A spiritual trek

A spiritual trek

While it has always been agreed upon that nature never lets down a soul that seeks serenity, it is also true that Indian philosophy and spirituality promptly adhere to people's quest for reflective isolation. True to this belief is the Nellitheertha Somanatheshwara Cave Temple (Guhalaya) situated on the banks of River Nandini, near Mucchur, a small town in Dakshina Kannada. Lord Shiva is the major deity at Somanatheshwara Guhalaya.

Legend and worship

Other than the lush greenery surrounding the temple and a powerful deity worshipped here, this temple deserves attention for a completely different aspect it houses. And that is the cave of Saint Jabali, which is a long and dense cave within the temple premises, inside which resides Lord Shiva in the form of a linga. One can see water droplets in the shape of amla dripping inside the cave. Thereby, the place is named Nellitheertha, nelli meaning gooseberries, and theertha meaning holy water.

Legend has it that, a nomadic saint named Jabali resided (and still resides, for those who want to believe in religious legends) in this very cave. It is said that this saint was responsible for the destruction of evil during the inception of Kali Yuga, and he was the force behind the origin of River Nandini on earth. However, this cave is of importance today owing to a natural idol that emerged from deep within. The Udbhava Linga is sought after by devotees from around the country for a period of six months every year, from October to April. This cave is kept open according to the solar positioning prescribed by astrology. "During the six-month period when the cave is kept accessible to the devotees, the temple remains extremely crowded," says Subhraya Bhat, who is associated with the temple.

Cave temple

During these six months, the idol within the cave is offered daily worship by the priests. In order to enter the cave temple, devotees must take a bath at the pond beside the main temple, called the Nagappana Kere. The 12 feet deep pond with crystal clear water is a visual treat. The devotees are accompanied into the cave by an experienced guide who leads the way with an oil lamp or a torch. Eerie experiences await those who enter the cave, for it is a dwelling for all kinds of snakes, bats and other creatures of nature that even crawl up on people's backs!

Subhraya Bhat states that there haven't been any incidents where the animals have caused any harm to the devotees. The guide accompanying the visitors ensures that people don't cause any harm to these animals.

In addition to the experience of worship and adventure, the devotees also seek to enter the cave for its healing properties. It is said that the walls of this cave are lined with clay that has healing properties. It so happened that some of the devotees took away heaps of clay from within the cave in order to sell it outside, because of which taking clay out from the cave has been restricted.

A noteworthy aspect of this site is the manner of journey undertaken by the visitors during their trek through the cave. Subhraya Bhat relates the various phases of human life to the trek. Just like how a human being emerges in the womb in a crouched position, takes birth, learns to crawl on four limbs, then walks straight, and then bends again in old age; the path along the cave requires the devotees to take just these positions to progress forward. It is a difficult journey, yet a highly satisfying one, as agreed by the regular devotees of the temple.

Pramod Chandke, one of the devotees, states that the natural inhabitants of the cave are actually the highlight of the trek. "The snakes and bats make the journey more interesting and adventurous, and the sight of the Udbhava Linga at the very end is amongst the greatest senses of accomplishment in the world," he states. The sight of snakes roaming around freely along the temple premises is
common around here.

The temple and the cave being situated on the banks of the river, the atmosphere is always cold and sometimes even dripping wet. The temple follows deity worship and spirit worship alongside worshipping snakes. Besides the spiritual and mythological background of the place, this place is appealing to all generations due to its isolated location and adventurous spirit.

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