Even as Karnataka is in an election tizzy, there is a temple town called Dharmasthala that is far removed from the activity around it. Located in the Belthangady Assembly constituency of Dakshina Kannada district, Dharmasthala, is a popular stop with politicians and yet, politics doesn’t find space here.
As its name translates to ‘the seat of truth’, Dharamsthala and its famed temple are not taken lightly by visiting dignitaries. Politics is not a dirty word here, but you leave it behind, like your footwear, before entering.
Though they are entitled to, politicians do not address meetings within town limits. Political meetings are held outside the town’s gates, built by the temple as an official point of entry. An oath taken here has the unofficial seal of truth, and, perhaps, politicians sense the baleful eye of the reigning deity, Lord Manjunatha.
Even when Janata Dal (S) boss Deve Gowda and Congress party coordinator SM Krishna visited the town to pay obeisance to the reigning deity of Dharmasthala politics was not discussed.
Dharmasthala observes both Jain and Hindu traditions, with temples dedicated to the Jain Theerthankaras and to Lord Manjunatha, an incarnation of Shiva. It is famed as a place where truth prevails and it is common for the Dharmadhikari, head priest Dr Veerendra Heggade, to arbitrate at various disputes.
Political neutrality is a credo here; even through the Babri Masjid upheaval, Heggade desisted from making a statement. "We respect the political system but have no individual preferences. We have such a large number of followers and every gesture of mine is likely to be interpreted," he says.
But politics at the micro-level is encouraged. "We have six lakh people involved in various economic and development programmes. We encourage them to get involved in Panchayat, taluka and even district-level democratic institutions," says Heggade.