Temple treasures

Temple treasures

The temple of Mahalasa Narayani in Kumta is an ancient one, dating back to the 16th century.  Vatsala Iyengar describes this charming temple, and the paintings                           painstakingly made on its walls with locally available material.

The temple of Mahalasa Narayani is one of the ancient temples of Kumta town with an antiquity dating back to the 16th century. The goddess is the tutelary deity of Kulavis who have settled not only in Kumta but also in farflung areas of the State. Among the many legends associated with the temple is the story from the Sahyadri Kanda of Skanda Purana.

 According to this legend, Parasurama, in order to bestow peace and prosperity on the land through Vedic rites and rituals, sought the help of ten families to conduct religious ceremonies and settled them in a village called Saha Sata and they were thus known as Saha Sasti or Sasasti. As these families hailed from settlements extending up to Saraswathi river, they were also called Saraswats. Some devotees installed her image at a place called Dongare in Verne or Varanyapura of Goa, then called Gomantak. 

After the Portuguese occupation of Goa, many of these devotees moved to the northern part of Karnataka and other places. They hid their deity in a pot and installed her in Kumta. The lamps and the bells of the temple were carted away to other places of worship in coastal Karnataka and are still in use. This figure is the original devi and is made of five alloys. The circular disc behind her is inscribed with verses in her praise. 

Work of art

The temple is very ornate and has exquisitely carved doors covered with silver. The ceiling has delicate floral and geometrical patterns in wood carried out by local artisans called Gudigars. Kavi paintings on the walls depict mythological figures .They speak volumes about the painstaking mural work done in ochre. How locally available material is used in protecting the temple walls and enclosures against the elements is best proved in coastal Karnataka where kavi or kyavi is the local name for Indian red (huramunji) and is the only colour used for murals.

 Snow white lime obtained by burning seashells and clean sand from riverbeds are mixed with jaggery and allowed to ferment for about two weeks. The mixture is then hand-pounded to get a homogenous mixture that gets hardened when applied to the wall. The kavi pictures are then etched while the wall is still wet and subsequently allowed to dry. As red is the only colour used, these pictures have the appearance of silhouetted photographs and are found in outer/inner walls of porches, mahadwaras, navarangas, mukhamantapas, sukanasi, garbha gruha and others.

These murals are very elaborate, artistic and sophisticated and can be found in Sri Ramamandir of Honnavar( erected about four centuries ago), Kolluru Mookambika temple of Udupi district and at Sirsi Marikamba, besides Mahalasa Narayani temple (1565 AD.)The idol of Mahalasa Narayani at Kumta is four armed and her upper right hand holds the trishula (trident) while the lower one has the khadga (shield) as well as the crest of Mundasura.

Similarly, the upper left hand has the pot of nectar and the lower one holds the head of the demon whose blood is being sucked up by a wolf. The deity stands on Chandasura. The idol is decorated both as male and female and it is believed that the goddess appears as a little girl in the morning, as an enchanting young lady at noon after the maha pooja  and as a devout wife at sunset.

The car festival is held in the month of Shravana (July-August) for seven days and the car is specially decorated with banana tree trunks adorned with varieties of flowers. On Krishnashtami i.e., the birth festival of Krishna, Mahalasa Narayani is worshipped with tulsi leaves highlighting her association with Krishna.

An important feature of the temple is the appane prasada wherein tender leaves of a sacred plant are pasted at 32 spots all over the deity and the problem of the devotee is placed before her. As an answer to the prayer the tender leaves fall off or move on the deity. Special significance is attached to the movement of these leaves and the solution is deduced accordingly. 

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