SATYAM SHIVAM SUNDARAM – A Piligrim’s Happy Accident in Coorg
Explore the sacred and wildside of Kodagu; visit the Maha Mruthunjaya Temple at Badagakeri, breathe in the beauty of Glenlorna Tea Estate, engage in white water rafting at Barapole, and keep away from the leeches of the Devara Kaadu of Sri Kotiaalu Eshwara at Garakeri.
By Leena Kaveriappa
The ‘Maha Mruthunjaya Temple’ at Badagarakeri village in Kodagu, situated at the Southern end of Coorg bordering Kerala, is believed to be over 800 years old and the deity is believed to have the power to ward off untimely death. People from far and wide revere and visit this sacred temple praying for the life of their loved ones, especially the young. It is believed that those who make a vow to the deity and perform the ‘Mruthunjaya Homa’ at the temple will be protected from any kind of impending unnatural death.
During October 2014 I had the opportunity to visit this temple along with my family, though I had visited this temple earlier in 2007. To visit this temple one has to drive on the Gonikoppal–Birunani road on SH 89, and at the Srimangala town circle you turn right heading towards T. Shettigeri Road. As you drive along you are surrounded by coffee estates, forests and hills; and suddenly out of the blue, the thickets of the jungle and coffee estates opens up to an expanse of Tea bushes carpeting the entire landscape of the hill slopes on either sides! Believe me, one will wonder if it is real or a dream! It is a visual treat for anyone driving past this beautiful carpeted hill side, which is a dramatic experience for a first time traveller. This is the Glenlorna Tea Estate with over 1000 acres, now owned by the Tata Group. This tea plantation was originally owned by a British planter, who named the estate after his son ‘Glen’ and daughter ‘Lorna’. The first tea bush was planted in 1914, and those tea bushes blossom till date.
Glenlorna Tea Estate
As one drives past Glenlorna Tea Estate, keeping to the right, you cross a bridge under which flows the Bharapole River. This river is known for white water river-rafting, wherein the rough meandering flow of the river rapid is graded between the level of 2 to 4 due to the scale of difficulty in navigating through the medium waves and large rocks, some of which have considerable drops. The drive to the temple is about 15 to 20 mts from the bridge. Soon after we crossed the bridge, the landscape once again transformed back to the thickets of coffee bushes and forests leaving us in a state of daze.
Bharapole River photographed during summer of 2007
Finally, we reached the Mruthunjaya Temple just in time for the ‘Mruthunjaya Homa’ that was organized for a member of my family, as per my mother’s wish and prayer. What captivates a nature lover is the serene expanse of nature’s treasure all around, giving you a feeling of being in one with ‘Mother Nature’. Unfortunately, I am unable to share the photographs of the beautiful surroundings of this temple as I have lost them. The best time to experience the serenity of the place, and explore the temple surroundings is to be there by 9.00 AM, i.e., before families arrive for their respective ‘Mruthunjaya Homa’, and before busload of people arrive for the ‘Maha Pooja’ at 12 noon.
Maha Mruthunjaya Temple at Badagarakeri, Kodagu
After the ‘Mruthunjaya Homa’ was conducted for my family member between 9am to 10am, the family spent time together pottering around the place waiting for the ‘Maha Pooja’at 12 noon. Another baffling experience during the ‘Maha Pooja’ that got my son’s and my thoughts pondering and contemplating about ‘The Supreme One’ was the presence of a dog that appeared out of the blue! Though we are a family of animal lovers, what caught our attention was the way this dog sat in front of the temple door with its forelegs crossed, in a state of trance just like a human, paying his/her respects to the deity when the beating of the drums and the chimes of the bells started to echo across the hills just before the ‘Maha Pooja’. The animal seemed least perturbed with the presence of strangers around him/ her, and sat there as though he/she was communicating with ‘The Supreme One’. Believe it or not, our belief that every living thing on this earth has a ‘Spiritual Connection’ to the ‘Supreme One’, was proof enough to what we saw in this animal! It was as though some ‘Spiritual Messenger’ had appeared in the form of this dog, giving a clear message that “God is everywhere”. And talking about loyalty and devotion, we humans have so much to learn from an animal – “man’s best friend”.
The Spiritual Messenger
After the ‘Mruthunjaya Homa’ was performed between 9.00AM to 10.00 AM, we had two hours’ time left for the ‘Maha Homa’ which was at 12 noon. So my son and I decided to go on a drive to explore the surrounding areas of the temple. As we drove down the temple road we came to a T junction, and my son asked, “which way do you want to go mamma”. And I responded, “Sannu, just keep driving down the road that takes us to ‘nowhere land’, never know what we may stumble upon”! Such impromptu drives in the past have led us to discover some enchanting places and sights of wilderness in our own homeland; A Happy Accident! Driving along winding rocky roads, passing through coffee estates and the wilderness, being engulfed in mist while brushing through the cloud enveloped hills of Coorg, is an astral and magical experience for any nature lover/traveler! As always, I have been in awe at the sight of the cloud kissed lush green hills, and feel that ‘Mother Nature’ keeps giving we humans a message all the time; “it is a great feeling sailing high up in the sky, but it is pertinent that we also stay grounded to be in touch with Mother Earth”.
We drove past a bumpy stone laden road surrounded by coffee estates on either sides, sure enough the road led us to a “Magical & Spiritual” sight. The road started to get narrower and steeper and bumpier and rockier with large potholes, and we wondered if we could drive any further as it was a task to maneuver the car on such a road. Lo & Behold! As we came to halt, we were captivated by the sight of thousands of fluttering jewels all around us! Never in my life had I experienced such a beautiful sight of so many species and hues of butterflies – the ‘Blue Tiger’, the ‘Black Crow’, the ‘Malabar Banded Peacock’ and many more – all congregating at one place! We stopped for a while to admire this beautiful sight, which also urged us to drive further with the hope that we would stumble upon something more captivating. However, one thing that bothered us both was, these butterflies seemed to be disturbed and helpless hovering all over the road trying to rest on broken branches that lay scattered. We then noticed people cutting down trees and bushes, probably for cultivation or some development, due to which the habitat of the butterflies were being disturbed. I tried to talk to the men not to destroy the habitat of these beautiful butterflies and explain to them on their importance to our eco-system, but they gave a deaf ear to my calls and carried on merrily with their machetes. My son, being a young sensitive man, was getting restless at this point watching the helplessness of these insects, and was in the verge of getting into an argument with the men. But, I had to calm him down coaxing him to move on, and not get into any altercation with these men.
The stone laden road that led to the sight of ‘Kodagu’s Precious Jewels of Nature’ – Butterflies
As we continued driving, our minds were troubled at the plight of these butterflies until we crossed a narrow bridge over a pristine rivulet flowing deep below, and till we came to a pace where the road forked surrounded by dense wilderness. Given our unfamiliarity with the area we were in two minds to proceed, as there were to two paths that were not motorable. It was then that we noticed a sign board in Kannada, without any indication of the direction, that read ‘Sri Kotiaalu Eshwara Devasthana, Garakeri’. I gambled “right” and intuitively told my son, “lets take the right turn”. The drive down the path appeared to be taking us nowhere, and we were on the verge of turning back as the narrow path would not allow a car to turn around. A short distance away we came to a clearing that left us awestruck; a pristine lush open Sanctum circled by large trees!
Path leading to the Devara Kaadu of Sri Kotiaalu Eshwara Temple, and the first glimpse of the Pristine Sanctum of Sri Kotiaalu Eshwara
However, soon as my son and I spotted this pristine sanctum I realized we were amidst a ‘Devara Kadu’ – A Sacred Grove. These forest lands are ancient sacred groves which are protected by the inhabitants of the land, as well as the forest department. These sacred groves are dedicated to the local deities like Choundi, Bhadrakaali, Eshwara, Subramani, Malay Ayyappa, and so on, which are also believed to have their accompanying celestial guards with mystical powers. Age old rituals and traditions of emotional and spiritual beliefs are followed by the local residents in the sanctum of these deities in these sacred groves, therefore it is important for any tourist, trekker or nature explorer to get in touch with a local guide, or resident, to find out about the customs, restrictions and etiquette to be followed before you venture into any Devara Kaadu. (A brief detail about ‘Devara Kaddu’ – The Sacred Groves of Kodagu is jotted in the last para of this write-up).
And as we got off the car my son had a strange feeling that there was a large snake around this place. Oh yes, this part of Coorg is the home to the King of Snakes – the ‘King Cobra’! As for me, I was more scared and worried about ‘leeches’ as these blood suckers give me the creeps! Moreover, we were not clothed appropriately for such a terrain. Nevertheless, I set off enthusiastically along with my cameras, lifted the pleats of my Kodavathi saree and tucked it to my petticoat, when I suddenly heard my son yell on top of his voice, “Mamma get back to the car, this place is infested with leeches. Look at them crawling towards my legs”. I could not see any around, and wondered if the power of my eyesight was getting worse, and thought he was joking as he was aware of my fear for leeches. I ignored his warning and moved ahead to explore the place without any fear…some blind courage I must say! Having said this, had I spotted them earlier I would not have ventured out of the car, and would have missed witnessing every detail of this enchanting place! As I approached the Sanctum I noticed few Trishuls (Tridents), some earthen and stone figurines in the forms of humans, dogs, horses, cows and that of two heads of a male and female which all looked pre-historic. As I moved towards the entrance of the Sanctum I noticed a large earthen figurine of a cow rested on the compound wall, and then a large stone sculpture of a snake about 2-3 feet tall at the entrance of this sanctum that was absolutely captivating. Yes, my son’s intuition earlier about the presence of a large snake around this place was right…but the snake was not real 🙂 Nevertheless, by this time I started to get an eerie feeling of the presence of ‘King Cobras’ around this place. The entrance gate of this temple faced the thick jungle that had another walkable path, which I did not want to venture given the unfamiliar terrain. When I entered the Sanctum that was opened up to the sky, it was a magical experience! The innermost Sanctum had a rock that was adorned with a pair of eyes made of silver, a huge brass Trident behind it, a pair of carved stone idols of dogs besides it, and there was pin drop silence with not a soul around apart from the noises of cicada’s & crickets and chirping of birds. This place brought back childhood memories of reading some of the ‘The Famous Five’ books by Enid Blyton. and discovering this pristine place also reminded me of a verse from Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road not Taken, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”!
Devara Kaadu – The Sacred Grove of the ‘Sri Kotiaalu Eshwara Devasthana’ at Garakeri
This place was magical and mesmerizing, I could have stayed there the whole day letting my mind wander away, allowing the sanctity and the serenity of the place engulf me. As I was lost admiring and photographing this enchanting place, I realized it was time for us to head back to the Mruthunjaya Temple and bid adieu paying my respects to ‘Mother Nature’. Back at the temple, after a while I noticed blood oozing out from the gaps of my toes and realised that I was bitten by a leech which my son had warn me earlier:-) Eeeeeeeeeeeks…the creepy crawlies did manage to get the taste of my sweet blood!
I was left with unquenched spiritual quest, as there were so many questions about this enchanting celestial wooded area. My mind and thoughts started to race, I was curious to know on the history of this beautiful, serene and pristine place. Such sacred places of worship in Coorg are etched with the culture of the Kodavas and other local tribes. After we got back home I tried to do some research on the internet on the ‘Kotiaalu Eshwara Temple’ and also enquired with some people, which remained unfruitful till date. I even called the Priest at Mruthunjaya Temple to enquire about this temple, and all that he told me was, “this place of worship is of ‘Malay Aiyappa’ (deity representing Nature who is revered by the Kodavas) which has been there since the by gone days of the Raja’s (Kings), and a pooja is performed only once every month”. The priest’s reply left me disappointed as I was expecting more information on my spiritual quest of this beautiful primeval Sanctum.
However, during my fact-finding on the internet about ‘Devara Kaadu’ of Kodagu I chanced upon certain interesting facts – the Trishul (Trident) is a symbol of destroying the ‘Ego’. The Trishul wielded by Lord Shiva & Goddess Kali / Durga represents the Trinities – creation, maintenance and destruction. The earthen figurine of the Cow (Kamadhenu) is the symbol of the Holy Bovine revered by the Hindus, as well as few other religions. The figurines of human child, dogs and horses are offerings made by people whose vows were fulfilled, and the figurines of the two heads are of the mythical “Ghandharva and Apsara’ or ‘Deva Doota’ are the celestial beings with mystical powers who guard the ‘Deity’ in the scared grove. In the Hindu puranas and epics, it is stated that the Gandharvas used to sing and play the musical instrument beautifully while the beautiful Apsaras danced to their songs and music. Gandharvas are also said to be very powerful warriors who don’t fear any king or mortal.
Devara Kaadu – The Sacred Groves of Kodagu/Coorg has been designated as the ‘Grove Capital of the World’ by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) with the sole intention to preserve the tradition of such forests that are protected by the local tribes. These sacred groves are a hub of biodiversity with many exotic species of flora and fauna (some of which are rare), as they have been protected and revered by our ancestors and the locals since time immemorial wherein hunting and felling of trees or the bushes are banned. These sacred groves are considered as the abode of the local deity in every village in Kodagu, and the shrines in these sacred groves are left open to the sky with a ‘Rock’ (the deity) on a platform that are believed to have mystical powers and locals fear the wrath of the deity if they commit any sin. The Kodavas being ‘Nature worshippers’ believe in the conservation of ‘Devara Kaadu’ as it is closely linked to their family tradition and festivals, and the deity in these ancient sacred groves are also deeply revered by other local tribes and Hindu Communities, who pray and make vows for the well-being and protection of their loved ones and their animals, or for something they have wished for. Once their prayers have been fulfilled, they offer earthen figurines of a human/child, dog, cattle or any animal to appease the deity. This is a practice that has been followed since the prehistoric times by the Kodava community and other locals of this region, though some sections of society dispute and scorn these beliefs and traditions. Nevertheless, these age-old rituals and customs have a direct connection to the spiritual and emotional needs of the Coorg who respect and believe in the relationship with Nature.
More on Devara Kaadu; the sacred groves of Coorg – Dr. Lalitha K. P. Assistant Professor, Department of Kannada, BMS College for Women in Bengaluru has made a beautiful Analysis of SACRED GROVES with Special Reference to Coorg on http://www.ijrhss.org/pdf/v2-i10/6.pdf
As I come to the end of this long passage of my spiritual quest, with the anticipation that someday I am able to get more insight to the history of this beautiful ‘Kotiaalu Eshwara’ temple, I shall sign off hoping that you all enjoy the visual treat of this ‘Spiritual Journey’. So long till then – SATYAM SHIVAM SUNDARAM
Keep the Pristine Environment of Coorg Clean. Do not litter & do not destroy her Flora & Fauna
ROUTE TO MRITYUNJAYA TEMPLE:
Route to Maha Mruthunjaya Temple at Badagarakeri is located on the Gonikoppal – Birunani road on SH- 89 . The place is approximately 35 kilometers from Gonikoppal > drive past Ponnampet towards Srimangala Road > at the T. Shettigeri bustop take the right turn leading to Birunani road > drive past Glenlorna Tea Estate > drive past the Bharapole bridge > from this point it is a 15 mt drive, 7.5ms to the temple > drive all the way to the Badagakeri bustop and take the right turn towards Pookala–Birunani Rd > follow the main road keeping to your right all the way to the temple. If you get lost, any local resident will help you find your way. The route can also be found via google earth or google maps:
Note: some information about ‘Devara Kaadu – The Sacred Groves of Kodagu’ in this write-up are sourced from various websites.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Leena Kaveriappa – is a farmer/planter from Kodagu. She is also a birding, nature and wildlife enthusiast. During her spare time, she keeps her creative side alive by painting and working on anything artistic, and also enjoys photography, reading and travelling. Before getting her hands into farming/coffee plantation in Coorg, she spent her earlier years managing Software Events for the ‘Software Developer Community’ under the Asia Pacific team in a Global Software firm in Bangalore, which took her to some countries in the East and West.