29th Aug, 2019
Three weeks ago, the Kaveri flooded its banks in Hogenakkal, a village on the Tamilnadu – Karnataka border, famed for its spectacular waterfalls. People of two villages along the river banks were evacuated as unprecedented floods entered houses along its banks and the place was closed to tourists.
The quiet village of Hogenakkal is located in the forested Melagiri hills. The River Chinnar meets the Kaveri here and plunges several meters as the Hogenakal Falls, one of the most spectaclular waterfalls in India. It is a favorite of tourists from both the states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu, the river forming a natural boundary between the two states. People come to bathe in the healing waters infused with the goodness of medicinal herbs from the forests the river flows through. The hour- long coracle rides on the river which take visitors close to the rapids are very popular.
When we visited, coracle rides had been temporarily suspended as water levels remained dangerously high and bathing in the falls had been banned. The hanging bridge over the river, the bathing places, and barricades had either been damaged or were washed away in the floods.Hundreds of coracles were lying idle like giant mushrooms.
The Kaveri River in spate with its muddy flood waters was an impressive sight.
Not many know that this beautiful place with it wild alluring charm is also steeped in history. To know more about its past, both mythical and historical, we have to visit the Lord Siva temple in this village of the Smoking rock!
Smoking rock? Yes, it is what Hogenakkal means in Kannada. Hoge is smoke in the Kannada language and kallu is the Kannada word for stone or rock.
The Temple of Desa Nadheeswarar and Kaveri Amman
The ancient Siva temple of Desa Nadheeswara is located on the Kaveri river bank, in the middle of this tiny village beside the waterfalls. The two main shrines are that of Lord Desa Nadheeswara and Goddess Kaveri Amman.
My visit to Hogenakkal coincided with the last Friday of the Tamil month of Aadi. It was an auspicious day called Aadi Vellikizhamai in local parlance, a day dedicated to the worship of Amman (mother goddess) in all temples across Tamilnadu.
En route to Hogenakkal from Salem, we saw amman deities decorated with flowers being taken out in a procession even in the tiniest villages and hamlets. At many places road traffic slowed down as people waited for the processions to pass.
Reaching Hogenakkal around 1 p.m we went to the temple first, hoping it was open. It was and I was asked to visit the Kaveri Amman shrine first as it was closing time.
The shrine of goddess Kaveri Amman is located at the back of the temple. The idol of goddess Kaveri, the river goddess was beautifully decorated and I was pleasantly surprised when the priest gave me a pair of glass bangles along with prasad. In the month of Aadi, women offer glass bangles to Amman goddesses as a form of worship, the glass bangle being considered an object of auspiciousness. These are then given as prasad.
The elderly priest then opened the Siva temple which was partially closed. The beautifully decorated Sivalingam was a sight to behold as it shone in the light of oil and electric lamps.
The Lingam of Desa nadheeswara is a Suyambu or self-manifested lingam. And as the priest explained the history and significance of this sthala (holy place) and pointed out unique sculptures and idols, even a gold painted crocodile engraving on the ceiling, I was awed and spellbound. The temple is truly a jewel beside the Kavery River.
Desa Nadheeswara is an unusual and beautiful name of lord Siva. Desa is a Sanskrit word that means ‘place’, ‘space’ or ‘country’. When it means place, it can be a particular place, a holy place or a temple. Desa nadheeswara, therefore refers to Siva who is the Lord of this place. In a broader sense the name means the One who is the Lord of the country and the nation.
Myths and History
Lord Brahma’s Yagna
Lord Brahma is believed to be constantly worshipping Siva with homam and puja in this temple. It is believed that Brahma acts as the priest and takes our prayers to the Lord and that all pujas in the temple are done by him.
At the inner entrance to the sanctum is an idol of Lord Brahma. He is depicted as sitting in front of a homa kundam, holding a ladle in his right hand and performing yagna in the sacrificial fire. This sculptural depiction of Brahma and the endearing reason behind his presence is one that is unique to this temple.
True to this story, the 20m deep gorges into which the Kaveri falls is called Yagnakundam or Sacrificial pit.
There are many different stories in mythology about the birth of River Kaveri.
According to one version, the story goes that Vishnumaya or Lopamudra, was the beautiful daughter of Lord Brahma who gave her in adoption to sage Kavera Muni who was praying for a daughter in the Brahmagiri hills. She was called Kaveri and she engaged in penance and meditation so that she may become a river pouring blessings on the earth. As a result of her devotions Brahma granted that she may become a river. Kaveri asked that she may be blessed to wash away the sins of the people who bathed in her waters.
Sage Agasthya Maharishi saw the beautiful tapasvini and asked her to marry him. She agreed on the condition that she would leave if she was left alone. One day the sage went to perform his austerities. Before leaving he turned Kaveri into water in his kamandala, a holy vessel used to store water. Lord Ganesha turned into a crow and tipped the vessel. Out flowed the Kaveri, and became a river, joyous, turbulent and full of life.
Sage Agasthya requested her to come back, but Kaveri divided herself, one half remaining with the sage and the other flowing as a river. Agasthya then instructed the river half on the path she should take to the eastern sea. She blessed the earth and like a mother brought succour to people and the lands on her way. She is worshipped as the mother goddess Kaveri, holy as the Ganga and therefore called Ganga of the South.
Another story goes that Lord Siva gave holy water to Sage Agasthya which he stored in his kamandala. Lord Ganesha, turned into a crow and toppled the vessel in the absence of the rishi. The water that flowed out became a life- giving river that gave sustenance to the land and people and washed their sins away.
Agasthya Maharishi is believed to have worshipped lord Desa Nadheeswarar in this sthala. His image is carved on a pillar in the temple.
The Pandavas, soon after the Mahabharatha war, came here to get the holy theertha of this river which was capable of absolving one of all sins.
References in Tamil Literature
In Sangam Age the waterfalls was called Thalai neer and the regions around the falls were called thalaineer Naadu. This was part of the anient Sangam Age kingdom of King Adhiyamaan Nedumaan Anji who ruled from Thagadur, which is present day Dharmapuri.
The old name of Hogenakkal was Ugu neer kal. Theru Koothu is a form of folk theatre that is enacted as dance-drama in the streets in Tamil nadu. It is an ancient folk tradition, almost 2000 years old belonging to the villages and towns in Tamilnadu, in which actors tell stories in a song and dance drama. Koothu taught the people about their culture and history. Even around 1940, in the theru koothu titled Saeman sandai(சேமன் சண்டை) enacted by the local people, a mendicant announces that he is going to bathe in the Holy Ganges and in the confluence of seas in Kumari, (present day Kanya kumari). To this the jester retorts by way of reply, ‘Why, can’t you just go to Uguneer kal which is nearby?’
Ugu neer kal in course of time became Hogenakkal. Untill the end of Tipu sultan’s rule over South India, tax-collectors and those in prominent positions were typically Kannada speaking people. As a result, names of places, mountains and rivers in and around Dharmapuri, were recorded as Kannada names in official taxation records, which was adopted by the British subsequently.
Perhaps the first ancient Shiva temple on the Kaveri banks in Tamilnadu is the temple of Desha nadheshwarar at Hogenakkal. The temple is thought to have been originally built by Chola kings. The present temple was built by a local king and is very beautiful.
I was fascinated by the many pillared halls and mandapas with beautiful and sculptures on the pillars, and spent almost an hour admiring the sculptures. There are sculptures of the 64 Nayanmar saints of Saivism on the outer mandapa of the sanctum. The same pillars also depict the ten avataras of Mahavishnu. The emphasis is that God is one whether He is worshipped as Siva or as Vishnu.
Worship at the temple
Prayers made at this temple concerning problems of childlessness are believed to be answered. This is also considered an important temple for warding off dosha of Pitru saabha. When the souls of ancestors in a family are not propitiated, it gives rise to discord in the family with family members constantly quarreling with one another. To remove this dosha, the priests conduct appropriate puja and devotees are asked to stay for five days in the temple.
The major festival is the festival of Aadi Pathinettu or Aadi Perukku in July, when thousands throng the Kaveri river banks, especially in Hogenakkal to offer prayers to the river goddess.
Special pujas are also conducted on full moon days. These are largely attended by the local people and people from the many villages in the surrounding areas of Dharmapuri and Pennagaram.
The Smoke on the Rocks
It was time to leave, when the priest asked ‘Did you go to the river? Did you see the smoke on the rocks?’ Smoke on the rocks? It sounded incredible. He said, “Go down the road to the river. You can see the smoke on the rocks in the midst of the Kaveri, behind and in line with the lingam of Desa Natheeswara.
When we went to the river, the entry to the falls was closed because of floods but far away, in the midst of the flowing Kaveri, we could indeed see smoke rising from the rocks!
The path of the Kaveri in Hogenakkal is across rocky terrain strewn with rocks and boulders. The river spreads out and forms a series of spectacular waterfalls as it cascades into deep gorges from a height of 20m. The fine spray that is thrown up looks like smoke, the smoke from the Yagnakunda of Brahma! Magical!
The view of the rocks from the temple is blocked by the many lodges but the phenomenon could be seen from the temple long ago. Hogenakkal – Smoke on the rocks -what a beautiful poetic name for this village beside the waterfalls!
The temple is very popular with the local people and also the people of several surrounding villages. It is clean and well maintained.
Hogenakkal is situated 47 kms from Dharmapuri and 16 km from Pennagaram.
It lies at a distance of 100 km from Salem, roughly two hours by road.
The temple is open from 7 a.m to 6 p.m. everyday.