Kapileshwar temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is considered to be the most ancient shrine in Belgaum, nay the whole of Karnataka. An inscription to this effect, suggestive of the antiquity of the temple, is found in the famous Kamal Basti in Belgaum fort. Belgaum District Gazetteer also reveals the fact that the temple dates back to 1000 AD. The sacred shrine is situated in a sylvan setting on the Lingeshwarar Road, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The highly hallowed shrine is revered as the southern equivalent of Kasi—Dakshina Kasi. It is staunchly believed that pilgrimage to Jyotirlingas, numbering 12 and scattered across India, won’t be complete without worshipping the presiding deity of this shrine. As in Kasi, the devotees are allowed close access to Shiva which gives devotees much spiritual bliss. Legend has it that the linga here was venerated by Kapila Muni and hence the name Kapileshwar. It is said that the saint worshipped Shiva by starting a fire and pouring oblations dear to Him as aahudhi. This scientific mode of worship has persisted till today.
Kapileshwar is one of the very few temples in the country where Lord Shiva faces Lord Vishnu on equal footing, well emphasising the oneness of two major limbs of Hinduism, namely the Saivism and Vaishnavism.
The Shiva linga is said to be self originated—suambu. Lord Shiva in deep trance and penance with matted hair, holy crescent, sacred Ganges welcomes the devotees with a benign smile. Within the sprawling temple premises, there are separate halls for Vishnu, Vinayaka, Nava Graha and the saint Shirdi Sai Baba among others. Demigods like Virabhadra and Kaal Bhairava also figure quite prominently. There is a rare confluence of three sacred trees—banyan, peepal and ficus.
Mural paintings, depicting themes from Bhagavatam, Gajendra Moksham and Linga Purana adorn the four walls. Emancipation of Ahalya, cursed to become a stone, by the magic touch of Lord Ram’s lotus feet—a scene from the Ramayana—is depicted in sparkling colours.
The temple has the rare distinction of being visited by personalities of high spiritual order and calibre. Adi Sankara, the founder of Advaita philosophy (monism), had visited the shrine in the 8th century. Swami Vivekananda, the champion of Hindu cause, culture and philosophy, had a darshan of the lord during his brief spiritual sojourn in Belgaum. Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had prostrated before this lord of the world (Viswanath) in 1924. Revolutionary freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak had also visited the shrine.
The temple also fulfils the famous trinity of Hinduism—Moorthi, Sthalam and Theertham. A beautiful puskarani (temple tank) is found behind the shrine.
Mahashivratri is celebrated in a grand fashion here—an estimated 10 lakh devotees visited the shrine this time. It is festive time at the temple from Mahashivratri to Shravan, up to July-end. Till then there would be special poojas and celebrations on every Monday. The temple is open for worship from 6 am to late midnight.