S Venkatraman visits the many temples along the Bangalore-Mysore route and is fascinated by the many myths and legends associated with towns like Channapatna, Mandya and Maddur.
Little did I know that the road that connects Bangalore and Mysore is a tribute to the test of time since the Stone Age. I had heard about Stone Age settlements and the proto-historic sites at Pandavapura, Kuntibetta and Srirangapatna but the plethora of temples along the Mysore road was a pleasure to visit and explore. The post-travel research was even more fascinating when I stumbled on many myths and legends associated with towns like Mandya and Maddur and the origins of many of the temples situated along this culture-rich belt.
Maddur, earlier known as Marudur, underwent massive destruction during the Tipu-British wars. Probably, the town got its name due to Tipu Sultan who made gun-powder here for his wars (maddu in Kannada means ‘gunpowder’). Earlier, this city was known as Arjunapuri, as Arjuna, of the Pandavas, is supposed to have arrived here during a pilgrimage. The city was also called ‘Kadamba Nadi Kshetra’ as Kadamba rishi supposedly worshipped the waters and performed penance here. The city was gifted to the Srivaishnava Brahmins by King Vishnuvardhana belonging to the Hoysala line.
Mandya is considered to be to home to five rivers — Cauvery, Shimsa, Hemavathi, Veeravaishnavi and Lokapavani. Earlier, this town was known as Mandevemu or Mandeya when Somavarma converted this area into an agrahara and constructed a fort here. It is believed that during the Krita yuga, a rishi tried to teach the wild beasts to pronounce the sacred word, Veda and hence the place was earlier known as Vedaranya. This belt is closely associated with the Gangas, Cholas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagara Empire, and the Wodeyars.
Krishna temple, Dodda Mallur
The Krishna temple is just after Channapatna, around seven km from the main city — on the left hand side of Mysore road, just after the Kanva reservoir. Lord Narayana, or Aprameya as he is known here, is in the main sanctum sanctorum (garbha gruha), while the beautiful idol of Navaneetha Krishna in a crawling position is a big crowd puller. One interesting trivia about the town of Dodda Mallur is that the place got its name from the Tamil word, Mulaithathu, which means ‘growing’ and with the passage of time and the effect of the local dialect, this word transformed into Mallur. It is believed that there was a king whose limbs were cut by his enemies and thrown away; the king kept chanting the god’s name and hence his limbs ‘grew’ back. Lord Rama is assumed to have stayed and worshipped the Lord here and hence he is also known as Ramaprameya.
Chikka Mallur’s famed temple
The narrow road opposite the Aprameya Swamy temple passes through paddy and sugarcane fields and leads to an unassuming structure in typical Dravidian style. This is the Nadi Narasimha temple. This side of Mysore road is called Chikka Mallur.
This temple was supposed to be on the banks of River Kanva once upon a time. The river was earlier called Nirmala but was renamed to Kanva after Rishi Kanva performed penance here. The river caused immense destruction to the entire place and the idol of Lakshmi Narasimha was placed to save the land from the wrath of the river. The prefix nadi (means river) was hence added to the Lord’s name. The then Maharaja of Mysore was kind enough to grant this piece of land to the temple.
The temple and the idol are relatively small in shape compared to many other temples along this belt, but the main deity is supposed to be extremely powerful and many faithfuls circumambulate the temple with a coconut in their hands. The temple is supposed to be 1,000 years old (10-11th century) but looks relatively new due to the renovations in the recent past. The priest pointed out that there are very few Narasimha Swamy temples that are situated along a river and this sthala (place) holds one such distinction.
The Lord is manifested here in the form of Ugra Narasimha Swamy (ugra in Sanskrit means ‘angry’) and gives darshan with his eight hands and wearing the intestines of Hiranyakasipu as his garland. The Lord is holding Pasha, Ankusha, Shanku and Chakra in his four hands. With two hands, he is tearing Hiranyakasipu and with the other two, he is holding the latter’s intestines. The third eye of Lord is visible and denotes the anger during the vadha (destruction) of the evil king Hiranyakasipu.
The architecture resembles that of the Vijayanagara style with dashes of Dravidian architecture, though it is believed that the temple was constructed during the reign of the Hoysalas. The lore associated with this temple is that Arjuna requested Krishna to give him a darshan of Lord Narasimha but due to the ugra (angry) nature of Lord Narasimha, Krishna negated it and Brahma placed a stone idol of Lord Narasimha at this place which Arjuna later worshipped.
Once you come out of the Ugra Narasimha Swamy temple, turn left and you will notice a small structure at an elevated level opposite the Banyan Tree. You can just walk across. King Vishnuvardhana’s mother lost her eyesight and saint Ramanuja advised a visit to the Varadaraja temple at Kanchipuram in his dream. The king was unable to take his mother to Kanchi because of her age and lack of eyesight, so the king got some sculptors from Kanchi and constructed a beautiful 12-ft idol of the Lord. It is said that his mother got her eyesight on the 48th day and hence the Lord is also known as Nethra Narayana.
The rear of the main idol is supposed to have many divya chakras engraved, which was not to be seen by the naked eye.
A stone’s throw away from Varadaraja temple is Pattabhirama temple. ‘Pattabhi’ is the shortened version of ‘Pattabhisheka’ and means the coronation ceremony of kings. Lord Rama with consort Sita and his friend in the form of Bhaktha Hanuman are the main idols in the sanctum. This temple was supposed to be in ruins and has been recently renovated. The sight of the temple in ruins was disappointing.
Aanjaneya Swamy temple
Retrace the road from the Narasimha Swamy temple and enter the road under the arch, two km further down the main road is the temple of Aanjaneya, called ‘Hole Aanjaneya’. ‘Hole’ in Kannada means river and it is situated along the banks of the river Shimsa, hence the name. This temple is considered to be around 550 years old and is supposed to be constructed during the reign of the Vijayanagara Kings. An interesting anecdote associated with the main god (Hanuman) here is that he holds a saugandhika flower in his left hand (symbolising Bhima) but his right hand which he holds above his head has the index and the middle fingers longer than the usual lengths and also the rest of the fingers. This is supposed to symbolise the ‘Dwaita’ philosophy in the Vaishnavaite sect. So the single image of Aanjaneya is supposed to represent three avatars — that of Anjaneya or Hanuman himself, Bhima and the Madhvacharya avatar. Other famous temples along and slightly off the Mysore Road include Chennakesava Temple at Somnathapura, Vaideshwara temple at Talakad, Cheluvanarayana Swamy and Yoga Narasimha Swamy at Melkote.