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Somanathapura stands alone

  • Submitted by: bhushanks, India
  • Submission Date: 04th Nov 2008

This trip happened all of a sudden. By chance Hari asked Shankar how far Sivasamudram is and he promptly referred the case to me. Hari believed it was only about 50km from Bangalore; not only did I correct that notion, I also asked him why. Then he said he was planning to go the next day - alone if needed - and asked me to join. I knew I will be joining him, though we dragged the drama right till we departed.

It rained that night, a typical January drizzle. An overcast sky greeted the dawn and I called up Hari to call off the trip. Hari protested initially that we should take a chance. When I explained that it was neither an emergency nor were we going in a four-wheeler, pointed out it was about 140km away and added that the roads may not be all that great, he relented.

Almost three hours later he called again and said, having started the whole thing he could not back off. The others were ready to brave the rain and bad roads, so they will come and pick me up by 9.30 AM. It was finally 10.45 AM on 05/01/2008 that we flagged off from my place.

The first stop was to fill up fuel and check the air pressure, then we touched the Bannerghatta Road beside IIM, reached the NICE road, stopped for the inagural snaps midway and reached the Kanakapura Road. We turned left and moved on to Kanakapura at a good pace because the road was mostly good. Kanakapura, 60km away from Bangalore now belongs to Ramanagaram district, recently carved out of Bangalore.

We passed Kanakapura and took a stop for some tender coconuts. Then the road condition turned bad because repairs were underway at various spots. However, the saving grace was that we were fresh and we had a destination to reach so it did not matter too much.

Hari then said he had read in one of the websites some 40km of the total distance was in bad condition! He also reasoned that the information looked old, and we did see some recently laid stretches too, to prove his point. In any case, we agreed right then we should return via the Mysore-Bangalore Road.

We took one more stop about 9km short of Malavalli and had some cookies and coffee. When we reached Malavalli (some 42km away from Kanakapura) we took the bypass road and reached a point where the directions were clearly seen. Hari was thinking one could go to Somanathapura temple and then move on to Sivasamudram. I just knew the route up to Malavalli and did not bother too much about what we will do after that.

Here we saw Sivasamudram was to the left and say 31km away while the road to Somanathapura was a little distance away to the right and the destination was 29km away. Hari wanted to photograph the temple and he had read that it will close down by 4.30 PM. My basic knowledge told me temples usually close by Noon to re-open by late afternoon, yet I did not suspect that no Pooja was being performed at this temple! So we continued towards Bannur, from where Somanathapura was 7km away. We stopped for lunch at Bannur and had our fill of ragi balls and rice. Nothing great there, we were plainly hungry!

Shortly we reached the temple and saw that it closed at 5.30 PM so we had ample time to cover the place. The structure was a little distance inside from the gate. From Malavalli onwards we had followed the yellow direction boards of Karnataka Tourism; outside the temple stood an old multilingual board to tell us we had arrived!

It was our mistake that we started as late as we did, otherwise one will be somewhat disappointed if the plan were to cover only Somanathapura in one day, especially if one were to be a regular tourist with no special interest in historical, heritage sites. However, for someone who gets fired up at the sight of monuments like these, this offers a great chance to explore, precisely because it is standalone - you do not have too many things to cover, say like in Hampi, so one can really relax and take their own time going around the temple and marvelling at the labour that has stood the test of time.

We felt a mixture of emotions as we walked around in the temple. I am not sure whether this temple was excavated or it has gradually gone to waste. If you look in the small cubicle-like chambers that surround the main temple, you would think it was excavated. However if you recall that this is the third important location for Hoysala style of temple architecture after Belur (where Poojas are held till this day) and Halebid, it is unlikely that this temple was excavated. In that case, the systematic damage to each and every important, beautiful structure within the premises begs an explanation. Invariably the possibility of Muslim raiders spoiling this structure comes to mind.

Had I gone through the information put up by the Archeological Department completely, I would have known more. However I just glanced at it and learnt that one Somanatha, who was an officer under the Hoysala king took a keen interest in building this temple of Lord Keshava or Vishnu. Beyond this, our interest was at best casual as we wandered around the temple. We just absorbed whatever we saw. Only Easwaramoorthy seemed to know more than me & Bhat about ancient practices. He pointed to a male idol with toe rings and explained it was a common form of identification for both married men and women.

India has a rich wealth of these temples in terms of architectural beauty. It is a mirror to how mankind itself has evolved. To my mind, I have not been an avid temple traveller, yet even I have caressed a few pillars and idols in my time - something we are not actually supposed to do!

We were in no hurry and took a lot of photographs. Again, no one to stop you! Once outside, we had some coffee even as I recalled my visits to other places in Karnataka: Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole, Hampi, Belur, Halebeedu... there was a tinge of sadness to these thoughts because, as a nation we do not seem to take great care of any of these heritage sites.

Hari was charged up and was still interested in Sivasamudram! I had to convince him we would probably hardly reach there before sundown and then we had to travel all the way back to Bangalore. He saw the point and agreed to return home.

From Somanathapura to Bannur, then to Mandya at 24km away, we touched the Mysore-Bangalore Road. The riders were ecstatic about the road while I could mostly see nothing in the glare of the headlights from opposite! The plants on the median have to grow, then maybe there will be better shielding from oncoming traffic lights.

We stopped at Maddur for the famed Maddur Vada, now just a distant cousin of the original. The layered vada with onion pieces and groundnuts, which you broke off piece by little piece and savoured with chutney, is clearly a thing of the past!

When we reached home, the boys had dinner with us and bade goodbye. I felt that a beginning was made.