The last post that I wrote last was on my visit to the temple town of Srirangam. Nearer home is another temple town situated on an island formed by Kaveri (Cauvery). Two centuries ago as the ruthless colonisers tightened their stranglehold to loot the riches of the sub-continent, several independent kingdoms succumbed to the wily machinations of the British colonial power, many were subdued by threat of war, and war as well. Some of the royals were pensioned off, but several ruling princes refused to be cowed down by these threats, the Sikhs in the north, the Marathas in the west were among them. Not to be left behind in defending the independent territorry of Mysore were Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan - usurpers of the kingdom of Mysore from the ancient Wodeyar dynasty which ruled from this island fort since 1610 CE.
The British, in the garb of East India Company, were able to wrest this strategic military bastion after four bloody wars spread over almost quarter of a century.
About 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Mysore is the battle scarred town of Srirangapatna. As one approaches this town on the highway enroute to Bangalore, towards the left the placidly flowing waters of the Kaveri near the royal bathing ghat suddenly emerge as the road curves to right. Within seconds, one can see the crumbling walls of the massive fort, at a distance is the gopura (spire) of a temple. Further along the route after another curve, before we cross the bridge, the towering twin minarets of the 18th century A' la Mosque built by Tipu Sultan - all these were silent witnesses to the resistance against the colonial powers.
Today this town is fairly well known on the tourist circuit and the centre of attraction is the Sri Ranganatha temple, a majority of the activities revolve around this ancient temple also known as Gautama Kshetra. On 14th January 2009, myself and Raghu decided to visit this temple for three reasons on that auspicious day.
1. It marks the day of harvest festival Makara Sankranti, across India, when the newly harvested grain is cooked for the first time; a platter of goodies to tickle the palate.
2. The reclining deity, Ranganatha, which is 16 feet long is adorned with fresh butter which is applied as a thin coat over the image, about 80 kilograms of butter is consumed in this excercise. The dark complexioned deity in black chlorite schist is transformed into snowy fair handsome prince - it is a sight to behold.
3. Hundreds upon hundreds of earthen lamps are lit in the pathway to the temple to mark the opening of the Vaikunta Dwara - a gate located in the northern part of the temple kept locked all through the year is thrown open for devotees. This gate is the earthly representation of a similar divine gateway which leads to the abode of Vishnu.
With a sense of satisfaction and feeling positively energised, Raghu got busy with the camera shooting the stucco images above the granite pillars. I searched by a secluded corner to partake the sanctified food offering given to me by the chief priest Sri Vijayasarathy.
The brightly lit flag post area in the inner courtyard seemed a tranquil place, as I prepared to settle down near the pillar in front of the monolith statue of the celestial guardian 'Vijaya', I noticed a well worn Goats & Tigers game pattern.
Before I could share the discovery with Raghu, he had spotted an Aligulimane (Indian Mancala) pits, covered with dust, on the stone paved floor.
As we finished the circumambulation and passed through the Vaikunta Dwara, a giant sized rock cut pot to plant the sacred basil, Tulasi, beckoned us, as we admired the beautiful relief carving on it, at the base was another well preserved 'Goats & Tigers' game pattern.
Munching on the sugar candy offered at the Ranganayaki shrine, we walked past the main gate into the commotion outside where thousands of earthen lamps were brimming with oil, with a lone cotton wicke each, to be lit at the sunset.
We ascended the temple's main tower, Rajagopura, to have a long view of the people assembled. As we peeped out of the tiny window on the fifth floor of the gopura, in front of us was a beautiful vista. The twinkling flickers from miniature lamps was an inspiring sight - looked like a litup runway for the landing of celestial chariots flying down from heavens above.