Saturday, 5 May 2012

Devipuram Temples, Vizag, Andhra Pradesh

Devipuram is a Hindu temple complex located near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India. Belonging primarily to the Shakta school of Hinduism, it is dedicated to the goddess Sahasrakshi (lit., "she who has a thousand [infinite] eyes", a form of Lalita Tripurasundari or Parvati), and her consort Kameshwara (a form of Shiva).

Devipuram's primary focus is the Sahasrakshi Meru Temple, a unique three-story structure built in the shape of a Sri Meru Yantra; i.e., a three-dimensional projection of the sacred Hindu diagram known as Sri Chakra, which is central to Srividya upasana (an ancient and intricate form of Tantric Shakta worship). Measuring 108 feet (33 m) square at its base and rising 54 feet (16 m) high, the temple has become an increasingly popular pilgrimage destination over the past decade. Two other shrines, the Kamakhya Peetham and Sivalayam, are located on hills adjacent to the main temple. 

The sanctum sanctorum of the Sahasrakshi Meru Temple is reached by circumambulating inward and upward, past more than 100 life-sized murthis of various shaktis or yoginis (deities expressing essential aspects of the Devi) who are, in Srividya cosmology, said to inhabit and energize the Sri Chakra. Their exact locations are "mapped" in an elaborate ritual called the Navavarana Puja ("Worship of the Nine Enclosures"), which was in turn condensed into a mantric composition called the Sri Devi Khadgamala Stotram ("Hymn to the Auspicious Goddess's Garland of Swords"), forming the basis of the temple's layout. 
This temple is unconventional in its practice of allowing devotees to perform puja to the Devi themselves, without regard to caste, creed or gender. This may be an emulation of the Kamakhya temple complex in Assam, which has the same open policy for worship. The fact that many of the temple's murthis are portrayed as "sky-clad," or nude, has also, over the years, gained Devipuram considerable attention.

Construction of the Sahasrakshi Meru Temple in Devipuram began in 1985, and its completion and consecration (kumbha-abhishekam) took place in 1994. In accordance with Hindu tradition, the temple was re-consecrated for its twelfth anniversary in February 2007. 

The founder of Devipuram is Dr. N. Prahalada Sastry (b. 1934), a former university professor and nuclear physicist who left a successful 23-year career with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai to begin work on the Devipuram temple in 1983. Now a noted spiritual guru, better known as Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati (and generally addressed as "Guruji"), Sastry reports that his creation of Devipuram was based on several visions of the Divine Mother, which specified both the design and mission of the temple complex. Each of the many murthis within the Sahasrakshi Meru Temple was individually sculpted to Sastry's specifications, physically manifesting his meditative visions of these deities. 

According to Devipuram's official history: "In 1983, during Devi Yajna, Guruji was approached by the brothers of the Putrevu family with a request to build a temple for the Divine Mother. In addition to the 3 acres (12,000 m2) of land that they had donated, Guruji bought the adjoining 10 acres (40,000 m2) and it was registered as land for the Devi temple."

In addition to providing regular religious services and other spiritual functions, Devipuram produces and distributes spiritual aids (most specifically related to Srividya upasana), such as high-precision Meru yantras, animated presentations, audio/video aids and other educational materials for spiritual aspirants. 

Devipuram has also become a hub for spiritual and rural empowerment workshops and seminars. For this purpose, Sastry founded the Sri Vidya Trust, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization headquartered at Devipuram. Through the trust, Sastry – along with other staff and volunteers at Devipuram – has undertaken a number of developmental initiatives focused on non-formal education, empowerment of women and low-cost housing for the rural poor. A cooperative thrift society, sponsored by the trust and called Jagruti, offers micro-financing services to local villagers. Low-cost, fire-retardant, geodesic dome-houses for pilgrims and other visitors have been erected at Devipuram, using appropriate technologies to demonstrate the viability of such designs in rural India. Devipuram has also conducted many rural empowerment programs in the surrounding countryside, relating to health, hygiene, family planning, literacy, energy generation and energy conservation.

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