At Belur we discover that Bishtama Kere is a sanctuary for humans and birds as well
It was one of those lethargic days when you are in no mood to explore and the mind is aching to kill time. I was in my favourite Malenadu region in Karnataka and was walking beside a lake near Belur town. A small mandapam was almost buried in the water, but my attention was drawn to a flock of cormorants perched on a rock in the lake.
According to the locals, lakes in this region were considered sacred as they hid several treasures in their depths. In the past, when the Hoysalas were attacked by different invaders, it is believed that important sculptures and idols from the temples and even jewellery was thrown inside the lake to save the treasures from invaders.
I wondered if this lake around me too had its little secret. Chinna, a local whom I had befriended, told me its name, Bishtama Kere, and narrated a tragic tale around it. The lake, he said, was named after Bishtama, a woman who sacrificed herself by drowning in the waters when she was pregnant. The land had been barren for many years and locals believe that her sacrifice brought the rains and fertility back to the village.
Chinna insisted that her spirit still remained in the waters and spoke to the people. He got all excited as he added that people used to throw jewellery into the lake before a wedding so that they were blessed by Bishtama and in the morning, the jewellery would still be intact, floating on the waters. I looked at him rather incredulously and asked when this had happened last in the village. Chinna shrugged and safely answered that he did not remember.
There’s always an element of surprise in every trip. Many a time, I realised that a traveller’s tale had taken me to the most nondescript place that I had often taken for granted. Temples and forts may have spun yarns of history, but a simple, humble lake had its own story to tell as well.
A loud, ashy prinia broke my reverie. Chinna had already moved on, talking to some other villagers. I was suddenly distracted by a flock of night herons that were breeding and a family of bronze-winged jacanas. I later learnt that it was the father jacana that brought up the chicks up, as the mother was nowhere in the picture.
The father was foraging for food with his chicks. Suddenly, the chicks walked away without heeding the parent’s advice and for the next several minutes, I could hear the father pleading and calling out to his adventurous chicks. I could not see the chicks for a while, but suddenly they reappeared. I was fascinated to watch an animated conversation between them. Bobbing their heads back and forth in a rhythmic fashion, they seemed to be nodding and shaking their heads, probably having a little argument or narrating their experiences. Suddenly one of the chicks decided to end the discussion by thrusting its head under the father’s wing. It got under the parent’s belly and shoved him with its beak, asking to be picked up. As the family spent the evening at the lake, I could not help but think of how a lake that could take a life could also nurture it.