Saturday, July 23, 2005
It is the classical Indian story . A tale told by Gods and demons, filled with kings and queens, replete with curses and boons. There is a little bit of history here, blended with some geology and topped with legends and myths. Set on the banks of the river Cauvery, this saga dates back to the 4th century and has certain intriguing elements, defying the very laws of nature . This is the tale of Talakadu, the erstwhile capital of the Ganga Dynasty ( 350-999 AD), which is now partially buried under sand dunes . Many rulers have reigned over this once flourishing city , but today it is a lost forgotten town, blown over by the sands of time
It was a natural curiosity to unearth the secrets of Talakadu that drove us from Bangalore one Sunday morning. It was one of those beautiful moments. The weather was just right. An eagle scooped down and soared away with the same ease. A herd of goats clamored for attention . Flanked by the verdant greenery, we passed fresh dewy fields, lotuses jostling for space in ponds, flitting butterflies and a few scattered hamlets . We saw glimpses of rustic life as various stages of harvest were in progress . The entire scene was an ode to the countryside. We ambled on for a couple of hours on the Mysore Road and took a detour at Maddur , passed Mallavalli en-route to this sacred, historic town .
We were rather unprepared for this. At the first glance, it was just a prosaic picnic spot, overcrowded with swarms of loud local tourists and besieged by persistent guides . Stalls selling local fares were protruding in every corner. We made our way towards the river bed, where the Cauvery flowed at her own pace. It presented an unusual, yet a stark picture . There were huge mounds of sand by the banks of the river, like a beach. With a canopy of tall eucalyptus trees spread out from the sand, it felt like being in the middle of a forest. The dense shrubbery, some lively birds and monkeys dangling between the branches completed the picture.
The mounds of sand were everywhere, like small hillocks, some as high as even 15 meters. It was a steep climb, as the feet sank in with each step. It was an inexplicable sight; nobody could fathom where the heaps of sand came from . The fertile soils of the Cauvery basin seemed to have become fine particles of soft sand by sheer magic. While the answer may be with a geologist, my local guide narrates this legend .
A curse of a woman he says is the cause of this sand blown town, an erstwhile fertile capital of several dynasties that ruled over Karnataka. A tale filled with greed and lust for power. It was the time when Talakadu and Srirangapatna were under the Vijayanagar empire . The death of the last Viceroy , Srirangaraya provoked the Wodeyars of Mysore to declare war. As Srirangapatna fell, the Wodeyar ruler sent his soldiers to covet the jewels of the late Viceroy’s widow, Alamelamma. As she fled from her pursuers, she is supposed to have jumped into the Cauvery , uttering the curses. My guide gets all dramatic as he proclaims the curse…” May Talakadu be always covered with sand and may the kings of Mysore always remain without heirs. “ The locals fear the curse as they say that it has come true. Talakadu is mysteriously engulfed with a sea of sand and the family tree of Mysore rulers show a large number of adopted heirs .
The story moves from being a mere myth to some startling historic discoveries as well. Recent excavations have unearthed temples from these mounds of sand and each dynasty has left their architecture stamp on them.. My guide points out that 30 such temples are still buried underneath the sand dunes as we climb our way to the excavated areas
Talakadu is famous for the Panchalingas – the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva called Pathaleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arkeshwara, Vaidyanatheeshwara and Mallikarjuna .Of these, the first two are the oldest, built by the Ganga kings. The locals here say that the Shivalinga in the former is said to change color according to the time of day – from red in the morning to black in the afternoon and white in the night. To us though, in the cool afternoon, it was simply black.
We paused to give our feet a bit of rest and heard the story of Tala and Kada, the two hunters , after whom my guide says , this town in named . One more story, this time, it fuses a bit of religion as well. A sage , Somadutta and his disciples were killed by wild elephants when they were doing their penance. They were said to be reborn as elephants in the same forest . Two hunters, Tala and Kada watched the ritual of the elephants offering prayers to a silk cotton tree. And out of curiosity, axed the tree down , only to find it bleeding. A voice then instructed them to heal the wound with the leaves and the blood miraculously turned milk which immortalized the hunters and the elephants as well. A temple later was built here around the tree , and the place became known as Talakadu.
We resumed our journey and reached the Vaidyanatheeshwara, the largest of them all, which was built by the Cholas . All these temples are neatly thatched and embedded in pits as we climbed down to visit them. Remnants of the bygone era were seen in some scattered stones, broken pillars, an ancient well and even some idols. The Pancha Linga festival is celebrated with much fanfare once in 12 years during the Kartika season, where the temples are allowed for worshipping. The last festival happened in 1993 and the next scheduled late this year. The lost and forgotten township sees throngs of devotees only during this period, while at the rest of times, it remains a desolate spot, with a few picnickers .
Besides the Panchalingas, another magnificent temple stands out even in the ruins. The Keerthinarayana temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, built by the Hoysolas, to celebrate the victory of Talakadu over the Cholas . Scattered stones lie all over the place along with the pillars, stone inscriptions , some carvings . The main temple , intricately carved houses an eight foot tall idol of the deity.
Excavations, they say have unearthed a 12 feet tall stone mandapa along with remnants of Garuda kamba. Work by archaeologists is still in progress here, as we stroll among the many stones, which my guide claims are ‘originals. It looked like each piece of stone was being numbered and the mantapas were being rebuilt to recreate the splendour of the past.
We had walked for more than a couple of hours, deeply engrossed in the continuous banter of our guide. Our feet caved in many a time, as we scaled the steep sand dunes. In the last two hours, we had traveled back to several centuries. We paused for a moment, taking in the sight. The silence was overwhelming. The voices of the past were buried under the layers of sand. We sat there, trying to build castles , but the wings gently swept them down. This, we realized was the destiny of Talakadu -the confluence of the historic and the holy spirit, where myths and legends merged, but were all completely swept away by the blasts from the past.
Talakadu is just three hours by road from Bangalore, enroute to Mysore. You could drive down from the Kanakpura Road or take the good old Mysore Road upto Maddur, past Mallavalli and proceed on the road towards Kollegal. About some 5 kms before the detour for Sivanasamudram Falls , there are sign boards indicating Talakadu, 22 kms to the right. The road is bad in patches and very often , it is long and winding , without any landmarks or signboards .
Talakadu is ideally for a one day sightseeing, but if you do want to stay over, there is a resort, Jaladhama or the Talakadu Island resort .It is located on the western side of back water of Madavamantri Dam at Madukuthore , 4kms from Talakadu . You are ferried to the resort by motorboat. You could visit http://jaladhama.net/index.html for further details
Saturday, July 09, 2005
It all happened in a moment. The sky changed hues, the landscape altered, even the familiar turned quaint as we reached our destination. Pondicherry is a medley of old world charms, with a potpourri of people; where history meets legends and a confluence of cultures exist. Here, the past and the present blend, as nostalgia lingers in every corner of the city.
We went to Pondicherry in search of new landmarks - to look beyond Auroville and the Aurobindo Ashram .The French influence is almost omnipresent . You can sense it in the streets , in the red kapis of the policemen, in the architecture, the cuisine and even in the accents. It is not just the French, but even Roman connections are evident here . Excavations unearthed in Arikamedu, in the outskirts of Pondicherry have proved that Romans had settled here . Legends associate this sea side town with the ancient Hindu sage Agastya . The 300 odd temples here are testimony to the same . It is difficult to typify this town which smacks of the old colonial era and yet is so distinctively Indian .
Even more difficult is to find accommodation in this popular weekend getaway, that too on a Saturday afternoon. We drove past a few resorts that boasts of a sea view, crossed many a cottage in and around Auroville and entered the heartland of the city, looking for colonial bungalows which offer guest house facilities . Meandering our way through the maze of streets, we set out in search of a heritage guest house , Patricia Guest House.
Our enquiries led us to a nondescript door on Rue Romain Rolland shrouded by greenery. We could not see beyond the huge compound wall, not a soul was around ; just a cycle leaned against the door. After a brief wait, the portals of this house opened to unveil two portions of a renovated old bungalow , more than a century old, enclosed by foliage . A small tank of water becomes a fish pond, even as a huge metal pot hangs over it, supported by a rope
A series of large pillars support the open hall which serves as both the living and the dining room. An eclectic array of curios and antique furniture dots this space –from sea shells to exquisite pottery , from colorful lampshades to terracotta dolls, the mélange is unique . At one end is an antique wooden swing touching the red oxide flooring, at the other are petite breakfast tables and chairs , overlooking the garden. .
Run by Patricia Michel and her son, Thierry, this guest house currently offers three rooms and a colonial suite with breakfast. Thierry recollecting his childhood, says that this 150 year old bungalow owned by his grandfather was once an arena for cock fights. It is a bit difficult to understand his accented English as he takes us on a tour of his house.
A narrow staircase leads up to two levels, to the rooms which have attached bathrooms and private verandahs as well. Our room was on the first level which was spacious and had the same feel as the hall downstairs. A huge wooden bed covered with mosquito nets is the first thing that meets the eye , placed three feet above the ground . The sun reflects through the stain glassed window panes, creating colorful patterns on the walls .
The second part of the guest house is the heritage portion with a kitchen and a living room. A vast expansive suite with a private garden and a lounge is now being renovated and will be soon in the offing. Its almost a house in itself with a living room and a dining area enclosed in that space . Scattered by antiques and artifacts , Thierry calls it a colonial suite while I feel that there is a beauty in that clutter . Every item has been carefully detailed and arranged, be it the wooden furniture or the dry flowers . The walls are adorned with old paintings or with buffalo head mounts . Its like living in a museum, except that this is bright and vibrant .
The duo also manage another colonial guest house which is a home stay and is just a few streets away. In fact Pondicherry is full of them now, complaints Thierry who has come back from France to manage this property . Several bungalows are now converted into hotels and restaurants; we had dinner in one of them called Dupliex, named after the erstwhile Governor General and housed in the former Mayor’s residence . It was not just the food or the experience that we partook, but a large slice of history as well. The trip did give us a hangover, of the colonial variety