Legends of Magical Tala-Kaveri, River Kaveri and the Kodavas

If someone asks how old is River Kaveri… what could be the right answer? Well I guess she has been around forever!! Then how old is the Brahma Kundige? Unfortunately no carbon dating possible I guess… perhaps the old Ashwata-mara could have given a clue… it’s too late for that too…

The River Kaveri (anglicized as Cauvery) is a name every soul in Karnataka is familiar with. If they have the privilege of getting Kaveri water supplied to their homes, they go an extra mile in telling with a note of pride… “We get Kaveri water (as opposed bore-well water)”… its tasty & brings the flavour in the food. Don’t believe me, try it out!! Every visitor to Mysore will have the trip to KRS in their itinerary. Yeh.. The Krishna Rajendra Sagar dam is built across the river Kaveri by our late Maharaja Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar IV, under the guidance of Sir M. Vishveshwariah, one of the greatest Engineers Karnataka has ever produced. However, she is equally revered in Tamil Nadu. Ironically the two neighboring states Karnataka & Tamil Nadu constantly fight* over the distribution of water too.

Kaveri (birth name Lopamudra), born with the blessing of Lord Brahma, is the daughter of Sage Kavera, who had given up his throne to do tapsya seeking moksha (salvation) & for the welfare of his subjects. Then Kodagu & the surrounding area is said to be barren filled with only rocks & dirt. Wife of great Sage Agasthya, she came to be known as Kaveri, after her father Kavera muni.

“Brahma Kundige” (Kundu – pond in Kodava dialect) at Talakaveri (aka Dakshina Kashi) on the picturesque Brahmagiri betta (hill) at an altitude of 1276 meters above sea level, Kodagu district in the Western Ghats is the Ugama-Sthana (birth place) of the Jeevanadi (life supporting river) Kaveri. After originating at the little Kundige, flows down inconspicuously as Guptagamini, re-emerging at a distance downwards at Nagateerta. So called as the rock formation looks like the water is flowing out of a Cobra’s hood. It is also said that on Sage Agastya’s behest Nagas along with their king tried to stop her at this point. But when Kaveri told them her heart’s desire of serving the mankind, they let her go with utmost respect. From there she flows downstream joining river Kannike & mythical river Sujothi at Triveni Sangama (the confluence of 3-rivers) in Bhagamandala.

From Kundige, the steps lead up to the nearby Brahmagri betta with breath taking 360 degree panoramic view, where the Sapta Maharishis are said to have performed a special yagna. The Brahmagiri range was supposed to known as Agnigiri, Vayugiri & Gangagiri in the Puranas. With the misty clouds it literally gives the feeling that you are climbing the STAIRWAY to HEAVEN!! The butterfly kiss of fresh gentle air feels like God Almighty thyself caressing you gives the feeling of elation. A sentiment even the baring of tree on the hill is for a purpose: just to let the angles kiss you gently!! Time seems to be frozen & transporting one into another era/yuga… The thought of sharing the same ground once walked by the greatest souls, watching the same mountains & the misty clouds… wishing the feeling never ends… When you are up there your mind plays trick on you & you feel like as if you are transported into nothingness with the sound of Omkar in your ears. I have personally experienced it on every visit.

I remember my mother mentioning that there is supposed to be a very small pond filled with perennial water on top of the betta which is said to be made by Lakshmana from shooting his arrow to get water for cooking & drinking during his Vanavasa with Sri Rama. But I have never seen it. A lot of stories are attached with her origin & is supposed to be visited by Gods & Goddesses & many mythological characters. (It’s very interesting story appearing in Skanda purana but too long to cover here). Snaking through arduous journey joined by numerous tributaries, turning into a mighty maiden & nourishing/helping millions in various forms makes her way to merge with Bay of Bengal at Poompuhar covering almost a distance of 800 kms. There are numerous holy places & shrines built on her way so also bunds, dams, hydroelectric plant (Shivansamudra – Asia’s first built in 1902), etc.

We celebrate her birthday, Kaveri Sankramana on Tula-Sankramana day (the first day of Makara-masa in Hindu calendar), which normally falls on the 17th of October every year. On that day occurs the spectacular emerging of the holy spring from the Brahma-kundige known as THIRTHODBHAVA. A very unique natural phenomenon which does not have any scientific explanation & I am sure there never ever going to be one!! The fountain head rises when water gushes up from the spring at a predetermined moment, predicted in advance an year earlier. {Thirtha = holy water & udbhava = springing from/growing/origin). The Kundige is never allowed to over flow as it is believed that overflowing would bring famine. The priests will pour out the thirtha on the devotees mostly with tonsured heads who jumps into the main pond in frenzy to get the glimpse of the occurrence & collect it in containers. I feel that there is enough & more Thirtha in the Kundige (roughly about 3-1/2 by 2-1/2 sq ft between the shrine & tank located on the platform enclosing the temple tank) for the entire worshipers & more.

Kodava men in traditional dress render traditional dudi-kott-paat (dudi is a small native drum, kott-beating & paat-singing), singing the glory of the mother. The Nandi (bull) at the small Lord Agasteshwara (Shiva) temple seems to be watching over the tank for mischief mongers. The prabhavali at the sanctum sanctorum close to the Brahma-kundige bedecked with grand floral arrangements adds momentum & fragrance. The whole atmosphere religiously surcharged amidst the relentless chanting of Vedic hymns by posse of priests, is electrifying as everyone praying/thinking in unison on the lap of peaceful serene Mother Nature. It’s something one has to experience & cannot be explained. Even though it is at a very high altitude & millions of pots of water are taken out each year, irrespective of the global warming, the magical Kundige has the same level of water 365 days. Earlier Thirtha used to be preserved for number of years at home without any preservative & expiry date, thanks to pollution; now it cannot be stored very long. This year (2014) the annual spectacle of Thirthodbhava occurred on October 17th Friday at 6:04 pm just 3 minutes before the calculated time, followed by heavy rains. For next one month tens of thousands of devotees will make a pilgrimage trip to particpate in the Tula Sankrmana jathre (fair).

Growing up we were told that all across Kodagu, all water bodies in the paddy fields to wells to ponds to streams to rivers, you can see bubbles rushing out at the same time. Also come what may it will rain at least a little. Such is the power of Kaveri. Legend has it that every year Mother Ganga comes via an underground route to Kaveri for a cleansing dip to wash off the sins accumated from the devotees.

Being a Kodava/Coorgi, the river Kaveri holds a very special place in my heart. She is not only our Kula Devate & we consider her the Big Mother & believe that Kodagu flourishes because of her blessing. To mark our gratitude we name our children after her: girls are called Kaveramma/Kaveri & boys Kaverappa. Our civilization developed in her banks, our culture & tradition revolves around her, & even the unique way of draping our sari is in her honour. As a Kodava, for us she does not have a form & the name Kaveri always brings the Kundige to our mind as traditionally we don’t have a statue/image. Her beauty, character & legend par excellence, it’s impossible to fathom a shape or form. All the statues you see all around Karnataka or beyond is a recent addition to fit into each one’s mind set. This is how things including legends get contorted & contaminated generally…

She is called as the Ganges of South & one of the Sapta Sindhu (Seven sacred rivers) of India. We consider her holier than Ganges & our lives from birth to death & in-between is associated with her. Our final journey ends with our ashes immersed in her. When a Kodava dies his/her ashes will be immersed in Triveni sangama at Bhagamandala & believed that, only then the soul will be liberated. It is customary that after a Kodava gets married both has to make a trip to Tala-Kaveri (tala means head) & take a dip in the kola (pool) together in front of Kundige to SEAL the marriage. Basically Kodavas are not very religious & we just have a very special eternal maternal bonding/love affair with River Kaveri just like a “Mother & Child” as genetic inheritance!! After that as long as both are alive, both cannot make a solo trip to Tala-Kaveri. It may surprise the readers that Kodava wedding is performed with the Blessings of Elders of the community without the presence of a Priest!! Believe me up until the last decade or so divorce was never heard of in Kodava community. Also I am proud to say that there is no Dowry System as well & considered a shameful act. Every Kodava household keeps the thirtha at home & before taking up a long journey, a little is consumed pouring on the cup of the palm for protection on the way. When someone is above to die, the last drop of water given is the Kaveri thirtha. Generally, Hindus believe that anyone who dies without last sip of water in the mouth, be it Ganges or coconut or any water, his soul will not rest.

All said & done, Mythical incidents are beyond the understanding capacity of ordinary human mind, science or technology. Perhaps it’s subtler than the understanding on why a little “toddler cloud” from Africa causes havoc & misery in USA as “hurricane”. According to a mythical legend, the trimurthis, Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara, gave darshana to the great sage Agastya under the holy Ashwatha tree (was pretty small compared to its age) just above the Kundige which stood test of time for thousands of years. It’s noteworthy that dark skinned Agastya, one of the most powerful sages of his time was born in a Kumbha (pot), himself was very short, almost a dwarf. Finally about 15 – 20 years ago when some modern thinkers, wanting to please tourists, attempted to build a katte to the tree (perhaps out of good intentions) & while doing so managed to kill the tree itself. The one you see now is the modern one!! They had to clear lorry loads & loads of roots perhaps one for each year the tree stood there!! The whole Tala-Kaveri is given a facelift lately. People are really strange, an Indian colleague of mine suggested that someone should dig up the place between Talakaveri & Nagateerta to find out how the river flows gupta-gamini & I said sure if you are funding!! So until he comes up with funds, secret is safe!!

Sometimes human meddling in Nature might have negative consequences. For some unknown reason the insects & birds population in Kodagu have noticabley dwindled in the last decade along with scores of plant species, which is noteworthy.

Another interesting theology is that Kaveri wanted to be the holiest river & she did tapsya to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu told her Ganga is holy as she started from the touch of his feet. Kaveri would be his garland, close to his heart & therefore would be more sacred. Incidentally three of the holiest shrines of Lord Vishnu are found at Srirangapatna, Shivanasamudra & Shrirangam called Adi-Ranga, Madhya-Ranga & Antya-Ranga respectively. Incidentally all the three temples are on island with the Kaveri encircling it just like the mythical garland!

I can write volumes… Next time you drink the Kaveri water just think how blessed you are to be part of a great legend! Mortal man came & gone, comes & goes, but legend lives on…. irrespective of the doubts in anyone’s mind. As for me even though River Kaveri is extra special, I have equal respect to entire water body of the earth irrespective of the size or legend. PLEASE conserve the water & help Mother Nature in whatever way possible for the betterment of our Future Generation & welfare of the Universe. Don’t let your future generation suffer & say what the heck my predecessors were thinking or doing? Simple fact of life: Mother Nature does not need us for her survival (perhaps better off) but we definitely cannot do without her!!

 

*When my younger daughter who is named after River Kaveri was 4-years old, she happened to be in Mysore with my cousins. There was a protest march & every one was shouting we want Kaveri… Kaveri is ours… (of course in Kannada) & when my daughter heard that got so scared & started crying bitterly, uncontrollable & shivering with fear. After that for a long time she did not even wanted to leave the house!!

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