This is not a religious blog and yet, I do realize that recently, my posts have been centred around my visits to temples. But, that’s only because I’ve been traveling and these temples are important sites of pilgrimage for Hindus. So, please consider it as a travel post and read on.
Last week we flew down to my hometown, Mangalore, from Mumbai, and instead of heading home, we booked a taxi directly to Kollur, the site of the famous Mookambika temple. The temple is visited by thousands of people on any given day – 75% come from Kerala, 25% from Karnataka and the rest of India. It is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus in the South of India and is dedicated to the female energy- Shakti.
For those who do not know about it, let me try and explain the little that I know based on my reading. Very much like Greek mythology, we too have Gods for various things – God of creation, of death, of maintenance, of wind, fire, earth and water. Then, we have the children of these Gods- who are Gods in their own right- demi- Gods, to satisfy the fertile imagination of billions.
Like the Chinese believe in Yin and Yang- female and male energy and state that a balance of both is essential for one’s mental and physical wellbeing, similarly, Hindus believe in energy as well – the male energy is worshipped as Lord Shiva and the female energy is Shakti. Most people may find the existence of a million Gods in Hinduism strange. While God is one, different faces are only provided to make it easier for the common man to relate to and identify with. As each human being has different likes and accords importance to different things in life, different forms enable people to find one that appeals most to them and follow it- the tenets of each one of these forms of God is the same- as laid down in the Holy Book, the Gita. For instance, there are various versions of the female energy – the Goddess of learning is called Saraswati, the Goddess of wealth is Laxmi, the Goddess of destruction against evil is Kali and the primordial Goddess, Adi Shakthi- encompasses all. As I have said before, I do not claim to have sufficient knowledge of Hinduism to talk about it but, since, I was born into it ( you cannot convert to Hinduism), I’ve decided to learn about it rather than follow it blindly- the oldest religion must have something about it to have survived the ages. Writing these posts is part of my journey to understand the significance of the religion.
Apparently, there are 51 sites in India or Shakthi peeths, dedicated to the main Goddess. Mookambika temple in the Western Ghats or mountain ranges is one of these sites. I did not know this, however, until now. For me, the temple has held a special place as far back as I can remember- as a child, I thought of it as a picnic spot- come summer holidays, we would land in Mangalore and dad would hire a big car so the entire family could pile in. Off we’d go on a trip to Kollur,the temple town. We would spend the night in the temple lodge, walk down the streets around the temple lined with stores and I would pick up all the fun little things available in those stores – rings, pendants, bangles and plastic toys. We would have food in one of the priest’s homes there.
I remember enjoying every bit of the trip as it was the only time I found the adults free of responsibility to cater to my every whim.
When grandma grew old we stopped spending the night there. But, I continued visiting the temple either with my dad or uncle everytime I visited Mangalore. We followed the tradition of visiting the temple even after I got married – we would drive down to the temple and return the same day, often stopping at a restaurant called, ‘Coastal Heritage,’ on the way back. The restaurant serves amazing seafood.
In the absence of dad and my uncle, both of whom I lost in 2020, we decided to spend the night at Kollur again for old times sake. We booked a room at the Mahalakshmi Hotel, which is relatively new. It is in the temple complex and very convenient to live in- the rooms are clean, they have air conditioning and have 24 x 7 hot water in the bathrooms. The food at the only vegetarian restaurant in the hotel is delicious. We found it amazing how the restaurant managed to whip up a customer’s order despite the large number of guests, with minimum wait time, without compromising on the quality ( thousands visit the temple and stop by for a meal here over the weekend) and at a reasonable price.
Spending the night there was a great decision- there is a certain peace in visiting a spiritual place without the need to rush. It enabled us to visit the temple that evening and again in the morning.
The temple was crowded at both times. During our evening visit, we stood in the normal queue and waited for our turn to enter the inner sanctum. In the morning however, since we needed to get back to Mangalore, which is three and a half hours away, we bought a ticket which allowed us to enter with lesser waiting time. There are two tickets- one for Rs 100.00 and the other for Rs 500.00. Obviously, the waiting time is inversely proportional to the cost of the ticket. Waiting in the queue in the evening was easy because the rains had lowered the temperature and since it’s in the courtyard of the temple, you do not get bored. You can spend time observing people or use the time to pray until your chance to enter comes.
Inside the inner courtyard is the sanctum where the idol is decorated in gold, silk and flowers. After all the waiting in the queue, the rush to cross the threshold is ridiculous – I have never understood it- you’ve waited that long, you may as well wait a few moments longer and go without pushing others. But, sadly it happens and unfortunately leaves a person who has taken so much trouble to come, in a foul mood.
There are a number of special prayers that you can get done at the temple. The prices for prayers are nominal. The temple uses the money for the upkeep of the temple,feeding those who visit its dining hall for a meal and for sponsoring schools and hospitals in the area.
We left the next morning at around 11ish though we wanted to leave earlier. This was because I lost my wallet at the shoestand the temple. I only realized it the next day. Fortunately, I did find it at the temple admin office- someone had handed it over to them.
We did not go on the trek up the Koodajadri hills- it was on the hills that Adi Shankaracharya had a vision of the Goddess and decided to build a temple. Legend has it that the Goddess agreed to follow him to the site at which he wished to build the temple as long as he did not turn around to see if She was following. If he did, then that was where the temple would have to be built. Adi Shankaracharya wished to build it in Kerala (hence the large number of visitors from Kerala) but he ended up turning around in Kollur. Hence the temple was built here.
There are jeeps that will take you up the hills. It takes around three hours to go up and back. After the last stop of the jeep, it takes another one hour to trek up to the top of the hill. I believe the hills are rich with unique flora and fauna and people generally start early to catch the sunrise from the top.
Before I end, I request you to let me know through the comment section, if there is anything factually wrong in what I have written, so, I can fix it here.
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