HAMPI: This priest does something unthinkable, every day. He worships Shivalinga and in the process, he steps on it. But no one calls it sacrilege. For 86-year-old K N Krishna Bhat, who has been the priest at the lesser known Badavi Linga temple in the world famous Hampi heritage site for decades, the daily puja is a bit of an adventure. With the three-metre tall monolithic idol dwarfing the pint-sized man, he has no option but to cling to the structure while clearing it of the previous day’s flowers. In the absence of a ladder or scaffolding in the water-logged temple, he steps on the base of the Shivalinga for support. He hangs on to it and applies bhasma (vibhooti) and vermilion to the idol before returning to the doors of the eternally flooded temple. No one objects to the act of the frail, balding priest. In fact, the hunch-backed man’s action draws a lot of eyeballs and cameras.
“There is no other way to worship the Shivalinga, without stepping upon it. You cannot say that this amounts to sacrilege. It is about commitment and devotion. You cannot even use a ladder or any support in the water-filled temple,” says Shiv Bhat, a senior priest at Virupaksha temple.
Located in the course of the Thurtha canal constructed by the Raya dynasty of Vijayanagara, the temple gives a unique background to Bhat’s puja. The roof of the temple’s sanctum sactorum was partially damaged during an invasion by Bahmani Sultans, resulting in a large hole. The Shivalinga is illuminated by sunlight sneaking through the hole and water at the base provides a mirror image of Bhat’s actions.
The temple draws crowds --- both devotees and photographers. There is a belief that the if coins thrown at the Shivalinga come to rest on the structure without falling into the water below, then the prayers of the devotee will be answered.
No devotee enters the temple. When they seek blessings of the Lord, the priest picks up the water from the temple and sprinkles on them.The priesthood journey of Bhat started nearly 40 years ago when he arrived at Hampi from a tiny village in Tirthahalli taluk in Shivamogga district to work as a priest at Satyanarayana temple. Later, he was appointed to the Badavi Linga temple by descendants of the Anegundi royal family.
Bhat, who prepares for puja in the morning, waits for someone to drop him to the temple and locals like Ram Singh, Arif and Arif’s father Abbas usually help him post lunch. At the ripe age of 86, Bhat does not miss his duty and stays at the temple until evening.
Helped by a biker, Bhat gets down and settles down for his work immediately. He recognises some people in the crowd and greets them, before he gathers himself at the steps of the temple, filled with water. This has been his routine at this temple. When you try to speak to him, he answers some of the questions like ‘where are you from?’ He says he hails from Kasaravalli in Tirthahalli taluk. Probably, he guesses the questions by observing the lip movements as he has hearing impairment because of his age. Some locals say he came to the town 50 years ago and has been worshipping the Shivalinga for the last three decades.
The temple is believed to be built in the 15th century by a peasant woman and hence the name ‘Badavi Linga’. In fact, no pujas were done at the damaged temple for at least 500 years after the invasion by Muslim rulers until the pontiff of Kanchi mutt in the early 1980s said it should be worshipped as the idol was not harmed during the attack.
Krishnadeva Raya, a descendant of Anegundi Vijayanagara royal family says, “Worshipping of the deity began in the early eighties when Paramacharya from Kanchipuram who visited Hampi told my father Achyuta Devaraya to set aside some rice and a sum of money for the priest every month so that he will regularly worship the Shivalinga... It has been followed since then. We pay the priest once in six months. I met him (Bhat) on Mahashivaratri day and paid him.”
Gautham Basak, founder and faculty of Dristi School of Photography, who has photographed the temple with the priest, says the location, the lighting condition and the character together make it ideal for photography.