BENGALURU: Malleswaram 15th Cross is referred to as Temple Road, and Bengalureans come from near and far to visit the multiple holy spots along this stretch. Amid the crowd, smell of flowers and camphor, is the Sri Dakshinamukha Nandi Tirtha Kalyani Kshetra, or the Nandeeshwara Temple – popular for the mystery that surrounds it.
As you walk down the stairs from the gate to enter the temple grounds, the sound of flowing water and bells envelop you, and a sense of calm descends. While not much has been done for the general upkeep of the temple – the vegetation is unkempt and no signs to indicate its historical, cultural and religious significance can be seen – there is something pristine in its modesty.
Of facts and fiction
There’s an interesting story behind this temple, and why the residents of Malleswaram fought fiercely to ensure it remained intact. According to locals, the temple, which they say is about 400 years old, was an empty lot a few years back. In 1997, a local politician had sold that very same plot of land to a builder who was going to construct a commercial property on it.
However, when the land was being dug up, what they unearthed was pleasantly surprising. A stone courtyard held up by pillars, emerged, and it was in perfect condition. At the far end of the courtyard was a Nandi statue, made from black stone, with eyes painted in gold. From its mouth flowed a stream of water that fell on a Shivalinga made from the same black stone. From the Linga, which is on a lower level, the water flows into a kalyani in the centre of the courtyard. In this, there is a well several feet below, says the temple priest Ravi Shankar Bhatt. “No one has been able to determine the source of the water or exactly how long the temple has been in existence,” he says.
One thing that is unique about this temple, as the name suggests, is the direction in which both statues are facing – south (dakshin). MK Krishna, a resident of Malleswaram, says that usually temples in India face eastwards, and that a south-facing temple was almost unheard of until now. “It is believed that the temple dates back to Shivaji, but no one has proved anything yet. It is also said that the water source is Sankey Tank,” says Krishna.
Barely any work has been done on the temple since its discovery. And this is mainly because of the stand taken by the residents of Malleswaram, whose protests are what stopped the builder from going ahead with his plans. Rajshekhar and his wife Lakshmamma have been living in a house right behind the temple for almost 50 years. They recalled how difficult it was to convince the builder and a politician to let the temple be.
Shedding some light on the matter is Arun Prasad, a city-based independent historian. “This temple is distinct from the other temples in the city but there is no recorded history of when it was built. After the protests from the residents was when the news spread and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) got involved. However, the ASI did not do a deep enough study... The carbon dating they did indicated that the temple is about 400-years-old, dating back to the 17th Century,” says Prasad, adding that this estimation matches the inscription found at the Kadu Malleswara Temple, which is on top of the hillock. He also says that it is typical of temples on hills in south India to have a kalyani at the base, just like the one found in the Nandeeswara Temple.
Prasad explains why he dates it to the 17th Century: “There is a strong connection to Bengaluru here. The city was founded in 1537 by Kempegowda. A 100 years later – in 1638 – Shivaji’s (founder of the Maratha empire) father Shahaji Bhosle captured Bengaluru and the surrounding areas from Kempegowda. So the city came into the hands of the Marathas. Shahaji was succeeded by Venkoji, Shivaji’s step brother. And it was Venkoji who developed the Kadu Malleswara Temple, as indicated in the inscription.” However, some believe the temple is millions of years old, some say it is 700-800 years old, says Prasad.
Where does the water come from?
“It is said that the river Vrishabhavathi originated from the Kadu Malleswara Temple, but there is no proof to support this. A general study of the topography of the area indicates a possibility that a stream did flow down from the hillock towards the Nandeeshwara Temple. This stream would’ve been connected to a lake behind Raja Mills, which is now a private mall, and the stream is nothing but a drain now,” says Prasad. He adds that there is definitely a possibility of underground channels still flowing in the area, explaining why water still continues to flow out of the Nandi’s mouth.
‘Not an ASI protected monument’
While locals believe the temple is an Archaelogical Survey of India-protected monument, we have learnt from an official at the ASI that it isn’t protected by them after all. An ASI official tells CE that the monument is a state-protected one. Despite multiple attempts, we were unable to get through to the Commissioner of the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, Karnataka, which leaves us with unanswered questions around the history and mystery around this temple.
Not much is known on the architecture of the Maratha empire. Apparently, due to the constant battles they had with the Mughals, the Marathas didn’t have the resources or the time to invest in these things. However, some characteristic of the Maratha style from buildings such as forts, palaces and temples, prove that brick, wood, mortar, stone were the primary materials used for construction. Naturally, forts were the most common feature of their period. The decorative features included pointed arches, heavy carved stone brackets, narrow balconies and domical shallow ceilings. Their temples followed the earlier style of the Yadava temples.
In his work, Five Thousand Years of Indian Art, the renowned German scholar on Indian art, Herman Goetz, writes about their architectural style: “Maratha temples generally had a huge lampstand (deepmala), representing a renaissance of the medieval western Chalukyan or Shilhara sanctuary, often combined with Mughal arches. It’s spire is a curious transposition of the ancient shikara (tower) into Deccan-Mughal forms, a bulbous lotus dome (in place of amalaka) rising on top of several storeys of domed chhattris (pavilion).” Maratha architecture lacked the beauty and grace of the buildings of the Mughals and the Rajputs, but they excelled in fort architecture.