been partially disturbed by the construction of a guest house by the Dutch. There is no inscriptional evidence on the dilapidated building, whose walls are still intact. Some of the big bricks used in the Buddhist construction were utilised in the construction of the walls. The building is in a state of neglect.
The long winding drive on the Beach Road, which passes alongside the hills, offers a breath-taking view of the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal. This site is bigger than Thotlakonda and Bavikonda in extent and interestingly, Pavuralakonda has more number of cisterns that than at Thotlakonda, which has derived its name from the presence of a number of `Thotlu' (cisterns) on the hill. In all, there are 14 rock-cut cisterns at this site.
The scene from atop the hill provides a picturesque view of the confluence of the Gosthani with the bay. An apsidal Chaityagriha (place of worship) and `U'- shaped Chaityagriha, which indicates Roman-influence, were found at the site.
A `Vihara' (place for the monks to rest) and a varendah have also been found recently. Half-moon stones, which are a characteristic feature of Buddhist sites, have been found at the entrance to the viharas.
A Naga sculpture, and a big pot and a small pot, which must have been used for storage of food grains, were were also found. This apart, stone pillared mandapas, votive stupas, a relic casket and a Roman and two Satavahana coins, stucco pieces, rouletted ware and floral motifs were among the artefacts discovered at the site so far.
The proximity of the site to the coast and the discovery of coins suggests that trade existed not only with other parts of the country but also with different parts of the globe.
VICTORY AT SEA WAR MEMORIAL
Victory at Sea War Memorial was built in the year 1996 to commemorate the Victory of Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command(ENC) headquartered at Visakhapatnam in 1971 against Pakistan Navy.
PNS Ghazi (previously USS Diablo (SS-479); was a Tench-class diesel-electric submarine and the first ever attack submarine of Pakistan Navy, leased from the United States in 1963. She saw action in the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan. The submarine could be armed with up to 28 torpedoes and, in later years, was re-fitted in Turkey for mine-laying capability. Starting from being the only submarine in the war theater in 1965, it remained the Pakistan Navy's flagship submarine until she sank near the eastern coast of India during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War en route to the Bay of Bengal under mysterious circumstances. The Indian Navy credits Ghazi's sinking to the destroyer INS Rajput. However, Pakistan's official sources state that "the submarine sank due to either an internal explosion or accidental detonation of mines being laid by the submarine off the Vishakapatnam harbour" with neutral sources confirming Rajput still in its port when the submarine sank.
This War Memorial (Victory at Sea) was built in 1996 by Eastern Naval Command to Commemorate the Indian Navy Victory at Sea in 1971. Victory at Sea was built by the Indian Navy. This memorial commemorates the demolition of Ghazi, a Pakistani submarine, in 1971 during the India-Pakistan war. The beautiful landscape and colored fountain around the monument is further beautiful by the elegant war tanker Ajanta and War Flight IN240.