Sri Andhra Maha Vishnu, the presiding deity of a temple in Srikakulam is also known as Andhra and Telugu Vallabha and Raya, Srikakuleswara and Madhusudana. Though the origin of the deity remains shrouded in mystery, many literary sources suggest that the temple in AP’s Krishna district is of great antiquity. The Vallabha-abudayamu, a poem in Telugu by Bhatla Penumarti Kodandarama Kavi (17th century), says that God Vishnu had incarnated as Andhra Vallabha, the son of King Suchendra (2nd century BCE?), and ruled from Sri-Kakula after winning a long battle against demon Nishumbha, the son of Danu. The Andhra Kaumudi, a poem on Telugu grammar, says that Andhra Vishnu had constructed from Mountain Mahendragiri (on the AP-Odisha border) a fort wall with three gateways at Srisailam (Kurnool), Daksharamam (East Godavari) and Kaleswaram (Telangana), and ruled the territory from Kakulam. The three places house the tri-linga (three Siva Lingams), which led to the term Telugu, also known as Andhra. H H Wilson, who studied the Sanskrit manuscripts and translated the Vishnu Purana and other works into English, had said that the same legend with some modifications was also mentioned in the Brahmanda Purana.
Legends also say that King Sumati of the Hariti family came from his capital, Visalanagara, to Srikakulam and built a temple to Andhra Vishnu at the request of a sage, and declared himself as the Andhra-nayaka-daasa (disciple of Andhra Nayaka) before returning to his capital. A few scholars said that Sri-Kakula was the first capital of the Satavahana dynasty (2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE).
A pillar-inscription in Sri Kaleswara temple at Malavelli (Shimoga district, Karnataka) mentions that King Satakarni of the Satavahana dynasty was the hariti-putto (son of Hariti). Sumati of the legend might belong to the same Hariti family. Visalanagara is generally identified with Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, but there is also another ancient place by the same name (present Visnagar in Mehsana district) in Gujarat.
Many children of the medieval times were named after Andhra Vishnu/Vallabha, etc. The Sambuva dynasty ruled parts of Tamil Nadu before the 14th century, and one Sambuva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire had named his son as Telungu Rayadu, after the Srikakulam deity. In 1428, this Telungu Raya had given perpetual lamps to the Sri Narasimha temple in Simhachalam (near Visakhapatnam, AP), and entrusted their maintenance to two persons from the Oddadi-desa (i.e., a part of Odisha). Srinatha, who wrote many poems in Telugu, had written at least three chaatu-padyalu (impromptu verses), which mention Telungu Raya. The same poet had also written a long poem in Telugu, the Vallabha-abhudayamu, narrating the legends of Andhra Vallabha of Srikakulam; but only one verse from it has come to light so far. Another poem of Vinukonda Vallbha Raya, Krida-abhiramamu, describes the annual festivals held at Srikakulam.
Varada Desika (b. 1317), the son of Vedanta Desika of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, had come to Srikakulam, and wrote the Bhagavat Dhyana Padhati, 12 Sanskrit verses in praise of Andhra Vishnu. The verses, to the best of my knowledge, remain unpublished. The Andhra Vishnu temple bears as many as 32 inscriptions; the earliest was a grant given in 1132 CE by Velanati Gonda of Chandolu, and the last one, dated 26 January 1519, was by Sri Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagara. In his long and highly complex poem in Telugu, Amuktamalyada, Krishna Raya stated that during his campaign against the Kalinga region, he had paid respects to Andhra Vishnu and observed fasting on an auspicious day, and that night, the Lord had appeared in his dream and commanded him to compose the poem in Telugu. There used to be a wooden pavilion in the temple in which the emperor is said to have stayed. But in the mid-20th century, a concrete structure was built as the wooden one was getting decayed. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the temple went through a long phase of neglect due to lack of patronage and vandalism at the hands of invaders. In the late 18th century, Kasula Purushottama Kavi had written a poem in Telugu, Sri Andhra Naayaka Satakamu, which has 108 verses in the nindaa-stuti (praise through blame) genre. After knowing the plight of the temple through the poem, Yarlagadda Kodandaramanna, the raja of a nearby town, Challapalli, restored worship of Andhra Vishnu. Another temple at the place is dedicated to Sri Ekaraatra Prasanna Mallikarjuna (Siva). It is not common to find temples named after an ancient region of India; yet, like the Andhra Vishnu temple, Sri Kosaleswara temple is located at Baidyanath in Subarnapur district, Odisha. The Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh and parts of Western Odisha were known in ancient times as the Kosala Kingdom.
The temple of Andhra Vishnu contains the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of Andhra Vishnu, the artha mandapa (transitional hall) and the mahaa mandapa (great hall) with sanctums on either side dedicated to Rajya Laxmi and Chennakesava. Niches on the outer wall of the shrine house images of Mahishasura Mardhini, Ganapati, Janardhana, Venu Gopala and Varaha. The Rajagopuram (main entrance tower) also contains a few fine carvings, including Vishnu/Krishna as a boy in a lotus.
Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam