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It is long believed that Melkote in Karnataka, India, is the place of origin for Mandyam Iyengars.  The place has gained importance in our community due to its 1000 year history and also mythological connections.  This hence necessitated us to research these links and summarise them in the following paragraphs.

Melkote (Thirunarayanapuram)

Melkote is located in the Mandya district, Karanataka State in South India. It is around 30 kms from Pandavapura, 25 kms from Mandya and 160 kms from Bangalore (3 hours drive appx).  It is at an altitude of about 900 metres above the sea level.  The place has a very long history, dating back to "Kritha" Yuga, when it was called "Vedadri".  In "Thretha" Yuga it was called "Narayanadri" and in "Dwapara"  Yuga was called "Yadavadri".  The main deity Cheluvanarayana, is known to have been worshipped by Sri Krishna and Balarama in Dwapara Yuga.  In "Kali" Yuga, Acharya Sri Ramanuja, reinstalled the deity and the place came to be known as "Yathisaila".  Melkote is equated to the famous Badarinath, and is called Dakshina Badari Kshetra. (South Badari)


Mythological link:

Brahma requested Lord Narayana (Vishnu) to provide him an idol, to perfporm daily prayers. Vishnu in turn gifted an idol to Brahma, which was created from his Atma Kalasha.  Brahma who was using it for regular prayers, presented it to his son (Manasika Putra) Sanathkumara, for his daily prayers when he came down to Earth.  Sanathkumara brought this idol of Narayana to south India and installed it in the present day Melkote.  Hence this place gained the name "Narayanadri".

Now, in the absence of a Vishnu's idol for offering prayers, Brahma once again approached Vishnu with the request.  Vishnu gifted him another small idol along with the idols of both his consorts, "Bhudevi" (Earth) and "Sridevi" (Laksmi).

In Thretha Yuga, Rama required an idol for his prayers because he himself  was the human incarnation of VIshnu.  Thus Lord Rama looked towards Brahma for an idol of Vishnu.  Brahma gifted these precious idols to Lord Rama.  Lord Rama was greately attached and deeply devoted to these idols.   In view of Rama’s deepest love and reverence to this Thirunaryana's idol, it gained the name "Ramapriya".

Kusha, Lord Rama’s son inherited Ramapriya’s idol which he gifted to his daughter Kanakamalini during her wedding to a Yadava king. Sri Krishna and Balarama of the Yadava family, inherited this idol in Dwapara Yuga.  Balarama during his travel, observed the exact similarities of the main deity of Cheluvanarayana  in Narayanadri, with the Ramapriya's idol in his pocession.   Balarama and Sri Krishna brought Ramapriya's idol to Narayandri, installed it in the temple as the "Utsavamurthy" and offered their prayers.   Thus the place gained the name "Yadavadri".
History

The famous Yadavadri, including the temple, became a ruin over the years, due to incessant wars between native Hindu kings and invading Muslims. The main deity Cheluvanarayana got buried under the ruins. The Utsavamurthy was however taken away to Delhi, along with the other riches of the temple, by the king Mohammed Badshah.

Sri Ramanuja (born in 1017AD) was camping in Thondanur for propogating Srivaishnavism due to the strong influence of Jainism  in the region then.  He brought many people into the folds of Srivaishnavism including King Vishnuvardhana.  One night, Ramanuja dreamt of Lord Cheluvanarayana beckoning him to unearth the Vishnu idol from the ruins, in a nearby place.  With the help of King Vishnuvardhana and his army, Ramanuja arrived in Yadavadri in 1099, and dug up the idol of Cheluvanarayana and reinstalled the Lord in a newly constructed temple.  He also established regular prayers and processes for the Lord.  From then, the place gained the name "Yathishaila" (Saint Hill).

Once the main deity was established, Ramanuja felt the need for a utsavamurthy in the temple.  Again Lord Cheluvanarayana informed in a dream that the temple’s utsavamurthy was available in Delhi in the palace of the king.  In spite of his old age, Ramanuja immediately travelled to Delhi and approached the king with all his radiance and charm.  He requested the king for the return of the idol of his dreams.  The muslim king, who was highly impressed by Ramanuja’s power and devotion agreed to return the idol.   The idol however  was in possession of the young princess who was deeply attached to its beauty.  The princess agreed to hand over the idol to Ramanuja with great difficulty. Ramanuja accepted the idol and started on his return journey to Melkote.   The princess who could not bear the separation followed the idol with Ramanuja to Melkote.  Even today, there is a small idol of the princess at the feet of Ramapriya in her memory and is identified as "Bibi Nacchiar" (Muslim Angel).

 Today, Melkote (known as Thirunarayanpuram among Srivaishnavas) is one of the four most sacred centres of Srivaishnavism in South India, the others being Sriranagam, Thirumalai and Kanchipuram. Ramanujacharya composed the following chant (shloka) in recognition of the places,

  

"Sriranga mangala manim karunanivasam

Srivenkatadri shikharalaya kalamegham

Srihastishaila shikharojwala parijatam

Srisham namami shirasa yadushaila deepam".


The main deity in Srirangam is in a sleeping posture and hence the place is called "Bhoga Mantapam" (House of relaxation). Thirumalai is called "Pushpa Mantapam" (House of flowers) as the deity is always decorated with flowers. Kanchipuram is known as "Thyaga Mantapam" (House of relinquishment) as the main deity bestows the devotees. Thirunarayanapuram is known as "Gnana Mantapam" (House of Knowledge) as the main deity radiates knowledge.
Lord Narasimha Temple

Temple of Lord Narasimha on top of the hill is one of the oldest temples in the area.  It is a picturesque view from the temple.   On a clear day visitors have sighted Sri Gomateswara statue of Sravanabelagola from the roof of the Lord Narasimha temple.  The cave below the temple commonly known as "Bilswarga" is an extraordinary cave that goes right under Lord Narasimha's idol.  It is a challenging trip down the cave with very tight spaces.
A GREAT VAISHNAVA PILIGRIM PLACE " THONDANUR"

or correctly known as " KERE THONDANUR", Mandya District, Karnataka.

Brief History of the place:

As we know Sri Sri Ramanujacharya, who hurriedly came out of Srirangam in Tamilnadu, settled down in Thondanur for an extended period, about 1000 years ago. From here Sri Ramanuja propagated Vishisthadwaitha Siddhantha in Karnataka. Working from Thondanur, he reinstated Sri Sri Thirunarayana temple at Melukote, which is about 10miles/15km away. After a great search for Uthsavamoorthy for Thirunarayanaswamy, Sri Yathiraja found the beautiful moorthy at Delhi with the Badshah’s daughter "BIBI". It is said that Sri Yemberumanar affectionately called the moorthy " SELVAPILLAI VAARAAI" (Selvapillai please come) and the Uthsavamoorthy started coming closer & closer to Him. This is the moorthy which we have in Melukote today.

During Sri Yathiraja’s stay at Thondanur, he answered questions from several other religious heads simultaneously from behind a curtain in the form of ADISHESHA. He is seen in ADISHESHA AVATHAR in Sri Narasimhar temple. While at Thondanur, Sri Yathiraja showed some of his powers in driving away the Evil Spirits from the daughter of King Bitti Devaraya. Impressed by his TEJAS BEARING PERSONALITY, TEACHINGS AND POWERS of Sri Ramanuja, the Hoysala King BITTI DEVARAYA, who was a Jain, got blessed by no other than Sri Yatheendra, became a Vaishnava and was given the name of " VISHNU VARDHANA".

Sri Ramanuja installed "THONDAR" as a high priest of SRI NAMBINARAYANA temple at Thondanur to take care of the temple.  This temple was constructed by the Hoysala dynasty and was built as a prototype to the Belur Chennakesava temple and is over 1000 years old.   Large artistic pillars inside the temple resemble the pillars seen in the Belur temple.  Sri Nambinarayana is in Samasrayana position with Shankam in the right hand (instead of left hand as normal) and Chakram in the left hand (instead of right hand as normal). 

Yemberumanar is responsible for the beautiful lake at Thondanur. It is said that the water has never dried since it was created. There are small man-made waterfalls and canals, making it a great water sport attraction particularly for the kids. The water is so clear that the king Tippu Sultan called it "MOTI TALAB ", as one could see the PEARL fallen from his broken necklace in the clear waters.

 Apart from Nambinarayana temple there are SRI KRISHNA TEMPLE & SRI NARASIMHA TEMPLE.

Three forms of Sri Ramanuja are 1) THAMAR UHANDA TIRUMENI (where he was born) at Sriperumbudur – just on the outskirts of Chennai, TN, 2) THAAN AANA TIRUMENI ( where he studied and achieved the Doctrine) at Srirangam, TN and 3)THAAN UHANDA TIRUMENI ( who entered his own moorthy) at Melukote, Karnataka.

Thondanur was Sri Ramanujacharya’s – our Acharya’s most important place of stay in Karnataka from where he propagated Sri Vaishnava Siddantha. Therefore, it should be an endeavor of all VAISHNAVA DEVOTEES and in particular SRIVAISHNAVAS to visit this great Holy Place where our Achaarya had lived and walked on the soil. This place is approximately 125km from Bangalore and 45km from Mysore.  The history and the uniqueness of the place makes it an important place to visit.  It is only about 30 minutes drive from Melkote.




An introduction to Melukote. By ‘Haripriya’


        Sriranga mangala manim karunanivasam |
        Srivenkatadri shikharalaya kalamegham |
        Srihastishaila shikharojvala Parijatham |
        Srisham namami shirasa yadushaila deepam |

Srirangam, Tirupathi, Kanchipuram and Melukote also known as Tirunarayanapuram are the four holy, famous and important pilgrimage centers in South India.

Sriranganatha in Srirangam is, divine, crystal pure, kind to all |
Sri Srinivasa living on the Mount of Tirumalai, shines like dark clouds |
Sri Varadaraja shines as a Parijatha flower lives at Kanchi known as Hastishaila |
Sri Narayana at Tirunarayanapuram is Lord of wealth, and a beacon of light at Yadushaila |
The Lord’s gait (nade) at Srirangam,
The Lord’s patty (Vade) at Tirupathi,
The Lord’s Umbrella (kode) at Kanchi,
The Lord’s Crown (mudi) at Melukote, are all very famous.
The Temple of Ecstasy (Bhoga Mantapa) at Srirangam,
The Temple of Flowers (Pushpa Mantapa) at Tirupathi,
The Temple of renunciation (Thyaga Mantapa) at Kanchi,
The Temple of Knowledge (Gnana Mantapa) at Melukote.
Thus these four pilgrimage centers are considered very important. Our Bharath (India) Nation is located at the South of Asian Continent. Our forefathers know India as ‘Bharatha Varsha’ or “Bharatha Khanda’ since times immemorial. Our country is a sinless, devoted land. There are a number of pilgrimage centers all over the country, from the Himalayas in the North to Kanyakumari in South and from Dwaraka in West to Bhubaneswar in East.
Our culture has existed for many millenniums. It has been our practice to worship and visualize the God in different forms. To meet the imagination of everyone, God appears in different forms at various pilgrimage centers, Melukote is one such famous, sacred, pilgrimage center, located in Karnataka State, in South India. Melukote has mythological, historical, and cultural importance. This book is intended to bring out the important facets of this divine center, for people to read and see the place.

                Surroundings
Melukote is situated in Pandavapura Taluk of Mandya District in Karnataka State in South India. It is about 25 KM from Mandya on the Mandya – Hassan highway. It is about 35 KM from Mysore City on the Mysore – Nagamangala Road. At the foothill is situated Jakkanahalli Cross, which is about 6 KM from Melukote. From here you will enjoy the natural beauty of Melukote and its environs. The cool breeze welcomes you. You will pass through Kadalagere and Hosakere valleys. Passing through the hillocks and Valleys is a satisfying experience. Both sides of the road are full of irrigated fields with lot of greenery. You will also see the mountain peak and the Gopuram of the famous of Sri Yoganarasimha temple. As you reach the summit of the valley, you arrive at Melukote; on the peaceful plains surrounded by hills. It has retained its originality and peaceful environment at all times. You cannot find violence or communal tensions here, as you see elsewhere. Melukote attracts everyone by its pollution free environs and natural beauty. It is a place for all seasons with its cool breeze and mild sun. The climate here gives you energy and vigor. It is also a hill station, in summer. God Hanuman greets you at the main entrance to the town. You enter the market place as soon as you cross the fort. You continue into the Rajaveedhi (royal road), and the famous temple of Lord Sri Cheluva Tirunarayana, is located at the end of the road.
You will also observe, at a distance, the town entrance known as Rajagopura. On the eastern side you see a number of hills. On the West are steep valleys, with tiny villages spread all over, with small tiled hutments. Green fields Surround the villages. You will see a new flower garden with large variety of sweet smelling flowers, for use in daily Pooja at the Temples. The Academy of Sanskrit Research building lies next to the garden. Mango, coconut and other grooves are beyond this building. If you go further you will enter the forests. A number of small and beautiful lakes abound the area. The Dalavayi Lake located a few Kilometers away, supplies water to the residents of the town.
Melukote is located in this kind of well set surrounding, and people of different castes and religion live in harmony and peace.

Mythological connection.

Melukote was known as ‘Yadavagiri’ in mythological days. This is located to the East of Sahya mountain range and to the North of Kaveri River. This mountain range appears like a snake (Adisesha).
God Vishnu in the form of Narayana Maharshi preached the eight-lettered verse (Ashtakshari mantra) in Badarikashram in North India. The main deity here  “Lord Tirunarayana” is like a replica of Narayana in Badarinath. Here Lord Narayana preaches Dwaya Mantra to Goddess Lakshmi, seating her on his lap. Therefore Melukote is also known as Southern Badarikashram. Opposite the Tirunarayana temple is an abode of Badarinarayana. There is a Badari Tree in front of this abode, and is one more of the important feature here. This place is also supposed to be dearer than Heaven (Vaikunta) to Lord Narayana, and hence it is famous as “Beyond Heaven” (Vaikunta Vardhana Kshetra).
As the town was closely associated with Lord Narayana it was called   ‘Narayanadri’ in Krutha Yuga. It was known as ‘Vedadri’ in Tretha Yuga as Lord Dattatreya preached the Vedas, in these mountains. It is believed that Medhaathithi and Prahlada studied Vedas and other scriptures under Dattatreya here. This place was called ‘Yadavadri’ in Dwapara Yuga, as Yadavas came down here to worship Lord Narayana. Sri Ramanuja, propagator of Srivaishnavism, rebuilt the temple and revitalized this Kshetra in Kali Yuga and therefore it was named ‘Yatishaila’.
As a number of famous Maharshis, such as Narada, Vyasa, Bhrugu, Shandilya, etc came here to acquire knowledge; this place became ‘Gnana Mantapa’ (Temple of Knowledge). Goddess Lakshmi is known as ‘Yadugiri Nayaki’ here. According to some scriptures, Goddess Lakshmi killed a demon called ‘Ahi’ here.
At the commencement of Kali Yuga, Narayana Maharshi has concisely narrated about ‘Yadavagiri Mahatme’ to Vyasa and others. Later Narada Maharshi explains it in detail in twelve chapters in ‘Naradiya Purana’.

                Tirunarayana arrival

The four faced god Brahma (Chaturmukha Brahma) was created by the Supreme God Vishnu. (Bhagawan Vishnu). Brahma did penance to secure a sculpture for his daily worship. A divine airplane appeared in front of him and Sri Tirunarayana idol was in that. Then on, Brahma devotedly worshipped this Tirunarayana Swami regularly.
Sanathkumara, Son of Brahma, desired to have an idol for his worship on this Earth. Brahma gave away this Tirunarayana idol to him. When Brahma again desired to have an idol for his daily Pooja, Tirunarayana brought out a beautiful figurine from his heart with Lakshmi and mother-earth (Sridevi – Bhoodevi sahita). This is the idol of Cheluvaraya Swami. Sanathkumara installed Tirunarayana idol here, bringing it all the way from divine land crossing the Mount Everest, Kailas and Himalayas.
           
Arrival of Cheluvaraya Swami on Earth

Sri Rama lived happily after his ascension to the throne, in Tretha Yuga. He gave away gifts to everyone who helped him in killing Ravana and getting back Sita. He gifted his most revered idol of Sri Ranganatha to Vibhishana. Now Rama did not have an idol for his daily Pooja. Observing his predicament, Brahma gave his Cheluvaraya Swami idol to Sri Rama. Then on, Cheluvaraya came to be known as Ramapriya (Rama adored). Maharaja Kusha worshipped this idol after the times of Rama. Kusha’s daughter Kanakamalini was married to Yadushekhara and she got the idol of Ramapriya as a gift. Thus the idol passed from the Surya (Sun) dynasty to Yadava dynasty.

            About Vyramudi (Diamond Crown of God)

Prahlada’s son Virochana stole the crown (Vyramudi) from the Lord in Vaikunta, when he was in divine slumber. He hid it in the nether world (Pathala Loka). As per the wishes of devotees, Garuda went to Pathala, fought with Virochana and brought the crown back. On his way back he felt an obstruction to his speed. When he looked down, he saw Sri Krishna playing flute while grazing cattle in Brindavan. He stopped over to meet Krishna and surrendered the Crown to him. When Sri Krishna tried it on to the head of his family deity Cheluvaraya, it fitted him perfectly.

How Vyramudi reached Melukote

Once when Balarama was touring Yadavadri, he observed that the Tirunarayana here had great resemblance to Cheluvaraya in his home. He returned to Dwaraka and informed Sri Krishna of this coincidence. He and Sri Krishna brought Cheluvaraya to Melukote and installed it here. Even now, once a year Cheluvaraya Swami is brought in front of Tirunarayana. Tirunarayana came to Melukote from Brahma through Sanathkumara. Cheluvaraya too came to Melukote from Brahma to Rama to Krishna.
Thus Tirunarayana as the main idol and Sri Cheluvaraya Swami as the idol for processions came to Yadavagiri.




            Specialty of this place.

Every sacred center will have six idols for worship as per Agama Shastra.
1.    Moola Murthy (Main Idol)
2.    Utsava Murthy (Procession Idol)
3.    Snapana Murthy
4.    Shayana Murthy (Sleep Idol)
5.    Bali Murthy (Ritual Idol)
6.    Yaga Murthy (Deliverance Idol)
The dome shaped roof (small Gopuram) above the main idol is called ‘Vimana’. The Vimana will have a name. The place will also have a lake called ‘Pushkarini’. In accordance with the main God, Lakshmi will be the goddess, and she will have a suitable name. The Idols are in the form they appeared to the Saints who did penance there.
Presently in Yadavadri (Melukote):
Moola Murthy            Tirunarayana.
Utsava Murthy        Cheluvaraya (Selvapillai) with Sri-Bhu
Goddess            Moola Murthy Sri Yadugiri
Utsava Goddess        Sri Cheluvanayaki (Selvanayaki)
Vimana            Ananda Vimana
Pushkarini            Kalyani Thirtha.
Saints                Narada, Vyasa, Bhrugu, Shandilya, etc
Sacred tree            Badari tree.

Another specialty is that, each direction North, East, South and West have a Hanuman God watching over the town.

The Temple has a Chaturmukha Gopuram (Four faced). It looks alike from all four sides. This design is not commonly seen elsewhere. Sri Ramanuja built the temple up to its ‘Shukanasi’ stage. The kings of Mysore built it further. The temple in Melukote is smaller than the temples at other centers. However the divinity of the place is very high. You will see the holy idol of Tirunarayana as you enter temple. You will get a feeling that the God is beckoning you with his kind and cool eyes. The sweet smile on his face attracts anyone. You feel brave with his blessings. He carries with him Shankha (Shell), Chakra (Wheel) and Gadha (Mace) to help us in crossing difficulties in the huge ocean of our life and with his right palm he gives a protective gesture. The presence of the Goddess at his feet (known as Varanandi) is a singular specialty of this place. In no other place you can see Goddess at the feet of the main deity. Here Goddess Lakshmi is at his chest as well as at his feet.
1.    (Ashtakshara) Tiru mantra, 2. Dwaya mantra, 3. Charama Sloka, are three sacred Mantras. The fact that the Lord himself has preached these to his devotees shows his love for everyone. In Badari in North India, Narayana preached Ashtakshara mantra to human beings. He preached Dwaya Mantra to Lakshmi in Yadavadri, known as Southern Badari. Charama Sloka contains three Slokas.

A.    sarva dharmaan parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja |
aham tvaa sarvapapebhyaha moksha yishyami maa shuchaha ||
Sri Krishna preached these words in Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna.

B.    sakrudeva prapannaaya tavasmithi cha yaachate |
abhayam sarvabhutebyaha dadaamyetadvratam mama ||
Sri Rama preached these words to Sugriva and others in Ramayana.

C.    sthite manasi suswasthe sharire sati yo narah |
dhatusaamye sthithe smarthaa viswaroopam cha maamajam ||
thahastham mriyamaanam thu kaashtapaashaansannibham |
aham smaraami madbhaktham nayaami paramaam gathim ||

Sri Varaaha Swami preached this to ‘mother-earth’ (bhoodevi) in Varaaha avatar.
In all these preaching the God utters, “ I will safeguard everyone who surrenders to me. This is my vow.”
1.    In Melukote, Tirunarayana himself is the main deity for Ashtakshara mantra.
2.    He is standing with Goddess Lakshmi at his feet, as stated in Dwaya mantra.
3.    He assures safeguard as in Charama Sloka
Cheluvaraya Swami with Bhoodevi and Sridevi (mother-earth and Lakshmi) is positioned on the left hand side sanctorum.
As you go round the temple in a Pradkshine (walking around the temple clockwise) you pass through the sanctorum of Sri Sudarshana Alwar. Chakrayudha of God  always gets prominence. Therefore Sudarshana Alwar has a separate sanctorum in all temples. Here Sudarshana has eight arms (Ashtabuja).

Going further you will reach the sanctorum of His consort known as Yadugiri Nayaki. Her eyes show love and compassion, as a mother would look at her children. She is very beautiful with lotus flowers in two hands and showing protection and boon with other two hands. The Utsava Murthy called Sri Cheluvanayaki, is as beautiful as the name indicates. She is an eye-catcher with her serene beauty.
The sculptures in front of this sanctorum are excellent and exceptional. You will hear lilting musical sounds when you tap one of the pillars. A pillar has a sculpture depicting God Narasimha (human-lion) splitting the torso of demon Hiranyakashipu. Another pillar has a bull-elephant combination, where, if you cover a half with one palm you see a bull and when you cover the other half you see an elephant.
You will next come to the sanctum of Sri Ramanujacharya. The main deity is the preaching pose (Upadesha mudra). The Utsava Murthy of Ramanuja is in saluting pose with folded hands, as if to tell us that ‘always believe in God and entreat him with folded hands.’ The town is obliged to Sri Ramanuja and he gets all the adoration. He came here nearly one thousand years ago, restored the town, rebuilt the temple and installed the deities. Melukote that had deteriorated into a forest became a town once again. He is like a king here and his beautiful statuette appears to be talking to us. It is therefore aptly known as ‘peshum yatirashar’ (Speaking Ramanuja).

Pushkarini (the main lake) here is ‘Kalyani Thirtha’.  It has its own sanctity. It is believed that ‘ Kalyani’ was formed from a drop of sweat of the Adi Varaha Murthy when he was carrying mother-earth (Bhoodevi). River Ganga resides in Kalyani in Phalguna month. One will earn the fruits of endeavor when Pooja is performed on its bank. There are shelters constructed around Kalyani and there are a number of religious institutions (Mutts). There are also a number of tiny temples, which can be called ‘surround temples’. ‘Bindu Madhava’, ‘Karanika Narayana’, ‘Lakshmi Narasimha’, ‘Maruthi’, etc, temples are some of them. Three sanctums of the seven sanctums (Saptha Kshetra) are on the banks of Kalyani. The abode of Goddess Bhuvaneswari built by the then Maharaja Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar is also here. In the pillars known as ‘Navarang’, there are beautiful carvings of Gods. There is tortoise head in front of Bhuvaneswari. Bhuvana means world. Adisesha (Snake god) and Ashtadiggajas (Eight protectors of the eight directions) carry the world. As you go around the Bhuvaneswari idol in Pradakshine (walk in clockwise direction) you will see the front and rear right legs, the back of the tortoise. As you go further you will see its rear and front left legs, further you will notice the tortoise carrying the Goddess. The eight corners have snakes and Ashtadiggajas. (Nowadays many movies are using this view). Near by is the ‘Dhara Mantapa’ (Nuptial Hall). Once a year the wedding of Cheluvaraya Swami and Cheluvanayaki is performed here. In the beautiful spacious hall is a square quadrangle in an elevation, where a beautiful swing is fitted. The celestial couple is seated on the swing after other formalities for the wedding, such as exchange of garlands, etc. Other wedding rituals such as Dhara, Manglya Dharana, Homa etc, are performed as per the Shastras. The couple returns to the town in a procession, with Cheluvaraya in the lead, followed by Cheluvanayaki and Sri Ramanuja. This is an exceptional sight! It is said that similarly Sri Rama went to the forest, followed by Seetha and Lakshmana. Here Cheluvaraya who is Ramapriya (loved by Rama) enter the town this way. It is also believed that Sri Ramanuja is an incarnation of Lakshmana. Even now this hall is also used for many marriages. Attached to this hall is the ‘Gajendra Moksha’ (Elephant Salvation) hall. The divine ‘Gajendra Varada’ sanctum is located here. During the three important carnivals (Jatres), on the day auspicious bath (Thirtha Snana), Eight lake Pooja (Ashta Thirtha) days, Cheluvaraya with his consorts comes here in a procession. On ‘Angamani Utsava’ day only Sridevi and Bhoodevi come here to offer Pooja to Kalyani Thirtha. During the replay of Gajendra Moksha Utsava, the show of archery by Cheluvaraya is a spectacle to behold! There is an abode for Nagavalli. The Goddess comes here for three days after the ‘Kalyana Utsava’ (marriage celebration), during Jatre. On the day of Nagavalli, which is performed three days after the wedding, Cheluvaraya and Cheluvanayaki are brought in a procession seated facing each other in a palanquin. This a very stunning sight. When the water is very still in Kalyani Lake, we can enjoy the beauty of the reflection of Narasimha temple hillock, and the quadrangular construction around the lake.
Seven Centers (Saptha Kshetra)

1.Paridhanashila Kshetra: This is on the banks of Veda Pushkarini Thirtha. On the Southeast corner of the lake is an abode, in which you can see carvings of Dattatreya (an incarnation of Vishnu) with four students. There is stone located here, and it is called ‘Paridhanashila’. It is because; the Saffron robes were kept on this when Sri Ramanuja received them. It is imperative for a Sanyasin (Saint) to receive saffron robes from a senior Sanyasin, at the time renunciation. However here, there is provision to place the robes on the Paridhanashila and receive it himself, to become a Sanyasin. That is the significance of this Kshetra.

2.Yoganarasimha Kshetra: Prahlada had the revelation of Yoganarasimha on the hill situated to the East of Kalyani Lake. Prahlada himself has installed the idol of Sri Narasimha here.
When the ruler of Mysore Hider Ali was passing here, few of his elephants used in war became sick. Some of his followers suggested that if he vows to Narasimha, the elephants will get well. Accordingly when he vowed to this deity, the elephants were cured. The happy Muslim King gifted a large leather drum (Nagari) to the God. To this day this drum is beaten everyday, during Pooja in the temple. Its resonating sound declares the Pooja time to everyone in the area. Yoganarasimha had the charm to make a Muslim King his devotee.

There are 360 steps to reach Yoganarasimha temple at the top and can be ascended fairly comfortably. For a large number of people Narasimha happens to be the family deity and hence large number devotees frequent this temple.
             
3. Gnanaashwatha Kshetra.
There is large Pepal tree on the west bank of Kalyani. There are three famous Pepal trees in Karnataka. They are ‘Brahma Ashwatha’ at T. Narasipur, ‘Vidura Ashwatha” at Vidura Ashwatha and ‘Gnana Ashwatha” in Melukote. Five intellectuals Shuka, Pundarika, Rukmangada, Ambarisha and Prahlada acquired their knowledge meditating for Narayana under this tree. Next to this tree is ‘Five Scholar Center’ (Pancha Bhagavatha Kshetra.), in memory of these people.
 
4. Taarkshya Kshetra.
At a short distance towards West, from the Pancha Bhagavatha Kshetra is ‘Taarkshya Kshetra’. According to the demand of Sri Vishnu, Garuda brought and placed white mud here (Shwetha Mrittike, Tirumann) from White Island (Shwetha Dweepa). It is still perpetually (Akshaya) available.

5. Nayana Kshetra.
Nayana Kshetra is located in the row of hills above Narayana Kshetra. ‘Nayathi ithi Nayanam’ – by complete surrender you can get salvation (Moksha). A Brahmin Vishnuchitta had performed penance here. One can attain his wishes by praying here with a Keshava idol.

6. Varaha Kshetra
This is located on the East bank of Kalyani. You will achieve success with your vows, penance and meditation here. Adi Varaha preached Charama Sloka to Bhoodevi (mother earth) seating her on his lap.

7. Seetha Aranya Kshetra.
This is situated at the South entrance of Kalyani. Sri Rama stayed here in a hut (Parnakuti) built by Lakshmana. Therefore the name Seetha Aranya is apt. It is good to wear neck chains made of beads from Tulasi stems (Tulasi Mala) from here.

Thus the seven Kshetra having constant contact with God, have the pride of place in Melukote
                    Ashta Thirtha
1.    Veda Pushkarini:  Sri Maha Vishnu came to this world as Dattatreya, in one of his incarnations in Tretha Yuga. Assuming the Four Vedas to be his students, he taught the four Vedas to them, on the banks of this lake. The lake is therefore called Veda Pushkarini. This lake and Paridhanashila Kshetra are neighbors.
      Dhanushkoti: Although this is not one of the Ashta Thirtha, this is a beautiful place to visit. On top of a hill, on a vertical rock there are tunnel like formations. This tunnel was formed when Sri Rama shot arrows to get water for Seetha to bathe. There are three tunnels, as he shot three times. This is a clear water pond in the rock. There are also carvings of Seetha, Rama and Lakshmana in the rock and this is a place worth sightseeing.
2.    Yadava Thirtha: River ‘Yadavi’ flows by the side of this lake. A king by name ‘Yadavendra’ performed Yaga on the bank of this lake and attained Moksha.
3.    Palasha Thirtha:  Palasha Thirtha is situated to the north of Darbha Thirtha. The name is because there a large number of Muttuga trees here. The sons of Vasishta Maharshi, who were cursed by Viswamitra Maharshi, were cured off the curse after bathing in this lake.
4.    Darbha Thirtha: Dattatreya used the Darbha grass grown on the banks of this lake for his daily Pooja needs. Therefore the name Darbha Thirtha is in vogue. It is said that, anyone dying holding this Darbha, will attain Moksha. Shandilya Maharshi recited the Pancharathra Shastras on the banks of this lake, needed for propitiating God (Bhagawan Aradhana).
5.    Padma Thirtha: This is located to the North of Palasha Thirtha. Sanathkumar used the lotus flowers grown in this lake for his daily Sri Narayana Pooja. One who wears the lotus beads from this lake will attain Moksha.
6.    Maitreya Thirtha: This is located to the North of Kalyani. Parashara Maharshi preached Vishnu Purana to Maitreya here. South Indians call this ‘Maitreya Thirtha’ after the student’s name and North Indians call this ‘Parashara Thirtha’ after teachers’ name.
7.    Narayana Thirtha: Narayana Thirtha is to the North of Maitreya Thirtha. Those who are cremated near this lake attain Moksha. Vishnuchitta a bachelor did penance on its bank. Sri Narayana appeared before him and blessed him with Moksha. ‘Nayana Kshetra’ is carved like a cave in the rock above Narayana Thirtha.
8.    Vaikunta Ganga: In Trivikrama incarnation of Vishnu, his feet touched Brahma Loka. Brahma washed Vishnu’s feet with the water from his jug (Kamandala) The flowing water became River Ganga. Others in heaven (Nityamuktas in Vaikunta) washed the feet with water from River Virija. A drop from that fell at the North of Narayana Giri and this is Vaikunta Ganga. Bhaktisara (Tirumazhishai Alwar) attained Moksha after doing penance on the banks of this river. This is a place of tourist attraction. A pond is formed by water flowing from the hillock and further flows and collects in cradle like pond. It further flows and falls down hill into another pool. This is therefore named Cradle Pond (Tottila Madu). The view of flowing river with surrounding hill range is a beautiful sight. There is a carving of Vishnu depicting Brahma and others washing his feet.
Thus the Ashta Thirtha here has importance in attaining Moksha. A carnival is held at the time ‘Ashta Thirtha’, and it is called ‘Tottila Madu Jathre’. In Badarikashram in North India, Maharshi Vyasa and others were very happy to hear about the greatness of Yadavagiri, Saptha Kshetra and Ashta Thirtha from Narada. They later visited Yadavagiri personally and obtained the blessings of Sri Tirunarayana
(In course of time the locals went in exodus, due to raids by outside rulers. Temple went into desolation and large anthills grew on the temple tower. The important idol of Cheluvaraya was stolen and taken away.)
                   
                Sri Ramanuja and Melukote.
Sri Ramanuja was born in the 11th century in Sriperumbadur, Tamil Nadu, as an incarnation of Adisesha. He studied in Kanchipuram and got married. He became a saint later, as he desired to renounce family life. He had to come to Karnataka due to some compulsions in Srirangam where he lived. He reached Tondanur in Karnataka, via Satyamangalam and Tenkanambi. King Bittideva, the ruler here, was a follower of Jain religion. His daughter was a paranoid and was bothered by demon. Sri Ramanuja cured her of this disease and Bittideva converted himself from Jain religion to Srivaishnavism. He changed his name to Vishnuvardhana. He has given a number gifts and lands to the temple. Ramanuja ran short of the white mud (Tirumann) required for applying on the forehead (Naamam). On that night Sri Tirunarayana appeared in his dream and informed him that he was buried in an anthill in Melukote and gave him the directions to reach there. Ramanuja immediately departed for Melukote, following the route flanked by Tulasi plants. On his arrival he bathed in Kalyani, marked his forehead with Tirumann Naamam and got ready to locate the anthill. With the help of the local people, he washed the anthill with milk and water from Kalyani. When the hill was totally dissolved, he saw the divine, spiritual, glittering sculpture of Tirunarayana. He reinstalled the idol in the temple, built the sanctum sanctorum and Shukanasi. Melukote, which had turned into a desolate town, was revitalized.

Sri Ramanuja arrived in Melukote on Makara Shukla, Punarvasu day, nearly nine hundred years ago. Even now that event is celebrated in Melukote as ‘Punarvasu Utsava’ in a magnificent manner.
The locals, who were all Harijans and tribal, helped Ramanuja Acharya in all his endeavors. Ramanuja removed caste barriers and honored them as upper caste people, calling them ‘Tirukulatthar’. They were permitted to enter the temple and offer prayers. Even now they have special convenience for offering Pooja, during Vyramudi and Chariot processions. Ramanuja was the pioneer to recognize the Harijans and tribal people and give them respectable recognition, in a move to eliminate untouchability.

Melukote is a town dependent on temples. People live mainly on temple-related duties. Pooja in temple is most important. Ramanuja revitalized the town and made arrangement for everyone to pay obeisance in the temple irrespective of their caste or creed. People of all castes are employed in the temple. The bugle player during Utsava is a Harijan Chluvayya.

He made arrangements in the temple for performing daily Pooja with discipline and to set timetable. For this purpose he brought well-experienced Archakas from Pancharatra town near Srirangam and fifty two (Aimbattiruvar) people for other services. They were divided into four groups as Tiruvananthapuradasar, Maalaakaaradasar, Tirukkurunkudidasar and Yatirajadasar and allotted them work accordingly. He also established Yatirajamutt and nominated seventy-four Pitha Adipathis. Everything was well organized.

Acharya now realized the absence of Utsava Murthy (Idol for procession) for Brahma Utsava celebrations and wondered how he can get one. He had a vision in his inner eye (Gnana Drushti) that a suitable idol was in Delhi. He went to Delhi, met the Badshah ruler there and asked him for the idol. He displayed a large number of idols lying in his museum. Acharya could not find the idol of Ramapriya among them. He learnt that the princess was playing with one of the idols, in her chambers. She kept it with her always, as it was very beautiful. She was not home when Acharya visited them. He asked the king to give him that particular idol. King asked him to take it if he can. Ramanuja called Ramapriya “ Yatiraja Sampathkumara, my dear Selvapillai come to me, come running”. As soon as Ramanuja called him with love and affection, the idol danced up to him, to the clinking sounds of his anklets. He walked and sat on Acharya’s lap. Then on he came to prominence as ‘Yathiraja Sampathkumara’. Sampath means wealth, for Yathiraja he is all the wealth. Ramanuja happily returned to Melukote, with the idol. Thus arrived Utsava Murthy Selvapillai in Melukote on Jeshta star in the month of Magha. Presently that day is celebrated as ‘Delhi Utsava’.
The princess in Delhi felt very sad, not finding her favorite toy. Learning of Ramanuja having taken it to South, she followed him to Melukote with her entourage. She was not allowed into the temple. Therefore she amalgamated with the Lord and now she sits at the feet of Cheluvaraya as ‘Varanandi’.  The princess came to be known as ‘Bibinachiyar’. She has important role in folklores. There is an abode for her in the hill. It is known as ‘Horagammana Gudi’ (Temple for outside lady). Once a year, villagers from around the villages, hold a grand carnival in her honor. Villagers sing many lilting folk songs in her praise. The merging of a Muslim princess with a Hindu god shows the emotional unity of the communities.

Although the Acharya was a Sanyasin, he managed all these so meticulously that he came to be known as Yatiraja (King of saints). Cheluvaraya became Yuvaraja (prince) as Acharya brought him here as a child.
There are a number of stories in Yadavagiri Mahatme, to bring out the fact that the scholars living here should never be humiliated in any manner.

Story of Sucharita
When Sucharita was bathing in Ganga with members of his family, he got a desire to bathe in Kalyani in Melukote, also known as Yadavagiri. He stated ‘Kalyani’ while dipping into Ganga, and he came up in Kalyani in Melukote. He was totally surprised. He stayed back in Melukote and involved himself in temple duties. Once he had to go out of town. He nominated his eight-year-old son, Narayana to do his duties at the temple. His mother gave him some steamed rice as an offering to god. Narayana was very perturbed that god did not consume any food offered by him. Innocent Narayana pleaded with god to eat and taking pity on his innocent belief, Tirunarayana consumed the rice. However his mother could not believe that god really ate the food and she thought he had misused it. Out of anger she asked the boy to go and beg for his food for that day. Narayana went to eight houses to beg. Yadugiri Nayaki personally gave him alms in all the eight houses. The alms of the seven houses were all precious stones like diamonds and rubies etc. The alms in the eighth house were rice. The family got rich with this and lived comfortably thereafter. This form of good deeds of Tirunarayana and Yadugiri of Melukote are many.

                    Story of Chaturvedi

A Brahmin called Chaturvedi used to entertain guests for propaganda. When a local resident, Hariratha and his son went to his house, they were thrown out. The son, out of anger, cursed him and his family to destruction. His father advised him against such habit. He recited the name of god Govinda seven times. Still, the family of Chaturvedi died and went to hell. Even Yama was upset with them and sent them back to earth as ‘Brahma devils’ (Brahma Pishachi), as they had misbehaved with the good citizens of Yadavadri. Thereafter they received Sripada Thirtha from the Srivaishnavas there and were atoned of their sins.
Another Brahmin Vishnuratha had fed lovingly Hariratha and his son. He also gave good hospitality to Dattatreya and his four students. Therefore he always lived rich and comfortable. Thus, those who serve scholars well are taken good care of and those who ill-treat them will have trouble.

Places of tourist interest: Town Gate or Roya Gopuram

This is called Roya Gopuram because Gopalaraya built it. However it is not a Gopuram in real sense. There are four 52 feet tall granite pillars erected in an elevated area. As it is at a height, it is visible from a long distance in the town. In the early times people had to enter the town through this gate, while coming from Srirangapatna via Thondanur. It is therefore called Town gate.
Melukote is on top of hill, synonymous with its name. You can see parts of the fort built by Yadava kings. From the height of Melukote, the surrounding areas look simply gorgeous.
           
    Sisters’ Lake (Akka Thangiyara Kola)
There two lakes side by side below the Roya Gopuram known as Sisters’ Lake (Akka Thangiyara Kola). They are also called Cheluva Arasana kola. Cheluva Arasa had two wives, who were sisters. These lakes were built in their memory. These are in fact twin lakes, almost attached to each other and one is larger than the other. It is said that the elder sister built the small lake and the younger sister built the large lake. The water in large lake is sweet and potable. People in the town use this for drinking purposes. The smaller lake is used for washing.
Other places of tourist interest such as Dhanushkoti, Vaikunta Ganga and Thottilamadu are already covered in Ashta Thirtha narration.

Utsava In Melukote

There is some Utsava or the other every month of the year, in Melukote, and they are all celebrated in grand manner. Kotharotsva in January runs for ten days. The procession of Cheluvaraya comes to every doorstep, every day, to receive offerings of flowers. The happiness of devotees seeing their loving god at their door is immeasurable.
             
  Angamani Utsava
The Utsava performed on the next day of Sankranthi (Pongal) is Angamani Utsava. Ramanuja brought the idol of Cheluvaraya from Delhi. They located the idols of Sridevi and Bhoodevi in houses of Tiruvananthapuradasar and Maalaakaadasar. Since then, their houses became the parents’ house (Tavaru Mane) for the goddesses. Angamani Utsava is also known as ‘Kanoo Habba’. The goddesses arrive at Kalyani Thirtha and perform Pooja. In the night they are well dressed and decorated and they go to their parents’ house. Their parents fill up their sari pallu with varieties of fruits and other gifts. They rest for some time in the near by Angamani Mantapa, and return to the temple in a procession to the beat of drums and blaring bugles. The washer men of the town spread colorful saris (Nademudi) on the ground for the convoy to walk on. Cheluvaraya is angry because of their slow and late return from their parents’ house. Immediately, fully dressed up Cheluvaraya rushes out towards Paarvate Mantapa outside the town. As a rabbit crosses the road at that time, which is a bad omen, he returns to the temple. This is an enjoyable and interesting event on show, and is an important festival here. Villagers from the area sing melodious folk songs.
               
    Ratha Sapthami
This day coincides with the change of direction of sun’s movement after Sankranthi. Cheluvaraya is taken in a procession in Sun’s chariot with seven horses. This is conducted in traditional and folk style. Number of folk dancers performs in front of the procession, such as Nandikolu Kunitha, Kolaata, Old Couple, stilt walk, dances by children, add to the glamour.
             
      Punarvasu Utsava
This is the auspicious day on which Sri Ramanuja arrived in Melukote and surfaced Tirunarayana from the anthill. This Utsava is performed on Makara Shukla Punarvasu day. Sri Ramanuja is always in saffron robes as he is a Sanyasin. But due to some compulsions in Tamilnadu, he had to reach Karnataka in white robes, dressed as a normal family man. In memory of that situation, on this Punarvasu day Sri Ramanuja wears white robes.

Three important Brahma Utsava (Brahmotsava) are performed in Melukote. They are detailed below.
                 
  Vyramudi Brahmotsava
This is performed in the last month of Lunar Calendar, Phalguna. Although it is a ten-day event, it goes on for 15 to 20 days. It is the most popular Utsava of this place. For three days it is performed as Teppa Utsava or Teppa Jatre. This is Kalyana Utsava held in Dhara Mantapa in Kalyani Lake. It is a worth seeing the celestial marriage ceremony of Cheluvaraya and Cheluvanayaki held on the banks of Kalyani, without any pomp and pageantry. After this for ten days the important Utsava of the Jatre are held. On the fourth day coinciding with Pushya star, Cheluvaraya wear the Vyramudi crown made of precious diamond stones embedded in gold. This is brought to Melukote with full honors on that evening, from the Government treasury in Mandya. The procession, which usually starts at 9 PM, will go on till 2AM. It goes around the temple on the four main streets. The sight of Cheluvaraya wearing Vyramudi in procession is beyond words. Tens of thousands of people congregate here to witness this Utsava. This Utsava is one of its kind and devotees pay obeisance with folded hands, reciting God’s name. On succeeding days, other Utsava, such as Prahlada Paripalana, Gajendra Moksha, Rathotsava and Teppotsava are performed.
                   
Krishnarajamudi. Utsava
The kings of Mysore are devout devotees of Melukote. For dynasties they have rendered innumerable service to Tirunarayana. Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar gifted a crown similar in appearance to Vyramudi and many invaluable jewels to Cheluvaraya. This crown is therefore named Krishnarajamudi, in his honor. Cheluvaraya wears this in Ashada month. This is called Krishnarajamudi Jatre. It is celebrated for ten days, as is the case with Vyramudi Utsava, with all grandeur.

                    Rajamudi Utsava  
Raja Wodeyar also gifted a crown and a variety of jewels to Cheluvaraya. This is known as Rajamudi. This is worn in Kartika (November) month. This is also a ten-day Jatre. As the feet of God is taken to all the Ashta Thirtha, it is also known as Ashta Thirtha Utsava. Hundreds of devotees take part in this Utsava. This Rajamudi is also worn on a day during Vyramudi Jatre.
There are many other Utsava in Melukote apart from these main Jatre. Some of the important Utsava are Pavitra Utsava,     Pallava Utsava, Navarathri Utsava, and Kruttika Utsava.
                   

Cultural Heritage
Alwars ruled over the God by their unstinted devotion. All the twelve Alwars are from Tamilnadu. They are famous as Tamil saints. Andal is an important female saint. They have written and recited Tamil verses in praise of God. These are known as ‘Paashurams’ or ‘Divyaprabhandam’. Nammalwar and Tirumangai Alwar have sung in praise of Tirunarayana of Melukote. In Tiruvoymoli, Nammalwar has written ten Paashurams called ‘oru nayakamayi’.

The essence of these is as follows:
‘ This family, wealth, authority are all temporary. Worship at the feet of Tirunarayana to get salvation’.
Tirumangai Alwar states in Periya Tirumoli ‘naadinen naadi naan kandukonden Narayana ennum Tiru naamam’. The meaning of this is, ‘I discovered the name of Narayana, he when worshiped would give everything like good family, wealth’.

Although presently these are not so popular in Tamilnadu, the scholars in Melukote have kept them alive with constant usage.
Melukote is an ancient center for Sanskrit, in a Kannada state, with Tamil utterance. The fragrance of Kannada, melody of Sanskrit, and greatness of Tamil are all maintained here. The culture here is admixture of all these. Acharya Ramanuja was also known as ‘Bhashyakara’ as he had written a synopsis for Veda during his stay here.

Many poets of Karnataka, known as Dasas, have composed and recited number songs on Cheluvaraya and Tirunarayana of Melukote. Purandaradasa sings ‘sarvaaparaadhava kshamisayya Melukote Cheluvaraya’.
Kanakadasa sings ‘yadavagirivaasa ahudo Sri Narasimha’ in praise of the god on the hill.

Vyasaraya sings a Mangala song, ’varada Yadavagiriya Cheluva Narayana charana kamalagalige aarathi ettire’.
A scholar from here Pundit Alasingrachar has translated many ancient books into Kannada. National poet P.T. Narasimhachar  (Pu.Ti.Na.) is from here. Thus contribution of Melukote in cultural field is very large. Thousands of scholars have publicized about the cultural and historical heritage of Melukote in their books in Kannada, Sanskrit and Tamil.

Epilogue

Sri Ramanuja spent twelve years in Melukote, and revived it well. This is said be his “Vijayasthana” (Place of Victory). He gifted his own idol to his devotees before departing for Tamilnadu. His last advice was ‘kutim krutvaa tasmin yadugiritate nityavasatihi’. Live in Yadavagiri even if you have to live in a hut. All your sins will be washed away and you will attain Moksha, just by living in this pilgrimage town.
A number of freedom fighters originated from here. The Sanskrit institution here is 150 years old. The Twenty-five years old Academy for Sanskrit Research here has international reputation and has upheld the name of Melukote.
The large number of Mantapa spread all over Melukote has enriched its beauty. Melukote is known to enthuse its oneness absorbing all dynastic cultures.








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