By the river, in the sand

By the river, in the sand

In the ancient town of Talakadu, history, faith, myth and architecture mingle magically, writes Chitra Ramaswamy, as she lists out the many attractions of the place

Keerti Narayana Temple, Talakadu

Enamoured with the history, myths and architectural beauty of the temples associated with Talakadu, we decide to cover the pentad of temples associated with Panchalinga Darshan, a 12-yearly event which is observed on New Moon Day in the month of Karthika, and which last occurred in 2018. The five temples in the circuit comprise the Vaidyanatheshwara, Pathaleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arakeshwara and Mudukuthore Mallikarjuneshwara temples, the lingas of which are believed to represent the five faces of Lord Shiva.

A spiritual oasis

Talakadu, a spiritual oasis in sandy environs that once boasted over 30 temples, is replete with history and intriguing legends. We begin our tour of the temple town with a visit to Mudukuthore Mallikarjuna Temple. Simians are all over, on our way up. We dodge and brave them to make our way up. A couple of stately Nandis flank Lord Shiva on the main temple tower which leads to a spacious courtyard that hosts a tall dhwajasthamba, and has separate shrines for the Lord and Goddess. There are smaller shrines honouring navagrahas and other deities.

Mudukuthore, meaning ‘turn and flow forward’ in Kannada, is a tranquil village whose name is associated with a fascinating tale. It is widely held that Sage Kapila who was travelling South, halted here for a brief period during which he prayed to the west-flowing Cauvery river to change its course and stream eastward to benefit the inhabitants of the region. The benevolent Cauvery miraculously acquiesced and transformed its course.

Mallikarjuna Temple lends itself to another interesting story. Legend has it that a well-fed cow belonging to a farmer in the area would empty its udder on a mound at the 200-feet-high Somagiri hillock nearby, and yield nothing to the farmer. The puzzled cowherd followed the cow one day on its jaunt and observed its act. Unaware of the presence of a shivalinga on which the cow emptied the milk, the angry farmer, whipped the bovine from behind. Scared by the suddenness of the blow, the cow jumped and one of its foot landed on top of the linga. As a result, its footprints became embedded on the crown of the linga, which, according to the temple priest, is visible to date. A temple for Shiva was subsequently built on the spot and he came to be known as Mallikarjuna because Arjuna offered prayers to him with the mallika flowers when the Pandavas halted here during their years of exile.

Legends say...

Vaidyanatheshwara Swamy Temple
Vaidyanatheshwara Swamy Temple

According to the most popular story associated with its name, Talakadu derives from the twin hunter brothers, Tala and Kadu. When they saw elephants worship a silk cotton tree, driven by curiosity, they axed the tree. To their utter shock and dismay, blood began gushing from it. They realised they had struck a shivalinga. The brothers earnestly repented their act and begged forgiveness. Miraculously, the blood turned into milk and they heard a divine voice instructing them to drink the milk, and dress the wound they had caused, with the leaves and fruits of the tree.

The linga soon healed and the brothers attained moksha. The Lord, thus, came to be known as Vaidyanatheshwara and the place came to be called Talakadu after the brothers. A pair of sculpted stone images, representative of Tala and Kadu, stands guard at the entranceway of the sanctum of Veerabhadra Swamy Temple, a small shrine next to Vaidyanatheshwara Swamy Temple.

The saga of the famous Talakadu curse unfolds in this sand-ridden region and goes back to the 17th century when the region passed hands from Tirumala Raya, a governor of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire to the Mysore Wodeyar dynasty. It has fascinated generations of historians, geologists and archaeologists because it coincided with the period in history when the Cauvery suddenly changed course!

With the decline of the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagara rulers exercised their sovereignty over Talakadu. Tirumala Raja governed the region from Srirangapatna. When he fell seriously sick, he left his spouse Alamelamma in charge of governance and proceeded to Talakadu to be healed by the divine grace of Lord Vaideeswara. Raja Wodeyar of Mysore, who was following an expansionist policy, saw this as an opportunity and not only wrested power from Alamelamma, but also coveted some priceless jewels she possessed. An angry Alamelamma threw the jewels into a raging Cauvery near Malingi. Before drowning, she is believed to have cursed that Talakadu should turn into a sandy desert, that Malingi should become a whirlpool, and that the Mysore kings would beget no heirs.

As providence would have it, Talakadu was soon buried in sand, and with it, its plethora of temples. Also, there were no natural heirs to succeed the Wodeyar rulers. On a more rational note, however, according to numismatic and archaeological evidence, the Cauvery is believed to have changed course in the 17th century when the river deposited its sands on the bank where Talakadu emerged. At the same time, it eroded the opposite bank upon which the town of Malingi was located. While geologists continue to be flummoxed by this enigmatic phenomenon, plausible factors that have given rise to this miraculous occurrence include the progressive deforestation of the area, the building of the 14th-century Madhav Mantri Dam on the Cauvery at Hemmige, 4 km from Talakadu, and the significant upheavals involving a north-eastern shift of the BR Hills region.

Coracle-riding in Jaladhama, Talakadu
Coracle-riding in Jaladhama, Talakadu

Temple tour

Giddy-headed from the mind-boggling stories we hear, we continue with our temple tour. The sculptural richness of Vaideeswara Temple, a granite structure built by Raja Raja I in the Dravidian style, leaves us mesmerised. It comprises nritya mantapa, navaranga, sukhanasini and garbha griha. The main door leading to the main sanctum is guarded by a couple of mammoth dwarapalakas. These statues immediately catch our attention as, strangely enough, their torsos are carved in the shape of a cow and bull, believed to be representative of the legendary brothers Tala and Kadu.

We trudge painfully on the dune trail from here to Pataleeswara Temple. We descend a flight of steps to come upon the shrine. The shivalinga, also known as Vasukeeswara, enjoys the distinction of changing colour — appearing red in the morning, black in the afternoon and white at night! After offering due obeisance to the Lord here, we continue the sandy walk towards Maraleshwara Temple, very similar in structure to the Pataleeswara shrine.

While we are on our way to Maraleswara Temple, our attention is diverted by Keerti Narayana Temple which stands in all majesty with a sea of sand circumscribing it. The magnificent Hoysala period temple was built by King Vishnuvardhana to commemorate his victory over the Cholas. Mounted on a pedestal, Lord Keerti Narayana is portrayed holding the discus, conch, lotus and mace in his four hands. In one of the niches in the sanctum is the rare image of Visvaksena.

On our way from Maraleshwara, we stop to worship the iconic six-armed Goddess Chowdeshwari, seated on a lion in her sanctum. We wind our Talakadu trip with a visit to Arakeswara shrine on the bank of Uttara Vahini or north-flowing Cauvery at Vijayapura.

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