Standing on the hill overlooking the Yaganti temple, we could hear our voices bouncing off the huge rocks and resounding back to us. A visit to the temple tells you that the place resounds not just voices but also legends from times of yore.
The Yaganti Uma Maheswara Swamy Temple is nestled in the middle of the Erramala Hills. If you are “lucky” to have taken the wrong route like us, the drive down the winding ghat road offers some pretty views of the temple and rocky outcrops.
The temple is believed to have been built during the reign of the 14th Century A.D Vijayanagar kings, Harihara Bukka Raya. What made the kings of Vijayanagar build a temple in a place like Yaganti, slightly far off from the any major towns of the time and located in the middle of some hostile terrain like the the dry, rocky region of the Erramala hills? Did it have to do with the amazing legends associated with this place?
When you talk about Yaganti, you cannot miss the stories and legends that have prevailed over centuries, in fact, the temple owes some of its popularity to these stories. While most temples have some legend or the other associated with it, it is hard to find a temple full of such living legends !
Yaganti’s water works !
When you enter the temple, you first meet the Pushkarini or the temple tank. The stories of Yaganti start from here.
With the hills as a backdrop, this ancient tank would take up a lot of your photography time . The tank is considered holy and most devotees can be found taking a dip here, some people seem to think of it as a pool to practice some diving and swimming ! It is said that the water comes from a stream from somewhere under the rocks below the tank, there is also a belief that the water flows from the mouth of the Nandi on the extreme right in the picture above.
The tank is bordered by panels of beautiful sculpture that remind you of the works from Hampi.
If not for the nosey monkeys, you could sit here and enjoy the serenity. Beware of the monkeys, they try to grab anything from you, if they find it interesting !
The Divine Sage and the great Seer
Yaganti has been considered a sacred place since time immemorial, the great sage Agastya is believed to have lived and meditated here. There are caves and ponds named after him, some of the interesting stories of Yaganti are associated with the divine sage. Sage Agastya is credited with giving Yaganti the status of a holy land.
Following Sage Agastya, Sri Potuluri Veerabrahmendra Swamy, the 17th Century A.D Seer, also considered the Nostradamus of India, lived in Yaganti for a few years and made some of his predictions of the future known as “Kalagnanam”.
I saw it ! Nekanti !
If you are wondering how Yaganti got its name, we have a story for that too. A great devotee of Lord Shiva performed a penance at this location and when Lord Shiva appeared before him he yelled out in joy “Ne kanti, Shivuni Ne kanti” (I saw Lord Shiva!), sort of a eureka moment for the devotee ! Ne kanti, ne kanti became Yaganti over the years, how we love these stories !
Not too bullish on the future?
The most fascinating of all the Yaganti stories is that of the growing Nandi. This huge, monolithic Nandi at the entrance is believed to have been growing in size ever since it was installed here when the temple was built. Interestingly, unlike Nandis in Shiva Temples, the Yaganti Nandi is not seated exactly opposite to the main idol in the sanctum sanctorum, this Nandi is located in a mandapa to the side.
The information board says that the Nandi grows an inch every 20 years and that 90 years ago people could circumambulate the Nandi on all four sides. Today, the Nandi blocks the entire mandapa and looks like he is struggling to find space within the confines of the pillars !
The mystery of the growing Nandi becomes even more interesting in the context of Sri Potuluri Veerabrahmendra Swamy. The Seer had predicted that Yaganti’s Basavayya (Nandi, Bull in colloquial terms) would continue to grow till the end of Kali Yuga, when he shall come to life and let out a bellow heralding the end of the world as we know it !
The temple priests go a step further and tell you that the Nandi shall then go and eat up all the grass around Yaganti before the world comes to an end.
If you view the temple from the entrance, you can see that one of the pillars has been pushed sideways by the growing Nandi. Check out this picture, one of the pillars to the Nandi’s right is not in the same line as the others !
Yaganti’s growing Nandi is a part of most Telugu children’s grandmother’s stories, as a child, this writer considered the Nandi as some kind of a messenger of doom ! Today, standing in its presence, we wished we could live long enough to see it growing to great proportions, kicking up the dust, devouring up the entire vegetation and letting out a deafening cry ! Who wants to join us?
Combined Divine presence
The temple at Yaganti is small and simple, you can hardly find any sculpture, surprising for a temple built by the Vijayanagar kings.
What is interesting about the temple is the main idol inside the sanctum sanctorum. Yaganti is probably, the only temple in India which has the idols of both Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi on the same platform. There is no Shiva Linga here, the figures of Shiva and Parvathi are engraved upon a small stone slab.
So the legend goes, Sage Agastya, impressed with the peaceful surroundings, chose Yaganti to perform a penance for Lord Shiva and asked the Lord to be present at Yaganti along with Goddess Parvathi because in every temple, there were separate shrines for the Goddess and he wanted to worship both of them together. And so, we have Uma and Maheswara, together, gracing Yaganti with their divine presence.
The temple priest patiently showed us around and told us all these interesting little tales of Yaganti.
Just next to the temple, there is a small pond called “Agastya Theertham” where the great sage is believed to have bathed.
Sage Agastya left behind a long trail at Yaganti and his legends keep popping up every now and then.
When we stood on the hill overlooking the temple before going down to Yaganti, we spotted a huge lamp burning on one of the rock outcrops and wondered what it was doing up there.
The priest during our tour of the temple told us that Yaganti is the only Shiva kshetra where you wouldn’t find a shrine for any of the Navagrahas or the 9 planets that define a person’s horoscope. In lieu of the Navagrahas, the giant lamp is lit.
Two things baffled us, how do they manage to climb this precarious looking rock and how does the lamp burn continuously despite the wind?
Where the crows don’t dare !
While everybody is welcome at Yaganti, the poor, humble crows are banned from entering Yaganti. It seems these simple minded crows disturbed Sage Agastya while he was meditating and the Sage banished them from coming anywhere near Yaganti ! Of course, we did not spot any crows in Yaganti.
Is the story true or is there an environmental reason why crows are not found in Yaganti?
When you look up from the temple, you can see several caves in the massive rocks surrounding it. Most of them are inaccessible, there are 3 caves, very close to the temple and considered sacred. The first one is the Agastya Cave, where Sage Agastya is believed to have meditated.
To reach the cave, one has to climb a series of steep steps. We huffed and puffed our way up and when we reached the mouth of the cave, we weren’t prepared for the sight. Inside the high, dark cave, were sadhus in their saffron robes and matted hair, light streamed in through the gaps in the caves and in the distance, oil lamps burned giving a totally mystic, tantric effect ! A fearful sight, the first time you see it out of the blue !
The steps leading up to the inside of the cave are extremely narrow and steep, you have to be cautious of your step, you don’t want to know what would happen if you slipped !
There is a small Shiva Linga inside, surrounded by interesting stagalmite formations. One looked like a human riding a horse, we couldn’t get a good picture because of the poor light and we didn’t want to create a scene there trying to adjust camera settings.
Climbing down the cave is slightly scary because of the steepness and added to that you can clearly see how far you will fall, if you slip !!
The view of the temple gopuram from between the two rocks forming the opening of the cave is picture worthy !
Venkateswara Swamy Cave temple
Next to the Agastya cave is the cave temple of Lord Venkateswara.
The idol here is believed to have been installed by, you guessed it right, Sage Agastya. Here too it is a steep climb but not as scary as the previous one.
Even though the idol is small, with all the added decorations, it looks grand. Whether it is the richest temple or a simple cave temple like this one, granduer seems to be a trademark of Lord Venkateswara !
Potuluri Veerabrahmendra Swamy Cave
The last accessible cave near the temple is the one where Sri Veerabrahmendra Swamy is supposed to have written parts of his Kalagnanam. We were told the famous Telugu film based on the Seer’s life was shot here.
You have to crawl through the narrow cave to worship the small Shiva Linga inside.
Visiting all these wonderful temples, we had lost track of time. The heat slowly got to us as hunger pangs set in, we suddenly seemed to remember that we didn’t have breakfast and that made us doubly hungry !
We wound up our Yaganti visit and this time, took the safer route via Banaganapalli, the land of the famous Banganapalli mangoes. We could see stretches of orchards getting ready for the upcoming mango season. We stopped for lunch here and a simple meal at one of the hotels in the town. It was time to move to the next destination. May Yaganti’s legend continue to resound for generations to come and the mysteries continue to leave people amazed !
– Yaganti is around 70 kms from Kurnool and Mahanandi, 50 kms from Nandyal. You will find buses plying from all major towns nearby. If you want to take the train, Nandyal is probably the main rail head.
– People usually cover Mahanandi, Yaganti and Ahobilam in a day trip. While that is a good idea if you are on a religious visit, each of these places need to be explored in detail, especially Ahobilam. You could combine Mahanandi and Yaganti together, along with a visit to the Belum caves.
– The temple is open from 7 AM to 11 AM and 5 PM to 8PM. We found a few cottages run by the temple but a better accommodation option would be Kurnool or Nandyal.
– On most days there are no crowds, Shiva ratri would be the most important day when people throng this temple.
– The temple provides free meals at lunch and dinner time, otherwise there are no decent eating places in Yaganti. Banaganapalli, 12 kms away is best bet.
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