Millennium Post

The road to Murudeshwar

The road to Murudeshwar
The car seemed stuck in an impasse as we made our way through the traffic-logged streets of Bangalore, yet today, nothing seemed to matter and every aspect of the journey — the jams, the innumerable packets of peanuts and the incessant chatter — was proof of the excitement that could scarcely be repressed. Yes, we were on a long drive to Murudeshwar, a beautiful beach in Uttar Kannada.

Once the city limits receded, the drive was a dream. Small villages seemed to melt away as we passed Hassan, Kunigal, Sakleshpur, and the names seemed to fly by. At Sakleshpur, we noticed the signs indicating that the Gomatheshwara statue was but a few kilometres away. A detour was in order. Leaving the road to Bantwal we took the road to Mudigere and from there to Karkala!
Down the mud roads we went, leaving the black asphalt roads to Karkala, and quaint little villages unfolded with their open skies, embracing the vast stretches of green. Canopies of huge tamarind trees shielded us from the midday sun and shimmering lotus ponds beckoned as we turned to a small red mud road, lined by humble huts which skirted the monument. Karkala, the name of the town derives from kari-kal, meaning black stone in Tulu. Located in the Udupi district of Karnataka, the town is known for its black granite from which it derives its name. Karkala or Pandya Nagari as it was called, shot into prominence from the time of the Hoysalas. Its history hails back to antiquity, the Vijaynagara period. One of the eminent Kings of Karkala was Veera Pandya, who built the  famous single stone 42-foot (13 mt) black granite statue of Gomateshwara (Lord Bahubali), at the insistence of his Jain guru in 1432. It was he who installed the Brahmadeva Pillar in front of the statue in 1436. The statue of  Lord Bahubali towered over us and gleamed in the sun. It is second to only Shravanbelagola’s 67-ft  statue of Bahubali. From the base of the hill, a slightly curving set of steep steps leads to the top. Enroute to the top is the Parshwanatha Padmavati Basadi, a Jain shrine. The statue is enclosed by a square compound in front of which stands the Brahmadeva Pillar. The midday sun beating down on our backs was reason enough reason to beat a hasty retreat. This huge exquisitely carved monolith seemed like such a contradiction amongst the small huts it stood amidst. It seemed like the past was mocking the present! Shops selling Mogra malas, kumkum, pujaware, lined the lane and at one of these I found a beautiful Ganapati, carved out of a single black granite stone for merely Rs 100.

The route from Karkala to Mangalore is one of the most picturesque routes I’ve ever taken, surrounded by dense vegetation and groups of monkeys, who sat on the skirting, indifferent to speeding cars. A slight nip in the air and the beautiful smell of foliage announced our spectacular ascent into the ghats! Little streams hidden in the dense green, gleamed like strings of pearls, as the road rose and fell, affording breathtaking views that only the mind’s camera could click and record for posterity. The drive lasted for an hour and we found ourselves welcomed by the smell of the sea  in the coastal  town of Mangalore.

Food for devotion

It was almost 3 pm. The heat, the drive and the salty sea air stirred up quite an appetite. Food was the need of the hour! Asking around at MG Road, we settled for The Village restaurant on Bondel Road. The ambience was in keeping with the name, thatched roofs and a waterfall to boot! Since we were the late lateefs we got a table immediately, which only made us like the place all the more. We wolfed down the starters — Prawn sukka and Kane fry — and were ready in a trice for the Mangalorean fish curry with the traditional unpolished rice, ghee roast crab, lobster Neeruli and some soft sannas, complimented by a spicy sambar and some papad. The meal finally over, we waddled out and the car groaned under our collective bulk. Now we needed a break and maybe a short siesta. It was almost evening and the sun’s rays had mellowed when we hit  the Panambur beach. Picturesque is the only apt word to describe the orange ball of the sun as it emblazoned the waves with a vermillion glow and the catamarans riding the waves, framed by the silver sands of the beach and a wisp of a sea breeze. Lying on the sand was one of the the most beautiful moments for me – sun-warmed sand and the soft lapping of the waves and the feel of freedom that only the sea can give. When we woke, a sliver of moon had appeared in the yet-to-darken skies. It was time to catch the aarati at Krishna temple in Udupi.

What a wealth of myths surrounds the town of Udupi. It derives its name from the Tulu Odipu or alternately from the Sanskrit words Udu and Pa, which means Lord of the stars. Legend has it the moon’s light was once reduced due to a curse by King Daksha, whose 27 daughters (the 27 stars), were married to the moon. The moon prayed to Lord Shiva to get back his original sheen and the Lord answered his prayers. It is said  that the moon and his wives then offered salutations to the Lord  at the Chandramouleeshwara temple at Udupi, which till today boasts of the Linga at which the moon and the stars prayed. Hence, Udupi means the land of the ‘lord of the stars’, the moon.

The journey was a short one but we were already late. Thousands of people thronged for the darshan and we wandered from one line to another. Whenever I’m waiting in a queue in a temple, my devotion seems to evaporate! I kept walking around the temple and then I saw the Kanakana Kindi. People jostled there too but I was able to get a glimpse of the Lord. It is believed that in the 16th century, Kanakadasa, an ardent devotee, was turned away from the temple as he was not a brahmin. He tried to see Lord Krishna from a small window, but was only able to see the back of the deity. It is believed that Krishna was won over by his bhakti and turned to face the window. To this day, the deity of Lord Krishna faces the back of the Mutt towards the Kanakana Kindi and while all Hindu temples have their Vigraha (deity) facing the entrance of the temple, the Krishna Mutt is the only exception. The  Kanakana Kindi is decorated with carvings depicting the dasavatars of Vishnu.

Through one of its nine small holes, I saw the deity of Sri Krishna. The statue was of Krishna as a very young boy, holding a butter churning rod in his right hand and a rope in his left, reminding us off his Makhan Chor days. Thus, like Kanakadas, I was privileged to see the Lord despite the milling crowds. I felt blessed!

The town of Udupi is perhaps more famous for its cuisine. Crisp masala dosas with sambhar and coconut chutney, soft fluffy idlis, tasty rawa upma, all these are what make Udupi famous world over. When in Udupi, masala dosa is a must and what a sumptuous dinner it makes. Checking in to the Sai Vishram resort, we retired for the night. A blissful sleep was the reward for our weary bodies!

Restarting the drive

The sunrise was serene and the sands were inviting. Walking on the beach, I was delighted to find beautiful speckled shells in the dew-drenched sand. What could be a better memento than this! But there was little time to linger as we had to start our drive to our destination, Murudeshwar!
A short drive and we were in the small town of Manipal, which sits majestically atop a hill and is renowned as a seat of learning. Home to Manipal University, the town houses 19 colleges, in the fields of business, engineering and health sciences. Students walking with headsets, internet cafes, gleaming contemporary buildings, Manipal seemed to be the perfect compromise between open and urban living. It commands a spectacular view of the Arabian Sea and is named after the 400 metre-lake (Mannu or mud and Palla or lake) at its centre. It was once a barren hill and was transformed into this cosmopolitan university town with the efforts of Dr TM A Pai in the 1950s. Leaving the civilised streets of Manipal, we reached End Point at Manipal, where a small cliff overlooks the Swarna River. The view of the Arabian Sea from here is truly a sight to see!

Dance of valour

From here our drive began along the coast. The serene sea meeting the sky at the horizon, the golden sands skirting the road and the sea-kissed balmy breeze, what more could we have asked for. Before reaching Bhatkal we came to a little village, where market day was on in full swing. Women in large kumkum bindis and the typical green or maroon Karnataka weave saris, lined the little road with their vegetables, fruits, firewood strewn in piles on the dust road. Raw  tamarind was hard to resist and I picked up a few, relishing it with a little salt. At one end under a circle of trees we chanced upon a group of men dancing. Later, we learnt this dance is known as Kolata. Also known as stick dance, it is a kind of valour dance involving groups of people who indulge in bending, swaying and jumping to the tune of rhythmic clashing of sticks. With two sticks in hand, each dancer can strike in various patterns and rhythms. Sticks clicking ebony bodies move to the beat, all sweat and smiles… truly magical!

Leaving beautiful Bhatkal behind, we finally catch sight of Murudeshwar! Astoundingly beautiful is the initial reaction… The vast expanse of the beach and the blue skies, with only Lord Shiva looking on! This statue of Shiva is the tallest in the world (127ft)! Seated in the posture of the ascetic, with his trishula and damaru, the Lord looked a bit troubled. His eyes seemed to express his displeasure at being drawn away from his abode in Kailasa and the beatific smile of Shiva was missing from his lips. The  towering Raja gopuram (249 ft) was also visible. It has been built in recent times, as a testimony to our living heritage and crafts. Despite these new additions the  town of Murudeshwar is ancient, and  finds mention in the Ramayana as ‘Mrideshwara’.

An ancient myth surrounds the origins of the temple. The demon king Ravana won over the Atma Linga from Shiva with his penance. Lord Shiva agreed to give him a boon, with the condition that it should never be placed on the ground, for if the Atma Linga was placed on the ground, all the powers would return to Lord Shiva. Sage Narada realised that with the Atma Linga, Ravana may obtain immortality and create havoc on earth. He approached Lord Ganesh and requested him to prevent the Atma Linga from reaching Lanka. Lord Ganesh was well aware of the devotion of Ravana and his ritualistic prayers every evening. He came up with a plan to trick Ravana. As Ravana was nearing Gokarna, Lord Vishnu blotted out the sun to give the appearance of dusk. Ravana was worried, because with the Atma Linga in his hands, he would not be able to do his evening rituals.

Lord Ganesh arrived, disguised as a little Brahmin boy. Ravana requested him to hold the Atma Linga until he performed his rituals, and asked him not to place it on the ground. Ganesh struck a deal with him saying that he would call Ravana thrice, and if Ravana did not return, he would place the Atma Linga on the ground. Before Ravana could return, Ganesh had already placed the Atma Linga on the ground after calling out to him. Ravana, realising he had been tricked, tried to uproot and destroy the Atma Linga. Due to the force exerted by him, one piece fell in Surathkal. The famous Sadashiva temple is said to be built there. He decided to destroy the covering of the Atma Linga, and threw the case covering it to a place called Sajjeshwara. Then he threw the lid of the case to Guneshwara (now Gunavanthe), and Dhareshwara, 12 miles away. Finally, he threw the cloth covering the Atma Linga to a placed called Mrideshwara in Kanduka-Giri, and it became the Aghora Linga, later renamed as  Murudeshwara.

Learning of the incident from Lord Vayu, Lord Shiva, along with Goddess Parvathi and Lord Ganesha, visited these places and consecrated the lingas. He declared these Lingas as his ‘pancha-khshetras’ and said that worshipping these idols can wash off the sins of his devotees.
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