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Tamarapu Sampath Kumaran
About the Author: Mr T Sampath Kumaran is a freelance writer. He regularly contributes articles on Management, Business, Ancient Temples, and Temple Architecture to many leading Dailies and Magazines. His articles are popular in “The Young World section” of THE HINDU His e-books on nature, environment, festivals and different cultures of people around the world are educative and of special interest to the young. His e-books – Guide to 108 Divya Desams, Guide to 275 Siva Sthalams, Ganesha, Muruga, Pilgrimage to Narasimhaswami shetrams, Tirupati Gangamma, Vision of Sri Madhwacharya and Guru Raghavendra, The Path of Ramanuja, Guide to Kancheepuram and Hinduism in a nutshell have been well received in the religious circle. He was associated in the renovation and production of two Documentary films on Nava Tirupathi Temples, and Tirukkurungudi Temple in Tamilnadu.
Acknowledgement: I wish to express my gratitude to the authors from whose works I gathered the details for this book, and Courtesy, Google and authorities of Bangkok airport for some of the photographs. Special thanks to www.scribd.com for hosting my e-books.
Avatar ("descent") is the incarnation
of Lord Vishnu, being the protector of the Universe, comes down to the earth in human or animal form to protect and save his devotees. The Lord says, that whenever there is an over abundance of evil on earth, He will take an avatar to restore the balance. In every one of his avatar he conveys a valuable message that an Asura, (that is some form of evil) is destroyed, restoring peace. Vishnu's avatars typically descend for a very specific purpose. An oft-quoted passage from the “Bhagavat Gita” describes the typical role of an avatar of Vishnu to bring Dharma, or righteousness, back to the social and cosmic order: (Gita: 4.7–8) “Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth. For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being age after age.” Avatar usually refers to the Ten appearances of Vishnu: Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (Man-Lion), Vamana (dwarf priest), Parasurama ( angry Rama with the axe), King Rama (the Divine warrior hero of the Ramayana epic), Balarama (elder brother of Krishna), Krishna (the divine cowherd, Divine lover and statesman), and Kalki (the mighty warrior saviour yet to come).
The number of Vishnu's avatars is sometimes extended or their identities changed, according to local preferences. The descents of Vishnu are also integral to His teaching and tradition, whereas the accounts of other deities are not so strictly dependent on their avatar stories The Bhagavat purana describes Vishnu's avatars as innumerable, though there are ten incarnations – ten avataras (Dasavathara in Sanskrit) that are widely seen as his major appearances. Krishna and Rama are the two mostly widely known and worshiped avatars of Vishnu, with their stories told in the two popular epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Different lists of Vishnu's avatars appear in different texts, including: the Dasavatara from the Garuda purana; lists of twenty-two, twenty-three, and sixteen avatars in the Bhagavatha purana thirty-nine avatars in the Ahirbudhanya samhita; the Dasavatara again in Agni purana; the first eight of the Dasavatara in Padma purana. The commonly accepted number of ten was fixed well before the 10th century CE. In addition, various Vaishnava saints and founders are considered to be partial avatars. The various avatars are categorised in many different ways. For example: Purusavatara is the first avatara; Gunavataras are represented by the
Trimurthis (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) who each preside over one of the gunas (rajas, sattva, and tamas); Lilavataras are the well-known ones, and include Avesavataras (beings into whom part of God Himself has entered) and saktyamsavesa (into whom only parts of His power enter); Kalpa-, Manvantara-, and Yuga-avataras descend during different cosmic ages. Some Vaishnavism schools consider Krishna to be the source of all avatars (Krishnavism).
Kurma Purana is one of the eighteen Mahapuranas - a genre of Hindu religious texts. It is believed to have been directly narrated by Lord Vishnu to sage Narada, and it contains the details about the Kurma Avatara. Narada is believed to have stated the contents of this Puranas to Suta, who narrated this Purana to an assembly of great sages. The printed editions of this text are divided into two parts, the Pūrvabhaga and the Uttarabhaga. The Purvabhaga has 53 chapters and the Uttarabhaga has 46 chapters. According to the tradition, the Kurma Purana originally consisted of four samhitas (sections): the Brahmi Samhita, the Bhagavati Samhita, the Sauri Samhita and the Vaisnavi Samhita. The extant of the text would correspond to the Brahmi Samhita. The Narada Purana (I.106. 1-22) gives a brief overview of these four sections. According to this work, the Brahmi Samhita consisted of 6,000 slokas (verses) and its contents agrees completely with the extant Kurma Purana. The Bhagavati Samhita consisted of 4,000 slokas and was divided into five padas (sub-sections). This section had dealt with the duties of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and the mixed castes. The Sauri
Samhita had 2,000 slokas and was divided into six padas. This section had dealt with the six magic acts. Vishnu took the Kurmavataram to provide the Devas with Amirtham, to give them everlasting life and bliss. The Devas lost their strength and powers due to a curse by the sage Durvasa when Indra, the king of the Devas, had insulted the sage’s gift (a garland) by giving it to his elephant (Airavatham) which trampled upon it. Thus, after losing their immortality and kingdom, Devas approached Lord Vishnu for help.
Life size exhibits of “churning the Milky Ocean” - at Suvarnabhoomi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand. Vishnu suggested that they needed to drink the nectar of immortality to regain their lost glory. However, they needed to strive hard to acquire the Nectar since it was hidden in the ocean of milk. After declaring a truce with their foes (Asuras), Indra and his Devas together with the Asuras, use the serpent Vasuki as a churning rope and the Mount Mandhara as the churning staff.
When they began churning, the mount began to sink into the ocean. Taking the form of a turtle (Kurma), Vishnu bears the entire weight of the mountain and the churning continues wherein various objects were thrown out including the deadly poison “Halala”, whose fumes threaten to destroy the Devas and the Asuras. Lord Shiva then comes to their rescue and gathered the entire poison in his palm and drank it. His consort, Parvati, immediately clasped his throat and the poison remained there. Hence he became known as “Neelakanta” (literally: “the blue-throated one). Once again the Devas and Asuras resumed the churning, when several valuables began to emerge. Kamadhenu (the cow), the provider of all wishes was taken by the rishis to aid them in their yagas and pooja. Uchaisiravasu (white horse) was taken by the Asura king Bali. Iravadam (white elephant) was taken by the Deva king Indra. Kowsthubham (red jewel stone) was worn by Lord Vishnu on his chest
The Paarijaatha tree that grants all wishes went to the Deva Loka. Several Apsaras emerged.
Lakshmi then emerged in all her glory and beauty, stunning all. She garlanded Lord Vishnu, who placed her in his heart. Vaaruni Devi appeared next and she was taken by the Asuras.
After this, Danvantri Bhagavan arose with a golden pot of Amirtham (nector). The Asuras greedily grabbed the Amirtham pot and vanished.
In order to retrieve the Amirtha kalasam, Lord Vishnu took the form of a dazzling beauty (Mohini Avataram). The Asuras falling for her beauty, entrusted her with the job of distributing the Amirtham. Mohini started serving the Devas first. The Asuras waited for their turn in vain. However, one Asura called Rahu realised that they were being cheated. He changed his form and took a place along the Devas between Surya (sun) and Chandra (moon). On learning that Rahu had consumed Amirtham, Lord Vishnu cut off his head with his Sudarshana Chakra. Since Rahu had consumed Amirtham, the head and the body continued to live. Brahma fitted the body of a snake to the head of Rahu and the head of the snake to the body of Rahu. Thus Rahu and Ketu, the two grahams were formed. The Devas with the power of the Amirtham drove the Asuras away to the Paadhaala Logam (Under world). Srikurmam is one of the ancient and famous temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the village called as Srikurmam, in Srikakulam District of Andhra Pradesh. This is the only temple in the entire country where Lord Vishnu is
seen in "Kurmavatara". Lord Vishnu being the most favourite deities all over India various incarnations of Lord Vishnu such as Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Rama and Krishna are worshipped. The tortoise form is generally not popular for worship in any other part of India. But the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu being worshipped in Srikurmam it is a unique and rare shrine attracting several devotees from all over India. Historically the stories and miracles of Kurmanatha and Swethachalam are found in “Bhramanda purana, and Padma purana” written by Vedavyas Maharshi. As per mythological Story, Sri Kurmanatha temple existed before Krutha Yuga, on the mountain region of Swethachala and Maharshi Vedavyasa revealed this story to Dattila Maharshi. The Sthalapurana states that the sage heard Lord Hari in his dreams giving details about the greatness of Srikurmam. King Suta ruled Swethachala. His queen Hari priya was a pious lady and was highly religious. Once the king approached her on a Maha Suddha Ekadashi day which she normally dedicates to prayer and meditation. The queen was in a dilemma whether to give company to her husband or to participate in worship. As her mind was troubled by the duel importance of the idea, the queen prayed that her vrata should not be broken. Responding to her prayers Lord Srikurmanatha, ordered Ganga to flow between the king and the queen to be kept apart. The king was thus separated from the queen, and he continued living on the banks of the Vamsadhara River awaiting to join the queen. At that time Narada met the king and told him he could bring blessings upon himself by doing penance on Lord Kurmanatha chanting the hymn “Om Kum Kurmaaya Namaha”. The king went where Vamsadhara river joined the sea, to pray to the Lord for darshan. On the way he saw a sacred spot and created a tank known as the Ksheera Samudram or Kurmagundam. and stared his penance. As the king was worshipping, Lord Vishnu appeared before him and asked him for a boon. The king said that he wished to see the Lord in his second incarnation of Kurmanatha (Tortoise form), also called Amrutha Kurmanatha. Responding to the prayers of the king Lord Kurmanatha resided there in the form of Kurmanatha (Tortoise shape). Lord Vishnu also gave his consent for construction of a temple by the king. Upon the request to Narada, he led the King to Brahma who visited the temple and installed Kurmanatha with
divine Mantra. Sudarsana Chakra took active effect and flames of burning fire arose. Brahma subdued the flames by the soothing effects of Gopalamantra. According to available legend that delineates the reason for the name of the place as Srikurmam. In ancient days, a couple of Bhillu clan were living in the region that is now called as Srikurmam. Once, the Bhillu lady completed her work in the field and was returning home. She felt thirsty and drank water in a nearby Pushkarini and also had a dip that instilled great energy and devotion in her. Knowing this, her husband too took a dip in the Pushkarini. While he was emerging from the pond, Srikurmanadha appeared before him as an idol with Shanka and Chakra. The Lord told Bhillu to install him and worship with devotion. He informed the same to the then ruler of the region and had the temple built for Srikurmanadha. The Bhillu then renounced worldly pleasures and because deeply devoted to the Lord, begging for final emancipation. The Lord ordained him to go to Sadangamuni Ashram that was on the west side of the temple and lead a useful life for a while to get Moksha. But the Bhillu was reluctant to go away from the vision of the Lord. Srikurmanadha grew kind and turned His face from the East to West as the Bhillu would go to the Ashram which was on the Western side of the temple. The uniqueness of the temple lies in its two Dwaja Sthambam, (flag poles), one in the front side and the other at the back side of the temple, which is rarely seen in any other temple. According to Sthala purana this temple was earlier worshipped as Siva sthalam. Later there was a controversy that this is a Vaishnavite temple. During his visit Ramanujacharya wanted to clear the belief and to prove this Ramanujacharya stood behind the idol and prayed to Lord to turn towards him if He is Vishnu. It is believed the Lord turned accordingly to the western direction to face Ramanujacharya. As per the temple worship tradition Ramnujacharya installed one more Dwaja stamba on the western side facing the Lord. Now there are two Dwaja stambhas (flag poles) one in the East being the original one and other in the West installed by Ramanujacharya. This fact is found in the “Acharya Suktamuktavali”.
Sri Jayadeva Goswami, visited this temple and with the grace of God he started writing Astapati wherein he praises Lord Vishnu in his Kurmavatara. In his Sri Dasavatara stotra of Gita Govinda Jayadeva addresses Lord Vishnu as under: kshitir iha vipulatare tisthati tava prste dharani-dharana-kina-cakra-garisthe keshava dhrta-kurma-sarira jaya jagadisa hare O Keshava! O Lord of the universe! O Lord Hari, who have assumed the form of a tortoise! All glories to You! In this incarnation as a divine tortoise the great Mandara Mountain rests upon Your gigantic back as a pivot for churning the ocean of milk. From holding up the huge mountain a large scar like depression is put in Your back, which has become most glorious.
Srikurmam is one of the ancient and famous temples in India. As far as our history is concerned, this temple was constructed before 2nd century. In the dynasty of Cholas this temple was developed. According to the history of Kalinga seema, it is specified that after the rule of Cholas, Kalinga Ganga dynasty ruled this area. From the 7th century, this temple was recognized. It is specified that the temple have been developed in different modes under the rule of Gangaraja. As specified in the Silashasanas around the temple, Anangabheema, the successor of Gangaraja dynasty built the floor and top around the temple in 12th century. The architecture of the temple and its
pillars are called Gandarva silpa sampada, the temple focused the rule, name and fame of Kalinga and Andhra dynasties. The temple is supposed to have been built out of a face rock. There are many inscriptions on the pillars of the temple, most of them in Devanagari (scripting language) script dating from 11th to 19th century AD. The architecture of the temple is magnificent with beautiful sculpture, paintings and carvings. Visitor to the temple cannot move his eyes off the carvings, which nearly mesmerises him. The huge five storied gopuram draws our attention at the first sight with it”s intricate carvings. A narrow passage leads us through a narrow opening into the sanctum sanctorum which is dark with only lights of the lamp. There is a long stone platform with a small stone platform over it. The deity, is placed on a smaller stone platform, is in the form of two stones, one bigger and the other smaller. The bigger one forms the body of the tortoise while the smaller one forms the head.
The rear portion of the divine form is a large ammonite, with swirling circles on its face which gives you the picture of the Sudharshana Chakra which Lord Vishnu possesses. There are shalagramams (kind of stone, said to be Hamsam or swan of Lord Vishnu) massed before the deity. Ramanujacharya, Adi Sankaracharya, and Madvacharya”s disciple Narahari thirtha were among those who worshiped the Lord. In the 12th century
Narahari thirtha built Yoga Narshimha Peetham. The disciple of Sankaracharya placed Sudarsana Saligrama at the tail part of Kurmanatha. Within the temple complex, devotees can have darshan of Kalabhairava, Sri Venugopalaswamy, Sri Bhagavaddramanujulu, Sri Vyasa Maharshi, Mahalakshmi and Durgadevi. There is a Pushkarini at a distance, infront of the Kurmanadha temple. It is said that Lord Mahavishnu Himself dug the pool with his Sudarshan Chakra. A bath in the Pushkarini will remove all sins. Pitru Karmas are also performed here, as it is believed that the departeed souls take rest in peace in this Kshetram.
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