The Legends of Kalahasthi
Kalahasteeswara temple stands on the banks of River Swarnamukhi at Kalahasthi, also called Dakshina Kailasam and Dakshina Kashi. Krishnadeva Raya, emperor of the Vijayanagara Empire, built this 135-foot high temple in 1516 AD and its seven-storeyed-gopuram, following the successful Kalinga war in which he vanquished the Gajapati kings of Orissa. Of the five pancha bhoota sthalas representing the five elements, this temple represents the element Wind. This temple is known for Sarpadosha Nivaarana Pooja performed for propitiating the serpents Rahu and Ketu . According to ancient Tamil sources, SriKalahasti has been known as the ‘Kailas of the South’ and the small river Swarnamukhi on whose banks it sits, the ‘Ganges of the South'.
The temple has a statue of the hunter Thinnan who offered his own kann (eyes) to this Shivalinga and became renowned as Bhakta Kannappa. In days of yore, a spider (sri), serpent (kala) and elephant (hasti) elephant worshipped Shiva with great devotion, and the Shivalinga is marked by symbols of all these three creatures — that of a spider at the bottom, a five-hooded snake on top and elephant-tusks on either side. Legend informs us that Sri (spider), Kala (snake) and Hasti (elephant) were cursed by Brahma, Shiva and Parvati but attained moksha by worshipping Lord Shiva here. Hence Shiva came to be called Sri Kalahasteeswara.
The Story of Spider, Serpent and Elephant
A spider lived in the inner sanctum and worshipped the Lord by building the web over it to protect it from the sun and rain. One day a breeze came up and caused the altar fire to destroy the spider’s offerings. It became angry and was about to gulp down the flame, (realize the Self) endangering its (ego’s) life. Appreciative of its devotion, Shiva appeared and granted the spider a boon. The spider requested moksha, release from the cycle of births and deaths. Accordingly it became one with Shiva, the Self.
Similarly, a snake (Kala) would get water with its trunk, bathe the lingam with it and place a gem on the Lingam and perform worship. At the same time, the elephant took bath in river Swarnamukhi and performed puja to the Lord with flowers and Abhishekam with water brought from the river Swarnamukhi.
For sometime they both performed puja in their own way after removing the others puja materials. One day the serpent hid himself behind nearby bush to find who is responsible for such an act. Watching the Elephant throw away his precious stones, the serpent grew wild and entered the trunk of the elephant. The agonised elephant violently dashed against nearby hillside and died along with the serpent. Both the serpent and elephant were bestowed with salvation and merged with Lord. The benevolent Lord adorned with the symbols of three namely serpentine atop, two tusks in middle, resemblance of spider at bottom of his Lingam. Then onwards He came to be known as Srikalahasteeswara.
A lamp burns inside the inner sanctum that constantly flickers despite the lack of air movement inside. The sanctum doesn't have windows too One can see the Vayu-Linga in spite of the doors being closed, the lamp flames keep moving despite no air movement. The color of the linga is white and is considered Swayambhu – self manifested.