Coorg experiences: On the Haleri trail

| Last Updated: July 30, 2012 at 5:07 PM

The Omkareshwara temple built by Lingarajendra has both Islamic and Gothic styles of architecture

I am always in a fix when I visit Coorg in Karnataka. While my mind wishes to linger in the verdant greenery around me, my feet get all itchy and demand that I explore the heritage, the spiritual and the mystical fabric of this coffee country.  If you would like to follow suit, here are three offbeat sites that I would suggest.

Nalknad Aramane

We were in Madikeri when we first heard this story of the Haleri dynasty that ruled Coorg for more than 200 years from the 17thto 19th centuries. A king was on a hunting expedition when he suddenly saw his wild dogs chased by a hare on a small hillock. He immediately felt that a powerful energy vibrated in the village which turned a meek hare into a courageous beast.  The king decided to build a fort there and set up a mud wall garrison and the hamlet, which eventually became the capital of the dynasty was named after the king. The king was Mudduraja, the dynasty was Haleri and the capital was called Muddu Raja Keri or Muddurakayray, what we today call Madikeri.

The origin of the Haleri dynasty is traced to Veeraraja, a nephew of Sadashiva Nayaka of the Ikkeri dynasty. As the Vijaynagar empire crumbled, Veeraraja, who dreamt of establishing his own dynasty was looking to exploit the weakness of local kingdoms. His ambition took him to Kodagu which was then ruled by various Nayaks disguised as a “jangama “ or a priest with healing power, he established a small group of followers in Haleri. He slowly overthrew the local Nayaks, including the chieftains of Bhagamandala and Talacauvery and went on to become the lord of Kodugu with Haleri as capital. His grandson, Mudduraja later changed the capital to Madikeri.

Nalknad Aramane was the final refuge of the last Haleri king, Chikkaveerarajendra before he was deposed by the British

Our trail took us to a little palace where Haleri dyansty came to an end. We reached a small hamlet called Yavakapadi in Kakkabe where Nalknad Aramane built by Dodda Veerarajendra in the 18th century awaited us.

There were coffee plantations all around. A small mud road appeared out of nowhere. A beautiful two-storey structure painted in red with a tiled roof, old wall paintings and pillars gazed at us as we opened the portals of the palace. A small mandapa in white was located close by. A drizzle started as we heard a sound behind us. A caretaker had silently moved in and was opening the main door for us. We were the only visitors. As we soaked in the moment, we were given a capsule of history.

During one of the wars with Tipu Sultan, Dodda Veerarajendra, one of the Haleri kings had to retreat and he came to this dense forest. He converted it as an operation base and built a palace and even got married here. This palace was the final refuge of the last king, Chikkaveerarajendra before he was deposed by the British and it symbolised the end of the Haleri dynasty. The caretaker showed us around as we climbed a small ladder, saw the hidden chamber in the roof, the torture room, the royal bedrooms and the main durbar. And yet, as you look at this exquisite humble dwelling in the woods, you wonder if it could have been a battlefield.

Iguthuppa temple

It was misty as we climbed a small hilltop to the Padi Iguthuppa temple in Kakkabe. A group of Kodava women entered and spoke with the priest Kush Bhat who welcomed us and insisted that we stay over for lunch. “No one comes to the Iguthuppa temple and goes away without eating lunch”, he said. He explained that Iguthappa means giver of food and the deity is a form of Subramanya or Muruga, son of Shiva.

Iguthappa means giver of food and the deity is a form of Subramanya or Muruga, son of Shiva.

“Close your eyes and ask Iguthappa whatever you want. If you have faith, you will get the same”, said Kush Bhatt adding that centuries ago, Shiva and Subramanya came here and loved the hills so much that they decided to settle down here. The temple is known to feed anyone who comes here and all pilgrims offered food, not just money to the deity. “Iguthappa told the people of Coorg that you will never go hungry as long as I am here and if you accept me as your God”, explained Kush Bhatt. Some called him a saint; some said he is one of the four brothers who settled in the hills around the area. But despite the legends, every festival of the Kodavas starts with an invocation to Iguthappa.

I heard about the story of four brothers and a sister who suddenly split after a fight. The sister pleaded with the brothers and one of them reassured her, that he would be around close by although she cannot see or meet him. He then found her a home inside a forest to stay by shooting an arrow into the hills. “The sister’s name is Panagalammai and the brother is none other than Iguthuppa. Even today, you can find the arrow’s mark near her temple”, said a local; as we entered her temple in a forest – a small house houses the deity, surrounded by dense greenery.

The story however doesn’t end here. “Every April, when Panagalammai goes to the river Kakkabe for her ritualistic bath, you will find the hills of Iguthuppa covered in mist. The locals believe that this is Iguthuppa’s way of ensuring his sister doesn’t see him”. During the festival, an umbrella comes from Iguthuppa’s temple to take his sister to the river”. I have seen the umbrella being carried away by such a force that we believe it is possessed. As the deity is placed and taken to the river, the possessed umbrella moves away in such great speed, despite our attempts to catch it. There is then a lot of tribal festivities, but throughout the day, the mist never wears away”, added a local as he went into raptures but I was lost in the forest, dreaming of the myths and legends.

Omkareshwara Temple

A visit to Madikeri is never complete without a visit to the 19th century Omkareshwar temple built by Lingarajendra II dedicated to Shiva. Built in the Indo-Sarcenic style, it has elements of Gothic and Islamic architecture as well and it is said that there could have been a secret passage below that led to the palace of the king.

According to local legend, the Shivlingam worshipped in the Omkareshwar temple was brought from Varanasi

But I heard that the temple resonated with a tale of a king haunted by a ghost. Our story starts one summer morning when a poor Brahmin comes to Madikeri with the intention of giving his daughter away to the Raja’s harem, as he was unable to take care of her. He, however, changed his mind and left Madikeri after listening to stories about the king from Subarasaiah, another Brahmin who lived in the town. When the king heard about the incident, he mercilessly beheaded Subarasaiah’s sons besides slaughtering the Brahmin as well.

Lingarajendra went to sleep that night only to be woken up by Subarasaiah staring at him .The visits continued as the king became distraught as the spirit hovered around him. The dead Brahmin had become a demon or a Brahma Rakshasa. Tantriks finally advised the king to build a Shiva temple and bring a linga from Varanasi to appease the demon. The king, however, did not recover fully and died within a year.

A light they say perpetually glows from the sanctum. Even today, I hear, the spirit of the demon roams freely in the sacred grove within the temple premises where the Brahma Rakshasa resides.

 

How to reach: By Air: The closest domestic airport is Mangalore (160 km) and international airport is Bengaluru (265 km). Mangalore is connected to major airports in South India, and well-connected to Chennai and Bengaluru. By Road: Coorg is well connected by state buses from all over Karnataka. It is connected to Mysore (125 km), Bengaluru (265 km) and Mangalore (160 km). Deluxe bus services are also available from these cities to Coorg. By Rail: Mangalore is the major railway station close to Coorg. Other close-by railheads are Hassan, Mysore and Thalasserry.

Best time to visit: Coorg can be visited all through the year. However, keep a watch on the heavy monsoon days. October to May is ideal for sightseeing and outdoor visits. June to September is good for short trips and indoor activities.

First Published: July 30, 2012 at 5:00 PM

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