Melukote: Of Temples, Rustic Life, Iyengars, Puliyogare and Dark Deepavali - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Melukote: Of Temples, Rustic Life, Iyengars, Puliyogare and Dark Deepavali

Stunning monsoon view of Yoga Narasimha Swamy temple, Melukote

Once you turn off the Mysore highway from Mandya, the sweet smell of sugar wafts in the air and the lush sugarcane plantations and coconut groves greet your eyes. The abundant waters of the Cauvery and the fertile soil ensures that this land is as beautiful and green as an Indian countryside can be. As you keep driving while getting high on the sweet fragrance of molasses, you start gaining elevation and the landscape changes from lush farmland to hillocks and rocks.

Melukote - the land of Vishnu temples, iyengars and Puliyogare

Somewhere in this hilly terrain is located a pretty little town that is known for its temples, stepwells and Vaishnava community. This town is Melukote, where you can hear more Tamil being spoken than Kannada and where you can see a lot of cultural fervour. A favorite destination for movie shoots, Melukote is a perfect cultural day trip getaway from Bangalore.

A rustic view of Melukote

It all started in the 12th century when the great Srivaishnava saint Ramanujacharya moved to Melukote and made this town his home for 14 years. Pretty soon, a large number of Iyengar brahmins followed him and settled here forming the Mandyan Iyengar community. Thus began the growth of cultural riches through temples, learning and institutions.

Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple, Melukote

The Cheluvanarayana swamy temple existed even before the arrival of Sri Ramanujacharya, but it certainly grew in prominence and importance post his arrival. Legend has it that the utsavamurthi, a metallic image of Cheluva raya or Rama priya, was worshipped by both Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. It is believed that this utsavamurthi was lost before being recovered by Sri Ramanujacharya.

Lovely view of Melukote with the temple and the Kalyani

The temple grew in importance and stature under the able guidance of Sri Ramanujacharya and later under the patronage of the Mysore Maharajas. So did the Melukote town. Once Mysore Maharaja Raja Wodeyar I (1578 – 1617) adopted the Srivaishnava faith, he donated a lot of precious jewels and crowns to the temple and granted a lot of real estate to the brahmins and the custodians of this temple. Thus, began the story of riches of Melukote and its Mandyan Iyengars. This story of riches continued till the Marathas grew in strength.

The beautiful climb to Yoga Narasimha Swamy hill temple, Melukote

Once the Marathas grew in stature, they kept attacking different regions of the South and during these attacks, they plundered Melukote many times, including its temples. And then came the darkest day (November 10th, 1790 – the day of Naraka Chaturdasi or Deepavali) in the history of Melukote when Tipu Sultan slaughtered more than 800 Mandyan Iyengars for secretly working with the East India Company to dethrone him. To date, the people of Melukote mourn this event by not celebrating Deepavali.

Lush green view as seen from the top of Dhanush Kote near Melukote

Today’s Melukote is a combination of all these hundreds of years of history, architecture, culture and rustic charm. A trip to Melukote begins at Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple, the most important attraction of Melukote and that is situated right in the middle of the town. With some Hoysala, Vijayanagara and Chola temple architecture, this temple is more known for its large area than it is for its intricate work. It does not hollow pillars like that of Hampi and beautifully carved pillars, but carving is not its forte, but the aura of it.

Stunning carving work inside Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple. Melukote

The next important location in Melukote is the Yogi Narasimha temple that is located on a hill overlooking the town. It is this hill and the fort around it that are behind the name ‘Melukote’. A beautiful climb of 300 some steps (don’t miss out on the buttermilk or majjige on the way back) surrounded by trees takes you to the temple and the hill top. It is from here that one can see the big kalyani, the Melukote town, the Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple, the Raya gopura, the beautiful surrounding landscape and even Savanadurga hill in the background. A truly majestic view!

The Apsara on the mighty Raya Gopura overlooking Melukote

Another fort and view point is Dhanush kote. It is located about 3 kms behind Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple. There is no temple on the top, but it is home to a fort wall in ruins and some fantastic views. Enroute are the Akka Thangiyar Kalyani and the incomplete, yet magnificent Raya Gopura, that is a popular location for Kannada movie shoots. On the other side of the temple are the larger Kalyani, some more smaller temples, the narrow lanes of Melukote with traditional buildings including the library and an amazing village like character.

A rustic motorcycle ride to Melukote, Karnataka

And just outside the Melukote town is the Melukote temple wildlife sanctuary that protects the wild denizens of the land and that is an absolute joy to drive through. It’s remoteness and pristine environment is an absolute treat to the eyes and it is also a great place to spot many species of birds. And then there is lush farmland with paddy, sugarcane, coconut and vegetables.

The sugarcane route to Melukote, Karnataka

As you can see, there are a whole lot of attractions in this day trip getaway from Bangalore, but that is not its only charm. To understand Melukote’s culture better, strike a conversation with the friendly Mandyan Iyengars, hear some stories from them, understand their mannerisms, taste the Puliyogare (tamarind rice) that is their specialty and watch how they go about their daily life.

Melukote aerial view from Yoga Narasimha swamy temple, Melukote

For a day trip from Bangalore, Melukote packs all the right ingredients. It has a bit of history, some culture, good food, a couple of climbs, beautiful countryside, a rustic environment and most importantly, it is just 3 hours away from Bangalore city. A perfect off-beat day trip idea from Bangalore. Have you visited this place as yet? What did you think of it? Do let me know in the comments below.

The beautiful carvings on Raya Gopura, Melukote

Best month to visit Melukote:

Melukote can be visited all year around, but the climb to the top of Yoga Narasimha temple and Dhanush kote can be a bit tiring during the hot summer months. Winters would be best for such climbs, though my personal favorite is the monsoon season or just after the monsoons as that is when the entire landscape and the countryside is dressed in fresh green and the clouds add some drama to your pictures.

A serene Sunday morning at Cheluvanarayanaswamy temple, Melukote

Things to prepare for a trip to Melukote:

1) Two of the tourist attractions in Melukote require climbing steps and rocks. You will have to climb one of those barefoot, while for the other you can wear your footwear. Do carry a cap, sunscreen and/or sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun. And may be a bottle of water to stay hydrated.

2) Do plan a full day visit if you wish to explore Melukote properly. A rushed visit will not allows you to experience the true character of this place.

3) The temples of Melukote close by 12 noon and reopen by 4 pm. Do remember this schedule if you plan on visiting the two temples.

Inside Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple, Melukote

Top attractions in Melukote:

1) Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple, the highlight of a visit to Melukote

2) Yogi Narasimha Swamy temple, the hill top temple that offers great views of Melukote town

3) Raya Gopura, an incomplete carved gopuram that overlooks the Cheluvanarayana swamy temple and Melukote town

4) Dhanush kote, a fort and that offers great views of the lay of the land

5) Melukote wildlife sanctuary, a protected forest reserve that is known for its wolfs, jungle cats, leopards, macaques, langurs and many varieties of birds

6) Akka Thangiyar Kalyani, a beautiful stepwell just behind the Cheluvanarayana swamy temple

A Melukote panorama

How to reach Melukote:

There are two main routes to reach Melukote from Bangalore. One is from Mysore road and the other is Hassan-Mangalore road. Both of them are about 140 to 150 kms and take about 3 to 4 hours.

Bangalore to Melukote via the Mysore road: Bangalore –> Nice road –> Maddur –> Mandya –> Beechanahalli –> Melukote

Bangalore to Melukote via Mangalore road: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Yadiyur –> Nelligere –> Nagamangala –> Melukote

The nearest airport would be Mysore, though Bangalore would have the best air connectivity.

The nearest railway station would be Mandya.

Mighty big carved pillar at Ray Gopura, Melukote

How to commute in Melukote:

The various tourist attractions in Melukote are spread far and wide. It is best to have your own mode of transportation or else you can hire a local autorickshaw.

To reach Dhanush kote, Raya gopura and Yoga Narasimha temple, you will have to climb between 10 and 400 steps. Do be prepared for that.

Akka Thangi Kalyani at Melukote

Where to eat here:

Melukote is famous for its puliyogare and hence you can see many makeshift shops and stalls selling this local delicacy. If you are happy with just puliyogare and may be a cup of tea, then you can try out these stalls. If you want more options, try out the Subbanna mess that offer a wide range of delicious meals and snacks.

For good quality restaurants with a wide range of cuisines, you either have to head to Mysore, Mandya or Krishnarajapete where there are restaurants that would cater to your many culinary requirements.

Beautiful carvings on hollow pillars inside Melukote temple

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Sri Lakshmi Narayana Swamy temple at Hosaholalu – an offbeat temple day trip from Bangalore

2) Hemagiri Falls on the Hemavathi river

3) KRS dam and Brindavan gardens

4) Somnathpur Chennakeshava temple

5) Shravanabelagola Jain temple and Bahubali statue

6) Mysore palace and Chamundeshwari temple

7) The historical town of Srirangapatna

8) Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid

9) Chennakeshava temple at Belur

10) Lakshmi Devi temple at Doddagaddavalli

11) Shettihalli Rosary church ruins

12) Thonnur lake for birdwatching and for a nature retreat.

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