Koladevi: Where the king of birds is worshipped

Dear Garuda
Today I have come to seemingly the only Temple in India which is exclusively dedicated to you. Located in a village off the state highways, this concrete structure with a lack of aesthetics seem to be quite humble compared to your shrines all around the Vaishnav temples.les in the country which remember you with more grace and style.

Garuda welcoming pilgrims of Tirupati

But then do we really have any relationship between aesthetics and significance of the temples. If my journey to the temples is summarized I have found huge number of ornamented temples lacking the rush of devotees and viceversa.

Koladevi Temple from front

But I am curious to understand why did they choose this place of all to create something exclusive for you. What’s so special in this region. The priest of the Temple very patiently describes the history of the Temple to all the devotees and mentions that Jatayu the giant vulture who died while trying to rescue Sita during her abduction by Ravana wanted to be buried here at the shrine of the great king of the birds.

Jatayu Park, Lepakshi

Arjuna the hero of Mahabharata who had killed huge number of snakes while laying there foundation of Indraprastha (Delhi today) had come here seeking protection against the curse of the snakes (you are their arch enemy, aren’t you?)

Vaishnav Stone facing Garuda image in Koladevi temple

So why this spot? What’s so special out here that 2 characters out of pages of our sacred epics would like to pay their respects to you at this place of all? The search for this answer takes me to the other pilgrim site just 6km away often done together with this one – Kurudumale – the hills of Kurude. A word which seems too resembling to a character Kadru.

Kurudumale Mountains

If I remember my mythology basics right, your mother Vinita and Kadru the mother of Nagas had a bet following which Nagas had imprisoned your mother.Your enmity with Nagas started on this note. While you were handicapped due to the condition of the bet, once you rescued her, you declared an open war with them.

Nagapushpa Imagery used in one of the temple programmes. Nagapushpa Goddess, Nainavitu, Jafna, Srlilanka is one of the most famous snake goddess in Southern India

So much was the mayhem caused by you, that the Nagas had to ask protection by Subrahamaniam aka Karthikeya aka Murugan… They still celebrate the Lord who protected Nagas at Kakke Subrahamaniam Temple at Subrahmania in Karnataka.

Karthikeya(???) holding snake and club in his hands, Palani Temple

So much was the mayhem caused by you, that the Nagas had to ask protection by Subrahamaniam aka Karthikeya aka Murugan… They still celebrate the Lord who protected Nagas at Kakke Subrahamaniam Temple at Subrahmania in Karnataka.

Naga Stones outside the temple

For all the travel I have done in temples across South India and rest of country, I can fairly make one statement – the way snake worship is celebrated in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is quite unmatched to rest of country. Every single Shiva or Shakti or Vishnu or Kumara or Ganesha Temple here has got snakestones in the premises. Not something we get to see in rest of country so much.

Five headed Snake (Possibly Adishesha???) described in pillars of Palani Temple

It’s well understood that snake worship was quite common amidst the lunar calendar followin indigenous Indians (called Nagas) before the Advent of solar calendar following outside tribes (Devas) which brought the fire cult in the country.

Nagas covering Shivalinga in Lepakshi, AP

But while rest of the country fell down under the heat of the fire worshipping tribes coming from North post the ice age, in extreme South India and Srilanka, it didn’t happen so. Perhaps, that’s why a fair balance a fair compromise was made where Nagas, Devas would live together in peace even though there was clear tension amidst them. The mountains of nearby Venkatadri as well as Tiruchengode keep recounting the battle between Vayu (God of Air) and Adishesha (the Naga leader)

Five headed Adishesha described on the surface of hills of Tiruchengode

And you were the one to break the ceasefire? The battles between solar followers and lunar followers is at times mentioned as Garuda vs Nagas, Vayu vs Adishesha, Suryavanshi vs Chandravanshi. Were you representing one side of a battle between two rival religious sects?

Pic of the image of Garuda diety without Shringar (decoration)

It’s interesting to note that in this statue you hold a lady (who is considered to be Lakshmi) at higher level compared to Vishnu. Let me revise my mythology lessons.

Image of Peacock eating snake – hinting traditional rivalry between avian fauna and snakes

It is said that when you rescued your mother Vinita from the clutches of Naga rulers, you carried her on your hands. Is this lady truly Lakshmi or likely to be Vinita your mother? And the lower level of Vishnu shows how you value your mother above that of your diety… Well that’s just my thought!!!

Today there is quite a crowd at this temple on the Saturday which has come not only to worship you but also the Saturn Planet to releive themselves of the ill effects of the planets.

Pic of Shani riding the chariot driven by his mount Crow

It is interesting to note that Shani (Saturn) mounts a crow – the only bird mount amongst all the mounts of the nine planets. Isn’t this a great coincidence that the bird mount is established in the temple of king of birds?

Crow sculpture in front of diety Shani in the Koladevi Garuda temple

A quick online search seems to suggest that under inauspicious influence of Shani, Garuda was furious when he was denied entry into the Venkata Temple. This was important for Kaliyuga to set in so that perfect balance created in nature by Vishnu controlling both Adishesha (snake king) and Garuda (bird king) is disturbed.

Vulture depiction on pillars of nearby temple at Avani

Well whether You were separated from Adishesha or not, it’s interesting to note that Garuda Panchami (the day you are celebrated) is celebrated on the same day as Naga Panchami (the day your rivals are celebrated). Perhaps that indicates how important was for our ancestors to find the balance between rival forces – the masculine vs the feminine, the sky creatures vs the Earth creatures, the sun vs the moon.

Nagamma – Snake Goddess’s wooden procession image used during festivals at Forest Museum, Tirupati

While I depart from here, i am wondering how Garuda Purana where you recite the learnings you received from Vishnu and passed to the sages touches so many aspects like cosmology, workup, Temple structures, gemology, laws of virtue, right conduct, good governance, medicinal sciences, veterinary sciences, Yoga, funeral rites. In many ways, you had given an integrated perspective on how a man needs to balance his relationship with society, family, how body and self. Whomsoever you are- clearly you had a profound understanding on life.

Pillar Image of Garuda, Avani

I hope with time, I am able to understand you bit better and appreciate the finer science of the things you have spoken of. For now, Namaskara!!!

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