Nethravati, a holy river of Dakshina Kannada of Karnataka has its origin at Bangarabalige valley of Yalnir Ghat in Kudremukh of Chikmagalur District. The river flows down through rocky masses encircling the hills and villages of Belthangady, Bantwal and Mangalore Taluks. As the river gushes through the hilly terrains, meandering through the lush green surroundings it sends an invitation to a myriad of bird and insects. The melody of the birds and chirping of the insects in tune to the sound of the water sometimes falling down the steep slopes and at other times lazily lying about create a heavenly atmosphere.
There is an interesting story about the origin of this holy river, a reference found in Teertha Prabandha by Saint Vadiraja. When Bhagwan Vishnu took the Varaha Avatar (form of a boar) and came to rescue ‘Prithvi’ from the demon Hiranyaksha, a prolongued battle ensued. In the end Sri Varaha Dev defeated Hiranyaksha and rescued Prithvi. He raised the land that was immersed in floods with his tusk and brought it up. Free from the clutches of the demon, tears of gratitude ran down the eyes of Pritvi. This stream of tears of joy is considered to be the birth of the river Nethravati.This holy river of Dakshina Kannada flows through the renowned pilgrimage place Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala.
About eight centuries ago, Dharmasthala was known as Kuduma in Mallarmadi, a small village in Belthangady. A Jain chieftain named Birmanna Pergade lived in this village happily with his wife Ammu Ballalthi. They had a small, clean house which they had beautified with their kindness and love. They had named their home Nelliadi Beedu. They had opened their home and heart to people, always working for the upliftment of the people and the society. They had no idea that a day would come that would change their lives forever. One day, after finishing their day’s job, the couple went to bed. Four people barged into their home. The couple welcomed these illustrious visitors with great respect. These four people who came as guests introduced themselves as the ‘Dharma Daivas’, the guardian angels of ‘dharma’. They came in search of a place where ‘dharma’ was practised, flourished and could be propagated. They narrated the purpose behind their visit and instructed the couple to vacate the house. According to them, that house was the perfect place to worship the Dharma Daivas. They also advised the couple to spend the rest of their lives in the propagation of Dharma. When the sun rose, the couple woke up and realised that the Dharma Daivas had appeared and instructed them in their dreams. But lo and behold, the next day their dream turned into reality and all the communication that had transpired in their dreams was repeated. The worship of the Daivas continued. After sometime, the Dharma Daivas again appeared before the Jain chieftain Pergade and asked him to build separate shrines to consecrate the four Daivas – Kalarahu, Kalarkayi, Kumaraswamy and Kanyakumari. Two seers were appointed to carry out the divine prophecies of the Daivas and four worthy people were selected to assist Pergade in carrying out his duties as the executive head of the shrines. The Daivas blessed the couple and protected the family encouraging them to get involved in charity. Thus, the name and fame of the Kshetra spread far and wide. Pergade, as desired, built the shrines and invited Brahmin priests to perform the rituals. These priests requested Pergade to install a Shivalinga beside the native Daivas.
Annappa was devoted to the Pergade family and served them. When he heard that his master had been advised to install a Shivalinga, he took it upon himself to make it happen for his master. He travelled to Kadri and brought the Shivalinga from the temple there. The Shivalinga was installed at a place in Dharmasthala, very near to the Heggade (Heggade is a derivative of Tulu word Pergade) household. After Bringing the Shivalinga, Annappa disappeared and no one has seen him after that day. The Shivalinga was worshipped as Lord Manjunatheswara and a temple was built around him. In the temple, the deities of Hindu Goddess Ammanavaru, the Tirthankara Chandraprabha, and the Dharma Daivas - Kalarahu, Kalarkayi, Kumarasvami and Kanyakumari are also worshipped.
Around the 16th century, Sri Vadiraja Swami of Udupi was invited by the Dharmadhikari, Shri Devaraja Heggade to visit the temple. The Swamiji accepted the invitation and came to visit but refused to accept bhiksha. He reasoned that since the deity, Lord Manjunatheswara, had not been consecrated according to vedic rites, he could not accept alms from the temple. Shri Heggade then requested Swamiji to reconsecrate the Shivalinga. Swamiji was pleased and performed the rites. Pleased by Heggade’s philanthropic activities and his zeal to continue observance of dharma by accepting all religions, Swamiji named the place Dharmasthala. Thus, the roots of charity and religious tolerance established by the Pergades eight centuries ago have been nurtured and strengthened by twenty-one generations of the family.
Dharmasthala, the abode of dharma, is the embodiment of humanity and faith. The place is an ideal example of practising righteousness irrespective of one’s caste, creed and religion. This Shiva temple, an epitome of selfless dedication and devotion, is unique as Lord Manjunatheswara, the main deity of the temple is worshipped by the Madhva Brahmins, who are Vaishnava priests while the temple administration is run by Jain descendants.
Image Courtesy: Shyama Mohanty