Mookamba’s River Side Sacred Seat, Kollur
I am doubtlessly a feminist 😀 . That probably explains why I love writing so much about the Devi temples. I think I would make a fitting heir to Jacques Saunier 😛 . Jokes apart, the kshetra in focus in this post happens to be one of my “favoritest” temples. And guess what, I have never been there even once. But so much have I heard and read about the punya bhoomi that I have always felt that I had been there like a dozen times.
Nestled in the shadows of the Kodasadri range, near Mangalore in western Karnataka, lies the sacred village of Kollur. With the perennial Sowbarnika river flowing through the village and the lush abundance of green trees, the place is blessed with natural beauty. To add on to this, stands the age old temple, which is believed to be one of the most sacred spots in all of hinduism. Its golden spires gleaming, the temple attracts a ceaseless flow of pilgrims, who come to the place with a single goal in the mind- To seek the ever gracious divine form of the Mother. They clamor through the streets, go through the main entrance and around the prakara until they get to stand at the steps of the holy sanctum, feasting their eyes with the timeless beauty of Shri Mookambika, who rules over Kollur and all her children’s hearts. Below her lies a swayambu linga with a mysterious golden line running right across it. Hmmmm…
The story behind the Linga and that of Shri Mookambika is described in vivid details in a number of puranas. The story traces itself back to the time of Kolha Maharishi. Deeply devout in nature, the Maharishi was involved in a deep penance in the forests at the place that we now call Kollur. Impressed by the efforts of Kolha Maharishi, the Trimurthis came down together and appeared before him. “Kolha, my son. We have been extremely pleased with your penance,” said Brahma. “And we would like to grant you anything you wish for,” offered Vishnu. Kolha Maharishi was dazed by a darshan of the three most supreme gods in all of the universe. He jumped around in joy and repeatedly praised the Trimurthis for their grace and love. Finally, suppressing his outburst of joy, he looked at them and said, “Oh devas, what else do I need after a darshan of you three. I have attained my birth goal. But one small request. Will you fulfill it for me?” he asked. “Ofcourse, ask what you please son.”, Brahma said again. Gathering his arms up in prayer he looked at them, “For the good of the world, I would like you to stay in this very place and bless us all. The place should be known by my name and every person who comes here and prays to you should have all their wishes fulfilled.” “Thathastu,” voiced Shiva. “We grant you your desire. This place from now onwards shall be called Kolhapuri. Brahma, Vishnu and I will take abode in this very place in the form of a Jyothirlinga. In the ages to come, this shall serve as a mokshapuri, granting boon to all its visitors. The place will further be sanctified by the presence of Shri Devi herself. Long live your devotion”. And with that the Trimurthis vanished into a Jyothirlinga that had sprouted up from the ground. Kolhapuri came into existence.
Eras rolled by, and Kolha Maharishi worshipped the linga with all due respects. Times were good. The rishis performed the yagas dutifully for the greater good. They made their ritual offerings to the devas without fail. Receiving these offerings, the devas became stronger and stronger. And with their strength increased their pride. Indra did nothing much and remained immersed in the luxury of his wealth.
The asuras on the other hand, were in a subdued mood. The asura king had a son, Kamhasura by name. He was strong at heart but physically very weak. The old king worried much about him and the future of the asura clan. He revealed his feelings to the Asuraguru Shukracharya. “Gurudeva”, he said “Look at my son. He is so weak and cannot hold a sword properly. I deeply fear the future of our clan.” “Oh Danava Raja!!!” thundered Shukracharya. “Your son is going to achieve great fame and name. Dont waste yourself worrying so much. Send Kamhasura with me to my aashrama”. The king too sent his son to the aashrama. “Young prince, listen to me very carefully”, said Shukra. “I will preach to you the very powerful Brahma mantra. Do penance unto him until he is forced to come down and then ask him to grant the boon of immortality” Advicing thus, Shukra initiated Kamhasura into the Maha Brahma Mantra. The young prince, sat down amidst a clean place and started chanting the mantra, his focus on Brahma. Years passed and the prince became a handsome young man. An anthill grew around him and the heat from his penance reached Satyaloka, pulling Brahma to his place of meditation.
“Kamhasura”, Brahma called out. Kamhasura opened his eyes and seeing Prajapathi in front of him bowed low and offered his pranaams. “I am extremely pleased with your penance Kamhasura, ask what you please”. Kamhasura bowed again, “Brahma deva, I bow to you, the god of all boon seekers. I desire that I should not see death at the hands of any god, gandharva, deva or asura. No King, beggar, wise man or fool should be able to kill me. Grant me this wish and I will forever remain indebted to you”. “Granted”, said Brahma and disappeared.
Kamhasura rose from his tapas peetha, his body shining like a thousand suns. He turned homewards and on his way saw a Yaksha forcefully assaulting a beautiful princess. Chandraprabha by name, the princess was raising cries for help, but only in vain. Pulled by the shrieks, Kamhasura arrived at the spot and challenged the Yaksha to a fight. A fierce war resulted and Kahmasura, with Brahma’s boon on his side, defeated the Yaksha. Chandraprabha was so amazed by this show of chivalry that she immediately lost her heart to him. An involving romance followed which ended in a marriage. Chandraprabha went to her husband’s kingdom along with him.
In the meanwhile, the old asura king had passed on to the other world and Shukracharya formally crowned Kamhasura as the king. Kamhasura reigned over the asuras. So proud was he, that he banished temples from his kingdoms. He banned the conduction of any yaaga or pooja. The devas grew weaker without their due share of the avirbaaha. Slowly and calculatively, Kamhasura sapped the devas of their strength and then imprisoned them and captured Devaloka. The asuras praised Kamhasura as the ruler of the three worlds. His glory shone all over.
On the other hand, Chandraprabha, a devout Devi baktha, was worried out of her wits. She did not have any temple to pray at and she was shocked at her husband’s crude acts. She approached him one day, “My lord, I have one small deficiency in the palace”, she told him, her voice small. “My lovely queen, what is it that troubles you? Ask and it shall be given”, boomed Kamhasura. “I want a temple to worship the divine mother. Can you build one for me in this palace?”, she asked, her voice dying out with every syllable. Kamhasura was shocked, but to keep up his given word, he planned to build a temple for her. However he wanted to build the temple out of his sight. He sent his soldiers in all directions to look for a suitable site. The soldiers too found one such site, which vibrated with the divine mantras of the rishis who had set up their aashramas there. They forcefully evacuated the maharishis and cleared the place. Soon a beautiful temple dedicated to Devi came up on these grounds and Chandraprabha was happy beyond her dreams.
Kamhasura on the other hand, had earned the wrath of the rishis. They appealed to Devi for their deliverance, but received no answer. The mother chose to remain silent. Kamhasura, drunk with pride, now turned his attention towards the netherworlds. Shukracharya however, foreseeing danger, warned him “Kamhasura, have you forgotten that you have not protected yourself against death by a woman. What if the great Shakthi decides to wipe you out? I advice you to take penance unto Shiva and request him for total immortality.” Kamhasura thought over the advice and realising its validity, once again left to the forest to undertake severe penance unto Shiva. Years rolled by again.
The devas were now in a dilemma. If Kamhasura succeeded in his penance, they will be pushed from the frying pan into the fire. In this extreme fright, Indra appealed to the Goddess “Oh mother, why the silence? Cant you see that we are suffering terribly? Please have some pity on us and put an end to all his atrocities”. The divine mother finally appeared before them. “Devendra,” she said, “have’nt you realised that you yourself are responsible for this pitiful state of yours. You became proud of your victories and remained immersed in luxury. You had to be punished for that.” Indra hung his head in shame, the devas too followed pattern. “But dont worry,” Devi said, “Kamhasura has long crossed the line of tolerance. The prayers of his wife and his boons from Brahma have been keeping him safe this long. Now this has to end.” Saying so she disappeared, leaving the devas with a breath of deep relief.
Kamhasura’s penance had now managed to draw Shiva to him. Shiva voiced, “Kamhasura, you have outdone yourself. Ask what you require”. Kamhasura, all smiles, opened his mouth to demand the boon of immortality. However, the Mother as Vagdevi (The Mistress of Speech) deserted him at the moment. And all that Kamhasura could produce was a whoosh of air from his mouth. “Bahoooo”, he shouted, like a savage. Realising that the gods had played with him, he lunged towards Shankara. Shiva disappeared, leaving Kamhasura seething with fury.
He ran towards the palace, where he was met by a retinue of his ministers. “Danavaraja”, they echoed, “A gory warrior woman, with black skin and a dozen arms with an assortment of weapons is waiting in the battlefield. She has been letting out earth-splitting war cries time and again. The people are afraid and running helter-skelter. Protect us, Oh King.” The king was now even more furious. He ran inside to get himself ready for war. Inspite of repeated pleas by his wife and advice of Shukracharya, he vehemently refused to budge. Shukracharya, finally, extremely vexed with him said “Oh Mookasura (The Dumb Asura), have you lost your senses? Dont you realise that it is Jagathjanani who has come for war against you? Have you forgotten that you are not protected against death by women? Dont be foolish. Apologise to Her. She is as benevolent as she is furious.” But Kamhasura, in his moment of destruction could see no sense in his guru’s advice. Shunning his wife’s cries and his guru’s shouts, he walked onto the war field.
Kali, with her tongue sticking out, red eyes and disheveled hair stood there. “Oh woman,” Mookasura gestured (having lost his sense of speech) , “What can you do to a man like me? Come and fall at my feet and I shall forgive you.” The mother decided that enough was enough and with one giant leap, came down upon him and killed him with her trident. With the touch of the mother’s divine feet, Mookasura however, regained his senses and at his moment of death asked the goddess that she be worshipped by his name. The goddess, just as graceful, agreed to it and gave him salvation. The place where Devi killed Mookasura is today known as Marana Khatte. The devas sounded triumphant horns from the heavens and flowers rained on Devi. “Mookambike Namo Namaha”, they all chanted, enthralled at the killing of the asura. Like Mokkasura had desired, Ambike pronounced that she would be worshipped at this spot as Mookambika and blessing the devas, she disappeared. The world would now be a better place once again.
Eons rolled by again and Shankara was born. A staunch devotee of the mother, he was highly learnt in all the vedas and puranas. Taking sanyasa at a very young age, he travelled all over the country. On his travels he came across a place that was so vibrant with the presence of Shakthi, that he was immediately drawn to it. With his gnana drishti, he realised that it was the very place where Devi Mookambika had killed Mookasura and desiring a darshan of the mother, he started meditating. Devi appeared before him in all her grandeur with four hands, each holding a shankha, a chakra, the varada and abhaya mudras respectively. Shankara was so happy at the darshan of her beautiful form that he let out his joy flow as a poem in tribute to the charm of the mother. “Ambe”, he requested her, “I have given word to my King that I will bring you back to Chera Nadu, where I was born, and make you stay there forever at Chottanikkara. Will you grant me that honor?” Ambika agreed to him and they both journeyed towards modern day Kerala. On the way however they came across the sacred Jyothirlinga, once worshipped by Kolha Maharishi. Devi, knowing the turn of events said “Oh Shankara, it is required that I too should merge into this Jyothirlinga along with the Trimurthis and their wives. The Jyothirlinga will now have a golden line dividing it into two. The right side will be the abode of the Trimurthis and the larger left side will be my abode along with that of Parvathi, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. However, to help you keep up your word, everyday morning, I will first accept the pooja at Chottanikkara and then only accept the pooja here. Long live your teachings.” Blessing Shankara, the mother disappeared into the Linga and a glowing golden line spread across it. Shankara then installed an idol of Mookambika above the Linga and worshipped them both for some time and then continued his theertha yatra. It is around this idol and the jyothirlinga that the present day temple is built. The idol is considered to have been installed by Shri Shankara himself and is hence is held in high sanctity.
The temple today, is a simple stone structure with exquisite carvings. Kolhapuri, over the years became Kollur and has now become a famous pilgrim spot. The temple is open all days, though Tuesdays and Fridays see a further surge in the crowd, and the Devi is worshipped in different costumes and forms. She is celebrated with much rituals and pomp. All the major rituals are done to the Linga too. The golden line (Swarna Rekai) is still visible today and is often referred to as Ardhanaree swarupa.
The temple conducts six kaala poojas everyday. As per the promise given to Shankara, even today, the temple’s first poojas are conducted only after the Bhagavathy at Chottanikkara has been worshipped first. The evening Arathi is referred to as the Salaam Mangalaharathi. Legend says that, when Tipu Sultan came into the temple to collect taxes, so much was he struck by Devi’s charm that he actually bowed to her with a salaam and hence the name. Even today, during the Shravanna Navarathri a number of Muslims visit the temple to keep up communal harmony. Another speciality of the temple is the Kashaya Theertham. This forms a part of the Devi’s Artha Jaama Pooja Naivedhya and is concocted with a special mixture of herbs and spices. It is believed to be a panacea for all illness and was initially prepared by Shankara himself. The Kashaya theertha is distributed to all the devotees after the artha jaama pooja.
The temple has a vast collection of gold and jewels, including a gold sword presented by MGR and a golden mask of the goddess presented by the Vijayanagara kings. Apart from this there is also a face mask for the Linga. Furthermore there are two solid gold utsavar idols. It is believed that the second was given by Rani Chennamma when the first idol was stolen. However the first was eventually recovered and hence there remain two utsavar idols in the sanctum. Festivals are celebrated on a grandscale at the temple. The nine nights of Navarathri are the best of all. During Navarathri, the deepastambha (a column of lamps) in front of the temple is lit, offering a majestic sight to onlookers. The devi is often taken for circumambulation around the temple in temple cars or palanquins. All waters for the abhisheka are taken from the Sowbarnika river (The river was named after Suparna, an eagle who did tapas by the river). All the theerthavaris are also conducted in the river. The other festivals in the months of Adi, the various nonbus and Maha Shivarathri are also celebrated on a large scale. Nowadays, due to the ever increasing crowds, the temple wears a festive look almost everyday. I have somehow not yet had the fortune of visiting this kshetra (Perhaps Mookambika is yet to call me), but to all the others who are capable and interested, I would love you to go ahead. I bet you would be struck dumb by the power and charm of the Goddess. May she bless you with all the happiness in life.