Sirsi is the heart of Uttara Kannada nested in the lush green Western Ghats. Almost every road from here takes you to a scenic place. This time while visiting Sirsi, we decided to take a few small trips from around the town. We have already introduced you to Vibhuti Falls, Yana Rock, and Mirjan Fort. Now, come to Sahasralinga an ancient site on the riverbed of river Shalmala.
Sahasralinga at Sonda near Sirsi
About 17 km from Sirsi, near the village of Sonda, quietly flows the river Shalmala. Surrounded by forests a part of this river hides an incredible heritage and a piece of history.
The bed of Shalmala River has huge rocks – some of them can be called boulders. In dark grey color, they seem to be hard granite stone.
The big and small stones have Shivalingas carved on them. Legend is that there are more than a thousand Linga’s hence the name Sahasralinga. Most of them even have the Nandi – Shiva’s vehicle carved on them. Some stones here even have more than one Shivalingas. Some of them were half finished and I could see the outline of the Shivalinga carved on them. As I walked in the knee-deep waters of the river, I was surprised to see a Shivalinga or two on almost every rock. Two huge boulders on the side had Nandi carved on them.
I also found some Naga images here including one of the Nag Devi. How can Shiva be represented without Nandi and Nag?
I also saw a few stones piled on each other balanced on the rocks. It reminded me of my trip to Spiti Valley and the Inukshuk I saw in Canada. Some symbols are so universal.
Legend of Sahasralinga
A small board there tells the story of the place.
The king of Sonda or Swadi Akasappa Nayaka has no children. He was advised by a priest to make 1008 Shivalingas to be blessed with children. So, the king had every stone at the bed of Shalmala River converted into a Shivalinga.
The story goes that he then had children. So, these are votive Linga’s as in something made to get something in return. In Hindi, we would call them Ichhapoorti Shivalingas or wish-fulfilling Shivalingas.
Not much is known about the history of these thousand and eight Shivalingas.
The Nandi sculpture in the image below is the largest one here. I guess it is about 6 ft tall, 12 feet long and 5 feet thick. Potentially weighing a few tons. Therefore I suppose all these sculptures were in-situ carved on the rocks existing on the river bed.
Some of the large rocks on the river bed also have carvings depicting mythological stories. Like the image below, in the background, a Nandi and Shivalinga can be seen.
When to visit Sahasralinga
Best time to see these Shivalingas is from October to March when there is less water in the River Shalmala. During the monsoon, most of these are submerged in the monsoon-fed river.
Public transport does not take you to the spot. So we hired a cab to visit the place. The surroundings are lush green. One can enjoy walking around and can explore birding, flora & fauna.
There is a shop that caters to the basic needs of visitors like drinking water, snacks or munchings.
Cursory google search did not reveal anything new that has not been heard about the place. High time the Government and/or its arms like ASI carries out/encourages research up and down-stream the river to discover more of this valuable heritage. For example, there is no exact number of Shivalingas found in this river bed.
Nearby there is a cable-stayed bridge leading to the village across the river. Go on a walk on the cable bridge to get a top view of the river and a better view of the landscape.
I wish some effort was made to keep the river and its banks clean. It is pathetic to see anything being thrown in the river and the dirty banks of the river.
I am still trying to find what the significance of making Thousand or more Shivalingas in one place is. I am sure there was logic or a reason for it as these are found in many places in India and other places that followed Hinduism. Some of these places are:
Siam Reap River – Cambodia as mentioned here
Pashupatinath Temple – Nepal
Jangamwadi Math – Varanasi
Sahastralinga Talav – Patan, Gujarat
Ruins of Warangal Fort – Telangana
I am sure there are more places that have similar Lingas. You wonder if they were all carved to get a wish fulfilled or if it was a way devotees thanked the Lord when their wishes were fulfilled.
Is it possible that there was a tradition of carving so many Shivalingas?
Following are some more Tourist Places to visit in and around Sirsi, Karnataka.
Sirsi Marikamba Temple
This 17th CE temple in red and white belongs to the presiding deity Sri Marikamba Devi. The Temple is considered one of the Shaktipeeth temples dedicated to Devi. You can see the local Kavi art displayed on its walls.
Banavasi is known for rural tourism projects. Historically, it was the capital of Kadamba kings who ruled from here.
9th CE Madhukeshawara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the main attraction of Banavasi besides its serene rural life. Temple is stone is full of idols, the main ones include that of Parvati and Nandi.
Banavasi is well known for fresh sugarcane jaggery that you can taste as fresh as possible.
Banavasi is about 20 KM away.