Faith by the sea

TRAVEL

Faith by the sea


Standing tall: The huge statue of Shiva towers over the seaside temple town of Murudeshwar. Photo by Anil Purohit.

I was told there was a huge statue of Lord Shiva to be seen off the coast of Murudeshwar. They said Shiva could see for miles out from his perch and that he was not even standing. Sufficiently intrigued, I had imagined the sight of the destroyer sitting still and watching benignly over the sea. What I did not know then was that Lord Shiva did not look out to sea, but inland. Before I was done with visiting Murudeshwar, I would tell of how you can feel his eyes on you wherever you visit in the small, busy village on the west coast of Karnataka.

Pilgrims visiting Murudeshwar take time out to visit the Ganesha temple at Idugunji and the Mookambika temple in Kollur, and further up, to Udupi. Later, I took the bus out of Murudeshwar to Idugunji, before returning to set off in the opposite direction, to Kollur, passing Bhatkal and Baindoor along the way. I left Udupi for another time.
At the eatery off the praveshadwara (entrance) to the Shiva temple in Murudeshwar, Narayan Naik, the waiter, told me that many years ago, he used to take a boat out to the temple to perform puja before the approach was filled up to allow passage by foot. He paused as I tucked in idli sambar.

From village to town

“Things changed seven years ago,” he said. “Earlier it used to be like a village.”
If I were to meet him now he would make it ‘thirteen years ago’. Things will have changed even more in the intervening years since the time I went backpacking along Karnataka’s west coast. A businessman from the village who made it big in construction had taken it upon himself to effectively plaster his presence all over the village, almost turning Murudeshwar into a town if he hadn’t already. Before long it was not Lord Shiva’s eyes I felt on me but the ubiquitous presence of the businessman – college, school, buildings, and posters among other things, least of all the gigantic statue that now towers over everything within sight.

Casting out their nets

Sauntering along the road that runs by the shore in the backdrop of the gigantic statue of Lord Shiva, I passed a small fishing hamlet where fishermen were sorting fishing nets, straightening knots while womenfolk were spreading red chillies to dry on used jute bags. Children happily ran along, playfully chasing one of their own astride a bicycle. On the mornings the trawlers return home from fishing runs out to sea, the small stretch of shore where fishing trawlers now lay parked turns into a beehive of activity. Though no comparison to the fishing docks off Bhatkal, it still manages to attract buyers from far and wide while sending its own catch to places as afar as Kerala and Chennai in addition to Mangalore, nearer home.

“Typically the trawlers land Pomfret, Bangda, Nogla, Surmai and other smaller varieties here,” Narayan said. “While the tourists prefer Surmai, Pomfret and prawns the locals usually consume Talhey.” The fishermen fishing off Murudeshwar are mostly Hindu and belong to Kargi and Mogey castes. Elsewhere, particularly Bhatkal, they’re largely Muslim.

“Fishermen have been operating here since ages. They are known as Harikant people,” Narayan said.

Outside the eatery fisherwomen sat by the side of a rutted path that ran on to the temple, selling fish from cane baskets lined with sliced rubber tubes sourced from used truck tyres. Glassy-eyed fish lay still in small pools of water in rubber tubing drawing interested customers while fisherwomen vied for their attention. Coconut vendors sat on stools in the shade of small shops along the approach to the temple.
Three fisherwomen took time out to tease a fellow villager on a stool by a shop that sold provisions, playfully reaching for a length of flowers tucked behind his right ear. Laughter rang out as schoolchildren herded by teachers hop skipped over water puddles in the road.

Pilgrims arrive in Murudeshwar on foot, in rickshaws, and jeeps to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at the ancient temple. But the statue that seemingly rises to the skies is of fairly modern lineage, more of a visual presence than sacred, the latter reserved for the same deity in the temple that abuts the sea. In the evenings a stiff breeze blows across the temple from the sea, ruffling hair and cooling the neck.
 
As the sun drops into the Arabian Sea, the muscular silhouette of Lord Shiva vies with the flaming colours of twilight. Seen from the shore where receding waves glint in the neon of twilight, time bubbles like a glowworm transfixing the magic of life’s possibilities in an ancient land. 

Mythology says so...

While it is easy to let the world’s tallest Shiva statue overwhelm the origins of Murudeshwar, the story of how Lord Shiva came to reside in Murudeshwar is gripping. When Ravana made a play for the atmalinga to attain immortality the Gods were perturbed no end for, in the hands of Ravana invincibility could spell doom for the world.

They were sufficiently alarmed at Ravana’s quest for immortality invested in the atmalinga, a quest that turned into a mortal threat on Ravana being granted the atmalinga by Lord Shiva as a boon for his unrelenting penance for his doings and his devotion to Lord Shiva.

Shiva granted Ravana the atmalinga with a condition that it must never be placed on the ground else the powers will be lost. Sprung into action by Ravana’s possession of the atmalinga the Gods deputed Lord Ganapati in the disguise of a peasant to trick Ravana into giving Ganapati the atmalinga so he could place it on the ground and rid Ravana of the powers it invested in him. Successful at his mission Lord Ganapati watched a furious Ravana attempt to lift the atmalinga, pieces flying off to great distances. One such piece of the atmalinga landed in Murudeshwar. That evening I stood still on the shore, tracing darkening outlines of fishermen on the beach. In the backdrop of history I tagged along with time as it reeled back eras to when momentous events began to shape this ancient land.

It was a blessed feeling.  In the faith of a wandering pilgrim is to be found the essence of life, and of the wandering itself. And so I began to make plans for Kasargod, a few kilometres off Murudeshwar where I was told a stone inscription lies at the entrance to a path that leads to a secluded cove where water courses down from an opening unknown to most.

Getting there

Murudeshwar lies at a deviation of one kilometre from NH-17 between Honnavar and Bhatkal. From Mangalore, one can take the NH-17 to reach Murudeshwar. From Bangalore, one can take the NH-206 to reach Honnavar and then take NH-17 to reach Murudeshwar.

The distance between Bangalore and Murudeshwar is 455 km. By rail: Murudeshwar station lies on the Konkan railway. There are no direct trains from Bangalore. Alternatively, one can alight at Bhatkal station. The nearest airport is the  Mangalore International Airport, 165 km away. 

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