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The Bhramaramba Mallikarjuna Temple, more commonly known as Srisailam Temple and it is located in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. The temple is built on the top of the Nallamala hills situated on the banks of River Krishna. The town of Srisailam is one of the oldest Kshetras or Regions in India. The famous hill is also known as Siridhan, Srigiri, Sriparvatha and Srinagam. It is one of the most important Saivite pilgrimage sites in India. There are two separate temple complexes present inside - one is dedicated to Lord Mallikarjuna and the other one to Goddess Bhramarambha. The Linga of the presiding deity Lord Mallikarjuna Swamy is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. The deity Goddess Bhramarambha Devi is one of the eighteen Mahashaktis or the Shakthi Peethas in India. The sanctity of the hill is mentioned in Mahabharatha, Skanda Purana and many other religious scriptures.
The temple is surrounded by walls as high as 6 meters and several towers. The Srisailam Temple is adorned with beautiful and intricate sculpture work. The temple has four main Gateways in four main directions: Tripuranthakam facing eastwards - It is located in the Prakasam district. The presiding deities are God Tripuranthakeswara Swamy and Goddess Tripurasundari. Siddhavatam facing south - It is located in the Kadapa district on the banks of River Penna. God Jyotisideswara Swamy and Goddess Kamakshi are the presiding deities. Alampur facing towards the west - It is located in the Mehboobnagar district on the banks of the River Tungabhadra. The famous Navabrahma Alayas, a group of nine temples are situated here. They were all built in the Chalukya period. Umamaheswaram facing northwards - It is located in the Mehboobnagar district. God Umamaheswara Swamy and Goddess Umamaheswari Devi are the main deities worshipped here.
The existing main temple is a huge complex consisting of separate temples of Mallikarjuna and Bhramaramba, several sub shrines, pillared halls, mandapas, springs etc., This entire complex is fortified by the most impressive Prakaram wall of massive stones. The Prakaram wall contains four Dwaras (principal gates) at four cardinals surmounted by the Gopuras. The eastern entrance is the Mahadwaram.
The centre of the temple complex consists of an enclosure below the level of the principal gates of the cardinals. This enclosure has Salamandapas at the northern and southern sides. The space between the inner enclosure and outer Prakaras walls was maintained gardens in olden days.
In the inner court yard there are Nandimandapa, Veerasiromandapa, the temple of Mallikarjuna, the temple of Bhramaramba and all are in a row from east to west. Some of the minor shrines such as the temple of Vriddha Mallikarjuna, Sahasra Lingeswara, Arthanariswara, Veerabhadra, Uma Maheswara and a group of five temples named as Pandava Prathista temples and a row of nine temples called as Navabrahma temples etc., are also located in the inner courtyard.
This large sized pillared Mandapa is situated immediately beyond the Mahadwaram. It is in square shape and has porches projected to the east, south and northern sides. Among the 42 pillars of this mandapa, the two pillars on each side of eastern porch and the central four pillars are of ornate designing and the remaining pillars are in simple type. The raised Adhistana of this mandapa is divided into compartments and the upper compartment is decorated with procession of elephants inter spaced by lotus medallions, fishes and swans etc., The Dwarapalakas are also carved at the upper compartment of the Adhistana on each side of the eastern porch. All these decorations are clearly of Vijayanagara period. The central portion of the mandapa is slightly raised and where a huge Nandi (Divine bull) of 20’ by 10’ size lies facing the shrine of Mallikarjuna. The central portion of the ceiling has the figure of Nandiswara murthi (Siva and Parvathi riding on the bull) surrounded by Dikpalakas on their respective Vahanas. The sculpting of Dikpalas on the ceiling is a rare feature.
This important structure is situated immediately to the west of the Nandimandapa, built by the Reddi King Anavema Reddi in the year 1378 AD. According to an inscription, this mandapa was constructed for the purpose of offering of their own heads, hands and tongue to the God by the Veerasaivas and this unique practice was named as Veeracharam. At present this open mandapa has 16 pillars and the low Adhistana is a simple structure. The central space of the mandapa is slightly raised and contain a circle in a square. The lower part of the stone ceiling has double shatkona in which a lotus set was carved. The inscription which relates the construction of this mandapa states that it was 38 pillared structure with a spacious central hall possessing arched thorana and flanked by dwarapalaka image. The inscription also describes the ceiling as a decorated one with lotus medallions. Unfortunately, these architectural elements are disfigured including the number of pillars and the structure is totally altered.
The Mallikarjuna Temple
The temple of God Mallikarjuna is situated in the centre of inner courtyard and faces to the east. This temple consists of Mukhamandapa, Antarala and Garbhagriha.
The Mukhamandapa is situated to the west of the Veerasiromandapa. It is an elaborated closed hall consisting of 16 pillars. This mandapa is also named as Mahamandapa and was built by the Vijayanagara king, Harihararaya – II in the year 1405 AD. There are three entrance gates with pillared porches on the east, south and north. All are these have decorated doorways and covered by the silver ornamented sheets at present. The Mandpa is extended 41.2 feet in length and 41.4 in width.
The base of this mandapa is a plain structure and the exterior walls above it is decorated with Devakosthas. These Kosthas are narrow and are not having any images. There are also latticed windows on either side of the porches. The interior of the mandapa has four rows of four pillars each. The central pillars are standing on a square which is slightly elevated. The lower part of the ceiling is divided into compartments and a big lotus was carved in the central one.
At the south – west of this mandapa there is four handed seated Vinayaka made of fine red stone and named as Ratnagarbha Ganapathi. Where as in the north – west, forty handed Veerabhadra holded with various weapons and four handed Bhadrakali are placed, both of these are made with black stone and are in standing posture. This Veerabhadra is called as Sudarshana Veerabhadra. At the east of this mandapa there is a Nandi of black stone faces to the self-emanated Jyothirlinga of Mallikarjuna.
Unlike the Mukhamandapa, the antharala is simple and plain structure. Even though the mukamandapa and antharala are not separated by any specific entrance, it contains a two pillared entrance like structure. The front portion of the pillars are decorated with a silver covering having dwarapalakas on either side and several forms of Siva such as Chandrasekaramurthy, Arthanareeswaramurthy, Gangadaramurthy, Lingodpowermurthy, Somaskandamurthy, Nandikeswaramurthy and Nataraja one above the other. The antharala is roughly hundred square feet dimension in extent.
The Garbalaya with sixty square feet structure is having an ornamental entrance. On the lower horizontal jamb, a purnakumba along with a female deity holding a lotus bud is depicted whereas on the top Gajalakshmi is shown. On the two vertical jambs, foliage is very artistically depicted. At the centre of the structure is located the self-emanated Jothirlinga on a Panavattam. This Panavattam appears to be a latter addition around the Sivalinga which is about 25 cms. in height. The interior portion of the Sikhara of the Sanctum Sanctorum is plain without any artistic decorations.
This structure speaks about the relative antiquity of the temple proper. These in the form of a stepped pyramidal structure containing nine tiers gradually receding towards the top. A total of nine tiers are visible and at the central portion on all sides each pair of receding tiers are joined with Simhalalata sculptures. Just below the pinnacle, on all four sides, four Nandi sculptures are arranged. Below the purnakumba on the top, an eight pettalled lotus is engraved. This type of stepped pyramidal structures became popular during the western Chalukyan period and continuing in the succeeding periods of Kalyani Chalukyas and Kakatiyas in Andhra Pradesh.
The Chaya Someswara temple at Paanagal in Nalgonda District, the Swayambu temple in Warangal fort, and most of the trikuta temples of the Kakatya period, have these types of super structure. Because of these similarities, historians such as M. Ramarao, are of the opinion that, the Srisailam temple might have been constructed in 10th century A.D. However, on the basis of the Bayyaram Tank inscription of the Kakatya times. Dr. P. V.P Sastry have correctly identified that the present Garbagraha was constructed by the Kakatya queen Mailamamba in 1220-30 A.D. This queen, who was the sister of Kakati Ganapathi Deva, in the above mentioned inscription gloriously proclaims that, she constructed a temple for Siva, which is like virtual Kailasa. On the basis of her donative constructions at other places like Kolanupaka, Tripurantakam etc. It can be safely being presumed that, the present Garbhagraha of the Srisailam was constructed by her in 13th century. At present this Vimana Gopuram was gilded with Gold plates.
The Antiquity of the Temple Complex
The Antiquity of Srisailam is linked with tradition. It is therefore difficult to identify the date of temple and the Gods enshrined therein. However, an attempt can be made with available sources. Although, the puranas and other literary works speaks about the glory antiquity of Saisailam, the same cannot be attested on archaeological and historical grounds. The Nasik inscription of Queen Naganika of the Satavahana dyanasty, while mentioning their extent of their kingdom, mention Sirithana as one of the important places in the eastern extension of the empire. This is identified with the range of hills, presently known as Sriparvatha, which are the Nallamalai hill ranges extending from Srisailam up to Nagarjuna Konda.
In first century A.D., Nagarjuna Konda is not known as a historical place and hence the Sirithana of this inscription is equated with Sriparvatha or Srisailam. The earliest inscription found at Srisailam discovered recently is a label inscription in sixth century A.D., Brahmi characters reading “Sarasa Paramathma” which is identified to indicate the name of a Siddha at this place, which indicate this place is known to be a Siddhakshetra by sixth century A.D.The Harsha Charita of a same period also terms Srisaila as a Siddhakshetra.
Although there are a couple of inscriptions dated 1206 and 1298 A.D., found at HataKeshwaram and Bheemasankaramatham respectively. They do not contain any tangible historical references. Thus between seventh and thirteenth centuries, surprisingly there are no historical records available at Srisailam.
The first historically significant inscription found at Srisailam belongs to Pradaba Rudra of 1313 A.D., The absence of any inscriptions prior to the said one is a matter of utter disappointment.;. Despite all these historical gaps, in tracing out the evolution of the Srisailam temple complex, it can be surmised that the discovery of early temple construction activity datable to the first century A.D. at the insignificant places like Virapuram in Kurnool district, we can say with a degree of certainty that that the Srisailam temple also might have been constructed during the same period or prior to it.
The Temple of Bhramaramba
The temple of Bhramaramba is faces to the east and located in the back court yard of the main complex at an elevated level and is very near to the western Gopuram of main prakaram. The temple is surrounded by an enclosure with varamandapas at the innersides.
The way of this temple starts at the back side of Mallikarjuna Temple with wide steps, leading to the doorway of the enclosure. This doorway is having a Mandapa Dwaram with Gopuram on it. This temple is consists of Garbhalaya and Mukhamandapa. The Mukha Mandapa was added by a 24 pillard Pradakshana Mandapa in 1964 – 65. Among the pillars of this mandapa, 14 pillars are beautifully sculptured and remaining 10 pillars are ornate. It seems that the Mukhamandapa is also a later addition and it has entrances on the east, south and north. The exterior lower wall of the Mukhamandapa has relief sculptures if dancing girls and musicians and these are clearly of Vijayanagara Style. At the interior centre of the Mukhamandapa facing the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum, the stone Srichakra is installed to which daily worship is being offered. A story preserved in the folklore narrates that, Adisankara, saw the violent form of Bhramaramba Devi and to reduce her violent power, installed Srichakra in front of the Garbhagriha. There is also a Padmasila at the east of the Srichakra.
The garbhalaya is a square structure and its outer walls are depicted with scenes of Ramayana and they are clearly of Vijayanagara style. The doorjambs are carved with lotus foliage designs and whereas on the top of jamb there a form of Sakthi as Lalatabimba. At present the doorjamb is gilded with silver plates. The image of Brahmaramba in the sanctum sanctorum is in the form of Mahishasura Mardini in a standing posture, with eight hands. She is keeping the demon Mahisha with her left leg and holding his face with the left hand and piercing it with the trisula of right hand. In her hands, she is shown holding a dagger, mace, sword, a bow, a shield and Parigha. On the right shoulder of the deity an arrow holder is also depicted.
The Vimana Gopuram of Bhramaramba temple shows early architectural features. It is Dvitala vimana of Dravidian style and exhibits the images of Sakthi forms, female Bhuthaganas, lions etc., The cardinal Koshtas houses the images of Durga in the east, Vaishnavi in the west, and Brahmi in the north. The Vimana Sikhara is capped by Rekhadalapadma. This super structure seems to have been constructed in 14th-15th centuries.
The spacious complex of Srisailam temple was embellished with several minor shrines by various ruling dynasties, military chiefs, rich merchants, female members of the royal families and so on. Among the minor shrines mentioned, should be made to the temples of Vriddha Malikarjuna, Sahasralingeswara, Arthanariswara, Nava Brahma, Uma Maheswara, Rajarajeswari and Rajarajeswara, Virabhadra and Kumaraswamy. These are located in various parts of the temple complex around the Vriddha Malikarjuna Temple.