Karkala Shree Venkataramana Temple, an ancient temple having a history of 550 years, belongs to Gowda Saraswat Brahmin Samaj. For various reasons Gowda Saraswat Brahmins migrated from Goa, their ancestral land for centuries, and settled in the location of Karkala. They erected a small temple, enshrined Lord Shree Venkataramana in it and worshipped him for the betterment of their religious, cultural and social welfare. Eventually, devout followers in large numbers thronged this Devasthana (temple) and the Shrine earned the name of “Padu Tirupathi Kshetra”. To this day the temple continues to attract a wide circle of devotees.
After erecting this small temple, Gowda Saraswat Brahmins built their dwellings around it’s locus. Newcomers from Goa arriving from time to time also chose to build their homes in the locality and created a new town with the temple as the central nucleus, thus transforming the area that once was a forest land. This transformation may be attributed to the sympathies and largesse of Bhairarasa, Mahamandaleshwar (sub-ruler affiliated to monarch) of Vijayanagar, the then ruler of Karkala-Kalasa. He ruled from Hiriyangadi area which in those days was called Pandyanagari. This benevolent ruler, though born a Jain, displayed nonsectarian disposition and liberal religious tolerance. Gowda Saraswat Brahmin settlers who migrated from Goa inorder to escape the brutalities and forced conversions of Muslim and Portugese invaders found in Bhairarasa a magnanimous benefactor, who gifted to them a hilly tract on the way from Karkala-to Varanga-Barkur.
In early 15th Century either disgusted with Muslim rulers’ brutality or in search of business to make a living, a Gowda Saraswat Brahmin, named Sohire Parbhu, belonging to Bharadwaja Gothra arrived at Karkala from Goa, and stayed there. Though his profession while he stayed in Karkala in those days is not known, it may be surmised by the medical profession (Ayurveda) practiced by his escendants of later generations that Sohire Prabhu might well have been an Ayurvedic Pundit. Prabhu, by dint of his profession must have endeared himself to the residents of Karkala and may have been a close confidant of King Bhairarasa. It appears his residence was in Pandyanagari. As per another conjecture, during one of his visits to Bhatkala, Karkala’s Bhairarasa was so impressed by the erudition of Gowda Saraswat Brahmins living there, that he invited families of Sohire Prabhu along with three others to Karkala and made arrangements for their stay there. Be it as it may, it is a fact that Sohire Prabhu was living in Karkala in the beginning of 15th Century. Like him, quite a few Gowda Saraswat families must have been living in Karkala in those days. Now, a Gowda Saraswat Brahmin named Somasharma belonging to vasistha Gothra left Goa along with his wife on a pilgrimage, visited thirthas like Tirupathi, Rameshwaram etc., and came to Karkala on his way back. He befriended Sohire Prabhu and halted in his place. Somasharma had brought with him from Tirupati an idol of Venkataramana inclusive of Shridevi and Bhudevi, which he worshipped daily with devotion. It so happened that because Sharma’s wife was
Pregnant, they had to postpone their onward journey and continue their stay in Karkala for the time. After full 9 months, Sharma’s wife gave birth to a chubby male child. The child, presumably born of Srinivasa’s grace was named Srinivasa. Later as suggested by Sohire Prabhu, the Sharmas gave up the idea of returning to Goa and made Karkala their home.
Somasharma was as well-versed in Vedas as he was an expert in Jyotishya Shastra (astrology). Many sought Sharma to consult on astrology and for solving their difficulties. This expertise in astrology served him well in making a living. In those days, Karkala had a couple of Shiva temples but none of Vaishnava temples . Prabhu, Sharma and other Gowda Saraswat Brahmin residents of Karkala basically hailed from Sasashti and were Vaishnavas. Therefore the thought of constructing a Vaishnava temple may have sprouted in the minds of Prabhu and Sharma. During that era the nearest Vaishnava temple from Goa was only the temple of Tirupati Shree Venkataramana. So naturally Gowda Saraswat brahmins would visit Tirupati to worship the Lord of Tirumala. Moreover many Gowda Saraswat Brahmins were employed with various rajas who themselves were devotees of Tirupati Shree Venkataramana Swami. It was customary then for many Gosavis appointed by Tirumala temple to go from town to town and collect donations offered by devotees and hand it over to temple authorities. These Gosavis must have been instrumental in spreading the fame of The Lord of Tirupati . For these varied reasons resolute desire to construct a temple for Shree Venkataramana must have sprung up in the minds of Prabhu and Sharma. Moreover, determination of Prabhu and Sharma to install the idol of Shree Venkataramana carried from Thirupati, in a small shrine found the helping hand of Bhairarasa too. He conferred on Prabhu and Sharma a hilly terrain covered with dense forest near the road going from Karkala to Varang for the purpose of constructing temple and houses. Jubilant Prabhu and Sharma
performed purification of the land, and installed that idol of Shree Venkataramana Deva in a tiny but tidy shrine on an auspicious muhurtha. They built their houses in the vicinity of the shrine. Some more Gowda Saraswat Brahmin families joined them and built their houses near the temple. Thus a new town developed from the temple extending towards today’s Salmar. There is no evidence to ascertain the exact date of this installation. Yet, a historic event whereby people of Moolki found Karkala Shree Venkataramana’s Swayamvara idol in a well and installed it in their Vittala mutt in 1520 AD points out to the surmise that Karkala temple must have been built prior to this i.e, probably in the beginning of 15th Century. Again, another historic occasion whereby during Gomateshwara installation ceremony held in 1432 AD, Gowda Saraswat Brahmins were feted with a Santarpane in the premises of their shrine indicates that this shrine was in existence much before 1432.
The temple flourished thanks to selfless service by Sohire Prabhu and Somasharma. People visited the place to consult either Sharma on astrology or Prabhu for treatment of diseases. After solving their problems by Jyotishya and treating the sick, it was customary for them to take the people to the temple, face the deity , offer prayers to the Lord on their behalf and bless them with gandha prasada (sandalwood paste). They were also encouraged to offer a little seva to the temple after the problems were solved or diseases cured. This tradition continues in Karkala Venkataramana temple to this day. People whose difficulties got dissolved, developed devotion to the deity. Soon, devotees poured in large numbers. Long-time residents of Karkala like Bunts, Nadavas, Heggades, Moilys and other communities served Shree Venkataramana Deva with faith and devotion. Non-Hindus too developed faith in the deity inasmuch as their desires were fulfilled by the Lord.
In due course, Somasharma was blessed with another male child. Both the children grew into adulthood. One among them became a learned Jyotishi and the other mastered puranas and excelled in puranavachana . Their successive generations came to be known as Joishys and Puraniks.
Immadi Bhairarasa ruled Karkala in 1511AD. Krishnadevaraya had just ascended the throne in Vijayanagara (1509AD). Sensing that his Samantas like Bhairarasa, Bangarasa etc were hankering to be independent, Krishnadevaraya deputed a huge army which left Vijayanagara and camped at Bhuvanasale in Mangalore. Alarmed, Bhairarasa fled to Kalasa. He stayed in Kalasa till 1516AD. As situation cooled down, he consented to remain as Samantha under Krishnadevaraya. He also renovated Kalasa temple as per his promise and returned to Karkala. Now, Karkala , devoid of a ruler for five years was reeling with anarchy. At such a dismal time, a notorious gang of Alemaris had surrounded Karkala with intent to loot it. These desperados hailing from Kandahar excelled in detecting and extricating ornaments and treasures buried underground and hidden inside walls of houses and temples of towns bereft of ruler’s protection or ruined in war. This ruthless armed gang massacred whoever retaliated. Such marauding bands of outlaws were rampant in India at that period. Scared of these brutes, Archakas and Mahajans of Karkala picked up idols of Shree Venkataramana and the valuables thereof , fled towards Moolki and threw it all inside a certain well there. After the Alemaris left Karkala , these people returned, yet, did not dare to retrieve the idols and valuables until the return of Bhairarasa. When Bhairarasa returned to Karkala in 1516AD, archakas and people hurried to Moolki, found all the valuables in the well but could not find the box containing the swayamvara idols, howsoever they may try. Crestfallen, they returned to Karkala. A few days later it so transpired that a person from Moolki who had seen a shining object inside that well had taken it out to find a box containing Shri Venkataramana’s Swayamvara idol. Overjoyed, the people of Moolki had established the idols in their Vittal Mutt. It appears this pratishta (installation) took place in 1520 AD. Learning this, the people of Karkala rushed to Moolki. But the Moolki gentry refused to part with the recently consecrated idols. Consolation awaited the people of Karkala that night. In their dreams they were blessed with a vision of the Lord himself who advised them: “ Do not insist on having these very same idols, but return to Karkala. You will find a Gosavi arriving there, carrying my idol, which will be invested by my living presence. Worship it and you will prosper in all you do”. Conforted with this blessing, they returned to Karkala and awaited the arrival of the promised Gosavi. From that date, Moolki temple came to be known as , “Karkala Shree Venkataramana Temple, Moolki”.
In Nineteenth Century, a dasa named Venkanna from North Kanara came to Moolki and stayed there . In his poetry by name, ‘Pogalalennalave Ninna’, he has vividly described the entire hisrory of Volalankapuri’s (Moolki) Shree Venkataramana temple. He has sung sweetly how Adimoorthi Shree Venkataramana, for the sheer pleasure of Leela Vinoda displayed his Mahima in utter playfulness, by coming to stay in Volalankapuri from Karkala as follows:
Modabharitanagi bahu lilavinoda vibhavakkagi
Karkaladinda sadhisuttale sagibarutale
Lokadharasthitanagi sevisutiha ||
Similarly, another poet, Talacheri Vasudeva Shanubhag (He was a blessed devotee of Shreemad Bhuvanendra Tirtha Swamiji of Kashi Mutt) in his poetry, ‘Shree Volalankeshaya Namaha has sung as follows:
Karkaladi todagalavantara jana |
Varasahita bijayamgaidilliya ||
Uravanu poreyalu nelegondiha |
Veera venkatanapaarasukhaprada ||
He has described here how Karkala’s gentry carried Shree Venkataramana’s idol to Moolki when the calamity struck Karkala.
Now, who is this above-mentioned Gosavi eagerly awaited by the people of Karkala returning from Moolki? Where did he come from? How did the divine idols arrive with him? Inorder to comprehend these, we have to open some pages from the history of Tirupati Temple. Since long Karkala Temple is related to Tirupati Shree Venkateshwara Temple , it will not be out of place here to throw some light on the history of Tirupati Temple.
People of Karkala, after returning from Moolki were looking forward to the arrival in Karkala, of the above mentioned Gosavi. It appears, in the meantime, some vaidikas and mahajans entertained the idea of visiting Tirupati to bring the idols . They did go to Tirupati but for various reasons were unable to return quickly. During this period, a Gosavi from Tirupati arrived at Karkala along with Lord’s idols, to collect Kanika offerings. Delighed on seeing Gosavi, people of Karkala requested him to pass on the idol to them. Gosavi did not concede to this. That night, Gosavi was visited by the Lord in a dream who directed him to hand over the idol to Karkalites. Overjoyed at this, Gosavi confided his dream to the people and accordingly handed over to them the idols of Srinivasa deva along with Sridevi and Bhoodevi, with the condition that every year the idols be carried to Tirupati and the Kanikas collected that year be offered there. The people of Karkala consented and took possession of the idols from him. They selected an auspicious muhurtha and consecrated the idol of Srinivasa deva in their shrine. (May be they feared, Gosavi might change his mind, since the idols were very dear to him as he worshipped them daily). It appears the pratishta took place on Chaitra Bahula Navami. Even today this day is celebrated as Pratishta Vardhanti. Since Gosavi worshipped the idol under a roof, (chappara) this deva is called ‘Chappara Srinivasa’.
After handing over Srinivasa deva to Karkalites, this Gosavi never returned to Tirupati and made his home in Karkala and stayed there serving the deity till his death there. A vrindavana standing on the outer pradikshina patha in the Western direction of the temple is believed to have belonged to this Gosavi. Every year, on the day of his death, magha shuddha Saptami, ie, on Rathasaptami, Samputa containing Saligrama and Maruti’s idol are placed on that vrindavana, and worship offered to it. Thereafter a plantain leaf containing panchabhaksha paramanna that is offered to God as naivedya is customarily placed on the vrindavana. On Uthana dwadashi, Lord is seated on this Vrindavana and Kattepuje is held. Instead of carrying the Lord’s idols to Tirupati as promised to Gosavi, the idols are carried symbolically to the East direction of Karkala on an Utsava (being the direction where Tirupati lies) and a Vanabhojana is arranged there, annually.
Setting aside the Kanika offerings to Tirupati Deva collected from faithfuls, the same is carried to and offered at Tirupati temple once in several years. This pilgrimage carrying the donations is called ‘Ramdandu’. In due course, the group of Vaidikas and mahajans that had gone to Tirupati returned to Karkala with an idol of Venkataramana flanked by Sridevi and Bhoodevi. What a pleasant surprise! From that blessed day Karkala has in it’s temple, two idols of the Lord. Joy felt by the people knew no bounds. All as one man joined hands and unitedly built a monumental granite temple in exactly the same place where stood the small earstwhile shrine and consecrated Srinivasa deva and Shree Venkataramana in it.
This punarpratishta (rededication) took place on 25th April 1537AD (Vaishaka Shuddha 15, Pournami). Bhairarasa of Karkala appears to have extended his helping hand here . A record depicting this pratishta runs as follows:
Shree Lakshmi Shreenivasa Prasanna
Svasthi Shree Parashurama kshetrantrgata Taulavakhya Janapada
Shirshabharana Sannibha Karkala Gramadalli vasisuva Konkana
Deshiya Gowda Sarasvata Brahamana Samajada mahajanarinda
Shri Nrupa Shalivahana Shaka Varusha 1459ne Hevilambi Sam.
Vaishakha Shuddha 15u shubhadivasadalli Shree Bhu sahita
Shree Venkataramana Svami tatha Utsava Murtiya pratishte
During this pratishta, the temple precincts appear to have had 4 houses of Puraniks and 4 of Joishys. With the intention of performing puja of the Lord and for security reasons they built their houses there itself. So, Joishys stayed on the left hand side and Puranikas on the right. Upto 1650, during the rule of Bhairarasa and even later when Karkala came under Kelady Kings, peace prevailed in the Kingdom. No untoward calamities struck Shree Venkataramana Temple as in 1511. During this period the temple flourished considerably.
A record on a Kadatha of 18th Century in Karkala Shree Venkataramana Temple reads as follows :
Swasthi Shri Nrapa Shalivahana Sheka Varusha 1698ne saluva Durmukhi
sam.|rada Ruschika masa 23ne saluva Kartika bahula 10u Guruvara divasa
Surya udayadi ghati 14kke Kumbha lagnadalli Devalayada jirnoddharakke
arambha. Upari Margashira shuddha 1u Budhavara divasa Surya udayavada gha.14kke
Kumbha lagnadalli Mula Vastu pratishte.
Swasthi Shri Krishnayanamaha
Gajananam bhutaganadi sevitam| kappittha jambu phalshara bhakshitam|
Umashutam shokha vinashakaranam| namami Vighneshwara pada pankajam|
Swasthi Shri Jayabhyudaya Nrapa Shalivahana Sheka varusha 1699neya saluva Hevilambi sam| rada Rushabha masa 12neya saluva Vayishaka shu. 15u Guruvara 26 ¾ . Rohini 4. Anuradhe 53 ¼. Shiva 44 ¼. Bava 26 ¾. Visha ghati
2 ½. Am. Ghati 24 ½. Yevam panchanga shubha Surya udayavada gha. 15kke Simha lagnadalli Shree Venkateshwara Devarige Mahajangaloo, hattu
Samastaroo iddu madida nutana Devalayadllu Devara Pratishte.
Sarvesham Mahajananam Aishwaryamastu Shubhamastu
On a stone slab erected opposite Shree Ganapati’s shrine in the inner
pradakshina route, is inscribed thus :
1st Line: Shree
2nd Line: Swasthi Shree Jayabhydaya Nrapa Shali
3rd Line: vaahana Sakha Varusha 1699
4th Line: neya saluva Hemalambi shamva
5th Line: tsara vayishaka shu 15neya Guru
6th Line: vara jirnoddhara sandakke sha
7th Line: sana shubhamastu shree ( bhadramshri )
Till the 40’s of the 18th century AD, management of the temple rested with Sohire Prabhu’s descendants. In 1564 one Naveli Kamath came from Goa and settled in Karkala. He lent a helping hand to Prabhu in the execution of his temple duties. Everyday details of Lord’s ritual pooja, utsava etc. were carried out by the Puranik and Joishy families in turn. It was customary to collect Kanika offerings on a harivana (plate), write the accounts on a Kadatha and deposit the sum in a collection box placed inside the manda chamber of the garbhagudi (sanctorum). This was performed by pooja vaidiks. As time passed, the temple’s fame spread far and wide. Wealth also was accumulated. Temple was enriched with pots and pans, puja parapharnelia and ornaments. Mahajans of Karkala and outskirts started conducting Vasant pooja, utsava, santarpane etc., in the temple. As the temple activities increased, Prabhu increasingly felt the need for more helpers. So, one each member from the families of Naveli Kamath, Kuduva & Gaitonde were appointed as moktesars (trustee). Prabhu was named first and Executive mokthesar. These four were called Chougules. Now activities of the temple went on enthusiastically and systematically. It was then, the need of Jeernoddhara was felt by one and all. With the help of the Kanikas accumulated in the temple,donations sent by devotees from outstations, gifts received in kind etc, the task of Jeernoddhara commenced in November 1776. Stones required for the structure were purchased from Karkala, timber was procured from Farandadi. Stone cutters, carpenters, potters, and smiths started their jobs with enthusiasm and devotion. The masons set out to build the structure in accordance with designs and plans corresponding to Agamas. As stone cutters cut the stones for foundation stones, columns, beams, cornices etc, carpenters complimented them by crafting pillars, rafters, purlins, brackets etc. As potters manufactured tiles of roofs in indigenous designs, the smiths heated iron red hot and hammered flats, plates, hooks, nails, hinges and latches for doors.
The old garbhagudi was renovated and moola vastu pratishta was carried out. This job commenced in Shalivahana Shaka 1698 durmukhi Samvatsara on Kartika Bahula Dashami and concluded on Margashira Shuddha 1st i.e, in 6 days. After that the work on structure of inner circle, inner chandrasale, Garuda mantapa, outer chandrasale, Vasanta mantapa, Yajnashale and Agrasale etc. progressed speedily. Among the Chougules, one Bapsayya Shanubhaga of Gaitonde family was an artist and sculptor par excellence. He constructed between Garuda mantapa and Chandrasale an exceedingly attractive melchavani (a decorative ceiling) replete with delicate carvings. This piece of art remains in prestine shape unspoiled even after expiry of 230 years, enchanting viewers. Jeernoddhara work was completed in 6 months. In April 1777 AD Shalivahana Shaka 1699 Hevilambi Samvatsara onVaishaka Shuddha 15th (Pournami) the august function of punarprathishta of the Lord took place in the new temple. Later, renovation works, ornaments for the Lord, prathishta of Parivara Devas, carving and crafting of utsava vahanas, new chandrasale etc. were carried out from time to time until 1920 AD. As per records on ancient Kadathas it is described as follows:-