Nellitheertha: Devotees' pride, tourists' envy

Situated about 30 kms away from Mangalore in a peaceful and serene environs, the temple, better known as Cave Temple, has a long and glorious history. Although the first recorded material mentioning Nellitheertha dates back to 1487 AD, there is ample evidence available at the place to suggest that the temple existed much before that.

Historically, the Nellitheertha region was under the administration of the wellknown Chowta family. It is said that the temple flourished under their administration and was a major center for religious and cultural activities under their reign. Even today, the descendants of the chowta clan take an active interest in the maintenance and development of the temple.

There are some artifacts and archeological evidence available at the temple which point to a Jain interest and influence at the temple. These are evidence to suggest that the temple and the region was probably under the administration of Jain kings of the region, says Temple Managing Trustee P S Bhat.
The Cave temple

The main attraction of the temple is the cave. Situated right at the entrance of the temple, this huge cave is one of nature’s wonders. Unspoilt by human indulgence, the cave is a nature lover’s delight. A visit to the cave is considered a sacred and spiritual experience by devotees. The entrance to the cave is huge and wide. However, as you move forward, the trail narrows down and one is forced to bend and crawl forward. Subsequently, one has to fall flat on the tummy and crawl ahead. Finally, after about 300-400 metres, the cave widens again and there is a huge lake there.

There is a natural Shiva Lingam in front of the lake and devotees worship the lingam. The most amazing part of the cave is the fine quality of the mud available inside. It is said that the mud here has healing powers and is treated as prasadam by devotees. Right behind the Shiva Lingam, a second cave starts off. Not many people have ventured into this second cave till date. A few who have gone ahead vouch for the extreme terrain they have encountered. It surely will be challenging for the adventure lovers.

The name Nellitheertha also has its etymological roots in the cave. Inside the cave, drops of water, in the shape of amla (gooseberries) constantly keep dripping down. In fact, the lake is made up of these drops of water. Hence, the name Nelli (Amla) Theertha (holy water).

Another unique aspect of the cave is that it is closed for nearly 6 months a year. The cave is open only between October and April (this year till April 14, 2011). Though there are religious reasons associated with this (it is said that the cave is open 6 months a year for humans and is meant for Gods and Rishis the remaining 6 months), the point is that the 6 month break each year helps the cave to ‘rejuvenate’. The water freshens up and the animals inside enjoy lack of disturbance. Yes, there are plenty of animals inside the cave. Most common among them are snakes (of all varieties), scorpions, porcupines and thousands of bats. These are considered sacred and troubling or hurting the animals in any manner is strictly forbidden.

Legend also has it that Maharshi (Saint) Jabali used this cave as his abode. Hence, the name Jabaleshwara for the presiding deity.

It is believed that Maharshi Jabali performed penance here to Lord Durgaparameshwari to request her to kill Arunasura (a demon). It is said that Sri Durga acceded to Jabali’s request and destroyed Arunasura at Kateel (famous temple, close to Nellitheertha). There is a spot inside the cave which is widely believed to be where Maharshi Jabali perfomed his penance.

The deities

The main deity of the temple is Sri Somanatheshwara (Shiva). The temple also has Maha Ganapati and Jabali Maharshi as deities.

The temple also has its set of ‘Bhootas’. The main bhootas of the Nellitheertha temple are Pili-Chamundi, Kshetrapala, Raktheshwari and Doomavathy.

There are other artifacts in and around the temple which are pointers to the past glory of this place. Among them are the “Arasule Mancha” (King’s seat), “Arasule Mantapa” (King’s abode) and the “Jina Vigraha” (Jain Statue).

Apart from the cave, there are other places surrounding the temple which are worth visiting. To the east of the temple’s entrance is the Amblattapadavu hillock, which is about 500 feet high and offers a splendid scenery from the top. One can spot places such as the Bajpe Airport, Mangalore, Panambur and MRPL refinery. On a day with clear skies, one can even spot the Arabian Sea. Amblattapadavu offers a wonderful view of sunrise and sunset everyday.

The “Nagappa Kere” (Snake Pond) is a small pond situated to the north of the temple. This natural pond, along with its religious significance, is also a scenic spot. All devotees who want to enter the cave temple have to take bath in this pond and only then are they allowed into the cave. The lake is at its best immediately after the monsoons (Oct—Dec) when its crystal clear water is a swimmer’s delight.

Annual fair

The annual Jaatre (fair) of the temple this year will be held between December 20 and 25. The temple and the cave is open to members of all beliefs and castes. Any person, above the age of 5, is allowed to enter the cave irrespective of gender.

Whether to pray or just to enjoy the beauty of the cave, its worth a visit.

How to reach

There are four routes available to reach Nellitheertha.

* On the Mangalore - Moodbidri route, take left about 500 metres after Ganjimutt and travel about 8 kms to reach the temple.
* If you are coming via Mulki, reach Kinnigoli. From there, its 13 kms through Mucchur town.
* You can also reach Nellitheertha from Bajpe via Kathelsaar. It is the shortest route to Nellitheertha from Mangalore and is about 14 kms shorter than the Moodabidri route.
* It is about 8 kms from Kateel and can be reached via Ekkaru—Neerude.


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