World of blacksmiths, words of mystery and science

World of blacksmiths, words of mystery and science

Halagur in Malavalli taluk, Mandya is surrounded by popular tourist spots like Shivanasamudra, Shimsha, Muthathi, Bheemeshwari and Basavanabetta. This region is steeped in mystery that combines mythology, history and science.

It’s said that during the medieval period, the twin villages of Halagur-Chillapur witnessed technological advances thanks to the Vishwakarma people (blacksmiths), as they mined and produced weapons. 

According to historians, the Vishwakarmas consolidated at Halagur-Chillapur under the leadership of Manvachari in the 12th century. Subsequently, Kaloj became the king. He was an alchemist with expertise in converting iron into gold.

Kaloj ruled the twin cities along with his four brothers. Together, the Panchalas manufactured weapons and canons from the iron mined from nearby areas. These weapons were in great demand.

The Panchalas were devoted to the purpose of manufacturing weapons and neglected the agriculture community’s requirement for equipment, which led to social and financial inequalities in the kingdom.

Agriculture came to a standstill and a drought-like situation prevailed. Farmers were in distress and agitated. The kingdom stepped into chaos. 

Even Kaloj’s father-in-law Muddoji revolted against him and moved out of Halagur and settled down in Nidaghatta, in the present Mandya district.

While leading a life of a commoner, he found gold and fell into good fortunes. He established his own capital and his associates manufactured only agriculture tools. His son Kempachari learned the ways of a blacksmith and was a disciple of the spiritual saint Manteswamy, who hoped to persuade the Panchalas to give up making war weapons. 

Kempachari, on Manteswamy’s advice, took up a 12-year-long tapasya in a  cave in Kunduru betta near Malavalli. Then, as Siddappaji, he set out to carry out the saint’s task.

On an occasion, Siddappaji entered the guarded magnetic fort at Halaguru as a bangle-seller. Eventually after a series of events, Kaloj realised Siddappaji’s strength, surrendered to him, and gave up all his wealth. He became Siddappaji’s disciple and sang folk songs that highlighted Manteswamy and Siddappaji’s vision.

Kaloj even wrote an episode, Nilagara Vidhi Chandrike, under the name Ghanneela. He even sent all his wealth to the Yadukula Dynasty’s Maharaja of Mysore. That was the end of the mighty Panchala’s rule.

Engineer-turned-historian K P Swamy has written Siddappaji, The Disciple of Manteswamy, a novel based on folklore, gazetteer, epigraphs, notes and scientific texts.

The revolution that Siddappaji brought about finds a unique place in the country’s medieval history. Siddappaji ended his journey at Chikkallur in Muttatti forest, Kollegal
taluk. Today, it is a place of worship.

Halagur again got into the spotlight during the rule of Tipu Sultan. The main source of iron for Srirangapatna, his capital, was sent from Halagur. Tipu manufactured war weapons to fight the British. It’s a known fact that the sword blades were sheared by the British as part of the disarmament drive following the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

The Halagur-Chillapur stretch of land between Basavanabetta (Malavalli) and Yamanabetta (Kunigal) is endowed with huge magnetite-ore deposits (iron ore).

Dr Francis Hamilton Buchanan, who travelled in this region between 1800 and 1801, visited several iron ore (magnetite ore) mines and saw the manufacturing of the world-famous crucible steel.

Geologists H K Slater (1901) and Balaji Rao (1907) have reported the occurrence of iron ore in the region and large-scale mining that took place in Malavalli and Maddur.

I have rediscovered stretches of magnetite ore where megalithic structures called cromlechs are commemorative memorials for mining heroes.

In India, archaeologists trace these to the Iron Age going back to 2000 BC. Historians record the production of high-carbon wootz steel or crucible steel by the blacksmiths of Halagur and neighbouring areas.

The unrusted, millennia-old iron pillar, iron bars, hammers in the Siddappaji temple at Halagur and an iron plate (kadagatte) at Chillapur are proof to the blacksmith’s talent. 

(The author is former chief geophysicist of Mines and Geology Department, Government of Karnataka)

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