Dharmasthala is perhaps the most highly revered and best known temple town in Karnataka. Located amidst the picturesque Western Ghats on the banks of the Nethravathi River, it is about 100 km from Udupi.
This holy place is the home of the Sri Manjunatheshwara Temple, where devotees of all castes and creeds visit. The temple is devoted to Shiva and houses a lingam of gold. The temple is unusual in that it is run by a Jain administration and poojas are conducted by Madhva priests. Everyone enjoys the generous hospitality without any distinction of caste, creed or class whatsoever. On an average the flow of pilgrims is about 10,000 people a day. A mechanised and clean kitchen provides free food for all pilgrims. There are guest houses with modern amenities.The temple is unique example of unity in diversity. The deity is Manjunatha or Shiva who is worshipped by Shivalli Madhwa brahmins ( Vaishnava ) and owner of temple is a Jain.
It has been told in Dharmasthala that the Shiva Lingam in Dharmasthala was brought to Dharmasthala by a man named Annappa. Legend is that he used to work for the Heggade family. Once when the Heggade he was serving wanted to worship Lord Shiva, Annappa had assured him to get one lingam and vanished from the sight. Surprisingly next day morning, by the time all woke up, he had already established the lingam in Dharmasthala, a few metres away from Heggade's house.
Later it was known that the Lingam was from Kadri near Mangalore, from the Kadri temple. By then, Annappa had vanished and he was never again sighted in the vicinity. Now people in Dharmasthala worship Annappa as Annappa Panjurli, a local god deva and a hero.
The present head of Dharmasthala, Padmashri Dr. Veerendra Heggade, the 21st in succession to the Dharmadhikari Peetha, has lived up to the great tradition. He has not only continued to uphold the sacred tradition, but carried out his ancestral heritage to a greater height. In doing so he has also achieved remarkable progress in his service to mankind. For over 25 years, Sri Veerendra Heggade has endeared himself by dedicating himself to the service of God and man in religious, cultural and educational fields. He has launched several socio-economic programmes, which have directly benefited the poor. Free mass weddings which were started in 1973 have gained immense popularity over the years. This is a boon to those poor people who cannot afford weddings on their own.
In 1973 a statue of Lord Bahubali carved out of a single rock, was installed at Dharmasthala on a low hill near the Manjunatha temple. It was about 39 foot (12 m) high and weighed about 175 tonnes.
More than 25 institutions from primary schools to professional colleges are run in and around Dharmasthala . Old and decrepit temples have been renovated, taking care to preserve the traditional architecture. Ancient manuscripts and paintings have been painstakingly restored and preserved for posterity. A museum of beautiful antique objects, which is both educative and fascinating, has been established. A car museum houses a rare collection of vintage cars. Every year, a Sarva Dharma Sammelan (multi religious meet) is held at Dharmasthala, which attracts spiritual leaders from various faiths and schools, and patrons of art and literature, from far and wide.
This is also among of the few pilgrim centers in India which provides free boarding and lodging to all the visiting devotees. The exponentially increasing number of visitors is a proof of the good work being done here.