Majestic Melkote

Majestic Melkote

Travel

Melkote is renowned for its ‘puliyogare’, temples and history. Poornima Dasharathi takes a walk down memory lane and revisits the town she saw as a child.

My childhood memories of this place were a couple of temples and awesome puliyogare! Thirty years later, the basics have not changed. It still has the same ambience and great food at the small hotels. However, my knowledge of this fort town has increased and I appreciate it better now.

Melkote has a lot of names ranging from Yadavagiri, Narayangiri, Tirunarayanapura, Jnanamantapa, Yadusaila, Dakshina Badarikashrama to Melukote or Melkote. 

The town is a quaint mix of old-styled row houses with a jagali (platform) in the front , narrow long-winding lanes and the typical Iyengar touch everywhere which shows that they are the predominant population here. 

There are two temples, the Cheluva Narayanaswamy temple, a large temple complex that is home to Lord Narayana, and a Narasimha temple that stands on the edge of a peak dedicated to Yoga Narasimha. The Narasimha temple houses lovely vantage points from where one can view most of the surrounding villages and a lot of water bodies. The processional deity of this town is the charming Chelva (cheluva) pillai (Lord Krishna’s endearing name) who undoubtedly ruled the hearts of all the kings who ruled the town right from Hoysala’s Vishnuvardhana to the Wodeyars of Mysore.

The place finds a mention even in our earliest records, the Puranas. The Puranas state that the place was known as Narayanadri since the Sanatkumaras brought the image of Narayana and installed it here. In Tretayuga, it was also known as Vedadri as Sage Dattatreya taught the Vedas to his disciples on this hill. 

In Krishna’s time, Dwaparayuga, he and his brother Balarama worshipped the deity and hence the place acquired the name, Yadavadri. It’s also known as Yatisaila since Ramanuja came to this place and revived its popularity. It is one of the four important Vaishnavite shrines in South India, the other three being Srirangam, Tirupati and Kanchi.

History

While the image of the Lord cannot be dated, the earliest inscriptions mentioning the temple date back to the 12th century, where an inscription on a stone on the floor of rangamantapa, makes mention of a ‘service to God Narayana of Yadavagiri by one Mahapradhana, Heggade Surigiya Nagidevanna’. Later inscriptions dating back to the 13th and 14th century reveal the Hoysala and Srivaishnava history of the town. Melukote as a town existed even before the Hoysalas. Ellen Lepkens and Domique Vieren explain in the book, ‘Melkote through the Ages’, that ‘Manne’, the Gangas’ capital was not far from Melkote and there are many pillars of this era found here. 

However, it was during the Chola rule that the Srivaishnavism movement entered Melukote. Since Tondanur, which lies on the foothills of the town, was the capital of Hoysala rule, the hill fort gained strategic importance in both religious and military contexts.

Ramanuja who arrived in Tondanur made Melukote his home for twelve years. During his time, the fort gained religious importance. He renovated the temple and set the rituals and conducts of worship very meticulously which is followed even today. Srivaishnavism as a religion thrived in the region during the Hoysala rule.

The temple received patronage during the Vijayanagara rule too. One Timanna Dannayaka, a Vijayanagar subordinate, and his wife Rangambika made several grants to the temple and also built the beautiful rangamantapa inside the temple complex. 

The Wodeyars of Mysore were also great patrons of the temple. Since the Wodeyars considered themselves descendents of the Yadava clan, this place became very holy to them. They considered the Lord their family deity. 

Raja Wodeyar donated the rajamudi, a jewelled crown for the Lord. It is the second crown worn by the Lord during the famous Vairamudi festival held here, every year around March-April. His image is also carved on one of the pillars inside the temple complex. 

Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was also another staunch devotee. There are statues of him and his three wives inside the temple complex. Apart from making land and revenue grants, he provided another bejewelled crown, the Krishnarajamudi for the God. There is also an inscription which says Tipu Sultan donated a drum and a few elephants to the nearby Yoga Narsimha temple. This might have also been a strategic gift as the place was of military importance, opines M A Jayashree in the book, ‘Melkote through the ages’.

Being strategically important, the town has also suffered at the hands of conquerors who ransacked the town during Hoysala rule, and later during the the Mysore rule as well. The long serpentine roads and narrow lanes might have been designed to discourage invading cavalry. 

However, during the British rule, it lost its military importance and became more popular as the temple town it is today.

Around town

As you go up the hill, you can see many water bodies dotting the landscape. The Yoga Narasimha temple looks majestic on the rocky peak. At the bus stand, there are many autos waiting to take you around Melkote. 

There are small hotels on the main road of the town. All of them offer the town’s delicacy, the spicy puliyogare and the sweet sakkare pongal. 

A fork in the long narrow lane indicates the way towards the Narasimha temple. On the path towards Narasimha temple is a beautiful kalyani (tank) with various mantapas built during the patronage of several kings. The temple itself is quite plain in design but looks majestic in its location. It’s quite a climb to the top, but it is worth it because the views are breathtaking. 

The Cheluva Narayanaswamy temple below is at the end of a long serpentine road. The temple complex is quite vast. 

As you go past the Garuda stambha, you can see the processional deities worshipped on the left. Though the pillars of the main temple are not highly carved, the hall in front of the adjacent Tayar shrine is beautiful.

The periphery of the main temple houses images of the Alvars, Ramanuja and Krishnaraja Wodeyar with his three wives. Behind the temple complex is a huge badari (Indian date) tree which lends the name to the place - Dakshina Badari­kashrama. Apart from the temples, there are several kalyanis around the town.

Among them are twin tanks beyond the temple which is popularly known as ‘Akka Thangi’  tanks. While one of them is dirty, the other one has the sweetest water in the town! Right after these tanks you find the Sanskrit Research Centre of Melkote and beyond the town is Dhanushkodi, a place connected to Ramayana. 

There’s also the famous writer, Pu Ti Na’s home, in one of the bylanes of the town, maintained as a trust.

As I go around the town, I am amazed at the fact that the town still manages to maintain its old world charm while lending itself gracefully to development and keeping pace with technology. 

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