Hyderabad: Anantagiri Hills are often referred to as the ‘Ooty of Telangana’, and the temperature actually drops even as you climb up the small hill after leaving the bustling town of Vikarabad. With a charm of its own, thanks to some of the old buildings still standing and functioning as government offices, Vikarabad was named after the fifth Paigah Amir Nawab Sir Vikar-ur-Umrah Bahadur, who served as Prime Minister of Hyderabad state and Berar province between 1893 and 1901.
He built three beautiful palaces and mansions in Vikarabad including the Vikar Manzil Palace (the current RDO office, though it belongs to the Paigah family), Sultan Manzil Palace and a shikargah, which he later presented to his brother-in-law and nephew, the VI Nizam Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Khan. This has been retained as the forest guest house and offers the best view of the valley. Once you leave this town behind, the bustle dies down to a hum of traffic, bird calls and the sound of the breeze.
Apart from the cooler climes and fresher air and probably because of these reasons, these hills had the TB Sanatorium. This is in disuse now, though a couple of old buildings still stand. What is old and attracts huge crowds is the Ananta Padmanabha Swamy temple, popularly known as the Anantagiri temple. This 400-year-old temple is located on a hill in the middle of a deep forest.
The Anantagiri temple was constructed during the Nizam’s era and the actual entrance of the temple shows Islamic arches, with arches inside the doorway too, leading to a small cave and then further on to a Lord Hanuman wall.
The entrance now is on the main road and one has to take many steps down to reach the temple, which is actually situated in a cave, with the hill wall on one side.
The original steps with the Islamic arches act as a gateway to the Pushkarni where taking a dip is like having a bath in the Ganga. As you take the longish walk to the Pushkarani, on the right side on a hillock are a few caves, recently given a coat of painting. While many of these caves are used as resting places, one is dedicated to the sage Markendaya and people go there to worship him. In fact, this temple’s legend is linked to him and his tapas.
Legend has it that the deep forests and the peace attracted rishi Markandeya in Dvapara Yuga to reside here and perform yoga. Every day after his meditation and yoga, he would ‘time travel’ and go to Kashi and take a holy dip in the ganga through a small cave which has now been sealed. It is on the left side within the sanctum sanctorum. He did such tapas for 14,000 years, it is believed.
Once during Dwadasi, rishi Markandeya could not make it to Kashi in the early morning. Moved by this, Lord Vishnu appeared in his dreams and created a unique path to reach the Ganga within the premises of where rishi Markandeya lived. That is how the Pushkarni was created and why devotees think they should take a dip here before or after doing puja.
Lord Vishnu, who was very happy with the prayers of rishi Markandeya appeared in front of him and blessed him, saying that he would be available in Saligrama rupa in Anantagiri hills and would listen to the prayers of devotees and bless them.
This is probably the largest Saligrama statue of Lord Vishnu and as a devotee you can see it in its original form if you perform abhishekam early in the morning. This was a Swayambhu idol and is known as Ananta kshetram, says Sheshagiri Chary, son-in-law of hereditary priest Sitarama Chary, who is the fifth generation.
“Worshipping here is like praying at Badrinath,” he says as per Skanda Puranam. And as per Vishnu Puranam, this temple stands on the last part or tail end of the Shesha (huge several headed snake). The beginning is where Tirupati is situated and the middle is where Ahobilam is situated.
Another legend has it that Muchkunda Maharaj was fighting along with Lord Indra in the 1,000-year-war against the rakshasas, and the Maharaj wanted to go back to his family and take some rest. So Lord Indra gave him the boon of sleep and said anyone who disturbed him would turn to ashes. The Maharaj apparently chose Anantagiri hill caves to take rest.
The two brothers Krishna and Balarama were fighting the Kalayavana rakshasa, who was unbeatable. They chased him to this cave where the Maharaj was sleeping. Once the rakshasa woke up Muchkunda Maharaj he was turned to ashes. The Maharaj also got the darshan of Lord Krishna here and said he wanted to be at his feet always and thus it is said that the Muchkunda river came about and since people could not pronounce it, it is now popularly called as the river Musi.
With the increasing number of devotees, the original cave entrance has been improved upon and in summer months, the air conditioner is also switched on. People enter from one side of the cave and then enter the sanctum sanctorum and exit after the darshan.
A new black granite platform has been built and the utsava murthis, Goddess Lakshmi and the Swayambhu Saligrama idols are placed here. Group pujas are done to keep the crowd moving, for it can get claustrophobic in this small cave. Luckily, there are railings, stopping people from crowding around.
“This is an uttara dwaram (north facing gate) darshanam and devotees will get moksha praptham,” says Mr Sheshagiri Chary. Praying here gets rid of all your worries. The endowments department has been taking care of this temple for the past 60 years, but the priest say that the temple gained in popularity only from 2000. Since then there has been a lot of development, in the sense of additional structures to the temple, making it narrow and a bit crowded, but not when you come out of the actual entrance, which now leads to the pushkarni.
With caves on a hillock on one side and the forest on the other, it gives one a feeling of being on a trek. In fact there were eight pushkarnis, but many of them just got covered up with forest soil. In fact it is said that there was one more temple deep inside the forest made of stone and now is in ruins and surrounded by huge banyan trees.
Karthika and Aashadam months are very popular with people here and women perform pujas to the Indian gooseberry tree (usuri). There are two beautiful deepa stambhas, a distinct Marathwada influence and they have been kept in their original condition. At one place there is a dwaja stambha right next to the deepa stambha.
There is an old ratham, newly painted which stands outside and opposite that is the old rathashala. Of course Lord Hanuman, stands tall painted in plastic emulsion.
The temple lends a certain peace and you almost feel as though you are at a hill station, with a few stalls outside and a long, narrow winding road with trees on either side....