Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lanka Veera Hanuman

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Ramboda
Hanuman Jayanthi is celebrated in the southern part of India during the Tamil month of Margazhi, Hanuman is seen as an embodiment of courage, true devotion, valour and loyalty and is worshipped not just in India, but in countries where the Indian diaspora are found. Hanuman's contributions in the Ramayana legend are signifant and praiseworthy, especially the finding of Sita in Sri Lanka and conveying to her the message that Rama was on his way to retrieve her.

Although Ramayana is primarily an Indian legend, Sri Lanka has over forty sites associated with it. Just like we have different versions of Ramayana in India - like the Valmiki Ramayana, Tulsidas Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana, several literary works in Sri Lanka revolve around the  Ramayana. Janaki Harana written by King Kumaradasa (506-516 AD) is one such work that focuses on the abduction of Sita. The Mahavamsa also makes references to Ramayana and traditions that evolved from it.

While in India, the focus is on Rama as the virtuous and Ravana as the tyrant who abducted Sita, the Sri Lankan versions focus on Vibheeshana as the follower of Dharma and Ravana as the glorious warrior, who even won the affection of Shiva, but faced his doom due to his passion for Sita.

The entrance to Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Rambodha Hills
The Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka have not been identified just on the basis of mythology and folk lore, but several universities such as the University of Peradeniya, and national and international scholars such as Anand Kentish Coomaraswamy, have done extensive research on this subject and identified these sites,  through a corroboration of literature with archaeology, geography, topography and marine geology, apart from archeo-astronomy by the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka, such as Rev. Bikku Chandrajothi Thero.

We shall see a couple of places pertaining to the journey of Hanuman to meet Sita in Lanka, below:

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Ramboda Hills

The author at the foothill of the Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Rambodha Hills
This is said to be the first spot where Hanuman landed in Sri Lanka, while in search of Sita. On the way to Nuwara Eliya from Colombo, one comes across two hills facing each other, with a deep valley in between. The first is the Ramboda hills, which is part of the Wevandan Hill range and has got its name because Rama's forces are believed to have camped here, based on the advice of Hanuman. The hill opposite is called Ravana Bodha where Ravana's army camped during the battle of Lanka.

The Chinmaya Mission has constructed a beautiful Bhaktha Hanuman Temple on the Ram Bodha hills. After a brief climb atop the hill, one can reach the serene and beautiful temple. Here, the 16 feet Hanuman, carved out of granite, is seen in a magnificent vishwaroopa form. Every full moon day, special prayers are conducted here, which are witnessed by thousands of devotees.

The 16 feet Bhaktha Hanuman at Rambodha Hills
The temple is open between 7 am and 12.45 pm in the morning and 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm in the evening. There is a vegetarian restaurant within the temple complex that serves tasty yet economical food for the devotees and the book shop that sells CDs and books about the Ramayana research that has been and is currently being undertaken in the island.

Sita Amman Temple, Ashok Vatika, Sita Eliya

We now take a look at the most important site in the Ramayana. It is the Ashoka Vatika where Sita had been kept by Ravana, in the hope that she would agree to marry him. It is here, that Hanuman meets Sita and assures her that Rama is on his way to rescue her from Ravana.

Sita Amman Temple, Sita Eliya
There is a small temple built right next to the Ashoka Vatika,  where Hanuman is supposed to have met Sita called Sita Amman Temple. The place looks delightfully scenic and one can well imagine why Ravana would have chosen such a beautiful spot to entertain Sita and perhaps change her mind. A stream runs right next to the temple with a narrow staircase leading down. " This is the route Sita Devi took every day for her bath" explains the priest.

The path that leads to the stream next to the temple
He also points out to the Ashoka Vatika and asks, " Do you see the huge footsteps on the rocks?"  After Hanuman reassured Sita, he decided to set fire to the trees in the Vatika. The priest tells us that even today there are frequent forest fires among the Ashoka trees, even though the whole area is wet and humid. "Moreover, the trees do not grow beyond a point, they wither and die ", he says, showing us several such trees. 

The huge footsteps of Hanuman at Ashok Vatika
He takes us to the front yard of the temple and shows us the hill ahead. " Can you see Hanuman there?"  he asks. And we do. The face of the cliff is clearly shaped like that of a huge monkey. " He is still here. We feel his presence every day in some form or the other," he continues. 

The hill face that looks like Hanuman
The original deities in the sanctum are said to have been installed by Vibheeshana after his coronation. Newer versions of deities are installed behind the old deities. There is also a separate shrine for Hanuman here.

Dieties said to have been installed by Vibheeshana at Sita Eliya
The temple here is open from 8 am to 1 pm in the morning and from 2 pm to 6.30 pm in the evening.

About 8 kms from Sita Eliya is Divurumpola, the place where Sita entered the fire, before leaving Lanka with Rama. Although this place is now converted into a Buddhist monastery, there is a platform and a plaque to signify the location where Sita entered the fire. Promises made at this place are still honoured and considered as testaments in Sri Lanka. 

The Buddhist monastery at Divurumpola - the site where Sita entered the fire
These are just a few sites that speak about the valour of Hanuman and his contribution to the retrieval of Sita. Archeo-astrologists in Sri Lanka have even dated the actual date when Hanuman met Sita in Ashok Vatika using the descriptions in literature, and matching them with lunar configurations in the geography and have arrived at 12th September 5076 BC. Not just this date, several other dates of events in the Ramayana right from Rama's birth, have been calculated and agreed upon by scholars and researchers. This is an entire topic in itself and Chinmaya Mission's documentary on this subject throws more light on the research findings. 

There is no doubt that Hanuman is the real hero of Ramayana! Let us worship and celebrate him on his Jayanthi!

Hanuman at Sita Eliya
Information Courtesy- Chinmaya Mission Ashrama, Rambodha Hills, Sri Lanka

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Will the curse of Talekad be finally broken?

Wednesday 6th December, 2017 saw the Royal family of Mysuru and public rejoice alike at the arrival of baby boy to the titular King of Mysuru, Yadhuveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar and his wife Trishika Kumari Devi. The news was received with both cheer and hope as the baby may break the curse of Queen Alamelamma, commonly known as the Curse of Talekad. While the news has been the source of joy of many, especially the Royal family that has borne the brunt of the curse for the last 400 years, speculations are also on as to whether this child will be able to break the jinx of alternate kings in the Mysore Wodeyar dynasty not having children and resorting to adoption to continue the lineage to the throne.

CNN- News 18 image of Queen Trishika Kumari with the new born

Who was Alamelamma and what triggered such a curse?  Has the time now come for the curse to end?

Alamelamma was the wife of Tirumala Raja , the viceroy of a declining Vijayanagara Empire. Both were great devotees of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangapatna. Alamelamma, in particular, took special interest in adorning the Lord and his consort with her jewels every day. 

The ruins of Talekad

Raja Wodeyar, a chieftain of Mysore, was a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire. He was desirous of overthrowing Tirumala Raja and obtaining power. In 1610, Tirumala Raja who was suffering from a tumour in his back, decided to travel to Talekad with his first wife to offer prayers at the Vaidyeswara temple and stay there for some time, as medicines were not helping him much. Seizing the opportunity, Raja Wodeyar captured Srirangapatna, and cornered Alamelamma, asking her to hand over all her jewellery.

Entrance of Vaidyeswara Temple at Talekad

Alamelamma parted with her pearl nose ring that now adorns Goddess Ranganayaki at Srirangapatna, but managed to escape with the remaining jewellery to Talekad. The soldiers followed closely behind, to take her prisoner and confiscate the exquisite jewellery. On reaching the banks of Cauvery, she jumped into the river, but not before uttering the following words:

                                                               Talkādu Maralaāgi, 
                                                               Mālingi maduvaāgi, 
                                                               Mysuru dhorege makkalagade hōgali, 

which translates into let Talekad be covered by sand dunes, Malingi, (a town across Talekad on the opposite bank of Cauvery), turn into a whirlpool and Mysore Kings not have heirs. 

The Sand dunes that now encompass Talekad
The curse has held good for four hundred years. Raja Wodeyar’s four sons died within a year of Alamelamma’s suicide, and he was forced to adopt a heir. In fear, he erected her statue inside the Mysuru palace to appease her. Even today, on the ninth day of Dussehra, the King and Queen offer prayers to her. Ever since the curse was uttered, alternate Kings have been adopting cousins and nephews to ascend the throne after them, and that has continued till the previous King of Mysuru, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, who died issueless and without naming a successor and his wife, Queen Pramoda Devi, adopted his grand-nephew who became the titular King. Now with the birth of a baby boy to the royal couple, is there a chance for Alamelamma's wrath been appeased? Only time can tell.

Broken pillars and stones are strewn everywhere demonstrating the buried temples underneath
How has the curse affected Talekad, a once flourishing town, right on the banks of the Cauvery river, patronised by the Gangas, Cholas, Kadambas, Vijayanagara and Hoysala Kings?

Over thirty temples along the Cauvery still lay submerged within the sands that have been advancing into the town year after year, forcing the population to move higher and higher upland. Seven temples have been so far unearthed by the Archaeological Survey of India, but sand gets piled repeatedly, requiring frequent clearing. This sand has been found unfit for any purpose, even though it is from the banks of such a fertile river. While scientists and geologists propose different theories to explain these phenomena, they are unable to explain why every alternate generation in the Mysore Wodeyar dynasty goes childless ever since the curse was uttered. 

Inside the Vaidyeswara Temple
Alamelamma's curse seems to have also cast its shadow on the Vaideeswara who could not save her husband from his tumour.  This typically Chola temple is within the village and is the first one on the circular route that has been created to visit the unearthed temples. A Pancha Linga Darshana festival happens once in a few years (often seven years) when on Karthigai Somavara (Monday in the Tamil month of Karthigai) Vishaka Nakshtra and Krishnapaksha amavasaya also occur. 

On this day, thousands of devotees gather at Talekad and special poojas and prayers are conducted at all the five Shiva temples - namely Vaidyeswara, Arakeshwara, Pathalaeswara, Maraleshwara and Mallikarjuneswara.

The beautiful Dwarapalaka at Vaidyeswara

While the Vaidyeswara Temple is probably the largest and most beautiful among the unearthed temples, it does not seem to enjoy the kind of recognition and devotion that the Keerthi Narayana Temple, that Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana built for Saint Ramanuja seems to. Vaidyeswara has huge Dwarapalakas, ornate pillars and a magnificent deity. A silver face of Lord Shiva has also been placed strategically behind the linga adding on to the ethereal environment of the temple. Several artifacts unearthed at Talekad have found refuge within this temple. The highlight is an icon of Ganesha (the elephant God) riding his Mooshika(mouse)

Vaidyeswara in all his glory
Right next door to the Vaidyeswara temple, is the Veerabadra temple. His consort, Bhadrakali is found in an adjacent shrine. Veerabadra is the Kshetra Palaka of the temple town of Talekad. Parents pray here for the bravery of their children and adorn them with bracelets that decorate the sword of Veerabadra.

Ganesha riding Mooshika at the Vaidyeswara Temple
The path to the remaining excavated temples on the banks of the Cauvery begins here. A canopy has been placed over the circuitous route within the wilderness to facilitate the comfort of the tourists. One has to walk in ankle deep sand that makes movement difficult. On either side of the canopy, are burnt and broken trees. An occasional owl, and a jackal’s cry from nowhere, sends shivers of fear within. The sound of the rain hitting the metal canopy adds to the eerie sound effects. 

Wading through ankle deep sand to visit the excavated temples at Talekad
The first temple that appears on the track,  as if out of the blue, is the Pathaleswara temple. As the name suggests the temple is about thirty feet below the ground. There are steps that lead to the temple. These steps are covered with sand and more sand keeps falling from above as people walk and because of the rains.  “No more temples can be excavated” says the priest. They are all under the whirlpool and Alamelamma does not desire them to be cleared”.

Pathaleswara Temple at Talekad
The Arakeswara, Mallikarjuna, and Maraleswara temples are similar in nature. Small, single shrine temples, that have been excavated and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. These temples only come to life during the Pancha Linga Darshana. 

The Maraleswara Temple at Talekad
The Keerthinarayana temple, the only Vaishnavite temple that has been uncovered, was constructed by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana. Vishnvardhana, the younger brother of Veera Ballala I, was originally a Jain and was called Bitti Deva. He is said to have been influenced by Saint Ramanuja to convert to Vaishnavism, and took the name of Vishnuvardhana. When he won Talekad from the Cholas during the Battle of Talekad, he built the magnificent Keerthi Narayana Temple, to celebrate his victory and dedicated the temple to his Guru, Ramanujacharya. He also took the title of Talekadugondan.

The resplendent Keerthi Narayana Temple at Talekad
The circular path of over a kilometre connects the excavated temples and ends at the Keerthinarayana temple where one can get a closer view of the intricate Hoysala architecture within.  

A view of the walking path around Talekad from outside the Keerthi Narayana Temple
Talekad still has a number of signs and symptoms that bear testimony to the curse of Alamelamma. So have the happenings in the Mysuru Royal Family over the last 400 years. Will the baby boy make Alamelamma's curse a thing of the past and bring forth an heir into the world?  Only time and God can tell. 

Update on 11th December 2017:

Here I share a post written by Ms Preethi Sukumaran, a descendant of Alamelamma in response to this article :

Of Boldness & Bhakti: the Talekkadu curse
“And then, she got off her horse, turned to face the horsemen who were chasing her. She extended her hand and muttered the curse. As she finished the last words of her curse, she vanished and the ground started to shake, filling up with sand.”

There wasn’t a lot to do in Harihar in the mid 1980s. There probably still isn’t. The most fascinating part of Harihar to my cousin and I was the Harihareshwara temple and the flowing, magnificent Tungabhadra river just behind the temple.

Fed up of chasing us down every evening to the Tungabhadra river, our mothers tried scaring us with stories of crocodiles waiting to tear off the limbs of unsuspecting children who played in the river. When the crocodile story made us stay longer at the river, hoping to catch a glimpse, the Mothers got together with the Aunts to DO SOMETHING.

The SOMETHING, was the story of Alamelamma, our illustrious ancestor who cursed Talekad and the Wodeyar dynasty.

My mother’s family remains a puzzle to me, even now. Sometime about 500 - 600 years ago, a bunch of my Mum’s ancestors decided to move from SriRangam and settle down in various parts of Karnataka. Once they did, they stubbornly continued to hold onto their Tamil roots, but the evolution of the Tamil language passed over their heads as they dug roots in Hubli, Belgaum, Mysore, Srirangapatnam and finally Harihar.

Many of the phrases they use are stubbornly archaic, pure Tamil delivered in a Kannada accent which still has people scratching their heads today.

One branch of the family followed Tipu Sultan and became ministers and support staff in his regime. In more recent times, my Mother’s family fought for the Freedom movement and hosted leaders like Gandhiji when he came down south to their neck of the woods.

However, to draw two young girls away from the lures of the bustling Tungabhadra, the story of Alamellama needed to be told.

oThe story of Alamelamma has seen great interest in the last few years. I have read many renditions of the story, with details that were not a part of our family’s folk lore.

In our family’s history, we have documented evidence in the form of letters written by Alamelamma to her husband, and a written down account of her curse which was witnessed by one of the men who chased her down to Talekad. These letters and documents are today, sadly missing as many of my older aunts and uncles who held onto it are no more.

Our family tradition states that Alamellama's husband was the custodian of the “abharanam” of the deity at Sri Ranganatha Swamy of Srirangapatnam due to his position of a vizier in the King's court. The temple was rich in land and jewellery as it had been endowed from the time of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana, one of the early followers of Ramanujacharya.

The viziers of the town were traditionally responsible for protecting the temple’s land, property and wealth. In the absence of her husband, Alamelamma was the second in command and would look after their territory, its people and the temple’s wealth.

It would have been easy for Alamelamma to surrender Perumal and Thaayar’s jewels, we were told. After all, the king coveting them was a vassal, and a Hindu. Some compromise could have been worked out by her husband, and the King could have been persuaded to present other jewellery to the ornaments.

But Alamelamma’s objection was to the King’s covetousness and greed, as he coveted the ornaments that were adorning the Jagat Pita and the Jagat Mata themselves. Ornaments worn by Divinity could not and should not be taken by human beings. The King’s army was much larger in number, and if the fight remained in Srirangapatnam, many innocent people would suffer.

So Alamelamma took the decision to out-run the King’s army, hoping distance would put some sense into them and they would realise the consequences of what they were doing.

Many miles later, desperate, tired and with a horse that was out of steam, Alamellama was surrounded by the King’s men. The bag of ornaments she was carrying was tied to her saddle. She carried no weapons and had no real offence or defence to offer. Our family legends say that she attempted to negotiate with the group that followed her. She explained that these were “holy” abharanam which were the temple’s property for hundreds of years. These had been lovingly donated by individuals and grateful chieftains to show their respect and love for the deity. Some of them were worn especially during temple festivals. All of them carried the vast divine energy of the Gods, and there were consequences to looting these jewels.

The raiding party smelt success. Bolstered by the fact that they were facing one unarmed woman, they scoffed at Alamelamma and asked her to throw the ornament bag to them. She would then be allowed to go back to Srirangapatnam – in fact they promised to escort her with full State honours as was due to her position.

With no saviour in sight Alamelamma turned to the heavens and cast her curse on Talekad and the Mysore Wodeyars .( Talekad because the entire town watched as a defenceless woman was chased down by a group doing Adharma and coveting the God’s jewels.)

Alamelamma disappeared, as did her bag of jewels. Talekad was instantly sunk as a whirlwind of sand appeared converting the once fertile town to a desert. And the Mysore Wodeyars found that they were never able to beget a Male heir to the throne.

For many summers after the first time we heard Alamelamma story, my cousin and I would sit on the carvings of the Nandi in the Harihareshwara temple and pretend we were riding a horse and escaping the Wodeyar’s men. We plagued our mothers and Aunts for more details and were disappointed when none were forthcoming.

I often think about why this story continues to stay with me. To someone living in 2017, the very idea of Siddhis which enable you to transform land to sand is unreal. Try as any of us might, we may not have too much success in transforming water to sand.

More than magic or Siddhis, what continues to stay with me is the bravery, boldness and ability to take charge and assume responsibility that was evident in my ancestor’s tale.

It is hard to imagine a bleaker scenario then what she faced – but she persevered, in her own fashion. I like to think that her lineage continues to carry some part of her Boldness and Bhakti in us. And when we are called up, as she once was, we too would make the right decisions.

This post was inspired by Padmapriya Baskaran 's post on Aalayam Kanden about the possible lifting of Alamelamma’s curse.

Thank you for this Preethi Sukumaran! I am privileged to know you !