The Western Ghats like its higher counterpart the Himalayas is dotted with pilgrimage centers. One such center is Dharmasthala situated on the banks of Netravati River in Dakshina Kannada district.
Due to the presence of the renowned Sri Manjunatheshwara temple, the town receives an average of 10,000 people per day.
Dharma means religion, ritual, duty, righteousness, and alms, Sthala means place. Due to the practice of Dharma in this town, this town was aptly named as Dharmasthala by Sri Vadiraja Thirtharu. Dharmasthala is a place where people of all religions, caste, creed, and faith congregate to visit their places of interest.
Why does Dharma means so much to this town and who is the person overseeing the dharma? It is none other than the Padma Vibhushan awardee Sri Veerendra Hegde. He practices Jainism but is the guardian of the Sri Manjunatheshwara temple. He extends the four danas (alms) namely, anna dana (feeding), aushadha dana (medical care), vidya dana (education), and abhaya dana (protection from fear).
Not only in Dharmastala, but the vision of the Hegde family in providing for the society for a better life has reached beyond the boundaries of Dharmastala.
Dharmasthala was known as Kuduma 800 years ago. The Jain head of this place was Birmanna Pergade. His wife was Ammu Ballalthi and their house was named Nelliadi Beedu. Their generosity and hospitality was known all around. One day the guardian angels of Dharma came in the form of humans to visit their home. As usual the couple welcomed them and treated them with respect. Pleased by their gesture, the Dharma angels appeared in the dreams of Birmanna Pergade and asked him to vacate the house and install and worship the Daivas (angels) and to dedicate his life for spreading dharma. Immediately, Birmanna built another house and started worshipping the Daivas at Nelliadi Beedu.
After sometime, the Daivas appeared before Birmanna and asked him to build separate shrines to the four Dharma Daivas namely, Kalrahu, Kalarkai, Kumaraswami, and Kanyakumari. He was asked to choose two noble persons to be the Oracles and four others to assist him in the running of each of the shrines.
The position of the Pergade is regarded as the representation of Lord Manjunatha with numerous religious, social, and cultural responsibilities.
The surname Pergade is now changed to Heggade (Hegde).
Civil complaints are settled by the Hegde (Heggade) with a verdict, which is accepted as the law. He is believed to be the voice of Lord Manjunatha.
Art and education:
Dakshna Kannada art form Yakshagana is promoted by the Hegde family. The annual Sarvadharma Sammelana (All religion meet), and Sahitya Sammelana (Literature meet) are held in Dharmasthala.
The educational institutions that are within Dharmasthala’s fold are run by the SDM Educational Trust while the management of the institutions is the preview of the Shri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Educational Society.
Law, Engineering, Dental, Medical and Business Management courses are the different streams. Two industrial training institutes are established at Venur and Samse. Mangala Jyothi School was started for differently abled children in Ayurveda, Nature Cure and Yogic Sciences
In the field of health care, the medical trust also provides services to eradicate and prevent many diseases in local villages. The mobile hospital is fully equipped to deal with emergencies and to provide medical treatment to the rural folk in remote parts of Dakshina Kannada.
The Siddavana gurukula is palce to learn Yoga and Sanskrit and provides free lodging and boarding for 250 students.
Free mass marriages are held here to help the poor people.
Maha Nadavali is an important festival in Dharmasthala lasting for 11 days. This is held to seek the belssings to Lord Manjunatha Swamy, Lord Chandranatha Swamy (family deity of Hegde), the Dharma Daivas (angels), and Annappa Swamy.
People in thousands take part in the festivities and offer “Hasiruvani Hore Kanike” comprising of cereals, vegetables, coconut, rice, to Lord Manjunatha. Dharmasthala is lit with thousands of light and every day cultural shows entertain the devotees.
Places of interest in Dharmasthala:
Lord Manjunatha Temple
Bahubali statue on a hill
Nelliadi Beedu, the official residence of the Heggades
Annappa Swamy Temple
Places of interest around Dharmasthala:
Kukke Subramanya – 55 kms
Type of place: Temple town
Situated: Belthangadi taluk of the Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka
Distance: 90 Kms from Padubidiri, 70 kms from Mangalore
Transport: Well connected by road
Facilities: Boarding and lodging is available to suit all budget