By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Srisailam, ZriZailam, shrishailam
Śriśailam literally means ‘the holy hill’.
Śriśailam is also called as Śrīparvata. It is a small town situated on the Rṣabhagiri hill, on the bank of the river Kṛṣṇā in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. The temple of Śiva, known as Mallikārjuna, is the center of attraction of this pilgrim center. It is one of the twelve Jyotirliṅgas known for their sanctity.
In & Around Temple
The deity gets this name because the original liñga was used to be worshiped daily with mallikā or jasmine flowers. The river, called locally as Pātālagaṅgā, is about 3 kms. down the hill. All the devotees who come for darśan must take a bath in this river. The main temple is enclosed by a massive prākāra which measures 183 metres by 152 metres and is 8.5 metres high. It is made of huge blocks of stone riveted to one another. On the inside of this prākāra, there are five regular rows of sculpture from above the base. There are innumerable varieties of figures of superb sculpture.
As per Sātavāhana Inscription
According to the earliest reference available in a Sātavāhana inscription, the shrine existed even in the second century A. D. However the temple has been renovated by several dynasties of kings who also gifted land and precious objects.
The garbhagṛha containing the liṅga is a small stone-structure with an equally small pillared porch attached to the front. In front of this is the exquisitely carved mukhamaṇḍapa or pillared hall built in A. D. 1404-1405 by the king Harihara of Vijayanagara Empire. It contains several beautifully sculptured stone pillars and ornamental eaves of stone.
There is a Nandi, the bull, near the eastern gateway. All the devotees, irrespective of their caste, creed or sex, are allowed inside the sanctum to touch the image and even bathe it with the water brought from the Pātālagaṅgā river. The oldest structure in the campus is the shrine dedicated to Vṛddha-Mallikārjuna, assigned to the seventh century A. D. It is considered to be the original icon of the temple.
Mythological Legend of this Temple
Under the Vaṭavṛkṣa there is a small Śivaliṅga. The local legends say that this is the original Śivaliṅga upon which the black cow of the princess Candrāvatī who was living in that forest area at that time, used to empty her milk. The princess built a small temple to house it, under instructions from Śiva himself.
Other Pilgrim Attractions
Other attractions within the prākāra are:
- The Sahasraliṅga consisting of 1001 miniature liṅgas, established by Śrī Rāma on his way back from Laṅkā
- Five more liṅgas set up by the five Pāṇḍava princes in the inner courtyard
- The temple of Bhramarāmbā is outside the prākāra, above a flight of stairs.
- A mirror hall to the right as one enters the gate and a beautiful icon of Naṭarāja are the other attractions.
- There is an Umāmaheśvara temple, about 3 kms. north-west of the Malli-kārjuna temple, on the way to the Pātāla-gaṅgā.
The main festival season is from February to the end of May, Śivarātri being the most important one. The forest tribals known as Chenchus manage the temple through a jaṅgama priest.
Śriśailam is a stronghold of the Vīraśaivas or Liṅgāyats which houses one of the five original monasteries. The stone liṅgas worn on the body by them are picked up from the bed of the Pātālagaṅgā river.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore