MANJULAKSHETRA or MANJESHWARA is the name derived from the deity “SRI MANJARISHA” or Srimath Anantheshwara of the sacred Manjeshwar Temple.
Considered as the most ancient existing temple of the Gowda Saraswat Brahmins, the known history of the Temple dates back to 8th century A.D. The Temple was last renovated in 1799 – 1804 A.D. after it was demolished by a nearly ruler. H.H Srimath Vibhudendra Tirtha Swamiji, the then Peetadhipathi of the Kashi Math Samsthan took the initiative in resurrecting the Temple and re-installing the presiding deity Shri Bhadra Narasimha.
MANJESHWAR or Manjulakshetra with its Puranic background is celebrated for its Temple dedicated to Srimad Anantheshwara, that is Shri Shiva accompanied by Shesha or Anantha. Evidently, the town derives its name from the presiding Deity Srimad Anantheshwar changed into "Madanantheshwar" and then into Manjeshwar by efflux of time and long usage. The image of Lord Shiva is believed to be an "Udbhava" or "Swayambhoo" (Self emergent). Besides the image of Shiva, there are in the temple images of Lord Narasimha and Subramanya, the latter Deity rarely worshipped in South Canara. Originally in the Madras State but now in Kerala, Manjeshwar is situated 17 Kilometers south of Mangalore on the Cochin - Mangalore section of the Southern Railway, the Temple is about a Kilometer and a half from the Railway Station, being easily accessible by metalled road. By road, it is about 23 Kilometers south of Mangalore on the National Highway 66. The nearest Airport is Mangalore.
The origin of the Temple: The origin of the Temple dates more than a thousand years back with many Puranic legends and anecdotes woven round it. Perhaps, the first reference to it is in connection with the visit to the place by Shri Matsyendranatha, the founder of the Nath cult of North India, which flourished in the eight century A.D. Mention is made also in "Manjula Mahathmya" of the "Sahyadri-Khand" in the "Skanda Purana", of Shri Shiva Himself having installed the image of Shri Narasimha here for the worship of mortals in Kaliyuga. A chapter in the Purana is devoted to the pilgrimage of a saint called Virupaksha, of the Gowda Saraswat Community to the holy shrines in the South "Inter alia", it says that the saint settled down in Manjeshwar and spent his last days there worshipping the image of Lord Shiva and finally attaining "Moksha".
For long years since then, nothing is on record about the Temple (for as can be gathered from the sequel, the Temple fell in ruins), until according to the "Sthalapurana", one Ranga Sharma, a Gowda Saraswat Brahmin hailing from Kusasthali in Goa, on his way to Rameshwaram, halted at Manjeshwar. In one of his rambles in the nearby woods called "Sankamalae", the Purana says, he accidentally came upon a ruins of a Temple which must have been those of the Manjeshwar Temple, and that he had a dream one night, in which Shri Shiva enjoined him to rebuild the Temple and install the image of "Shesha" which he (Ranga Sharma) had brought with him from Goa, the "Shesha" to be a companion and ornament to Him (Shri Shiva). Ranga Sharma did as he was instructed, and the Temple rose phoenix - like from its ashes. Again in Madhwavijaya, there is a reference to Shri Madhwacharya having spent, in the course of his tour, one of his "Chaturmasas" (period of retreat and meditation) at Kanwathirtha, a sea side hamlet near Manjeshwar. Before resuming his tour, he is said to have taken a bath in a sea during a Solar Eclipse and worshipped Shri Narasimha at the Manjeshwar Temple.
The image of Shri Narasimha in the Temple as it exists today is made of "Panchaloha" (Five Metals) and has been installed in the place of the old one, in the Twelfth Century A.D., and this marked the change of creed of the Gowda Saraswat Brahmins from "Shaivism" to "Vaishnavism" of Shri Madhwa. The "Pancha Ratra" mode of religious service, one of the prescribed "Agamas" now observed in the Temple was introduced by Shri Raghavendra Thirtha the spiritual head of Gowda Saraswat Community. There is a belief that Shri Narasimha gave "Darshan" to the Swamiji. Today, there is a Mutt belonging to Kashi Mutt Samsthan adjacent to the Temple.
The Temple like many other ancient Temples fell a prey to the ravages of man and nature. In 1677, a cyclone devastated certain portions of the Temple. It was looted by one Muhamed Ali, the ruler of Cannanore and immediately after by a Maharatha pirate, Angira in about 1755 A.D. In 1799, after the fall of Tippu Sulthan who had held sway over South Canara and with the consequent coming into power of the Ruler of Vittal, the latter plundered it and carried away a large booty including a Temple - Chariot. However as a result of the representations made by the Gowda Saraswaths to the British authorities, the ruler of Vittal was captured and the properties looted by him were restored to the Temple. In 1804, it was renovated by the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins and a new image of Shri Narasimha known as Shri Bhadra Narasimha was installed by Srimad Vibhudendra Thirtha, the then head of the Kashi Mutt.
The image of Shri Subramanya is installed in a declivity considerably lower than the surrounding area and full of serpent holes. The panoramic view of the shrine with hills on three sides and river Manjeshwar flowing by, is really fascinating.
Of the many festivals in the Temple, the annual Car festival which falls on the sixth day of the bright half of the month of "Margshirsha" (November / December) is the most important. The day is known in popular parlance as the "Manjeshwar Shasti" and coincides with "Skhanda Shasti" in other parts of South India. On that day, the six - wheeled chariot called "Brahma Ratha" is pulled along the Car Street so-called from its use, by thousands of votaries coming from far and near. The "Ratha" has a base 17 feet square, a height of 17 feet in raw and a maximum girth of 53 feet. But when decked for the occasion with all its decorative appurtenances, it rises to a height of 71 feet, and affords an unforgettable experience of solemnity and grandeur as it moves admist a soothing mass of human heads. The Ratha was built in 1834 A.D.
Another special feature is the DARSHAN reminiscent of the Greek Oracle, when it is believed, the Shesha reveals Himself to His devotees in the person of a priest who is the eldest surviving descendant of Ranga Sharma, referred to above, and solves the knotty problems and prophesies the future, of the devotees and sometimes bestows boons on them. No wonder, the Temple has gained wide popularity not only among the Gowda Saraswaths, but among other Hindus also, as is evidenced by the fact that of the three thousand and odd permanent endowments to the Temple, nearly three hundred are by non Gowda Saraswaths. Some of the old inscriptions in the Temple bear testimony to the several benefactions made to the Temple by Muslims too.
Besides being a religious center, the Temple has proved itself a beacon light of learning and social welfare. It runs a full - fledged high school, an elementary school, a nursery school, a free boarding house. A library containing books on religion and philosophy, a choultry with all amenities for pilgrims and a hall called Ananda-Kalyanamantapam for conducting Marriages, Upanayanams, Annaprasanam and other Socio-religious functions. In addition, it provides scholarships for school and university education. Special mention has to be made for free distribution of rice on Saturdays. Protection and welfare of Cattle also comes under its purview. Today, it is the richest Gowda Saraswath Temple in the erstwhile South Canara District attracting pilgrims especially from the area extending from Goa to Cape Comrin.
BY N PURUSHOTHAMA MALLAYA, COCHIN
Shri N Purushothama Mallaya Secretary, Konkani Basha Prachar Sabha, Cochin is also a personality to be remembered for his unstinted efforts in getting recognition for Konkani Language by the Sahitya Academy.
Recent Renovation: It was decided that Shri Garbha Griha be renovated and Namaskara Mantapa rebuilt. The decision to renovate and rebuild was announced by H.H. Srimath Sudheendra Tirtha Swamiji who also provided guidelines for this sacred but complex project. H.H declared that the Temple does not belong to any one single family or to Manjeshwar town, but belongs to entire GSB community.
Accordingly, Shri Garbha Griha was renovated and Namaskara Mantapa rebuilt and the Jeernodhara function was grandly celebrated in April 2011.