Every pilgrim to this South Indian temple witnesses a miraculous exchange between the Lord and His worshiper.
Faith is not just one step, but a growing, continuous principle in our spiritual lives. We build it by applying spiritual knowledge and by seeing the qualities and activities of senior Vaisnavas. For most of us, it does not come from some direct, personal realization of the Supreme Lord or His pastimes. But in a unique place called Mangalagiri ("Auspicious Hill"), the Lord in His deity form personally and immediately reciprocates with His devotees by drinking half of any amount of sugar water they offer Him.
Invited by Ananda Caitanya Dasa of ISKCON Hyderabad in the beginning of January this year, Sridhara Swami (my spiritual master) and I, along with two devotees from Slovenia and one from Denmark, visited Mangalagiri, home of the temple of Panakal Narasimha, a deity of Lord Krsna's half-man, half-lion incarnation.
We started our journey from Hyderabad, and after spending two days in Ahovalam, the appearance place of Lord Narasimha, went on to Mangalagiri. We left Ahovalam at 3:00 A.M. We wanted to be sure we'd arrive at Mangalagiri before noon, because the temple of Panakal Narasimha there is closed in the afternoon, when it is believed the devas (demigods) worship the deity. After several hours on the road, I finally recognize elephant-shaped Mangalagiri in the distance.
The Sthala Purana, or local history, of Mangalagiri relates the story behind its shape. Once, a boy named Hrsyasrn-gi was born with many physical deformities. Hrsyasrngi always knew that his father, Pariyatra, was displeased with him because of appearance, so he left home. He secretly went on a pilgrimage. Reaching the southern bank of the river Krishna, he stayed at Pradita Ashram. When he understood that his father was coming for him, he prayed to the Laksmi-Narayana deities there to assume the form of Lord Laksmi-Narasimha and stay on the hill that he would become. Being pleased with Hrsyasrngi's worship and penance, the deities accepted his prayers and fulfilled his desire. Because the Lord manifested here pursuant to the prayers (stotras) of Hrsyasrngi, the hill (adri) also came to be known as Stotradri.
At 11:30 we parked and, passing by the lower Laksmi-Narasimha temple, rushed up the six hundred steps to the Panakal Narasimha temple. After catching our breath, we bought a ticket for the drink that is offered to the Lord. It is made of water,jaggery (raw cane-sugar), camphor, cardamom, and black pepper. There were only ten to fifteen people there, so we didn't have to wait long in the line to be part of the Lord's unique daily pastime, which He enjoys with anyone who comes to worship Him.
After exchanging our ticket for a jar of jaggery water, the seven of us gathered in a small sanctum in front of the Lord. We saw a brass sheet (about one and a half feet square) depicting Lord Narasimha seated in a two-handed form, with a wide-open mouth. Behind this mask is the wall of a cave and a four inch by six inch hole the self-manifested mouth of the Lord.
A priest took our jar and poured the jaggery water into the Lord's mouth. We could hear a gurgling sound klo, klo as someone makes while drinking. Then, when the Lord's mouth was full, the priest stopped pouring and showed us the jar it was half full.
The priest explained why the Lord takes only half of the offering. The story, found in the Sthala Purana, relates how Kasyapa Prajapati had a son named Namuci who was a cruel demon. Desiring great power, Namuci undertook severe penance. Unable to the tolerate the flames Namuci produced by his penance, Indra and other devas rushed to Brahma, seeking relief. Brahma appeared before Namuci, ready to grant him any boon he wished.
Namuci prayed that he would not be killed by anything wet or dry. Armed with the power of the boon, the demon began to harass Indra and other devas. They approached Lord Visnu, who assured them that at the appropriate time He would kill Namuci.
Later, on a battlefield, Lord Visnu dipped His Sudarsana disk in the foam of water, which is neither wet nor dry. He then gave it to Indra, who released it. Namuci fled and hid himself in a secret cave on Mangalagiri. But the Sudarsana disk pursued him there and killed him. The blood that flowed from Namuci became a river, which, being red (rakta), came to be called Raktakalya. Even to this day the area surrounding the temple has only red dirt.
During this episode, Lord Visnu had assumed the fierce form of Lord Narasimha, creating fear in all the devas. When they prayed to Him and offered Him celestial nectar to drink, He drank half of it. The Lord then said that in Satya-yuga He would drink half of the nectar offered to Him, in Treta-yuga half of the ghee, in Dvapara-yuga half of the milk obtained from a Kamadhenu cow, and in Kali-yuga half of the jaggery water.
After the priest finished relating the story, on our request he removed the metal mask covering the self-manifested stone deity. With light from a ghee-lamp, he showed us the big hole that is the Lord's mouth. On the right side of the mouth is an etched figure of a conch shell, and on the left a disk. These markings appeared along with the mouth. The priest told us that even though so much jaggery water is offered here, there are no ants, and no one has been able to figure out exactly where the water goes.
We prayed to the Lord and then, to the great relief of the few pilgrims waiting behind us, went to the front hall, where we offered our obeisances. We shared the jaggery left in our jar, relishing the taste of the Lord's maha-prasadam to our full satisfaction.
As the priests were getting ready to close the temple, lighting the ghee-lamp that burns the rest of the day and all night, Sridhara Swami asked one of them, D. S. Srinivas, to kindly tell us more about the history of the temple. He said that the temple is mentioned in the Skanda Purana and the Brahma Vaivarta Purana and is one of the eight holy places Srirangam, Srimushnam, Naimisharanya, Pushkar, Shalagram, Badrinath, Venkatadri, and Mangalagiri where the devas come to worship the Lord at specific times. He said that many times the priests who open the temple in the morning have found evidence of the devas' worship, such as flowers and fragrant oils.
At this place, D. S. Srinivas continued, two devotees, named Haridasa and Visnudasa, prayed to become doorkeepers in Vaikuntha. Haridasa, a ksatriya, would worship the Lord by offering Him precious stones, while Visnudas, a brahmana, worshiped the Lord by offering Him fresh tulasi leaves.
One day Lord Narayana visited them, assuming the form of an old brahmana. Haridasa asked Him whether it was of greater value to worship their deity, Bindhu Madhava, using precious stones or only tulasi leaves.
Instead of answering the question directly, the Lord asked what they were trying to achieve. In a single voice they exclaimed that they wished to be doorkeepers for Lord Visnu in Vaikuntha. Lord Narayana advised them to go to Mangalagiri, where the Lord gives blessings immediately. They did so, and in the next life they became doorkeepers in the spiritual world. Haridasa became Jaya, and Visnudasa became Vijaya.
As we stood in front of the temple, D. S. Srinivas pointed to the caves of Laksmidevi and Venkatesvara above the temple, and the shrine of Anjaneya (Hanuman), the maintainer of this place. He said that Lord Ramacandra asked Hanuman to stay here and worship Lord Narasimha. In each of the four directions around the temple, deities of Anjaneya have been installed.
To ensure that the intense gaze of Lord Panakal Narasimha does not fall on the local village, which couldn't bear the intensity, a hall in honor of Hanuman has been built in front of the Lord, and it's always closed.
Around the temple are many sacred ponds, one of which is said to have been built by the devas. They brought water from all the holy rivers so that Maha-Laksmi, after coming out from the churning of the milk ocean, could bathe here and offer herself to the Lord.
The Lower Temple
Exiting the temple and coming down the stairs, we get a beautiful, panoramic view of the village and the lower Laksmi-Narasimha temple, our next destination. Halfway to the lower temple, we stopped at the small shrine where imprints of Lord Caitanya's lotus feet are installed. Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited here in 1512. We offered our obeisances and some flowers.
To enter the compound of the lower Laksmi-Narasimha temple, we had to pass through the highest gopuram (gate) in Andhra Pradesh eleven stories high. The priest of this temple told us that Maharaja Yudhisthira installed the deity during the time of the Pandavas' exile. Below the main deities is a small deity of Lord Narasimha, accompanied by two Laksmis, one on each side. Within the temple is a conch shell presented by the late king of Tanjore. According to tradition, the shell was used by Lord Krsna Himself.
Since photography is not allowed inside, outside the temple we bought photos of the deities and then left for the ISKCON temple in Vijayawada, on the southern side of the Krishna River.
Our trip to Ahovalam and Mangalagiri was intense and exhausting, especially for Sridhara Swami, who ended up in the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai with typhoid fever. Seeing Panakal Narasimha helped us increase our faith especially when Lord Narasimha answered our prayers and Sridhara Swami recovered in less than a week. (The normal recovery time is at least fifteen days).
Sridhara Swami jokingly remarked, "When Lord Narasimha saw the great demon Hiranyakasipu, He gave him a liver transplant and wore his intestines as a garland around His neck. When He saw the little demon Sridhara Swami, He just gave him an intestinal fever."
Adbhuta Hari Dasa joined ISKCON in 1994 in Croatia. He serves as personal assistant to his spiritual master, Sridhara Swami.
Lord Caitanya's Visit To Mangalagiri
(From Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 9.66, translation and purport by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)
TRANSLATION: Everywhere Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went, His influence astonished everyone. He next arrived at the temple of Pana-nrsimha. The Lord is so merciful.
PURPORT: Pana-nrsimha, or Panakal-narasimha, is located in the district of Krishna, in the hills known as Mangalagiri, about seven miles from a city known as Vijayawada. One must climb six hundred steps to reach the temple. It is said that when the Lord is offered food with syrup here, He does not take more than half. Within this temple is a conch shell presented by the late king of Tanjore, and it is said that this shell was used by Lord Krsna Himself. During the month of March, a great fair takes place in this temple.
How to Get There
Mangalagiri is seven miles south of Vijayawada, in Andhra Pradesh. Vijayawada has an airport and is easy to reach by train. It is on the main Chennai-Delhi and Chennai-Calcutta railway lines.
Take a taxi or a bus from Vijayawada to Mangalagiri.
Where to Stay
Vijayawada has many hotels. Here are some suggestions in three price ranges. Low: Hotel Swapna Lodge (phone: 65386), Shree Laksmi Vilas Modern Cafe (62525, hotel and vegetarian restaurant); medium: Hotel Manorama (77220), Hotel Raj Towers (61311); high: Hotel Kandhari International (471311).
Where to Eat
Vegetarian restaurants in Vijayawada: Sri Durga Bhavan, Hotel Nandini, and Tilotthama Hotel.
For more information, consult Holy Places and Temples of India, by Jada Bharata Dasa, available from the Krishna.com Store.