Shaiva devotee KN Krishna Bhat died today at the age of 94 at 5:30 AM on 25 April. He was the priest at Badavi Linga (Linga established by peasant women).
Bhat became famous in 2019 when several media houses covered stories of his extraordinary devotion to Shiva. The Shiva Linga he paid obeisance to daily is 3 m high. He would walk 4 km to the temple every day. In the absence of a ladder or scaffolding in the water-logged temple, he would step on the base of the Shiva Linga for support. He would hang on to it and applies bhasma (vibhuti) and vermilion to the idol before returning to the doors of the eternally flooded temple, reported The New Indian Express.
No one objected to the act of the frail, balding priest. In fact, the hunch-backed man’s action drew a lot of eyeballs and cameras.
“There is no other way to worship the Shiva Linga, 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,” Shiv Bhat, a senior priest at the Virupaksha temple had told the NIE reporter on 28 April 2019 when KN Krishna Bhat was covered extensively by the media.
“This he did every day for more than 40 years till he got dissolved in Shiva,” said a devotee. “The dedication is unimaginable,” another said, “People may say he was driven by faith, but from a yogic point of view, imagine the karmic link he had to Shiva and the strength of the soul to do such a physically demanding task day in and day out,” said IPS officer Hemant Pandey, also a columnist with Sirf News. “Bhakti makes everything possible,” he said.
The Badavi Linga temple is located near the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. Tourists as well as devotees flock to the temple throughout the year.
Located on a bank of the Thurtha canal, which had been built by the Raya dynasty of Vijayanagara, the temple gives a unique background to the puja KN Krishna Bhat used to perform here every day. Bahmani Sultans had partially damaged the roof of the temple’s sanctum sanctorum during an invasion, which created a large hole in the ceiling.
The Shiva Linga is illuminated by sunlight sneaking through that hole while the water at the base of the Linga provided a mirror image of Bhat’s actions.
The temple draws crowds ― both devotees and photographers. There is a belief that if coins thrown at the Shiva Linga come to rest on the structure without falling into the water below, the prayers of the devotee will be answered.
Till the time KN Krishna Bhat was around, until yesterday that is, no devotee entered the temple. When they sought the blessings of Shiva, the priest picked up the water from the temple and sprinkled on them.
KN Krishna became a priest here nearly 40 years ago after he arrived in Hampi from a tiny village in the Tirthahalli taluka in District Shivamogga to work as a priest at the Satyanarayana temple. Later, descendants of the Anegundi royal family appointed him as the priest of the Badavi Linga temple.
KN Krishna Bhat, who used to prepare for puja in the morning, would wait for someone to drop him to the temple and locals usually helped him post-lunch. Until he died today at the ripe age of 94, Bhat did not miss his duty ever; he stayed at the temple until evening.
Helped by a biker, KN Krishna Bhat would get down and settle down for his work immediately. He recognised some people in the crowd and greeted them before he would gather himself at the steps of the temple, filled with water. This had been his routine at this temple. When one tried to speak to him, he would answer some of the questions like “where are you from?” He said he hailed from Kasaravalli in the Tirthahalli taluka. Devotees said he would guess the questions by observing the lip movements as he suffered from hearing impairment because of his age. Some locals say he had arrived in the town 50 years ago and had been worshipping the Shiva Linga for the past three decades.
The temple is believed to be built in the 15th century by a peasant woman, wherefrom it got the name “Badavi Linga”. No puja was 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, said, “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 could regularly worship the Shiva Linga… It had been followed since then. We paid the priest once in six months. I met him (KN Krishna Bhat) on Mahashivaratri day and paid him.”
Gautam Basak, founder and faculty of Dristi School of Photography, who photographed the temple with the priest, said the location, the lighting condition and the character together made it ideal for photography.