The construction of the Omkareshwara temple in Madikeri was completed in 1820 by Lingarajendra, the penultimate raja of Kodagu. The Shiva temple has a unique and most unusual architecture. It has a central dome with turrets in the four corners. The design reflects fusion of Hindu, Gothic, and Islamic style of construction. A beautiful water tank located in front of the temple adds to the serenity of this place of worship. There is a mantapa in the middle of this pond, which is connected by a causeway. The tank is full of gold fish of various hues, and is a visual treat.

The Shiva linga installed in the sanctum sanctorum was brought from Kashi (Benares) by three men who were specially deputed by the king to fetch the sacred stone icon. During its arduous transportation, the linga was never placed on the ground. The three men took turns carrying the linga and diligently performed the prescribed poojas at sunrise and sunset. Work on the temple started in 1817 and the linga was consecrated in the shrine on March 26, 1820.

This occasion was celebrated for three days, and all the citizens of Madikeri took part in various rituals. Hundreds of devotees were provided free meals during the three days of festivities. Lingarajendra arranged for a lamp to be lit inside the temple in perpetuity – a practice which is being continued to this day.

However, there is a dark story behind the construction of this temple. Lingarajendra took control of the kingdom of Kodagu rather tenuously in 1810. He soon consolidated his position and within three years became a feared raja to his subjects. It was in the beginning of 1817 that a poor old man from Puttur brought his beautiful daughter to Madikeri. His wife had died and the old man was rather desperate to ensure a secure future for his daughter. In his anxiety, he imprudently decided that his daughter could be one of the wives of the prosperous raja of Kodagu. He wanted to meet the raja along with his daughter.

Lingarajendra was away on a hunting expedition at the time. The old man and his daughter were wandering in Madikeri for shelter when they were directed to meet a prominent man in town named Subbarasaiah. When Subbarasaiah heard about the purpose of the Puttur man’s visit, he was aghast. He reprimanded the old man for his foolishness. After providing them food and shelter for a day, he urged them to get back to their village before the raja’s return.

But the town was full of spies who immediately informed Lingarajendra how Subbarasaiah had sent back a prospective bride for the raja. Lingarajendra was enraged and sent his dreaded Siddi guards to bring Subbarasaiah to his court. Lingarajendra thundered at Subbarasaiah’s insouciance. He ordered him to immediately get the girl back to Madikeri. Subbarasaiah pleaded that he had absolutely no knowledge of the whereabouts of the old man and his daughter. Lingarajendra warned Subbarasaiah and his family of dire consequences.

Subbarasaiah’s fate

When he did not relent, Lingarajendra asked his guards to bring to the court the two young sons of Subbarasaiah. Lingarajendra threatened that they would be beheaded if Subbarasaiah did not tell him where to find the old man and his daughter. Subbarasaiah beseeched Lingarajendra and pleaded his ignorance. Lingarajendra barked his orders and the Siddi assassins lost no time in executing their master’s instructions. Subbarasaiah fainted on seeing the horror.

When he recovered, he was so devastated that he did not care for his own life any longer. He cursed and berated the raja. Lingarajendra ordered Subbarasaiah be cut limb by limb. The Siddis were merciless. As life ebbed from his body, Subbarasaiah swore he would return as a Brahma Rakshasa, and torment the raja for the rest of his life.

From that day onwards, Lingarajendra started seeing the apparition of Subbarasaiah. He could not sleep, and very often found himself rolling off his cot.

He was advised to perform various poojas to appease the Brahma Rakshasa but none worked. His health deteriorated drastically. Finally, Neeleshwar Tantris from Mangalore were consulted. After much study of their manuscript on exorcism they suggested construction of a temple dedicated to Shiva where the Brahma Rakshasa be given a place to reside. They also recommended that the Shiva linga should come from the holy city of Kashi.

Lingarajendra finally found peace but it lasted only a few months. The thought of Subbarasaiah’s ghost started tormenting the raja once again. Lingarajendra literally went insane and died by the end of 1820 aged 45. Subbarasaiah’s premonition had come true.

Courtesy : Deccan Herald

Author: C.P. Belliappa


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