The nine Nrisimhas ( half lion- half-man ,incarnation of Lord Vishnu) of Ahobilam, are part of the holy 108 Divya Desams, or Divine abodes, of Lord Vishnu and is the seat of the Ahobilam Mutt.
There are many legends associated with Lord Nrisimha’s incarnation and the nine forms he has manifested here, in the heart of the Vedatri mountains.
The Ugra Stambam ( literally meaning, fierce pillar), is a giant column of rock at the very summit of this mountain. According to legend, Lord Vishnu burst forth from this pillar, in answer to his devotee Prahlada’s prayers and killed the latter’s demon father, Hiranyakasipu.
In fact, the entire mountain range is considered to have constituted the palace of the demon king. There are many caves situated in these mountains that contain self- manifested idols of Lord Vishnu as Narasimha. It is considered very auspicious if a devotee manages to obtain a darshan of all nine shrines to Lord Nrisimha in the same day.
This is quite a feat of physical stamina, as many of the shrines are inside inaccessible caves, and reaching them involves a fair bit of trekking and climbing through remote areas of the Nallamala forest range.
The hills forming the mountain range are considered very auspicious as well. They personify Lord Vishnu’s serpent, Adisesha, whose head constitutes the sacred seven hills of Tirumala; the middle , these hills at Ahobilam and whose tail portion form the physical landscape at SriSailam( another consecrated spot).
I was fortunate to visit all the nine sacred shrines for Lord Nrisimha in just one day!
The first shrine visited was that of Kroda Nrisimhar. This “angry” form of the Lord is situated inside a tiny cave. Here he is seen in his “boar” incarnation, rescuing mother earth, personified as a goddess , on his protruding tusks.
“Jwala” means fire, and the shrine for Jwala Narasimhar sees the Lord at the height of his fury, tearing the flesh of his enemy, the demon, Hiranya.
As Malola Narasimhar, the Lord is more peaceful and is seen alongside his beloved consort Lakshmi, in sharp contrast to his “Ugra” or fierce form in the sanctum at Upper Ahobilam. It is said that this temple for Ahobilam Narasimhar, is the earliest of all the nine temples. Set inside a cave at the foot of the sacred hills, Lord Narasimha is seated with the demon, Hiranya, on his lap.
Legend goes that Aadi Shankara, the founder of Advaita, sang his famous “ Lakshmi Karavalamba Stotram” at this spot after his hand that had been cut off by demons was cured miraculously. It was also here that Garuda, the eagle mount of Lord Vishnu, obtained a darshan of the lord in his terrifying form of Lord Nrisimha.
The shrine for Karanja Narasimha is famous since it was here that Hanuman did penance to get a glimpse of his Lord Rama. So, Lord Narasimha at this shrine carries a bow and arrow in his hand to symbolize the presence of Rama and is seen under the canopy provided by his serpent, Adi Sesha. There is a shrine to the devout Hanuman here, directly facing the sanctum of the Lord.
Pavana Nrisimhar’s shrine is set deep inside the Garudatri forest lined with bamboo and teak trees. It is believed that the sight of the Lord seated with Senju Lakshmi, his consort, will dissolve all sins. “Senju” refers to the tribespeople who lived in these mountains and the story goes that Lord Vishnu married a girl from this sect in order to extend his blessings to them.
Bargava Narasimhar’s shrine is set on top of another hillock. It is said that Bhargava or Lord Parasumrama did penance here to get a sight of Lord Vishnu in his fierce form as Nrisimhar. So, the Lord gave Bargava a splendid darshan at this spot, including a vision of all his ten incarnations!
As Chatravad Nrisimhar, the Lord is seen in a happy mood enjoying the music of two divine singers, Aaha and Uuhu. With a smile on his lips, here is a peaceful Lord!
Yogananda Narasimhar is seen seated in a yogic pose. It is said that Lord Vishnu taught Yoga to his devotee Prahlada, at this spot.
The tenth temple for Lord Narasimha is located in Lower Ahobilam and here the Lord gives darshan as Lakshmi Nrisimhar, with Mother Lakshmi seated on his lap. This is a huge temple with magnificent stone sculptures and a seven tiered gopuram.
I was indeed extremely lucky to have the opportunity to do this trip. I had been a bit concerned about being able to climb over rocky terrain and manage the steep ascent upto the hill- top cave- shrines. However, just before our group started out, I prayed to Bala and read her Andadi. There is no doubt that She heard my prayers!
Upon my return to Chennai, I got the painting of Bala framed and it was on the second auspicious Friday, in the month of “Thai” ( January 25th), that this was delivered to Sri Bala Peetam at Nemili. I had intended to take it on February 3rd for Sri Ezhilmani’s birthday. However, as always, Bala’s plans were different!.
I was destined to make one more trip to Nemili, the very next week, on a Friday as well. There seemed to be two reasons for this, which I realized much later, of course.