Just another port town? Think again

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Just another port town? Think again

IN RUINS: Although the Katthale basadi has been declared a national monument by the ASI, nothing much has been done to preserve the structure. Photo by the author

Located at a distance of 15 kms from Udupi, Barkur has a special place in the political and cultural history of Karnataka. Historians point out that this town had a whopping 365 temples at one point in time. It is said that the royal family, which ruled the place, visited the temple every day — a veritable celebration. The village was aptly called Nithyothsavada Nadu (the land where everyday is a celebration). Sadly, over a period of time, most of the temples in Barkur have been ruined. Now, the town has a mere 30 temples, within a radius of two to three kilometres.

Initially, Barkur gained prominence under Pandya rulers. The illustrious Boothala Pandya ruled for 75 years and ushered in an era of peace and prosperity here. The town was also under the rule of Kadambas of Banavasi, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, and the Vijayanagara dynasty at different points in time.

Barkur was the provincial capital of Hoysalas, and reached its peak during the Vijayanagara rule. At this point, the port was a commercial hub on the west coast. It was a gateway of business to Africa, Afghanistan, Asia Minor, Greek and Roman Empires as well as Egypt. In addition, the port was widely used for import and export of cargo while horses were imported from Arabia by sea. Furthermore, it prospered under the rule of the Vijayanagara dynasty for almost 350 years and this period was known as the ‘golden age’ of the province.
Subsequently, the reigns of Barkur fell into the hands of Keladi rulers followed by Hyder Ali of Mysore. With the defeat of Tippu Sultan in 1799, Barkur came under British rule and lost its importance.

Spiritually speaking
Barkur also had a lot of spiritual significance attached to it. It is said that Shankaracharya, the spiritual leader, who is credited with the birth of Advaita philosophy visited Barkur from Keladi en route to Kollur. Madhvacharya who built eight monasteries (Ashta Mutts) and Udupi’s Shree Krishna Temple in the 13th century, also built Bhandarakeri Mutt at Barkur around the same period. It is also believed that Vikramaditya of Ujjaini visited Barkur often.

Today, a few temples dot its landscape with communities including Billava, Konkani, Ganiga, Pujari, Mogaveera, Dalit and Viswakarma having their temples. The centre of Barkur, called Kalchapra, is a small shelter made of stone (kal-stone, chapra-shelter). Take a deviation to your left from here, and you are led to the car street of the village. The Panchalingeshwara temple located on this street is considered the main temple. Facing this temple are Chippi Anjaneya, Batte Vinayaka and Kalabhairaveshwara temples. At a short distance from here is the Simhasana Gudda. It’s said that this was where King Bhutala Pandya’s palace was located. The Anjaneya temple here is called Aramane Anjaneya Temple. Also, there is a shami tree (known as banni tree, botanical name Prosopis spicigera) in the premises of the Bana Mahakali Temple. These stand as testimony to the belief that a palace stood here once, points the priest of the Mahakali temple.

Temples like Panchalingeshwara on car street, Bhairava Ganapathi at Chowlikere, Somanatha and Someshwara still retain the beauty of a bygone era. These temples made of fine stone carvings are worth a visit. See them for their architecture and spiritual significance.
Call them strong too. Pillars of Bhairava Ganapathi temple, for instance are still solid and majestic. Apart from the temples in and around Barkur, one can see Jain places of worship known as basadis. One such interesting structure is known as Katthale basadi. Located in the heart of Barkur, this basadi is in a state of ruin and a portion of the structure has already disappeared. There are two similar structures with a small entrance behind this basadi. The ASI has declared these structures as protected monuments.  

Matrilineal inheritance system
Around two kms away from Kalchapra — the centre of the village, is an area called Bennekudru, which houses a temple dedicated to Kula Masti Amma, deity of the fishing community (Mogaveeras). Bennekudru is located on the banks of the river Seetha and has a breathtaking view. The village is also credited with being home to the system of matrilineal inheritance. Boothala Pandya is said to be responsible for the matrilineal inheritance system commonly known as Aliyasanthana or Aliyakattu practised by some communities in this region. The system is widely practised among three major communities namely Bunts, Billavas and Jains. 

A place that has so much will definitely haunt you days after your visit. How can a village like this, full of such rich political and cultural history, just end up being just another non-descript village? Adding to the sad state of affairs is the condition of the Katthale basadi. Although it has been declared a national monument by the Archeological Survey of India, nothing much seems to be done either by the state or central government to preserve this structure or promoting tourism in Barkur.

Travel tips
The nearest airport is Mangalore, 75 kms from Barkur. From Mangalore, one can reach Barkur via Udupi and Brahmavar, on NH17, but the road is in a bad condition. From Brahmavar, take a deviation towards the right and travel three kilometres to reach Barkur. Frequent buses ply on this route. One can even hire an auto rickshaw from Brahmavar to Barkur. Barkur also has a railway station on the Konkan Rail route.  
Local sightseeing is possible either by walking around the hamlet or by hiring an autorickshaw. South Indian food is available at a few hotels.

Accommodation: You may have to explore nearby places like Brahmavara, Kundapura or Udupi.

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