The Mookambika Temple at Kollur

The great thing about Bangalore is its proximity to significant destinations, from stunningly beautiful weekend getaways to important religious shrines. So, if there is a beautiful Coorg and Wyanad on the one side that provides a feast to the senses, there is the haloed Udupi, Sringeri and Kollur on the other that provides food for soul. A personal favourite has been the Mookambika Temple at Kollur and every visit has been a spiritual retreat on roads that snake through some of the most scenic parts of the Western Ghats.Every visit has left us hankering for more of both, the temple and the scenery.

The Mookambika Temple at Kollur is not easily accessible in terms of being directly connected by rail or air. It is also not grand and beautiful with ornate sculptures and sky hugging gopurams (shikharas). In fact, it looks very much like the temple-next-door. Yet, it is one of the most revered temples in South India. Nestled in the Western Ghats, at the foot of the Kodachadri mountains, at a distance of 130 kilometres from Mangalore in Karnataka, the Mookambika Temple is so old that it finds a mention in the Skanda Purana itself and is revered on more than one count.

According to the Puranas, Kollur itself is sacred, for, it was here that  Lord Shiva is said to have appeared before Sage Kola (Kola Maharishi) after the sage performed austere penance. Upon the sage's request that he should always have the grace of Shiva, the Lord enshrined himself in a linga and divided it by a golden line with the edict that the larger portion embodies Shakti, the female force. As the area was purified by Kola Maharish's penance the area came to be known as Kollur.
The reason as to why was Shiva decreed that the larger portion embodies Shakti is that it is also here that an evil asura was vanquished by Shakti, Amba or Parvathi. In the Kodachadri mountains that form the scenic backdrop to the temple, an evil asura, Kaumasura,  performed austere penance to Shiva, who appeared before him as well and was about to grant him the boon of immortality. However, Vishnu and the other Gods having anticipated this, had approached Shakti or Devi, Lord Shiva's consort and begged her to intervene and vanquish this asura. It is often said that Lord Shiva would grant boons even to Asuras who obviously misused them and Vishnu would then have to step in to vanquish them.

 Devi drew into her the power of the three forms of Shakti, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi and rendered the Asura speechless(Mooka) just as he was about to ask for his boon. She is then said to have challenged him to a duel and vanquished him at what is today known as, Maaranghatta, twenty eight kilometres away from Kollur. To this day, an annual festival is held here in honour of Mookasura, as ordained by the Devi. Much later, while traversing the length and breadth of India, Adi Shankara visited Kollur. Enthralled by the environs, he stayed on and meditated on the Devi, in the Chitramoola caves in the Kodachadri hills. till she appeared before him. He then requested her to come to Kerala with him and reside in a temple. She agreed to follow him on the condition that he would not turn behind to check on her. If he did, she would stop there and be rooted to the spot. Adi Shankara agreed and they began the journey. Along the way Devi spotted the Swayambhu Linga and stopped to offer her obeisance . Adi Shankara could no longer hear her footsteps or the jingle of her anklets. Fearing that he had lost her, he turned back to check and broke the condition. The Devi stopped there.  Adi Shankara was repentant and distressed. He pleaded for forgiveness and begged her to come with him to Kerala. The Devi agreed to be there at Chottanikara Temple in the mornings and come to Kollur in the evenings and then merged with the Swayambhu Linga. Adi Shankara then had an idol made of panchloha (five metals) that looked exactly as she appeared to him, beautiful and resplendent and installed it at Kollur as Mookambika.

Kollur may be accessed by road from Mangalore or Shimogha. Mangalore is also the closest rail-head and airport. Those coming from Tamil Nadu and Kerala can come either via Bangalore or Mangalore. The route via Mangalore is on a rather crowded NH skirts along Udupi and Manipal and takes about three hours.  The route via Shimoga, a personal favourite, offers the option of going through the rainforests of Agumbe and Thirthalhalli or through Ayyanur and Ripponpet. and also takes around three hours. Agumbe is the second wettest place in the country, situated at an elevation of 2700 feet, amidst  lofty mountains carpeted with the most lush rain forests drenched in sunshine or mist depending on the season. There are portions on this route where we have, without knowing, fallen silent either because the stillness of the area has transmitted itself to us or because we have been simply rendered speechless by the beauty. On subsequent trips we learnt to be still and silent so that we could spot the wildlife. A peacock crossing us with its glorious plumage sweeping the road, a pair of snakes slithering across, the swift mongoose, the puzzled porcupine - they all redefined spirituality brought us closer to divinity!

In fact, a drive in these Western Ghats is highly recommended even if the temple is not the destination, but that is another story!

Whether it is the influence of Adi Shankara, who was from Kalady in Kerala or the fact that in the olden days the entire area came under Kerala, the temple architecture is predominantly Keralite - simple, linear and flat with an abundant use of wood, unlike the temples of Tamil Nadu that are ornate, huge and built in stone.  The only expression of the ornate in the Mookambika Temple comes from the centuries-old murals painted with vegetable dyes and the very simple white designs against a mud-brown backdrop. A very tall brass lamp with  a tortoise for its base, in the centre of the courtyard makes an arresting spectacle, especially in the evenings when it is fully lit.  The sanctum Santorum is small but provides a clear view of the idol. A brass plate on the floor, just beneath the idol, covers the Lingam with the Suvarna Rekha or golden line the divides it into two, the larger portion embodying Shakthi and the smaller portion embodying Shiva.

The Mookambika temple is regarded by many as the most auspicious place to start the process of education or commence one's journey in the field of music and dance. As the Devi here is a manifestation of Saraswathi, the goddess of learning, along with Lakshmi and Durga,  many devotees bring their toddlers and young children to perform the Saraswathi Pooja at the Saraswathi Mandapam. The other important puja here is the Chandi Homa, a yagna that worships Durga, the slayer of the asura, Chanda.
A lesser known fact is the secularity of the temple. In 1763, when Tipu Sultan conquered the Keladi province, under which Kollur figured, he is supposed to have proceeded to the temple, possibly with an intention to plunder. As he entered the temple, the pradosha puja conducted at pradosha kala (dusk) each day, was under way. Mesmerised by the beauty of the Goddess and thoroughly impacted by the devotional fervour at that moment when flaming lamps were offered to the deity, he is said to have laid down his arms in surrender and offered her "salaam" in obeisance. Since then, to this day, this puja and arathi is called "salaam mangalarathi, in honour of Tipu Sultan.

Every devotee makes his or her own personal connection with the Goddess and stories of devotees having tangibly experienced the grace of the Goddess are many.It is a heart warming sight to see toddlers earnestly following their eager parents in the Saraswathi Mandapa or young artists performing at the Saraswathi Mandapa with a conviction that can be born only out of devotion. There are no massive idols or ornate designs and structures to distract the mind. Almost everyone is serious with the business of praying and leaves immediately as the temple town does not offer anything more other than a visit to the Chitramoola cave high up in the Kodachadri mountains. The really curious and the really devout spare half a day for this visit that can be undertaken only in a four wheel jeep since the climb is rather steep and arduous.

Shorn of all legend and lore, temples every where are receptacles of the most positive vibes from those who visit them. Some come with supplication, some with a woe, some with gratitude and some with enlightened awareness. At ancient temples like Mookambika, these vibes are even more steeped in devotion as the faith has come down from generations.  For some like me, the prayer begins with the journey from Bangalore and culminates in a sense of utter peace and homecoming at the entrance of the temple., the temple website, gives comprehensive information on timings and poojas, accommodation and accessibility.


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