Exploring beyond the highway

Exploring beyond the highway

Markonahalli Dam is an interesting place to visit near Nagamangala. Photo by N S Ajay Kumara

While travelling from Bengaluru to Mangaluru, one has to bypass various small towns. Rarely does a traveller take time to explore these places. Nagamangala is one such town that looks nondescript at first sight. This portion of land is, however, a treasure trove for historians, travellers, art and architecture aficionados, photographers and even for pilgrims.

Hidden wonders

For the wanderer who does not want to leave the confines of the urban landscape for long, yet wishes to explore destinations that are breathtaking, the taluk of Nagamangala has plenty to offer. There are Jain basadis, architecturally-striking temples, hills and verdant landscape to gaze at. Unexposed, raw, teeming with culture, the region has seen development lately with better infrastructure being added to its kitty, and is slowly getting to be economically vibrant, putting it on the travel map.

Soumya Keshava Temple, which is at the heart of Nagamangala town and from where it is believed that Nagamangala derived its name, is dated back to the Hoysala time. The uniqueness of the temple is the carving of Adishesha sitting in a mandala form in the central hall. The serpent is seen on the ceiling of the central hall amidst shankhas. Interestingly, when seen from a different angle, from underneath, it appears to be an inverted lotus bud. Such is the beauty of the sculptures found here. The region has been a place of prominence since the times of Hoysalas and was politically and culturally an important area during the Vijayanagar rule. To date, one can find artisans making metal sculptures en route to the temple.

One of the many lesser-known places of interest here is a Jain temple that houses five garbhagrihas. It is located in the village of Kambadahalli, about 18 km west of Nagamangala. Heading west out of Nagamangala, one needs to take the Srirnagapatna-Jewargi road. As one turns on the meandering roads that have lush fields on either side, you enter a village with houses made of mud walls and thatched roofs. A small uphill ride and like the sight of the oasis to a wanderer in the desert, suddenly the magnificent basadis appear as a whole chunk, leaving you awe-struck! The village probably derives its name from the almost 30-foot-long pillar adjacent to the Panchakuta Jain Temple that has inscriptions dating back to the Vijayanagar kingdom. The inscriptions detail how the region was ruled and by whom.

This temple complex that stands in the middle of the village was found in a dilapidated condition and has been restored to its original glory by Archaeological Survey of India. The temple complex dates back to the Hoysala rule. The main temple has the idol of Lord Adinatha in black and the other shrines are dedicated to different thirthankaras. Each temple has six steps of construction, the first being aadisthana, which is like a foundation, then comes the bhitti or the wall, the kapota at lintel level, the griva which is not as wide as the kapota, kalashaand shikara.

The temples are a must-see for pilgrims heading down from Shravanabelagola. The Halthi Betta which is located close by would interest any adventure seeker. The scenic vistas that unveil as one ascends are worth the climb. A cave temple dedicated to Shiva is at the top of the hill. The Shivalinga lies at the end of the cave that has ankle-deep water, so one needs to wade through the water and the bat-infested cave to touch the Shivalinga.

Other interesting places in the region are Bindiganavile with a unique temple dedicated to Garuda, Markonahalli Dam and Sule Kere, which is a picturesque picnic spot. With art and history enthusiasts like Mohamed Kaleemullah, a high school teacher who is a walking encyclopedia of the region’s history, there is a ray of hope that there will be better awareness about the history and culture of this ancient land.

Having researched the history of Nagamangala and neighbouring areas, Kaleemullah has been instrumental in discovering and reinstating the lost glory of many temples, edicts, inscriptions and monuments to their former glory. The next time you travel on this road, be sure to keep your eyes open for the hidden wonders.