This temple was constructed in the 12th century by the Chola king, Rajarajendra. Vayu incarnated as Lord Shiva and is worshipped as Kalahasteeswara. This is an important temple dedicated to Lord Siva. This temple`s main idol is the vayu (air) linga. There is a lamp burning inside the inner sanctum that constantly flickers despite the lack of air movement inside. The vayu-linga can be seen moving despite the doors being closed. The sanctum has no windows, the lamp flames keep moving despite no air movement. The linga is white and is considered Swayambhu - self-manifested.
Kalahasti is surrounded by two hills. The Durgamba temple on the north hill and the shrine of Kannabeswara on the south hill, in memory of the Sage Kannappa, who offered an eye to the Lord. There is also a temple dedicated to Subramanya on one of the hills. A river flowing in the north washes the foot of the temple. The main linga remains untouched by human hands, even the priests do not touch it. Abhishek (bathing) is done by pouring a mixture of water, milk, camphor and panchamrita. Sandal paste, flowers and the sacred thread are offered to the utsava-murti, and not the main linga. It has an enormous, ancient gopuram over the main gate, which is 36.5 metres (120 feet) high and the entire temple is carved out from the side of the hill. King Krishnadeva Raya built this temple in1516. The temple is very ornate with elaborately designed pillars, altars, etc.
The temple occupies the area between the riverbanks and the foot of the hills and is known as Dakshina Kailasam. The three gopurams are remarkable in their architecture. A hundred-pillared mantapam is another important feature of this shrine. The tower was established nearly a thousand years ago. The various stupas and temple testify to the antiquity of the place.
Legend: As the legend goes, the town got its name because of the temple named after Sri (spider) Kala (serpent) hasti (elephant) after the three ardent devotees of Lord Siva. These three animals attained divinity by worshipping Lord Siva. The spider was Vishwakarma`s (architect of the deva ganas) son Oornanabha. He was trying to replicate Brahma`s creation and thus annoyed Brahma who cursed him to become a spider. Siva himself cursed the snake. The elephant was god Pramadha cursed by Siva`s wife, Parvati, when he intruded on their privacy. The Siva linga here is an amalgamation of the three animals.
The spider as devotion wanted to spin webs in the shape of temples and mantapams. The morning dewdrops would make the cobwebs look like pearl houses and sunrays would make them shine like rubies. But these would break and crumble with the wind. The spider would connect the threads and weave the web all over again. One day Siva, to test the spider`s devotion, burned his webs with a lamp from his shrine. The enraged spider swallowed the flame and sacrificed its life. Pleased with his devotion, offered the spider a boon, Siva merged the spider unto Himself. And so one can still see the spider on the Linga.
The serpent worshipped the linga with precious gems. An elephant, would bathe in the nearby Swarnamukhi River, push the precious gems away and worship the linga with leaves and flowers from the forest. On the next day the snake, would find her precious offerings pushed away, would get enraged. The serpent pushed away the leaves and flowers and worshipped the linga with the precious gems it brought from underground. One day the snake got upset and kept a watch hiding under the leaves waiting to catch the mischief-maker. The elephant also lost its temper finding her offerings pushed away. One day it came early and was pleased to find the flowers undisturbed. It went and took bath and brought fresh flowers and leaves. While the elephant was clearing the previous day`s leaves and flowers, the snake got into the elephant`s head through its trunk, causing unbearable pain. The elephant ran helter-skelter with pain and banged its head on a mountain. He died; the snake was also crushed to death. Lord Siva took them into his fold.
The main linga is shaped like an elephant trunk, with tusks on each side and a figure of the spider at the bottom. If you look at the linga from above it looks like a snake with five hoods. The spider is call "Sri," the snake "Kala," and the elephant "Hasti." The three names are combined together in the name Srikalahasti. The spider is said to have a web above the linga to protect it from the sun and rain. The elephant would get water with its trunk and bath the linga (perform abhisheka) and the snake would perform worship.
There are ever so many stories about Srikalahasti. As the legend goes, the Siva Linga, which is in Srikalahasti, actually belongs to Vali (Sugreeva`s brother) of Ramayana. Once, on his way to some place (being an ardent devotee of Siva, he carried the linga wherever he went), Vali stopped near a lake for morning abulations. He placed the Linga on the ground and went to take bath in the lake, before worshipping the Linga. After the pooja, when Vali tried to lift the Linga to proceed with his journey, he could not budge it from its place, however hard he tried. He came to the conclusion that Lord Siva was enamoured by the beautiful big lake and hence did not wish to leave. He spotted a mountain nearby, uprooted it and dumped it in the lake, which flowed as the present Swarnamukhi River. Even then the Linga would not budge. So Vali had to give up his efforts and proceed, leaving the Linga there.
The main temple is dedicated to Lord Siva, the destroyer among the Trimurties. The linga here is one of the Panchabhuta lingas (made up of the five elements) - wind, water, fire, earth and ether. The linga at Srikalahasti is Vayulinga or one made of wind. Jala linga is made of water, at Jambukeswara; Jyothir linga is made of fire, at Arunachalam; Aksha linga is made up of ether, at Chidambaram; and Prithvi linga, is made of earth, at Sivakanchi - the four elements of the universe.
The skillful Yadava architecture of the temple is such that the flame flickers continuously in the sanctum sanctorum, indicating the presence of wind near the deity. The shaft of air in the sanctum sanctorum is considered as the Linga or the main deity - Vayulinga, there is another idol, Srikalahastiswara Linga - on to which are embedded the images of a spider, snake and elephant - which is offered puja and rituals. The Tondaman emperor and later the Pallava rulers contributed to the growth of the temple. After Pallavas, the Cholas remodeled the temple premises and built huge walls around it. The temple complex is a maze of structures. The temple has four major entrances each with a huge tower above.
There is an Alms Tower - Bichchala Gopuram. It is a small tower constructed by the Yadava kings by collecting alms and hence the name. The huge compound has a large flower garden, rooms for making garlands, eating places and a place for Vasanthotsavam (festival of colors) during Holi in the names of Chookkeswara and Meenakshi. In the compound, there is an underground temple for Ganesh and an entrance leading to the Kannappa Hill. Since entrance is dark, it takes a while to go to Kannappa Hill and come back. The Kannappa Gudi is a single cell temple, with the icon of Kannappa, on the eastern side of the main temple. Here Kannappa offered his eyes to Lord Siva. The Sivalinga is outside the temple under a tree, commemorating the whole episode.
Durgamba Hill - is 800 meters high on a hillock to the north of Sri Kalahastiswara temple, housing a small shrine of Durgamba. A flight of steep but broad steps, lead to the temple.