An artificial plateau has come up on a hillock at Yadagirigutta, some 70 km northeast of Hyderabad, and what was once a modest cave shrine has been transformed into a grand temple. Labourers are braving the torrid summer heat to build an ornate 330 feet long gold-coloured passage, which will be the corridor for worshippers to access the sanctum sanctorum of Narasimha Swamy—the part-lion, part-man avatar of Vishnu that Hindus revere as the incarnation that came to Earth to destroy evil and restore dharma.
If Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) is to be believed, he is putting in place a “21st century world-class Hindu spiritual destination”. And it’s all being done at state expense. In March 2015, he launched the Rs 1,800 crore project spread over 1,885 acres, after shortening the name of the place to Yadadri from Yadagirigutta, in the hope that it will become a major temple tourism centre in the country. Apart from the shrine, the surrounding landscape is becoming a temple city, modelled on the popular shrine at Tirumala in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Until 2015, worshippers had to trudge down rocky terrain to reach the narrow cave and offer obeisance to the deity in the temple built in 1246 by Bommanna Dandanayaka, a commander of the Hoysala empire, during the rule of King Vira Someshwara.
For his dream project, KCR constituted a special Yadagirigutta Temple Development Authority (YTDA), vested with powers to enlist the services of all infrastructure, development and revenue authorities in executing the project. To advise the YTDA, a high-powered technical committee was set up to take on the engineering and other challenges. For this, the idol was temporarily shifted to a balalayam (a makeshift structure built conforming to ritual) to facilitate the construction of the new temple. The idol will be re-consecrated in the sanctum sanctorum of the new temple after a couple of weeks of pujas before the year ends. All this has been done on the advice of Tridandi Chinna Srimannarayana Ramanuja Jeeyar Swami, 64, a monk known for his discourses on Vaishnavism. KCR reveres the monk (whose name too, like many Hindu seers, takes the deferential prefix Sri Sri) who has an ashram on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Elephant statues made of Krishnashila at the East Gopuram
KCR is conscious of the fact that the chances of a third consecutive term are remote unless he finds new ways to rally support, even more so with the BJP’s rising influence in the state. Perhaps why he has turned to competitive religiosity by building a swank temple and trying to rival the richest Hindu shrine at Tirumala. “He is a religious man but is not above using faith as a stunt to try and win over people, just as he has used caste and group rivalries in the past for political survival,” says political commentator C. Narasimha Rao, adding that “KCR’s medieval mindset helps him in this in good measure”.
The YTDA has also been selling the project as a future tourist destination to investors. Under a unique donor scheme, 252 four-bedroom homes on an adjacent hillock have been sold for Rs 1.5 crore each, for which patrons get privileged access to the temple with 30 days’ stay every year. For the rest of the year, the YTDA, which will maintain the property, will earn rental income from transiting devotees. A presidential suite and 13 VVIP villas will be up in time for the opening of the temple. Sensing that the sale of temple prasadam and mass feeding schemes could kick up controversy, the YTDA has outsourced it to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) which has expertise in mass catering.
During his last visit, KCR told officials to ensure that Yadadri becomes a role model for cleanliness and hygiene. “Everything, including electrification and illumination, should be done in a manner that awakens the feeling of bhakti and joy,” he said. When the Yadadri project was launched, KCR had spoken of temple footfalls increasing steadily with time. Devotee response is still sluggish but the makeshift balalayam has been reporting higher footfalls than earlier.
The temple and township plan have been conceptualised in keeping with an amalgam of traditions. From the 2,500 square yards to which it was originally confined, the temple area has been expanded to 4.5 acres on the hillock. Long retaining walls rising up to 100 feet have been built on three sides to accommodate the impressive edifice. The cement fortification is 4.5 feet thick and extends 1,300 feet to the south, 320 feet west and 1,000 feet to the north to provide the architectural elevation to make the temple visible from afar.
“The construction of the temple posed both engineering and architectural challenges as it involved turning an undulating slope into a zero level area and creating designs to use building material that would last for over 1,000 years,” says G. Kishan Rao, CEO and vice-chairman of YTDA. “The construction is unique in that we have only used krishnashila (black granite), used by the Kakatiya emperors of Telangana in temple architecture instead of modern material like cement and concrete,” explains Rao. The granite was sourced from the Gurijepalli quarries of Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh after experts at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and the National Centre for Cement and Building Materials, Hyderabad, certified its durability.
All temple architecture work, including the inner and outer prakarams (compound walls), the stone pillars, affiliated temples, sculptures of gods and goddesses and Alwars (Vaishnavite saints) were finalised after temple architect and art director B. Anandsai visited over 60 temples across India. The original cave temple of Narasimha Swamy and the rock with a carving of Hanuman have not been touched. Everything else is new.
While the seven-storied, 100-feet-high sapthathala maharajagopuram, the tallest tower, is an imposing spectacle, six other features add to the temple’s splendour. At Yadadri, the construction of the gopuram is conspicuous with the use of black granite all the way to the top. Significant features of the temple are the sapthathala maharajagopuram, the cavernous 202-feet-long and 103-feet-wide chandeliered mukha mandapam with a 35-feet-high ceiling, the ashta bhuji prakarams, the mirror chambers and the black granite sculptures, including the seven-feet-tall lions at the east and west gopurams and the smaller ones at the north and south gopurams.
“It’s more like poetry in stone, the amalgam of sculptures. We have introduced several distinctive styles and traditions to make this temple magnificent in spiritual and architectural grandeur,” says Anandsai. “This includes the main temple in the Chalukyan style, the mukhamandapam and the 12 Alwars in the Kakatiya style, the outer prakaram reflecting Pallava designs, the gopurams in the Dravidian style with some having embedded statues and the queue line inspired by the Jain style.”
Apart from black granite, the sculptors have used traditional bonding material to ensure the temple structure lasts for centuries. To bind the granite slabs, a mix of lime mortar, karakkaya (Indian hog plum), jaggery, aloe vera and jute has been used instead of cement. This mix is believed to be “all-weather proof”. “The sculptures will not crack or melt for centuries as this mix is the adhesive,” says Anandsai. Some 500 sculptors and their assistants from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana toiled for over two years in chiseling the granite into the right shapes. The work continued unmindful of the risks (at least a dozen workers have been seriously injured). “We have made sure that at all stages we comply with the Agama Shastra guidelines,” says chief sculptor Anandachari Velu.
Agama Shastra lays down the rules and nuances for sculptors in temple construction, idol installation and worship rituals. Velu and his predecessor on the YTDA project, S. Sundara Rajan, have scrupulously followed this to steer clear of controversy. Yet, at one stage, KCR’s detractors kicked up a row suggesting that some images on the pillars resembled him and were allegedly carved at the behest of his supporters. There is other criticism too. “Temples are being built elsewhere too, like the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, but it is with donations and other contributions, not state funds,” says Congress spokesperson Dasoju Sravan. “Public money should be used to build schools or hospitals. People may be enchanted by this film set-like structure but this is just to satisfy KCR’s vanity. He has a penchant for defacing historical public properties…he pulled down the Nizam-era state secretariat to build a vastu- compliant new building. KCR wants his Kalvakuntla family to be credited for Yadadri just as the Cholas are remembered for Tirumala.”
The original shrine, including the sanctum sanctorum, has been retained intact. The superstructure, the 48-ft, five-storied vimana gopuram, which was built atop the sanctum sanctorum, will be embellished with gold plating in the coming years. Officials justify the changes, saying the temple is not on the list of protected monuments. But critics disagree. “Yadadri may not be on the list of protected monuments but a beautiful cave shrine has been totally defaced with the blasting of the gutta (hill),” laments Anuradha Reddy, co-convenor, INTACH, Telangana. “Moreover, what has come up in its place is not in sync with regional heritage though it is in the middle of Kakatiya country.”
Of the Rs 852 crore spent so far on the project, Rs 248 crore was on the temple and the rest for land acquisition and infrastructure such as the four-lane road for smoother connectivity between the hillocks surrounding the temple, the six-lane Yadadri outer ring road and the scenic landscaping.
KCR wants to ensure that Yadadri is an impressive draw from day one. Downhill from the temple, a city is taking shape though not at the pace at which the temple was built. Structures being developed include an artificial lake, marriage halls, food courts, a shopping complex and a bus terminal besides a 25-acre horticulture park where flowers will be grown for use during the pujas. To kickstart the festivities, KCR is planning a Maha Sudharshana Yagnam, the mother of all yagnas, to coincide with the temple’s inauguration. Vaishnavite spiritual leaders from across the country will be invited to grace the occasion.
Graphic by Nilanjan Das
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