(Last Updated on : 23/08/2010)
Srikurmam is the only Vishnu temple in Andhra Pradesh where Lord Vishnu is worshipped in the tortoise (kurma) form. Generally, Vishnu's incarnation as the tortoise (kurma) is not popularly worshipped. It is dedicated to the Lord Vishnu in the Kurma Avathara (incarnation).
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu is one of the most favourite deities of people all over India. Various incarnations of Lord Vishnu such as Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana (Trivikrama), Rama and Krishna are worshipped in Andhra Pradesh. But the one in the form of tortoise is the unique one in the Srikurmam temple of Andhra Pradesh. The tortoise form is generally not popular for worship in any part of India. But in the Srikurmam the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu is worshipped and hence it is unique and rare shrine and several devotees are attracted towards it.
Architecture: The Srikurmam temple of Andhra Pradesh is well known for its beautiful architecture. This temple has 200 pillars and the 'gopuram' i, e, the entrance gate has six stories. The gopuram was built by following the traditional South Indian architectural style. The Srikurmam village got its name from the name of this unique temple. In this Vishnu temple, many inscriptions in Devanagari script can be found which can be traced back to the11th to the 19th century A.D. The activities of the kings of the eastern Ganga dynasty can be visualised from these inscriptions. These kings ruled in ancient Kalinga.
Inside the temple complex, many sacred tanks can be found. The famous Sundareshvara temple is also situated near Srikurmam, which is dedicated to Lord Siva and is situated at Pippala village. The Karpureshvara temple is also not far from Srikurmam, which is situated at a place where the Vamshadhara River joins the sea.
A number of inscriptions state this temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu as the Avathara of Srikurmam - tortoise, and the deity is called Srikurmanatha. The temple has beautiful pillared mantapas and some sculptures are made in granite. The Vimana is built in Chola style. The outer gates beyond the prakara were added much later. The temple was originally Saivite, but was changed to Vaishnavite by Sri Ramanujacharya. This is the only important temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the whole of India.
Legend: Naraharitirtha wanted to become a sanyasin and remonstrated with his master that nothing useful was gained by his trying of acquiring a kingdom. His master told him to go to the Gajapathi kingdom to acquire the images of Rama and Sita, so that their worship could be restored. Narahari went to Kalinga and was received with great enthusiasm by the people who made him their ruler. He ruled Kalinga for twelve years as a regent for the minor prince. When the prince attained majority Narahari returned the kingdom to him and took the idols of Rama and Sita as Gurudakshina, and gave them to his master. The latter worshipped the images for 80 days and handed them to his disciple Padmanabhatirtha, who in turn worshipped them for six years and gave them back to Naraharitirtha.
Having acquired the images, Naraharitirtha went around preaching. One night he dreamt that an idol of Lord Vishnu was submerged near a tank in the town. He made arrangements to bring it out and establish proper worship. The inscriptions vouch this story and epigraphs found at the Srikurmam temple also support it. The presiding deity Lord Vishnu is called Srikurmanatha. There are several sacred shrines within the temple. The Lord first appeared here to bless king Swetamahipathi. His bones were thrown into the Swetapushkarani tank and these got converted into tortoises or kurmas, and hence unclean persons are forbidden to touch the water from the tank.
There is a famous Kshetramahatmyam in this temple told by Rishi Dattira. The Sthalapurana states that the sage heard Lord Hari in his dreams giving details about the greatness of Srikurmam. King Suta ruled Swetachala. The queen was a pious lady and once the king approached her on a Suddha Ekadashi day, which she dedicated to prayer and meditation. The queen prayed that her vrata should not be broken, and Lord Srikurmanatha, ordered Ganga to flow between the king and the queen. The king was thus separated from the queen, and he continued living on the banks of the Vamsadhara River. One day Narada met him and told him he could bring blessings upon himself by doing penance. The king went where Vamsadhara River joined the sea, and prayed to the Lord for darshan. On the way he saw a sacred spot and created a tank known as the Ksheera Samudram. Mahalakshmi came and resided here. The spot is called Srikurmam or Kurmagundam.