The mere mention of Srikalahasti brings to one’s mind the imposing shrine of Lord Srikalahastheeswara located on the banks of River Swarnamukhi. There is indeed another ancient, historically-significant and mythologically-revered temple that is away from limelight and hence out of public gaze.
The little-known temple of Sri Ardhanareeswara Swamy, located 5 km from the main temple on the outskirts of Srikalahasti town, is one of the 21 temples affiliated to Srikalahastheeswara Swamy Devasthanam. The ‘Linga’ at the sanctum sanctorum is believed to be ‘swayambhu’ (self-manifested).
“The philosophy of Ardhanareeswara is reflective of today’s gender equality, where the Lord and Goddess share the same body and soul. This Linga is represented by Shiva on the front side and the Goddess on its backside, which is made visible to the devotees through a mirror placed on the rear portion of the sanctum sanctorum,” says M. Deenadayal, working as an academic consultant in the History department of Sri Venkateswara University.
His article on the temple was prominently carried in the proceedings of the 42nd session of Andhra Pradesh History Congress held at Narsapur in 2018. “According to Puranas, the temple dates back to the period of Markandeya, but the shrine, as per history, could be around 1000 years old,” Dr. Deenadayal told The Hindu.
There is a slit in the temple’s wall, from which the sun’s rays fall on the goddess (rear portion of Linga) during sunrise and the rays fall on Shiva through the main entrance of the west-facing shrine during sunset.
“This is believed to be a form of the Sun God paying obeisance to the divine couple”, explains the lone priest Kanipaka Lokeswara Swamy. Of the 21 ‘Theerthas’ in Srikalahasti, this shrine is known as ‘Viroopaksha Theertham’ since ages.
For reasons not known, the temple has not grabbed the attention and fame it deserves. Situated a little away from the bridge on Srikalahasti-Naidupet highway, the area situated in the midst of a shrub jungle appears desolate. The priest leaves the snakes-infested place around 5.30 pm everyday and returns only by morning.
While over 30,000 visit the Srikalahastheeswara temple, a mere 150 or so visit this shrine on normal days.