Talakadu: The Temple City Devoured by Sand

Jan 8, 2021 0 comments

The ancient city of Talakadu situated on the banks of the Kaveri river, about 45 km east of Mysore, was once the capital of the Western Ganga dynasty which ruled over Karnataka in southern India about a thousand years ago. The once flourishing city with over 30 temples now lies in ruins, devoured by sand when the Kaveri river shifted course. The loss of Talakadu is an unfortunate ecological disaster, but there are many who believe that an ancient curse is to blame.

An excavated temple in Talakadu. Photo: badattidude.blogspot.com

The city of Talakadu was first mentioned in connection to the Western Ganga dynasty, whose king Harivarman made Talakadu his capital in around 390 CE. The town’s origin is not known, but according to a popular lore, Talakadu got its name from two Kirāta twin brothers, Tala and Kādu, who, after cutting down a tree they saw wild elephants worshiping, discovered that it contained an image of Lord Shiva, and that the elephants were actually shape-shifting sages in disguise. The tree was then miraculously restored and the place was named Talakadu.

The Ganga dynasty which emerged in 345 CE after the fall of the Ikshvakus of Nagarjunakonda originally had their capital in Kolar, before King Harivarman moved it to ‘Talavanapura’ or present-day Talakadu. The kingdom of the Gangas flourished in trade and commerce and although their territory was small, the Gangas contributed greatly to polity, culture and literature of the modern south Karnataka region. The Ganga kings were famous for their patronage toward Jainism resulting in the construction of many Jain monuments and temples, of which little remain today.

Photo: badattidude.blogspot.com

The Western Ganga dynasty’s 600-year-rule came to an abrupt end in 1000 CE, following their defeat by the Cholas, and Talakadu was renamed ‘Rajarajapura’. In 1117, Vishnuvardhana, one of the greatest rulers of the Hoysala dynasty seized Talakadu from the Cholas and assumed the title of Talakadugonda, or ‘conqueror of Talakadu’. To celebrate this achievement, he built the Keerthinarayana temple here.

From the 17th century, the river began to shift and the town started to get buried under sand. Geologists believe that it may have been caused by the construction of a dam just north of the city, in the 14th century. The dam may have caused the water around the Kaveri river to become very shallow, exposing the sand beds. The south-westerly winds then carried the sand and deposited it on the old town of Talakadu.

For the next two hundred years the sand ruled Talakadu, and the people tired of this uninvited intrusion simply moved away. A new town sprang up on the north. This sleepy little town is just a shadow of its older self, but in recent years, the new Talakadu has emerged as the epicenter of some of the latest advances in horticulture and wine making. Often referred to as Bangalore's Gourmet Valley, Talakadu now produces fine wines, exotic fresh produce, artisan cheese and other diverse culinary experiences.

An excavated temple in Talakadu. Photo: miraclesofhinduism.blogspot.com

What caused the sand dunes to suddenly start closing in on the city has not been conclusively proved, but according to a popular folklore, it’s all because of a curse. The story of Talakadu’s famous curse goes back to the 17th century when Tirumala Raya, the governor of the Vijayanagara Empire which then ruled Talakadu, came to the city to offer prayers in the temple of Vaidyēsvara in the hope that the divine grace of god will heal the incurable disease that he was suffering from. Tirumala Raya left his wife Alamelamma in charge of governance while he was gone. But one of Tirumala Raya’s dependencies, Raja Wadiyar of Mysore, saw this as an opportunity and wrested power from Alamelamma. He then chased Alamelamma to the banks of the river Kaveri, where the queen threw herself into the waters to escape Raja Wadiyar’s goons. Before she drowned, she uttered a three-fold curse:

Let Talakadu become sand; let Mālangi become a whirlpool; let the Mysore Rajas fail to beget heirs.

The providence is said to have played out—Talakadu got buried in sand, and Raja Wadiyar’s only surviving son died depriving the rulers a heir to the throne.

But Raja Wadiyar was truly repentant. In his grief he had an idol of Alamelamma made in gold, installed it in the palace, and worshiped it as a deity. Alamelamma’s idol can still be found inside the Mysore Palace.

Photo: Bangaloregetaways

# Temple tales, Deccan Herald
# Aditi Shah, Talakadu: A Town Buried Under Kaveri’s Sands, Live History India
# Chitra Ramaswamy, By the river, in the sand, Deccan Herald
# Wikipedia


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