The existing main temple of Srisailam is a huge complex comprising of separate shrines of Mallikarjuna and Bhramaramba, a number of sub-shrines, pillared halls, mandapas, springs, and so on. This entire complex is protected by the most remarkable Prakaram wall of huge stones. The Prakaram wall has four main gates at four principal points crowned by Gopuras. The eastern entrance is the Mahadwaram.
In the centre of the temple complex, there is an enclosure below the level of the principal gates of the cardinals. There are Salamandapas at the northern and southern sides of this enclosure. Gardens are maintained in the space between the inner enclosure and outer Prakara walls.
In the inner court yard, arranged in a row from east to west, are Nandimandapa, Veerasiromandapa , the temple of Mallikarjuna, and the temple of Bhramaramba. The inner courtyard also consists of few of the sub-shrines including the temple of Vriddha Mallikarjuna, Sahasra Lingeswara, Arthanariswara, Veerabhadra, Uma Maheswara and a group of five temples known as Pandava Prathista temples and also a row of nine temples known as Navabrahma temple.
Nandimandapa is a large sized pillared Mandapa situated just beyond the main entrance (Mahadwaram). It is of square construction having porches projected to the east, south and northern sides. This mandapa has 42 pillars, of which the two pillars on each side of eastern porch and the central four pillars are of decorated design, whereas the remaining pillars are of simple type. The elevated Adhistana of this mandapa is divided into compartments. The upper compartment has been decorated with procession of elephants, which are inter-spaced by lotus medallions, fishes, swans etc. The upper compartments of the Adhistana on each side of the eastern porch have the carvings of Dwarapalakas. All these decorations undoubtedly belong to the Vijayanagara period. The central portion of the mandapa is slightly elevated, and there is a colossal statue of Nandi (Divine bull) of 20 feet x 10 feet size, facing the shrine of Mallikarjuna. The figure of Nandiswara murthi( Siva and Parvathi riding on the bull) surrounded by Dikpalakas on their respective Vahanas is portrayed on the central portion of the ceiling. It is a rare feature to portray Dikpalakas on the ceiling.
Veerasiromandapa is an important structure situated next to the Nandimandapa on western side. It was built by the Reddi King Anavema Reddi in 1378 A.D. As per an inscription, there was a strange purpose behind the construction of this mandapa. It says that there was a unique practice named as Veeracharam by which the Veerasaiva devotees offered their own heads, hands, tongue and other limbs to the God. Presently, there are 16 pillars in this open mandapa and the low Adhistana is a simple structure. The central space of the mandapa is slightly elevated and has a circle in a square. There is a double shatkona in the lower part of the stone ceiling in which a lotus set is carved. According to the inscription related to the construction of this mandapa, it was a 38 pillared structure having a spacious central hall with arched thorana and bounded by dwarapalaka image. The inscription also narrates that it is a decorated ceiling with lotus medallions. However, presently, these architectural elements are spoiled and there is a complete alteration in the structure and even in the number of pillars.
The Mallikarjuna Temple:
The Mallikarjuna temple is situated in the centre of inner courtyard and it faces to the east. This temple has Mukhamandapa, Antarala and Garbhagriha.
The Mukhamandapa situated to the west of the Veerasiromandapa is an elaborated closed hall having 16 pillars. Also known as Mahamandapa, it was built by the Vijayanagara king, Harihararaya – II in 1405 AD. The Mandapam has three entrance gates with pillared porches on the east, south and northern sides. The Mandapa is 41.2 feet in length and 41.4 feet in width and has decorated doorways covered by the silver ornamented sheets.
The base is of plain structure but the exterior walls above it are decorated with Devakosthas. These narrow Kosthas do not have any images. Latticed windows are provided on either side of the porches. The interior of the mandapa consists of four rows, and four pillars on each row. The central pillars stands on a square which is slightly raised. The lower part of the ceiling is compartmentalized and has a carving of a big lotus in the central one.
There is a statue of a four handed seated Vinayaka made of fine red stone at the south west of this mandapa. This Ganapati is named as Ratnagarbha Ganapathi. A forty handed Veerabhadra holding various weapons and a four handed Bhadrakali, both made of black stone and in standing posture, can be seen in the north west of this mandapa. This Veerabhadra is named as Sudarshana Veerabhadra. At the eastern side of this mandapa, a Nandi statue made of black stone faces to the self manifested Jyothirlinga of Mallikarjuna.
The antharala is simple and plain structure. Even though there is no specific entrance separating the mukamandapa and antharala, it contains a two pillared entrance-like structure. The front portion of the pillars are of decorated type which has a silver covering with dwarapalakas on either side and various forms of Lord Siva including Chandrasekaramurthy, Arthanareeswaramurthy, Gangadaramurthy, Lingodpowermurthy, Somaskandamurthy, Nandikeswaramurthy and Nataraja one above the other. The antharala is approximately of hundred square feet in dimension.
This sixty square feet structure has a decorated entrance. A purnakumba along with a female deity holding a lotus bud is portrayed on the lower horizontal pillar, Gajalakshmi is shown on the top. On the two vertical pillars, there are beautiful depictions of foliage. The self manifested Jothirlinga on a Panavattam is located at the centre of the structure. This Panavattam seems to be added later around the Sivalinga which is about 25 cms in height. The interior portion of the Sikhara of the Garbagriha is plain without any decorations.
The Vimana Gopuram:
The Vimana structure reveals the ancient nature of the temple. It is constructed in the form of a stepped pyramidal structure having nine tiers that gradually recede towards the top. At the central portion on all sides, each pair of receding tiers is combined with Simhalalata sculptures. Four Nandi sculptures are positioned on all four sides, just below the pinnacle. An eight petaled lotus is inscribed below the purnakumba on the top. The stepped pyramidal structures of this type were prevalent during the western Chalukyan period and later during the Kalyani Chalukyas and Kakatiyas in Andhra Pradesh.
These types of super structure can be seen in the Chaya Someswara temple at Paanagal in Nalgonda District, the Swayambu temple in Warangal fort, and a number of Trikuta temples of the Kakatya period. Due to such similarities, famous historians like Sri. M. Ramarao, are of the view that the Srisailam temple belongs to 10th century A.D. Meanwhile, based on the Bayyaram Tank inscription of the Kakatya times, Dr. P.V.P. Sastry identified that the present Garbagraha of the temple was built by the Kakatya queen Mailamamba in 1220-1230 A.D. As per the above mentioned inscription, Queen Mailamamba was the sister of Kakati Ganapathi Deva, and she had constructed a Siva temple that resembled Kailasa. Based on her charitable activities and constructions of temples at Kolanupaka , Tripurantakam etc., it can be safely concluded that the present Garbhagraha of Srisailam was constructed by her in 13th century.
Presently this Vimana Gopuram is covered with gold plates.
The Antiquity of the Temple Complex:
Since the antiquity of Srisailam temple is connected with tradition, it is difficult to identify the exact dates of construction of the temple and the installation of deities. Nevertheless, an attempt can be made based on the available sources.
In spite of the puranas and other ancient scriptures proclaiming the antiquity of Saisailam, the same cannot be confirmed based on archeological or historical grounds. The Nasik inscription of Queen Naganika of the Satavahana dynasty, speaks about the extent of their kingdom, wherein it has mentioned that Sirithana was an important place in the eastern provinces of their empire. It is geographically identified as a range of hills, presently known as Sriparvatha. These are none other than the Nallamalai hill ranges that extend from Srisailam to Nagarjuna Konda.
Since nothing was known about Nagarjuna Konda in first century A.D., the Sirithana mentioned in this inscription must be Sriparvatha or Srisailam. Recently, an ancient inscription of sixth century A.D. was discovered at Srisailam. The Brahmi characters of the inscription read as “Sarasa Paramathma”. It is identified as the name of a Siddha at this place, which means this place was known as a Siddhakshetra in the Sixth century A.D. The Harsha Charita of the same period had also referred Srisaila as a Siddhakshetra.
Few inscriptions dated 1206 and 1298 A.D. were also found at Hatakeshwaram and Bheemasankaramatham. However, they do not have any solid historical references. Hence, surprisingly, no historical records are available at Srisailam between the seventh and thirteenth centuries.
The inscription of Pradaba Rudra of 1313 A.D. is the first historically significant inscription found at Srisailam. It is a matter of disappointment to note that there are no other inscriptions available prior to the above one.
Even though there are so many historical vacuums in the search for the origin of the Srisailam temple complex, based on the findings of early temple construction activities dating back to the first century A.D. at the insignificant places like Virapuram in Kurnool district, we can presume that the Srisailam temple also might have been built during the same period or perhaps prior to it.
The Temple of Bhramaramba:
The Bhramaramba temple is located in the back court yard of the main complex at an elevated level, near the western Gopuram of main prakaram and faces to the east. It is surrounded by an enclosure having varamandapas at the inner sides.
The way to this temple begins at the back side of Mallikarjuna Temple and the wide steps lead to the doorway of the enclosure. The doorway has a Mandapa Dwaram with Gopuram on it. The temple mainly consists of the Garbhalaya and the Mukhamandapa. In 1964–65, a 24 pillared Pradakshana Mandapa was added to the Mukha Mandapa. 14 pillars are beautifully sculptured and 10 pillars are decorative. Mukhamandapa, which seems to be a later addition, has entrances on the east, south and northern sides. There are relief sculptures of dancing girls and musicians of Vijayanagara Style carved on the exterior lower wall of the Mukhamandapa.
A stone Srichakra is installed at the interior centre of the Mukhamandapa facing the entrance of the Garbhagriha, which is being worshipped daily. It is believed that Adisankara saw the violent form of Bhramaramba Devi and in order to make it into a peaceful form, he installed the Srichakra in front of the Garbhagriha. There is a Padmasila at the east of the Srichakra.
Garbhalaya is a square structure. Scenes of Ramayana are portrayed on the outer walls of Garbhalaya, which are clearly of the Vijayanagara style. Lotus foliage designs are carved on the door jambs and on the top of jamb have form of Sakthi as Lalatabimba. Presently the doorjambs are silver plated.
The idol of Brahmaramba enshrined in the Garbhagriha is in the form of Mahishasura Mardini having eight hands, in a standing posture. She crushes the demon Mahisha with her left leg, holds his face with her left hand and pierces it with the trisula of right hand. She holds a dagger, mace, sword, a bow, a shield and Parigha in her hands. An arrow holder is shown on her right shoulder.
The Vimana Gopuram of Bhramaramba temple exhibits the ancient architectural features. It is a Dvitala vimana built on Dravidian style of architecture and displays the images of Sakthi forms, female Bhuthaganas, lions etc. The cardinal Koshtas have the images of Durga in the east, Vaishnavi in the west, and Brahmi in the north. There is a Rekhadalapadma cap at the Vimana Sikhara. This super structure is presumed to be constructed during 14th-15th centuries.
The Antiquity of Bhramaramba Temple:
As per puranas, Goddess Bhramaramba is regarded as one of the Eighteen Mahasakthis. It is believed that this is the Sakthipeetha where the neck portion of Sati Devi fell during the Daksha Yagna incident.
However, due to the absence of historical and epigraphic evidences, the antiquity of Goddess Bhramaramba remains in a confusing situation. No inscriptions prior to fifteenth century give evidence to the existence of the Sakti temple at this place. However, there is some literature evidence to prove existence of this temple. Adi Sankara had written some verses in his Sivananada Lahari in praise of goddess Brahmaramba. The worship of female element was prevalent in the earliest form of religion throughout world. Both the Linga worship and Mother Goddess worship was known right from the time of Indus Valley civilization. Accordingly, the existence of a Siva temple at Srisailam accepts a Sakti temple in the first century A.D. Hence, Goddess Bhramaramba is not a recent invention, as some of the scholars think.
According to Mastya Purana, Srisailam is the seat of Mother Goddess Madhavi. As per the opinion of some historians, many Puranas like Mastya Purana were believed to have been compiled during the Guptha Empire, that is, prior to the middle of 5th Century A.D.
Matangi Tantra, a tantric work of 15th century A.D. tells about a Matangi temple at Srisailam. In the course of time, this might have faded in the background to return in the picture during fifteenth century. There is an inscription dated 1492 A.D. found at Srisailam, which clearly mentions that a flight of steps were constructed by Udayagiri Appanayya, starting from the southern entrance of the Malikarjuna temple to the Brahmaramba temple.
Another inscription dated 1531 A.D. found on a pillar of Virasiro mandapa revealed that Maalappa Naidu donated fans to Lord Malikarjuna and silk saris to Goddess Brahmaramba Devi. Srinatha, a renowned poet of the 15th century, had described the glory of the goddess Brahmaramba of Srisailam. It is believed that the Maratha King Sivaji received a sword from the goddess Brahmaramba for preservation of the Hindu Dharma. The local tradition gives the credit of the construction of the Northern Gopura to him.
There are so many minor shrines within the large complex of Srisailam temple provided by several ruling dynasties, military chiefs, rich merchants, female members of the royal families and so on. Notable among them are the temples of Vriddha Malikarjuna, Arthanariswara, Sahasralingeswara, Virabhadra, Uma Maheswara, Rajarajeswari and Rajarajeswara, Kumaraswamy and Nava Brahma. These minor shrines are situated in different locations of the temple complex around the Malikarjuna temple.
Vriddha Malikarjuna Temple:
This shrine is considered as the most ancient structure of the temple complex and the deity is named as Vriddha Mallikarjuna. The unique architecture of the temple gopura in its plain structure reveals its antiquity. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple faces north and has entrances on east and northern sides. The Linga of Vriddha Mallikarjuna Swamy on Panavattam is positioned at its centre. The Panavattam seems to be added later. A pillared mandapa is added in front of the sanctum. The Sivalinga appears to be the fossilized form of a tree trunk, similar to that installed in Nivritti Sangameswaram temple, the north western gateway shrine of Srisailam.
It is believed that, this Sivalinga was earlier worshipped by the local tribal Chenchus, which was later included as part of the main temple complex. The super structure of the sanctum sanctorum is built in plain stepped pyramidal form and is believed to be constructed during the Chalukyan rule in 7th-8th century A.D.
Sahasra Lingeswara Temple:
e: It is a beautiful shrine located just behind the Vriddha Malikarjuna shrine and faces south. It has a sanctum sanctorum and a small pillared mandapa. The highly attractive Sivalinga is installed at the centre of the sanctum sanctorum, having a tiered pitha and panabatta. The Shivalinga consists of 1000 small Sivalingas, having 25 rows and each row having 40 small Sivalingas. The extremely high quality of this Sivalinga reveals the Kakatiayan antiquity. Similar Sahasra Lingas can be found in many Kakatiyan temples throughout the state. The super structure of the sanctum sanctorum is designed in Nagara style of architecture.
The Arthanariswara Temple:
Located to the north of Malikarjuna temple, facing east, this temple also consists of the sanctum and a small pillared mandapa. The deity of Arthanariswara in this temple is found to be in a seated posture in padmasana, which is an unusual practice. The pedestal where it is seated is decorated with a series of miniature lions, arranged in three rows. The deity has four hands, the right side hands display a trident and an abhaya mudra, and the left hands hold a lotus bud and varadha mudra. Right half of the body is in male form and the left half in female form. Right half of the head is in jatamakuta, and the left half in kiritamakuta. Garment on the right side is the skin of a tiger whereas it has a sari on the left side. Based on its style, the sculpture can be dated back to 12th –13th century A.D.
These five temples of Siva known as Pancha Pandava temples and Pancha Sivalayas are located to the north of the Malikarjuna temple and at the left side of Arthanareeswara Temple. All these temples have similar sikharas and also common pillared mandapa in front. The five Sivalingas are named as Sadyojatha , Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Esana. The sikharas of these temples constructed in Nagara style of architecture reveal the Kakatiyan antiquity.
Virabhadra temple is located just to the north of Pancha Sivalayas. The temple has a sanctum sanctorum, and also a pillared mandapa on the eastern and northern sides. The presiding deity Virabhadra having ten hands is shown in standing posture. On the five hands on his right side he holds trisula, sword, goad, ankusa and arrow. The left hands carry the shield, kutvanga, snake, deer and bow. He wears a long garland of skulls. Demon Daksha is shown near his left side leg.
Nava Brahma Temples:
These are nine minor shrines located behind the Malikarjuna temple. They are positioned in a row and have a common pillared varandah. The Sivalingas installed in these shrines are named after the eight forms of Lord Siva such as Rudra, Bhava, Ugra, Sarva, Esana, Mahadeva, Pasupathi, and Bheeema. These names correspond to after eight natural elements and have Yajamana linga. The ninth temple is having Moksha linga. However, it is not clear why these nine temples are called as Nava Brahma temples. No inscriptions or literary evidence are available on this account. The architectural style of these shrines reveals the Chalukyan antiquity.
Kumaraswamy Temple :
Kumaraswamy Temple is located at the end of the Nava Brahma temples. Kumaraswamy is shown in seated posture, in arthapariyasana, on a pedestal on which a peacock is shown holding a snake in its beak. The deity has six faces and twelve hands. The right side hands hold akshamala, bow and arrow, sword, chakra, pasa and trisula; and the left side hands hold kamandala, bow, shield, shanka, snake and damaru. The high polished nature of the sculpture indicates its Kakatiyan antiquity.
Uma Maheswara Temple:
Uma-Maheswara Temple is located in Sala mandapa to the northern side of Malikarjuna temple. It has a sanctum sanctorum and also a small open mandapa in front. The presiding deity is shown in arthapariyankasana posture. Goddess Uma is shown in similar posture on his left thigh. Deity of Siva is has four hands; the top left hand shows abhaya mudra and the lower hand holds a deer. Goddess Uma holds a lotus bud in her left hand and her right hand is resting on her thigh. Both the deities are adorned with a variety of ornaments over their entire bodies.
The temples of Rajarajeswara swamy and Rajarajeswari Devi are located to the left of Uma Maheswara temple, facing to the west. Both the temples have a sanctum sanctorum and a small pillared mandapa in front. The sikhara of the sanctum sanctorum is in stepped pyramidal style.
The Linga of Rajarajeswara Swamy installed in this shrine is of Palava Style. Deity of Goddess Rajarajeswari is shown in arthasana posture having four hands. The right hands hold ankusa and bana; and the left hands hold pasa and the bow.
Aasthana Mandapa is a spacious pillared mandapa located to the left of Nava Brahma temple. It is believed that, during the medieval times, the rulers used to take rest in this mandapa when they visit the temple. The Utsavamurthis are decorated in this mandapa before they are taken in procession. Decoration means ‘alankara’; and hence it is also called as Alankara Mandapa. Recently, idols of Akkamadevi and Hema Reddy Mallamma are installed at the centre of this mandapa, in a small shrine like structure.
This is a sixteen pillared open mandapa located at the north eastern corner of the temple. There is a raised pedestal at its centre where the Kalyanam of Sri Swamy and Ammavaru was celebrated in the earlier days. It seems to be constructed during Vijayanagara period. Currently, it is closed on all sides and converted into a Sayana Mandiram ( Mirror Hall ) of God and Goddess, where daily Ekantha Seva is being performed.
The Balipitha in the temple complex situated at the northern porch of Sri Swamyvari Mukhamandapam is a unique one. There is a Padmasila at the top of this Balipitha and Dikpalakas with their respective vehicles are shown in its petals. The display of Dikpalakas on the Balipitha is very rare feature. Also a miniature model temple made with granite stone is mounted over the Balipitha. This model temple houses a Sivalinga and the Nandi bull faces to it. Outside this model temple, there are images of Natarajamurthi, Lingodhbhavamurthi and Gajasura samharamurthi placed in Bhadrakosthas. As per the inscriptions available, this Balipitha was built by Maddanasetty Gangamalli setty in the year 1313 AD.
Originally there were eleven theerthas with mandapas over them. However, presently only three of them, namely, Manoharagundam, Mallikagundam and Rudhiragundam are in use. The others are closed and their structures were also removed due to decay.
The Mallika gundam located to the north of Mallikarjuna temple is having a 16 pillared mandapa. As per an inscription dated 1512 AD engraved on the pillars of the eastern porch of Swamy temple, Mallika gundam was built by a local ruler named Lingabhupla. During the rule of Sri Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara dynasty, Srisailam was recognized as an Administrative unit, where his subordinates served as rulers. Water from this gundam is used for performing rituals of Sri Swamy temple.
Manonoharagundam is located to the south of Mallikarjuna temple. It is stepped well enclosed by a mandapa. This structure appears to be a temple and it also has a door jamb. Water from this gundam is consumed for regular use.
Rudhiragundam is a covered spring located in the North West corner of Bhramaramba temple. Water from this spring is regularly used for performing rituals of Ammavari temple.