Lakshmi’s Earthly Residence, Kolhapur/Karvir
“In the name of God, what is happening here?” shouted Ugrasena, the aged king of Mathura. He had been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of drums and conches, and of people running helter-skelter in the corridors. “Can’t an aged man have some rest?”
“Calm down Grandpa”, said Krishna. He was as immaculately dressed as ever which was a matter of concern as the night guard had rung the sixth hour after moonrise. “Jarasandha is attacking Mathura.” he informed the king, with the coolness of discussing the weather.
“Again?” shrieked Ugrasena, his voice thick with surprise. “Has sense still not penetrated through his thick skull after seventeen continuous defeats at the hands of the Yadavas?”
Jarasandha, the King of Magadha, was the father-in-law of Kamsa. Extremely powerful and an intense Shiva bhaktha, Jarasandha had married off his daughters, Asti and Prapti to the then crown prince of Mathura – Kamsa. His ties with Kamsa extended well beyond those that exist between a father-in-law and a son-in-law. Jarasandha even went to the extent of sending in troops to aid Kamsa in overthrowing his own father, the King Ugrasena.
Naturally, the death of Kamsa at the hands of Krishna changed Jarasandha’s friendly relationships with the kingdom of Mathura. Unable to see the pitiful condition of his widowed daughters, he vowed to kill Krishna and win over the city of Mathura. Seventeen times, he had attacked Mathura, gathering his armies time and again, only to fail repeatedly.
“It is different this time Grandpa” said Krishna. “His army is huge; surely at least ten times our own forces. And we have such short notice. I do not want to put the people of Mathura at risk.”
“So, what do we do? Surrender to him shamelessly without putting up a fight?” asked Ugrasena, his age suddenly showing on his face.
“Noooooo…” shouted a distant voice. “That is not necessary.” The owner of the voice had rushed into the royal chambers, his clothes in a total state of mess. It was Vikadru, an aged and experience statesman. “Maharaja”, he said, kneeling before the king, “a word of advice from your humble servant”. Ugrasena nodded.
“It is my perception that Jarasandha wants to take over Mathura for the sole purpose of capturing and killing our prince, Krishna. If by some way, the prince sneaks out of the city and Jarasandha comes to hear of it, then I don’t think he will attack Mathura.”
“So you expect Krishna to run away from the very city of which he is the prince, leaving it open to attack?” shouted Ugrasena.
But Krishna’s face shone brighter. “I say, that’s a smashing idea. I will leave the city. Jarasandha will not attack if I am not there. The city will be saved. I can even take Balarama with me for company. We will tour the country side.” he said with a snide grin.
“But where will they go? They are princes, not homeless nomads.” Ugrasena was livid with anger and fear.
“Oh King, listen to me. I have the perfect plan for the escape of the princes. In fact, they will go and take shelter in a city that is our very own. A city that was actually built by the very originators of the Yadava race.” Vikadru’s eyes shined with the excitement of a long kept secret.
“A city built by the Yadavas? Where is this Vikadru? How come we have never heard about it? When was it built?” asked a hyper excited Krishna. “Tell us about it Vikadru.”
“Then I will better start now. For it is going to be a long story” said Vikadru, settling into a comfortable couch.
“Ages ago, when in deep meditation at the time of creation, Brahma had created three Manasaputras – Gaya, Lavana and Kolha. By the blessings of their own father, these three were immensely powerful and virtually invincible. They became rulers of three vast and powerful regions on the earth.”
“However, Gaya and Lavana, owing to their ego and pride, somehow managed to get on the wrong side of Yama and Vishnu. Enraged by their acts of shameless behavior, the gods killed them. However, giving due respects to their status as Brahma putras, they were granted instant moksha and the place where they died became a holy center of pilgrimage, Vishnugaya.”
“Kolha, the youngest of the three was astounded on hearing about the death of his brothers. Enraged at the wicked doings of the gods, Kolha decided to avenge the death of his brothers. But instead of waging a war against the gods, he decided to dislodge them from their seats of power by performing intense tapas. He left his kingdom and proceeded to the mountains which are presently a part of the Sahyadris to lead the austere life of a Tapasvin. Years passed and the intensity of his penance increased.”
“In the meanwhile, Sukeshi, an asura by birth, had seized control of Kolha’s kingdom. Due to his tamasic nature he tortured rishis and burnt their ashramas. Religion no longer held its head up during his reign. Temples were destroyed and innocents were killed mercilessly. But the gods took no action, for they knew what was in store.”
“Owing to the intensity of Kolha’s penance, Brahma came down to earth and offered the entire universe at his feet. Powered by this new boon, Kolha returned back to his city. Shocked at the turn of events, he attacked Sukeshi and killed him instantly, taking back control of his kingdom. Everyone rejoiced, but this was hardly the end of the gods’ troubles.”
“Kolha then decided to hand over the kingdom to Karvir, his eldest son. And Karvir was just as bad as Sukeshi. His natural inclination towards aggression and bloodshed burst into flames of hatred when he learnt that the gods were responsible for the death of his two uncles. He took upon himself the task of seeking retribution. He demolished shrines, desecrated Yagnyashalas and slaughtered sages and brahmins.”
“Finally, unable to remain oblivious to the actions of Karvir, the Trimurthis came down and declared war on him. Karvir was a great warrior and the grandson of Brahma, which made him almost invincible. The battle went on for several days with heavy losses on both the warring sides. Ultimately Shiva pierced him with his trident and killed him, bringing joy to the gods. Along with Karvir, three of his brothers had died in the battle too. The Trimurthis named the place Karvirnagar in honor of Karvir according to a boon that Karvir had demanded just before his moment of death.”
“The old king Kolha was however boiling with fury when he heard the plight of his sons. His hatred towards the gods redoubled. The fire of vengeance burnt him from his very insides. But he was a wise man as we had already seen from his calm succession of the universe. He knew that Mahalakshmi was the power of all gods, the mother of all creation. If she was somehow overcome, then defeating the gods would become a cakewalk.”
“Shrewd as he was, he once again took to penance to appease the Devi. Pleased by his severe tapas Laksmi appeared before him to grant him a boon of his choice. Seizing this gift, he immediately asked Mahalakshmi to withdraw herself from Karvir for a hundred years so that he could humble the proud gods. Bound by her own words, Lakshmi had to leave Karvir and proceed towards the Himalayas.”
“Blinded by his victory, Kolhasur began his reign of destruction. He plundered and looted and destroyed temples. He allowed no one to live in peace. The gods looked helplessly at the destruction as the Devi had withdrawn herself from Karvir and with her all their powers too, had vanished. Mahalakshmi herself had become extremely restive due to the mounting atrocities of Kolhasur. The years passed and as the period counted down, Lakshmi gradually approached Karvir. Finally at the end of the period, supported by a large army of gods including Ranka Bhairav, Kala Vetal, Siddha Batukeshwar and Chamunda, Lakshmi entered Kolhasur’s kingdom.”
“With eighteen arms, bearing different weapons and seated on a majestic lion, the Devi looked fearsome. With one jump she was onto Kolhasur. At the touch of her lotus feet all evil intentions raced away from Kolhasur’s mind. He was the son of Brahma after all and by nature he was just as pure as Brahma himself. Realizing his mistakes and knowing that his time was up, Kolhasur asked Lakshmi for three boons. Firstly the place of his death was to become a holy center for pilgrimage. Second, that Devi should reside in her original abode and the place should be known as Kolapur after him. And lastly, a fruit named Kohala should be cut in his honor every year. The Devi granted him these boons and also granted him mukthi.”
“The many princesses of Devas, Nagas and Manavas who were imprisoned by Kolasur were freed by the Devi and these virgins, sixty four in number became the sixty four Yoginis of Lalitha. Further the four assistants of Kolasur – Rakthalola, Rakthabhija, Rakthaksha and Rakthabhojana were killed respectively by four of devi’s army leaders – Ujjavalambha, Katyayani, Siddha Bhatukesh and Kedar at the eastern, southern, western and northern gates of the city. To this day, these four assistants guard the four sides of the city from their shrines on the hills”
“As requested by Kolasur, Lakshmi stayed back in Kolhapur as the kshetradevata. The city of Kolhapur came into existence.”
“But, Kolhasur was no Yadava. Where did our race come into the picture?” asked a very sleepy Ugrasena.
“Aahaa!!! Here is the interesting part. The link to us, the Yadavas” cried Vikadru with the enthusiasm of a four year old.
“Remember Yadu, the founder of Yadukula and the son of Haryashva?” asked Vikadru in a teasing voice. “Well, that’s where the connection begins. Once when Yadu had gone to the sea to enjoy a game of Jalakrida with his two wives, all of a sudden the ruler of the underwater Naga-Loka, Dhumravarna, caught Yadu by his legs and dragged him down to his kingdom. Having been kidnapped thus , Yadu was in for a shocker at the capital of Dhumravarna. He was accorded the highest forms of welcome complete with a Poorna Kumbha and vedic rites. Dhumravarna himself escorted Yadu to his palace, seated him on a high throne and performed various Upacharas to the guest. Mildly surprised by the welcome, Yadu was very happy when Dhumravarna praised him and the prosperity of the lands under his reign. However, his biggest surprise came when Dhumravarna offered his five beautiful Naga daughters in marriage to him. Yadu, being a Kshatriya couldn’t refuse this and his doubts about this exorbitant offer were put to rest when Dhumravarna informed him that each of the offsprings borne by daughters would befit to be the crown prince of a king as powerful as Yadu. The marriages were celebrated on a grand scale with Dhumravarna giving away heaps of the famed Naga wealth to Yadu as a gift to his son-in-law. The five princesses were sent with Yadu back to his capital with all due formalities and much fanfare.”
“In due course of time, the five queens conceived and each gave birth to a son. The five newborns were a delight to behold, each blessed with various angalakshanas for royalty. Yadu raised them giving them the best of education in the shastras, warfare, arts and crafts. When they came of age, each was a powerful personality bursting with young blood. They asked Yadu to provide them with tasks with which they might be able to prove themselves. Yadu, highly pleased by his sons, set them the highly formidable task of populating the area to the south of the Vindhyas. Thus Muchukund founded Mahishmati by the banks of Narmada and also built another city Purika between the Vindhyas and Rikshavan ranges. Harita took control of some of the islands off the western coast of Bharathavarsha. Sarasa established the city of Kraunchapura. The last son, Padmavarna travelled far south into the heart of the Sahyadris and by the banks of Venna river, he built a city that was christened Padmavat. It is this city which is presently known as Kolhapur and it is here that I ask the princes to retreat while Jarasandha tries to attack Mathura.”
“Hmmmm” said Ugrasena. And that was all that Krishna needed. He rushed off to just drag his bewildered brother, Balarama, onto his chariot and off they sped towards the south. However, their plan did not exactly work the way they had envisioned it. Jarasandha’s spy network was clever enough to tip him off about the princes’ escape and soon Krishna and Balarama discovered, to their dismay, that Jarasandha was close on their heels. It was then that they met Parashurama at the outskirts of Kolhapur. Their relief was however very short lasting when they learnt that Kolhapur was now controlled by a tyrant called Shrigal. They finally had to resort to Giri-Yuddha or Guerilla warfare from the Sahyadhris to attack the onrushing hordes of Jarasandha. With the help of Parashurama’s extensive knowledge of every kind of weapon, they were able to subdue Jarasandha and pack him home to Magadha. Krishna, with the help of a distant cousin Chhedi Raja also overthrew Shrigal off the throne that rightfully belonged to the Yadavas and crowned Shrigal’s son Shakradeva as the king.
The above narration of Vikadru detailing the history of Karvir occurs in “Harivamsha”, a supplement to the Mahabharatha that traces the lineage of Hari as Krishna, and provides much of the puranic information regarding what is one of the most important Shakthi peethas in the state of Maharashtra- Karvir or as it is known today, Kolhapur. This is where the eyes of Dakshayani are said to have fallen, elevating the kshetra to the status of a Maha Shakthi Peeth. Also known as Dakshina Kashi among the Marathis, it is believed that when Vishnu weighed Kashi against Kolhapur on a weighing scale, Kolhapur won hands down. The town is one of the four Shakthi peethas located in Maharashtra, the other three being Tuljhapur Bhavani, Saptashringi Jagadamba and Mahur Mahamaya Renuka Devi.
It is very obvious that Mahalakshmi rules the city completely from her temple located at the very heart of the town. Grand in it’s conception and construction, with tall towers (that are surprisingly devoid of any decorations) and numerous shrines, the temple is always bustling with people. The main door is on the western side and is known as the Mahadwara. The central shrine is dedicated to Mahalakshmi, who is present in all her glory, facing west. She is shown with four hands, the lower right holding a Matulinga fruit, the upper right with the mace Kaumodaki, the upper left holding a shield and the lower left bearing a vessel. She is crowned by a Naga-hood along with a Shiva linga. Behind her stands the lion as her Vahana. She is delightfully dressed everyday with jewels and gems worth many many lakhs and shines like the moon on earth. To add to her beauty twice a year the setting sun brightens the goddess’s face with his rays for three days during the Vernal and Autumnal equinox (Celebrated as the Kiran Utsav), a sight which draws many pilgrims to the sacred thirth. Also for the three days starting from Rathasaptami, the rays fall respectively at the goddess’ feet, her chest and the head, making us wonder at the accurate astrological calculations performed by the architects of yore.
The northern shrine of the temple is dedicated to Mahakali while the south facing shrine is graced by Mahasaraswathi. Apart from these there are scores of other deities ranging from Ganesh, Rama, Krishna, Vishnu to a very unusually placed Shivalinga and Nandi on the second storey of the temple right over the Garbhagriha of Mahalakshmi.
It is believed that this peetha was originally dedicated to four deities – Lakshmi, Parvathi, Kanka Bhairav and Kolla. Historians say that the puranic Kolla was replaced by Mahasaraswathi, aptly justified by the fact that her shrine differs from the ones of the nearly identical shrines to Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswathi. The Kanka Bhairav shrine is nowhere in the vicinity of the temple but some historians link the Ranka Bhairav shrines nearby to the ancient Kanka Bhairav.
The kshetra was famous throughout all of the seven Kalpas. In the first it was known as Kamagiri and was the abode of Madana, the god of love. In the second it was known as Padmalaya after its ruler Padmaraja. During the third Kalpa, Shiva and Parvati resided here and it became famous as Shivalaya. The fourth Kalpa saw Brahma ruling the kshetra and it was called Brahmalaya on that count. Kubera ruled the kshetra in the fifth Kalpa and it was known as Yakshalaya. Next it became Rakshasalaya after the ruler Sukeshi. The last Kalpa saw Kolhasur in the saddle and then it was known as Rakshasapuri.
In the third Kalpa when Shiva and Parvathi had Karvir as their home, one day Parvathi lost one of her glittering Manikundal or earrings. Seeing the goddess in distress, the Shiva ganas searched the place with much ferocity. Finally, after digging many thousand metres into the earth, they recovered the earring. Extremely pleased with their service Parvathi made the gaping hole a theertha. Presently known as the Manikarnika kund after Parvathi’s earring, this theertha is located within the temple precincts and has a small shrine dedicated to Vishweshwara on its banks. It is customary to bathe in this theertha, offer respects to Vishweshwara and then proceed on to the Mahalakshmi shrine
The temple was served and supported by generations of kings from the Rashtrakutha, Kadamba and Chalukya dynasty. Much of the original architectural works are attributed to them. The earliest records found date back to 817 AD and tell us of the tale of Amoghavarsha, a valiant Rashtrakutha ruler who had cut off his fingers as a sacrifice to the goddess for bringing peace upon his people. However, much of this splendorous architecture was destroyed by the Moghul invasion of the Deccan. Consequently, the rulers, fearing damage to the icon of the goddess, had her removed to a safe place for protection. It was only after the Maratha regime was re-established with sufficient stability that the goddess was brought back to her ancient shrine and with many rituals was welcomed to her home on the Vijayadashami of 1715. Ever since, she has been worshipped by people from far and near who come to her for peace, guidance and support. Much of the destroyed architecture was repaired and redone, but in no way could it reach the perfection and beauty of the original ancient temple.
The temple performs Pancha Kala poojas everyday according to the Marathi traditions. The day begins with the waking of the goddess at five in the morning, followed by Abhisheka and alankara ending with the Kakad arathi. At eight, the second kala pooja begins where the goddess is offered with the Shodasopacharas (sixteen acts of welcoming and honoring the goddess). The third pooja at noon is the main worship and consists of the Shodasopacharas along with milk and Panchamrit abhisheka. The evening pooja again takes place at six and sees the offering of Panchopacharas (Five acts of worship) and finally the Goddess is put to sleep with milk and sweet at eight in the night to the lilting tunes of the Shej Arathi. Each of these poojas is accompanied by festive music played by the temple band in the mandapa. Fridays and full moon nights see the Palki procession of the goddess around the temple. The annual Rathotsava is celebrated on the full moon of Chaitra and the traditional Seemollanghan (Marathi practice of crossing the village border) is dutifully followed on the Vijayadashami day. Interestingly, while returning back from the Seemollanghan, the goddess comes through the traditional Shudra neighbourhood where she is welcomed with much enthusiasm. Navarathris are celebrated with great pomp and splendor as in every other major Devi shrine. Also, the shrine celebrates no particular annual festival. People trickle in and out to fulfill their vows and pay their respects. A number of the Marathi families have the goddess Karvirnivasini as their family deity and often seek her blessing during any important occasion in the family such as birth of a new born, marriage etc. The goddess is showered with offerings of bangles, kumkum, jewellery and sarees for fulfilling their prayers. In fact some of the priceless jewels and crowns that adorn the goddess on festive occasions were gifts by kings and zamindars in exchange for their prayers being answered.
According to the Puranic texts, the darshan of the Mahalakshmi alone does not end the proper pilgrimage to Karvir. The kshetra extends over a large area. It extends from the temple of Rameshvar-Mahadev in the village of Alate in the east upto Kaleshwar in the west to and from Chakreshvar in the south to Mallikarjun in the North.
A bhaktha desirous of undertaking a pilgrimage of the kshetra is to take bath either in the Manikarnika kund, or in the Panchaganga river (Incidentally the Panchaganga is the combination of five rivers – Shiva, Bhadra, Saraswathi, Kumbhi and Bhogavati, each created by one of the five Rishis Kashyapa, Kalava, Garga, Vishwamitra and Vasishta to provide a Mahanadhi for Brahma’s ceremonial bath at the end of a great Yagna). Then he should perform the ritual worship of Ganesh, distribute gifts and dakshina and begin the yatra on the subsequent day Starting with Tryambuli on the Tembalai hill followed by Sakshivinayak there are around twelve to eighteen temples that should be included in the itinerary, most of them in the temple courtyard and Ranka-Bhairav on the Rankala lake, Various tirths and kunds like Amrikund, Padmatirth, Suryatirth are also mentioned as meritorious places of worship.
Karvir is one of those rare places where one can get both their desires fulfilled and also attain Mukthi. It is the favorite residence of Vishnu, even above that of Vaikuntha for it is where Shri dwells. The divine couple will not desert the place even at the time of the Mahapralaya making it an Avimukthakshetra.
To visit this temple of Ambabai, as she is lovingly called by her devotees, is a blessing in itself. What more can one ask than to visit one’s loving mother, especially when she is the queen of the world.
[PS : Sorry for the long hiatus. The gods were all against it I guess but I am back now ]