Worship of Lord Brahma, Part 70

BY: SUN STAFF - 5.4 2018

Entrance to a grove in Malnad

A serial exploration of places of Lord Brahma's worship.

 

Brahma Worship in the Groves of Karnataka

When discussing environmental diversity and sustainable ecology in India, one of the foremost topics is protection of her sacred groves. Ranging from dense forest to jungle to rainforest, these sacred groves have been the home of tribal people for countless years. Vedic sastra is filled with the pastimes of famous personalities who were exiled in these forests, the heritages of saints and rishis, and the secluded temples and shrines at which various transcendental personalities are worshipped. Not surprisingly, Lord Brahma is also resides in these sacred groves. Today we look at a few of the places where Brahmadev is worshipped in the deep forests of Karnataka.

There are many issues involved in the preservation of India's sacred groves, or devarakadus. In the Western Ghats of Karnataka, the world is quickly changing in the groves. In some places, only patches of forest have been left standing among the coffee plantations and paddy-fields, as commercial pursuits have crowded out the ancient shrines. Stone and terracotta idols and shrines dedicated to a wide range of deities are not only being surrounded by development properties, they are being moved to their own new residences, as temples and shrines are being built to house some of these ancient idols.

In part, this trend is being blamed on a force called 'Sanskritisation', which refers to the fact that the tribal people are coming more under the influence of formalized religion - a Kali-yuga form of Sanatana Dharma. More primitive forms of nature worship are being replaced by idol forms, and where deities were worshipped outside in open and unprotected groves or along the banks of waterways and tanks, new temples are now being constructed to house them.

Tribal terracotta idols of the hunt in Kodagu Grove

 

One example of this is found in the sacred grove of Bete Devaru, a tribal hunting god, which resides in Kumta town, on Karnataka's Western Ghats. Local people have traditionally prayed to Bete Devaru for success in hunting, as illustrated in the picture above. Such shrines are now receiving less attention, as the locals attend more formal venues of worship. As nature idols give way to Vedic deities, many are being moved to indoor shrines, some of which are being staffed by priests for the first time in recorded history.

In many cases, however, what is seen as progress in local worship practices is criticized as ecological degradation, as even more trees are being cut down to clear land and build temples. Temples and shrines are now becoming more important than the sacred groves themselves, and a shift from annual worship to daily worship is also resulting in a greater degree of human impact upon the groves. This phenomenon has been studied and reported upon in great detail by the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Karnataka, and related institutes.

New temples like this one in the Hebbale sacred grove can signify more than just
a new residence for the deities - they are the result of changing social dynamics

 

The influence of Hinduism has led to the construction of large, imposing temples with Brahmin priests and Hindu gods and goddesses within the sacred groves. By definition, sacred groves have been reduced to temple groves. Importance is given to the temple itself. From temple groves to a temple is just a step away.

Another example of the transition from grove to temple is found in the Bhadrakali sacred grove, in Hudikere. A freshly painted blue temple has replaced the old dilapidated shrine. In the grove village of Virajpet, a priest now serves at the new Kaykad devarakadu.

ISKCON is also manifesting its presence in the sacred groves, as the devotees have reportedly purchased some 500 acres of land in the Mahadayi Valley near Amgaon. There are plans for a large complex, to include a temple and an agricultural project that will focus on medicinal plants, which they hope will help serve the local population.

  ISKCON devotee in a temporary enclosure 

The Mahadayi valley, whose lush forests cover an area of 750 sq. km., lies between the Malaprabha river at Kankumbi in the north, Khanapur to the east, Anmod ghat on the Goa highway to the south and Molem/Madei wildlife sanctuaries across the crestline in Goa to the west. Up to 75 streams join the Mahadayi River, whose tributaries carry water all through the sacred groves.

 

Lord Brahma in the Sacred Groves of Mala Village

Of the more than 200 sacred groves formally studied by Karanataka environmentalists, one of the oldest is the Sri Brahmanatha grove. Situated on the bank of the Mullur stream at Mala (Mullur), the Sri Brahmanatha site is dedicated to Brahmalingeshwara, a combined form of Brahma and Shiva.

This sacred grove includes a well protected evergreen forest, with trees though to be 300 to 400 years old. Obviously, the sacred grove is assumed to have been in existence as a holy site throughout that period.

The stone deity situated in the grove bears a resemblance to the ancient "Bhottada Kallu", evidence that it was likely installed in this place centuries ago by the Malekudiyas, as the bhoothastana. After the arrival and settlement of Chitpavan Brahmins in the Mullur area, it is thought that they also worshipped this 'bhootha', and subsequently renamed it "Sri Brahmanatha".

These references to Brahma as "bhootha" become more clear in the context of the Brahma temple in Keseve Village, Malnad, described below. These forms may also be similar to the Brahmalingeshwara Temple at Maranakatte, to be covered in a future segment. In this temple, the Brahma deity is described as the demon Muka, slain by Devi, who was reborn as Maranakatte Brahma, in her service. This is also reminiscent of the relationship between Lord Shiva, who is so closely related to Lord Brahma in the Brahmalingeshwara form, Shiva being the father of a host of bhutas and rakshasas who do his bidding.

Each year, on Charitrashudda Bidige (the day of Yugadi Padya), all the local Mala community members and neighboring villagers come to the grove for an annual festival, during which they offer Rudra abhisheka to invoke the rain God, Varuna. Nagaraja is also worshipped here. The annual festival concludes with Vanabhojana, a communal meal in the forest.

Very large in size, the Brahmasthana sacred grove is home to many small villages, which include Mullur, Mala chowki, and Peradka.

 

Lord Brahma Amongst the Tigers, at Keseve Village

Hidden amongst the dense forest ranges of Karnataka's Western Ghats is one of India's newest tiger reserves, located in the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary covers a large area of land, and many villages and temples are located within the Sanctuary's boundaries. One of these is home to a Brahma Temple, located in Keseve Village, Chikmagalur Taluk, which is home to 300 people and 150 cows.

The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is spread across the Malnad districts of Chikmagalur and Shimoga. The term "Malnad" is Dravidian in origin, and means "hilly country".

Like the Mala villagers at Sri Brahmanatha grove, there is a strong awareness of the bhutas amont the tribal people here in the Malnad region. Among other things, they believe that one bhuta cannot invade the territory of another while pursuing the individual is has set out to harrass. And in no case can a bhuta pursue a person beyond the hills which form the natural boundaries of the Malnad country.

The manifestation of Lord Brahma worshipped in this place is believed by some to be a derivation of "Brahma Rakshasa". The only offerings made to this Brahmadev Deity are large heaps of half-boiled rice mixed with turmeric or saffron.

Idols worshipped in the sacred grove at Sattari
 

Throughout the sacred groves that comprise the Bhadra Sanctuary, many bhutas are represented by small pieces of stone, seldom covered by any building or temple. Rather, they are generally placed in the midst of a smaller grove of trees, called bana. Groups of two or three such shrines are often found, placed together. One such example is the Brahma, the Chaudi, and the Jattiga, which are worshipped according to a particular schedule.

While we have unfortunately been unable to discover photographs of the Brahma deities in these sacred groves, we hope to have at least given the reader a sense of place and the mood of local worship here.

A tree in the sacred grove