Thondanur/ Tonnur Kere; Walking on spiritual soil ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

This was the first outbound trip after ‘lockdown’ and boy was I happy to hit the road. It was my husband’s birthday and we decided to do a day-trip from Bangalore. Amidst all the uncertainties that has been going on the world, I really wanted to visit a temple. Thondanur or Thonnur Kere as it is also known, beckoned to us as it exudes peace and is also bereft of huge crowds. I had been to this quaint village in 2006 and 2010, so it was already a decade since the last visit.

We set out early in the morning just after sunrise from Bangalore with all that was required for the times we are living through – sanitisers, masks, drinking water and a lunch. I have described the route at the end of the article.

Thondanur: The name of this quaint village was given by the great saint Sri Ramanujacharya (1017-1137), who founded the Vishishtha Advaita form of Vedanta that gave rise to the corresponding Sri Vaishnavism philosophy. He had fled Srirangam in Tamil Nadu due to the persecution of the then Chola king Kullutonga, while his staunch disciple Kuresa or Kurath Azhwar stayed back to impersonate him and unfortunately that led to his eyes gouged by the king’s soldiers.

Ramanujacharya reached this village following the course of the River Cauvery from Tamil Nadu. He was welcomed here by one of his disciples Thondanur Nambi and thereafter he lived as a mendicant in the temple complexes.  Thondanur was the second capital of the Hoysala empire during the reign of the King Vishnuvardhana (Bitti Deva) who constructed several Basadis (Jain shrines) and temples including the Nambi Narayana Temple described below.

As you drive on the Pandavapura road, you come across a signage that gives you directions to the Thondanur village. Incidentally, Pandavapura, is so named as it is believed that the Pandavas came here during the ‘agnyathvasa’ or the period of exile when they had to be incognito. Pandavapura is also popular with trekkers who go up hillocks such as Kunti Betta and Bhima Betta and it has several temples of interest too. The route to Thondanur through Pandavapura goes through some lush fields. We arrive at this village that is surrounded by the hillocks known as the Yadugiri ranges.

  • The Yoga Narasimha Temple: A short flight of steps brings us to the Yoga Narasimha temple. The deity of Yoga Narasimha was installed in the Krita (Satya) Yuga by Prahalad himself. The Lord has a faint smile and has a Shankha (conch) on the left hand a Chakra (disc) on the right hand. Near the chakra is the Narasimha danda (rod).
The Yoga Narasimha Temple
Courtesy: Internet

When Ramanujacharya arrived in Thondanur the local Jain king Bitti Deva came to see him on the advice of Thondanur Nambi. King Bitti Deva’s daughter was unwell and had a mental illness. She was said to be possessed by a ‘Brahma Rakshasa’ and the king was very worried about her. Sri Ramanujacharya asked him to make his daughter take a dip in the waters of the lake and take her to the Yoga Narasimha temple. The priest was surprised to see the king coming to the temple for the first time. He placed the Narasimha Danda on the princess and lo and behold, the princess recovered immediately. Bitti Deva was overjoyed beyond belief and against the wishes of his courtiers, he adopted the Sri Vaishnava faith and was christened as Vishnuvardhana by Ramanujacharya. The courtiers and priests were still displeased and said that they would accept Ramanujacharya’s teachings only if he would simultaneously debate with 1000 members of their community.  

Ramanujacharya is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Adisesha, the divine 1000 headed serpent on whom Lord Vishnu reclines in the cosmic waters. He agreed to their request. A miracle was observed when Ramanujacharya took over his actual form with 1000 heads and answered the thousand different questions all at once. The Jain priests were humbled and they prostrated before the acharya and adopted Sri Vaishnavism, by doing Samashrayanam (Pancha Samskara or five step purification).

As we enter the temple, on the right side is the sanctum sanctorum of Ramanujacharya in his Shesha roop, a seven headed serpent. On his torso, the coiled form of a serpent can be observed. Since Rmanaujacharya performed Samashrayanam on the population of Thondanur, that involved the embossing the impression of Vishnu’s Sudarshana chakra discus on the right shoulder of the initiate and of Vishnu’s Panchajanya Shankha conch on the left shoulder of the initiate – using an ember-heated silver seal; you can see that chakra is on the left and the shanka is on the right. This is contrary to how the chakra and shankha are placed in other temples.

Shesha Roopa Ramanujacharya

On the side you can also see the 1000-year-old box that was used by Sri Ramanujacharya. Devotees who have their wishes fulfilled come back to present a white dhoti to Yoga Narasimha and a saffron dhoti to Sri Ramanujacharya.

The worldly possessions of a Sanyasi

Ramanujacharya stayed on in Thondanur for 12 years before he proceeded towards the adjoining village of Melkote. In the 12 years he supervised the renovation of the three temples, including the Yoga Narasimha temple, that were in ruin. Thondanur was also called as Yadavapuri by Ramanujacharya and Melkote was called Yadavagiri.

The priest tells us that even today the soul of Ramunajacharya remains in the village. After 5 pm, after the Mangal-arti the temple doors are shut and the acharya goes back into the temple in his serpent form.

  • Parthasarathi Temple or Venugopalswamy Temple: Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas is believed to have installed the Moolavar – the idol of Lord Parthasarathi here. The Lord is flanked by Goddesses Sridevi and Bhudevi. The utsavamurthi is that of Lord Venugopalswamy and he is flanked by Rukmini and Satyabhama.

The temple has several inscriptions dating back to 11th century AD when it was renovated. The Moolavar idol is similar to the one found in Thiruvallikeni temple where he stands with all his ayudhams or weapons in Chennai as well as the temple outside the Govindraj Perumal temple in Tirupati.

The temple also has idols of Garuda, Ramanujacharya and Sage Vaikhanasa. Vaikhanasa tradition says the sage Vikhanasa, was a manifestation of Lord Mahavishnu, and had the Upanayanam along with Lord Brahma and learnt all the Vedas. Sri Vaikhanasa Maharishi came down to Naimisaaranyam (in present day Uttar Pradesh) and composed the Vaikhanasa Kalpasutra. He taught the Sri Vaikhanasa Bhagawat Saastra to his four disciples viz., Atri, Bhrigu, Kashyapa and Marichi, Most Vaikhanasa literature is concerned with rituals and their rules of performance.

This temple too was consecrated by Ramanujacharya before he proceeded to Melkote.

  • Nambi Narayana Temple: A host of flower and tulsi vendors greet us before we enter the Nambi Narayana Temple. The lack of devotees during the pandemic has affected their source of income. The first time we were here the surroundings were not landscaped as it is done now, which was a pleasant surprise. This temple was built in the 11th century AD when Ramanujacharya came here.
Facade of Nambi Narayan Temple

The origins of the temple goes something like this At the end of the Dwapara Yuga, in the Devas (Gods) and Asuras (demons) were a war. The king of the gods,  Indra killed a Brahmin inadvertently and was charged with Brahma Hatya Dosha. To liberate himself from punishment, he undertook penance and invoked the blessings from Lord Vishnu.

The praharam around Nambi Narayan Temple

He was directed to install five idols of Lord Narayana (Vishnu)  in this region to liberate himself . Thondanur is the first and the oldest of the Pancha Narayana Kshetrams. The others in this region being – Cheluva Narayana at Melkote, Keerthi Narayana at Thalakkad, Veera Narayana at Gadag and Sowmya Narayana at Belur.

This is part of the Pancha Narayana Kshetras is deemed the first and the oldest amongst them.  The idol of Vishnu as Nambi Narayana was installed by Ramanujacharya himself. While the idol in the sanctum is said to be over 5,500 years old, the temple itself, was built over 1000 years ago with contributions from various kings. As a result, the architectural design is mixed.

A long view of the Aravinda Nayiki Sannidhi

The idol of Nambi Narayan stands majestically with the chakra is on the left and the shanka is on the right. This is contrary to how the chakra and shankha are placed in other temples.  The temple in its current structure is made from granite and has a navaranga (hall), a maharanga mantapa (a stage for performances), an ardha mantapa (the interior space between the sanctum and the exterior), a sukanasi external ornamented feature over the entrance to the garbhagriha or inner shrine. ) , a garbha griha (the sanctum sanctorum) and a massive paataalankana with 40 octagonal pillars (outermost part). The ardha Mandapa has the seat of Ramanujacharya and his paadukas. The consort here is called Aravinda Nayiki and her sannidhi is to the left of the main sanctum. A 45 feet Garuda Dwajasthamba is outside the temple with engravings of Lord Narasimha, Garuda, and Hanuman on it.

Carvings on the Dwajasthamba
A cheery flower seller with her mother
  • Statue of Ramanujacharya: A majestic 36-foot statue of Sri Ramanujacharya was installed near the lake below in April 2017, to commemorate 1000 years birth anniversary of the guru.
The 36-feet statue of Ramanujacharya
  • Thonnur Kere: ‘Kere’ in Kannada means lake and Thonnur Kere was the last stop to visit in the village. This lake is not merely a lake but an amazing reservoir that was built under Ramanujacharya’s guidance and was known as Thirumala Sagara. It was initially called Pancha Apsara Thataka. The reservoir and the backwaters spread over an area of more than 2000 acres and a large manmade embankment of a dam (230 metres in height and 150 metres in length). Even after a thousand years the reservoir is full up till the brim. It is said that even in the worst droughts the lake does not dry up and conversely, in the heaviest of rainfalls the lake does not turn muddy. Inspired by the purity of its water, the Moghul Nasir Jung called it as ‘Moti Talab’ (Lake of Pearls). The lake is surrounded by spots such as Ramanuja Gange which is a waterfall near the lake, Tipu caves, and the Padmagiri hillock next to the lake. The water from the reservoir supplies water to the hundreds of villages around for domestic use as well as for the fields.

That encapsulated our wonderful trip to Thondanur. On the way back we managed to visit, a jaggery making unit as this is a sugar belt of Karnataka.

Jaggery in the making

How to reach Thondanur: We set out early in the morning just after sunrise from Bangalore. Thondanur is about 175 kms from Whitefield. The route that we traversed took us via was Dommasandara to Huskuru Road to reach the NICE (Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises) road that joins the road to reach Bidadi. From Bidadi we pass through Ramanagara, Channapatna, Maddur, and Mandya. A stop at Hotel Thimmadas at Maddur was welcome as the Thatte Idli and Maddur Vadas were just too tempting to miss.

A public garden in Mandya. Notice the statue of M. Vishveswaraya

At the Mandya KRS road, a right turn takes you to Pandavapura from where Thondanoor is another 20 minutes.  Our journey took us 3 hours and 45 minutes from door to door.

Fields enroute from Pandavapura to Thondanur

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