Mekekattu Nandikeshwara Temple (The Wooden Temple)

During my recent trip to Kundapura city near Udupi, Karnataka i chanced upon a strange temple called Nandikeshwara. I was told that all the idols were made of wood. This temple is considered to be atleast 1000 years old. However the temple has a modern building outlook. My guess would be that the temple was rebuilt after it was demolished. Situated in a remote place near Saibrakatte, its said to attract large crowd during Shankranthi festival.

Entrance To The Temple

Temple Facts: Unlike traditional Hindu temples, the idols are all made of wood. This ensures that no Abhisheka is performed in this temple. The wood will not withstand any of the offerings made during the ritual. The statues are made of Halasa Mara found in abundance in the forest close by. The head priest of the temple pointed out that the abundance of wood near the temple was the prime reason behind the wooden deities. The deities are 10ft tall and colorfully painted. The deities last around 150-200 years after which they are remade. It was last remade in 1970. It was repainted in 2007. The place where the temple is situated is called Mekekattu. The name of the place was derived from the fact that this location was used to tie up cattle. The place in and around Barkur had 365 temples out of which only 5 are functional. The rest have been destroyed.

A Warrior

The temple is said to worship Lord Shiva’s Army lead by Nandi a.k.a The Bull. The lord’s army is found inside the temple while the enemy warriors are found outside. The deities are not moved except when replaced. Only the Tiger idol is taken outside the temple during Shankranthi.

Tiger - The Only Idol To Be Taken Out Of The Temple During Shankranthi

One of the interesting aspects of these “invading” warrior statues are the headgears. The statues have various types of head dressing like Persian Hats, Sikh Turban, Maratha Hats and typical Muslim hats. The weapons range from huge swords, dagger to primitive guns. Surprisingly, women warriors are also found in the army.

The Invading Army (Women, Men with Persian Hats, Muslim Soilders)

A Women Soilder

Most of the wooden statues are in warrior dress, giving an impression that this entire row of wooden statues are made to remember an incidence of war that would have taken place here during 1600-1700 AD (no historic evidence for this war is found yet, but can be linked to Mogul / Bahamani Invasion)

Warrior With A Gun & Sikh With A Sword

Mythology/Folklore: This place has 2 folklores associated with it. The first story is associated with Sage Parashurama. It is considered as the creation of sage Parashurama. With the passage of time the area where the temple is situated has been called by different names. According to the legends, when drought hit this area sage Agastya came here to perform Yajna to please the rain god. During the Yajna, the Asura Kumbha started bothering the sages. To rescue the sages Bhima killed the demon with the help of the sword gifted by lord Ganesha.

Lord Shiva's Army Inside The Temple

The other tale as told by the head priest of the temple is associated with the Alupas Dynasty. The Alupas (Kannada: ಆಲೂಪರು)kings (4501400 C.E.) were a minor dynasty who ruled parts of coastal Karnataka.Later with the dominance of Kadambas in Banavasi, they became feudatory to them. With the changing political scenario, soon they became the feudatories to Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagara Rayas. Their influence over coastal Karnataka lasted for about 1000 years. Its believed that the temple was built by one of the kings of Alupas dynasty. However the name of the King is unknown. The King of Barkur was attacked by the neighboring King and went to seek help from a sage in Jambur. The sage helped the king by requesting Lord Shiva (who had agreed to grant the sage’s wish) to send his army. The might army of Lord Shiva commanded by Nandi defeated the enemy and thus securing the kingdom. The King later built the temple for Lord Shiva’s army for their help.

Nandikeshwara

Durgaparameshwari - A Rare Statue Of Goddess Durga On 5 Headed Nandi

Parashumukha & Thrimukha Nandi

Route:

Take the Kundapura(NH-17)- Kota road towards Udupi.

Kundapura — (8km)–> Saibrakatte (take left)—>2kms->Mekekattu

Reference:

  1. Kundapura History
  2. Alupas History
  3. Mekekattu Nadhikeshwara Folklore
  4. Head Priest Version Of The Story

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14 responses to “Mekekattu Nandikeshwara Temple (The Wooden Temple)

  1. Shraddha Pandya

    Never knew about wooden idols. Any idea, if these idols are painted regularly, say once in a year or so? All of them looked quite vibrant.

    Portraying women as invaders is also quite interesting and unheard before 😉

    Lastly, “Take the Kundapura(NH-17)- Kota road towards Udupi.”
    Kota as in Kota of Rajasthan?

  2. @Shraddha, they are painted once in 20 years or so. It got painted only in 2007 so yes its colorful. I have also not heard of women being warriors.
    No Kota is a small town in karnataka. Not the Rajasthan one.

  3. Since the main deity is vaghana of the Lord, I presume the importance of Abhisheka was not necessary, hence the wooden idols.
    Warrior is also having 4 arms!?!

  4. I remember abhisheka done for vaghana too, atleast in few temples. But yes here there is no lord shiva. Most warriors are mystified by mythological reference.

  5. Pingback: Coastal Road Trip (Karnataka) | Hobbies Of The Earth Bound Misfit

  6. kindly let us know about temple open and closing time to visit

  7. Madhukara Acharya

    superb temple which is so unique

  8. Madhukara Acharya

    @ vijay…

    sir…usually the fest wil b on sankranthi of month march i think

  9. Superb and Mysterious Temple 🙂

  10. Annual fest is conducting in the month of march. ವರ್ಷಾವದಿ ಜಾತ್ರ ಮಹೋತ್ಸವ during sankramana. It is not sankranthi habba.

  11. Seriously, who told that those were “Persian hats” or “Muslim Soldiers”? I am very disappointed that you’re presenting false history as facts.

    It wont take long to Google Aihole, Badami, Ajanta, Ellora, Belur & Halebid to see people wearing such hats for thousands of years and is even recorded by foreigners visiting India (Vijayanagara Empire Hats) and portrait of Pallava king Narasimhavarman I & his wives wearing such hats. As for the “Sikh” turban, majority of South Indian men until late 19th century kept their hair long & tied it in bun (can also be seen on Hero Stones). All Indian men did so since ancient times (can also be seen in Ajanta art).

    These wooden sculpture of Gods & warriors are VERY common, it was traditional way of carving a deity since Vedic-period until rock-cut architecture became popular. Today it has survived in folk culture of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra, Kerala & Tamil Nadu where Grama-Devis & Devatas are carved in wood. It was very common until late 20th century (our kula-devi was carved in wood just like your images). These also looks very similar to Tamil folk deity called Ayyanar. Also look into Somana Kunita (worship of martyred warriors) and Hero Stone (memorial for warriors who died in battle, protecting village or women)

    Please do change the tags, we dont want to mislead generations of Indians who will come across this in the future & please do educate yourself on our rich folk history!

    Parashuram Bhatt
    Professor at Bangalore University

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