The first thing that strikes you about Ghantasala village is its prosperity. With its clean, relatively wide roads; big cars; bungalows; and well-dressed residents Ghantasala exudes a quiet affluence. Barring a few pockets this is what you see across this hamlet.
What drew us to the village, which is about 65 km from Vijayawada, however, was its rich historic value. There is a Shiva temple and a Buddhist Mahastupa both of which are centuries-old, and a museum wherein exhibits also date back hundreds of years. Legendary playback-singer Ghantasala’s ancestors hail from here. A statue to Ghantasala and an open-air auditorium called Madhuragayakudu Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao Kalathoranam are found here.
The Jaladheeshwara temple with immaculately clean interiors has several unusual features. The presiding deity is Shiva, known as Jaladheeshwara (God of the waters) because he was worshipped centuries ago by fishermen, sailors, and merchants venturing out on journeys by ship.
Here you find Shiva (in the form of a Shivalinga) and his consort Parvathi on the same pedestal––a very rare sight. Generally, Shiva is in the sanctum-sanctorum and the goddess in a separate room/alcove beside him.
Again, you find Nandi not looking directly at Shiva as he usually does, but slightly away ie with his head slightly inclined to the right.
Devotees believe that this is because Nandi wanted to include both of the divine couple in the same gaze, reveals Gorrepati Venkataramakrishna, a prominent village resident. Another unusual feature––Lord Narasimha and Kalabhairava are dwarapalakas or guards at the sanctum-sanctorum’s door!
Temple-priest M. Chandrashekhar, quotes the Sthala Puranam and local lore, to tell us that Sage Agastya installed the idols which Adi Shankaracharya worshipped in later times.
Providing the historical perspective, D. Kannababu, Deputy Superintending Archaelogist, ASI, says: “The temple proper dates back to 11th century AD, based on its architecture and inscriptions available at the temple. Recent explorations reveal that the ancient pottery found in the temple premises which include shards of black and red ware, polished red ware, etc., all date back to 2nd century AD. Further, the temple was raised from a high mound, and the nature of the mound is archaelogically comparable to the mound at the site of the Mahastupa.
The traces of the original temple might have belonged to the 2nd century AD over which the present superstructure can be seen.”
In another rare feature, you find the Navagrahas or nine planets with consorts. Since the temple had Shiva and Parvathi on the same pedestal, it was decided to include idols of the nine planets each with his respective wife beside him, Venkataramakrishna explained.
Around the corner from here is the famous Buddhist Mahastupa excavated around 1920. Centuries ago, Buddhism flourished in this region of Andhra Pradesh which is rich in relics related to this religion.
The ASI dates the ruined Mahastupa unearthed in Ghantasala to the 1st century BC. The area has been fenced off and a paved pathway leads from the gate to the large stupa.
Many other precious Hindu and Buddhist relics have been found around here. They are all housed in a small, well-maintained museum of the ASI located opposite this stupa, which surprisingly, does not receive many visitors.
There are about 100 neatly-labelled priceless exhibits including that of Buddha; of Srinivasa with his consorts Bhudevi and Sridevi; lotus medallions, and some fragments of standing figures and panels.