A Tale of Two Temples

December 05, 2012 By:

Table of contents for Konaseema, a slice of Kerala on the Coromandel coast

  1. Coconuts, Cotton and Crabs

We awoke early in the morning and checked out from the Coconut Country resort.  We proceeded to a place called Appannapalli, which is famous for its Bala Balaji shrine. Contrary to one’s expectations, this temple is of recent origin, having been built in 1991. The place itself is very ancient and was known as Arpanaphali, which means the fruit of sacrifice.  According to mythology, in order to sanctify this site, Vynateya, a son of the sage Kashyapa, diverted the waters of the Godavari river so as to make them flow past this village. This river was named Vynateya  in his honour. In course of time, Arpanaphali came to be known as Appannapalli.

A map of Konaseema showing the main distributaries of the Godavari. According to ancient traditions, there are seven branches, each named after one of the seven sages known as Saptarishis

The Bala Balaji temple is a standing testimony to the devotion and perseverance of a humble coconut vendor  called Ramaswami. Every year, he used to visit Tirupati and place a share of his annual income at the feet of Lord Venkateswara as his offering. In 1966, the priests there refused to place the offerings at the feet of the idol and understandably, Ramaswamy was upset thinking that the rejection was by the Lord himself.

That night, Lord Balaji appeared in Ramaswamy’s dream and told him to build a shrine in his hometown itself. Ramaswamy installed framed photographs of Lord Venkateswara and his consort Padmavati in his shop. He would feed the people who visited his shrine without charging any money. In course of time, the temple attracted hundreds of devotees and Ramaswamy had sufficient funds to build a temple. The construction was completed in 1991 and the idols were installed an consecrated by Chinna Jeeyar Swamiji, a famous Vaishnavite saint.

A beautiful idol of Lord Vishnu resting on the Adisesha adorns the spire of the temple

The temple is built in traditional Dravidian style and does not look like a temple which came into existence hardly a couple of decades ago. What makes it captivating, however, are the multitude of figures adorning the shikhara of the temple depicting important events in Hindu mythology, such as the Bhagavatam, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The Divine Couple flanked by their sons Kartikeya and Ganesh

The Triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara

The Narasimha Avatar of Lord Vishnu

In addition to the images on the Shikara of the temple, there are also a couple of tableaux; one of Lord Krishna delivering the Gitopadesha to Arjuna and one of Lord Vishnu reclining on the serpent Adisesha with Bhoodevi and Sridevi, Brahma sitting on a lotus that emanates from Vishnu’s navel with Narada, Garuda and Tamburu, the horse-faced Gandharva in attendance.

 

The beauty of this temple is that one just does not go to pray or meditate. One can take one’s children and grandchildren, show them the sculptures, tell them the mythologies connected with them. This will inculcate a desire to know more about our glorious heritage and when children ask questions which we cannot answer, we are forced to revisit those epics and clear their doubts.

Lord Vishnu with his consorts and divine attendants

I have to confess that the other place I visited on this day is not exactly a temple as the title seems to suggest. It is actually a 2,300 year old Buddhist monastery. It is probably the oldest standing structure in all Konaseema. Located on the right bank of Vynateya, in a nondescript village called Adurru, it was built by Princess Sanghamitra, the daughter of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE.  Sanghamitra and her brother, Prince Mahinda were the missionaries who carried the message of the Buddha to Sri Lanka.

The ancient 2,300 year old ruins of a Buddhist monastery in Adurru

Finding the way to Adurru is tough ask. Other than haphazardly located tiny signposts by the ASI, there is no guidance available for tourists. The streets are very narrow and some of them are just about wide enough for an autorickshaw at the most. After a number of false turns, we ultimately found the site. There is no approach road and I drove over a clayey path on the river bank in which my vehicle’s wheels could easily have got stuck into.

The knowledgeable senior citizen who guided us around

I found the whole area fenced off by a compound wall and the main gates were rusted and would not budge. I looked around but saw no guard or attendant in sight. While I was wondering about what to do next, a senior citizen, slightly hard of hearing, came to my rescue. He told me that he was sure that we had come to see this site when he saw our car entering his village.

Some beautiful lotuses in a shallow pond near the stupa

He led us to a place where the grille on the compound wall was cut and asked us to squeeze ourselves through this aperture. We had no other choice but to comply even though, legally speaking, it was trespassing into a site under the protection of ASI.

The remnants of an apsidal chaitya in Adurru

Looks like the ASI took good care of the site in the initial years, but, with funds drying up, they seem to have lost interest. If probably marketed and better infrastructure is provided, it is sure to attract tourists from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and South East Asia. The site was an important centre where Buddhist monks and nuns were trained before they were sent abroad to preach their faith.  Adurru was a good springboard for them as they could board ships here which could then sail to their destination via the Bay of Bengal which was just a few kilometres downstream. Foreigners too must have come here for studying  more about Buddhism in the land of the Buddha.

We inquired about the way to Vizag and they told us that since the bridge across the Vainateya was still under construction, the only way to cross the river was by sailing on a barge. We drove a few kilometres and reached the boarding point for the ferry.

An ASI signboard on the right bank of Vaintaneya where we boarded the barge

After a 15 minute wait, the barge arrived ferrying people, motorbikes and autorickshaws from the left bank. After the passengers and the vehicles disembarked, we were asked to board. The charge was just Rs.100 for the car and its occupants, which was quite a bargain.

The barge which ferried us to the other bank. The unfinished bridge can be seen in the background.

The drive from the left bank was smooth all the way as the road (NH-214) was good and the traffic was not as dense as it normally is. There was another bridge to cross, this time across the Gautami, which forms the northern border of Konaseema. Immediately after crossing this bridge, we pass by the tiny former French enclave called Yanam, which is politically a part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry, even though it is bang in the middle of coastal Andhra.

The gateway to Yanam with a golden statue of Mrs. Indira Gandhi welcoming visitors

The short 2 day trip to this pastoral paradise was over. There was still so much to see, so much more to experience. We shall return, we promised ourselves. Hopefully soon.

About D.L.Narayan

D L Narayan has written 18 posts at Ghumakkar.

Love reading, travelling and photography, proud father of two highly accomplished daughters and trying hard to be the greatest grandfather in the world to my precocious and precious Aishwarya

20 Responses to “A Tale of Two Temples”


  1. Praveen Wadhwa says:

    Extremely beautiful temples and also extremely beautiful landscape.
    I always thought Andhra Pradesh as a rough and dry beautiful land.

    Thanks D.L. Ji for taking us here.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks for going through the post, Praveen ji and offering your feedback.

      AP comprises 3 areas; Coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema.
      Coastal Andhra is green and agriculturally one of the most prosperous regions in India.
      Rayalaseema, bordering southern Karnataka, is minerally rich but a semi-arid region.
      Telangana, bordering eastern Karnataka and southern Maharashtra is a mix of semi-arid and green.

      The rough and dry regions of AP one comes across when travelling by train from Mumbai to Chennai. Coastal Andhra can be seen of one travels between Chennai and Kolkata.

  2. Gita AM says:

    Very interesting with lovely photos as usual.

    I had not heard of Adurru, another of Andhra’s ancient sites. It sounds very interesting.
    If you have been to Guntupalli, please do post about that as well. We had almost booked a trip there a few years ago but could not make it at the last moment.

    AP is a fascinating state with lots to see and experience. I hope to be able to do so sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we shall enjoy through your posts.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks, Gita, for your knowledgeable comments.

      I am presently writing a series on Andhra’s Buddhist phase which will be published soon. I am planning a visit to Amaravati, Guntupalli and Undavalli and shall be covering those places after the trip.

  3. Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Enjoyable reading.
    Nice to know the story behind the temple. Did you know about the Buddhist monastery before reaching there or is it by chance! Wonderful. May be once the Bridge will be operational, it may attract more tourist and may be developed as a tourist spot again.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks, Amitava for liking the post. I was aware of Adurru since I have been reading a lot about Buddhism of late. In fact, my wife wanted to visit another temple and I wanted to visit Adurru. I promised to take her there again later so that all the temples are covered (I am not sure if they can be covered in just one visit).

      Yes, there is immense touristic potential but unless the private sector steps in with Governmental agencies acting as facilitators, I am keeping my fingers crossed.

  4. Dear DL,

    Hope to be able to visit these places some day. Ever since I started visiting ghumakkar.com, my wish-list is growing at an alarming rate! But even if I am not able to make it, I am happy to see the places through my brotheren’s eyes ! Thanks for sharing beautiful pics and creating a life like scenery through your pen.

    As far as Andhra Pradesh is concerned, my visit has been limited to a 7-days stay at a Nun’s hostel in Begumpet area of Hyderabad. We were not allowed to stay out of hostel beyond 8 p.m. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. were classes. So, didn’t see anything beyond Char Minar.

    Sushant Singhal

    Sushant

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Dear Sushant, sad that you were not able to see anything other than the Charminar whilst you were in Hyderabad. Begumpet is close to the Balaji temple built by the Birlas and the adjacent Planetarium and Museum, also courtesy the Birlas.

      For me, too, Saharanpur is a place I wanted to visit after readind Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. It sounded like a magical place in the book. Of course, reality is far, far different as are the times.

      Thanks once again for your appreciation, somthing I value a lot.

  5. Surinder Sharma says:

    D.L.,
    Nice to see idols which are so beautiful. Here in Canada we tried to make Domes on temple which cost is around 1 crore Indian Rupee. I salute to artists who make idols as hinduism if a little part broken then it is not acceptable. I was in Telgana in 1980 for one year, when Ramagundam Super Thermal Power Project was constructed. You can say Dry to this area but it may be backbone of Andhra Pardesh economy, as there is Coal mines in Godavari Khani, Sirpur Kagajnagar a paper mill and other Industries. I like Andhra Pardesh food as in Hotel they have lot of items and server come again and again to customers.
    Thanks

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks, Surinder. I too lived in Ramagundam at the same time, as I worked in the nearby Fertilizer unit from 77 to 82. Amazing, isn’t it. Now, Karimnagar district has changed beyond recognition. The waters of the Godavari have been harnessed for irrigation and the dry area has become green.

  6. Hi DL… you have taken us to a very less known part of AP, beautiful pics and Yanam is a little known gem one needs to go

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks, DT. I especially value the fact that you liked the pics, since you are such an accomplished photographer. I have visited Yanam earlier but have misplaced those pics. Hopefully, I shall revisit it soon.

  7. kailash mehta says:

    Hello Narayan ji

    Love to read your post. Each and every thing you explained in detail. Pictures are very clear and that shows your good photographer skills. Andhra Pradesh is fascinating and your post encourage to plan visit for andhra. Good work sir, waiting for more post.

  8. Nandan Jha says:

    Thank you DL for trespassing, else we would not have visited Adurru as well. It indeed was a golden period where a lot happened.

    I fancy about taking my car on one of these ferries some day :-). Insha Allah.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks Nandan for liking my post.

      Yes, crossing a river on a barge is quite an experience for the car. For once, it gets to be the passenger :-)
      I am sure that your car will love it too.

  9. Nirdesh says:

    Hi DL,

    Beautiful Photos. The temples in that area come alive with the colorful idols adorning the walls. I dont know if these idols are painted regularly or are painted during installation time only.

    I have recent great memories of Yanam. I hope you took a walk along the sea promenade.

    Adurra is a find. Hopefully, I go back to see the ruins.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Hi Nirdesh, I think that the idols are painted on a regular basis but I have no idea of the frequency. I have noticed, however, that the paint is peeling off in several places.

      This time, I did not visit Yanam but I hope to go there some time soon.

      Andhra has some 150 odd Buddhist sites; I have visited some of them and I am writing a series, the first installment of which is going to be published in a couple of days. Yesterday, I had been to ruins at Salihundam and Kalingapatnam. I hope to write about these places soon.

  10. SilentSoul says:

    Beautiful post with captivating shining idols. Tks for letting me know as I had never heard about this temple. Ramaswamy’s bold step to make his own temple, when he was denied access/keeping money at the feet is an example on how to react when temple priests misbehave.

  11. SilentSoul says:

    Banke Bihar temple in Mathura has a strange tradition. They do not show the idols continuously and keep it curtained .. they move the curtain for some time and then again hide the idols. One old priest’s daughter told me the secret. A little boy (sometimes around Mogul period) had come to have darashan but was pushed away by crowd of rich devotees. He had come from a remote village of Rajasthan and wanted to offer, some fruits from his tree. The priests would push him back again and again and let richer ones come first. finally he stood at a corner and started staring at the idol. It is said that the idol walked down to him and took his offering and went back. This started the tradition of not letting the idol subject of any continuous eye contact with the idol.

    donno how far is this true… but gives a magnificient lesson on devotion



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