Karnataka: Talakad Mystery: Township of shifting sands

HISTORical research The latest explorations in Talakad are based on remote sensing technology for archaeological explorations. The town has always drawn researchers, trying to unravel the mystery behind the sand here. Was it the famed curse on a Wodeyar king, a geological phenomenon, an eco-disaster? Talakad still offers you the space to ponder over these mysteries, writes Meera Iyer

Situated on the banks of the Cauvery, the town of Talakad offers visitors a unique, heady combination of a sacred river, ancient settlements and shifting sands, the whole seasoned generously with myth, legend and history.

Lord Vishnu Temple under the sand dunes in Talakadu, Karnataka

Talakad has a long history, going back to at least the eighth century when it was the capital of the Ganga kings. In later years, it was also a prominent city under the Cholas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar kings and the Mysore Wodeyars, with each successive dynasty adding its own architectural stamp to the city.
Like any other ancient city in India, Talakad too has its share of colourful myths. But of the several stories about this ancient town, one that reverberates through the years down to this day dates from the early 1600s, when Raja Wodeyar defeated Rangaraya, the Vijayanagar empire’s viceroy in Srirangapatna.

The famed curse
The victorious king alleged that Rangaraya’s wife, Alamelamma, still had with her jewels that rightly belonged to the temple at Srirangapatna. Eventually, when Raja Wodeyar sent soldiers to recover the jewels, Alamelamma fled to Talakad and famously cursed the king and the town before drowning herself in the Cauvery near Malingi a town on the opposite bank of the river. “Let Talakad be filled with sand,” she is said to have cried, “Let the Mysore kings remain childless. Let the river at Malingi become a whirlpool.” In an extraordinary turn of events, beginning in the 1600s, Talakad did indeed begin to be deluged with sand. This concurrence with the curse has never failed to capture the imagination of visitors to the besieged town, where today, some 30-odd temples are said to lie buried under the sand. In recent years, this remarkable coincidence has also intrigued scholars, resulting in some fresh insight into this mystery.

Excavations galore
Archaeological excavations have over the years uncovered some fascinating remnants of Talakad’s past. Excavations in the 1990s revealed, among other things, a long brick wall, six feet thick at the base, possibly built as a barrier to the sands which had already begun inundating the site in the 17th century, a Jain temple from the 7th or 8th century, remains of a canal and a brick pond with some feeder channels. Later excavations centred around the magnificent Kirtinarayana temple, built in 1116 AD by the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana, and now nestled within a circle of advancing sand dunes. The temple has a huge idol of the god Narayana, almost 2 m tall. Currently undergoing renovation, the temple is surrounded by stones, each carefully numbered to be later replaced in its correct position. In the course of renovating some structures near here some years ago, archaeologists were startled to find remains of earlier structures beneath the temple. Subsequent excavations revealed a wall, stone inscriptions and even drainage pipes, all below the level of the temple.

Ecological disaster theory
In a paper published two years ago, scholar KN Ganeshaiah postulated that the onslaught of sand was really an ecological disaster prompted by the construction of a dam in 1336. This dam across the Cauvery, which still exists, was built by an eminent minister of the Vijayanagar empire, Madhava mantri, because of which it is still called the Madhavamantri dam. According to Ganeshaiah, this construction would have caused the sand on the river bed to be exposed to the strong winds that blow across the region. As he suggests, this accumulation of sand would have been perceptible by the time Alamelamma uttered her curse.

A geological fault?
Late last year, eminent geologist KS Valdiya wrote that the Talakad mystery was not the result of an ecodisaster but of a geological phenomenon.Valdiya pointed out that an active geological fault – the Talakad-Malavalli fault – runs along the Cauvery bank opposite Talakad. He conjectures that a reactivation of this fault caused the land east of this fault to subside. Based on the archaeological evidence of structures underneath the Kirtinaryana temple, Valdiya proposes that this subsidence of an earlier town took place prior to the temple’s construction. This subsidence also caused a pool in the Cauvery’s channel. Silt and sand brought in by floodwaters began accumulating here, and was eventually blown onto the town of Talakad by the prevailing winds.

Remote sensing technology
The latest explorations in Talakad are by a team of scientists including MB Rajani, a doctoral student at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, who works on using remote sensing technology for archaeological explorations. As Rajani explains, “An ant walking on a sculpture cannot appreciate it properly. You can only appreciate it if you look at it from a little distance. Similarly, remote sensing allows us to see a site in its context, allowing us to pick up connections with its surroundings.”

A canal that ran from the dam?
Based on her interpretation of the images, together with ground truthing, Rajani was able to identify several interesting features. Among them was a linear pattern of vegetation stretching from the Madhavamantri dam to old Talakad.

Rajani explains that such a pattern indicates a crop mark: high subsurface moisture content because of buried archaeological features such as ditches or canals manifests as a vegetation pattern on the surface.
Rajani therefore postulates that the line of vegetation corresponds to a buried canal that likely ran from the dam to old Talakad town, now completely buried under sand. Using similar analyses, she also found a buried bund or fortification and a large rectangular feature on the path of the old canal, which she conjectures might have been a reservoir.

Rajani points out that, because of how sites are excavated (usually in small trenches in limited areas), it would have been difficult for archaeologists to discover the large features that she has inferred from her remote sensing study. But rather than replace excavations, she hopes that the results of her study, which form the basis of her PhD, can be used to guide further explorations in the area.

The curse remains a mystery…
But what does this mean as far as the famous curse is concerned? Did Alamelamma’s words lead to the town being buried? Rajani sidesteps the questions by stating that “it was not our objective to either support or refute the curse” at Talakad, although she agrees that it is a “very mysterious site”.

And with that, I couldn’t agree more. Walking the sands of the old town, knowing that layer upon layer of civilisations lie buried underneath your feet, is an experience you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere. And perhaps the best part is, Talakad still offers you the space to ponder these and other mysteries.

You can take a boat ride in the quiet river or walk along secluded stretches of beach to listen to the many stories that still swirl in the sands, of a woman and her curse that resonates through the centuries.

By Meera Iyer from Deccan Herald

Cauvery Festival – Thousands witness Theerthodbhava at Talacauvery

The Cauvery Theerthodbhava brought out emotions of the people instigating them to jump to the Pond and shouting the slogans as “Cauverammana Paadakke Govindaa.....” which were echoed by the people gathered in thousands around the pond.

The Cauvery Theerthodbhava brought out emotions of the people instigating them to jump to the Pond and shouting the slogans as “Cauverammana Paadakke Govindaa.....” which were echoed by the people gathered in thousands around the pond.

The Theerthodbhava was held on the auspicious Meena lagna.

Devotees from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka started arriving here since morning to witness the event.

Karnataka Minister for Women and Child Narendra Swamy, H Vishwanath, MP and others also took part in the festival.

The Kodagu district administration and police made elaborate security arrangements. KSRTC arranged special bus service for the devotees arriving from neighbouring districts.

It is believed that Goddess Cauvery appears in the form of a sudden upsurge of water in a small tank to give darshan to the innumerable devotees gathered here.

This event known as Theerthodbhava, is celebrated with much festivity in Kodagu.

From NewKerala

Kodagu in imminent Ecological, Demographic Danger

Mysore, Aug. 10 (KK&DM)- “Kodagu is our motherland and it should be protected now before it is too late.” This was the resolve of the Kodavas for the conservation of Kodagu, the source of Cauvery river.



The leaders of Cauvery Sene, environmentalists and the prominent citizens exchanged views on the steps to be taken for the conservation of Cauvery River Basin at an interaction and awareness meet organised by Kodava Samaja at Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa Community Hall in Vijayanagar yesterday.

Nature lover and an engineer by profession, M.N. Appaiah said that forests in Kodagu are fast diminishing and expressed fears of an adverse impact on the catchment area of Cauvery river.

The water sources in Gangotri, the birth place of river Ganga too, are facing threat because of deforestation. Even US researchers have expressed concern over the danger. Deforestation has led to global warming, Appaiah said.

It has caused melting of snow in Gangotri thus threatening Gangotri’s water base. Similarly, deforestation is going on in Kodagu at a fast pace and this has posed a grave threat to Cauvery river basin, Appaiah explained.

Original inhabitants

Coorg Wildlife Society President Col. C.P. Muthanna (retd.), in his power-point presentation, said that the number of Kodagu’s original inhabitants is rapidly on the decline and instead Keralites are settling down in Kodagu in large numbers. Timber mafia of Kerala is eating away Kodagu’s forests and there is no doubt that Kodagu will become another Kerala if the situation continued, he warned.

Kodagu is faced with twin threats of deforestation and Keralisation. Hence it has become absolutely necessary for Kodavas to be united to face these threats. Kodagu is our motherland, he said and called upon everyone to protect it at least now.

He urged the Kodavas and the original inhabitants numbering about 24 to purchase land in Kodagu and discourage outsiders from buying land for commercial purpose.

Observing that illegal sand mining in Cauvery basin is another big problem that Kodagu was facing, Col. Muthanna said this also contributed to deforestation and drying up of Cauvery basin causing ecological imbalance.

Outlining the major problems that Kodagu was facing, Col. Muthanna said that rampant encroachment of forest land, opening of teak plantation, illegal entry to Kodagu by outsiders who encroach on government land, conversion of forest land for habitation, conversion of agricultural land in a large scale for commercial and residential purposes were the major problems faced by Kodagu today.

The deforestation in Cauvery catchment areas has gone out of control as illegal residential layouts and holiday resorts are mushrooming in the name of tourism, he added expressing concern that this was the main reason for the low rainfall this year.

Cauvery Sene Convenor K.A. Ravi Chengappa, who spoke, said that Cauvery Sene is relentlessly fighting against deforestation and illegal mining in Kodagu. Severe protests led to the stopping of Barapole project and currently an agitation is being carried on against the setting up of a power generation project in Abbe Falls. About 40 per cent of Madikeri will be lost if this project comes up. A PIL has been filed in the Court against the setting up of Abbe Falls and Irupu Falls Hydro-electric power generation projects, he said.

It may be recalled here that when Gundu Rao was the Chief Minister some timber merchants had the audacity to retort that soon they would make Kodagu forest a football ground.

About 500 people attended the meeting yesterday.

How to save Kodagu

• Prevent illegal encroachment.

• Prevent deforestation.

• Ban illegal sand mining in Cauvery river basin.

• Prevent Keralisation of Kodagu by Kerala migrants.

• Implement the concept of Greater Talacauvery Wildlife

• Ban felling of trees in Pushpagiri, Talacauvery, Brahmagiri Wildlife Parks. • Prevent urbanisation of Kodagu.

• Halt conversion of agricultural land for commercial and other purposes.

By Star of Mysore