Monday, June 29, 2009

Keladi, The Forgotten Frontier

The Keladi dynasty germinated in the year 1499 at the fag end of the medieval period. The Keladi Nayakas emerged as a force to reckon with after the supremacy of the Vijayanagar Empire declined following the defeat in the Battle of Talikota in 1565. The Nayakas built a formidable kingdom which encompassed the Malnad region and parts of coastal Karnataka extending up to Kasargod in Kerala.
During the regime of the Nayakas, four capitals (all are in the present day Shivamogga district) were established. Keladi was the first capital and Chowdappa Nayaka their first chieftain. During the tenure of Sadashiva Nayaka, the capital was shifted to Ikkeri. Shivappa Nayaka, the most prominent Keladi Nayaka ascended the throne at Nagara (also known as Bidanur), the third capital. The valiant Rani Chennamaji was coronated at Kavaledurga, the fourth and final capital.
The Keladi Nayakas were able administrators and continued the legacy of the rulers of Vijayanagar. They patronized art and culture and built palaces, forts and temples some of which are still standing. The Shivappa Nayaka Palace in Shivamogga and meticulously sculpted temples at Keladi and Ikkeri sprung up in the golden era of the Nayakas.

Shivappa Nayaka Palace and Museum

The Shivappa Nayaka Palace is located amidst the busy streets of Shivamogga town. The liberal use of wood for the construction of the palace renders a rustic look to it. The open courtyard has octagonal wooden pillars and two flights of stairs. It is flanked by rooms on either side. The upper storey has two rooms and sixteen wooden pillars. It is said that the balcony of the palace was used to conduct durbars (court of a native ruler) when the king paid a visit to the town. Rajaram, the son of Maratha king Shivaji, is said to have taken refuge in this palace when he was attacked by Aurangzeb.
The Shivamogga district has an illustrious political lineage. It was ruled by the Shatavahanas, Kadambas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas and Nayakas who were patrons of art. Artifacts collected from different parts of the district are exhibited in the sprawling lawns of the palace. Numerous artistic sculptures, ancient scriptures and relics that depict the rich cultural heritage and vibrant history of the region are displayed in chronological order. The 10th century sculpture of Mahishasura Mardhini, the 11th century idol of Uma Maheshwara and the more recent 17th century sculpture of Jade ( jade means braid in Kannada) Ganapathi are some awe-inspiring creations. The State Department of Archeology took over the maintenance of the palace in 1982. The palace was in a dilapidated condition and the effort of the department to restore it to its current state is commendable. This maintenance of the palace is immaculate and can serve as a model for restoration of such timeless treasures.

Ikkeri Aghoreshwara Temple
Aghoreshwara Temple in Ikkeri is one of the most impressive constructions of the Keladi Nayakas. The temple was built under the patronage of Dodda Sankanna Nayaka and has flavours of Dravidian and Hoysala styles in its architecture.
The original deity of the temple which had 32 hands is revered as an innovative creation. The idol was destroyed during the attack of Ranadulla Khan of Bijapur. Lamps and other damaged structures indicate that the idol was over 10 feet in height. Only the ornate pedestal on which the deity was placed remains now and a Shiva lingam has been erected on it. The outer walls and ceiling of the temple are adorned with intricate carvings. Beside the main temple, there is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Akilandeshwari. An imposing Nandi stands tall in the elaborately sculpted Nandi Mantapa, built on a 4 feet high plinth.

Keladi Temple
The interiors of the Keladi temple can surprise the visitor as it looks rather nondescript from outside. Popularly known as the Keladi Rameshwara Temple, the temple complex encloses a Parvati shrine, a Rameshwara shrine and a Veerabhadra shrine. According to a legend, Chowdappa Nayaka found a lingam buried in an anthill on which his cow was shedding its milk everyday. It is said that the Keladi temple was built around this sacred lingam
The architecture of the temple is unique and has influences of Kadamba, Hoysala and Dravidian styles. The roof and pillars of the Parvati Temple have intricate carvings on wood.
The stone sculpture of Ganda Berunda on the ceiling of the Veerabhadra Temple is exquisite. It is a depiction of a two-headed garuda (a mythical bird) holding lions with its beak and elephants with its claws. The ‘yali columns’ which are pillars depicting horses or lions with their fore paws raised are also seen here. There is a Nandi Dwajastamba (pillar) at the entrance of the Veerabhadra Temple. The tall pillar which has a Nandi on the top is said to have been erected during the reign of Rani Chennamaji.

Keladi Museum
Many ancient artifacts are carefully preserved in a museum in the vicinity of the Ramashwara Temple at Keladi. This rural museum serves as a repository of historic accounts and is a resource centre for research scholars and students. The museum has a collection of rare objects which include swords, combs, manuscripts, coins and brass idols. Paintings that exude creativity are preserved at the museum. An illustration of Queen Victoria and the countries colonized by the British in an exquisite work of art called "The Guardian Angel of the British Empire" is a masterpiece.

The Keladi Nayakas reigned supreme for over two centuries and have left a firm imprint in the Shivamogga district. The exemplary maintenance of many sites of immense historical importance is impressive. A trail to trace these structures that are reminiscent of the glory of the Keladi Empire is enriching.

This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 30st of June 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coromandel Cruise

Accompanied by my gracious hosts, I boarded a small fishing boat just a few meters from their house. A pot of water and several boxes filled with mouth-watering delicacies were loaded on the boat and we set out to explore the mangroves and lagoons of Muthupet.
Muthupet is a small town in the Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. The Muthupet Mangroves are on the Coromandel Coast of India and extend from Adiramapattinam to Point Calimere. The term ‘Mangroves’, generally refers to the flora that grows in the saline coastal habitats of the tropics and sub-tropics. Locally known as Alaiyathi Kadu, these wetlands are positioned at the Southern end of the Kaveri delta. In Tamil, ‘alai’ means wave, ‘aathi’ means to stop or pacify and ‘kadu’ means forest. This is an apt name as mangroves act as a barrier and protect the land from the outbursts of the sea.
We started out on a narrow channel of water and traversed the path of the Kilathangiyar River as it flows into the sea. We cruised through the creeks flanked by the mangroves with many birds and schools of fish for company. The silence of the surroundings was briefly disturbed by the revving of the boat. As we approached, the birds flapped their wings vigourously and launched themselves skyward.
After an engaging half hour we approached a natural gateway formed by the mangroves. Our boat entered a shallow pocket of water where the Paminiyar, Korayar, Kilathangiyar, Marakakorayar and Valavanar tributaries of River Kaveri flow into an estuary. The fresh water from the rivulets amalgamates with the brackish water from the sea creating an environment in which a variety of crustaceans and molluscs thrive. Shrimps and prawns are plentiful. The abundant aquatic fauna in this region is the life-line for the locals and for the many migratory birds nesting in the mangroves. It was interesting to watch the fisher folk standing in waist deep water to net the catch for the day. A unique style of fishing indeed!
Our boat rocked harder as we were just a stone’s throw away from the sea. The sea reminds me of the cadence of the huge waves lashing their fury against the shoreline. This was a different setting. We were in the middle of the sea that was rather calm and there was no beach in sight. The vast expanse of water and the fading line of the horizon were intimidating. I sat glued to my seat. Awe-struck!
Many small islands have sprung up in this region due to the silt deposited by the flowing rivers. The plush green islands were a striking contrast against the somber backdrop. The earthly brown of the water, the refreshing blue of the sky, and soothing green of the mangroves blended well to create picture perfect vistas.
The islands with watch-towers were inviting and I was eager to set foot on them. We alighted at a couple of islands and climbed the precarious ladders to reach the top of the towers. The gusty wind was threatening to blow away everything in its path. I enjoyed the force of nature and stood gaping at the panoramic view of the world below. The water was constantly changing colour and it shimmered as the sun was beating down. It was spectacular to watch the transformation of the landscape as the sun and clouds seemed to be engaged in a game of hide-n-seek.
My trip to this clean, green and serene wonder of coastal India was enriching. We ventured into the sea on a small ill-equipped boat. Braving the strong wind, we anchored the boat to a ramp leading up to an island and feasted in the middle of nowhere. These are just a few of the myriad of new experiences on a fun-filled day in the mangroves.
The locals hop onto fishing boats and visit the mangroves for a day’s outing. Apart from the watch-towers which have been set up on some islands, there are almost no facilities for tourists. Most tourists are unaware of the existence of this picturesque location and the few who know about it are probably deterred by the lack of information and sub-standard facilities.
There are many tourist hotspots and popular pilgrim centers like Thanjavur, Nagore and Velankani in close proximity to Muthupet. Embark on the road to Muthupet if you like to discover the hidden treasures of nature. The journey might be arduous but the joys are plenty.

Quick Facts:

Getting there:
Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) operates buses from Chennai to Muthupet.
There are frequent buses to Muthupet from Thanjavur, Pattukotai, Mannargudi and Tiruvarur.
Trains and private buses ply between Bangalore and Thanjavur.
From Chennai you can drive along NH 45 to reach Muthupet (approximately 350Kms).
From Thanjavur, drive to Muthupet via Pattukotai (approximately 67Kms).
Muthupet is about 50Kms from Velankani and can be reached via Thiruthuraipoondi.

Once you reach Muthupet you can rent a fishing boat for the day from an area called ‘Pettai’.

Ensure that the boatman has registered the boat with the forest department and has obtained permission to venture into the mangroves.

Carry packed food and beverages. Umbrellas, caps and sunscreen lotion will be useful on a sunny day

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 21st of June 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.§id=81&contentid=2009062020090620203813229faaf05e3§xslt=