Friday, November 29, 2013

Memories of Nanjangud Temple sojourns

The 1000-year old Temple of Lord Srikanteshwara/Nanjundeshwara at the small town of Nanjangud, renown as the Benaras of the south, used to be visited by us almost like a periodic routine. It is 14 miles south of Mysore. We went by both road and rail.  Some of the fine memories of the several sojourns we undertook esp. in the 1960s remain etched in the memory.  Firstly let me recall the train journeys. 

On the left is a picture from 1865. The recent image is from '', appears to have been taken on a day when there are just a few people.

Many of the auspicious days on the lunar calendar were kept aside for visits to Nanjangud.  Our house was at Devaparthiva Road.  The vintage Chamarajapuram Station was just two furlongs away.  This little station was from the late 19th century and resembled something like what R.K.Laxman illustrated in his illustrious brother R.K.Narayan's grand novel "Malgudi Days".  The RKs also lived 5 furlongs away for some decades roughly from 1930.  Since actual photographs are not available, this serves as a visual as it is very close to how it looked.

And this is how it looks now almost from the same angle.  Track is broad gauge now. The old tiled building is also renovated adding new shelters for waiting passengers.  The huge concrete name board is a favourite of mine due to the letter type and its antiquity. 

[Image by author]

The early morning train suited us best.  If we were late to start, someone had to run to buy tickets to save time while the older ones reached gasping!  I was curious to look at how the ticket was issued.  The counter window at a corner had a wooden plank that was as high as my head and I had to crane my ncek to peep into the station master's room.  Methinks it was the station master himself who issued tickets and sometimes also struck the bell.  After money was handed, he would issue tickets only after he inserted tickets into a slot of a peculiar machine. In fact, I read that these machines were still in vogue and were withdrawn by Railways, only last year or so.  These cardboard tickets with destination, serial number and fare already printed.  That machine printed the date. Those neat tickets fitted my little palm and they became playthings after the journey.  

[Image from IndiaMike]

[Image from Wiki]

After buying tickets, we used to wait on the platform.   We kept an eye on when the level crossing gates were closed as it indicated the arrival of our train from the main station.  Opposite this station is Kannegowdana Koppal.  Crossing the dilapidated barricades parallel to the track some people from Koppal would wait with large vessels next to the metre guage track.  I used to wonder.  That was for collecting excess hot water, which the steam engine driver would release for them when it stopped.  They used that water for bathing or other things before it lost its heat.  That saved them the chore of boiling while also saving fuel.

Another amusing thing to watch was the exchange of the token ball.   It was the safety measure for single tracks.  Read in the link what it was all about.  You will see in the picture there that the driver and the station staff are exchanging the ball - kept in the leather bag tied to that cane ring with a handle.  

At Chamarajapuram, when some goods train passed without stopping, he would drop that cane ring with ball before getting ready to receive another.  He would hold his arm stretched to 'catch' it. The ring clattered into his shoulder as the train kept moving.  This was another sight to watch.

When our train arrived we would all board it.  Soon there would be a bell, which was a 2-feet piece of a steel rail hung in front of the Station Master's room and stuck with a small iron object. The clangs from this could be heard even at home on silent mornings.  The Guard and the Driver communicated with the Station Master with flags.  At night they used kerosene lamps with a green or red tinted glass lens.  Even the level crossing had a kerosene lamp fitted to a pole. 

When the green flag was waved, the train's whistle would go....Kooooo.....koo.  Then Chuku bkuku chuku bhuku...the train would move.  I was also eager to see if the signal hand connected by a long steel cable many hundred feet away.  As our train moved, I used to follow the cable running parallel to the track up to the pole.  The lever in the Station Master's room was operated for this.  It was a great thrill to see the Station Master, just as much thrill to see a policeman on night beat, in flesh and blood!! 

It took about 45 minutes to reach Nanjangud, stopping at Ashokapuram, Tandavapura and Kadakola stations.  Nearing Nanjangud, the train [metre gauge] passed over a bridge built in the 1730s, yes, 1730s, on River Kabini.  It is the oldest bridge in India.  It had both rail and road running parallel, which is a unique feature.  Since it is dilapidated, traffic is suspended [since just a few years] after building separate bridges for road and rail with broad gauge.  On that old bridge, it was thrilling to watch from the train vehicles moving next to our train.  When we were in the taxi, if we were lucky, the train would be moving beside. I compared speeds.

Old bridge [now not used] where the rail and road run closely. Picture taken from our moving bus recently..

After alighting at Nanjangud Town Rly. Stn., we would walk down or take a Tonga [horse cart] and go through the Bazar Street to reach the Temple .  It was a lovely, calm and peaceful temple to visit, with stone pillars, stone floor, stone roof and a magnificent ambiance true to a really sacred place.   My grandmother would focus on the idol of the deity and do the praying while we followed suit. As soon as the rituals and mantra chanting were completed by the priest, we were back in the station to catch the train to Mysore, but not before relaxing for a few minutes.  My mother, younger brother and an aunt also accompanied on these mini pilgrimages. But when my grandfather came, we went by a taxi, owned by one Khallaq, an acquaintance of Salar Masood Sahib who was my grandfather's client.

We did several trips in Khallaq's black and cream taxi - may be it was a Hillman.  The number 77 painted on the doors on either side ever remains in my memory. Whenever and wherever we saw some other taxi, we would get excited 'Khallaq's taxi!'. There was a taxi stand behind Town Hall where a new structure has come up now [Makkaji Chowk] and Khallaq used to be there. So it was my grandfather who found him the previous day to fix up the next day's tour.  Very calm and soft-spoken driver, he was our favourite.  It was fun going in his taxi.

I tried to imitate my grandfather's style when he sat near the front window. He would rest his elbow on where the glass shutter went down and held the upper frame with his palm. When I tried, my arm was so small.  Now I can imitate. I do, when I sit in our car and recall those days!

Even now when I go on that stretch of road before reaching the old bridge [now a new parallel one is used], I recall a sight I saw when I was probably 2 or 3 years old.  It was this sight that has firmly stuck in memory.

River Kabini goes in a curve. At that time I am now recalling, there was a large amount of water, may be double than in that picture.  You know what I had exclaimed?  "Umba Neeya".... Actually it should have been "Thumba Neeru".  But I was not yet proficient in correct pronunciation at that small age.  This is so fresh in my memory that I can feel as if I'm watching that now, sitting on someone's lap, may be it was my mother.  There was an unobstructed view of the river. 

The most uncomfortable part was when my grandmother made a vow for me for a ritual called 'Tula Bhara' at that temple and a large quantity of jaggery cubes would be bought and taken.  For this, it was always in Khallaq's taxi.  There used to be a big weighing balance suspended in an open shed in the quadrangle.  It was meant for this ritual.  On one tray I would be made to sit. In the other, jaggery cubes, weighing equal or a wee bit more.  This jaggery was offered to the Deity.  Kings would do the same, but with gold coins instead of jaggery or whatever item that was vowed!  I was extremely shy to get weighed in front of so many people and this is what made me uncomfortable. I tried to shy away and got cranky.  I do not clearly recall if we took a bath in River Kabini close to the temple before going in, which many people used to do.

Sometimes we went on weekdays also. Without hurry, we were able to return well in time for my grandfather's 11a.m Court time.

Inside the stone temple, it was so cool.  I used to run here and there and my grandmother used to break the 'prasadam' coconut halves and offer us a few pieces while we relaxed before embarking on the return journey.  There used to be a rickety door [which was locked] to a small shrine full of bells.  Many children used to shake them to produce the clangs in different frequencies - cling, clang, tlong, long, plong, all would go in a chorus but the one that did not have the 'n' would stand out!!

Snapping fingers at the tiny idol of Chandikeshwara, the sight of the Mystery Bilwa Tree growing on the roof, a Shiva Linga on the Temple tower peeped through a ventilator, the peaceful open quadrangle, some huge brass 'Garuda', etc. used for the processions being stored in some free place, the oily aroma in the temple premise, all stand in memory.   There is a huge Sacred Stone Bull at the entrance.  This was the first mini temples we would be visiting in the premises.  A couple of bananas would be offered to the the Bull. The priest would peel it and place it at its mouth, horizontally.  It is an unforgettable sight on the seated black bull.  A mantra would be uttered and then he would give that banana as 'prasadam'.

The peaceful ambiance itself inside the vast temple premises used to take me to a blissful state, which I could not express at that time.  We could stand there any length of time and get energized being in such close proximity of the Deity.  There was no queue system or barricades to visit the sanctum sanctorum, like it has become necessary since about 15-20 years.  And there were so many other 'mini idols' that had to be worshipped/visited.

We traveled to Bangalore also many times and that is in a separate post.

Childhood memories are best. 


Mahesh Narayan said...

Dear dinookara
I read with interest your anecdote on the visit to nanjanagud. It is in vivid deatil; as though the journey transpired but yesterday. Your memory and powers of observation are excellent. I may add that during one of those journeys to nanjanagud, with my aunt's gowra and savitramma, I noticed that gowra would knit purse from start to finish; peering closely at the handiwork in progress and not taking her eyes off the wool or nylon straws even when simultaneously talking to us.
Regarding he Chuku buku, I add that I used to note their separation until the train gathered so much speed a few feet past the platform that the chuku and buku simply merged into one; unable to be deconvoluted by the mind. That was a sign that the train was going fast.
...One of the twins (w/wo the maatthi)

ER Ramachandran said...

Thank you Dinu for a vivid narrative. I had visited Nanjanagudu from Bangalore when I was quite young;I had come with my mother and sister. I was not well and My mother had made a sankalpa to visit Nanundeshwara temple. Yes I remember the train journey, river Kapila very clearly. We visited the temple; somebody known to our family was close to the temple. we had lunch with her and left by evening train.It has remained etched in my memory...