Cover photo by Nandha Kumar
When making a list of pilgrimages in India, one of the places that should have your attention is Murudeshwar. It’s a small town located in Bhatkul taluk of Uttara Kannada district in the state of Karnataka. Surprisingly, very few people know that Murudeshwar houses the world’s 2nd tallest Shiva statue! Complementing the prestigious sites of the Murudeshwar shiva mandir and the twenty-storied Raj Gopura is the lure of long beach walks.
What makes Murudeshwar an interesting place to visit is its story. A legendary tale about Murudeshwar has been told through generations of how the place came to be.
1. The Legend of Murudeshwar
Before visiting the Murudeshwar mandir in Karnataka, it’s important to know this legend from the time of Ramayana. This was the time when gods and goddesses were known for attaining immortality and invincibility by worshipping a divine and sacred linga called Atma-Ling. The name translates to the “Soul of Shiva”. However, it wasn’t only gods and goddesses that wanted to attain immortality and invincibility. One other person had his eye on the Atma-Linga, and that person, or rather Asur, was Ravana from the kingdom of Lanka.
1. 1 Ravana’s fancy
Ravana, as we know from Ramayana, was a devout Shiva follower. It was his worship to the destroyer of the worlds that made Ravana earn his name of Dashanan, the man with the wisdom of 10 people. But wisdom wasn’t the only thing he earned from Lord Shiva. Because he worshipped Lord Shiva devoutly, the lord appeared in front of him and told Ravana that he was impressed by his devotion and would give Ravana any boon that he would ask. Ravana asked for the one thing he had his eye on – the Atma-Linga. Lord Shiva did not hesitate for a second before giving the linga to him. But Shiva gave Ravana the Atma-Linga on the condition that he will not place the linga on the ground until he reached Lanka. If Ravana did place the linga on the ground, even by accident, the linga will become immovable. Ravana agreed to the condition. As soon as he got the Atma-linga, he set out for his home.
1.2 The Distraction
As Ravana was heading home with the Atma-Linga in his hands, Lord Vishnu got to know about it. Knowing well that Ravana would become unstoppable and would wreak havoc on everyone if he manages to take the Atma-linga home, Lord Vishnu planned to trick Ravana to place the linga on the ground. Vishnu took the help of Ganesha, Shiva’s son for this task.
What Vishnu knew about Ravana is that he prayed to Shiva every evening. As Ravana was nearing Gokarna, Vishnu blotted the sun to make it seem like dusk. Ravana being a devout follower of Shiva had to perform this daily ritual. He reached a point of confusion where he could not decide how to perform the ritual, for doing it would mean placing the atma-linga on the ground. Just then, Ganesha appeared in front of Ravana disguised as a young boy. Ravana asked the young boy to hold the stone while he prayed. He made the boy promise that he would not, at any cost, place the linga on the ground. Ganesha as a boy promised that he won’t, and if there was an emergency, he would call Ravana 3 times. If Ravana didn’t answer the call, he would leave the linga on the ground and leave. But as Ravana went to perform his prayer, and soon returned, he found that the boy had placed the linga on the ground.
1.3 The Aftermath
Vishnu slowly removed the illusion to reveal to Ravana that it was still daytime. Ravana became furious realising that he had been tricked. Then he tried to lift the atma-linga by sheer brute force. Ravana put in all his energy into lifting the atma-linga that he ended up breaking it. The atma-linga broke into many pieces that were scattered around. The head of the linga is said to have fallen in Surathkal. The popular Sadashiva temple is built around the head of this linga. Second, Ravana tried to destroy the covering of the Atma-linga and threw away the case covering, which fell 37 km away in Sajjeshwar. He also threw away the lead of casing which fell in Guneshwar, now called Gunavanthe, and Dhareshwar, about 16 kms away. The last piece, which was the cloth covering the linga, he threw on Kanduka Giri (also known as Kanduka Hill) in Mrideshwar. The name Mrideshwar has now become Murudeshwar. And here is where Murudeshwar Shiva himself resides in the Murudeshwar Mandir, one of the most famous Shiva temples in India.
4. About the Murudeshwar Temple in Karnataka
The location of Murudeshwar Temple is Kanduka Hill which is surrounded by the Arabian Sea on 3 sides. The total height of Murudeshwar Temple statue of Shiva is 37 metres. The entire temple and its complex, including the 75 metre high Raj Gopura, which offers a breath-taking view of Murudeshwar Shiv Mandir, was built in 2 years. Its construction was funded by businessman and philanthropist Rama Nagappa Shetty. When you are visiting Karnataka, especially the calming hill stations of Karnataka, Shri Murudeshwar Temple is a place that you must visit. But is that all there is in Murudeshwar? Obviously not!
5. Fantastic Places to Visit in Murudeshwar
5.1 Mirjan Fort
This is a fort covering an area of 4.1 hectares. It was built by Rani Chennabharadevi, also known as the Pepper Queen, from 1609 to 1640 AD. Many battles were fought here until the British came in the 17th century. They managed to capture this fort and use it as their armoury. Currently, it is one of the protected monuments in India by the Archaeological Survey of India for his historical significance.
5.2 Murudeshwar Beach
Murudeshwar is a beach town that looks at the vast Arabian Sea. Where on one side you have mountains and hills, the other is a vast expanse of crystal blue water of the Arabian Sea. It’s a perfect place in the town to visit after the Murudeshwar Mandir. You can walk along the serene and scenic beach, take photos, or just relax. There are also some good shacks, food stalls and dhaba that you can visit to savour the local cuisine.
5.3 Murudeshwar Fort
This is a mighty fort in Murudeshwar that is believed to have been constructed in the Vijaynagara period. This was a glorious period in Indian history because the Vijaynagara Empire, at one point, covered the entire south India. But despite the fact that the empire gradually fell, the fort was still looked after. This fort was renovated by Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. It is quite accessible from the Murudeshwar Temple complex and can be easily reached by autos.
Murudeshwar is one of those places in Karnataka that you shouldn’t miss out on. After all, it houses India’s tallest and the world’s 2nd tallest Shiva statue! If you’ve gotten Murdeshwar included in your Karnataka sightseeing package, do spend at least one entire day in the town to experience all that it has to offer. Happy travels!