I was gazing at the reflection of the dome in the waters when the temple bells shook me out of my reverie. It has now become a habit with me. Almost at every temple portal, I stop by to listen to sagas of intrigue and passion and tales of gods and demons. I often lose myself in these myths that lend an air of mystery to these monuments. A haunting tale, I believe, echoes from the silent walls. But I wasn’t prepared for this story.
“This temple was built because of a ghost!” exclaimed my driver a while ago, as he pulled into the parking lot of the Omkareshwar Temple.
It was dusk in Madikeri and there was a slight nip in the air. “You mean, it’s haunted,” I asked, giving him a quizzical look and looking up at the domes of this early 19th-Century temple built in the Indo-Saracenic style. The lights came on giving it an ethereal feel as the reflections danced in the waters of the tank below. I felt a slight shiver although I dismissed the ghost story and went right in.
The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, however, did resonate with the tale of a king haunted by a ghost. It was the early 19th Century, when Coorg was ruled by the Haleri king Lingarajendra, whom the history books paint as a tyrant. Violent, whimsical and with an eye for women, the king hardly fought wars during his reign. Instead he hunted tigers and women with equal vigour and was known to have a veritable zoo in his court and an ever increasing harem.
Our story starts one summer morning when a poor man comes to Madikeri with the intention of giving his daughter away to the Raja’s harem, as he was unable to take care of her. He, however, changed his mind and left Madikeri after listening to stories about the king from Subarasaiah, another man living in the town. When the king heard about the incident, he mercilessly beheaded Subarasaiah and his sons. Lingarajendra went to sleep that night only to be woken up by Subarasaiah staring at him. The visits continued and the king became distraught as the spirit hovered around him. The dead man had become a demon. Tantriks finally advised the king to build a Shiva temple and bring a linga from Varanasi to appease the demon. The king, however, did not recover fully and died within a year.
The temple built in Indo-Saracenic style has domes and turrets and overlooks a beautiful pond with a mandapa in the middle. A light, they say, perpetually glows in the sanctum. Even today, I hear, the spirit of the demon roams freely in the sacred grove within the temple premises.
The starry night sky reflected in the waters as I left the temple. The story left me wondering why mortals sometimes behave more like demons.