Sri Kalahasthi Temple is popular hindu pilgrim center that houses the famous Shiva temple, the abode of Lord Kalahasteeswara. This is one of the five most sacred Shiva shrines refered as Panchabhootha Lingas representing the element Wind (Vaayu-Linga). It's in the state of Andhra Pradesh and is said to be the site where Kannappa, one of the 63 Saivite Nayanars, was ready to offer both his eyes to cover blood flowing from the Siva linga before the Lord Siva stopped him and granted him mukti.
Sri Kalahasti temple, situated 36 km away from Tirupati is famous for its Vayu deva temple, which is the only shrine for the God of Wind in India. Constructed in the 12th century by the Chola king, Rajendra Chola, Vayu is incarnated as Lord Shiva and worshipped as Kalahasteeswara.
It is one of the five major Shiva temples called Pancha Bhoota Linga Sthalams, representing one of the five major elements - Wind. The other Panchabhoota Sthalams are located at Chidambaram (sky/ space), Thiruvanaikaval (water), Tiruvannamalai (fire) and Kanchipuram (earth).
This temple is one of the most impressive Siva temples in India. Vishwakarma brahmin Sthapthis who sculpted this temple need to be eulogized for their excellent architectural cognizance. This temple features an enormous, ancient gopuram (entrance tower) over the main gate. The tower is 36.5m (120 ft) high. The entire temple is carved out of the side of a huge stone hill.
The initial structure of this temple was constructed by the Pallava dynasty. The Chola kings and the Vijayanagara kings also gave great help for the temple development. Like other great temples, the construction period of Sri Kalahasthi temple lasted centuries. Around the tenth century, the Chola kings renovated the temple and constructed the main structure.
The outer walls and the four gopurams were constructed in the period of Sri Veera Narasimharayar in twelfth century. The 120 feet (37 m) high main gopuram and the 100 pillar mandapam were constructed by Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagara king in 1516. Nattukkotta Chettiyar of Devakkotta, developed the structure as it is today by spending one million dollars in 1912.. Tamil saints Nayanars like Appar , Sundarar and Sambanthar praised the deity in their hymns—the tevaram.
Sri Kalahasti is named after the staunch devotees of Lord Shiva. They were the Spider (Sri), the Serpent (Kala) and the Elephant (Hasti). Appeased with their unflinching devotion, Lord Shiva gave them a boon that their names be merged with the Vayulinga and called as Sri Kalahasteeswara.
According to Hindu mythology, the elephant or Hasti used to clean the Shiva deity by watering the idol with the help of river-water carried in his trunks and pray for him by placing Vilva leaves. The spider or Sri tried to protect the deity from external damage by weaving his web and to provide shelter for the Shiva lingam. The snake or Kala used to place its precious gem on the linga to adorn the lord. In this way, they all worshipped the Vayu linga separately without knowing what the other was doing.
One day, the spider had built a very big and thick web around the deity to protect it from dust and weather while the snake places its gem. The elephant not knowing this and assuming that this form of puja by Sri and Kala is a desecration by the seeming miscreants, pours water on it and cleans it up. This causes a war between the three. The snake punishes the elephant by entering its trunk and in the process kills itself while the elephant runs amok and hits its trunk and head against the shiva linga. During this struggle, the spider is squashed against the linga by the elephant's trunk and the elephant dies due to the snake's poison. Lord Shiva then appeared and gave moksha to all three of them for their selfless devotion. The spider takes rebirth as a great king while the elephant and the snake reaches heaven for satisfying all its karma.
This king continues his good work from his previous birth and builds a variety of temples that seeks to protect the underlying deity with tons of stones. It is interesting to note that all his temples, keep the deity beyond the access of an elephant. In this temple, access to the deity is through a narrow passage in the side of the building that prevents an elephant from extending its trunk over the lord from any side.
Goddess Parvati's curse
There are several other legends connected to the glory of the temple. Prominent among them is of Parvati who was cursed by Lord Shiva to discard her heavenly body and assume the human form. To get rid off the above curse Parvati did a long penance here. Pleased with her deep devotion Lord Shiva again restored her body - a hundred times better than her previous heavenly body and initiated various mantras including the Panchakshari. Consequent of this, Parvati gained Shiva-Gnanam and came to be known as Gnana Prasunamba or Gnana Prasunambika Devi.
To Bhakta Markandeya, Lord Shiva appeared in Sri Kalahasti and preached that a Guru alone could make esoteric teachings and, therefore he is Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara.
At Sri Kalahasti, Lord Shiva tested the unshakable devotion of Thinna (Later became Bhaktha Kannappa) before the sages gathered at SriKalahasti. With his divine power, Lord Shiva created a tremor and the roof tops of the temple began to fall. All the sages ran away from the scene except Kannappa who covered the linga with his body to prevent it from any damage.
In another incident, Kannappa plucked out one of his eyes and placed in the eye of Linga which was oozing with blood and tears. When the tears and the blood were still trickling from another eye, Kannappa decided to remove his second eye and placed one of his feet on the spot of the right eye of the Shiva Linga. Before he could pull out his second eye with the arrow, Lord Shiva appeared and restored his eye while granting him a boon to occupy a place close to him.
According to Swami Sivananda's book, Sixty-Three Nayanar Saints, pg. 44, some Saivite traditions believe that Kannappa was the reincarnation of Arjuna. Arjuna, worshipped Siva for seeking the Pasupatha Astra and failed to recognize Him in the form of a hunter. Thus, according to this tradition, Arjuna had to be born as a hunter and adore the Lord before attaining final liberation. This belief is not adopted by all Hindus.