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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 from the Ganga, Chola, Hoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties have reigned over this once flourishing city, but...
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 in Karnataka, this saga dates back to the 4th century and has certain intriguing elements, defying the very laws of nature.
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.
The curse of Talakadu
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 architectural 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
Unearthed - spirituality under the sands
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 continued our spiritual quest and reached the Vaidyanatheeshwara temple, the largest of them all, which was built by the Chola rulers. 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.
Tala and Kadu - More Stories...
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 amidst the excavations. Besides the Panchalingas, another magnificent temple stands out. 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. It is about 130 kms kms from Bangalore, which is the closest airport. 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.