[GHHF] Sri Kurmanadha Temple – High Court issued Stay Order forbidding Forest Department from removing the TORTOISES; age-old custom is preserved

24 Feb 2011 2436 Views


~ A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril ~Winston Churchill

Infinite patience, infinite purity, and infinite perseverance are the secret of success in a good cause. Swami Vivekananda

Hindu culture and traditions have a long history spanning over a period of thousands and thousands of years and, developed over several eras. They remain indispensable to the lives of Hindus and Hindu Temples today as sources of religious practices, spiritual inspiration, cultural expression, and social bonding. They bind all Hindus together irrespective of the regional and ethnic diversity.

Hindu Temples have been built over so many centuries. All the Temples have their unique history as to how they were built, who built them, what kind of architectures were selected, how they selected the presiding deity, what kind of customs they have developed over the years to run the Temples, and what kind of festivals are performed. As a result, Temples often greatly vary in their appearance, rituals, traditions, festivals and customs from region to region. Temples in southern states, eastern states, northern states and Western India have their distinctive characteristics. These temples are very different from one state to the other. Diversity and imagination are the hallmark of Hindu mind.

Many temples are built near the rivers, on mountaintops, and in the caves because of the belief mentioned in the Puranas that “the gods always play where groves are near rivers, mountains, and springs.” These temples are considered punykshetras – sacred places.

Hindus worship manifestations of gods and goddesses with each one being associated with an attribute. Too numerous deities to mention, the Hindus worship them all with great faith, veneration and zeal. Hence, with so many gods and goddesses, the number of temples too is high with different temples being dedicated to different deities.

There are a large number of temples in India that are unique, distinctive and one of a kind. For example, the Balaji temple situated in Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, Ayyappa Temple in Kerala, Viswanath Temple in Kashi, Jagannath Temple in Orissa, Vaishnadevi Temple in Kashmir, Ranganatha Temple and Meenakshi Temple in Tamil Nadu, Siddhi Vinayaka Temple in Maharashta and many more. They are one of a kind. Their histories, stories, architectures, traditions and deities are different. Devotees throng to these ancient historical Temples with great zeal and enthusiasm.

Hindus have special affinity, association and deep relationship with the animal world, the rivers, the trees, the mountains and the panchabhutas.  They are all considered sacred in Hindu Religion. Among animals, the cow, the cat, elephants, parrots, bull, peacock, the squirrel, the monkey, tortoise, the brahmani-kite, etc., are considered sacred; and from among the vegetable kingdom, the asvatha tree (Ficus religiosa), the coconut tree, and the bael tree, the tulasi plant (Ocymum sanctum), are considered holy and hence should not be destroyed. A pious Hindu would rather let an asvatha tree continue to grow on the wall of his house or in a crack of the rampart round the well in his garden than to destroy it. He would not dare to cut down the coconut trees to clear the place for the purpose of house building.

Sri Kurmanadha Temple where Tortoise is the Presiding Deity

Sri Kurmanatha Temple is one of a kind.  Kurma means Tortoise. Lord Vishnu has taken the avatara of Tortoise in order to bestow immortality to the Devatas who lost their powers due to a curse. According to one of the legends, in ancient days, a couple belonging to Bhillu clan were living in the region that is now called as Srikurmam. Once, the Bhillu lady completed her work in the field and was returning home. She felt thirsty and drank water in a nearby Pushkarini and also had a dip that infused great energy and instilled more devotion in her. Knowing this, her husband too took a dip in the Pushkarini. While he was emerging from the pond, Sri Kurmanadha appeared before him as a vigraha with Shanka and Chakra. The Lord told Bhillu to install him and worship with devotion. He informed the same to the then ruler of the region and had the temple built for Sri Kurmanadha some time in 11th century. The Bhillu then renounced worldly pleasures and because deeply devoted to the Lord, begging for final emancipation. The Lord ordained him to go to Sadangamuni Ashram that was on the west side of the temple and lead a useful life for a while to get Moksha. But the Bhillu was reluctant to go away from the vision of the Lord. Sri Kurmanadha believed to have turned His face from the East to West hoping that the Bhillu would go to the Ashram which was on the West side of the temple.
Sri Kurmanadha temple has two dhwajastambas. One is in the East and another in is the West. The Eastern dhwajasthambham is said to be the original one and the West one is believed to have been built by Sri Ramanujacharya since the Lord turned His face to the West.

Below is provided the extensive information on Sri Kurmanatha Temple.

Why did Lord Vishnu take Kurma Avatara

In Satya Yuga as the legend goes, the sage Durvasa was walking with a flower garland and found Lord Indra riding his elephant called Airavata. Durvasa gave the garland to Indra who gave it to his elephant, which in turn threw the garland on the ground and trampled on it.  Durvasa felt insulted, lost his temper and cursed Indra by saying “the wealth has entered your head. Let goddess Lakshmi forsakes you.”  Indra lost his kingdom and eventually all the devatas lost their power and immortality. Asuras became very powerful, occupied Indra loka and chased away all the Gods.  Sage Brihaspati advised Gods that they need to drink Amrita to regain their immortality and their kingdom.

The Devatas approached Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu then asked them to churn the ocean of milk after adding medicines into the ocean. Both Devatas and Asuras participated in the churning hoping to get immortality by drinking Amrita. Mt Mandara was used as the churning stick. Using serpent Vasuki as a rope, both Devatas and Asuras started churning the ocean. But as churning was proceeding the mountain was sinking and then Lord Vishnu took the form of the tortoise (KURMA) and kept the mountain afloat. As soon as the bowl of amrita, the nectar of immortality, was out, the asuras grabbed it. Then Lord Vishnu took the form of an Apsara, a beautiful maiden, and seduced the asuras into letting her distribute the nectar. As soon as the devatas were served the Amrita, the maiden disappeared without distributing to the Asuras thus making them totally weak.

Expected removal of Tortoise was stopped; High Court gave stay Order

Sri Kamal Kumar Swami called (Global Hindu Heritage Foundation) on February 22 and informed that a problem was brewing at Sri Kurmanadha Temple regarding the removal of star tortoises. He mentioned that the Forest Department was planning to remove all the tortoises that are gathered at the Temple complex. It is amazing to know that the tortoise instead of staying in the nearby forest, they come to Sri Kurmanatha Temple as if the Temple is their abode. It has been going on for centuries. There must be some divine reason as to what they gather at this Temple. How many Temples either in India or other countries, you will witness such a situation? Why no other Temple will experience this kind of situation even many Temples are located in the forests and on the banks of rivers? There must be a divine reason.  We can only surmise that these tortoises probably have the sixth sense to recognize that this Temple was dedicated to them only. This is the age-old tradition; we must follow, preserve and continue for generations to come to harbor the tortoises. The tortoises wanted to be part of the Temple and stay near the Temple. In fact that the Temple has a budget of Rupees 30,000 to take care of them by providing water and food to them. An agency by the name Green Mercy has complained to the Temple authorities about the ill treatment of these tortoise by saying that they are not properly fed and not allocated proper place for them to stay. Failing to get proper attention from the Temple authorities to address the issue, Green Mercy informed the Forest Department.

According to Wildlife Protection Act that no body can keep the forest animals or creatures that live in the forest without proper permission from the Central government. Knowing this Act, many Temples have sought permission to keep elephants in their Temple premises for ceremonial purposes. Sri Kurmanatha Temple never obtained the permission to keep the tortoise in the Temple complex. Consequently, if complained, the Forest Department can collect the tortoise and leave them in the forests hoping that they are safe in that habitat.

By doing so, the age-old custom of devotees having darshan of living tortoise will be discontinued forever. Many devotees will be denied the opportunity to feed them also. The villagers were very upset knowing that these tortoises may be removed from the Temple premises. They felt that some bad might happen to them if the removal takes place. They approached Sanyasi Appa Rao, State Secretary of HDPS and Sri Kamal Kumar Swami, President of HDPS, who along with a number of concerned villagers filed a case in the High Court to prevent the removal.

Based on the information provided by Sri Sanyasi Appa Rao and Sri Kamal Kumar Swami, we contacted the following officers who have made the difference in highlighting the concerns of the villagers as well as preserving the traditions of the Temple.

1) Lalitha Kumari, Village Sarpanchi

2) K V. Ramana Murthy, Green Mercy

3) Muthyla Rao, Assistant Commissioner, Endowment Department

4) Prasad Batnaik, EO of Sri Kurmanatha Temple

5) N. Srikath, Collector of the District

6) Hitesh Malhotra, Forest Department

7) K V Ramanacharya, Principle Secretary, Government of AP.

All these officers we talked to were very much concerned about the possible implications of the removal of tortoise both spiritually and practically as well as the safety of the tortoises. There are also other departments we contacted with no success. Many of them we contacted are not in a position to reverse the decision of the Forest Department.

Finally, we called Sri K V Ramanacharya, Principle Secretary and informed about importance of long established tradition of preserving the tortoise. His grasp was quick and response was crisp. His said that he would take care of the matter immediately. We were not sure what he meant by that response. To pursue the matter, we called the Assistant commissioner of Endowment within ten minutes.  By then, K V Ramanacharya already called and asked the Assistant Commissioner and Executive Officer to send a report about the situation and take necessary steps to protect the tortoise and preserve the tradition of providing shelter to the tortoise. We are grateful for the prompt and sincere efforts of K V Ramanacharya.

High Court issued Stay Order

Sanyasi Apparao, State Secretary of Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samithi, who lives within few miles from Sri Kurmanadha Temple, has done a yeoman service in bringing the issue to the villagers who have taken lot of interest in preserving the tradition of providing shelter to the tortoises. Villagers’ unity on this issue is remarkable and deserves applaud. Apparao met with many local officers and obtained adequate information to file a case at High Court in Hyderabad, AP. With the assistance of T. Tejeswara Rao, the advocate, Kamala Kumar Swami filed the petition to the HC on February 22, 2011. The HC issued stay order the next day. A copy of the Stay Order is attached for your information.


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Sri Kurmanadha Temple, Sri Kurmam, Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, India


Lord Mahavishnu manifested Himself in different incarnations right from he creatures to that of divine human forms to protect dharma, righteous people and to punish the wicked. Kurmavatara manifestation is in the form of a tortoise is the second incarnation of Lord Mahavishnu to immortalize the deva. Sri Kurmanadha temple is situated at Srikurmam is a unique temple to the Northeast of Andhra Pradesh. This temple is called as Srikurmam, as the Lord Vishnu appears as Kurma, the one and only temple in the world. Srikurmam is one of the ancient and famous temples in Andhra Pradesh that is situated at a distance of 15 kilometers from Srikakulam. According to historical evidence, Kurmanadha temple was built by Anantha Varma Chodaganga Raju of the Ganga dynasty. Ayankqa Bheema, Toorpu Calukyas, Velanati, Velama dynasty rulers and Gajapatis further developed and offer lands and wealth.

During Kritha yuga, devas and auras churned the Ksheera Sagara for nectar using serpent Vasuki as thread and Mandaraparvatha as churning stick. The churning stick of Mandara Parvata slipped and submerged. Devas and auras tried but failed to put it in its right place for smooth churning. Mahavishnu to fulfill the desire of Deva appeared as Kurma and lifted the churning stick of Mandara Parvata on His back and enabled them to Churn Ksheera Sagara and nectar. There are some different stories from the epics and Sthalapurana that depict how Mahavishnu manifested Himself as Kurmanadha at Srikakulam.

According to available legend that delineates the reason for the name of the place as Srikurmam. In ancient days, a couple of Bhillu clan were living in the region that is now called as Srikurmam. Once, the Bhillu lady completed her work in the field and was returning home. She felt thirsty and drank water in a nearby Pushkarini and also had a dip that instilled great energy and devotion in her. Knowing this, her husband too took a dip in the Pushkarini. While he was emerging from the pond, Srikurmanadha appeared before him as an idol with Shanka and Chakra. The Lord told Bhillu to install him and worship with devotion. He informed the same to the then ruler of the region and had the temple built for Srikurmanadha. The Bhillu then renounced worldly pleasures and because deeply devoted to the Lord, begging for final emancipation. The Lord ordained him to go to Sadangamuni Ashram that was on the west side of the temple and lead a useful life for a while to get Moksha. But the Bhillu was reluctant to go away from the vision of the Lord. Srikurmanadha grew kind and turned His face from the East to West as the Bhillu would go to the Ashram which was on the West side of the temple.

Srikurmanadha temple has two flag masts. One in the East and another in the West. The Eastern one is said to be the original and the West one is believed to be raised by Sri Ramanujacharya after the Lord turned His face to the West. Srikurmam is the only temple in the world where the Lord appears in the avatar of 'Kurma'. Devotees have to pass through Mukhamantap to enter the sanctum sanctorum. All can get clear and satisfactory darshan of Srikurmanadha who installed on a raised platform to the South of sanctum sanatorium. Within the temple complex, devotees ca have darshan of Kalabhairava, Sri Venugopalaswamy, Sri Bhagavaddramanujulu, Sri Vyasa Maharshi, Mahalakshmi and Durgadevi. There is a Pushkarini at a distance, infront of the Kurmanadha temple. It is said that Lord Mahavishnu Himself dug the pool with his Sudarshan Chakra. A bath in the Pushkarini will remove all sins and destroy diseases especially arthritis, rheumatism and body pains. Pitru Karmas are also performed here. The departeed souls take rest in peace in this Kshetra.

Kurmanadha Swamy temple at Srikakulam is splendid and rich with art and architecture. There are 210 pillars in the temple. Every pillar in the temple has its individual identity. The main temple tower is called Padmavimana . The region consisting of the temple area is called Swethachelam. Dolosaava will be observed with traditional pomp and gaiety in the bright half of Trayodasi in the Lunar month of Phalguna on the day of Uttaraphalguni star. Special festivals will be observed in the month of Vaisakha masam on the eve of Sri Kurma Jayanti. Daily worship and archana are performed in the temple.


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