Time travel to The BYGONE ERA

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‘Srirangapatnam aka Seringapatam still bears many signs of the British Raj as it does of the rule by successive dynasties in Karnataka’

In our history books, it was almost always mentioned as Seringapatam thanks to the anglicisation by the British during their rule over India including this region. Today, the heritage town of Srirangapatnam aka Srirangapatna still bears many signs of the British Raj as it does of the rule by successive dynasties in Karnataka like the Hoyasalas, Vijayanagaram kings and Tipu Sultan’s family.

All these rulers left behind monuments of various kinds. Recently, these historic structures have been nominated for the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the state of Karnataka where they are located. The application is pending on the tentative list of UNESCO and Karnataka hopes to make it recognised as such in the near future. Given its religious, cultural and historic importance, Srirangapatna which is located in Mandya district and just around three and half hours from Bengaluru, has become a big tourist attraction. Aiding this is its proximity to heritage city, Mysuru. In fact, many visitors to Mysuru take time off to visit Srirangapatna which is barely a half-hour drive away.

The town takes its name from the famous Sri Ranganathaswamy temple which is one of the most important Vaishnavite shrines of south India. Sri Ranganathaswamy is regarded as a form of Lord Vishnu and his consort at this temple, Ranganayaki is considered as Goddess Lakshmi. There are many remarkable features in this temple. First, the idol has Vishnu in a reclining position and visitors have to move from one side to another for a look at the complete idol ie from head to feet. Secondly, this is one of the three main Ranganatha temples of India and all three are located along the Cauvery river. This temple occurs first alongside the river and is hence known as the Adi (meaning first) Ranganatha temple. The second is the Madhya (meaning middle) Ranganatha temple at Shivasamudram while the Anthya (meaning end or last) Ranganatha temple is located at Srirangam.

The town takes its name from the famous Sri Ranganathaswamy

temple, one of the most important Vaishnavite shrines of south India

Thirdly, this is one of the five important pilgrimage sites along the river Cauvery for Vaishnavites and together these five sacred sites are known as Pancharanga Kshetrams in south India. Finally, the Paschima Vaahini section of the river at Srirangapatna is considered especially holy. It is where many people come to pay perform annual obsequies to their ancestors and/or immerse their ashes in these sacred waters.

We visited the Sri Ranganathaswamy first thing in the morning as most Hindu temples close by noon and we wanted enough time to explore its interiors and the stalls selling ethnic crafts outside. A long road leads up to the temple with a soaring gopuram and is lined with shops selling puja paraphernalia and local handicrafts. Initially, built by a vassal of the rulers of the Ganga dynasty in the ninth or 10th century AD (there are different accounts); the structure was expanded and aesthetically improved upon by successive rulers of the region. On the whole, the temple reveals different styles—mainly Hoyasala and Vijayanagaram.

We entered and found our way to the sanctum-sanctourm where there was a big crowd of devotees before the large, black idol of Sri Ranganatha. The deity is seen reclining on the coils of Adiseshu (the divine snake dear to Vishnu) who also forms a protective canopy over the lord’s head. After darshan here where we received a bunch of tulsi leaves and flowers taken from the deity’s feet, we went on to visit the other shrines beginning with that of his consort Sri Ranganayaki. Within the fairly spacious temple were several other alcoves to different deities—like Hanuman or Anjaneya, Krishna, Lakshmi Narasimha, etc. Stepping outside, we bought some laddus sold as prasad at the entrance.

We also purchased plenty of wooden artefacts made locally (both decorative and household items are available), as well as sandalwood items from the stores around. It was then time for reviving history lessons from schooldays. Srirangapatna was the site of the last and historic battle fought between Tipu Sultan and a large army contributed by East India Company and the Nizam of Hyderabad.

In history books, you would have studied the details of these conflicts in Mysuru between Tipu Sultan and the British under sections titled Seige of Seringapatam and the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. The two great Deccan kings Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan expanded their Mysore kingdom across south India and left behind many structures as a legacy of their reign. The best known is the Dariya Daulat Palace (aka Summer Palace) which is set in well-manicured gardens known as the Daria Daulat Bagh. The palace is built on a raised platform, employs plenty of teakwood and is in Indo-Saracenic style. Some sections are very ornate. Nearby is a small rectangular enclosure which is considered the spot at which Tipu Sultan died i.e. his body was found here as the sign explains.

 

We next headed to Gumbaz, an architecturally impressive and well-maintained mausoleum which houses the remains of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and his mother Fatima Begum and is set amid aesthetically landscaped gardens. Besides, these three, other and lesser-known extended family members are also buried here. Black granite pillars support the structure which is topped by a large dome and has ornamental railings. There are several Farsi epitaphs that have been the subject of study by many historians of this era.The Srirangapatna Fort is an imposing structure with an obelisk in honour of the fallen, a masjid, temples, Colonel Bailey’s dungeon, etc. The fort underwent expansions and modifications under a series of rulers of the region.

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is one of south

India’s bestmaintained bird habitats in Karnataka

After a quick look at the Jumma Masjid where Tipu and his family members used to worship, we visited the historic Wellesley Bridge on the Cauvery river with enormous stone pillars, girders, slabs and corbels. It was sad to note that this heritage structure is under threat from the floods in the Cauvery in recent times and the undergrowth of wild plants. Environmentalists and heritage-lovers point out that the bridge is in urgent need of restoration and protection from possible submersion and collapse. We had no time for Scott’s Bungalow named after an army officer but you can visit it if you have a penchant for history and mystery (many stories and unanswered questions surround the structure). As dusk was nearing, we hurried to the Karighatta Hill, the best-known viewpoint as also the site of a temple to Lord Srinivasa aka Venkateswara. Another option is to visit here at sunrise for superb views of Mysuru, the Cauvery river and Srirangapatna.

If you are still eager for more temples, there are others in and around the town like the Kalyani Siddhi Vinayaka Temple, Sathyanarayana Swamy Temple, Lakshminarasimha Swamy Temple, Jyothi Mahaswara Temple, Bidhcotta Ganesha Temple, Panduranga Swamy Temple, Gangadhareswara Swamy Temple, and Nagara Ganesha Temple, Lakshmi Temple, Sri Raghavendra Swamy Mutt, etc. On the town’s outskirts is the the well-known Nimishamba temple, named for its presiding deity Nimishamba, an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi. She is said to grant the wishes of true devotees in a minute or nimisha, hence the name. However, we drove past without entering as it was getting late for dinner.

The next day, we left before sunrise for the celebrated Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, which is barely twenty minutes away from the town’s centre. It is one of south India’s best-maintained and important habitats for bird species and Karnataka’s largest. The sanctuary originated from a group of islets formed by the Cauvery river embankment. Over 160 species of birds have been seen here and during winter months, the sanctuary receives thousands of birds migrating from the colder regions of the north side of the country and beyond.

Some of the birds spotted here are the painted stork, woolly-necked stork, river tern, black-headed ibis, Indian shag, great stone plover, lesser whistling duck, stork-billed kingfisher, cormorant, heron, etc. Common palm civets, flying fox, gray mongoose and monitor lizards are among the fauna here. More easily spotted are the crocodiles which are aplenty here and the sight of these creature sunning themselves on the land is a big draw for visitors and a perfect photo-op too. Ranger-guided boat tours are the ideal way to explore Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. We took a slow ride, gliding past somnolent crocodiles and a vast variety of birds on the waters and in the branches of trees, some of which we managed to capture in our cameras.

Architectural Marvel

Seringapatam is a popular destination in Karnataka given its magnificent temples and monumental forts. Known as a design marvel, the city is protected from all sides by a stone fort. The fort is designed in a typical French defense style of architecture and has huge bastions, fort walls and even secret passages. The city shines in every corner as the architecture in every inch of the city is uniquely crafted.

Seringapatam Fort

One of the must-visit monuments on any tour to Karnataka is the double-walled Seringapatam Fort. Featuring four gates  Bengaluru, Mysuru, Delhi and Water and Elephant gates – there are two dungeons within the fort precincts, where prisoners were held captive

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