Chandragutti - Temple Tales of Renuka Devi and a bit of History

Chandragutti is a religious center dedicated to goddess Renukamba and known for the historical fort. Chandragutti is a must-see place if you are visiting the malnad capital Shimoga. Situated at a distance of 16 km from Soraba and is popularly known as Renuka Yellamma temple.

Chandragutti - Temple Tales of Renuka Devi and a bit of History
View of Renuka Devi Temple

              We were on a tour in the Shimoga district. We had visited the World famous Jog falls, Keladi. Ikkeri and less popular temple of kadamba Architecture at Naada Kalasi.All were inspired by the architectural splendor and few of the members expressed interest of continuing with the tour and visiting Banavasi - The capital of Kadambas, which is again an architectural wonder of Karnataka. After a consensus, we decided to continue with the tour.

             Visiting a place called Chandragutti came in disguise while discussing the plan with the driver. All agreed to it as it was a new addition to the trip and equally known for scenic beauty and with historical importance. After traveling for about an hour, we reached our destination by around 4 pm. 

Perched strategically on a high hill, Chandragutti is a historically and mythologically important site. with a temple, legend, history, and ruins of a fort. 

Chandragutti, which has references in Hindu mythology involving Renukambadevi, the mother of Parashurama, is situated in Soraba taluk of Shivamogga district. Renukamba Temple at Chandragutti is famous in the region. A lot of people visit here to offer their prayers throughout the year. Goddess Renuka is the main deity who is also known as Guttiyamma. This cave temple is in the shape of a half-moon and hence the name Chandra (moon) Gutti. The annual fair is held in the month of March attracting devotees from not only Karnataka but even from neighboring states of Maharashtra and Goa.

A bit of Mythology

           Renuka Raja (father of Renuka) performed a yajna — a ritual performed to maintain peace and good health. He was blessed with a daughter, who originated from the fire of this yajna. Renuka was a bright and active child and became the most beloved child of her parents.

When she was eight, Agastya, who was the guru of the Renuka Raja, advised him to have his daughter married to Jamadagni when she reached maturity. Jamadagni was the son of Ruchik Muni and Satyavati and had obtained the blessings of the gods by performing severe penance. Renuka and Jamdagni Muni lived in the Ramshrung mountains, near the present-day Savadatti area of Belgaum district. Renuka helped the Jamdagni Muni in all of his tasks of performing various rituals and puja. Gradually she became close and dear to Jamdagni. After a while, Renuka Raj was blessed with another daughter called Anjana (Anjana Devi).

It was a daily routine for Renuka to wake up early in the morning to bathe in the Malaprabha River with complete concentration and devotion. Her devotion was so powerful that she was able to create a pot to hold water made only of sand, one fresh pot every day. She would fill this pot, on the bank of the river and bring it to the ashram for rituals. Renuka gave birth to five sons: Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa, and Rambhadra. Rambhadra was the youngest and most beloved, gaining the favor of Lord Shiva and Parvati and hence called Parashurama (the sixth incarnation of Vishnu).

          One day when Renuka went to the river, she saw Gandharva spirits playing. These were young couples carelessly frolicking in the water with abandon. For a moment, she lost her concentration and devotion to her husband faltered for a moment as she was physically attracted to one of the Gandharvas. As she was distracted, she lost her power of collecting water in unbaked pots, which she had gotten from her chastity. She lost the water which she had collected. Disappointed by this, she returned to the ashram in shame. Seeing Renuka returning empty-handed, Sage Jamadagni doubts her character and becomes furious orders his son Parashurama to behead her. Parashurama took his mother to the caveat Chandragutti and cut her head leaving the torso in the cave. He took the head to his father. Sage Jamadagni offers a boon to Parasurama who in turn asks the life of his mother. The sage immediately gives the boon and Renukamba is brought back to life. This divine incident is believed to have taken place at Chandragutti in Karnataka.

We approached the cave temple after a flight of steps, which enshrines a Shivalinga. The temple situated adjoining to colossal rock resembling a tortoise.The outer facade of the cave forms the vestibule, which is in the Chalukyan style. A pillared hall was added during the Vijayanagara period. After paying obeisance to Goddess Renukamaba we visited the temple of Kalabhairava - The avatar of Lord Shiva, at the foot of the temple. We came to know that in the temple complex are Thottila Bavi, Shoolada beerappa, and footprints of Devi. The outer panels walls of the temple, in pradashina patha, are scupltures of a lion seated on all four legs, marching elephant, embedded with gopurams and floral designs were artistic splendor of Kadamba architecture.

We thought of making a quick visit to the fort and viewpoint. An uphill path adjoining to the temple led us to the fort.

Impregnable fort and a bit of History

Known as Chandraguptapura in ancient times, Chandragutti Fort is a historical structure. It was built by the Kadambas of Banavasi in the third century. During the reign of the Vijayanagara empire in the 13th century, a local chieftain named Bachanna is said to have ruled over Chandragutti. Years later, the fort came under the control of Keladi Nayakas. The rocky mountain bed of the fort is 850 feet above the sea level. A stony path adjoining to the temple leads to the fort. Lush green surrounds the path, with the dense forest around. The path leads to the first gateway of the fort, which is in a dilapidated state. It had lost much of its walls over the years due to the fury of nature. Though it is a protected monument by ASI, it has been vandalized by some miscreants. A few steps further, leads to the second gateway of the fort.

There are two levels in the fort. At the first level. Obviously, there are circular bastions with canons to keep the enemy at the first level itself. There lies an iron cannon, lying on the ground surprisingly not seem to have rusted despite exposed to rain, sun, and air for ages. The strategically located fort on the high rock, thousands of years is said to have impregnable for enemies 

It was very quiet except for the sounds of cool breeze, melodies of some birds in the bushes. I found huge fig trees and could see Coppersmith Barbets feeding on it.

A natural pond inside the fort for water storage Dhone ( Kannada) on the rocky bead is a major attraction. The fort has withstood natural calamities of time. The ramparts of fort remind us of the bygone era. A trek to Chandragutti Fort, which is a quiet place with a gentle breeze all the time, visitors can be delighted and indeed a memorable experience. The view from the top of the hill is breathtaking. The blanket of greenery and views of the Malenadu region below is awe-inspiring.

We found a few structures and gateways which were almost collapsed and in crumbling condition. Those pilgrims who visit the temple only visit here. After spending some memorable time in the green environs on the hillock, we started to descend. The music of beetles began to increase, as the sunlight began to diminish.No sooner did we reach the base, we hit the road to Banavasi - The capital city of Kadambas.