A carnival of faith & culture

A carnival of faith & culture
The Gavisiddeshwara Jathre of Gavimath in Koppal, often called as the ‘Kumbh Mela of the South’, touches the lives of lakhs of people. Being held on January 14, 15 and 16 this year, the devotees make all kinds of offerings: sand, stone, firewood and vegetables besides money for the fair. The festivities continue for 15 days after the Rathotsava (temple car festival) on the first day.

Gavimath (which literally means cave monastery) is located on a hill, an area well-known for two inscriptions dating back 2,300 years to the time of Emperor Ashoka. Sketches in the caves are said to be pre-historic. The Math is a Veerashaiva centre, and offers trividha dasoha — food, education and spiritual knowledge for free.

Tracing the origins
It traces its history to Rudramuni Shivacharya Swamiji, a pontiff hailing from Kashi. He came to the South walking, and was drawn to the caves here. He was meditating in one of the caves when he breathed his last in 1086. Holi Hampaiah, a businessman from Maski town, built an arch for Rudramani.

Gavisiddeshwara, the most revered 11th pontiff in the Gavimath tradition, was born as Gudadayya in the nearby Mangalapur village. He stayed with Jadegouda, the revenue head of Koppal, managing his cattle. He would often meditate in the tranquil environs of the Malemalleshwara Temple. Channabasava Shivayogi, the tenth pontiff, noticed Gudadayya’s spiritual inclination and declared him his successor. Gudadayya attained shivayoga siddhi (spiritual powers) under Channabasava Shivayogi and was renamed Gavisidda.

Gavisidda is believed to have performed many miracles and the most popular among them was the curing of the Hyderabad Nizam’s leprosy. The Nizam donated 1,300 acres to Gavimath in gratitude, according to historical records. After a period of time had passed, Channabasava Shivayogi had prepared a samadhi for himself. However, Gavisidda could not tolerate the idea of his guru’s departure, and entered the samadhi, attaining nirvikalpa samadhi (death meditating inside a samadhi) in 1816. The guru then started the fair in Gavisidda’s name to commemorate his sacrifice.

The fair has been held without any interruption for the last 200 years. The present pontiff of the Math is Abhinava Gavisiddeshwara Swamiji. About five lakh devotees gather for the annual Rathotsava. The Bharat Ratna scientist CNR Rao, who inaugurated the Rathotsava in 2016, remarked, “This is bigger than the Puri Jagannath festival in Odisha.”

Procession
The Rathotsava is held on the second day after the full moon day in January, locally known as Banada Hunnime, during the godhuli samaya (an auspicious time in the evening, about 45 minutes before sunset). About an hour before Rathotsava begins, the idol of Gavisiddeshwara is taken from the samadhi place of Gavisiddeshwara and is kept inside the chariot. Thousands of devotees pull the chariot, which weighs around 50 tonnes and has a height of about 50 feet. While pulling it, they raise slogans in the name of Gavisiddeshwara.

The chariot is pulled till the Padagatti, a place in front of the temple where three huge stones lie one above the other naturally. This is located about half a kilometre away from the temple’s entrance. After coconuts are offered at the Padagatti, the chariot is then pulled to its original place at the temple’s entrance. While the chariot is being pulled away, devotees offer dry dates and bananas to the idol. It takes about 45 minutes to complete the Rathotsava.

The three-day fair is held on Kailasa Mantapa, an elevation that enables a crowd of at least a lakh to watch the proceedings. This is probably the only such natural platform in Karnataka. In 2011, the classical flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia said, “I have performed on many stages across the world, but my show at Kailasa Mantapa remains my best. My experience here will remain fresh in memory.”

This is probably the only shrine in South India where dasoha (free food) is served throughout the day for 15 days without any break. During this time, a variety of mouth-watering North Karnataka food is served. “The 15-day dasoha at the fair will make it to the Guinness book of world records if proper documentation is made,” former Lokayukta Justice Shivaraj Patil, a guest in 2016, remarked.

Devotees who can’t afford to make offerings live at Gavimath and offer their services. Prakash Chinivalar, a local businessman, says, “Why would legends like Hariprasad Chaurasia, Kadri Gopalnath, CNR Rao, Shivamogga Subbanna come to Koppal but for this fair?” Maestros in Hindustani and Carnatic music from many parts of India have performed here.

Processions and tableaux at the fair put the spotlight on current issues. This year, the focus is on water conservation and blood donation. Business worth about Rs 10 crore is transacted over two weeks, people living here say. Incredibly, the fair is organised not by a formal committee but by devotees who informally share their duties and responsibilities. With so much of offer, the jathre is able to unite people together to celebrate.

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