A mere 30-minute drive from the Whitefield suburb of Bangalore brings you to the sleepy hamlet of Kalkunte. As part of the Bangalore Rural district, it has gained popularity for the Sri Ranganathswamy temple, which is visited by several devotees every year, especially during the 13-day Rathotsavam or the chariot festival that is held sometime in the month of March every year. Vaikuntha Ekadasi is also observed with devotion.
The Agrahara: The hamlet is an ‘agrahara’, which means it was a piece of land given for religious purposes, especially to Brahmins to maintain the temple that the village housed and also to sustain their families. Agraharams were built by dynasties such as the Cholas and Pallavas. ‘Agrahara’ literally means ‘a garland of houses’. This is because agraharams have lines of houses on either side of the road and the temple to the village god at the centre, thus resembling a garland around the temple.
The pattern can be seen the Kalkunte Agrahara, where a linear settlement pattern is around the temple. As per records, brahmins who followed the tenets of Sri Ramanujacharya; the Vaishnava Tamil Brahmins or the Iyengars migrated to various parts of Karnataka and a group also came to Kalkunte. They are popularly known as Kalkunte Iyengars. Thanks to the benevolence of the Wodeyars, the transition was smooth. According the Mysore Gazeteer (1923), the first family to arrive were three sons and a daughter of Annadaanam Sri.Venkateshacharya family who supposedly moved from a village called Dusi, 10 kilometres from Kanchipuram, about 250 years ago. Other families that migrated have been traced to the Kidambi family, the Chakravarthis, the Perumal family, the Thogare family and the Gomatam family. The name of the village is supposed to have been derived from Kalkand which means granulated sugar chunks.
We arrive at the temple in the morning on the eve of my birthday and park our car near the temple. It is dusty and there is construction debris around. There are small shops close by along with housing settlements along with stray dogs.
But one look at the temple and you are eyes are transfixed and the mind shifts to the purpose you have come there. The Sri Ranganathswamy temple is an example of the Vijayanagara style of architecture and according to the priests it was constructed in the 16th century. As you enter the entrance is flanked by statues of elephants with their mahouts. The Rajgopuram is ornate with statues of various deities.
The deity (Moolavar), Sri Ranganathswamy, the resting form of Lord Vishnu on Adishesha, the serpent god. His vehicle, Lord Garuda is also found in sanctum sanctorum which is a rare feature. He is in the sanctum sanctorum with His consorts Bhudevi and Neela Devi. You can also see Lord Brahma emerge out of his naval (nabhi) The Utsavamurthy here is called Keshava Perumaal with his consorts Sridevi and Bhoodevi on either side. The Lord uses a measuring cup or padi as a pillow. There are separate sannidhis for Namazhwar, Vedanta Desikar and Sri Ramanujacharya.
The poojas in the temple are conducted according to the Pancharatra Aagamas and also the Vadakalai Sampradayam delineated by Sri Vedantha Desikan and Sri Ramanjujacharya. The Pancharatra Agama is one of the religious texts that describe practical and theoretical concepts for those who follow the Hindu school of philosophy known as Vaishnavism. Sri Ramanujacharya later developed a qualified monism doctrine which bridged ideas of Pancharatra movement and those of monistic ideas in the Vedas.
It states that there is only one Vasudeva-Krishna (Vishnu-Narayana) as the changeless being (Para). It arranged itself into three vyuhas (the impermanent or invisible forms) namely, Saṅkarṣaṇa (Balarama) as the lord over all life, then Pradyumna creating mind, and Aniruddha as ego (ahamkara). Thereafter, Brahma emerged from Aniruddha who created the empirical universe. Thus, the divinity was and is everywhere according to the Pancharatra Agamas.
After the settlers established the Agraharam, the next logical step was to build a temple. A temple was then established with Lord Srinivasa as the deity. However, one of the members of the Perumaal Iyengar family dreamt that Lord Sri Ranganatha instructed him to go to the village of Vokkaleri in the Kolar district to get a back a Ranganathswami vigraham from there. The Lord also appeared in the dream of the Vokkaleri village head and instructed them to hand over the deity to the Kalkunte family.
Evidence of copper plates inscriptions dating to 800 A.D, suggests that the Vokkaleri village was once ruled by Pallava kings. A close examination of the iconography of the presiding deity Lord Ranganatha in Kalkunte indicates this belonging to the Pallava architecture. So, it is possible that the deity could have moved from Vokkaleri to Kalkunte Agrahara. The temple was constructed right in the middle of their homes in the Agrahara and from a small sanctum sanctorum it was later expanded to the current structure. The Raja Gopuram is a recent structure and was built during the nineteen seventies.
Who would imagine that a small hamlet would have so much of history?