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Srikakulam – The Land of the Kurma & the Churning of the Ocean (Samudra Manthan)


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Sri Kurmam or Kurmanadha Temple is in Srikakulam area situated on the shores of Bay of Bengal and this is one of the few temples of Lord Vishnu in the form of Kurma Avatar (ie.) in the form of Tortoise. It is the one and only Suyambu or Self-Manifested temple in the world where Lord Vishnu is adored in the form of Kurma.

As per the Sthala Purana, it is said that during the Krutha Yuga, a Pious King Named Swetha Maharaj did a fierce penance for many years. Being pleased by his penance, Lord Vishnu appeared manifested here in the form of Kurma Avatar. It is also believed that Lord Brahmma, the creator, performed the holy rituals by Himself and sanctified or purified the Holy Shrine of Kurma with Gopaala Yantra. It is said that the Holy Lake named “Swetha Pushkarini” that is found in front of the temple is formed by the Sudarshana Chakra. Goddess Mahalakshmi originated from this in the form of Varada Mudra posture – Seated on the Garuda Vaahana and she is known by the name Sri Kurmai Nayaki. Legends has it that it’s here that the Sagar Manthan took place aka near to the shores of this temple & hence the great divinity of this place.

The main idol of Lord Kurmam is a big Saligrama and is known as “Sampradayam”. The image is not a sculpture that is crafted by man, but it is the fossil of an actual (large-size) turtle. The temple tower is called the Padmavimana. Unlike the other Vishnu Temples, the main deity is facing West and so there are 2 Dwajasthambas, one facing East and the other facing West. This temple is also known for its marvellous sculptors and wealthy art designs.

Shri Kurmam temple is one of the main temples in India where Vishnu is worshipped in the form of a tortoise. History says that Sri Ramanujacharya established this temple at Srikakulam in 11th Century AD.

Initially dedicated to Shiva and referred to as Kurmeswara temple, Ramanuja is said to have converted Srikurmam into a Vaishnavite temple in the 11th century AD. Since then, the temple was regarded as an important centre of Vaishnavism in the medieval period along with Simhachalam. The temple has two dhvajasthambas, a rarity for a Vaishnavite temple. 108 ekasila (single-stone) pillars, with none resembling each other, bear few inscriptions related to the royal lineages that existed in this area in the past.

A Tortoise park has been built to conserve the adult and young star tortoises, making Srikurmam the only conservation centre for this species in a temple premise.

Believed to have been built before the 2nd century AD,the temple is popular among the Tamil diaspora as well because it is a Vaishnavite temple. Initially dedicated to Shiva and referred to as Kurmeswara temple, Ramanuja is said to have converted Srikurmam into a Vaishnavite temple in the 11th century AD.His disciples established Vaishnavism in the temple with the support of Kalinga king Anantavarman Chodaganga who had started the construction of the Puri Jagannath Temple, the eastern Ganga king. After this incident, a group of devadasis were employed to sing and dance daily before the deity in the morning and evening.
Srikurmam was regarded as an important centre of Vaishnavism in the medieval period along with Simhachalam and others.[8] It was also regarded as the Gurupitha (sacred place of the master) of the Ganga kings of Utkal.Naraharitirtha, the disciple of Madhvacharya, was instrumental in making Srikurmam the seat of Vishnavite religious activities.He also defended the place from an attack of the Sabaras, a group of savage inhabitants of the Ganjam forests. Again these are the same Sabar or Tribal folks whose descendants are the Daitapati’s of Shri Jagannath, & their Tribal lord Sabara King Vishwabasu associated with the emergence of Sri Kantilo Neelmadhav.
During the reign of king Swetha Chakravarthi, this area was referred to as Swetha Giri. Swetha Chakravarthi’s wife Vishnu Priya was a devotee of Vishnu.When she was observing a fast on an Ekadashi day, Swetha Chakravarthi approached her with the intention of making love. When she refused, saying the time was not ideal, the king became adamant. She prayed to Vishnu, who created a stream of water, separating the couple. Swetha Chakravarthi was carried away in the ensuing flood and Vishnu Priya followed him to the hilly terrains of Swetha Giri.The sage Narada initiated an upadesam of the Kurma Narayana mantra and asked the king to pray to Vishnu using it. By the time Vishnu appeared in the form of the Kurma (tortoise) avatar, the king’s health had deteriorated. Vishnu then made his Sudarshana Chakra make an impression in the nearby land, forming a lake. Swetha Chakravarthi bathed in the lake and regained his health, after which it was referred to as Swetha Pushkarani.[11] Upon the king’s request, Vishnu manifested as the deity of Kurmanatha. According to the Padma Purana, Brahma officiated the celestial rituals and consecrated the deity with Gopala Yantra. Vishnu is worshipped as Kurmanatha Swamy or Kurma Narayana, along with his consort Lakshmi, who is referred to as Kurmanayaki.

Later, a tribal king visited the Swetha Pushkarani and was impressed with it. After learning about the story of its origin from Swetha Chakravarthi, the tribal king constructed a tank around the lake and began worshipping the deity regularly. The tribal king used to stay in Sage Sampangi’s monastery, which was situated in the Western side of the temple. One day when the Tribal King couldn’t have Darshan of Sri Kurman, he cried to the deity as he was not allowed to visit from the front gate of the temple, it is said that the Lord turned around to the West to give Darshan to the Tribal King & from then on, the deity started facing west.

The sage Durvasa visited the temple later with his disciples, the event of his arrival was considered significant. Rama’s sons Lava and Kusha were said to have worshipped Vishnu as Kurmanatha in Srikurmam.In Dwapara Yuga, Balarama visited the temple and was denied entry by Bhairava, who was serving as the temple’s Kshetrapala (guardian deity). Infuriated, Balarama threw Bhairava away from the temple premises. Kurmanatha came to know this and gave Balarama permission to enter the temple. Balarama, in resentment, cursed that Srikurmam would be the only temple where Vishnu would be worshipped in the form of Kurma Narayana. Legends also say that upon Vishnu’s request, Anjaneya agreed to guard the temple.

The temple’s tank Swetha Pushkarani is also known by the name Sudha Kundam. In the middle of the temple tank, there is a small construction named Narasimha mandapam.The sand below the waters of the temple tank is white in colour, and is known as Gopi Chandanam. Legends say that Krishna played with gopikas in these waters, after which the sand turned white when a sage saw them.

The Only Swayamvu temple of Sri Kurman, Sri Kakulam continues till date to be the only place in India of its Kind. The aspect of Samudra Manthan makes it to so special that from time immemorial devotees both common & royal’s have been attached to it. The other part is its association with the Jagannath Temple Puri which was shared in the earlier paragraphs.


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