Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chamundi Hill, its beauty and legend

Chamundi Hill has been Mysore's natural landmark for centuries.  Standing 3,489 ft.asl [above sea level] on its plateau, it forms an imposing, yet adorable backdrop, south east of the city.  Its shape itself is very calming and is said to be the most painted and photographed scenes!  Has anyone guessed its age?  It is 800 million years old, yes 800, formed from 'recent volcanic activity'.  'Recent!'

1910s picture post card, with the now dry Doddakere [lake] in the foreground.

Geologists say that it is of igneous rocks of pink and gray granite and are considered young when compared to the 2.3 billion years old peninsular Gneissic rocks. Gravelly red soil, rich in silica content, a rocky surface and a scanty precipitation support a tropical deciduous thorn-scrub type of vegetation, which leopards have found suitable to inhabit and continues to.  The vegetation of Chamundi Hill comprises of 442 species of flowering plants spread over 91 families (ref. KB Sadananda and Sampathkumara). Chamundi Hill’s influence on the ecology of the region plays a crucial role in the micro-climate of Mysore. 

Look at the rock, taking all the weather since millions of years!

Above: View of the hill from our housetop at winter sunrise.

Another slightly zoomed shot from our rooftop on a sunny afternoon.

View from Dhanvantri Road - peeping from the first floor.  Vintage Devaraja Market in the foreground.

Mysore Race Course has this fantastic view. 

When I return to the city after any trip outside, I must see the Chamundi Hill as our train or bus is within 10-15 kilometres. This gives the ah-I-am-back-home feeling, even if it just a few minutes away!  It has become a habit.  Even at night, I must see the lights which are visible from some miles.  The grand hill is also my directional clue whenever I go to Mysore's newer and distant localities. 

Constance E. Parsons [a British lady] writes in her 1930 book 'Mysore City':
Mysore owes much to her loveliness to her tutelary hill that the first sight of her great isolated granitoid mass causes the returning Mysorean more than a little thrill...... Cloud-capped at dawn, rose-flushed at sunset, star-spangled with her 'torrent of gems from the sky' through the night; her mountain sides, green and gold and grey, Chamundi, as a background to the city she guards, is perfectly and perpetually satisfying.

My earliest childhood memory of 'being on top of the hill' is from, may be 1964-65.  My grandmother had taken me in a bus for the ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ಜಾತ್ರೆ [ರಥೋತ್ಸವ] 'Car Festival' [Temple Car].  Thousands would gather to witness the traditional event early in the morning.  I remember a very huge crowd. The Mysore King [H.H.Jayachamaraja Wadiyar] would be present.  He would 'pull' the huge car, with a very thick long rope.  Actually many others pulled it, but the King lending his hands on the rope for a short while was customary.  The King pulling the car was a mini event in itself.  People craned their necks to have a glimpse of this sight. I was lucky once or twice to watch the King, always clad in white. The car would be pulled in a slow procession perambulating the temple in the clockwise direction.

A recent image from "The Hindu".  See the Car [carrying the Temple Deity in it] in procession: ರಥೋತ್ಸವ.

Illustration of Goddess Chamundeshwari from 'Balashikshe', 1890, Maharani's Girls School Book.

My grandmother and me had reached the previous evening and spent the night in a house, which was where the Temple Priest lived and who was known to our family.  See picture below. The Temple entrance is just out of frame on the right.  Look for the low house with a tiled roof where a van is parked.  That is the house where we had stayed, one of the very few surviving.

I will be quoting more from Parsons [Italics] as she describes the scenario in a very beautiful manner. One can imagine how much more beautiful the hill really was many decades ago. 

Parsons writes: Wide, spiral roads now open up the many view-points on the hill, and lead to the village, the temples, the palace bungalow on the top; to the sacred bull, lower down, and to the still lower pleasance of Lalitadri.  'Circles' and 'islands', revolving summer houses, daintily sculptured 'mantapas' and newly built shrines adorn a hill already enriched by the legends and monuments of a romantic past.  Her shrines draw multitudes to worship; her cool fresh air, gardens, walks and drives draw multitudes more to rest and recreation. 

A very old picture of the Chamundi temple seen from behind.  The temple tower was built in 1827 during the reign of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. 

This is a narrow road winding up from the south. 

My scooter is dwarfed by a boulder.

Parsons also mentions of wild pig and porcupines besides leopards!  The hill's 11-km periphery falls under the Forest Reserve.  Leopards are sighted occasionally by 'lucky' passersby even now.  Here are two web grab images taken in the dark by two separate passersby.  My friend Ravindra also encountered one some years ago. He saw it leap across his bike, at some distance.  There are no reports of leopards harming people but sadly, people have harmed these poor cats sometimes when they have wandered down to the city in search of food.

The Journal of the Mysore Mythic Society [by Rev. E.V.Thompson, M.A.] mentions: 
'In the first instance the goddess worshipped in this shrine at have been identified with Siva's consort, and a sthala purana or mahatmya was composed which related that on this spot the buffalo-headed monster [Mahish = Buffalo and Asura = Demon], Chamunda, was slain.  Chamundesvari is now regarded as an incarnation of Lakshmi.  This unique feature in her legendary history being possibly due to the predominant influence of the Sri Vaishnavite sect in the palace in the twelfth century.'

Parsons writes: 'Though the legend has various forms, all indicate that in ages long ago Mysore was delivered from the grip of some great terror - from beast or foe or pestilence. 

One account claims that the goddess slew two demons, Chanda and Manda, so winning herself a name combined of both.  But the more usually accepted version speaks of her as Chamundi-Mahishasura-mardani, the slayer of the minotaur. 

She is, therefore, the household deity of the town named in commemoration of Maisa [buffalo], Uru[town].  Chama also means dark blue, and is regarded as her colour, as in the case of Krishna.  Her image on the hill bestrides a lion, and has twenty hands.'

The oldest shrine on the hill is in fact of Mahabaleswara, formerly the presiding deity of the hill, whose worship is now apparently eclipsed by that of the goddess Chamundeswari.  Writes Parsons: Two stone slabs were found, bearing almost the oldest Mysore stone inscriptions yet discovered.  Worn out as they are, enough remains to reveal a date not later than A.D. 950. They bear the hill's old name of Mobellada-tirtha, evidence that a thousand years ago this was a sacred spot - a place of pilgrimage, and dedicated to Isvara, Siva.  The fragmentary inscription on one stone relates a grant to charity.  The other is an epitaph, a record that some poor troubled soul - a woman - after life's long pilgrimage, 'found here', say the blurred old letters, 'salvation and peace'.

Later inscriptions on the hill note that in A.D.1128 the great King Vishnuvardhana made a grant to the temple, and a fugitive king of Vijayanagar another one in 1620.

Google-satellite image showing the two temples - smaller 'rectangle' is the Mahabaleshwara Temple.

Entrance to the Mahabaleshwara Temple

There will be a separate post on Nandi Bull, the great monolith, which is an integral part of the hill. 

This is an image from the 19th century, for the time being. 
* * * 

You will find my separate post on the beautiful fight of 'a thousand steps'. Here: [Click]




Lovely views of the divine hill. I have visited Mysore only once, and long to see it again.

SPGR. said...

Nice & Detailed write-up, prompting to visit Mysore agian...

ER Ramachandran said...

Chamundi is Mysore's soul.Hope they don't meddle with it often and bring down the serene atmosphere near the temple.Yes, like Wordsworth's daffodils, one's heart leaps in joy at the sight of the Hills no matter how young or old one is.Well written and embellished with great pics.Thanks Dinu!

jothi's jottings said...

Beautifully written,Dinu! I remember during my childhood, whenever I was returning by train to Mysuru from my annual vacations from Bengalaru, I would peep through the bars of the window to catch the glimpse of the lights on the Chamundi hill.It was a joy to see the twinkling lights, which meant the end of a tiring journey. You might remember that during the days of the metre gauge and steam engines the journey between these two cities would take more than 6 hours minimum. So it would be a great relief to see the hills at a distance.

Altogether a well written well researched blog.

(Please correct an error in spelling in the concluding para.)