They always say that the Gods reside in beautiful abodes – that is why they are up in the skies or atop mountains or in the midst of wild forests and deep oceans .No wonder in ancient days, man worshipped nature. I have an appointment with some of the deities who live in the beautiful sea coast and I do not want to be late lest they shut their doors on me.
I am in Tulu Nadu, the areas currently known as Dakshina Kannada and the coastal belt of Uttara Kannada. Originally called Alvakheda, many historians believe that this is the region Emperor Ashoka referred to in his edicts as Satiyaputra, one of the four regions outside of his empire (the other three being Chola, Chera and Pandya kingdoms). Tulu Nadu was ruled by the Aluvas or Alupas for more than 1000 years. As feudal lords ,they ruled until it came under Vijayanagar empire and thereupon under the Nayaks, the Sultans of Mysore and eventually the British.
The salts of the sea tickle your nostrils and the breeze lifts your spirits. In a moment, you forget the heat and the humidity and let your eyes feast on the blue green waters . The rivers alternate with the seas , more than ten bridges cut across the waters as we drive down from Mangalore.The coast always brings special memories back. Born in a city with the famous Marina Beach, I miss the sea sorely in Bangalore. But this trip made up for all that.
Much of the land here was buried under the sea eons ago . There is fossil evidence to support this. The legend however goes to say that coastal Karnataka is a creation of Parashurama called Parashurama Sristi or Parashurama Kshetra.It is said that Parashurama had a dispute with the lord of the seas, Varuna and threw his axe and claimed the coastal region from the sea, part of which is Tulu Nadu and the other part, is modern day Kerala.
Devotees throng to seven temples as the Kshetra temples are all nestled in the coastal Karnataka – Udupi, Kolluru, Subramanya, Gokarna, Kumbasi, Koteshvara and Shankaranarayana. They are collectively called Mukti Sthalas.
Locals refer to this coast as the Ganesh coast after the God, who is said to be protecting the coast from natural calamities. Besides several other temples, there are six of them dedicated to Ganesh and it is said if anyone visits all six in one day, he will receive special blessings. The temples are Madhur Mahaganapathy near Kasargod, Sharavu Mahaganapathy in Mangalore, Mahaganapathy at Kumbhashi (also known as Aane Gudde), Siddi Vinayaka Hattiangadi at Kundapura, Dwibhuja Ganapathy at Idagunji and the Ganapati at Gokarna in Uttara Kannada District.I could go to only the last four and I hope to receive at least some blessings.
Our first stop was at Hattiangadi, a small village located at a distance of 14 km from Kundapur in Udupi district. The ancient Siddivinayaka temple dates back to the 8th century and is located on the bank of the river Varahi . The idol of Siddivinayaka is more than two feet high and is carved of a Saligrama stone. We went next to the Mahaganapathi temple at Anne Gudde at Kumbhashi . We learnt that name Kumbhasi is said to be derived from the asura Kumbhasura, who was slain here, while the local word Anegudde comes from Aane (elephant) and Gudde (hillock).
We carried on to Idagunji,a small hamlet in Honnavur, located almost amidst verdant greenery. A short walk here from the main highway, takes you down to the most beautiful and spiritual experience to the temple which is more than 1500 years old. Here Ganesh is portrayed as a standing statue with two hands – the right hand holding “Padma” and the left hand with “Modhaka”.
The story goes that at the end of the ‘Dwapara Yuga’ the saints met with several obstacles while they were performing a ritual. Narada then advised them to worship Vigneshwara or Ganesh before starting the penance again.They located a place Kunjaranya near Sharavati river and Narada brought Ganesha along with other Gods to this abode . Immensely pleased by the devotion rendered on him by the saints, Ganesha decided to stay in Kunjaranya which is now renowned as Idagunji.
We carried on towards Murudeshwar and Gokarna where stories and legends from the Ramayan era dot these ancient sacred towns.Murudeshwar temple located on the Kanduka Giri hill is surrounded by the Arabian sea on three sides. Dedicated to Shiva,this ancient temple is being restored and a 20-storied Gopura is being constructed . Two life-size elephants in concrete stand guard at the steps leading to the temple.There is a towering statue of Shiva built recently which is more than 120 feet high. A fort present behind the temple is said to have been renovated by Tipu Sultan.While art and devotion vie here for attention, my personal view is that ancient temples may be renovated but not modernised as they become pure tourist places.
We moved on to Gokarna ,a sacred town that lies besides beautiful beaches.The earliest history of Gokarna is not known but it is said that a sect of brahmins fled from the Gomantak (Goa) to escape forcible conversions by the Portuguese and British and settled in and around Gokarna in 15th century.
Gokarna which is located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini means “Cow’s Ear. ” It is believed that Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (symbolising Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here. According to a legend , Shiva was sent to Patalaloka (hell which is believed to be below the earth) by Brahma to undergo penance. He eventually returned through the ear of Mother Earth and blessed her with the name of Gokarna (go, “cow”; karna “ear”). Thus this place served Shiva as a womb. As time passed, Shiva collected the essence of all Brahma’s creations and created a golden deer with four legs, three eyes, and three horns. Eventually, the three horns (representing the three guna-avataras) were placed at Pushkar (Brahma), Shaligram (Vishnu), and Gokarna (Siva). These places are known as Siddhi Ksetras.
However the main legend talks about how the two temples at Gokarna and Murudeshwar came into being which takes us to the days of the Ramayan. Ravana (Demon/Asura King of Lanka) performed rigorous penance to get the “Atma Linga” from Shiva so that he could become immortal. Pleased by his prayers, Lord Shiva agreed to give him the Atmalinga with a condition that it should never be placed on the ground as it will get stuck to that place.
Narada,fearing that Ravana may become invincible approached Vishnu to retrieve the Atmalinga from Ravana. Vishnu knew that Ravana was a very devoted person who used to perform his rituals in the evening every day without fail. So he decided to take the help of Ganesh and tricked Ravana . As Ravana was nearing Gokarna, Lord Vishnu blotted the sun with his Sudarshana Chakra to make it look like evening. As Ravana was getting ready for his evening prayers, he noticed a Brahmin boy who was none other than Ganesh in disguise. Ravana requested him to hold the AtmaLinga until he performed his rituals, and asked him not to place it on the ground. Ganesh struck a deal with him saying that he will hold it as long as he can bear its weight and will call Ravana thrice, and if Ravana does not return, he would place the AtmaLinga on the ground.
As predicted, before Ravana could return Ganesh had already placed the AtmaLinga on the ground. Vishnu then removed his illusion and it was daylight again. Ravana, realising that he had been tricked tried to uproot and destroy the Atmalinga . He threw the coverings away and it fell in many places like Dhareshwar, Sajjeshwara,
Gunavanteshwara . Finally, he threw the cloth covering the AtmaLinga to a place called Mrideshwara in Kanduka-Giri (Kanduka Hill). Mrideshwara has been rechristened to Murudeshwara.As Ravana was unable to lift the Linga from the ground again , he called it Mahabala (very strong). Mahabaleshwara temple came into being and the atmalinga is nestled in Gokarna .A small hole in its middle permits devotees to have a glimpse of the top of the Aatma Linga. The Maha Ganapathi temple, built in honour of the boy Ganesh has a small dent in the head of the idol, where supposedly Ravana hit him in anger.
We heard the story in both Murudeshwar and Gokarna , which was filled with tourists and foreigners walking towards the beach. Gokarna is also an important centre of Sanskrit learning and many Hindus also perform last rites of their relatives here .
Amidst all this sacred lore , you find four of the most beautiful beaches in India set in the jungle. The first beach is called Kudle Beach, and it is about a twenty-minute walk from Gokarna. To get to Kudle, take the path that starts on the south side of the Ganapati Temple. The path goes uphill and then drops down to Kudle Beach, a beautiful, kilometre-long white sand beach surrounded by palm trees.
The next beach is OM Beach which is shaped like the auspicious Om sign. Its amazing how the sea retains the sanctity of the place which is lost amidst the hippies who now frequent the beach.There are some really basic huts and some chai shops to eat at.
There are two more beaches—Half-moon and Paradise—each a thirty-minute walk from one another. You can get bottled water and food on all the beaches near Gokarna including the Main beach, Kudle, Om, Half Moon and Paradise beaches.
We had some quiet moments at Om Beach , hearing the waves lashing at the rocks, thinking of the heady mix of the mythical, spiritual and historic influences and wondering if we were blessed to be here … We moved on gazing at more blue skies and seas as our next destination was Devbagh Island , Karwar .
Move over Goa..here comes Karnataka.