The people of Karnataka are familiar with the epic of Male Mahadeshwara. Lord Mahadeshwara is the family god of the Soligas and other tribals who live in the Male Mahadeshwara Hills of Karnataka. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Mahadeshwara there which is an important place of pilgrimage. Historical evidence suggest that the Saint Mahadeshwara lived during the 15th century and came to the Male Mahadeshwara Hills, riding his Vahana or vehicle – a tiger also known as Huli Vahana. He performed a number of miracles around the hills to protect the people and saints living there. It is believed that he continues to perform penance in the temple’s Garbha Gudi in the form of Linga.

The epic of Male Mahadeshwara describes the life and miracles of the Saint. It is divided into seven parts and is sung by pilgrims on their way to the annual fair on the Male Madheshwara Hills. The professional singers of this epic are called ‘Devara Guddaru'(God’s children) and ‘Kamsaleyavaru’ (those singers who keep time with ‘Kamsale’ – bronze cymbals).

On the banks of the Kabini River, not far from the resort lies the Bhimanakolli Temple dedicated to Lord Mahadeshwara. This is a modern structure built after the original was submerged when the Kabini Dam was built. Remains of the original temple can be seen when the waters of the reservoir recede during the summers. Bhimanakolli and its surrounding areas, now known as the Kabini area, is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Mahadeshwara. The Bhimanakolli Temple is not as well known as the temple in the Male Mahadeshwara Hills and the fact that this is the birth place of the Saint is also not widely known.

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Bhimanakolli Temple – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

In the first part of the epic, which narrates the birth of Lord Mahadeshwara, this connection is clearly articulated. I quote from the epic as documented by K. Keshavan Prasad and translated by C.N.Ramachandran and L.N.Bhat.

And sat in the hollow of a neem tree-
Of Halagappa, a Shepard by caste,
Living in the village of Bhimanakolli,
Of Magga Maralli Heggadedevanakotte.

The villages of Magga and Maralli are situated on the opposite bank of the river where they were relocated following the submergence of the original site. H D Kote is now the Taluk headquarters.

The Charmer of the ninth incarnation,
Who was in the hollow of the neem tree,
Thought: if I sit here, I can’t save the world.
Then he entered the house of Halagappa,
The house that has twelve pillars,
And he went inside the house the Charmer,
And manifested himself there as a golden anthill.
When the golden anthill arose in the inner yard,
Halagappa and Muddamma, his wife, grew worried.

They took it to be a bad omen and tried to consult astrologers but could find no one to help them. The Charmer then appeared before them in guise of a Brahmin and told them that there was no bad omen, that the Charmer had come to them as a family deity and that they should worship him and give up their home.They then carried all their household things to the back of their house and built a small hut for themselves and in the morning took their bath and milked their cow and poured the milk over the anthill.

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Ruins of the original Bhimanakolli Temple – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

The story now takes a strange twist.

Then the Charmer of charmers,
Who was inside in the form of a small linga,
Thought thus: for the first time since I left Kailash,
I have had milk ablutions. From now on,
I should ameliorate the world.

But first I should get a festival
From this Halagappa and then begin my onward journey _
With these thoughts, to Magga, Maralli and Bhimananakolli,
In all these three villages
He caused a great famine – the Charmer

It was a terrible famine and the people of the three villages had to survive by eating all the grain they had stored as seed for sowing. When the rains came they had no seeds for sowing, except for Halagappa who had one granary of Ragi. He promises the villagers seeds after sowing his field. He proceeds to sow his field along with his son. However, as he sowed there arose small Lingas on his footprints.

All the people are hungry in the village
Whatever I sowed
You have turned into a Linga – he said.
Then the Charmer got a new name.

What was that name?
Linga in the temple, and
Linga around the temple.
O Mahadeva of the northern region.
You are born as Linga.

Laying down the basket of seeds on the eastern balk,
And having prostrated himself to the mother earth,
He said – my son, go on with your ploughing,
I will return to the field.

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Ruins of an Oil Press near the original Bhimanakolli Temple – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

After I measure out Ragi
To the villagers to sow – so saying,
Halagappa then came to the village,
And gave away Ragi for all for sowing.

Then he returned to his field and finished his own sowing.
Then the Charmer of all charmers
Entered the dream of Halagappa,
And said: Look here, Gowda,
You are honest people, both husband and wife.
All of you of the three villages,
Magga, Maralli and Bhimanakolli,
Come together once a year during Shivrathri,
And in the name of Bhimanakolli Madappa,
Organize a fair in his name,
He departed from Bhimanakolli – Mahadeva.

The fair is organized by all three villages to this day. There is a further modern-day addition to the story. It seemed that there was a certain gentleman who used to do the lighting arrangements for the fair and suffered from stomach ulcers. He made a vow that if he got cured he would not charge the temple for his services. He did get cured and to this day his son continues to do the lighting arrangements for the fair.