Ahobilam

Ahobilam is among the 108 Divya Desams in the Vaishnava pilgrimage circuit.  It is also known as singavel Kundram, which some considered is a corruption of the original Singa Eazhu Kundram.  Singha is Narasimha, Eazhu refers to seven, while Kundram is hill.  This school opines that Ahoilam is an extension of the Seven hills of Lord Venkateswara, and hence the name.  If the hills are taken as a representation of Adi Sesha, then the Tirupati hills are the head, Ahobilam, the middle part, and Srisailam, the tail.

According to legend, it was here that Lord Narasimha blessed his devotee, Prahalada, after killing his father, the demon, Hiranyakasipu.  Such was the power of the avatar that the devas, who witnessed the slaying, exclaimed “Aho Balam,” which literally means “What strength?” Ahobalam became Ahobilam Legends also say that Sri Mahalakshmi was born as ChENCHUlAKSHMI, in a tribal family in these parts.  It was She who calmed Sri Narasimha, who was in his Ugra (fierce) roopa (form), and married Him here.

Sri Prahalada Varadan temple, in Lower Ahobilam, is the largest among the shrines in Ahobilam.  Plenty of notable sculptures greet you at the entrance, two of which appear familiar.  The sculptural figure to the left, as you enter, is that of Sri Krishnadeva Raya, and facing him, on the opposite side, his successor, Achyuta Raya.  The Rayas were great patrons of the temple.  In fact, there is a Vijaya Sthambham (Victory Pillar), erected by Sri Krishnadeve Raya, in front of Sri Prahalada Varadan temple.  The granite pillar was installed by the grateful Raya after one of his military conquests.

The temple is maintained by Sri Ahobila Mutt, the origin of which is an interesting story by itself.  About 600 years ago, there lived in Kanchipuram a pious personage called Kidambi Srinivasachar.  It is said that Lord Narasimha appeared in his dream and asked him to come to Ahobilam.  It is further said that the Lord himself initiated Srinivasachar into monasticism, after which he assumed the title Sri Athivan Satakopan.

The Mutt is near Sri Prahalada Varadan temple in Lower Ahobilam.  This temple was built after the advent of the Mutt, while the shrines on the hills, known as Upper Ahobilam, are said to date back to the Narasimha avatar.  It is said that one of the Narasimhas, Malola, Jumped into Sri Athivan Satakopan’s hands and ordered him to spread the faith across the land.  Since then a series of 45 Jeeyars or high priests, known as Azhagiya Singar, have continued the tradition.
Upper Ahobilam can be reached by a motorable road, and a climb of about fifty steps.  Sri Ahobila Narasimha Swamy temple is the first of the Nava Narasimhas on the hills.  It is a small cave shrine.  The tiny Narasimha idol is swayambhu (self-evolved), while the idol below, at Sri Prahalada Varadan temple is pratishta (installed).

For the record, there are 12 temples in all, eleven of them on the Nallamala forest ranges. There are nine shrines (Nava Narasimhas) on the hills, each representing a particular aspect of the Man-Lion avatar.  They are Ahobila, Jwala, Malola, Kroda, Karanja, Bhargava, Yogananda, Chatravata and Paavana.  Some are inside caves, while some can be reached only through difficult treks.  Jwala and Paavana are said to be the most difficult. Then there is the Ugra Stambham, a column of rock, which is also considered as an embodiment of Narasimha.  Prahalada Padi is counted as the eleventh.  All eleven are considered part of Upper Ahobilam.  Sri Prahalada Varadan temple, in Lower Ahobilam, constitutes the twelfth.

Ahobilam is said to be the site of Hiranyakasipu’s palace, remnants of which are said to be scattered here and there.  Ugra Stambham is said to be the pillar from Lord Narasimha emanated.  A steep climb from Sri Jwala Narasimha Swamy temple leads one to the Stambham.  A guide’s services are a pre-requisite to access this place.  Sri Narasimha emerged from the pillar with such force that the entire hill split into two.  The base of the pillar is, therefore, at the edge of a cliff, and the split is now a gorge.

How to get there

Allagadda (20km) is the nearest tow.  It is 85km north of Cuddapah via Mydhukuru.  The distance between Ahobilam and Chennai  is about 400km.  Cuddapah is the nearest railhead.  There is a night bus from Chennai to Nandyal, 40km from Allagadda.  Bangalore is 340km, Hyderabad is 380km, and Kurnool is 150km from Ahobilam.

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