In the gently flowing river Shalmala of Karnataka, southwest India an incredible secret lies hidden beneath the surface of the water. But when drought in the area causes the water level to fall, the ancient mystery slowly reveals itself to curious eyes – and visitors are left wondering if they have just witnessed the work of a religious group, or whether it is evidence of life beyond Earth.
Indeed, from the river bank the strange stone shapes that are unveiled by the lowering water seem unreal at first. It is as if someone – or something – had visited the riverbed years before to intricately carve the cogs and components of some long-forgotten machine into its rocks.
There is also Sanskrit etched into the stones, dotted all around the incredible forms. But what culture could have left these awe-inducing relics here so long ago that they now seem to be part of the landscape?
In September 2015 it was reported that Karnataka was enduring one of its driest spells in four decades. This naturally resulted in a fall in the water level of the river Shalmala, which is typically how this incredible location is laid bare for everyone to see.
The location is known as Sahasralinga and is in the Uttara Kannada district near the city of Sirsi. And with its river rocks and their startling formations, the site is an area of pilgrimage for many people.
To Western eyes these stone shapes may seem incongruous and bizarre – which gave rise to the theories that the rocks amounted to evidence that alien beings have visited Earth and left their mark – but the real story of this marvel lies in Karnataka’s Hindu past.
Although historians speculate over the exact nature of this fascinating site – which lies about half a dozen miles outside Sirsi – they generally believe that its origins are with Sadasiva Raya, who ruled the area in the late 17th century.
The untrained eye might perceive a series of oddly mechanical-looking grooves and indentations marking the rocks along the riverbed, but these are actually Shiva lingas – the linga being a type of design carved as a representation of the Hindu god.
According to local lore, Sadasiva Raya ordered the creation of the lingas in the hope that they would bring him luck in his attempts to produce an heir.
In the Hindu tradition, though, lingas are used to evoke the energy of the deity Shiva. They take many different forms across the Hindu world and can be seen everywhere from modern temples to ancient ruins.
And this particular site earned its Sanskrit name Sahasralinga simply because lingas are so abundant in the area. Indeed, Sahasralinga means a “thousand lingas.”
The lingas are not usually seen by the public, as the waters of the river are high during the wet season, making it understandably difficult to make out the intricate patterns of the lingas’ hollows and channels.
However, in the right, dry conditions the beautiful lingas are revealed in all of their eerie glory – and yet they are by no means the only secret that the site holds.
Indeed, in addition to hosting the traditional Hindu representations of Shiva, the riverbed has another carving that is just as likely to catch the eye.
Around the carvings are depictions of several “Nandis,” or bulls, which may originally have been as numerous as the lingas themselves.
It might not come as a surprise that this mysterious spot has attracted the attention of the curious and the devout. On Maha Shivaratri, a yearly Hindu festival that celebrates the time Shiva wed the goddess Parvati, thousands of worshippers flock to the area to pay their respects.
And while it’s true that lingas are common enough in temples and places of worship around India, those at Sahasralinga are especially interesting thanks to their underwater location.
To add another element of wonder to this already fascinating tale, the Shalmala river site is similar to another location – improbably found more than 3,500 miles away – near Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Image: via Pinterest/Kristen Cato
Built in the 11th century by the same culture that was responsible for the ancient temple complex at the famous Angkor Wat, Kbal Spean in the Kulen Hills features a network of carved lingas resting under the waters of the Stung Kbal Spean river.
The two areas share a common Hindu heritage that likely explains the connection, but it is fascinating to think of these two far-flung communities having created such eerily similar monuments hundreds of years and thousands of miles apart.