Srirangapatna, where history comes alive

Enveloped by the mighty Cauvery, the island of Srirangapatna is a stunning architectural hub of historical and religious monuments

Daria Daulat Bagh

Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep.” Those were the last words of Tipu Sultan who laid down his life defending his capital Srirangapatna against the British as he refused to escape through one of the secret passages in the fort. Hailed by some for his bravery and vilified by others for his tyranny, Tipu was, nonetheless, a prominent historical figure who spread his tentacles far and wide from this tiny island surrounded by River Cauvery.

Srirangapatna, or Seringapatam as the English called it, gets its name from the famous Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dating back to 817 AD. The temple boasts of one of the biggest idols of Ranganatha or Lord Vishnu in a reclining position, resting on a bed of the seven-headed serpent, Adi Sesha. At his foot is Goddess Lakshmi. The temple is called Adi Ranga, being the first in line of the five major pilgrim sites or ‘Pancharanga Kshetras’ of Vaishnavism on the banks of the Cauvery, the others being Srirangam, Kumbakonam, Trichy and Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu.

A seat of power

Initially the seat of power of the Vijayanagar empire from where neighbouring vassals like Mysuru and Talakadu were administered, Srirangapatna, its insignificant size of barely 13 km notwithstanding, has played a remarkable role in shaping history. In 1610, Raja Wodeyar of Mysuru overthrew the representative of Vijayanagar and shifted his capital to Srirangapatna, which would in the following years come under the control of Hyder Ali, the Nawab of Arcot, the Peshwas and the Marathas. However, it emerged as a powerful kingdom after Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan, ousted the Wodeyars and crowned himself the king of Mysuru.

From 1766 to 1799, the kingdom would witness four wars between the British East India Company and Mysuru, known as the Anglo-Mysore Wars. In the last war, called the Siege of Seringapatam, Tipu, who fought alongside the French, was killed by the British forces who restored the throne of Mysuru to the Wodeyar dynasty.

Srirangapatna Fort, originally constructed by Thimmanna Nayaka of the Vijayanagar empire and later modified by Tipu with the help of the French, was plundered by the British and most of the royal collections were transferred to England. One of his proud possessions, the sword of Tipu Sultan, was purchased by liquor baron Vijay Mallya at an auction some time ago and brought back to India. Tipu was buried next to his father in Gumbaz, a majestic mausoleum.

Gumbaz
Gumbaz

Gumbaz, built by Tipu in 1782-1784 to house the grave of his parents, stands on an elevated area overlooking a large garden, Lalbagh. The garden, which boasted of different species of trees collected by Tipu from Persia, Turkey and Afghanistan, was largely destroyed by British soldiers who had occupied it briefly. The original carved doors, which were smuggled out, are now displayed in a British museum. The mausoleum, which was in a dilapidated condition, was renovated in 1855 under the orders of the then Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, who also donated an exquisite ebony door embedded with ivory.

Remnants of a ruler

Another monument of Tipu era is the Daria Daulat Bagh, also called the Summer Palace, which was constructed soon after Hyder Ali captured the Mysuru kingdom in the 18th century. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the walls are painted with floral motifs and scenes from different battles. Masjid-e-Ala or the Jama Masjid, built by Tipu after he ascended the Mysuru throne, also merits a visit.

While the stamp of Tipu, popularly called the Tiger of Mysuru, is found all over Srirangapatna, the town is also an important destination for Hindus. Every year, thousands visit the Nimishamba Temple on the banks of the Cauvery in the village of Ganjam nearby. An incarnation of Goddess Parvathi, Nimishamba is so called because she is believed to solve the problems of her devotees, especially long-pending marriage issues, within one minute. The temple was constructed by Raja Wodeyar after he captured Srirangapatna from the Vijayanagar empire.

Also in the neighborhood is the Triveni Sangam where Hindus immerse the ashes of the dead, and offer prayers. The ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were also immersed here. You could also wash off your sins by taking a dip at Paschima Vahini — this is where Cauvery takes a turn to the west — or simply watch the lazy river at Dodda Ghosai Ghat. Before you venture out for swimming, be warned that some of these spots with their whirlpools could be quite dangerous.

River Cauvery also hosts an impressive bridge supported by an array of stone pillars. Built in 1804 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar under the supervision of Diwan Purnaiah in honour of Lord Wellesley, the then governor-general, the bridge, though now in a dilapidated condition, has withstood the ravage of floods for over a century.

Other attractions

After his retirement, Purnaiah spent the rest of his life at Lord Harris’s House which was earlier occupied by General Harris after Srirangapatna fell to the British in 1799. Days before his death in 1812, Purnaiah wrote to his good friend Col Hill, commandant of Srirangapatna, “Old and infirm, after a life of unusual activity, I am going to the land of my fathers.” Col Hill responded, “Say, I am travelling on the same road,” and breathed his last a short while after the Diwan. The other places of interest in the vicinity include Scott’s Bungalow and Bailey’s Dungeon.

Lord Harris Residence
Lord Harris Residence

Another must-visit place is Karighatta, a hill which stands at 2,697 ft above sea level, located on the outskirts of the town. Atop the hill is a small temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is also called Bairagi Venkataramana. It is said that the deity resembles a ‘bairagi’ or mendicant when decorated with flowers. This is a picturesque location and on a clear day, the hill offers an enchanting view of Srirangapatna and its imposing monuments.

Srirangapatna is just a speck on the map of Karnataka and it does not take more than a day to explore the island. During the few hours that you are here, you will travel back several centuries and relive the rich historical, cultural, religious and architectural heritage left behind by its rulers. Srirangapatna is a little bundle full of incredible experiences. Good things often come in small packages.

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Srirangapatna, where history comes alive

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