Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another Sun Temple Rises From History


In the northern part of Andhra Pradesh lies a small but holy village called Arasavalli which is one of the very few sacred places in India where one can see a Sun temple in a fine state of preservation in sharp contrast to the dilapidated Sun shrines in other parts of the country. Historical evidence traces the origin of the Arasavalli Temple to the 7th Century A.D. Inscriptions found on the outer walls of the Suryanarayana Temple at Arasavalli reveal that Devendra Varma, a Kalinga ruler, constructed this temple as a mark of respect and reverence to the Sun.

Regarding the origin of the temple, there is a Puranic episode. Once, Indra, the chief of gods, tried to force his entry into the sacred shrine at Koteshwara, where Shiva was enjoying the company of his beloved Parvathi. On learning of the audacious act of Indra, Shiva’s gate-keeper Nandi, kicked the intruder. Humiliated and crest-fallen, Indra fell down unconscious at a place about two miles from Arasavalli. While he was in a state of unconsciousness, he had a vision that he would be relieved of his agony and pain if he puts up a temple to Surya and offer him worship. Accordingly, Indra built a temple to Suryanarayanaswami which, with the passage of time, acquired great spiritual power.

The presiding deity of the temple depicts a five-foot tall black granite image of Sun, holding lotus buds in both the hands. The hood of the divine serpent Adisesha is spread over the image. On either side of the Lord are His consorts-Usha and Chhaya. At the base of the figure are Pingala and Danda—the gatekeepers of the solar world. A great spiritual significance is attached to this particular image of the Sun god, called Padmapani: Padma, the lotus, stands for wisdom and Usha and Chhaya signify endless and timeless space. This temple is very famous for its great sanctity and holiness. Innumerable devotees all over the country come here to worship the God of Light.

The appellation ‘Bhagavan’ to Sri Ramana Maharshi was given by one Kavyakantha Vaishtha Ganapati Muni who was the foremost disciple of the Bhagavan. His birth is closely connected with the blessings of the Sun god his mother Narasamamba received in Arasavalli in 1878. This is how the events unfold:

A lady by name Narasamamba went to Arasavalli sometime in 1878 to propitiate the Sun god on the occasion of ‘Rathasaptami’—a very auspicious day to worship the Sun god. On that particular day Arasavalli had a festive ambiance. After having had her bath in the temple pond, Narasamamba, about 25 years old, entered the temple with her only child about four years old. She entered the temple repeating the eight-syllable mantra ‘Om Namo Suryadevaya’—a powerful mantra, which when chanted properly and with devotion, has the power to cure diseases. She was so deeply absorbed in the repetition of the mantra that her eyes were blurred by tears of deep devotion. Standing before the God, she was praying “O God1 I have come to you. This child has escaped the jaws of death due to your mercy. I have now come to fulfill the pledge I took long ago to serve you, if my child was freed from disease. My child is now absolutely healthy. Bless him with a longer life”

She stayed overnight at the temple and slept in the Prakara [outer enclosure] of the temple. Early in the morning she had a dream. A beautiful woman with a golden hue and angelic appearance appeared before her, holding a pitcher containing fire that flashed forth flames. She walked straight to Narasamamba and handed over the pitcher to her and vanished. To the utter surprise of the mother, the fire vessel assumed the form of a male child the moment it came in contact with Narasamamba. She woke early in the morning wonderstruck and delighted. With all those happy thoughts in mind, she had the darshan of the Sun god once again and returned to her village. On returning home, she narrated the whole story to her husband Narasimha Shastry. He remained silent for a moment and said “Dear, this is a divine design that is guiding your dream. I foresee that you are going to give birth to a male child soon”
About nine months after this event, sometime in November 1878, Narasimha Shastry went on a pilgrimage to Kashi. Soon after reaching Kashi, he did Japam in front of the Dhundi Ganapathy temple which is a smaller shrine for lord Ganesha in front of the main Kashi Vishvanatha Temple. One day when he was in deep meditation, he saw a vision in which a child came out of the sanctum sanctorum of the Dhundi Ganapathy shrine, sat on his lap and then disappeared. He opened his eyes and looked all around for the child but to his dismay there was no child. However, backed by his knowledge of the Shastras he thought that this was a sure sign of the occurrence of an auspicious event in the family which would fulfill his desire. At this very moment when Narasimha Shastry was a witness to this joyous event, his wife gave birth to a male child in her village and that was on 17th November 1878.
Narasimha Shastry returned home soon after receiving the blessings in the form of a child. In those days when travel had to be done only on foot and the terrain was difficult, Shastry could reach his hometown about a month later. The time of birth of the child coincided with the time of his receiving blessings of Lord Ganesha climbing on to his lap as a child. The child was named Ganapathi. Since the mother had received indications in the Sun temple, the child was first named as Surya Ganapathi. However, sometime later, the name was changed to Vasishta Ganapathi as he belonged to the Vasishta Gotra.This is the child who subsequently became famous as Kavyakantha Vasishta Ganapathi Muni
The Arasavalli Sun temple attracts lots of devotees all over the country, since there are several instances where many incurable diseases such as leprosy, blindness and barrenness among women have been miraculously cured. In recent years a 20-year old youngster from West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh, was afflicted with leprosy. His whole body became diseased and sore. No medical treatment helped him. Disgusted with life, he went to Kashi to put an end to his life by drowning himself in the sacred Ganga River. There he met a learned sage to whom he narrated his story. The sage advised him not to get disheartened and that he should go to Arasavalli Sun temple and pray to the Sun god .Heeding to the advice of the sage, the youth went to Arasavalli and taking bath in the temple pond early in the morning, he visited the Sun temple every day and did 108 Pradakshinas [circumambulations]. He continued this austerity for 30 days when most of his sores got healed up. At the end of 40 days he got himself completely cured.

ARTICLE NO. 420----The Arasavalli Sun Temple in Andhra Pradesh
Created: Friday, November 23, 2007 8:42 PM


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