The French connection

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BALM FOR THE SOUL The Nambi Narayana  temple set in a scenic  background.  Photo by the author

Ten kilometers from the famous temple town Srirangapatna, Pandavapura, is a historical town where the French army wing serving Tipu Sultan had its makeshift camp during the fourth Mysore War (1798-1799), which was Tipu’s final war against the British. Possibly inspired by the town’s most visible rocky ranges like Kunti Betta, the Frenchmen called the town ‘French Rocks’. Near Pandavapura is Chinkurali, another historically linked place, associated with the battle fought by Hyder Ali and the Marathas in 1771.

Originally called Hirody, legend has it that Pandavapura got its name from the Pandavas who spent the final phase of their agnathavasa (exile) here, atop Kunti Betta named after Pandavas’ mother Kunthi. A region known for its geological features, Pandavapura is said to have been picked in the early 19th century for a geological survey by the famous British geologist, Robert Bruce Foote (1834-1912) called ‘Father of Indian Prehistory’. He is known to have unearthed numerous sites and human settlements identified with the prehistoric times (Neolithic age).   

A small but quaint town with quite a few tourist attractions, Pandavapura has many sight-seeing spots offering many choices to visitors. It is situated amidst picturesque hillocks, ancient temples, beautiful coconut groves and lush green paddy fields. Also, there is a must see wonderful waterspot called Kere Thonnur or Thonnur Kere, a large reservoir occupying acres of pristine water. 

Sugarcane being the main crop in and around Pandavapura, as you pass by the roads situated in the vicinity of the town’s sugarcane fields, you get to almanes (jaggery-making units) buzzing with activity. Pandavapura is known for its once well-established co-operative sugar factory which has remained closed since 2003 because of financial problems.

Kunti betta

A ninety-meter-high hillock with many legends from mythology surrounding it, Kunti Betta (four km. from the town) is known to attract trekkers, holiday makers and the devout alike from all over. Surrounded by scenic forested valleys and the village fields, the Kunti Betta is part of one more hillock called Bheemana Betta. The twin hillocks are separated by a small valley with two temples dedicated to Mallikarjuna, Ganesha, Goddess Bhramarambika and Annpurneshwari, believed to have been worshipped by the Pandavas.

Located adjacent to the Mallikarjuna temple are monolithic rock cut idols of Nandi and Ganesha, not to be missed.

Almost hidden between the tall twin hills, the temple spot can be reached by a short  climb of a flight of steps leading to the temple, which is actually the starting point to go up the hill of your choice. Kunti Betta is at the rear side of the temples and adjacent to it is Bheemana Betta.

The left flank hill path leads to the Kunti Betta, the bushy boulder hill with its summit forming a small plateau, which has Kunti Kola (a natural pond named after Kunthi) and Bheema’s footprint on a rock. The view of the surrounding rural scenery from atop Kunti Betta is simply astounding.

At the foot of Kunti Betta, there is a residential high school in addition to higher primary and primary schools established for the benefit of students from backward villages like Doddabedarahalli, Thimmanakoppalu, Nuganahalli, Chikkamarli and other villages situated near Kunti Betta. These rural schools were established here in 1973 by Sri Shankaranada Bharathi Vidyapeeta.

Thondanur

Located near Pandavapura (eight km), Thondanur has a history dating back to the 12th century during the rule of Hoysala’s Bittideva (1108-1152), who later inspired by the saint Ramanujacharya became a Vaishnavite and changed his name to Vishnuvardhana.

Today’s Thonnur was once Thondanur, which was the second capital of the Hoysala empire. The inscriptions found here mention that King Vishnuvardhana had built many basadis and temples at Thonnur, including the famous temple of Nambinarayana as desired by his Guru Ramanunajacharya, the saint who proceeded to nearby Melukote after his short stay at Thonnur.

Ramanunajacharya (1017-1137) is said to have built Tirumala Sagara, the present Thonnur Kere.

Though located next to an eye-catching valley, huge temples and secluded rural spots, Thonnur’s main attraction, however, is its lovely lake, better known as Thonnur Kere which has been the main canal irrigation source for the farmers of many villages belonging to Pandavapura taluk. Thonnur Kere is not actually a kere (tank) but a sprawling reservoir with its backwaters spread over an area of more than two thousand acres, a large manmade embankment of a dam (230 meters in height and about 150 meters in length) built across the river Yadavanadi.  
 
Thonnur lake is surrounded by numerous spots like Tipu caves, Ramanuja Gange (a waterfall beside the lake) Padmagiri hillock (located next to the dam) and the ‘Turtle rock’ (turtle shaped rock atop Padmagiri). It is said  that the scenic sights surrounding this lake and the purity of its water inspired Moghul Nasir Jung to call it ‘Moti Talab’ (Lake of Pearls)
Apart from the Jain basadi and Sayyad Salar Masud Sahib Dargah, Thonnur has 18th-century temples dedicated Nambi Narayana, Gopalakrishna and Narasimha.

Thonnur’s famous Nambi Narayana temple is known to have been built by Suragi Nagaiah, a chieftain under Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana.

The Nambi Narayana temple is one of the five Vishnu temples which was worshipped by saint Ramanujacharya. The other four temples are in Melukote, Talakadu, Beluru and Gadag.  
  
How to get there

Pandavapura is ten km from Srirangapatna (on the Bangalore-Mysore highway) and from Srirangapatna, there are frequent buses to Pandavapura. The town is also well connected by train from Bangalore and Mysore.

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