Hyderabad: You can see the temple from the highway to Bengaluru. The foreground of the hillock on which the temple stands is all farmland, which helps as this small but beautiful temple is set amidst emerald green fields. Then you turn off the highway to get to Wanaparthy road.
From the neat highway you suddenly enter a crowded road, enroute the town. Then in between small shanty shops with little trucks parked haphazardly, you turn left on to a dirt road which is more like a landfill.
With pigs running across the dirt road, you drive past green fields for about a km till the hillock with the temple stands in front of you. Huge trees stand tall on the hillock and thick bushes surround it. The simple charm of the temple shimmers against the blue sky.
The priest says the temple is called the Sri Sri Venkatagiri Venkateswara Bhoo Neela Sametha Kalyana Venkateswara Swamy Aalayam, but it is easily recognised as the Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple.
Steps lead to a beautiful gali gopuram which has been rebuilt. While it looks grand and commanding, it is a tragedy that it was done with cement. Considering that the temple is more than 700 years old, it is a little disappointing that the old gopuram was not retained. A huge Garuda stands tall and lonesome outside, looking into the temple directly at Lord Venketeswara.
The temple is in a village called Shankarampeta, named after the first wife of the Wanaparthi Samasthanam Raja Rameshwara Rao I. A dam was also built in her name, Shankara Samudram. If you walk up a slight gradient and then climb the steps to the temple and look towards Garuda, you can see the expanse of this small dam. Like the Saralasagar dam, it was rainfed but is now dependent on the Jurala and Ramanpadu dams. Sluice gates are being built for the dam, adding to the damage to the road.
Once you climb the steps to the temple after taking in the scenery, you come face to face with a huge red-grilled door.
Normally, once the huge wooden doors of the temples shut you cannot inside. Here, because of the grills you can see the inside of the temple which is not large.
The third generation priest, the young Singacharyalu, was busy in the morning since it was the shraddham of Rameshwara Rao III. This priest’s grandfather, also named Singacharyalu, started off as temple priest for the Raja of Wanaparthy. Unfortunately, he is not aware of the history attached to the Wanaparthy Samasthanam.
Once the temple doors open, you can see the pranganam or the perambulatory part of the temple. The temple itself is small and compact but the pranganam has some old trees including neem and two huge devaganeru or champaka. The outside has been tiled with square stone tiles which makes it easy to walk.
Everything looks new, thanks to the enthusiasm of the devotees who have painted the inside gopuram as well. It is in gold, as is the old entrance to the sanctum sanctorum.
The moola vigraha or the main idol of Lord Venketeswara is old and standing beside him are Bhoo Devi and Neela Devi. The utsava murthis are all new, replaced after the earlier once were stolen.
Down the road is an equally old Mother Goddess temple. After the robbery the temple has been left as it is and one can see the gaping hole from where the theft must have taken place.
At the Lord Venketeswara temple, the main idols and the utsava murthis are beautifully decorated with gem encrusted jewellery. The main idol is made of black granite and the jewellery shimmers on this.
Probably because of the greenery surrounding the place, and the presence of some water in the dam, this place is a veritable aviary. There are all kinds of birds chirping and flying around, as well as dragonflies. It is a pleasureable sight. Some grains left in a basin had a couple of sparrows fighting playfully. The outside of the sanctum sanctorum has been tiled, covering the main gadapa, or the entrance into the sanctum. The doors of the sanctum are also old and all covered with gold paint
The roof is old as are the pillars. A colourful rangoli under the mandapam opposite the sanctum shows you the devotees’ enthusiasm. There are 14 pillars outside and four pillars inside the mukha mandapam. Both set of pillars have different designs, speaking of their construction during different periods and by different architects.
“Devotees here believe that praying to Lord Venketeswara at this temple will get them a visa, like at the Chilkur Balaji temple,” says priest Singacharyalu. “People do 11 pradakshina (perambulations) and take a vow and if their wish comes true then they come and do 108 pradakshinas.”
The alwars or saint poets have been kept outside in a row with flowering bushes surrounding them. “Earlier they were inside but due to the construction work inside, they have been given a new place,” said Mr Amitashan, an engineer with ONGC and brother-in-law of priest Singacharyalu. Since from the same village and family, he too knows some bits of the history. The temple itself is on a raised ground with steps leading for darshan. As you leave the temple, you see two old rooms kept under lock and key.
These are the old kitchen and yagashala and are still in use for festivals and marriages.
The outside of the temple is uneven once you climb down the steps, with a mini forest on the slopes. Next to the temple the devotees have built a small round basin with stone padalus, and it will probably look good when it has rained and the basin is full. Otherwise it is simply standing there, dried and dusty. The priest takes great pride in saying that the devotees have built it. The temple is surrounded by a high wall and with one main entrance.
Next to the temple, where the scenery is most charming, is a sub station. “The robbers burnt the old one and took away the melted metal of the wheels,” said the priest.