Nestled on the bank of the River Nethravathi and set amidst the hills and forest of Malnad in Karnataka, Dharmasthala is known for the temple of Sri Manjunathaswamy, devoted to Lord Shiva. The temple housing a golden lingam attracts pilgrims irrespective of their cast and creed.
Charity is the essence of Dharmasthala, which is forwarded to all. Sri Dharmasthala is one of the major centres of pilgrims. The site is located in Dharmasthala village in the Beltangady Taluk of South Kanara district, which is 75 km from Mangalore.
Originally known as Kuduma, Dharmasthala nurtures a history of over 800 years. According to myth, angels in guise of men came to the house of Barmana Heggade. Convinced with the generosity of Heggade and his family, the angels came in their dreams, promising to reside at Kuduma.
To fulfil the wish of the angels, Barmana built shrines for Kalarkai, Kalarahu, Kanyaumari and Kumarswamy. Afterwards Heggade constructed the Manjunatha Swamy temple in Dharmasthala and placed the Shivalingam, brought by Annappa Swamy, a representative of the angels. Soon, Kuduma became Dharmasthala and lately it has emerged as a city, dotted with buildings, tourist bungalows and a number of temples.
Dharmasthala experiences a footfall of about 10,000 pilgrims every day. Free food or Anna Daana is offered to thousands of devotees. With the aid of modern machinery, food is produced in the temple all round the day. There is no distinction among wealthy and poor in case of Anna Daana.
Education is the focal point of interest in Dharmasthala, where the SDMCET Society run by the Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala, operates 25 educational institutions, which range from Gurukula to teach Sanskrit and yoga to primary schools, and professional courses in Medicine, Engineering and Dental sciences.
Free mass weddings are also conducted in Dharmasthala, which were initiated in 1972. The expenditure involved in the whole wedding is carried by the Kshetra. In the heath care domain, medical services are also provided to the local villages. Shri Heggade has also established a mobile hospital, which offers medical facilities in remote areas of Malnad.
The major attraction of Dharmasthala - Manjunatha Temple was built by Sri Devaraja Heggade in the 16th century. The architecture of the temple belongs to the age-old Sapta-Konkana region. The original temple was built from clay, wood and laterite.
The mukha man-dap or the pavilion in front of the temple is supported by wooden pillars. The entrance, which is a three-storied structure, features sloping roofs, admired by Kalases. The premise of the temple is decorated with around 100,000 oil lamps, during the Laksha Deepotsava festival.
The museum of Dharmasthala treasures some antique objects like ancient paintings and manuscripts. The car museum of the place showcases some collections of vintage cars.
Dharmasthala is also known for communal harmony along with religious tolerance. The Sarva Dharma Sammelan takes place every year in Dharmasthala, in which a number of spiritual leaders participate. The town is also known for housing eight Jain Basadis and an 11 metre high statue of Bahubali.
The major temples of Dharmasthala are Shri Manjunatheshwara, Shri Ammanavaru, Four Dharma Daivas and Shrine of Shri Chandranatha Swamy. The other popular destinations are Manjusha vastu sangrahalaya (museum), Vasantha Mahal, Pushpa vatika and Vintage car museum.
The nearby attractions of Dharmasthala are Kukke Subrahmanya, which is around 60 kms from Dharmasthala, Kateel Durga Parameshwari Temple at Kateel near Mangalore, Udupi Sri Krishna Temple in Udupi) and Horanaadu Annapoorneshwari Temple in the Chikamagalur District.