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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
The other tale as told by the head priest of the temple is associated with the Alupas Dynasty. The Alupas (Kannada: ಆಲೂಪರು)kings (450 – 1400 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.
Take the Kundapura(NH-17)- Kota road towards Udupi.
Kundapura — (8km)–> Saibrakatte (take left)—>2kms->Mekekattu