Remnants of a royal past

Travel

Remnants of a royal past

“Bombe ide nodu baa” — though that did not entice my four year-old, I was curious and followed Nagaraj Jain, the administrator, who doubled up as a guide, to the centuries-old Rameshwara Temple in Keladi.

As one enters the temple, there’s a small room with huge wooden idols of two men along with their wives. The colourful dolls that remind one of Dasara bombe, however, reflect a grim past. The legend behind these statues, as explained by Jain, makes for an interesting tale. In late 15th century, a chaudappa (landlord) had built a small temple.

One night, he had a dream in which god appeared before him and directed him to perform a human sacrifice following which he would find a treasure in his land. He, however, did not want to perform such an act.

Yerava and Murari, two brothers, who worked as bodyguards (it is unclear whether they were working for him or one of his brothers) heard this tale. They went and narrated it to their respective wives. The wives then decided that the sacrifice was for the greater good of man and thus, the men along with the wives voluntarily gave up their lives. As foretold, following this act, 12 koppariges of jewels were found in the land.

In their honour, the statues were erected. Whatever the tale, this unexpected wealth helped Chaudappa Nayaka rise to power. The Rameshwara Temple he built in 16th century, has stood the test of time and life in this small town revolves around the temple and its ancient history.

Keladi is near Sagar in Shimoga District. Sagar, to most of us, is the nearest town to the famous Jog Falls. This region was ruled by the Keladi Nayaka dynasty for over two centuries and their kingdom spread across entire coastal Karnataka and northern Kerala.

Kings from this powerful dynasty, once, also laid siege on Srirangapatna. They were finally defeated by Hyder Ali in 1763 and thus became a part of the Mysore kingdom. The Nayakas glory is reflected through the temples they built in Keladi and Ikkeri. There’s also a palace in Shimoga that belonged to Sivappa Nayaka, the dynasty’s most illustrious ruler.

A board erected by the Archaeological Survey of India in front of the Rameshwara Temple explains that the structure is built in Hoysala and Dravidian style of architecture. However, the stone sculptures, the lion faced columns especially, remind me of Vijayanagara architecture. One of the main reasons for me to visit the temple was to see the Gandaberunda, the mythical two-headed bird, which was also used by the kingdom in Mysore and today, is the state symbol of Karnataka.

The exquisite carvings on the roof of the adjacent Veerabhadra Temple are breathtaking. Though the Nayakas were Shaivites, the sculpture here is different to the Shiva temples down south. One key difference here is that the Nandi sits inside the temple rather than the courtyard. Another difference is the Bhringi sculpture on the roof, which I was told, is rarely seen elsewhere. The Daksha statue guarding the Veerabhadra is exquisitely carved.

While Keladi’s Rameshwara Temple looks simple from the outside, Ikkeri’s Agoreshwara Temple has a more majestic look. I loved the entrance to this huge stone structure. Its carvings reminded me of the beautiful edifices in Belur. Unlike Rameshwara, a huge Nandi sits facing his master at the entrance. However, it could not guard its master during an attack by the Bijapur army, when they brought down the temple’s main statue, the Agoreshwara. A Shiva linga has replaced the statue and pujas are performed here and in Keladi, even today.

The Keladi Nayakas ruled over two centuries, through three main capitals — Keladi, Ikkeri and Bednur (Nagara). Two rulers from the dynasty are popular in the region. The first being the illustrious Sivappa Nayaka, who defeated and ruled the entire coastal region as far as Bekal; the second being Chennamma, who braved the huge Mughal army and gave shelter to Rajaram, the son of Sivaji. Sivappa Nayaka ruled from 1645 to 1660.

A powerful chieftain, he was also known as Sistina Sivappa Nayaka for the reforms he brought about in the land revenue system. With a strong knowledge of agriculture, he classified land into five categories according to their fertility, taking into account the average yield over a period of 13 years. It was during his tenure that entire coastal Karnataka was subdued and he went as far as Bekal and built a fort there.

Rani Chennamma another ruler from the dynasty, ruled the region for a period of 25 years. She came during a period when there was unrest within and outside the kingdom. She stabilised the government, provided good administration, adopted an able heir and also protected a fleeing Rajaram, even though it meant a full scale war with the Mughal army.

The dwajasthamba in front of the Veerabhadra Temple shows the carvings of Chennamma, Rajaram and her retinue, bowing to the lord. Jain, although, believes that the history of the pillar has a Jain element to it. His assumptions are not wholly unfounded since this whole region was a Jain settlement before the Nayakas. In fact, the Keladi Historical Research Bureau, a stone’s throw away from the temple, is home to many Jain Tirthankara statues that were donated by private land owners. The findings are in the process of classification and labelling, and will take a couple of months to be set in order.

Kallapur, who heads the research bureau, agrees with Jain about the much older Jain history to this region. Unfortunately, there have been no written manuscripts of Jain history that could give them more information. The museum also houses thousands of manuscripts that are being researched and catalogued by Dr Kallapur.

He showed me huge black books made of cloth on which details and information of years of administration has been written. Called Kadatas, it looks like a slate with chalk inscriptions. The writing is so delicate that it can be erased by hand and one has to be extremely careful in handling it.

Beyond the museum, is a newly built basadi. Its renovation is funded by the Dharmasthala Trust. Though the basadi is new, the idol inside is an antiquity itself. The statue is that of Parshvanath Tirthankara and an inscription behind this statue dates it back to 12th century. Jain, who was instrumental in getting the idol due recognition and funding, says that it is made of pacche kallu, usually used for worship.

People here are friendly, well educated and quite eager to tell their tale.  Set in the beautiful Malnad region, the ancient structures look all the more magnificent. The typical tiled roofs, the centuries-old homes, the areca nut thotas and the powerful history, entices the visitor and leaves them spell bound.  

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