Talakadu is a desert-like town on the left bank of the Kaveri river 45 km (28 miles) from Mysore and 133 km (82 miles) from Bangalore in Karnataka, India. It once had over 30 temples, most of which now lay buried in sand. The extant group of temples, where the eastward flowing Kaveri river changes course as the sand on its banks spreads over a wide area, is a popular pilgrimagesite for Hindus.
The historical town of Talakadu is a treat for those with a historical bend of mind. Located on the left bank of the majestic River Cauvery, the town has several claims to fame. Perhaps the most important claim to fame is the curse that turned the thriving town into a sandy shore with sand dunes about 15 meters high.
The panchalinga darshana
The opportunity to visit all five Shiva temples in one auspicious day comes around once every twelve years. The five temples are thought to represent the five different faces or avatars of Lord Shiva. The temples worshipped on the auspicious day are, Sri Vaideshwara, Sri Maruleshwara, Sri Muduhuthore, Sri Arakeshwara and Sri Pathaleshwara.
The day is decided by the high priests according to the day of the new moon or amavasya in the Karthika month according to the Lunar or the Hindu calendar. The holy festival beckons devotees from far and wide as it truly is a rare phenomenon. The rarity is attributed to the movement of stars and their special alignment that heralds the day of the festival.
Spread over five entire days, the festivities commence at the exact same minute at all the five temples. The festivities begin with the ritual dip in the holy lake adjoining the temple of Vaidyanatheshwara. Water from the same lake is brought to the temple to bathe the Gods. Various rituals and chariot processions mark the five days of the festival.
An architectural wonderland
There is no doubt that Talakadu is a town from the pages of history. These pages are however somewhat lost in time, translated and mistranslated. Definitive and scientific translations are often challenged. Irrespective of the myths and legends of the temple town, the architecture is a sight that will transport you back in time.
The genius of the construction of all the temples should definitely be appreciated. The conjoined rings that hang from a corner, below a five-headed snake has no visible joints. The basic idea of its construction defies the era and time of its construction and conception.
Another example of their genius is the stone basin that is so beautifully constructed that it looks machine made. The sculptures, the artist’s reflections on the walls have withstood the test of time and the corrosive effects of the sand that surrounds and often buries the temple.
The origin of the sand dunes
There are numerous myths and legends surrounding the temple town. Myths about Lord Shiva residing in a tree that was worshipped by Saints reincarnated as elephants speak about the mythical source of the five Shiva temples.
Fragmentary inscriptions found on temple walls speak of the era of the temple’s construction and the benefactor under whose aegis the temple was constructed. While history and myths often clash, they do sometimes work in tandem as with the myth of the sand dunes.
The original city that was Talakadu is today completely buried under magnificent sand dunes. These dunes are in constant motion owing to the winds and the currents. People had to constantly abandon their homes and move inland to avoid being buried under the sand dunes. When the dunes move however, they reveal the treasures that they buried. These treasures are often temples as the town is rumored to have at least 30 recorded temples.
The origin of the sand dunes in another wise green and thriving area is a source of great mystery and myths.
The Curse of Talakadu
Many historians and devotees of Alamelamma believe in the story of greed and desire for power that lead to the infamous curse. In the early 1600s, the then Ruler of Srirangapatnam was Sri Ranga Raya, an heir of the Vijaynagar family. He in the throes of an incurable disease undertook a pilgrimage to Talakadu in the hopes of being cured of his affliction.
In order to make the journey, he handed over the reins of his kingdom to his wife, Rangamma. When she heard that her husband was on his deathbed and would possibly never make the journey back to his capital, she decided to go visit him before he passed away.
In order for her to make the trip, she handed the kingdom over to the Mysore maharaja, Raja Wodeyar. The next part is often lost in translation or is mistranslated. The general idea, however is the Wodeyar coveted the jewels that rightly belonged to the Queen Rangamma.
When the Mysore king sent troops to recover the jewels, the Queen in distress threw herself into the waters of River Cauvery and uttered the curse, “Let Talakadu become sand, Let Malangi become a whirlpool; Let the Mysore Rajas fail to beget heirs.” The curse cannot be logically proven or disproven, but the fact that Talakadu is a sandy desert like area is undisputable.
Whether the reason for a visit is to witness the area rumored to be cursed, to witness architecture that defies its age or to be carried into a religious stupor, Talakadu is a place unlike any other.