From Kunjarugiri to Dharmasthala-A Journey through nature and history

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By Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Moodubelle, 23 October 2011: After undertaking the Char Dham tour in the Himalayas in the month of July 2011, my Maharashtrian friend and colleague in College, Ashok Badgujar expressed a desire to visit Konkan. Being a lecturer in the subject of geography and having taught about the Konkan and Western Ghats for many years, he was keen to have an experience of the region.  Hence, i invited him and his wife to be my guests and felt that on the excuse of taking them around important places of tourist interest, i too can visit these places which i had not done for many years.


The districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada have many places of tourist interest that are not being adequately promoted to attract tourists from within and outside India. During the two days tour programme, we could not visit all important sites due to paucity of time. Here is an account of some of the prominent places that we visited during this tour.


On October 12, 2011, four of us started the journey in a hired vehicle and first visited two important religious centres in Padubelle-Pajka Kshetra, the birthplace of Shri Madhwacharya, founder of the Ashta Mutts and Shri Durga Devi temple at Kunjarugiri. This temple is considered to be one of the ancient temples in the region. Being at a convenient height, the landscape down below till the horizon in all directions presented a panoramic view.



Next, we headed towards the Malpe Beach crossing the Udyavara River and bypassing the main city of Udupi. Malpe Beach is a major attraction of the town, located at a distance of 6 km from Udupi. The beach lies towards the west of Udupi at the mouth of Malpe or Udyavara River. Leisure walk on golden sand and under the clear blue sky along with palm trees makes it an ideal destination for picnics. One of the major highlights of the beach is the fishing harbour comprising ferryboats. The visitors to the beach are greeted by the majestic statue of Mahatma Gandhi on a high pedestal.


As it was the morning time, the entire beach was practically empty with few tourists being occupied with piling up sand and playing pranks with each other. The sea was calm and the sight was serene and pleasing with the view  of St. Mary’s Island  lying a few nautical miles from the beach.



After spending about half an hour at the Malpe beach we proceeded to Shri Krishna temple at Udupi which is one of the important places of pilgrimage. Thousands of pious devotees throng the Udupi Krishna temple all round the year to catch a glimpse of Lord Krishna. The unique feature of Shri Krishna Mutt temple is that the deity is worshipped only through a window with nine holes called the ‘Navagraha Kitiki’. The window is exquisitely carved and silver-plated. It has been a tradition in this temple to worship Shri Krishna only through this window. Another attraction of this temple is the ’Kanakana Kindi’ -a small window through which Shri Krishna is believed to have given ‘darshan’ to his ardent devotee, Kanakadasa.



After making a detour of Udupi city, we headed to Karkala and reached the foot of the granite hill that has the massive 42 feet monolithic statue of Bahubali also known as the Gomateshwara, the son of the first Jain Tirthankar. The statue is believed to have been erected around 1432. This is a male figure in a naked posture approached by 183 rock-cut steps. The ‘Brahmayaksha Manasthambha’ in front of the gate of the Gomateshwara complex was erected in 1436.


The scenery from the top of the hill was just mesmerising with coconut trees and other greenery spread across the landscape.  Towards the eastern side of the hill, the Ramasamudra Lake could be seen, a clear view being distracted by the trees and bushes below.



A little away we could see the ‘Chaturmukha Basadi’, situated on a huge granite hill with a total of 108 pillars believed to have been sanctified by Vir Pandya Deva in 1432. It is one of the noteworthy Jaina monuments. It is built in the form of a four faced hall, with a doorway and pillared entrance on each of its four sides. Chaturmukha Basadi got its name as four doorways alike each other in four directions lead to the ‘Garbhagriha’. The flat roof is constructed with very big granite slabs.


From Karkala we proceeded Moodbidri, the home of another prominent Jain monument, the ‘Thousand Pillar Basadi’ which is a large granite temple built in 1430. The main entrance of the Thousand Pillar Basadi, which faces the east, opens onto a wonderful 15 meter tall monolithic pillar called ‘Mahastamba’ in front of the doorway.  Every monolithic pillar in the basadi is a “web of art” and an embodiment of architectural excellence. The sturdy and solid stone pillars bearing the weight of the sloping roof resemble the pillars of Vijayanagara style. One can see the models of novel style of pillars cut within the pillars which are square in shape, but each resembling none else. Several things depicting the social life of the time are embossed on the stones. The pedestal of very pillar is square in shape, assuming different shapes and designs in circles as it rises higher and higher, looking like Chalukya-Hoysala pillars. The Thousand Pillar Basadi has a long, rectangular shaped plinth area.



The 2.5 meter tall bronze idol of Lord Chandranatha Swami in the sanctum hall is considered to be very sacred. The temple boasts of a valuable collection of jewel-encrusted metallic images of Jain Tirthankaras. Viewing the minute details of the Thousand Pillar Basadi was a unique experience.


After having lunch at Moodbidri, we headed to the next spot of historical importance, Venur which like Karakala has the monolithic statue of Bahubali or Gomateshwara which is smaller in size compared to that of Karkala. Venur is a small town on the Dharmasthala-Moodbidri-Karkala route and was once a great seat of Jainism. It was the capital of the Ajila Dynasty. One of the most prominent Kings of them Thimmanna Ajila built the 35 feet tall statue of Gomateshwara in 1604. He was a direct descendant of Chamundaraya, who built the colossus statue of Bahubali at Shravanbelgola. Venur Gomateshwara is the shortest of all the four Gomateshwaras erected at different times at Shravanbelgola, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala. The Venur Gomateshwara also stands in an enclosure, on the same pattern as that of Karkala. The Kings of Ajila Dynasty ruled the regions around Venur from 1154 to 1786.



The last ‘Mahamastakabhisheka’ or the head anointing ceremony of the statue of Venur Gomateshwara was held in the year 2000. The next’ Mahamastakabhisheka’ will be held from January 28 to February 5, 2012 and will have a mix of religious and cultural events showcasing the Jain community and its various achievements.


As it was getting dark, we halted at the residence of one of my relatives near Belthangady. Getting up early next morning we visited the rubber plantation of my relative who demonstrated how taping is done in order to extract the latex from the rubber tree and explained how rubber sheets are produced, seasoned and marketed.



The important destination on the second day of our tour was Dharmasthala, one of the most holy of the pilgrim centres in South India. Situated on the banks of river Nethravathi and surrounded by lush green forests and hills of Malnad, Dharmasthala is known for its beautiful surroundings and Sri Manjunathaswamy Temple.


Approaching the temple complex, we could see state transport buses from different parts of Karnataka making a beeline to Dharmasthala. Besides, pilgrims were making their way through private buses and all sorts of vehicles to this great centre of religion. Pilgrims could be seen everywhere in the temple complex. However, it was quite amazing that there was utmost discipline and decorum as pilgrims queued up to have the ‘darshan’ of the chief deity of the temple- Sri Manjunathaswamy or lined up to have free meal in the huge dining hall known as ‘Annapoorna’.


The temple of Dharmasthala is devoted to  Shri Manjunathaswamy (Shiva) and has been worshipped in the form of Shivlinga. This temple is unique in the sense that its administration is looked after by the Jains and the ‘pujas’ are conducted by Hindu priests of Madhwa order. The present head of Dharmasthala is Padmabhushan Dr.D.Veerendra Heggade who is the 21st in succession to the Dharmadhikari Peetha of Dharmasthala.


The origin of Dharmasthala is weaved in legends and folklore and has a rich history of over 800 years. Originally this place was called Kuduma. According to a legend, one day about 800 years ago, angels in the form of human beings came to the house of pious people, Barmana Heggade and his family. The couple received the visitors with joy and respect. Impressed with the hospitality and the treatment given by the family, the angels appeared in their dream and promised to stay at Kuduma. They also ordered Barmana Heggade to give donations and food for the needy every day. As per the wish of the angels Barmana Heggade built temples for these angels-Kalarahu, Kalarkai, Kumaraswamy and Kanyakumari and performed the rituals and ceremonies from time to time.


About the establishment of the Shri Manjunathaswamy temple at Dharmasthala, another legend mentions that a local deity with significant supernatural powers, named Annappa who worked in human form for the Heggade family brought the Shivlinga to Dharmasthala when the Heggade wanted to worship Lord Shiva. Annappa had assured him to get one Shivlinga and vanished from the sight. Surprisingly next day morning, by the time all woke up, he had already established the Shivlinga in Dharmasthala, a few metres away from Heggade’s house.  Later it was known that the Shivlinga was from the Kadri temple near Mangalore. By then, Annappa had vanished and he was never again sighted in the vicinity. Now people in Dharmasthala worship Annappa as ‘Annappa Panjurli’, a local daiva and a hero.


It is said that in around sixteenth century, Devaraja Heggade invited Shri Vadiraja Swamy of Udupi to visit the place. The Swamiji accepted the invitation, visited the place but refused to accept the food offering as the idol of Shri Manjunathaswamy had not been consecrated according to the Vedic rituals. Heggade then requested the Swamiji to reconsecrate the Shivlinga himself. After doing so, Swamiji arranged for the pujas for the Shivlinga according to Madhwa practices.


Pleased by the observance of the Vedic rites and Heggade’s charity to all, Shri Vadiraja Swamiji named the place ‘Dharmasthala’, the abode of religion and charity. Thus, the roots of charity and religious tolerance established by the Heggades nearly 600 Years ago have been nurtured and strengthened by the successive heads of the Heggade family.
The arrangement of free food and shelter for all the devotees visiting Dharmasthala, a large number of educational institutions, social service in the forms of Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Gamabhivruddhi Yojane, arrangement of marriages for poorer sections of the society, etc are some of the prominent charitable activities that are being undertaken by the Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala under the dynamic leadership of Shri Veerendra Heggade.


Besides these activities, Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala trust undertakes the renovation of old and dilapidated temples in order to preserve the traditional architecture. Ancient manuscripts and paintings have been painstakingly restored and preserved for posterity. A museum known as ‘Manjusha’ of antique objects near the temple complex is visited by most of the pilgrims.  A beautiful, well maintained garden and an aquarium are the added attractions of the temple complex. A car museum houses a rare collection of vintage cars and there is also on display an old aeroplane near the vehicle park . Every year, a ‘Sarva Dharma Sammelan’ (Multi religious meet) is held at Dharmasthala which attracts spiritual leaders from various religions and experts in art and literature.


After visiting the garden and museum, we proceeded to see the giant statue of Bahubali erected on a hillock near the temple complex. This monolithic statue of Gomateshwara was installed in 1973. This statue is about 39 foot tall  and weighs about 175 tonnes.


After spending sometime in the complex, we started our journey back home. Though tired of the long journey and climbing the hills and moving around various temple and monument complexes, the trouble was worth taking as we enriched ourselves by observing and understanding the rich natural, cultural, religious  and historical heritage of  our own land, though there are still many more places of tourist interest worth visiting  and knowing about in both Dakshina Kannada and Udupi Districts.



Comments on this Article
Veena Deepak, Belle/Udupi Mon, October-24-2011, 7:11
Very informative new information about Annappa deity...nice snaps...
Edward Barboza, Kanajar / Auckland Sun, October-23-2011, 8:30
Dear Dr. Eugene, Very interesting piece of writing and history. Pictures are very nice. Thanks for your time and sharing the information.
Lucy Rodrigues, Moodubelle/Mumbai Sun, October-23-2011, 3:56
Beautiful pictures and a very good article. Thank you Dr. Eugene.
Jennifer, Bantakal/Bengaluru Sat, October-22-2011, 11:15
Wonderful Article and amazing pictures.
Simon castelino, kalmady/belle Sat, October-22-2011, 10:29
All views are very nice specially bahubali gomateshwara... nice pictures and very good tour report...thanks to Dr Eugene dsouza for nice article From Kunjarugiri to Dharmasthala journey
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