The lost glory of Bangadi


The lost glory of Bangadi

The Banga arasas of Bangadi once ruled the coastal region of the State with much pomp and glory. Their fascinating history is peppered with awe-inspiring incidents, writes B V Prakash, back from a trip to the now-obscure town.

Centuries ago, the coastal region of the State was home to many a dynasty that flourished in the area. Called Tulunadu, or the Tulu-speaking land, this region has a rich history and enjoyed a glorious period during which different kings ruled as feudatories of the Hoysala and the Vijayanagar empire.

Living along the fertile belt of River Netravathi and its tributaries, flanked by the pristine forests of the Western Ghats, these dynasties saw their heydays.

Of these, the most successful lineage was that of the Banga arasas who held power for about 800 long years from the 12th Century to the early 20th Century. The peak of their golden period was during the reign of Kamaraya Bangaraja Odeya in the 15th Century, as per courtesan Vijayavarni’s lucid description of the wealth and prosperity of the times, in an account. There were towns, forts and palaces besides a well-organised army to protect the kingdom. Cultivation of paddy and spices was abundant and trade flourished. There were merchants selling precious metals, sculptors, artists and even philosophers among the populace.

But the golden period did not last too long. A general decline befell the rulers successively, and the forts fell to ruin. Being ruled predominantly by Jain kings, the few basadis built by them survived. Now, with timely renovations, they have been brought back to life and they stand as a legacy of the bygone Banga dynasty.

Today, the small town of Bangadi, about 15 km north of Belthangady in Dakshina Kannada district, which was once the seat of power, has been relegated to an obscure village, quiet and peaceful.
Its only link to its earlier history is a simple looking palace of the last of the Banga arasas. The descendants of the kings do reside there today, and courteously welcome travellers and history buffs.

Legend of the Banga arasas

Arriving on a bright sunny morning, I was politely greeted by a grand old but energetic man, Sri Raviraja Ballal. At 92, he is the last of the descendants of the dynasty. He was happy to satiate my curiosity about the palace and its antecedents. Thus, over a cup of coffee, he unfolded the life and times of the Banga arasas.

It was during the 12th Century, when small kingdoms were being ruled by local chiefs, that Banga arasas came to power by subduing the Nandavar kings. Though Raviraja Ballal believes that the origin of the Banga arasas could be from the Bengal of today, he hastens to add that only a historical research can confirm its veracity. Continuing, he says a long line of successive rulers followed and the dynasty thrived. The rulers built a few basadis, as also some temples.

However, the rulers who inherited the kingdom, over time, faced frequent battles and could not prosper, and thus the kingdom began to decline; so also the monuments, forts and basadis.
There was a fort in the northern part of the town with a basadi for Shantinatha and was called Kote Shantinatha. Both the fort and the shrine were ruined. The basadi found in the town was built in 15th Century. It is a large complex with shrines of Padmaprabha and other thirthankaras, besides a statue of Kshetrapala.

Miracle of the floating boulder

Hardly a kilometre away from Bangadi is another interesting shrine called Shravana Gunda Basadi. It is said that some 2,000 years ago, a saint named Chaarana Muni used to perform penance here. During that time, atheists were suppressing the religious fervour, and to renew the belief of the people, it was ordained to create a miracle. Brahma Yaksha appeared here one day and performed a miracle wherein a small round boulder was made to float on water. Thereafter, the shrine became famous, with thousands of people visiting it regularly. “Even I saw the miracle once,” says Raviraj.

However, as all good things come to an end, in 1954, he said the boulder submerged in the well, taking along with it the legend. What remains there now is a mantapa, the footprints of the saint, and a dense growth of trees.

The last Banga arasa, who ruled from 1889 to 1926, had a long title of Srimadveera Narasimha Lakshmapparasa Bangaraja Odeya. And it was he who built the present palace — a typical two-storeyed, tiled structure — in 1901.

After the coronation ritual stopped with him, the title of Bangaraja was discontinued and the descendants came to be known as Ballals. As his fascinating narration came to an end, he showed me around the palace and urged me to visit the basadis, which I did promptly.

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