'Vegetarian crocodile' of Kasaragod's lake temple dies

Devotees throng Sri Ananthapadmanabha Swamy Temple to pay their last respects. 'Babiya', believed to be a messenger of Lord Padmanabhan, is to be buried in the temple courtyard. Photo: Special arrangement

Kasaragod: Babiya, the mystic mugger crocodile of Kasaragod's Sri Ananthapadmanabha Swamy Temple, died Sunday night. It was found dead on the southern side of the lake surrounding the temple at Ananthapura village.

Though Sri Ananthapadmanabha Swamy Temple is the only temple surrounded by a lake in Kerala, it was made famous across the country by Babiya, with many devotees in Karnataka and other states referring to it as the 'vegetarian crocodile temple'.

Babiya was not keeping well for the past few days and was attended to by veterinary surgeons from Mangaluru's Pilikula Biological Park, said Udayakumar R Gatty, trustee of the temple. "In the past two days, Babiya did not come up for food. We launched a search but could not find it. Sunday night, we saw it dead in the lake," he said.

The temple is expecting more than 1,000 devotees for the funeral. "Babiya will be buried in the temple ground with all the honour given to a swami," said Gatty. Delampady Ganesha Tantri will perform the last rites.

The centuries-old temple is known as the moolasthanam, the original source, of the Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

But the baby mugger found its way to the temple sometime in the 1940s, said the temple's chief priest Subrahmanya Bhat P S when this reporter met him in 2015.

The crocodile had access to all the places in the temple and would be in the lake around the temple or basked on the temple stairs. During the hot months, Babiya stayed at Vana Shastara, a laterite pond for cattle, 60m away in the temple compound.

Devotees reached Sri Ananthapadmanabha Swamy Temple to pay their last respect. Photo: Special arrangement

Around noon that day, a Wednesday, the chief priest came to the pond with three huge balls of cooked rice on a bronze plate and stood under the plumeria tree. "This is Naivedyam, his staple food," he had said, before softly calling out Babiya. Soon, bubbles started forming on the placid lake, and the broad snout of Babiya appeared on the surface. Devotees waiting long around the pond touched their foreheads and chests in reverence and looked pleased. Within seconds, the eight-foot-long divinity disappeared back into the depths of the pond.

The rice balls also dispersed as soon as they touched the water. But devotees believe the crocodile survived on the 'naivedyam' offered twice a day, said Sri Kumara Manolithaya who used to feed Babiya.

Crocodile experts disagreed, saying the two waterbodies were abounded with fish, eels, and snakes, and muggers usually feed late in the night or in the early hours.

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