"A Legacy Of Dharma And Karma", Says Heir To Priest Who Worshipped The Famous Hampi Shiva Linga For 'Almost Nothing'
A mammoth Shiva linga, submerged in water in a temple next to the famous Narasimha idol in Hampi, had been worshipped by K N Krishna Bhat for the last 40 years — for a salary of Rs 300 and 25 kg of rice.
However, since this temple is under the ASI and not the Muzrai Department, governments so far have neglected it.
The image of a frail, skinny old man, with just a piece of cotton cloth wrapped around his waist and the sacred thread across his chest, on the 'peetha' of the large Shiva Linga in Hampi is well known to most people who visit the land of the glorious empires of South India.
That mammoth linga, submerged in water in a temple next to the famous Narasimha idol at Hampi, had been worshipped by K N Krishna Bhat for the last 40 years. He passed away recently.
From 1979, when Bhat came to Hampi, till a year ago, when his age-related ailments hampered his devoted service, he walked at day break from his home every single day and performed the pooja and abhisheka to the magnificent linga, which made his frame look even frailer.
The sight was almost like that of a child clinging to a parent, as he stood on the base and held the top of the peetha with one hand and cleared the flowers from the previous day's pooja with the other.
Most tourists and photographers would be delighted while capturing the scenes of him worshipping the deity.
But none of that mattered to him.
"He knew nothing apart from his mantras and pooja, never donned a shirt even. He was someone who believed in making whatever he could with his own hands, be it his janivara (sacred thread) or his kaapi (coffee)," says Raghava, reminiscing his father's journey to Hampi from their native village in Teerthahalli taluk of Shivamogga in 1979.
"He loved to drink coffee but even that he prepared himself — by procuring raw seeds, and roasting and powdering them on a handmade machine," he says.
Born in 1935, Bhat grew up in Kasaravalli, but received vaidik education at Sringeri's Sharada Peetha. He ran a grocery shop there while also pursuing priesthood.
Because of financial difficulties, with a family of six (four children), when one Lakshmi Narayan Bayar from a neighbouring village who used to perform the pooja at a Narasimha Temple in Hampi passed away in 1979, Bhat took over the reins and moved to Hampi.
He also performed poojas as a temporary priest at the Virupaksha Temple and nearby areas.
In October 1978, Jagadguru Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamiji is said to have 'advised the heirs of the Vijayanagara dynasty Sri Achyutha Devaraya to also have this Jalakanteshwara (the name of the Badavi Linga) worshipped ritualistically'.
"Thus, from 1986, my father started performing pooja for Rs 300 and 25 kg of rice, and that's the salary that continues till date," says Raghava.
Raghava is a trained and certified tourist guide. But because of the lockdown, he has only been carrying on the duties entrusted to him by his father.
"There is no other support, as this is seen as a monument and not a living temple by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), which means it can't be under the Muzrai Department. Hence, the only support we have is from the royals, who have been offering the salary and rice to this date," he says, lamenting the handling of the tourism potential of a grand site like Hampi.
Until December 2020, he has drawn the same salary as in 1986. "There is no government support or any other help whatsoever. I have asked for some increase in the same, but I am yet to hear on it," he says.
Raghava has been performing the pooja in place of his father for a year as his Bhat found it difficult to walk the stretch to the temple and back.
During the Vijayanagara era, as the oral tale goes, a poor woman who had vowed for a wish to be fulfilled, had got this temple built. It is along the course of the canal built from the Tungabhadra River to the fields, and is hence submerged in water throughout the year.
The Nandi that was in front of the Shiva now rests in the museum in Kamalapura. Since there was no security here in the 1950s, they had it moved to the museum, he says.
In his later years, he would go in the latter half of the day and perform the pooja and return at sunset. Raghava's brother serves as an archaka at the Virupaksha Temple, but Raghava, who has been performing the pooja here, has completed his Masters in Political Science and the guide training programme offered by the government.
While his father could only understand Kannada and Sanskrit, Raghava is fluent in French and Italian and takes international tourists around. But the lockdown has brought everything to a standstill, and that, he says, is the reality for almost everyone in Hampi.
"Hampi is largely dependent on tourism, but the pandemic has brought everything to zero and forced all of us to either live on savings or take to labour and field work," says Raghava.
"We have been neglected by both governments as there is not a word on any kind of support to this sector. Some support was given to a few guides and the like by some individuals and organisations, but that's about it," he says.
The Satyanarayana Temple that brought them to Hampi is also in desperate need of repair, but given that it is a private temple and sits on an ASI site, a lack of attention has resulted in this plight.
"Its roof leaks in the monsoon and needs repair. We haven't taken any salary for it for the last two years and have been worshipping there, spending money from our pockets for daily pooja needs," laments Raghava, hoping that the temple will be renovated soon.
Until then, he says, "Like my father said, God will provide from some source or the other, we will keep doing what we can," signing off to head to the linga that awaits the daily pooja.
For those who wish to support the young priest and his efforts to preserve the shrine and its culture, here are some details:
Name: Raghava K
Bank: Canara Bank
Branch: Hampi - Kaddirampur
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