Monday, 30 March 2015

Tripunithura Hill Palace

The Palace By The Road: Tripunithura Hill Palace
I was introduced to the Tripunithura Hill Palace through the 1993 Malayalam blockbuster 'Manichitrathazhu' that was shot in the palace premises. This was in late 2008. I believe that for many the introduction to the palace was through the movie. My feet contacted the mud at the Hill Palace only in May 2009 during a cousin's wedding in Ernakulam. I happened to revisit the palace accidentally in February 2014 during an industrial visit to Kottayam and Cochin. Visiting the Hill Palace after nearly five years brought back vivid memories from the movie and my first visit here.

The nrityathi with the lamp
In the little town of Tripunithura, an extended suburb of Ernakulam, is located the erstwhile residence of the Maharaja of Cochin. The palace is named so because of its location on a tiny hillock at a slight incline from the main road. The uphill climb to the palace is almost like climbing a staircase in a park. As one negotiates the wide steps that lead straight to the entrance of the palace, one is greeted by two sculpted idols of dancers holding a lamp. Entering the palace through its seemingly ordinary doors, the tiles remind you that this was once a royal residence which has now been converted into a museum. Spread over 59 acres, the Tripunithura Hill Palace is one of the largest museums in Kerala with 49 buildings. It was built in 1865 and all the buildings in the palace premise showcase the traditional architectural style of Kerala.

It is only natural that one would hope that this museum should have a wide collection because it is the largest archaeological museum in Kerala. It surely does not disappoint. The Hill Palace consists of various exhibits. The most prominent ones among them are murals and paintings, sculptures, jewellery, inscriptions, carvings, old coins and rare manuscripts. Some of these rare manuscripts are written on coconut leaves and bhurja barks. There are nearly 200 antique pieces of pottery and ceramic vases which the museum houses. Many of these ceramic vases have been sourced from Japan and China. With rare stones such as the kudakallu (tombstones) and a thoppikallu (hood stones) along with granite and laterite memorials, the museum has a fine collection.

In the weapons gallery, there are some exquisite wooden models of temples and fine rock-cut weapons, some of which date back to the early Stone Age. The jewellery section also houses a golden crown that weighs around 1.75 kg. This crown was presented to the Maharaja of Cochin by the King of Portugal in recognition for the flourishing trade of spices. A quick scan in this room will also highlight that there are many such similar crowns which the Royal Family received, in different times, but many of them were not worn, presumably because the family advocated simple living.

It also features exhibitions that are sourced from the Archaeological Department and the Royal Family of Travancore. It includes a simhasana (throne) and oil paintings. These wings also house palanquins which were used by members of the royal family. A small temple is situated behind the palace. It is also home to a deer park and also has a life-sized replica of a dinosaur and facilities for horse riding. In neatly landscaped terrace gardens, one can find numerous species of plants, including some rare medicinal plants which are grown here by the Botany Department. 

The Tripunithura Hill Palace 

The Centre for Heritage Studies, Tripunithura 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Myth vs Science: The Curse of Talakkad

The Arakeswara Temple, Talakkad
A pleasant breeze welcomes you along with a prolonged silence, an unnerving silence that one can hear the click and clack sounds of one’s footsteps. The little temple town of Talakkad, situated on the left banks of the river Kaveri, located nearly 60 kms from Mysore, is famed for its constantly in motion sand dunes. In desolate towns like Talakkad, the mysteries unravel as one goes around exploring the place. Yet, it seems like there is an imposition on how much one should know. The temple town is mostly known for a legendary curse which turned the thriving town into a sandy shore line. Hence, it is a treat for anyone who has a passion for history, heritage or architecture.

History and rationality clash with mythology here in the town which is also known as Dalavanapura and Gajaranya. Local myths speak of Lord Shiva residing on a tree that was later worshipped by locals and saints. The tree is said to have then reincarnated as an elephant, giving the town its name: Gajaranya (The Elephant Forest). These elephants are believed to be one of the reasons behind the origin of the Shiva temples.

The temple town has five Shiva temples that have been recently recovered from sand. Each of the five temples: the Vaidyeswara Temple, Maraleswara Temple, Arakeswara Temple, Pathaleswara Temple and the Kirtinarayana Temple are said to represent five different avatars of Lord Shiva. In honour of these temples, a panchalinga darshanam is held every 12 years, the last one was held in 2013. The Panchalinga Darshanam is held on a new moon day in the month of Karthik (October-November) when the stars of Khuha Yoga and Vishakha conjoin. A walk around Talakkad follows a circular path, stretching for a kilometre, which begins from the Vaidyeswara Temple covering the Arakeswara, Pataleswara, Maraleswara and the Kirtinarayana Temples. The path is designed such that you return to the Vaidyeswara Temple after the walk.

The River Kaveri in Talakkad

The curse of Talakkad refers to the time when Mysore was still a part of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire. The outpost of the Viceroy was located at Srirangapatnam in Mandya district. In 1610, Raja Wodeyar-I conquered the fort of Srirangapatnam from the ailing Viceroy Tirumala-II using force. By then, an ailing Tirumala had retired to Talakkad. Confiscating everything that belonged to Tirumala was a priority for Raja Wodeyar. Tirumala’s wife, Alamelamma, had brought the jewellery that belonged to her. She would then lend them to adorn Goddess Ranganayaki Ammal at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangapatnam every Tuesday and Thursday. 

Raja Wodeyar believed that with this loss of power, the family had relinquished their authority over these jewels and firmly believed that they belonged to the temple. Raja Wodeyar sent his soldiers behind Alamelamma to recover the jewels. Before jumping into a whirlpool in the river Kaveri, she uttered a legendary curse. The curse, as passed down in Talakkad and local folklore is: ‘Talakkadu maragali, Malangi maduvagali, Mysuru doregalige makkallilade hogali’ (May Talakkad turn into a barren expanse of sand, may Malangi turn into an unfathomed whirlpool, may the Mysore Maharajas not have children for eternity). Since then, the Wodeyars have had biological heirs only in alternate generations. 

Despite its numerous myths and legends which pervade the town, it is the brilliance of the architecture that stands out. The temples, which have been dug out from sand, transport one into a different era. The brilliance of the temples defy age. If it is spoken of a place with religious stupor, there is no doubt that there is difficulty in verifying the true story behind the legend of Talakkad. While the tale of Alamelamma remains a disturbing chapter in the history of Talakkad and Mysore, it is a story with no precise answers or scientific justifications. By the sheer virtue of constant repetition, Talakkad continues to be a living legend. 
A Nandi that was recently recovered from sand

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Shweta Varahaswamy Temple

Shweta Varahaswamy Temple, Mysore
As I entered the Mysore Palace through the Varaha Gate, I wondered why the gate was named so. A short scan in and around the palace premises led me to spotting the yellow gopuram of the Shweta Varahaswamy Temple. Located at the southern entrance of the Mysore Palace, the gate gets its name from the temple. It is one of the temples located inside the Palace that the Wodeyar kings of Mysore have patronised over the years. There are very few temples dedicated to Varaha, the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu in India and Mysore's Varahaswamy Temple is among them.

Every incarnation of the Dasavatharam has a significance of its own: the Varaha avataram is associated with pellucid knowledge which is attuned to knowledge. In a Tamil poem written by Andal, she fondly sings of Varaha as: 'the shameless boar with sweat pouring out from its dusty body'. The tale of Varaha observes that Hiranyaksha hid the Earth in the Rasatala regions, one of the seven lower regions of the universe, where no one could trace it. There was no other way to find it other than the extensive use of smell. Hence, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a boar and retrieved the Earth from the netherworld. The Rasatala regions refer to the place where the demons live. In this story, the retrieving signifies the liberation of the jivatman from ignorance. 

The stone idol of Shweta Varahaswamy was obtained by Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar from Srimushnam, one of the eight Swayam Vyakta Kshetras of the Vaishnavas in Cuddalore district. The idol was consecrated in a new temple in Srirangapatnam, the then capital of Mysore State. After the death of Tipu Sultan, the capital was shifted back to Mysore. The idol was then installed at the sanctum sanctorum of the present temple in 1809. According to the wishes of Krishnaraja Wodeyar-III, the temple was constructed by Dewan Puranaiah using materials that a Hoysala building in Shimoga district used. There are also inscribed images of Vaishnavacharyas: Desikar and Jeeyar in the temple. Desikar is also known as Vedanthacharya, a popular Vaishnava teacher and author from the 13th and 14th centuries. 

To the left of the Varahaswamy Temple is a shrine of the Goddess that has an elegantly carved doorway with intricately sculpted pillars and a tower. The Varahaswamy Temple is enclosed within high walls. The Navaranga, with its stucco niches at the entrances, hosts highly artistic mural paintings on the walls. Depicting incidents from the Ramayana and the Bhagavatham, many of the paintings pay attention to the exploits of Lord Krishna. The southeastern wall of the temple has a mural that showcases the Rama Pattabhishekam, the coronation of Lord Rama. In an interestingly captioned panel below the painting, it states that the painting was made on Monday, the second of Shukla Paksha of the month Magha in the cyclic year Bhava of the Saka Era, 1797. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Regional Railway Museum, Mysore

In Mysore lies a modestly planned railway museum located opposite the Central Food Technical Research Institute on the busy Krishnaraja Sagara Road. The cheap tickets that enable access to the museum are sold from the window of a former vacuum braked railway compartment, offering a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. Presenting an interesting slice of history that spans across 160 years, the railway museum should be a must visit if you wish to familiarise yourself with one of the finest modes for national integration: Indian Railways. 

Metre Gauge Diesel Engine from Krishnarajapuram
Set up under the supervision of the Indian Railways, the museum was inaugurated by Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the last descendant of Mysore's Wodeyar dynasty in June 1979. With an indoor and outdoor section, the museum has ancient steam locomotives, condemned metre gauge diesel engines, carriages, wagons, telecommunication equipment and several other paraphernalia that have in some way or the other influenced railway operations. The collection at the museum also includes photographs and a series of highly artistic paintings that depict the growth of the railways and changes in the signalling patterns since inception.

The Maharani Saloon, Mysore Railway
The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly the Sriranga Pavilion that houses two royal coaches which were part of the erstwhile Mysore Railway. The Pavilion incorporates in its construction beautifully carved wooden pillars, doors and balustrades sourced from the old Srirangapatnam railway station. While the Maharaja's Saloon is situated at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi, the Mysore museum has the Maharani Saloon. The Maharani Saloon consists of a bedroom, bathing facilities, luggage room, a kitchen, a dining car unit and a separate room for servants. The saloon, which was built in a workshop of the Mysore Railway in 1899 at a total cost of Rs. 29,508 can be adjusted to both Broad Gauge and Metre Gauge. It is now placed in a platform that has brass railings.

A Third Class Railway Vacuum Braked Coach
The other feature is the Chamundi Gallery, where a number of photographs both in black and white and colour in addition to paintings have been displayed. It includes antique items such as the telephone made in 1930 that was used by the Maharaja of Mysore, Mysore State Railway's clock that was commissioned in 1881 and made in New York. It also has a model of the Venduruthy Bridge in Cochin that linked Ernakulam to Cochin Harbour Terminus, a model of the long bridge between Hassan and Mangalore and a working model of the steam engine.
The Mini Train of Mysore


The star attraction of the museum is a battery operated mini train that gives a short ride around the museum. Though the museum is not huge like the one in Delhi, it is still an interesting place to be in and explore how the railways covers almost the length and breadth of India and connecting India to Indians like no one else does.