December 01, 2015

Talakadu, Mysore, Karnataka

“I travelled a lot once, but you can go on doing that and not get anywhere. Wherever you go or whatever you do, most of your life will have to happen in your mind. And there’s no escape from that little room!”
– Ruskin Bond, “Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra” (1991)

A city, no matter how miniscule or how fervently explored, can rarely ever be entirely depleted of its numerous spellbinding tales – some endearingly regaling, others unforgettably horrific, almost all of them ceaselessly striving to explain the commissioning of a medieval edifice, or the continuation of an ancient custom, or the destruction and devastation of others. Nor can a city ever truly be exhausted of its myriad visual compositions, gratifying gastronomic corners and haunting portraitures both of the melancholy of socio-economic oppressions and the sudden brimming jovialness of life that it is undeniably composed of. And an individual even ever so slightly grazed by the travel-bug can rarely ever stop seeking not just the magnificent edifices and the mouthwatering gastronomic hubs but also the perplexing folktales and the seemingly implausible myths for one gradually dawns on the blissful enlightenment that every single place, no matter how superficially regular or conventionally unstimulating, is always brimming just slightly below the surface with a perennial supply of bewildering lore and the remarkable shared wisdom of the communities that relentlessly demands to be meticulously discovered and lovingly shared.

Ancient grandeur recreated - Keertinarayana temple

Of course there are by-passes and escape routes for whenever one does eventually decide to terminate the dream-like sojourn, but how can one ever stop exploring, stop discovering both the mesmerizing country and one’s own deep philosophical self? How can one not look forward to the next (hopefully everlasting) journey, the next multihued sunset, the next tranquil beach front and the next unbelievably sensational tale? Soon enough one begins to derive indescribable pleasure from living out of tiny suitcases, the soothing cradle-like locomotion of buses and trains legitimately lulls one to peaceful slumber better than any bed can and the thrilling provocation in the knowledge of one’s own steadfast endurance associated with the intermittent terrifying vulnerability arising from not understanding a language or a place’s milieu, geographic, socio-cultural or otherwise, becomes an interminable addiction.

But continuous ceaseless travel can often become harrowingly lonely. One is obliged to surrender the comforts of a conformist life, the cherished company of family and friends and, indeed, it demands the investment of a considerable sum of time and capital without any particularly conspicuous dividends except of course what one carries within one’s own self – and yet, the sudden irresistible conversations with complete strangers commuting on public transport, the exploration of myriads of cuisines, fragrances, visual compositions and monumental edifices, the enviable ability to hop on/off buses and trains and run off unrestricted wherever one wishes to, one becomes bewitched so irrevocably that one can never log off. Ever. There always are more embellished myths to be unraveled, intriguing narratives to be interwoven, cities and states to be charted, medieval artistic and architectural accomplishments to be marveled at – soon enough superfluous conversations begin to seem disagreeable, life becomes a continuous adventure and, despite the occasional heartfelt pangs at not having someone one can curl up with over long-distance journeys, one comes to realize that all one actually requires in this pursuit of happiness are earphones, cameras, a bucket load of money, lots of well-detailed maps and full-fledged travel ideas!

Small wonder - Nandi pavilion, opposite Veerbhadreshwara temple

In the enviably indomitable shadow of the elegant city of Mysore, the incredibly unassuming and terribly underdeveloped historic village of Talakadu on the serene banks of the mighty river Kaveri is where I explicably found myself waddling in endless stretches of orange-brown sand this past weekend – unsurprising of course, considering that the place epitomizes a seamless assimilation of implausibly far-fetched medieval folklores and ancient mythological legends with emotionless history and cataclysmic geographical turbulence. Said to originally have been a densely forested fertile land, the spiritually hallowed site suffered spontaneous irreversible devastation in AD 1612 when the pious noblelady Alamelamma, unnervingly aggrieved and infuriated when Maharaja Raja Wadiyar I (reign AD 1578-1617) arrogantly schemed to deprive her of her fabulous royal jewels after crushingly defeating her mortally ailing husband Tirumalaraya, the viceroy of his liege-lord Emperor Sriranga Raya I (reign AD 1572-86) of the Vijayanagar empire (ruled the modern states of Karnataka, Telangana, Seemandhra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and minute portions of Maharashtra, AD 1336-1646. For further details, refer Pixelated Memories - Hampi), catastrophically cursed the place prior to committing suicide (festooned indisputably with the invaluable jewelry) in the dreaded waters of torrential Kaveri –

“Talakadu maralagi, Malingi maduvaagi, Mysuru Arasarige makkalagadirali!”

“Let Talakadu be submerged under creeping sands, let a cruel whirlpool be the scourge of Malangi and let the Mysore kings bear no offspring!

Irrevocably cursed? - Pataleshwara temple

The atrocious curse promptly evoked for me thoughtful ruminations of the one formerly uttered by the saintly Hazrat Nizamuddin to categorically chastise Delhi’s megalomaniac Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (reign AD 1320-25) and his gigantic fortress at Tughlaqabad (refer Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress complex). Spookily enough, the two uniquely geomorphic villages Talakadu and Malangi (originally located opposite each other on either side of the river) have since been completely buried respectively under an inestimable amount of sand and furious vortexes of the treacherous river Kaveri, perpetually perplexing acclaimed archaeologists, geologists, genealogists, historians, rationalists and visitors alike. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) concludes that over 30 temples (dated between 6th and 17th century AD) of varied historical origins, artistic and architectural features and spatial measurements lie intriguingly submerged underneath an infinite amount of all-pervading sand at Talakadu and has undertaken an ambitious project to entirely excavate and conscientiously restore as many of these as feasible. What is however infinitely more baffling is the ruinous consequence of the punitive curse on Mysore’s extravagant Wadiyar sovereigns – since then, the Maharajas have ceaselessly failed to beget heirs and interestingly therefore the regal bloodline continues such that a reigning Maharaja adopts an illustrious heir from his immediate family to succeed him, however the new Maharaja’s otherwise prodigious sons too afterwards fail to beget heirs and the entire cycle reiterates when they succeed to the throne.

Extensively restored! - Vaidyanatheshwara temple

Of course, like most inexplicable folklore this one too seems extravagantly embellished and full of numerous glaring inconsistencies – firstly, to his credit, Maharaja Raja Wadiyar was merely demanding the retrieval of sanctified ornaments belonging to the fanatically revered deities at beautiful ancient Srirangapatnam which were then in the secure custody of the queen, secondly, why consider a queen, notwithstanding how religious, as pious if she avariciously covets sacred ornaments and miserably proceeds to curse ancient temple towns with irreversible annihilation for no apparent fault of theirs? Repenting afterwards, Raja Wadiyar had a realistic sculpture of Alamelamma deified in a small personal shrine within the regal palace at Mysore (refer Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace) which is till date annually venerated by his blue-blooded descendants to mollify the so-called “Curse of Talakadu”. The last Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar (titular reign only to fulfill straightforward cultural and religious obligations sans administrative authority, 1974-2013) too died without any biological heirs.

In any case, numerous medieval shrines have already been unearthed in Talakadu and it wretchedly needs be noted that ASI as well as the local religious committees supposedly entrusted with managing these have in a severely harebrained manner ridiculously subjected most of these in the name of conservation and restoration to an unbearable application of conspicuous slabs of featureless granite and painted plasterwork and insufferably drenched what remained with an excruciating overdose of paint in flamboyant shades of sunshine yellow, mottled blues and blazing orange so much so that most of these hallowed shrines, the larger ones significantly so, easily resemble modern unromantic constructions and do not in any way retain most of their original subdued, and yet glorious, artistic ornamentation and sculptural accomplishments!

Worshiped by Lord Brahma?! - The Shivalinga at Maruleshwara temple

The unquestionably magnificent Vaidyanatheshwara temple is physically the largest and artistically the most majestic amongst the extensive cluster and constitutes the widely renowned and passionately celebrated “Panchalinga” (“Five divine Lingas”, a “linga” being the terribly austere rounded cylinder representation of Lord Shiva, the Hindu Lord of death and destruction) in association with the Pataleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arakeshwara and Mallikarjuneshwara shrines. The majestic shrine, composed throughout of painstakingly sculpted granite and surmounted by a brick and plasterwork pyramidal superstructure (of fairly recent origins and soaked with the ubiquitous blinding brilliant yellow), bears the telltale architectural and artistic idioms of the Vijayanagar empire and also possesses pillared hallways, gorgeous subsidiary shrines (most notably that of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva) and highly ornamented and bejeweled embossed depictions of benevolent heavenly sentinels, celestial deities, anthropomorphic entities, mythological creatures and numerous geometric and floral scrollwork patterns of discernibly diverse motifs and imaginative designs. Realistically however, the evocative sculptures cannot even be remotely considered as impressive as their elegant counterparts at Belur-Halebidu or Hampi (refer Pixelated Memories - Hampi, Pixelated Memories - Hoysaleswara Temple complex, Halebidu and Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur), undoubtedly as a terrible consequence of calamitous exposure to moisture and the elements having been land-submerged for several centuries.

Be dazzled! - Goddess Parvati, Vaidyanatheshwara temple

Local belief postulates that Talakadu, historically chronicled as “Gajaranya” (“Elephant forest”), derives its present nomenclature from two legendary forest-dwelling hunter siblings Tala and Kadu who, having sneakily witnessed an ancient gnarled tree being deferentially worshipped with fragrant flowers and sacred river water by massive wild elephants, severely mutilated it with axes only to see copious blood horrifically sprout through it and realize that in it had incarnated Lord Shiva for the spiritual gratification of his affectionate devotee Sage Somadatta who had been reborn as an elephant. The gorgeous shrine too has its derivations in this remarkably convoluted mythology and is said to have been expanded and embellished around a tiny primordial temple conceived around this mythical sacred tree. The blessed tree is said to have automatically healed itself immediately afterwards, thus the self-explanatory nomenclature “Sri Vaidyanatheshwara” or “Lord of the Healers”. How did the ancient Hindu poet-writers conceive such fabulous fables, teeming with every sort of marvelous wildlife, everyday professions and mythological chimeric entities, is entirely beyond comprehension!

Sands of Time! (Oh, how could I not have used this cliche!)

Not once failing to capture the imagination of visitors to this horribly underdeveloped, geographically besieged town, from here on begins the strangely sanitized wilderness zone where wide serpentine paths have been cleared in the rugged midst of tall eucalyptus trees whose mottled brown-green bark discontinuously peels away to reveal the glistening silver underneath, and scores of unnaturally shy monkeys peeping from behind the trees and hopping on to the corrugated iron roofs sheltering the pathways from sweltering summer sun near-continuously create a shocking, clattering commotion. It is singularly demanding to tread the bottomless sands which instantaneously swirls and realigns itself into frustrating eddies around one’s feet and suffuses into the shoes as soon as one pushes forward another fatigued step. Scores of wrinkled, indeterminably old beggars with cataract-clouded eyes line these pathways and intermittently one also comes across small makeshift shops offering tiny stone idols, packets of sugarballs, clarified butter-drenched sweets, brilliant red vermillion, multi-hued flowers and incense to appease the deities.

Sculpted (and restored!) to perfection - Keertinarayana temple

The remaining shrines are predominantly unremarkable single-celled simplistic structures buried encompassed within enormous craters as if recently constructed within an urban construction zone (unquestionably the presence of shimmering multihued paintwork and ubiquitously modernistic superstructures is to be blamed!) and accessible via sets of staircases delineated by glinting steel cordons. ASI has built brick and cement embankments to restrict sand accumulation, however the same aren't as efficient as one would have liked them to be. The massive Shivalinga in Maruleshwara temple is said to have been established by Lord Brahma (the Hindu God of universal creation, profound knowledge and learned enlightenment), while the diminutive Shivalinga in Pataleshwara temple, festooned with fragrant jasmine garlands, is said to miraculously transform from red in the morning to black in afternoon and white in the evening! There are several other smaller, relatively architecturally/artistically unremarkable shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva too scattered around, and a large rectangular water tank (“pushkarni”) only a stone’s throw away from the Vaidyanatheshwara temple.

Several shrines are also located amongst thick eucalyptus tree forests spanning vast sand plains and rock undulations in the immediate vicinity of the majestic Kaveri where gather tourists and locals alike for fun frolic (there even are tourist-laden coracle boats sashaying to-and-fro!). Catering to the tourists near the beatific riverfront exists a vividly colorful, perennially boisterous bazaar lined with cheap roadside eateries (offering fried fritters, steamed rice cakes (idlis), greasy noodles, tea/coffee, cold drinks, cigarettes and meals comprising servings of steaming boiled rice and watery vegetables and lentils) and makeshift shops (offering stuffed toys, cheap plastic playthings, faux-leather hats, vividly multi-hued stoles and the occasional souvenirs).

Submerged! - Gaurishankara temple

Mysteriously peeping from its unintended entombment, the exceedingly tiny, single-celled Gaurishankara temple, constructed when Maharaja Chikka Devaraya Wadiyar (reign AD 1673-1704) ruled over the area, despite also being painted over with faded yellow and hideous silver, is almost entirely concealed and can be regarded a perfect exemplar of how physically punishing the advent of these shifting sands was to the architectural and religious heritage of the laidback village.

Despite its unostentatious appearances and uncultivated, almost untouched atmosphere (even the majority of signboards here are in Kannada!), Talakadu is not just any other miniscule village next door – though its medieval prestigious impressions are presently indiscernible, it was an important religious township throughout the supremacy of the Western Ganga Dynasty (reign over parts of Karnataka and Seemandhra, AD 350-1000) and the Chola Dynasty (reign over the modern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and the islands of Sri Lanka and Maldives, 300 BC – 1279 AD), two of the most prominent kingdoms of southern India! Originally referred to as “Dalavanpura”, it was developed as the outstanding capital of the Ganga dynasty, an honor it retained over a course of 600 years from AD 390 to 1000. Later, it came to be recognized by the name “Rajarajapura”, christened after the remarkably distinguished emperor Rajaraja Chola I (reign AD 985-1014), and was afterwards seized from the Cholas by the formidable Hoysala sovereign Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (reign AD 1108-52) in AD 1117 who celebrated this outstanding military conquest by assuming the title of “Talakadugonda” (“Victor at Talakadu”) and gratefully commissioned the construction of the notably matchless Sri Chennakesava Temple at his capital Velapuri/Belur (refer Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur). Historically, it is believed that the Keertinarayana temple at Talakadu was also ordered to be constructed by him to commemorate this significant achievement upon the request of his spiritual mentor Sri Ramanujacharya, the celebrated interpreter of Hindu Vishishtadvaita Vaishnavism texts – indeed the staggered square-shaped grandiose shrine heralded by an equally handsome gateway is the only one discovered at Talakadu to be conceived and executed in the traditional Hoysala style of architecture.

All dressed up and nowhere to go! - Lord Vishnu, Keertinarayana temple

It needs be noted that the magnificent shrine was commendably transported stone by stone from its marshy submerged location, painstakingly recreated in its entirety and impeccably restored to flawless perfection by the ASI. The exceedingly skillfully finished, variously patterned delicate pillars of the shrine's associated hall gracefully frame the sanctum where is consecrated an eight-feet tall idol of Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and nourishment, flanked by relatively smaller sculptures of his two consorts – the earth Goddess Bhudevi and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity – each deferentially adorned with brilliantly glittering silk and exquisite gold-tinged ornaments.

The exquisite shrines exhumed so far, despite being physically moderately-proportioned and predominantly artistically unremarkable, conclusively prove to be a mysterious phenomenon in themselves, attracting several million wonder-struck visitors and faithful devotees annually from all over Karnataka and neighboring states, especially for the spiritual Panchalingam Darshan festival, a prominently renowned cultural extravagance organized every 12 years. What is however most remarkable about the enigmatic place is that one cannot shake off the extraordinary, somewhat unnerving, consciousness that one might actually be treading centuries-old superlative civilizational and architectural heritage while walking around here! Surely, these unusual thoughts and destinations are reason enough to travel!

Talakadu's secret fun zone - Kaveri riverfront

How to reach: Talakadu is located approximately 45 kms from Mysore and 185 kms from Bangalore. Private autorickshaws and shared cabs ply between T. Narsipur and Talakadu villages (15 kilometers – 20 minutes – Rs 20/person). Regular government buses are available from Suburban bus stand, Mysore to T. Narsipur bypass flyover (35 kilometers – 30 minutes – Rs 15/person) from where one can walk to T. Narsipur village bus stand. The roads between Mysore and T. Narsipur, although terribly pockmarked, wind through vast water-logged paddy plantations that alluringly glisten soothing blue-green early morning and brilliant blinding green in the afternoon. From T. Narsipur onwards, the route is simple and the roads perfect, and the combination can pretty easily lull one to an undisturbed slumber, especially on slightly cold, extremely pleasant days when it is gently drizzling!
Entrance fees: Nil for all the shrines
Photography/video charges: Nil for all the shrines
Note: All temples are open everyday for people of all socio-economic and religious backgrounds and genders from 8.30 am – 5.30 pm. Footwear are not allowed within the individual shrines and have to be left outside. It is advisable to carry sufficient drinking water and wear comfortable shoes since one has to walk considerably long distances across undulating topography and punishing sand plains to cover all the monuments.
Relevant Links -
Other monuments/landmarks in/around Mysore -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena
  2. Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Seringapatnam
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sri Chamundeshwari Temple
  5. Pixelated Memories - Sri Prasanna Chennakesava Temple, Somnathpura
Another cursed location - Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress complex, Delhi
Suggested reading -
  1. - The Curse of the Mysore Royal family: A rational analysis
  2. - Article "Jain basadi at Talakad to be excavated" (dated July 23, 2013) by R. Krishna Kumar
  3. - Article "Thousands throng Talakad" (dated Nov 21, 2006)
  4. - Wadiyar Dynasty

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