The Hethenahalli Adishakthi Maramma temple holds a special place in the hearts of its many devotees who consider it sacrilegious to break a promise made in its premises -- a vulnerability that politicians have used to extract votes in exchange for cash, say locals.
The 13th century Durga temple, where politics and religion regularly meet, even served as a "guarantee" for candidates allegedly involved in the "note-for-votes" scam in the 2018 Karnataka Assembly election.
According to locals in this high profile constituency from where JD(S) chief and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda is contesting the Lok Sabha election, nominees of various political parties offered Rs 2,000 per family to vote for them in 2018.
Voters were also given a picture of Durga, along with the money, on which they were asked to swear that they would vote for a particular candidate, residents said.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, parties exploited people's faith by bringing them to the temple and making them take a vow to vote for them. Later, they were also paid some money, Hethanahalli gram panchayat member Ravindra Gowda alleged.
The vows ensured they would not vote for anyone else after taking money from a particular candidate, he said.
With elections only two days away, the temple is back as the centrepiece of discussion with many locals in Hethenahalli village, about nine kilometres from Tumkur town, expecting a 2018 repeat with parties in the fray again distributing money among voters.
The election is expected to be a tough battle between Deve Gowda, who vacated the Hassan seat and moved to what is considered a Congress bastion, and the BJP's G S Basavaraju. In 2014, the seat was won by Congress' Muddahanume Gowda.
"The temple was built in 1235 and it is famous for curing small pox. Those with devotion always have their prayers answered. Politicians of late have started exploiting people's faith in the temple," the temple's priest, 72-year-old Marianna, told PTI.
The temple is known as a wish-granting shrine and its presiding goddess, Adhishakti Durga, is revered by thousands of devotees around Tumkur, Bengaluru Rural and Chikkaballapur districts.
The origins of the temple are rooted in a story of farmers and the miracle of Durga
Legend has it that farmers were travelling in a bullock cart from Mysore through a forest (now Hethenahalli) without realising that goddess Durga had hitched a ride in disguise.
As it got dark, the farmers decided to take rest at a place and cook in a makeshift three-stone cooking fire. Suddenly, the fire got doused, the oxen collapsed and the goddess appeared. She said she would reside here and subsequently, the temple was built.
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