Shrouded in mystery

HERITAGE

Shrouded in mystery

Any Bangalorean need not go as far as Rome or as reasonably-near as Talakad to see an excavated site of architectural marvel. Just make a visit to the old-time locality of Malleswaram in the heart of Bangalore, and here on 17th cross, an excavated marvel stands proud and tall.

It was in the late 1990s, that I heard about this unbelievable find. Living just round the corner, I made a visit to this place, and the excavated structure wrapped me in a whiff of disbelief. “How can such an ancient structure be found after these many years in Malleswaram?” Twelve years hence, the mystery still remains unexplained and demystified.

The architectural find is the Nandeeshwara Temple. This temple was discovered accidentally in the year 1997 during an underground excavation for the construction of a house. It is not clear when the temple got submerged under layers of soil, but it has stood a trying 7000 years (according to some versions) at the same spot. What is even more marvellous is the fact that, its aura has not diminished much, even after being buried for years. According to residents living nearby, the temple was buried in its entirety by layers and layers of ground, and the land above it was a straight and flat stretch.

Story behind the excavation
The story is fascinating and goes as follows - in 1997, there were plans to sell away the plot on which the temple now stands. People in the neighbourhood objected to it on the grounds that the land should first be dug up to see if they could find anything deep under, before selling it.

After some hesitation from the person who wanted to sell it away, the digging work did begin, and as they dug deeper and deeper, they unearthed something magnanimous which donned the shape of a temple. And to people’s amazement, it indeed was a temple, buried underneath in a near-perfect condition, preserved by the thick layers of soil. 

Even the surrounding stone-cut courtyard which was enclosing this underground temple was in a good condition. The courtyard was supported by ancient stone pillars and at the far end; one could see a statue of a Nandi, which was carved out of black stone with eyes painted in a golden hue.

What made it mysterious was the sight where people saw clear water pouring continuously, from the mouth of the Nandi’s statue, on to the top of the shivalinga’s idol, which was right below it.

The shivalinga was also made out of the same black stone, and was one level lower (two-tier structure). The positioning  is also distinctly different compared to the usually seen  images in a Shiva temple - where the Nandi is right opposite the idol of shivalinga, outside the temple, at a distance.

From this sanctum there were steps that led to a small pool (tank) called the Kalyani. Located in the centre of the courtyard, this Kalyani was intact. This is where the water flowed down from the shivalinga and got collected. People could even see the 15-feet-deep whirlpool at the centre of the Kalyani soon after the excavation. It is a wonder how most parts of this temple survived damage or destruction.

State of the temple today
Everything remains the same even today. And the mystery is as fresh and unexplored as it was in 1997. No one knows how there is a continuous flow of water from the Nandi’s mouth to the idol. No one knows about the source of water to its mouth and how it passes from the mouth on to the shivalinga. No one knows how the whirlpool came into being.

Everything here remains a mystery - the source of water, the passage, the sculptor, and even the time during which this temple was built. Many hypotheses exist. Some say the water source could be the Sankey tank as it happens to be directly in the line of, and at a higher level from this temple, and when it comes to the period of its construction, some say the temple was built by Chatrapathi Shivaji, while others say, it is older than that.
Regardless of these, the one thing that they were sure of was that, the temple had remained untouched over the years. It was believed that the temple was exactly as it might have been before it was covered by soil. The controversy surrounding it did lead to a legal case initially; however since it was an ancient temple of great heritage, the government took over and preserved it.

I could see the subtle, yet appropriate improvements that have been made to this structure between 1999 and now.
The walls which had leakages and had started rotting have all been plugged and painted again. The area is cleaner and better maintained with the smell having faded away.
The best part is that no one has tampered with the original structure. Even the Kalyani  is not cleaned of its green moss - there are quite a few turtles swimming around too.

Owners’ pride
Though Malleswaram boasts of many temples, none of them are as mysterious and attractive as the Nandeeshwara temple. Huge crowds come to see the temple all day long - and it gets overwhelming on the day of Shivaratri.                                                                                        
I sat down inside the temple arena watching the serene Nandi for a long time- with a deep admiration for the unidentified sculptor’s ingenuity. I looked at the pace of the turtles coming out now and then in the hope of being fed by devotees. I pondered over the temple’s unknown history and appreciated the 11-member committee in Malleswaram which takes care of this temple relentlessly, ensuring the mystery and the magic are intact!             

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