Some etymologists believe that the Prakrit or Sanskrit term Sriparvata has its origin in the desi word Nallamalai itself (Nalla =sacred or good = sri; malai = hill = parvata). Similarly, Tirumalai is also called Srisaila. They also contend that the name of the god Mallikarjuna is the Sanskrit form of the original name Mullaikkarasar (Mallikarjuna), like Mallaipperumal for god of Tirumala is also Venkateswara, which was in vogue in the medieval times. Even today, Mallayya or Chenchu Mallayya is an alternative in Telugu for Mallikarjuna. It seems that some time in early centuries of the Christian era, when Sanskritisation of several place names started, the names Srisaila and Mallikarjuna come into vogue, for the desi terms Nallamalai and Mallaikkararsar respectively.
Although the term Sriparvatha and Srisaila are synonymous, it is noticeable that the former term was in popular usage in the early inscriptions whereas in the later gained frequency from the medieval times. The villagers in the neighborhood of this place call it Parvatam and after which several personal names also generally noticed. While performing specify their existing location with reference to Srisaila, e.g., east, northeast, etc .the origin of this practice, thought quite ancient, cannot be ascribed to any precise date or event.
The legend of Chandragupta and his daughter Chandravati and the cow shedding milk in a particular place where a self emanated stone revealed Itself as God shiva and so on, indicate that the deity was originally a hill God obtaining nonritualistic worship by the cowherds and tribals. Its names at that time were perhaps Malaikkarasar as suggested by its present name Mallayya or Mallanna. This later form cannot be the Telugu rendering of the Sanskrit name Mallikarjuna, because there is no component like Malla in it, or even Malli cannot be detached from Mallika. The argument, however, need not go against the early origin of the deity, but it is to say that the originally tribal deity might have been admitted into brahmanical order of Shiva worship some time in early centuries of the Christian era with the Sanskrit name Mallikarjuna. This is also evident from the fact that the local Chenchus claiming Mallikarjuna as their God Mallayya worship this God and the Goddess Bhramaramba on a particular occasion.
The earliest epigraphical allusion to Srisailam according to some scholars is noticeable in Nasik inscription of Vasisthiputra Pulumavi, later Satavahana king, wherein Saritana and Seda (ta) giri are said to have been included in the kingdom of his father, Gautamiputra SriSatakarini. In this context Setagiri has been identified with a hillock of that name near Nagarjunakonda. The occurrence of that word in the Nagarjunakonda inscription of Abhira Vasusena3 representing a mountain in the Nagarjunakonda valley conforms the said identification. But the identification of Siritana with Srisaila proper, suggested by R.G.Bhandakar4 and Buhler5 cannot be accepted as it represents more reasonably modern. Thane in Western Maharastra, where Buddhist caves are located. Some epigraphs of the medieval period at Umamaheshvaram and other places mention the Amarabad range lying opposite to Srisailam also as Sriparvatha, thereby applying the term to the whole range of Nallmalai, skirting the river Krishna on both sides of Siddhesvaram-Somasila on the west of Nagarjunakonda Vijayapuri on east, extending for about 150 km. It was called Siriparveta or Sriparvata. During the time of the Satavahanas Setagiri near Vijayapuri in the east was prominent and that spot was specified in the said Nasik inscription although the entire range was intended as one of the great hill in their kingdom.
Some scholars identify the Sriparvatiyas of the Puranas with the Chutus who were ruling at the foot of Srisaila, but not the Ikshvakus.” Ikshvaku Virapurushadatta is described as Siriparvatadhipathi in one of his records, Siriparvata in its yaugika sence being the sacred hill near Vijayapuri(Banswasi). They also contend that the Ikshvakus cannot be called the Sriparvatiyas as that appellation more appropriately applies to the Chutus alone ruling at the foot of the Srisaila or on the other side of the river Krishna at Chandragupta nagara as subordinates under the later Satavahanas. Several coins of these rulers are found in the Kurnool and Mahaboobnagar districts. Instead of admitting two different views for the same word it is more reasonable to assume that Sriparvata like Nallmalai represents the whole range of nearly 150 km length along the river Krishna valley.
Mayurasarman, the founder of the kadamba dynasty according to the Talagunda inscription of the fifth century A.D. claims to have extended his independent principality up to the gates of Sriparvata, defeating the border rulers of the Pallava territory. As the Ikshvaku records refer to the eastern part of Sriparvata, defeating the border rulers of the Pallava terriotory. As the Ikshvaku records refer to the eastern part of Sriparvatha, this Kadamba record refers likely to its western part in the present Nandikotkur taluk of the Kurnool district.
Allusions to Srisailam in the Puranas and other literary works of the early period can be brought together as follows:
- Sriparvatiya are mentioned in more than one Puranas as semi-independent rulers during the later Satavahana rule. They are identifiable with the Chutus.
The Goddess Bhramaramba is stated to be one of the 18 Saktis
- The Matsya – Puranas described it as a seat of the mother Goddess Madhavi.
- The Agni-puruna states that Srisaila is Siddhakshetra where the god Shiva and Parvathi always reside.
- Sankara, the Advaita philosopher who is believed to have lived in the fifth-sixth century A.D. includes Srisaila among the 12 jyotirilinga places in his jyotirilinga – stotra. Two verses in his Sivanandalahari praise the Mahalinga of Mallikarjuna of Srigiri. The goddess of eight verses on the Goddess Bhramaramba is also attributed to him. Above all, Sankara is stated to have resided at Srisaila for some time, when his disciple Padmapadacharya had an encounter with the Kapalikas.
- The Kathasaritsagara narrates a story about a Kasmirian performing penance at Srisaila, seeking boons from the God Siva.
- Vasubandhu in his Vasavadatta described Sriparvata as the abode of Mallikarjuna.
- Srisaila is stated in the Mahabharata as one of the holy places.
- The Skanda-Purana contains a separate section called Srisaila Khanda.
- The Vayu – purana prescribes the performance of Sraddha ceremony to the manes at Srisaila.
- Bhavabhuti in his Malatimadhva alludesto a Siddha of Srisaila named Aghoraghanta, obviously a Kapalika Saiva, who is stated to have captured the heroine Malati.
- Harshavardhana of Kanouj (A.D. 604-640) alludes in his Ratnavali to a Siddha named Srikanthadasa of Sriparvata who is said to have taught udayana, the hero of the play, the art of jalandharavidya.
Most of the above literary works had their origin in the fifth-sixth centuries A.D. though not earlier. Now theories are coming forward to date Sankaracharya in the fifth-sixth century A.D. Similarly, the Puranas such as Vayu, Agni, and Matsya are generally believed to have been compiled during the Gupta period, i.e., before the middle of he fifth century A.D. So is the case with Vasubandhu the author of Svapna Vasavadtta. Therefore it is quite reasonable to belive that this Saiva centre, Srisaila took at least three centuries duration to gain such popularity before finding place in then said literary works and to attract great ascetics, like the Siddhas. The name Mallikarjuna of the God is also probably an innovation made by the Siddhas, imitating the name of Siddha Nagarjuna;
So, on any reasonable account the antiquity of this Shaiva centre Srisailam as the abode of a hill God, Mallikarjuna cannot be earlier than the second century.A.D. And as the abode of hill god, worshipped by the tribals, the reminiscence of which still remains, its antiquity can be pushed back by some more centuries. Beyond this we lack proper historical evidence regarding its antiquity.