Sri Gancshaya Namaha
namo narno dantavaktraya
ncirno namo parvatisha putraya
namo namo navashakti rupaya
namo namo namaste kumara agrajaya
The temple at Sri Kalahasthi is regarded as one among the prominent temples of South India. This is in fact considered as the Kailas of the South or Dakshin Kailas. The protector of devotees, the granter of boons, and the merciful, Lord Siva, the three-eyed, manifested in the form of Vayu Linga in the Bilwaka grove on the banks of river Suvarnamukhi. Lord Siva, manifest in the form of Vayu linga, is known to the devotees as Sri Kalahastheeswara
The greatness of the temple at Sri Kalahasthi is mentioned in the Sivapuranam in the course of a profound discussion between Sri Romarshana Maharishi and Sri Bharadwaja Maharishi on the nature of Siva.
Let us now proceed to know the meaning of the name Sri Kalahasthi.
1. The meaning of ‘Sri’, ‘Kala and ‘Hasthi’ Devotees!
‘Sri’ has many meanings one of which is Spider, ‘Kala’ means Serpent and ‘Hasthi’ means Elephant. The devotion and faith exhibited by these three dumb creatures are reflected in the temple’s name and religious significance.
There is a legend associated with the manifestation of Lord Siva as Vayu linga at Sri Kalahasthi. According to it, Lord Brahma was asked by Lord Siva to create Kailash. As Brahma was struggling with the task, a piece fell on the earth in the south and came to be known as Dakshin Kailash. And, Lord Siva chose to manifest at Dakshin Kailash as Vayu linga (Vayu, representing Wind, is one of the five elements of Nature; the others are Agni (Fire), Akash (Sky), Water and Prithvi (Earth)) to satisfy the desires and wishes of his devotees. Ever ready to provide succour to devotees in distress, Lord Siva manifested at Sri Kalahasthi yielding to the request by the three dumb creatures – the Spider, the Serpent, and the Elephant.
The significance of such a manifestation will be realised when we learn something about the previous births of these three creatures.
Description of the previous birth of the Spider: In the previous birth, the spider was a Brahmin, Urnanabha by name. Due to Lord Brahma’s curse, he was born as a spider. The lord, however, also indicated to Urnanabha how he, as a spider could free himself from the curse and attain Mukti (liberation).
The Curse on Urnanabha
Urnanabha, the Brahmin, was an excellent sculptor. He was the son of the renowned celestial sculptor Viswakarma in the Krta Yuga. Urnanabha would, with his skill, create whatever Lord Brahma created. Lord Brahma was annoyed with Urnanabha indulging in the activity that was entrusted to him by Lord Siva. Angry at the transgression of his duty, Lord Brahma cursed Urnanabha that he would be born as a spider in the Bilwaka grove.
Repentant at what he has done, Urnanabha prayed to Lord Brahma for his mercy. A pacified Brahma, the lotus seated, indicated that Urnanabha would be freed from his curse when he, as a spider, served Lord Siva in the Bilwaka grove in Dakshin Kailash.
Urnanabha thus began his life as a spider in the Bilwaka grove yearning for Lord Siva’s grace.
One day, a devotee of Lord Siva was plucking leaves into a basket, for worship, from the tree where the spider was living. He went in to the river Suvarnamukhi to purify himself keeping the basket on the banks. When he came back to pick his basket of leaves, drops of water from his body fell on the leaf on which the spider was hiding. Immediately, he was reminded of the events in his previous birth that led to his present state. As the devotee was uttering each of the thousand names of Siva and offering a leaf, the leaf, behind which the spider was hiding, fell on the linga, and the spider came into contact with the linga. The spider thereupon climbed up a nearby tree.
As if the sculptor in Urnanabha, born as a spider, manifested again, the web was built to shield the linga from sun’s rays. The spider stayed in the web, close to the Lord, and considered it its fortune to serve the Lord in such a manner. While the spider was thus serving the Lord, an incident took place as if to test the spider’s devotion. The flame from one of the lamps close to the Linga, started rising. In his concern to protect the Lord, the spider, simpleton that he was, rushed down towards the flame. The Lord, pleased with the total devotion shown by the spider, appeared in front of the spider and asked him to seek a boon. Overwhelmed, the spider said that he desired to be liberated. The Lord granted his request, and as the legend goes, said to the spider, “As you have served Me here as a spider-devotee, the name of this temple shall have ‘Sri’ as a suffix from now on”.
Even today, the web-like form seen close to the base of the linga is believed to be an image of what the spider-devotee had weaved.
A slightly different version of the legend relating to the spider-devotee also exists. I shall present this version too to the reader:
Urnanabha was the son of Satyasabha. Overcome by lust, he married a woman of the lower caste, ignoring social custom, and lost all his wealth. He took to weaving for a living. Once he gave a cloth, he wove, to a devotee of Siva. He followed the devotee to the forest and to the Bilwaka grove. When the devotee offered flowers and bilwa leaves to the Lord, he too offered these to the Lord. He remained there for the rest of his life and after his death, he was born as a spider and continued to serve the Lord.
Wishing to test the spider-devotee, the Lord let the flame from the nearby lamp destroy the web. Determined, the spider built another web. However, even this web was reduced to ashes by the flame. Deeply pained by what had happened, the spider fell into the flame and sacrificed his life. The legend has it that the Lord, out of His Mercy, absorbed the spider into His Self. These legends all indicate that the spider- devotee was none other than Urnanabha and is being remembered for posterity through the word ‘Sri’ of Sri Kalahasthi.
We see in each of the following legends, of the serpent, and of the elephant, how after being born as a dumb creature due to a curse they attained immortality through their blind devotion.
The first legend tells us the tragic consequences of neglected duty through the life of the serpent’s previous birth.
When we examine the various episodes presented in the Sivapurana, we notice the special place given to the serpent among all creatures. So much so that when serpents are mentioned, the images of Lord Siva bedecked with serpents comes to one’s mind.
Once, long ago, the devas, proceeded to Mt. Kailash to have darshan of Lord Siva. At that, time, Lord Siva, while setting His ornaments in order, found to His annoyment that the serpent was missing.- With divya drshti, He noticed that the serpent had gone to Patalaloka to see his wife. The serpent came late to the abode of Lord Siva and incurred the wrath of the Lord who cursed him that as he had neglected his duty; he no longer deserved to remain in Mt. Kailash. So saying, the Lord banished the serpent to the earth.
The serpent prayed to the Lord to grant him mercy. The Lord, pacified, indicated to the serpent that he should proceed to the Bilwaka grove in Dakshin Kailash and serve Him and that he would be liberated during the fight that he would have with an elephant.
As ordained by the Lord, the serpent reached the Bilwaka grove and began to worship the Lord everyday with invaluable gems after purifying himself in the Suvarnamukhi River. He spread his hood to cover the linga from sun’s rays and was serving the Lord with great devotion. We shall see how the serpent’s life became entwined with an elephant’s life and how the serpent was liberated.
In Mt. Kailash, one of the Sivaganas, Hasthi by name once committed the sin of disturbing the privacy of the divine couple. This story instructs us the code of social conduct to be eschewed. Just as the serpent had to face the consequences of neglecting his duty, Hasthi had to suffer for his misconduct.
One day, ignoring the guards, Hasthi entered the private chamber of Lord Siva and Parvati. On seeing the sivagana, Parvati got angry and cursed him. When he pleaded for mercy, Parvati told him that only Lord Siva could help him. She asked him to proceed to Bilwaka grove in Dakshin Kailash and worship the Lord on the banks of river Suvarnamukhi with devotion and said that he would be liberated there.
The serpent and the elephant reached Bilwaka grove independently and went about their worship with devotion to the Lord ignorant of each other’s presence. Each began to notice that the material they had placed for the worship was missing. Slowly they saw each other and began to develop suspicion and hatred against each other.
One day, the elephant was preparing for the worship and was cleaning the place with its trunk. The serpent, thinking that the elephant was her enemy, slipped into the elephant’s trunk and went deep inside. The elephant, unable to bear the pain and discomfort, started beating her trunk against a rock. In this process, both died. In this, manner, Lord Siva liberated these dumb devotees. Not only that, these dumb creatures were immortalised by the incorporation of their names into the name of the temple.
Even now, if one were to look closely at the linga, the tusks of the elephant can be seen at the base, a serpent can be seen in the middle and at the back, near the base, a spider web can be seen. We are told that as this linga is self-born it is considered very sacred and not touched even by the priests.