To set foot in Narsimhulapalle village, 30km from Karimnagar town in Andhra Pradesh, is to travel back in time. Steeped in history, the village is home to one of the oldest temples in India.
The Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple here dates back to the time when the Satavahana dynasty ruled much of the country. Looming above the entrance of the temple is a weather-beaten sculpture etched on a boulder. It depicts Lord Ugra Narasimha Swamy, with his 16 hands and five heads, disembowelling demon king Hiranyakashyapa, while the king's wife, Leelavathi, son Prahlada and sages like Narada look on.
The idol inside the temple is a pleasant contrast to the sculpture. It shows Prasanna Narasimha (prasanna means serene) with Goddess Lakshmi sitting on his left thigh. According to legend, Adi Shankaracharya did penance here.
Between AD 755 and AD 968, the temple patrons were the Vemulawada Chalukyas, rulers of the present-day Karimnagar. The stepped pyramid of the Aalaya Gopuram reflects their architecture. Nearby are the ruins of Gagana Mandiram, or Sky Palace, built by King Satakarni in 241 BC, as a paean to the beauty of Nandagiri, as the village was known then.
After the decline of the Chalukyas, the temple gradually fell into disrepair and was covered by dense forest. It was revived in 1860, after Kalvakota Krishnaiah Deshapandya of Ramadugu village had a dream in which Lord Narasimha showed him the path to the temple. Krishnaiah cleared the forest and discovered the Narasimha idol inside a cave.
He soon set up a shrine, invited people of various castes to work for it and donated them land. He also built a compound wall, a temple dedicated to Anjaneyaswamy, a kalyana mantapam and a yaga shala. His successors have since been in charge of the temple.
Kalvakota Kirthi Kumar, a retired engineer and member of the fourth generation of the family, currently looks after its administration. His job is hardly easy. He fought the powerful mining lobby to make the temple a heritage property. The state endowments department had taken over the temple administration in 1978, but it bowed to pressure from the miners. Kumar, however, took them head on, as mining was destroying the environment, wildlife, culture and history of Narsimhulapalle. Thanks to his efforts, the High Court has banned mining in the temple area. The archaeology department has now brought the temple under the Ancient Historical Monuments and Remains Act.
Kumar has spent a fortune on legal battles, but he is still driven by the desire to preserve the temple, reclaim its lost glory and make it a popular shrine. The upkeep of the temple costs a good deal, but Kumar does not ask for donations. “Miracles happen,” he says. “Whenever I have taken up a work, I have always found money.”