Tamarind grove's secrets

Heritage


Forgotten treasures...The ruined Gopalaswamy temple at Nallur dates back to the 14th century. Below: The Krishna carving. Photos by Meera Iyer

The epithet garden city may not apply to Bangalore anymore, but green patches still dot the countryside even around the city. One such is the famous sacred tamarind grove at Nallur, a village about eight km from Devanahalli town. And what makes this hotspot even more precious is an abandoned but still appealing medieval temple that graces the grove.

Nallur is known primarily for its great and gnarled tamarind trees, most of which reminded me of ents from Tolkien’s world. The grove covering about 30 acres has a little over 150 trees and is under the care of the Forest Department. Most are said to be over 300 years old. According to environmentalists, the grove has a variety of tamarind that is endemic to the area and hence constitutes a unique gene pool that needs to be protected. In fact, Nallur is now listed as a biodiversity hotspot by the Biodiversity Board of the state government.

Tales around tamarind giants

And of course, like everywhere else in India, there is a colourful story to explain the presence of these green giants. A forest guard in Nallur told us of how there was once a large fort which gave the town the name Nallur Kote Patna.

The chieftain’s daughter had her heart set on the ruler at Devanahalli. But because her father was against the match, the stage was set for a battle. The princess sent her beloved a note telling him that the only way into the fort was through a tank outside the fort, which would have to be drained to gain entry. This the prince and his army did, and then the prince and princess were married and presumably lived happily ever after.

Later, another villager told us much the same story, but added that the princess’ father, sensing danger, buried all his gold jewellery. Along with his treasure, he is also said to have planted tamarind seeds so that he could remember where his treasures lay buried. And that was how the Nallur tamarind grove came to be.
The grove is believed to be sacred and hence remains fairly well protected. Adding to the sanctity of the place are two temples within the grove. One, a Gangamma temple that lies a few metres off the main road, has recently been completely renovated, leaving hardly any traces of its origins. The second is a dilapidated Gopalaswamy temple which lies hidden about half a kilometre off the road, behind some scrub.

Ruins in the wilderness

The sight of an ancient temple falling apart for want of care is tragic. The temple presents a rather forlorn appearance with no roof and part of its walls caving in.
And yet the forsaken temple has a certain charm, partly thanks to the exquisite bas relief along its outer walls, but also perhaps because there is a certain irresistible allure to ruins in the wilderness.

Anuradha V, who teaches history at Maharani’s College in Bangalore and who has researched temples in and around Bangalore, explains that the frieze along the temple walls depicts episodes from Krishna’s life. One panel shows a dancing Krishna, another a mischievous Krishna sitting in a tree as two distraught gopis in the water beg him for their clothes, yet another shows Krishna dancing on the snake Kaliya.
My favourite was the depiction of Krishna eating butter, in which the sculptor has skillfully managed to convey innocence on an endearing Krishna’s face.

Dates back to 14th century

No inscriptions are found in or near the temple, nor do inscriptions elsewhere refer to its construction. Popular opinion assigns the temple to the Chola period (hence between 900-1000 years old). 

However, both Anuradha and S K Aruni, Assistant Director, Indian Council of Historical Research, say this temple clearly dates from the 14th century, and stylistically belongs to the early Vijayanagar phase.

Aruni points out how, for example, the panel that shows Krishna and Radha dancing in raas, with Radha’s long plait of hair and every frill on her dress astonishingly delineated, is an exquisite example of a typically Vijayanagar style of sculpture.
“This sculptural work recalls that in the Ramachandra temple at Hampi,” he says. Aruni adds that the construction style, for example, the form of the pilasters, is also typical of Vijayanagar temples of the 14th century.

Scattered around the temple are bits and pieces of pillars and columns that seem to have come from the temple.

Inside the temple lies a beheaded statue of Durga in her avatar where she quells Mahishasura. But it seems that though the tamarind trees in the sacred grove around the temple are protected by taboos and beliefs in evil spirits, the ruined temple itself is not: Anuradha recalls a Narasimha figure lying in the vicinity of the temple when she visited it a couple of years ago.

This sadly, is missing today. I wondered if it perhaps graces some collector’s drawing room somewhere.

As I left the ruin, I wondered how much would be left of the beautiful little temple the next time I visited. 

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