Perched on the Indrakeeladri Hills on the banks Krishna River nestles the famous Kanaka Durga Temple of Vijayawada, which is now part of Amaravati, upcoming capital of Andhra Pradesh.
Dating back to the 8th century, the temple of Goddess Durga is the second-largest temple in Andhra Pradesh and appears in her Mahishasura Mardani (killer of demon Mahishasura) form with eight arms. The deity, a 1.2-metre-high statue, is seen piercing the demon Mahishasura with her trident. This ancient temple finds mention in many sacred texts and is one of the 108 Shaktipeethas in the country.
Sanctum sanctorum is in the form of a pyramid with delicate stone carvings seen on the surface. The golden crown is the most impressive aspect of this temple and can be spotted miles away.
As per mythology this region was once inhospitable and strewn with rocks which obstructed the free flow of River Krishna.
Lord Shiva is said to have made the hills give way making the river flow and as it passed through many tunnels it got the name Bezawada (Telugu Bejjam means tunnel) which later became Vijayawada. Also Arjuna is said to have prayed to Lord Shiva atop the Indrakeeladri Hills.
Kanaka Durga slaying Mahishasura atop Indrakeeladri is is part of the legend.
In Puranas demons usually acquired great strength by appeasing the Gods. Feeling invincible they would harass the devas and the sages on earth who would then seek help of Goddess Parvathi or Lord Shiva or Mahavishnu to save them from the demonic assault. In various avatars of her Paravati is said to have killed the demons. As Goddess Kausiki the demons Sumbhu and Nisambhu were killed; as Mahishasura Mardani Mahishasura was killed and as Kanaka Durga the demon Durgamasura.
In order to kill the demon Kanaka Durga asked her ardent devotee Keeludu to assume the form of a hill and enticed the demon to the hilltop.
Thus, Keeladri became the abode of Goddess Kanaka Durga whereupon she took the form of Mahishasura Mardani with eight arms and each arm holding a different weapon, riding a lion, and trampling the demon on the hills of Indrakeeladri.
Shiva too came to earth and took his place on an adjacent hillock as a Jyothirlinga.
Lord Brahma worshipped him with jasmines and thereby Lord Shiva got the name of Malleswara Swamy. Celestial beings like Indra too visited Indrakeeladri.
Once again, River Krishna had its flow obstructed because of the Indrakeeladri and the devas requested the Hill to allow river to pass to join the sea.
Keeludu who was the life force behind the hill obliged giving a small passage and the ferocious river carried a part of the hill four miles downstream to Yanamalakuduru, where a hillock called ‘Thelukonda’ or floating hillock today stands.
Adi Shankaracharya visited the temple installing the Srichakra and the worship of Goddess Kanaka Durga began as per Vedic rituals.
This place is also called Phalguna Theertha because it is said Arjuna performed penance and sought Pasupathastra from Lord Shiva (Shiva’s most powerful weapon).
But Shiva put Arjuna to test taking the form of Kiratha and a battle ensued.
Finally, Shiva gave the weapon to Arjuna admiring his bravery.
Nose-ring of Goddess Durga is never removed in this temple because Lord Krishna gave his own ring to Durga which is treated with utmost piety.
Navratri (nine days) is celebrated with religious fervour and most significant is the Saraswati Pooja.
During the nine-days the temple sees lakhs of pilgrims thronging it.
This Indrakeeladri hill is unique having been chosen as the abode of Kanaka Durga and Her consort Malleswara who is a Swayambhu (self-manifested).
Another important aspect of the temple is that Goddess Durga is on the right side of Lord Malleswara as against the tradition of Goddesses being on the left of their consorts. This shows Shakthi is predominant on Indrakeeladri.
The nine-day festival of Navaratri ends on Vijaya Dasami Day when people worship arms and perform Ayudha Pooja.
There is apocryphal story how a police officer once refused permission to his own police officials to display their arms on the Vijaya Dasami day. He received a message from his boss of being dismissed from service. Terrified by the events, the officer permitted celebration of Vijaya Dasami and also took part. Later, he was informed that his dismissal order had been cancelled. This tradition for policemen to celebrate Vijaya Dasami at the temple continues even today.
During the Navaratri, Goddess Kanaka Durga is specially decorated daily in one of the nine ways: Balatripura Sundari, Gayathri Annapurna. Mahalakshmi, Saraswathi, Lalitha Tripura Sundari, Durga Devi, Mahishasura Mardani and Raja Rajeswari Devi. And on Vijaya Dasami day, the deities are taken in a swan-shaped boat around the Krishna river, popularity known as ‘Theppotsavam’, witnessed by myriad devotees.
A ghat road was laid in 1969 yet most pilgrims prefer to climb the steps leading to the temple. Some climb the hill even by decorating the steps with turmeric powder and vermilion to redeem their pledge of Metla Pooja (worshipping the stone steps).
Modern day Goddess Kanaka Durga temple is said to have been constructed during the rule of Mogalaya ruler Thaanisha. According to Sthalapuranam, King Thaanisha with the assistance of his ministers Akkanna and Madanna had monitored its construction from Kondapalli. Besides being a religious centre, Vijayawada reflects typical Andhra culture.