An ode to a coastal art form

 The Marikamba Temple has very special paintings of murals in Kavi, an art form popular in the coastal Konkan region, discovers Bindu Gopal Rao.

The Marikamba Temple in Sirsi is like no other. For starters, it has a fantastically attractive facade with murals painted in red against a white background that instantly catches your attention. Naturally then, I was very keen to visit this temple to know what lay behind the superb exteriors.

And the interiors are no less stunning. Dedicated to goddess Marikamba, a form of goddess Durga, this temple was built in 1688 and is also known as Doddamma Temple, with Doddamma denoting the elder sister of all Mariammas in Karnataka.

Goddess reigns

The central idol here is an eight-armed image of Durga, also known by the names Renuka and Yellamma. The attractive idol of the Goddess is of course what stays with you much after you leave the place. The idol is in a stunning shade of red and mesmerises you.

Interestingly, the name of goddess Marikamba is derived from both mari (terror) as well as Maremma (saviour). It is said that the goddess is mari (terror) in anger and Mother in love which gives her the name ‘Marikamba’.

According to local legends, the wooden statue of Goddess Shri Marikamba, the deity worshipped in Uttara and Dakshina Kannada, was found in a tank on the outskirts of the town. In 1611, Sadashiva Rao II, the King of Sonda, gave orders to install the wooden deity at this place. This idol is considered to be the biggest idol and the site devoted to Marikamba in Karnataka. Pilgrims believe that the existence of Marikamba Temple safeguards the region from natural calamities and keeps evil at bay.

Located at 2,500 feet above sea level, this temple overlooks hills, deciduous forests and several waterfalls and makes a picture perfect destination.

Wall art

Apart from the goddess herself, the temple has very special paintings of murals in kavi art. Kavi art or kavi kale paintings were seen only on the walls of ancient temples in coastal Karnataka and Goa.

The traditional art is said to have originated in Goa, before being brought to coastal Karnataka in the 16th century. The term kavi is the local name for Indian red pigment which is the only colour used in this painting.

A well-trained kavi art mason can etch a small mural without any aids. For geometrical designs he employs rulers and compasses.

Large and complicated motifs are first drawn on paper, perforated with pinholes and then traced on the wall by dusting the pinholes with dry lime. Artistically drawn, reddish brown murals against white sandblasted backgrounds are as attractive as multi-coloured paintings.

The murals depict scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and cover all the walls of the temple. The Marikamba rathayatra (chariot procession) and Marikamba jaathre of the deity is held every alternate year in the month of February and taken through the town. It is attended by a very large number of devotees and is the time when this sleepy town comes alive with sights and sounds that need to be seen to be believed.

Unlike other fairs, the uniqueness of Sirsi Marikamba fair is that this fair passes off without animal sacrifice. This temple is in the heart of Sirsi and close to the Marikamba Temple are the temples dedicated to Maha Ganapathi and Shri Gopalakrishna.

Apart from the temple, Sirsi is known for some local food delicacies as well. So while you are here,  make sure you tickle your taste buds by sampling the local sihi avalakki, dahi vada and Mangalore buns.

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