Mailara (ಮೈಲಾರ) is a small village on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in Hadagali talluk, Bellary district. This is a well known piligrimage center famous for the Shivamallari temple. The icon is a Shivalinga made of clay. References to this God are found in a fifteenth century work, named ‘mallAri mahAtmye’. This temple and its history is an example for the phenomenon of appropriating a local deity and raising it to a higher state by building myths and legends arround it.
Mailaralinga known by different names such as Khandoba, Marthanda Bhairava and Mallari is worshipped in South Maharashtra, North Karnataka, Andhrapradesh and MaLva. He was a village deity with ‘mALaci’ (Mhalasaadevi) as his wife. He was worshipped mainly by people belonging to the communities of shepherds, (kuruba) upparas(Salt making community and other Hindus. The priests of Mailaralinga usually belong to the kuruba community and they are referred to as ‘gorava’, ‘goravayyaalu’ and Vaggayyaiahs. Mailaralinga temples exist all over Karnataka, the main one being the temple on a hill (DevaraguDDa) in the Ranibennur talluk of Haveri district. The other places are Hire Mailara, Gutturu Mailara, rekkaalgonDa Mailara, yaadagiri Mailaara, muDukutore, mailaara etc.
Gradually, a legend was built arround the deity and he was elevated to the level of an avatar of Shiva. According to the local legends two demons called Mani and Malla were pestering the public and moved by their prayers Shiva created tuppada maaLamma a goddess to slay the demons. She could not accomplsh the task and Shiva himself had to take birth as a gorava and slay them. He assumes the name ‘mallaari’ (An enemy of Malla) and marries tuppada maaLamma in due course.
This slaying of the demons is celebrated annually in the month of February. Thousands of devotees gather there and many ‘miracles’ and acts of physical courage are performed. The Godess MaaLaci appears on one of the devotees and utters a sentence anticipating future events.(kaaraNika) The devotees also enact a pantomime acting as dogs. Five different miracles are performed. Goravas take a leadng role in all these activities. A folk epic entitled ‘Mailaralingana Kaavya’ is recited. Goravas religious proffessional singers enact their ritual dance with the accompaniment of Damaruga and PiLLangOvi. This performance goes on through out the night and celebrated during Shivaratri festival. The annual fair at Mailara in Bellary district is a minor variant of this theme.