Land of the snake god

Land of the snake god

Temple tour

Land of the snake god

Dakshina Kannada, hailed as the hallowed land of snakes, is home to Kukke Subramanya, one of the most famous temples of the State. On the occasion of Subramanya Shashti observed recently, Vatsala Iyengar delves deep into the legends surrounding the temple.

Situated in the picturesque surroundings of Kumara Parvata and Sesha Parvata mountains, amidst the lush forests of Dakshina Kannada district, Kukke is one of the seven most prominent pilgrimage centres of Karnataka. Described as one of the most important 108 Shaiva Kshetras of India, this land is said to possess immense powers and hence people visit the place to pray for rains and crops, wealth and progeny, as well as relief from diseases. Many believe that taking a dip in the Kumaradhara river and performing urulu seve will cure them of skin ailments.

According to a legend, Kumaraswamy (Lord Subramanya) annihilated demons like Taraka, Shura and Padmasura, and was crowned king at Kumara Parvata. As people watching the coronation shed tears of joy, it flowed down as Kumaradhara. Skanda Purana says that Kumaraswamy washed the lethal weapon in the river and hence it got the name Dharatheertha.

Indra, pleased with the death of the demons, requested him to wed his daughter Devasena. He built a town Swami Kartika on the bank of Kumaradhara and the marriage was celebrated on Margasira shuddha shashti (December).

There is another story which is equally interesting. It is said that an intense fight broke out between Vasuki, the serpent, and Garuda, the eagle, and at the instance of sage Kashyapa, Vasuki escaped from the clutches of Garuda by praying to Lord Shiva at a spot called bila dvara. Shiva, pleased with Vasuki’s penance, asked him to merge himself with Subramanya and fulfill the prayers of all the devotees to add to the glory of Kukke.

Celebrating Kukke

The original inhabitants of Kukke belong to the Malekudiya tribe, who, it is believed, rescued serpents wriggling in the flames at Kumara Giri, and carried them in a kukke (basket), which then became the Kukke Linga. This legend has earned the tribe significant participation in all important festivals.

Come Deepavali, shoals of fish migrate to the waters of Kumaradhara and can be spotted only at the Matsyatheertha bathing ghat. The idol of Subramanya is given a bath on the day after Shashti here, and within a few hours after that, fishes are believed to return to their abode. Fishing is strictly banned here, but the place offers a spectacular sight.

Kukke gained importance in the 8th Century when Adi Shankara visited the place. Kukke was once an urban area under the rule of Ballalaraya and it is customary to pay tribute to the king prior to the commencement of the chariot festival. It was patronised by the Mysore kings too.

The main sanctum in the temple, built in Kerala style, is dedicated to Subramanya. The Valmiki anthill can also be found here. The prasadam here is the earth from the anthill, called mritthike, which the priest takes out once a year on Karthika Bahula Ekadasi (that comes in November).

Where two deities merge

There is a special relation between Subramanya and Narasimha as most of the Subramanya temples in Karnataka are also dedicated to the latter. Reinforcing the belief that both these gods augment the power of a sacred place is Ghati, at a distance of 14 km from Doddaballapur, on the Bangalore-Guntakal route. A staggering number of devotees visit this temple during festivals and auspicious days.

Devotees believe in the power of the two deities in a single manifestation. The eastern face of the main deity is in the form of a seven-hooded serpent and the western face is the image of Lakshmi Narasimha. A strategically placed long mirror helps to view the Narasimha on the rear side.

According to legend, once, Subramanya asked Brahma the significance of  ‘Om’ and when he was denied a reply, he imprisoned Brahma. But soon Subramanya repented for his arrogance by inflicting a curse on himself. Turning into a serpent, he sought a rock at Dandakaranya, in the tranquil south, for his penance. However, his absence in the north emboldened Garuda to hunt for snakes. Threatened, all the serpents, including Vasuki, beseeched Subramanya to invoke Vishnu to stop Garuda who was on a killing spree.

Vishnu acceded to the request and advised Garuda accordingly, and also agreed to dwell at Ghati as Lakshmi Narasimha along with Subramanya. Having forged this bond, Subramanya and Lakshmi Narasimha embraced each other and merged into a single entity.

At the behest of a betel leaf trader, the royal family of Sandur built the Subramanya Temple. The shikara (central tower) is Dravidian in style, belonging to the later Vijayanagara era. The five-storeyed Raja Gopura depicts episodes from Shiva Purana. Kumaratheertha, a pushkarani, is regarded as sacred and a dip in the holy water is believed to cure one of all ailments, both physical and mental.