‘Brahmani(a)cal exploitation’ at Kukke Subramanya

Not many temples remain without being commercialised. When we decided to visit Kukke Subramanya, we never expected that it would turn out to another commercial temple. Not merely, commercial, even caste system still rules the temple. The priests treat people other than brahmins like fools, rather say like mere objects to serve their lust for money.

I and my brother were born and brought up in such a manner that my parents never insisted us that we should go to temples or pray to any gods. It was purely our choice and they left it to us. My dad and mom see Siddharoodha in every temple and every god. For them, it is his other forms. They trust him and believe him. They worship him at home with other gods but never insist that we should pray or visit temples. Visiting temples has been rather a trip for us than a religious visit. Our concept of god and devotion has been beyond the understanding limits of my hubby and his family members. We see god in our own hearts and we believe in the devotion of soul unlike their devotion by visiting every temples and performing all pujas and buying photographs of different gods whenever they visit temples. Though we have had arguments about the topic, neither I was successful in making my hubby, leave alone my in-laws, about my thinking, nor I was able to adjust to his way of thinking!

So, there was a reason this time for visiting Kukke Subramanya. Someone had told my mother that if we do a Naga puja, it is very good for us. She had succumbed to the words of a person, which was evident when she insisted that we visit the place and perform Naga puja. Though my dad was reluctant, he obliged, as travelling to different places is his passion. We were told to perform Sarpa Samskara to get rid of the sarpa dosha. According to belief, a person either in this birth or any of his previous births can be afflicted by the sarpa (serpent) dosha (curse) either knowingly or un-knowingly through many ways.

We four — I, dad, my brother and hubby — started at 7.45 am on Saturday. We had to cover 260 km to reach the place. We went to Melkote first met Koulagis, family friends of my dad, and headed towards our destination.

We got a glimpse of Lord Gomateshwara on the way, as our vehicle passed next to the hill.

We stopped at Sakaleshpur to have lunch at 12 noon. The hotel looked great from outside, but it was not too late to realise that looks can be deceptive, as the food was not good. We ordered for south Indian meals. And flies started hovering over the plates and in fact, a few started sitting on the food. I was indeed shocked to see a small white worm floating on curd! It was a bad lunch and it is 68 km to Subramanya from Sakaleshpur.

Ghat was not scarry and curves were not deep, no hairpin curves and driving was not tiring. Lapped in the luxurious abundance of the beauty of the nature the village of Subramanya lies in Sullia taluk in Dakshina Kannada district. Nature reveals herself in all her unhidden beauty in the rivers, forests and mountains which the temple is surrounded by.

Shiradi Ghat
Shiradi Ghat

Subramanya used to be called as Kukke Pattana. ‘Shankara Vijaya’ mentions that Sri Shankaracharya camped here for a few days during his religious expedition (Digvijaya).

Long way
Long way

The village is situated on the banks of the river Dhara which originates in the Kumara mountain and proceeds to the western sea.

Entrance of Kukke SUbramanya
Entrance of Kukke SUbramanya

According to mythology, consequence to the boon conferred upon Demon Tarakasura by gods, in return for the penance he did, he was not destined to die from anybody, either men or gods aged above seven days and therefore being confident that there was no death for him, he began to tease the whole world, and the story goes on to say that he fought single handed and conquered all the three worlds. The Rishis also found it difficult to go on with their penance and hence they went to Lord Shiva and requested him to redress their grievances. Luckily enough, it was the seventh day, his son Kumar was born and through this child ‘Kumar’ aged seven days, the demon Tarakasura Shoorapadmasura and others in a war and came to this place and washed his Shakti Ayudha (a battle-axe) in the river. From this onwards the river is famous as Kumaradhara. After his battle with the demons Lord Kumaraswamy came to the top of Kumara Parvatha along with his brothers Lord Ganesha, Veerabahu and other aides. He was received by Lord Indra along with other gods. Pleased by the success of the war, Indra prayed the Lord to be kind enough to marry his daughter Devasena.  This was agreed upon courteously and the marriage took place on the banks of Kumaradhara. Lord Kumaraswamy also gave darshan to Vasuki, the head of nagas, who was making a penance there. Vasuki prayed to the Lord to stay along with him permanently at the place.

In the woods...
In the woods…

We reached Kukke Subramanya at 2 pm. Temperature was very high and we were sweating like anything. We went in search of Ashlesha Lodge, where we had booked a room. When we enquired in the reception, the guy told my dad to sit and he would call at 4 pm. We all sat and waited. The guy sitting at the reception asked a few guys to stand in the queue to collect the room keys. People who came just a few minutes back got the rooms earlier than us. When asked about it, he was very callous and arrogant in his behaviour: “You should have stood in the queue, why did you go and sit there?” he asked my dad. An old woman also joined to support my dad, as she was waiting in the reception since 1 pm. But the guy didn’t heed. When our turn came, he purposefully gave a room on the fourth floor, which didn’t have a balcony. Moreover, the soaring mercury levels made it very difficult for us to stay there. Though there were many vacant rooms on the ground and other floors, he purposefully refused to give, which we came to know on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning I asked another guy sitting in the reception if there were any vacant rooms in other floors so that we could shift there. He said that there were many vacant rooms and asked me to collect the key in the reception at 4 pm. We were happy that we would get a room on some other floor, and we will escape the terrace heat. But unfortunately, when we went to enquire in the reception, the arrogant guy was sitting and he said that there were no vacant rooms…

What really hurt us was when we came to know from others that he turned down to give a room for a poor old woman who had come all the way from Kasargod. An old lady had come with two daughters. She was requesting something with the arrogant guy in Konkani. Though we did not understand the language we thought she was also requesting for a room. But we mistook that she was asking for a room on the ground. After a few minutes, she just went and sat on the ground telling something to her daughters. In the meanwhile, my dad started an argument with that guy and our attention was towards that. When the argument ended, people sitting next to those girls started talking about them. They pitied for them and when we enquired, we came to learn from them that she was very poor labourer working in paddy fields at a village in Kasargod. She had come to perform a Naga puja for her daughters. She had saved some money and had paid Rs 1,600 for the puja and was left with only Rs 400 for the room rent, as someone had informed her earlier that the room would cost Rs 150 per day. She had no extra money other than the bus charge to go back to her village. She pleaded the guy to give her the room and he didn’t budge, as it was Rs 500 for two days. He was supposed to return Rs 200 when they vacate the room. People around said that visiting such holy places is no more a religious visit and it is not a place for poor people. We all felt very bad for the woman, but by the time she had left the place.


We just took rest and went to the temple in the evening.

Way to the temple
Way to the temple

After the darshan, we stood in a long queue to have prasadam (dinner) in the temple. We entered the courtyard from behind and walk around to go before the idol. The sanctum sanctorum of Lord Subrahmanya lies opposite to the main entrance. There is Garuda pillar covered with silver between the sanctum sanctorum and the portico entrance. It is believed that the pillar was charmed and planted there to shield devotees from the poison flames streaming from the breath of Vasuki who resides inside. Devotees circle the pillar. Beyond the pillar is the outer hall and then the inner hall and after that the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Subrahmanya. In the centre of the sanctum sanctorum is a pedestal. On the upper dais stands the idol of Lord Subrahmanya and then the idol of Vasuki and somewhat lower, the idol of Shesha.

To the north of the sanctum sanctorum, we saw a cluster of lingas known as ‘Kukkelingas’. Some believe that the lingas got that name simply because people used to worship them together kept in a basket. Now they have been installed at the back portion of the sanctuary and are worshipped.

Some say that the place owes its name ‘Kukke Pattana’ to the Kukke linga and they proceed a step further and say that the epithet ‘Kukke’ in ‘Kukke Subrahmanya Devaru’ owes its origin to the curious custom of worshipping images kept in the basket. Some even tell that Kukke must be the Halegannada form of the Sanskrit word ‘Kukshi’ meaning ‘cave’. As the image was installed by Vasuki in the cave, it came to be called as Kukkelinga.

According to the legends, Lord Shanmukha installed Shiva lingas at three places in order to get rid of the sin resulting from killing Tharakasura. Later, other gods and sages installed many more lingas and images. In course of time when the place was subjected to the vicissitudes of the ebb and flow of its forutne, people collected these images and lingas and placed them in the temple.

To the south of the sanctum sanctorum is the shrine of Lord Bhairava. According to the legend, it is Kapaleshwara installed by Lord Shanmukha.

Images of Umamaheshwara can be found in the north-eastern sanctum sanctorum on the innere side of the temple wall. Besides these the images of Surya, Ambika, Vishnu and Ganapati are also found here. Among them the images of the Sunand Ambika date back of very ancient days. According to the legends, these were installed here by Narada rishi.

We saw Vedavyasa Samputa Narasimha to the south-eastern sanctum sanctorum. It is said that the Vedavyasa Samputa and the image of Lakshmi Narasimha were handed over to Sri Madhvacharya by Sri Vedavyasa.

A Subrahmanya mutt belonging to Dwaita tradition of Madhwa sect is situated to the south-east of the temple. It is said Sri Madhwacharya made his brother Vishnu Thirthacharya his disciple and gave this mutt to him and sometimes called as Vishnuthirthacharya’s Samshtana.

Near the main temple, there is the temple of Adi Subramanya. There is a great Valmiki (ant-hill) there.

Adi Subramanya
Adi Subramanya

Kashikatte is at about three furlong from the temple on the main entrance to the temple. Anjaneya and Vigneshwara idols are found here.

There is Biladwara, a cave, at about four furlong from the temple by the side of the main road. According to mythology, Vasuki, the serpent God, had taken shelter and protection from Garuda at this cave. The cave is about 10 meters in length with an entrance and exit.

A view from the room
A view from the room

On Sunday, we were supposed to go for the puja at 8 am. We got up at 6 am and got ready. Climate was so hot that even at 6 am, we took bath in cold water! After having darshan of Lord Subramanya, we went to the place where they perform Naga puja, i.e., Sarpa Samskara and Ashlesha Bali.

Peepal tree at ADi Subramanya
Peepal tree at ADi Subramanya

We had to wait for our turn and we learnt that every day 102 people come to perform Naga puja. Four people can attend the puja in one ticket (Rs 1,600 which includes Sarpa Samskara, Ashlesha Bali and Naga Pratishta).
They let us inside a big hall at 9 am and the numbers were written on the floor. A Brahmin pujari was designated to perform the puja for every ticket purchased by non-brahmins. They know the caste by seeing the sacred thread worn by men here, as men are not allowed to enter the temple with their shirts on.

An old brahmin came in search of our number and said that he would be performing the puja for us. He said in brief what he is going to do and what we were supposed to do! He said that the puja will be performed for two days. Head priest would come and ask for the names of our family members and the purpose of doing the puja. We were supposed to take the ‘Sankalpa’ for what we were performing. He said nearly four to five times that we should keep ‘Dakshina’ (Not Rs 10 or 20, but a whopping Rs 500!) in the betel leaves and offer it to the head priest.

By the time the head priest came to us, it was past 10 am, almost one hour. Our priest offered the head priest a 25 paise coin. We wondered that still 25 coin is in circulation there. Moreover, when it comes to us, the amount will be above Rs 100 and when it comes to those priests, it will be less than a rupee, that too only 25 paise! The head priest came, took the dakshina and asked the purpose of doing the puja and left the spot.

Then, the head priest offered a piece of white cloth to all the priests performing the puja. Our priest gave the cloth to us and asked us to keep money and give offer it to him as a ‘Daan’.

Our priest kept on explaining  how to perform the puja for a brahmin person sitting next to us. The guy from that family was working abroad and had lost his job, thanks to the global meltdown. A person working abroad, his family performing puja, maintaining the old caste system, all were strange combinations!

The family head of the brahmin family literally didn’t know how to perform the puja. It was only his sacred thread (Janivara) which had promoted him to sit next to the priest to perform the puja. Neither did he know how to hold the sacred grass nor did he know how to offer flowers and holy water to the idol of snake.

The head priest chanted the shloka for 2 minutes and all the priests offered fruit, flowers, milk and water to the snakes and took the snake kept to the left and folded in  a piece of white cloth before putting it to the fire pit.

They said that they cremated the snake ritually and took another snake and three balls (eggs) to put it in an anthill, praying that the lineage of snakes be protected. Let the number and family of snakes grow, we prayed with others. We went to the river flowing behind the puja hall and washed our legs and hands.

River behind the Yajna Shala at Adi Subramanya
River behind the Yajna Shala at Adi Subramanya

Then came our priest’s demands. He asked for Rs 500 to buy flowers and a plastic box. He said that he would also get coins so that it will help us to give dakshina. We wondered if flowers would cost that much. When we said that we would buy flowers for him, he said we need five types of flowers of at least one metre each. Then, again he came down and asked that at least we should give him Rs 100 and further came down to Rs 50. It looked like a professional bargain. We gave him Rs 50 and went for lunch in a big queue. The menu had rice, rasam (literally like water), sambar, payasam and watery buttermilk (in the same order). Here they throw the food and we feel like beggars begging for their food.

Then came the harrowing experience of walking barefoot in the scorching sunlight. Our legs got small bubbles by the time we reached our room.

We had been instructed to take bath, wash our clothes and go for a nap, before going for luncheon at 6 pm. We were also told not to eat any rice food and could eat any fruits or vegetables. Well in advance, we had purchased four cucumbers (Rs 5 each) and five bananas (Elakki, Rs 2.50 each).

After reaching the lodge, I and Vij saw a different guy sitting in the reception and we enquired if there were any vacant rooms so that we could shift from the top floor, as the heat was too much there. He assured us to give a room as there were many vacant rooms on the first and second floor. We went to the room with a hope that we would get a room. In the evening, unfortunately, we saw the same arrogant guy, yet took a chance and asked him about the room. He said that there were no rooms and all the rooms were occupied!

A view of tiled roofs
A view of tiled roofs

We left the room around 5 pm and went for shopping. We had been told not to buy anything related to god, like photos or idols, as we had performed death ceremony (Sarpa Samskara) that day. We just enquired in a few shops and stood in the queue for the luncheon.

As expected, it was upma and little flaked rice with buttermilk. We thought that rice could not be consumed directly, but could be had in different indirect methods. They had used rice rava to prepare upma and paddy is used to prepare flaked rice!

Later, we sat under a big pupil tree in front of the lodge till 8 pm and then went to the room. We had to get up early on Monday, as we were supposed to attend the puja at 6 am. In the meanwhile I and Vij went in search of the Ganpati Temple and couldn’t find it. As it was getting late, we returned. We thought of going to the temple the next day and visit Kumaradhara river also.

Though the alarm rang at 4.30 am, we were so tired that we woke up only at 5 pm. We rushed to the Ganapati Temple and reached the puja hall at 6 am.

Ganapati temple
Ganapati temple

This time, they had drawn a snake picture in colourful rangoli. Our priest had brought five different types of flowers (none were even a foot long!). They had kept flowers, a banana piece, betel leaf and nut, two holy grasses, and eight small balls symbolising pinda to snakes. They performed the puja and offered flowers and fruit to the eight pindas, before disposing them off in the river.

Our priest told us to give dakshina to the head priest and take flowers from him. Keeping Rs 50 enraged him and he demanded that we keep Rs 500.

By this time, we had understood the commercialistaion of the puja and we had lost faith and divinity in the puja. It was like give money and please the god, else no blessing. My father refused to give any extra money.

Info board at the entrance of the temple
Info board at the entrance of the temple

We came outside the puja hall and our priest started demanding dakshina from us, even before the completion of the whole puja. Still Go (cow) and Vatu (brahmin bachelor) puja were left.

The ticket clearly mentions that Rs 1,600 includes the cost of everything, including the dakshina of priests and we were not supposed to pay any money. They also mentioned that devotees could complain at the temple office if any priest demands money. When we asked about the rule mentioned in the ticket, our priest said that he in turn would go to the office and complain against us that we were not paying him the dakshina!

Ridiculous but true, another family joined us and told its woes. Their priest also demanded Rs 500 from them and they gave him Rs 300 after a long argument. The priest disappeared from the scene telling other priests that we were not paying him his dakshina!

We went for the Go puja and the person holding the cow demanded Rs 50 from us to touch and take the blessings from the cow!

Later, it was the turn of Vatu puja. It was not one or two brahmin boys sitting, but a whole bunch of 10 boys in different age group. Again, giving dakshina to 10 boys! It’s not defenitely Rs 10 or Rs 20! Young boys earning not less than Rs 1,000 every day!

After that, we went to the temple at 9.30 am for the Naga Pratishta. The whole process of the puja would have ended in 30 minutes, but the commercial minded priests have split it into two days. For them, inconvenience of devotees is next only to the dakshina they get.

My dad went to the temple office to complain about the incident and the office-bearers told him that they were helpless to take any action against those reckless priests and priests. They want someone to give a written complaint against the incident and priests so that action could be taken. Another shocking revelation came from them that the head priest earns a whopping Rs 50,000 every day in the form of dakshina! It is a lucrative business and no software engineer earns that much. Temples and priest are out of the income tax purview and indeed, the priests amass wealth like anything.

There were 102 people with their families standing in a long queue for Naga Pratishte. When enquired, they said that the puja will happen at 1 pm and we went and sat in front of the temple. We almost had two hours. We went to the room, had bath and came back to the temple at 12.30 noon only to learn that they had performed the puja at 12 noon itself. A priest gave us the prasadam after a long discussion and we left the place at 1.30 pm.

We didn’t dare stand in the long queue again to have lunch and had lunch on the way in a hotel. Our car had some problem when Sakleshpur was merely 4 km away. No one stopped their vehicles when asked for lift, and luckily a guy in an Omni stopped and called his friend working at a garage. We went to Sakleshpur and got our car repaired, (battery was weak). It is always better to check the vehicle before going on ghat sections, as people will rarely come for help. And thank god, it was not night!

Men in action
Men in action

We visited one of our friends in Hassan and reached home at 10.30 pm.

Learnt one thing from the visit that visits to temples are no more divine. They are meant to lose money to the demanding priests, who treat us like fools. They consider themselves to be very intelligent and smart, as they act as mediators between us and gods! Wondered how they might have conned and oppressed common and poor people from ages in the name of caste and creed. After the harrowing experience, we felt really proud of Adichunchanagiri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji for starting a vedic school, where students from all communities are allowed to learn Sanskrit and study Vedic literature, which was hitherto a priced possession of only brahmins.

  1. vijayboytoy@yahoo.com says:

    Well done dude. Time to spread this naked truth all over India for awareness.

  2. jkhkjgkjg says:

    btw..honest opinion…your post sucks biggggggggg time.

  3. Amit Pallavoor says:

    At last I found someone who thinks the way I do. God lies in your hearts and not in some dirty temple, which has destroyed the serene surroundings of the village in which it is located. Let us donate the same money, which we give these chaps to some needy people.

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