They say, truth is stranger than fiction….I believe, in some cases however hard you guys try, “the truth will sound fictitious”…Keeping that in mind, here we go…
On the border of Karnataka, just as you enter “God’s own country” Kerala, full of bounty with rejuvnating coconut water and hoardings of superstar “Mohanlal” you pass through district Kasargod. As a place, Kasargod has a brief history of communal violence & needless to say like every other state border in India, people from either side have a mutual dislike for each other, something that my aunt and sister kept emphasizing on while we drove to a cousin’s place in Kasargod fromMangalore.
Somewhere along the way, my worldly aunt while commenting about a temple that we just passed (btw they have more temples on the road than we have potholes in Mumbai) spoke about “the divine mosalle”. Now I may not know Kannada much, but I do know that divine and mosalle are rarely used in the same breathe. As you know divine means, well divine, & “mosalle” means a crocodile, which to me didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Back from the days of Tinkle’s “Doob Doob” to more demonic croc in “Lake Placid” and stories of the real life Gustave (fyi, youtube Gustave crorcodile) to what I have seen in zoos, crocodiles are not the most fancy or trustworthy of creatures. Sure some old legends place crocs as the gatekeepers to the other world but then comes the term “crocodile tears”, and with that goes any little credibility the crocodile community has among humans.
A bit more prodding led me to this story…the story of Babiya!
According to the believers, Babiya is the “temple crocodile” at Ananthapura lake temple in the Kasargod district. A temple crocodile …what the hell is a temple crocodile? Apparently there isn’t a clear storyline as to why he is there or where he came from but then he is a crocodile and who wants to go argue with one. Added to the plot is the fact that he is extremely docile and visitor friendly. Also nobody knows his exact age, the myth is, a couple of centuries ago, Babiya came and has been there ever since…talk about taking “athithi devo bhava” to an entirely a new level! So for a layman, the temple houses a crocodile which if seen is a sign of your wishes getting fulfilled.
In addition to all this, the temple itself has a hoard of stories…stories of caves that go from one end of Kerala…blah blah blah. But that didn’t interest me as much as the Babiya phenomena. I just wanted to know the catch, there always is one (the backdoor of faith that lets you get away with the ridiculous). And the catch here is that Babiya doesn’t grant a preview to everyone who comes there, they get to see it if they are truly “destined” to. And did I mention, of course I did, but once again Babiya is supposedly a harmless crocodile…Yeah right! A croc that won’t harm you, now all I want is, Santa in September and I shall be good for a year! And so out of curiosity I Columbused myself, my aunt and sister to the divine mosalle!
Now if there is a happy go lucky crocodile giving free darshans to anyone who dares, it’s obvious to expect the place to be thronged by devotees, stalls selling croc merchandise and guides offering their services promising the “real Babiya stories”. But when I parked my car outside the temple, the only word to summarize the ambience & the surroundings was, “forgotten”. Not a soul in sight, no devotees, no shop, nothing!
The temple on its own was quite picturesque with a pond surrounding it on 3 sides and small walkway right at the center which lead us to the deity. True to the faith shifter policy, I quickly prayed to the deity as I don’t intend to anger a god who may or may not have a crocodile as his chosen pet! A couple of temple pundits who were napping on the porch outside conveyed to us that Babiya maybe in an adjoining pond, but they weren’t sure and he may not be available for a one-on-one meet. So much for the hype, and considering that it was something I had anticipated, I decided to take some pictures of the location, just to mark my existence in the surrounding and maybe get a few likes on social networking sites.
Just as I trudged back to my car, my sister decided to play the “Mumbai guy whose came all the way to see Babiya” card… and it worked! One of the temple helpers decided to take us to the location where Babiya could possibly be and as my sister yelled out to me, the exact words in my head where, “So the drama continues”
As we walked to the adjoining pond, the guy told us stories of how Babiya is supposedly a vegan and only survives on the temple Prasad. How he has never hurt any human or cattle and prefers to stand in a corner in case of people cross his path so as to give them the right of the way. Again the voice in my head says, “Either you guys have mistaken a dog for a croc or of all days today Babiya would be mysteriously unavailable for a rendezvous”.
When we reached the pond, the helper boldly went in halfway carefully stepping on the stones and then told us to follow him there. My aunt and sister had already started walking towards him, so with no option left I decided to follow suit and put an end to this once and for all. Now like idiots we are standing in the middle of a pond, full of guppy fishes gnawing on our soles waiting for Babiya to grant us an appearance. Even more ridiculous was the helper, shouting “Babiya, come out son, people are hear to see you”…really, a full grown croc called Babiya and you expect him to respond to that?
And then it happened. Less than 6 ft away from us, a head popped out of water with two circular eyes and very recognizable snout. What followed the eyes where the elongated scales and it stayed put for exact 5 seconds before going into water. Unmistakably it was a full grown crocodile and it wasn’t moving, it was right there – you can see it and you know its watching you.
While my aunt and sister were amazed, the sheer panic of knowing that I am in water, 6ft away from a full blown crocodile made me alter my position a little bit to align myself right behind the fearless helper. He was my escape route, if Babiya decides to become non-vegetarian all of a sudden; I had full intentions of pushing the helper towards him and running like the wind. I mean faith or no faith, belief in god and his mysterious ways were not the topic of the debate at that point. The debate was simple, in my ridiculousness to prove a bunch of believers wrong how can I, a faith shifter, step into a pond with a huge ass crocodile. Even more ridiculous was the fact that only 2 things came to my head, a Discovery show where they say crocodiles are one of the few creatures who hunt just for the kicks of it and the dialogue “Run Forrest Run”!
And then something even more freakier happened…But for now…