Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Ganesha that fell out of a tobacco pouch

There is a small but beautiful island in Kundapur taluk which during the British rule was known as Salt Island.
The Salt Island was the place where trading in salt took place. It was also the place where trade in seafood and tobacco occurred. Thus, salt and seafood was the only two commodities that the islanders depended upon.
The island’s Kannada name was Uppinakudru. Uppu in Kannada means salt. It is a very small island six kms north of Kundapur in Udupi district. The island is now not as very well known as it was during the British period.
Though it is no longer the centre of salt and seafood trading, it has, of late, become a prominent tourist attraction.
The island has many temples but the most famous is that of Ganesha. There is a very interesting and humorous story behind the idol of Ganesha which is consecrated in the temple.
While trading in tobacco, salt and seafood was legitimate during the British period, there was an equally remunerative trade going on and that was smuggling of ancient idols and artifacts. Since this island was very near to the West coast and as it was not policed, smugglers and antique dealers found Uppinakudru an ideal place for smuggling them out of India.
Old-timers in the island can tell you how the idols were smuggled, hidden within layers of tobacco and salt and in some cases seafood. As the tobacco was tightly packed in gunny bags, there was no question of  opening them. The tobacco came from nearby Belgaum and they are evebn today rated on par with tobacco grown in Virginia, United State. These bags were weighed and stacked aboard ships for onward transport to foreign countries.  
The island was thickly planted with coconut trees and it hid the place from prying eyes. Several pirates had made the island their home and they made good money by smuggling idols and other antiques.     
Once a consignment of tobacco was to be exported from the island. As the package with several tobacco pouches was being transported, an idol of Ganesha tumbled out of the bag, startling the onlookers. The people who had smuggled the idol fled, leaving Ganesha at the spot.
The people got together and decided to build a temple to Ganesha at the spot and called it Siddhi Vinayaka Temple. They said as Ganesha himself had decided on the place where he wanted the temple to come up, the structure would have to be built at the precise spot.
The Ganesha Temple exists even today and you can visit it along with other temples in the island. One of the oldest temple on the island is that of Vasudeva. The temple of Gopala Krishna is worth a visit.
Vasudeva is the local deity of the islanders. This temple was the seat of ancient education. There are at least eight  maths in the island such as Lakshminarayana Matha, Eashwara Matha, Ganapathi Matha, Devi Matha and Gopinath Matha.
The island is completely surrounded by Gangavali river. During the time of Tipu Sultan, ammunition was stored here when he went to war with the British.
This is regarded to be birthplace of Yakshagana. One of the Yakshagana troupes here traces its origin to a date more than three centuries ago. Yakshagana string puppetry is famous. Today, the salt island is known all over the world for its Yakshagana.

The nearest railway station is Kundapur and the nearest airport is Bajpe in Mangalore. The island is 447 kms from Bangalore, 98 kms from Mangalore and 38 kms from Udupi.

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