Our journey into Coorg’s heritage took us on a spiritual quest – atop mountains, inside forests and coffee estates and by the river side. Day two was packed. On agenda were the two Iguthappa temples , Chinnathappa temple, the abode of Panagalammai , a visit to a Dargha , Bhagamandala and Talacauvery and finally to Madikeri and the famous Omkareshwar temple.. well, this was not a religious trip…
.. what made it really special were the people we met on the way and the stories they shared with us..Im going to break this down into three parts and start with the Padi Iguthappa temple.
Iguthappa means giver of food and the deity is Subramanya or Muruga , son of Shiva. I had read about this temple which is not found in the pilgrimage routes and asked Kishore why is it so special. He told me to speak to the priest Kush Bhat, one of the twins at the Iguthappa temple . You guessed the name of the other brother – its Lava , but we never got to meet him .
Kush Bhatt is a fascinating man , sincere, dramatic and highly expressive. His tone commands attention although he is humility personified. We went to a simple temple on top of the hill which is surrounded by trees. There is no history, no architecture to speak about and yet I cannot explain to you why I felt so exhilarated there.It is an inexplicable feeling .
“Close your eyes and ask Iguthappa whatever you want ..If you have faith, you will get the same,” says Kush Bhatt telling us how centuries ago, Shiva and Subramanya came here and loved the hills so much that they decided to settle down here . The temple is known to feed anyone who comes here and all pilgrims offer food, not money to the deity . “Iguthappa told the people of Coorg that you will never go hungry as long as Im here and if you accept me as your God, ” explained Kush Bhatt.
Interesting enough, the deity who is a Hindu God is worshipped by the Kodavas . Every festival of the Kodavas starts with the invocation of Iguthappa and the the most important festival of the temple is Tulabharam .
We went to the another Iguthappa temple inside a forest through a coffee plantation . There was not a soul around and it was peaceful just listening to the sounds of the forest.
Kishore had told us another story . The story of four brothers and a sister . The brothers were hungry and they asked the sister to cook food for them. The sister said that she will prepare rice, but she had no salt .
The brothers did not mind as the sister poured the rice and water in a bamboo stalk and kept it under the earth. The rice was cooked and the brothers had a hearty meal. However a quarrel soon broke out (and I am deliberately keeping out this part of the story) and the brothers separated from the sister.
The anguished sister looked up to her brothers and asked her where she will go.One of the brothers, reassured her that he will be around close by , but she cannot see or meet him. His arrow found a place in the forest for the sister to stay and a small temple was built in the middle of the forest.
They say you can still find the mark of the arrow there. The sister’s name is Panagalammai and the brother who promised to be close by is Iguthappa. Every April, Panagalammai goes to the river Kakkabe for a bath, but the hills of Iguthappa remains covered in mist so that the sister does not get to see him.
We were in the Panagalammai temple , right in the middle of the forest. Silence greeted us as the temple was closed. The crickets were loud and the rustle of the leaves was like a hiss of a snake. I couldnt get over the feeling. Kishore told me that during the festival , an umbrella comes from the brother’s temple to take her to the river. The umbrella apparently begins to move very fast that men run behind it to catch it..It seems to become possessed and a force carries it away. Then the deity is placed and taken to the river.
As they near the misty hills, some devotees become hysterical and even start cutting themselves and sprinkling the blood on the ground to distract the deity . The umbrella becomes possessed again. Kishore claims that the wounds of the devotees heal in a couple of days . He said he had witnessed this when he was young and adding credibility to the story was another girl who worked in the resort.
I brushed the story aside , until I happenned to hear it again last week from Mrs Daisy Karumbiah whose son and daughter in law run a homestay in Coorg. She had seen the entire festival with her husband and I was quite stunned to know that it is not a just a story .
Kishore told me about a golden flute of Krishna which was worshipped and kept in a temple called Chinnathappa temple. ” Chinna means gold and only once a year, the temple is opened and the flute is shown to the public ,” I had decided to see the Chinnathappa temple..No map, no routes ..my friend and my driver gave me a dirty look but I decided not to miss this golden opportunity . There was not a soul as we drove along and we didnt know if we were in the right path. Kishore told us to look at arches which has the names of the temples written in kannada , so we kept looking at every arch .
I cant read Kannada and neither can my friend, so it was my driver’s task. Finally we found an arch and a small adda which was supposedly a bus stand. We saw a few old men staring at us as we went up. We were the tourist attractions for the day. A couple of girls in a car driving up a hillock looking for a temple which has a golden flute. The route took us nowhere.
We almost reached a deadend and there was a small Bhagavathi temple which was closed . We got off and walked a bit and heard a snort. A little perturbed, I saw a small house where some pigs were blissfully playing. A man emerged and told us the temple was further away and one had to climb the hillock as the car cannot get there.
My friend unfortunately had a knee problem and I was hesitating to climb alone. We decided to give it a miss and I was hoping a local would escort me. A woman was climbing downhill swaying her hips and she stopped seeing us and then walked away. We finally went down and saw the men still staring at us. We offered a drive up hill to anyone who would show us the way . That was when we met retired army man Naniah, who I respect till date for the energy and courtesy he showed us. Well in his 80s, he seemed fitter than most of us.
He spoke in chaste Tamil telling us tidbits of information about his family . He lived up the hill , tilling his land and making some money as a farmer even though he is retired from the army. We walked up past green farms, surrounded by mountains and the beauty of the countryside was enchanting . No wonder I thought Coorg was called Scotland of the East .
We finally reached the temple. It was closed and it was also being rebuilt. The people were at work and they were hospitable and happy that we had visited them. We stayed there for a while and thought that this was probably the gold that we were looking for. It was priceless.