By the banks of Cauvery was the ancient town of Talkād a bustling pilgrim city now lay buried under the sheets of shifting sand. What transpire me to visit Talkād are not the exquisite carvings and murals or the archaeological excavations but a curse – The Curse of Malangi, the ancient name of the neighborhood.
Travelling on public transports in Southern India is an ordeal in itself. Not only the buses are infrequent but also in their poorest state, with foam-less leather or wooden seats affixed to rickety iron frames. In addition, the bus stops are never located within the walk-able vicinity of the villages rather one has cycle 30-40kms or ride the shared auto in a fetal position to reach the nearby town where the bus arrives.
Anyhow, I reached the Mysore city bus station early morning to catch the only bus to T. Narasipura, 24km from Talkād. For a cosmopolitan (like me) this is altogether a different experience – a world that I have never known exist. Rich and vibrant colours of rural India with acres of luscious green fields, coconut groves, and crystal ponds filled to the brim. Once the bus crossed Nadanhalli and headed towards Thirumakudalu, a confluence where River Kabini meets Cauvery and then flows further east.
The River Kabini originates from the hills of Pakramthalam hills in Wayanad have its own tributaries which merges to Cauvery at various centres. The bus stopped near the confluence point where many a families get down from the bus. I decided to take a detour and followed them.
“Dakshina Kashi” I overheard a man telling his son as they walk towards the temple.
Legends and folklore associated to every holy shrine across India are fascinating. T. Narasipura is not an exception. There is a popular mythical legend associated with the holy confluence and, how the place gets its name ‘Dakshina Kashi’.
Long time ago, a benevolent mythical sage ‘Muni Agasthya’ when travelled down to south was enamoured by the confluence of three rivers – Cauvery, Kabini and the undercurrent Sphatika Sarovar (The Lake of Quartz). To pay his respect the sage expressed his desire to build a shiva linga nearby the river and thus, requested Hanuman (the Monkey-god) to bring him a linga from the Kashi (or Varanasi). While Hanuman travelled from the southern coast to the holiest Hindu city on northern plains for the shiva linga; Agasthya realized that the auspicious hour (lasting three-and-a-three-fourth of a galige) is fast-approaching. So, he built a linga with the sand and consecrated it. When Hanuman returned with the linga he was enraged and; in a fury he axed the summit of the linga form that streamed a perennial source of water which locals believe is the Holy Ganges that Shiva emitted from the locks of Shiva and thus, the confluence.
The banks of Cauvery are flocked with pilgrims taking holy dip before entering the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Gunjanarasimha Swamy to pay their obeisance. Men draped in semi-dhotis (loincloth) squatting on the stairs of the ghat as the barbers swiftly shaves their mane with utter precision. Some of the women are also getting themselves a haircut or scalp shave along with the male members before they walk into the temple. Huge coracles (bowl-shaped light boat) made of woven grasses, reeds or saplings and covered with hides and plastic sheets used to ferry the pilgrims to the confluence point; found to be resting on the cays.
The temple complex constructed on a square piece of land with its main tower painted in glowing gold. It houses three different form of Shiva i.e. Someshwara, Markandeshwara, and Gargeshwara lingas. Two other lingams namely Agasthyeshwara and Hanuman linga are also found in the vicinity. The cluster of these five lingams forms panchalingas – and a pilgrim route. The beautiful architecture of Lord Gunjanarasimha Swamy temple is a melange of Dravidian and Hoysala architecture with colourfully painted columns is renowned for its voluminous records in Nagari script dating from Krishna Devaraya period, emperor of Vijayanagara Kingdom (1509-1529).
A legend associated with the temple is an interesting lore. Once a washerman named Gunja dreamt of Narasimha, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu often depicted as human torso with head of a lion (most reverend deity across South India) who asked him to construct a temple with the idol and the gold coin hidden under the washing stone that he regularly used. Thus, the name Gunja got tagged to the temple god, which is popularly known as Lord Gunjanarasimha Swamy. When Gunja completed the construction he expressed his wish to visit Kashi (Varanasi). The god, instead granted him an additional punya (or merit) of about a coral shaped vine seed equivalent to the pilgrims visiting Kashi for his creation.
Enough of my pilgrim voyage; and my atheist soul needed a break. So, I left the temple and walk to the nearest auto stand for Talkād. Surrounded by a blanket of green paddy lands and coconut groves; the soothing environ acts as a tranquiliser to parched city-fellows like me. The area and its surroundings has been the source of continued uninhibited human habitation, over the centuries; strewn with many excavations belongs to Neolithic areas that dated back from first half of second millennium B.C. Anyhow –
A dozen and half of us crumpled in a 7-seater auto rickshaw with the driver seating on the edge of his seat while we drove through the rustic jerky road. The 20-minute auto ride is one of the most uncomfortable journeys added to my experience but what’s more noticeable is the changing landscape as we nearer my actual destination.
The fertile piece of lush greenery and calm lakes are eaten up by mounds of sand granules although the River Cauvery filled to its brim can be seen nearby – flowing gracefully. The dry yellow sand and the sky so intensely blue; the place numbs all human feelings at a mere glance. Talkād is an isolated deserted land where you see nothing but bottom-less infinite deluge of sand and wild shrubs grown around. Not a single spot of water could be found despite being so nearer to an overflowing riverbed – Talkād reminds me the ‘curse’ that transpire me to take upon the journey.
In an extraordinary turn of events, beginning in the 1600s, Woodeyers – the ruling dynasty of Mysore were waiting for an opportune moment to overthrow the Vijayanagara dynasty when King Tirumalaraja, the last king of Vijayanagara dynasty fled to Talkād with his first wife leaving Alamelamma – the second queen in the palace at Malangi under house arrest. Soon, the king died and Woodeyers declared themselves as the King of the Mysore State.
Being an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu – The Gold of Cult, the Vijayanagara kings had offered expansive reserve of jewels, ornament and precious stones to the deity over the year, which the Woodeyer demanded Alamelamma to hand-over. The queen, however, refused to part-away with the jewels and gave only a nose-ring when the king’s soldiers approached. The King of Woodeyers sent back his men with a warning to confiscate the deity, if the queen denies. Afraid of king’s wrath, the soldiers when approached Alamelamma, she escaped the palace with the box of jewels. The soldiers followed her to the forest and when closed-in; Alamelamma plunged into the river from a cliff with the jewels – but pronounce a curse in Kannada:
“Talakadu maralagi, Malangi maduvagali, Mysooru arasarige makkalagadirali”[Translated: May Talkād be deluged in sand and Malangi wiped off by a whirlpool; and may the Mysore kings never beget children.]
The curse haunted me for years during my stay at Mysore. I am an atheist and strictly against to any superstitious beliefs yet, Talkād is a history that I need to visit to witness. From the withered pages of history this journey is more than a travelogue – a real brush with the era bygone. Talkād is now a burial city under deluge of sifting sand, Malangi is lost in a whirlpool and no Mysore kings has beget any natural heir.
The old city of Talkād is completely buried beneath the hills of sand stretching for nearly a mile in length, only the tops of two pagodas being visible. The sand hills used to advance upon the town at the rate of 9 or 10 feet a year, principally during the south-west monsoon and as they pressed it close on three sides, the inhabitants were constantly forced to abandon their houses and retreat further inland. More than thirty temples, prominent of which is Vykunta Narayanswami Temple (refer pic) are dug-out by teams of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and to put for public view every year before the monsoon hit the region. However, the temple for God of Cult called, Kírti Nārāyana temple is now rarely visible. The most imposing temple left uncovered by the sand is that of Vaidyēsvara.
Apart of Vykunta Temple, two more temples Ānandēsvara and Gaurisānkāra are also unearthed. Few yards away from the temple complex, a series of shrine housing many of the lingams could be found around tucked in small shrine covered in sheets of sand; the most prominent of which is Pātālēsvara. Several interesting legends also surround the shrines and the temple complex but as the sunset approaching; I had to rush back to T. Narasipura lest I miss the return bus to Mysore. So, with a longing soul and curious mind I return to Mysore leaving the shifting sand dunes, plush paddy fields, flushing river at confluence, the gods and god-likes, the stories from past and lore – ‘Dispelling the Curse’.