It had been on my mind for a long time. I wanted to to visit Melukote. I have a kind of fascination towards old towns, especially the religious centers, perhaps because they are some of the best preserved glimpses into the past. Melukote is one such town in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It has been a religious and learning center for centuries with the temples of Vishnu in the forms of Cheluvanarayana Swamy and Yoganarasimha Swamy. Although the origins of the town are lost to history, it rose to prominence during the 12th century when Ramanujacharya came and stayed here for over a decade spreading the Srivaishnava tradition. It is believed that many of the Mandyam Iyengars (who had migrated to Mandya from a place near Tirupathi earlier) followed Ramanuja to Melukote and many of them settled here.
I was in Mysore that weekend and decided to visit Melukote on a Sunday. It is just 50 km north of Mysore and for a change, I did not ride there. I comfortably sat beside my grandmother while dad drove us slowly on his first drive outside Mysore on his first car! As we neared the town, the temple on the hill was clearly visible from the road.
Melukote ( Melu = High, Kote = Fort ) sits on an elevated area formed by some of the oldest rocks. There are two main temples in the town both of Vishnu. The temple of Cheluvanarayana Swamy is at the heart of the town, while the Yoganarasimha Swamy temple is perched on top of a rocky hill. The town has a lot of old stone buildings, small ruined temples and ponds/kalyanis. Most of the houses prominently display the ‘Shanka’ and ‘Chakra’, the emblems of Lord Vishnu and the ‘Naama’, that probably represents the Lord himself.
We visited the Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple first. The temple has several shrines and many beautifully carved pillars line the mantapas.
After the pooja there, we walked out and soon found our way to the base of the hill and the start of the steps to the second temple. The path starts with a big Kalyani or a pond. It is surrounded by mantapas that were built as resting areas for the visitors and pilgrims.
Even though the sun was reaching its highest by now, almost the entire way up was under the shade of the trees. While my parents and granny were a bit slow, I took the time to take a few pictures of the temple and the surrounding areas.
There are many old crumbling structures by the steps that are proof of how old the place really is, but they add to the allure of the place.
Luckily the temple wasn’t crowded and we quickly finished our darshana and pooja, and went behind the temple to take a look. The view from behind the temple is great as it overlooks the surrounding green fields.
It was just about time for lunch when we reached the base of the hill again. But I made my folks wait for a while there as I took a quick walk half way around the hill to checkout the other side. There is a fort like wall that goes around the hill and a rear entry with a tiny pond and a mantapa.
The Iyengars, among many other things, are know for their incredibly tasty food. And with almost a town full of Iyengars it wasn’t hard to find a place for a delicious and filling lunch. One such and the most popular of places is the ‘Subbanna mess’. They serve great food at a house. I had the puliyoggare (tamarind rice) and sweet pongal, both the variations, sugar and jaggery.
From there we made our way to one of the popular spots in Melukote. It is an unfinished structure that looks like the base of a huge gopuram. It goes by the name of ‘Rayagopura’. It has tall pillars carved all the way to the top.
By now we were all quite tired and looking forward to the ride back. I took the last few pictures and we were on the highway.
On our way back, we (pre-planned by dad) stopped by an ‘aale-mane’, the place where sugarcane juice is turned into jaggery. The people working there were kind enough to let us in and show us around. We even bought a couple of blocks of jaggery before we left.
It was a calm drive back home to Mysore. We had missed visiting a lake on the way, the ‘Tonnur Kere’ due to lack of time, and I hope to ride around there soon.
This trip was originally published on Shreyas Goes.