Notes On Culture
The Magnificent Temple Heritage of Sri Bhujangeshwara at Ummatturu
The second part of our essay series on Ummatturu provides a detailed description of the magnificent Bhujangeshwara Temple that dates back to the eleventh century.
Another custom unique to the Ummatturu villagers is that every family here maintains a rectangular block of stone picked up from the kondikallu betta or Basaveshwara gudda hillock. On the Narakachaturthi day of Deepawali, the block is painted, decorated and worshipped and carried on the head by the family members. As they walk in a procession across the village, folk artists dance and sing all the way.
During the Karteeka month, a grand Deepotsava used to be organized at both the Ranganatha and Bhujangeshwara temples. Lack of funding has reduced the scale of these celebrations in the past few years.
Flower decorations during the month of Aashada, Deepotsava during the month of karteeka and annabhisheka seva to Lord Bhujangeshwara on the day after Tula-purnima are some events that were added on to the ancient customs in the recent years.
The remnants of the old fort are still seen scattered in and around the village boundaries. A magnificent palace that once housed the royal families also used to be a ubiquitous feature in the area. Unfortunately, the debris of the palace now remain buried underneath a coconut grove, after the site was illegally encroached. The site is still referred to as aramane hola (palace field). The Janardhana Swamy temple, which once used to stand in the palace vicinity and was maintained by the royal family, is now in total ruins.
Next to the site of the palace is a huge tank named Chayapati-kola (Chayapati’s Tank). It was built by one Chayapati, a wealthy military general of Ummatturu centuries ago.
Of the many temples of Ummatturu, the most prominent are the Bhujangeshwara and Ranganatha Temples built by the Ganga dynasty. Other smaller but famous temples are that of Saptamaatrukaa (also called Maramma’s temple), Sumukha Anjaneya Swamy, Veera Bhadra, Gramadevata goddess Urukateshwari, Kolada Basaveshwara (next to the Chayapati tank), Kootooru Basaveshwara, Moodala Basaveshwara, Siddheshwara, Kalabhairava and Maraleshwara. There are some ancient Jaina basadis in the village, the most popular of which is Vardhamana-basadi. This houses the divine idol of Mahaveera and the nisidi inscriptions. Thanks to the committed hard work and funding of the Jaina community, the basadis are excellently maintained till date and all the annual utsavas are celebrated in all splendour.
The Brilliant Bhujangeshwara Temple
The tenth century Bhujangeshwara Temple lies in the heart of the Ummatturu village. It was established by the Gangas and later expanded significantly during the rule of the Mysore Wodeyars.
This well-planned temple premises are vast with the shrine structures spread out elegantly. The first glimpse of the temple premises hints that it was built especially for hosting large scale utsavas.
The temple comprises the garbhagrha, antarala, navaranga, rangamantapa and an open mukha-mandapa and spacious corridors. The main temple structure houses a significantly large-sized Linga named Bhujangeshwara. The Brahmasutra calculation of the Linga reveals that it dates back to the tenth century CE. The Linga is said to be swayam-bhu (a natural manifestation) which lay in the jungles, surrounded by snakes for long. It was therefore named as Bhujangeshwara (Lord of Snakes). The local people narrate how the ruler of Ummatturu was relentlessly haunted by a betala (ghost) and how in response to his incessant prayers, Lord Bhutanatha (Shiva) appeared in his dream and assured him protection, directing him to build a temple for loka-kalyana (the welfare of the world). Accordingly, the king consecrated the SwayambhuLinga of Bhujangeshwara and built a temple around it. Through a series of digbandhana or Protective rituals, he eventually managed to capture the betala and chain him down to the pillar opposite the temple. The bust of the fierce looking betala chained to the pillar can be seen on the Dhvajastambha (main pillar) of the temple.
Lord Bhujangeshwara’s lingam, a perfect spheroid with a rugged surface is evidently a natural formation. The peeta (platform) that holds the linga is a later addition. A modest temple was built around the Lingam in a forest long ago and was progressively expanded under various kings till it attained the present form under the Vijayanagara kings. Inside Sri Bhujangeshwara’s garbhagrha a small yogashakti vigraha of Bala bhuvaneshwari Devi is also worshipped. However, this Vigraha is not visible to the public. In the later years, a brilliant Suryamandala engraved with auspicious beejaaksharas (Sacred Alphabets) was placed behind the Lingam. The Purohita said that the temple must have probably been a seat of souropasana (sun worship) along with the upasanas of Shaiva, Shakti and Ganapatya sects.
The navaranga in front of the Antarala, comprises four short round (rudra-kanta style) pillars. The square bases of the pillars are engraved with episodes from the Bhagavatam and Ramayana. The Ranga-mandapa houses many other Vigrahas. Of these, the Kalabhairava and Surya Murtis belong to the Ganga period. The beautifully carved Surya Bhagavan holds up the auspicious Padmas (lotuses) in both his hands and stands in the sama-bhangi (front facing erect posture). The absence of the seven horses, Aruna, and other symbols hint that this Surya murti belongs to a much earlier period. An equally beautiful Kalabhairava Murti stands close to the Surya Murti. The naked Kalabhairava stands in sama-bhangi holding a bhiksha-patra (begging bowl) and has a snake tied around his waist. Around the sanctum of the Nandi are pancha-loha Vigrahas of Nityakalyana Murti, Uma-Chandrashekhara Murti and Shivastra-murti. The Uma and Chandrashekhara Murtis are the Utsava-murtis. (Utsava-murtis are usually made of Pancha-loha, an alloy of five metals. They are taken on a procession within or outside the temple premises during festivals and special occasions).
The presence of the Sivastra-murti in the form of a Trisula with auspicious symbols, establishes that annual Brahmotsavas used to take place in this temple. Local people narrate how their grandparents and great grandparents were eyewitnesses to the grand Brahmotsava of the Bhujangeshwara temple that used to be celebrated just about a century ago.
Bala Buvaneshwari Devi is the queen of Sri Bhujangeshwara. She is called ‘Baala’ because she manifests in the form of a young maiden, an important form worshipped in Shaakta sect. Interestingly, in Ummatturu temple, she is worshipped in three symbolic forms- Yoga Shakti(Spiritual Strength), Bhoga-Shakti(Worldly or Material Strength) and Veera-Shakti (Power that protects). The Purohit explained how yoga-Shakti represents spirituality, while bhoga-Shakti represents her worldly attributes and Veera-Shakti represents her commitment to dushta-shikshana and shista-rakshana (subduing evil and protecting dharma).
The Yoga-Shakti is invoked in a small murti of the goddess kept in a corner inside the Garbhagrha of Sri Bhujangeshwara and is completely hidden from public view. This Yoga-Shakti remains absorbed in deep meditation of her Lord all the time. Except for the routine rituals, it seems, she is not ‘disturbed’ with other sevas or upacharas.
The second form of Bala bhuvaneshwari is Bhoga Shakti, invoked in the female utsava-murti. The Bala Bhuvaneshwari Utsava murti is entitled to all the bhogas or utsavopacharas like colourful decorations, ornamentation, various naivedyams, processions, music-dance-poetry and celebrations and other royal honours in the public view.
The third form is Veera-Shakti. She is invoked in the Moola-murti that is seen in the exclusive temple adjacent to Bhujangeshwara’s shrine structure. The beautifully carved goddess is about three feet tall. She represents veera-bhava or kshatra (Warrior Spirit), her commitment to protect dharma. The concept of Devi in this temple illustrates a beautiful confluence of Brahma(spiritual), Kshatra(protection) and vaishva (worldly).For those who want to explore the sanatana view of womanhood and Shakti, this provides ample food for thought.
There is a shayana-mandapa (roughly translated as “Sleeping Quarters”) adjacent to the Balabhuvaneshwari shrine. The nityakalyanamurti of Sri Bhujangeshwara is taken in a procession to the shayana-mandapa every night and taken back to Bhujangeshwara shrine every morning. On every Krishna-trayodashi night, the procession is grander and proceeds apace in three rounds. The first round is marked by anna-bali (offering of food) while the second and third rounds feature music-dance accompaniments and Vedamantra-Arathi sevas respectively.
Between the shrines of Bhujangeshwara and Bala bhuvaneshhwari, is the little temple of Sri Subrahmanya seated on a peacock, as though he is ready to take off. It is very unusual that a shrine in the temple of any other deity is ever built between that of Shiva and Parvati. This perhaps signifies some siddhanta (Philosophy) that we have lost access to, says the Purohita.
There is another small shrine of Sri Chandikeshwara on the rear-left of Bhujangeshwara. On the rear is the small but captivating Sri-pada Temple that houses a huge pair of the Divine Feet. Some experts aver that it is the feet of Vishnu while some say it is of Devi.
To be continued
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