I am a great admirer of the history, culture and architecture of Karnataka. Particularly when it came to Temple Architecture, the people of historical Karnataka were apparently as hospitable and were ready to embrace influences from their neighbors and other cultures as they are today. Thus, in the North of Karnataka one sees the influences and the architectural styles of the Deccan and the Andhra’s, temples in the South East is so much like North Tamil Nadu that it becomes difficult to tell them apart and Dakshina Kannada looks like an extension of Kerala.
The Heartland of Karnataka however was the modern districts of Hassan and Mysore, where either the influences were somehow limited or imbibed into the local ethos without smothering the culture. Karnataka’s most unique architectural spots are here – Belur, halebeedu, Somnathapura, and others. Inside this heartland of Karnataka is my personal favorite, Nanjangud – if not illogical, one would refer to it as the ‘heart of the heart of Karnataka’!
Mysore and Nanjangud have been blessed with incredible natural beauty, fertile soils, abundant water and benevolent rulers. Apparently, when a race of people have their stomach’s full and line in tranquil and peaceable surroundings the mind tends to seek out the higher ideals and hence this place has become the repository of all that is essentially Karnataka – art, literature, drama, harikathe and architecture. This has resulted in Mysore District and particularly Nanjangud Taluk being filled to the brim with places of Historical / Archeological interest and several scenic spots. Most of these spots are just a short drive away (from 10 minutes to within an Hour) and every one of them is well worth the effort. Listed below are some of the important must-see locations.
Nanjangud, has its most famous place of worship called the Sreekanteshwara Devasthana. This is somewhat rare Shaivaite temple, dedicated to Shiva in a region that seems to abound in Vaishnavaite or Vishnu Temples. This temple is located at the center of Nanjangud town, and a short walk from the Railway Station. The main entry has been recently made from the Bathing Ghats on the banks of the River Kapila, where one is expected to bathe and purify one’s soul before entering the temple.
The Sreekanteshwara Devasthana is about 1,000 years old and is believed to have been built by the Cholas. The entire structure is a very large and elaborately built temple complex with a large central courtyard in which the main temple is located. Small temples dedicated to Ganesha, Shardaamba, Satyanarayana and Anjaneya are located all along the route of a pilgrim visiting the main deity and that of his consort Parvathi. A temple visit is rounded of by visiting the ancient Navagraha temple, where each of the planetary positions are represented by beautifully and intricately carved statuettes. On the outside, temples dedicated to Nataraja and Nandi can be seen. This temple is believed to have one of the largest monolith Nandi statues in the state. No visit to this temple is complete without visiting the spot where Chandikeshwara (the ‘Stenographer’ to the Gods) is seated and making sure he knows that you have visited this temple and hence ‘eligible’ for your due brownie points. One is expected to clap or snap one’s fingers to catch the attention of Chandikeshwara, as he is apparently hard of hearing, so that he notices you and marks your attendance!
Nanjangud, is also famous for its Parashurama Skeshtra. This believed to be the spot where Parashurama is said to have rested after his battle with the Asuras. An ancient temple marks the spot and is held in much reverence by the local people.
Nanjangud, has another must-see for believers of the Hindu persuasion. An old Raghavendraswamy Matha, which is very popular amongst the Madhwas and said to be built around a swayambhu moorthi or a statue that was found to pre-exist in the likeness of Sri Raghavendraswamy. A window to the ancient way of life for the pious Brahmin can be seen here, as all the sacred rituals and traditions are jealously followed and maintained over the years.
Nanjangud, also has another ancient but not very famous temple, which is believed to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old! Easily the oldest monument in the vicinity, and is dedicated to Lord Prasanna Nanjundeshwara and gives the town of Nanjangud its name. The locals say that this was the original site for the deity in the now famous Sreekanteshwara temple, and had to be abandoned over 1,000 years ago due to constant flooding of the site. Archeological excavations are being carried out at this site and recently, an ancient temple tank has been found and cleared of accumulated silt. Surely, this is a site that one cannot miss!
Hedatale, which is about 10km from Nanjangud and boasts of an incredibly beautiful temple, believed to be about 800 years old, built by the Hoyasalas. The Temple is called as Trikootachala Devasthana and has an unusual specialty of having three sanctums sanctorum in a single layout, dedicated to Venugopalaswamy, Lakshmikantaswamy, and Lakshminarashimaswamy.
The Main temple is very beautifully done with impeccable carvings. The idols are also carved with much love and dedication and abound in special effects like the eyes of the Lakshmi idol seem to follow the priest’s aarati flame and other such wonders. The Temple has a covered courtyard that is believed to have been added on more recently by a local Palegara (Chieftain) which seats each of his 16 daughters and their spouses in such a manner that the Palegara could see all the 16 couples, while his wife sitting beside him could see only her daughters as it was considered inappropriate for the Mother in Law to see her Sons in Law. The marked difference in the quality and the finish of the Temple and the Courtyard is very evident.
Hemmaragala, a really ancient temple which is believed to be about 1,500 years old, and located at about 14Km from Nanjangud. This temple is built in the Chola style and most of the original structure and design has remained undisturbed to this day. The locals believe that this temple has the power to grant one their wishes. An interesting story is told about a Chola King who came here and prayed for a male heir and in due course, this King had a daughter. Apparently peeved at being ‘cheated’ by the Lord, he is believed to have brought the daughter to the temple and demanded justice - and in a miraculous move, the Lord changed the gender of the child. Thus, the King called the temple the Hucchu (insane) Venugopalaswamy in place of Santana (heirs) Venugopalaswamy!
People from all over come and ask for favors and tie a lemon to the temple pillars, and come back for thanksgiving when their wish has been granted. It is interesting to note that this temple offers a Kondaya Rishi Danda Seve (prayer using the staff of Sage Kondaya) only on Saturday and Sunday, when the priest places the staff on your head and prays that your wishes be granted. Everyone I spoke to swear that this definitely works, and is a must for every believer. However, if one wants to enjoy the Temple for its historical treasures, the weekend can be avoided as very long queues of people seeking favors would be encountered.
Kalale, another ancient temple believed to be about 1,000 years old, again built by the Cholas. The temple is dedicated to Lakshmikantaswamy. The temple is at a distance of about 7Km from Nanjangud. Though the original temple must have been built in the style typical of the Cholas – flat roofs, Square plan columns, somewhat rough hewn and minimalist treatment in terms of carvings and architecture, it has suffered a series of renovations using poor quality modern materials and shoddy workmanship, which has resulted in most of the original look and feel being lost. The temple however is a repository of the Tamil Brahminical faith and consists of many small statues and carvings recording the contributions of this community.
Himavatha, this is a hill station temple, about 50Km from Nanjangud on the way to Bandipur and is famed for being located on a hill that is always misty or covered in Hima, hence the name. The temple is called Himavat Gopalaswamy and is believed to be over a thousand years old.
T Narasipura, or the town of Narasipura located at a distance of about 36Km boasts of a Sangama of three rivers and hence believed to be a very sacred place. The river Kapila, Kaveri and Gupta Gamini meet at the Spatika Sarovara. One can see the dark, still waters of the Kapila meeting with the white choppy waters of the Kaveri and becoming crystal clear at a point where even the rocks at the bottom of the river bed become visible. This is believed to be the point at which the mythical underground river Gupta Gamini joins the Sangama. As this is considered to be both a spiritual as well as a geographical wonder, a visit to this Sangama is an effort that is definitely rewarding.
On the banks of this Sangama, two famous temples, the Narashimaswamy Devastana and Agasteshwara Devastana each believed to be over 1500 years old can be visited.
Upon traveling a further 20Km from T Narasipura, one can visit the famous archeological site of Somnathapura. Here, ruins of temples built during the Hoysala reign can be found, equaling in beauty and execution the ruins at Beluru and Halebeedu.
Parvathi Betta, another hill temple located at about 30Km from Nanjangud, dedicated to Lord Sreenivasa can be found. This Sreenivasa temple is believed to be a close by alternative to the more famous one at Tirupathi. The temple is about 800 years old and like most temples boats of a miracle story. It is believed that a pious man who in advanced age wanted to get a darshana of the Tirupathi lord, but was unable to do so due to his infirm condition. He apparently prayed to the lord Sreenivasa and asked him for a solution, and the lord responded saying “Just turn left and look, I’m there”. The devotee is said to be turned left and walked, soon to discover this temple.
Finally, no visit to Nanjangud will be complete without learning a little about one of the most famous son’s of this land, the founder patriarch of Sadvaidashala, B. V. Pandit. His historical factory is located right in the middle of the town, and was established almost a hundred years ago, where all the Ayurvedic preparations are made exactly the way they are recommended to be made in the medical texts themselves.
The story of the founder reads like a veritable fairy tale – a man of incredible vision, clarity of thought, battling against poverty to start a small unit making medicines and cycling to Mysore every day to sell them, until one day, he had the brainwave to formulate and manufacture the famous and iconic product Nanjangud Hallina Pudi (tooth powder), which brought him much fame and renown. Do visit the Sadvaidashala factory and ask to have a guided tour of their facility. It is advised to ascertain before hand when would be the best time to visit.
Right next to the factory is the old and beautifully built house in which B. V. Pandit lived and ruled over a large family and vast business interests. The house is now abandoned and slowly falling to ruin, and surely it will be most appropriate if the same can be converted into a museum showcasing the life and times of this visionary. One hopes to be able to see portraits, photographs, films and the personal effects of this great personage located in the place where he lived a major portion of his life.