It is a rags-to-riches story.
Interior Karnataka holds many beautiful mysteries, mythological beliefs and incidents galore. Districts in and around Mangalore and Udipi celebrate temple festivals with simple piety -- the people deeply religious, however big their business successes in the material world beyond.
One such instance is that of Kadandale, in South Kanara, the ancient Subramanya temple steeped in hoary legend. A tiny village with just a few homes, a school, and the large temple — this is the hometown of legendary hotelier K. Krishna Rao, the legend behind the Woodlands group of hotels.
The nearby town of present day Mudabidri was under Jain rule at the time of the Vijayanagar Empire. The Jain king was deeply despondent, for all his seven children had each died soon after birth. A sage arrived one day, and advised the ruler to name his next child with the end word as ‘Raya,’ saying that this would ensure the child’s longevity. ‘Raya’ was a royal suffix then, not to be trifled with.
The child was duly born, and Chikka Deva Raya survived, and grew up well. Achuta Raya, successor of the great Krishna Deva Raya, heard of a child with the royal name, and furiously summoned the Jain ruler to Vijayanagar, where he was held captive, on arrival. The Jain began fervent appeals to his family deity at Puttige temple, to free him. Lord Balasubramanya appeared in his dream, and set him on the road to Kadandale — the divine voice said, “My idol is lying under a garbage heap, sullied by leftover food and leaves. Find it, and take it to Kadandale, and build a temple for it. It should be sited in a place where there is a thorny bush next to a snake pit.”
Achuta Raya too had a dream the same night, wherein he was asked to release the captive, and help him to recover the idol. Thus came about the temple, standing as a strong testament of faith. Further legend states that this idol was the one worshipped by Vali, at Hampi, in the Kishkinta of Ramayana times.
K. Lakshminarayana Rao, one of Krishna Rao’s sons elaborates: “In ancient times, the priests of this temple were losing their sight. Off the Udupi-Bombay highway is a Mahishasuramardini temple at Nilavaram. An old Brahmin came from there to Kadandale. The locals asked him to do the puja to the deity, and his sight was in tact. From then onwards, till today, it is his family that is doing the puja at this temple, at least ten generations till now.
“Locals gave him a home to stay in, it is said about a 100 members of this one family stayed in it, at one point of time. My father Krishna Rao too belongs to this family. The whole village is full of relatives only. Even the workers at the temple are hereditary — the band, the nagaswaram players, those who lift the lights, and so on.”
Sashti in December each year is the time when the temple is visited by people of all neighbouring towns and villages, and when all members of Krishna Rao’s family congregate at Kadandale, and stay in the ancient homestead.
From the full moon day, when Ranga puja is done at night to hoist the ceremonial flag, when offerings of cooked rice and dosai are made to the deity, and distributed to the workers, to the Brahmakalasam day when all nearby temples too pay their respects to the deity at Kadandale, with lorry loads of offerings of rice, vegetables etc., arriving, Sashti is a grand time at the village. The deity is taken out in procession, and stops outside the homestead, returning to the temple later, where rituals and festivities go on late into the night.
Three kumbabishekams were performed by Krishna Rao, in his lifetime — a remarkable feat for one who started out with less than nothing, nothing but the grace of this deity, and that of Udipi Krishna. Under this doyen’s guidance, the entire village participated, by contributing whatever they could, be it 1 rupee, or even a few paise.
The Udipi Sri Krishna temple too had a strange connection with this gentle person who was so singularly blessed, by the gods. It was Krishna Rao who undertook the task of copperplating the roof of the sanctum sanctorum.
Krishna Rao’s home in Chennai had a mini Krishna idol, and worship was done on a grand scale daily, and a Subramanya image too was established in the same house. Many visiting Udipi Math heads have performed pujas here. One such precious occasion was in 1980, when M.S. Subbulaksh sang a song in benediction.
Krishna Rao’s was a life blessed, a rags to riches story like no other, in which pious devotion played a huge role in his success , and demeanour. Wearing only khadi, as influenced by his close confidant Kamraj, his simple living saw to the comforts of many needy, befriending many who sought his help. Many believed that his words of blessing came true. Strangely, the Subramanya idol here holds a ball of butter in His hand, sometimes raising the question of whether it is Krishna or Subramanya, in modern minds.