Poetry of Stones – Vijaynagara Temple II: Talakadu

Legend has it that once upon a time, there were two brother – Tala and Kadu who decided to cut down a tree that was being worshipped by elephants. And in that process, the tree started bleeding. Then, a voice ordered them to heal it using its leaves. After the tree was restored, the blood turned into milk, which the brothers drank and attained moksha. Since then, the town came to be known as Talakadu. But beyond the lore behind its name, the remote town used to be known as Gangavadi, home to the Gangas between the second half of 4th century and 1004 AD. Typical to the politics of the region, the shift of pwer took pace to the Cholas under the rule of Raja Raja I (985-1014 AD), and then the Hoysalas under the reign of Vishnuvardhan. All the power play behind a remote town sheds light to an interesting story that many localites believe to be the reason why the entire town is submerged under a layers of sand.

After the fall of Hoysalas, Talakad came under the rule of Vijaynagara empire. During the reign of Venkata I, his nephew Tirumala Raja was the viceroy of Srirangapatna, while his counterpart Raja Wodeyar I (1578-1617) was expanding his domain beyond Mysore. It is said that, Tirumala was afflicted with an incurable disease and had retreated to Talakad to pray, leaving behind his wife Rangamma as the ruler incharge. Sensing an opportunity, Raja Wodeyar I decided to add Srirangapatna to his kingdom. For some reason, other than the annexation of Srirangapatna, the king of Mysore was very interested in the priceless nose-ring of Rangamma. To prevent such a dishonour, Rangamma decided to sacrifice herself with her nose-ring at Cauvery near Malingi. But before jumping into the river, she uttered a three-fold curse – “Talakadu Maralagi, Malangi Maduvagi, Mysooru Arasarige Makkalagadirali.” It translates to – “Let Talakadu become sand, let Malangi become a whirlpool, let the Mysore Rajas fail to beget heirs.” Strange but somehow true to the curse, the city of Talakad was soon buried in sand. Nearly 30 temples are believed to be buried here. For the Wodeyar dynasty, Srirangapatna and Mysore passed into the hands of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan from 1761 to 1799. And none of the Wodeyar heirs are said to be direct descendants of the Wodeyar dynasty.

Lores are quite remarkable in the way it makes an impression doesn’t it? Realistically speaking, the sand dunes are an unique phenomenon of nature.  It is generally believed that the temples were entombed under a pile of riverine sand dunes during the ‘ecodisaster’ that lashed the region in the 17th century. Geomorphic changes manifested in the form of shifting of river courses consequent with the rise of the sediment mound also indicate uplift-related earth movements which must have ensued repeated earthquakes in the region. But all the fancy word doesn’t remove the allure of the curse and its three-fold effect.

Despite the multiple rulers, each dynasty left their own impression on the town; while most of the rulers of the Ganga dynasty were Jains whereas the Cholas and the Hoysalas were Saivaites and Vaishnavites. Except for the Vaideshwar temple which was built by Raja Raja I, all the other temples were under sand dunes. The Central Archaeological Department have so far excavated the temples of Pataleswara, Maraleswara, Anandeswara, Arkeswara, Gauri Shankar, Kirti Narayana and Chowdeswari from the mounds of sands that are still very muct part of the town’s geography and folklore. According to the findings of the excavation, there are a cluster of ancient temples, mostly in dilapidated condition, which were presumably built during the time-period dating back between 6th and 17th century AD. Together with Vaideshwar, Pataleswara, Maraleswara, Arkeswara and Mallikarjuna temples are said to constitue the Panchalingas and are believed to represent the five faces of Shiva.

The dusty landscape didn’t deter us for hiring a tour guide. And beyond the excavation stories, he did impart some other interesting anecdotes. Vaideshwar Temple is the largest and the most intact of the lot of shrines here and depicts the Ganga-Chola-Hoysala architectural features. A popular story as recounted by the priest is that the idol here represents Lord Shiva in a form when he was hurt by two hunters named Tala and Kada after whom Talakadu is named, who unknowingly aimed at the Lord.  It is believed that he applied sandalwood paste to heal himself of the wound and hence got the name Vaidyanatha with the term Vaidya meaning Doctor in Sanskrit. That’s the reason why the idol is always decorated with a patch of sandalwood paste even to this day. Further, the faces of the figurines of the 10-ft tall Dwarapalakas on either sides of the temple entrance represent the navarasa forms Rudra (anger) and Shantha (peace), while the region around their bellies look like a bull’s face. Some infact relate to the Deva gana and Rakshasa gana. The sculpture of bull’s face is supposed to reiterate the story of the two hunters Tala and Kadu.

Compared to the Hoysala counterparts that we have covered, the temple is definitely very austere and less ornate. The navranga has ordinary ceiling panels except for the central one which showcases Shiva leela. Neverthless, there are some unique bas reliefs all around the temple. One just have to have patience and not get into the habit of comparing with other temples.

Being an active temple, you are not allowed to photograph the main shrine, but the linga is attractively posed next to his consort Manomaniamba. Interestingly, statue of Nandi, a typical feature of Shiva temple, is seen placed on a trapezoid structure located diagonally to the main shrine.

Of the other four Panchalingas, Pataleswara and Maraleswara are surrounded by sand dunes. The Kirti Narayana temple is located as depth of 20 feet below and is quite huge as a complex. The Mahadwara of the temple strangely reminded me of the famous Hampi rock chariot, maybe silently indicating towards a connection to the Vijayanagara dynasty?!! Who knows, a convoluted history often gets lost in translation! Honestly, by the time we reached this temple, especially after trekking through mounds of sand, I had lost my patience to explore any further. But it is said the shrine holds the statue of Kirti Narayana measuring 8-ft tall and with a unique representation of Vishnu.

Pro Tip:

Somnathapur is at a distance of 1 hrs (35 km) away from Mysore. From Somnathapur, Talakadu is 25 kms away (40 mins). I had made Mysore as my base for 5 days owing to the Dussera celebrations, hence I decided to combine Talkadu with Somnathapur and Srirangapatnam as a day trip and rented a car.

Further readings:

Well, Poetry of Stones is going to be another active series of mine, where large temple related to pertinenet dynasties (and of course my interest of making it part of the series) will be featured in detail. While the quest goes on, here are the remaining members of the series:

The Hoysala series:

The Vijayanagara series:


Related (and not-so related) Posts:


Karnataka

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