Chandragutti, a thickly wooded area situated at the base of a steep hill of the same same was once controlled by the Kadambas of Banavasi, the Vijayanagara Empire, the Nayakas of Keladi, the Marathas (under Parshuram Bhau) and finally Dhondia Wagh (in service of Tipu Sultan). Known as Chandraguptapura or Chandraguttipura or Chandraguttipete or Guttidurga in the olden days, this place has an almost impregnable fort at the summit of the hill (around 840 m above mean sea level) of the Vijayanagara period built with the locally available Chandragutti kallu that has now fallen into a state of disrepair.
According to the Hindu scriptures, the revered Jamadagni Brahmarshi and his pious wife Renuka and gallant son Parashuram lived in this picturesque forest. It is said that Renuka Devi was devoted to her husband Jamadagni Brahmarshi and such was her chastity that she would collect water from the nearby pond in unbaked pots and bring them to the ashram without spilling a drop.
One day, when she went to fetch water, she saw the reflection of a handsome Gandharva flying in the sky along with his wife on the water. Her concentration was broken for a second and she was unable to fill water in the unbaked pot. Disappointed, she returned to the ashram but much to her horror, Jamadagni Brahmarshi already knew the events that had transpired through his divine powers.
Angered by her conduct, the Sage ordered his sons to chop off the head of their mother. Parashurama came forward and obeyed the command of his father by beheading his mother with his prized axe. Jamadagni Brahmarshi became pleased and offered him a boon. Parashurama requested that his mother be brought to life again. The request was accepted but much to the amazement of all, the handle of the axe remained firmly attached to the hand of Parashurama. The rishis who came there to witness this wonderous incident told him to absolve himself of matricide.
It is here that Renuka Devi manifested herself in the form of a Linga inside a natural cave to hide from Parashurama. Interestingly, there is a prominent rock that resembles the hips of a woman below the cave that locals say is that of Renuka Devi.
There is a small pond in front of the temple as well as Nagas and a rock on which the padukas of Devi are seen. The outer part of the cave serves as the sukanasi while the navaranga has been built in the typical Western Chalukya style with some architectural detailing of the Vijayanagara Empire.
There is another cave shrine closeby of Parashurama, Matangi and Nagas and stones dedicated to the fallen and women who have performed sati. There is a temple dedicated to Kalabhairava near the Renuka Devi Temple. There is a Tavarekere further up and some artefacts of the fort that are strewn about.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian