Returning to your roots is always an emotional journey. That is why this last article of 2021 is special to me. I hope you – my dear readers – will find it interesting too.
Towards the end of May 2020, I lost my father and was a day late for the last rites, as flights and lockdown rules were still ambiguous. The mortal remains of my father were taken to the River Hemavathi, and he merged with the elements of nature at his ancestral village of Gorur. Gorur is a quaint little hamlet located in the Hassan district of Karnataka in Southern India.
I belong to a sect of Tamil Brahmins who call themselves as the Hebbar Iyengars. History says that in the 12th century AD when the Vaishnava saint Ramanujacharya fled to Karnataka due to the oppression by the Chola kings in Tamil Nadu, several bands of followers also followed him and called themselves Hebbar Iyengars dedicating their lives to the teachings of their guru. When the kings in Karnataka gave them refuge, they settled down in villages by the River Cauvery and Hemavathi. Infact the famous Belur and Halebid temples were constructed by the King Vishnuvardhana under the guidance of Ramanujachaya.
As readers may know that Indian names have initials and the first initial traces back to the place of origin of the person. My father’s name was K S I Sachidanand (Kittane Sreenivasa Iyengar Sachidanand) and Kittane is the actual village where his ancestors came to settle. I had plans to go before the end of the year, but it nearly did not happen because of my mother’s hospitalisation early this month.
So, it is with great gratitude that I write this piece.
Hemavathi River and the Gorur Dam: We left Bangalore at 5.30 am and carried some packed breakfast with us. It was 9.15 am when we reached Gorur. We went straight to the Yoga Narasimha Temple. Since the priests had not arrived, we went to the banks of the beautiful Hemavathy River. This is an important tributary of the River Cauvery. The Hemavati River starts in the Western Ghats at an elevation of about 1,219 metres near Balur in Mudigere taluk of Chikmagalur District. It flows through Hassan District where it is joined by its chief tributary, the Yagachi River, and then into Mandya district before joining the Kaveri near Krishnarajasagar. There is a new Ganesha temple that has been built by the banks of the river.
A dam was built at Gorur across the river in 1979 and this is popularly known as the Gorur Dam. The dam is now closed to visitors due to the pandemic, but at an earlier visit it made for a breathtaking sight with the vast expanse of water that resembles an ocean.
This 1400-year-old temple is situated in the centre of Gorur and dates back to Vijayanagar period. The main deity is Paravasudeva, who is in the middle, Prasanna Kamaladevi (Lakshmi) and Alwar acharyas are on either side. We can also see the image of Vedanta Deshikar and Goda Devi in the navaranga hall. The stone inscriptions found in the temple informs that, the temple was reconstructed in the year 1586 AD. Over time this temple was need of repairs and so the reconstruction was undertaken jointly by the Dharmashthala Trust and Gorur Development Trust and was inaugurated by the jeer of Parakala Matha. Nandini, a software engineer, who has made Gorur her base during the lockdown is the daughter Mr. G. N Prakash who is one of the trustees of the Gorur Development Board. She tells us that the renovation and reconstruction was done with absolute precision. Each stone that was removed was barcoded and went back to the exact place where it belonged earlier. There is an engraving of Lord Hanuman on the right exterior wall of the temple.
I have written about the Pancharatra Agamas in an earlier article (Thondanur travelogue). The central doctrine of the Pancharatra Agama is that the Supreme Being or the Absolute or the Brahman, out of loving- compassion, voluntary assumed bodily forms so that the devotees may gain access to his subtle form. Para Vasudeva is that form of Lord Vishnu/ Narayana, is that transcendental form who resides in the highest realm. He is the omnipresent, omniscient, and is the creator of this Universe and all other Multiverse. While Para Vasudeva is pure consciousness, Lakshmi as creative energy is the cause of the material world.
Yoga Narasimha Temple: This temple is by the banks of the River Hemavathy. It is said that a sage called Rishi Gokarna meditated upon Lord Narasimha and the Lord appeared before him in the form of an idol. The Narasimha idol sits in a yogic and peaceful form. This region was hence called Gokarna kshetra, which finally came to be known as Gorur later on. Overtime the idol was covered by an anthill and it is believed to have been discovered by two brothers- Dodda Narasaiah and Chikka Narasaiah (timeline unknown) and their families are still accorded respect here. The temple was finally renovated in 1586 A D by a local Naik king. The idol faces the west and has three eyes. The gopuram have idols of Garuda, Hanuman, the avatars of Lord Vishnu and the Ugra (angry form) of Lord Narasimha.
Since it is the holy month of Margazhi, it was amazing to listen to the chants of Thiruppavai by some devotees. Thiruppavai is set of Tamil devotional religious hymns attributed to the female poet-saint Andal, that I have spoken about in an earlier article.
The house of Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar: Just next to the Para Vasudeva temple is the house of one of India’s foremost literary writers- Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar (1904-1991). Born on July 4, 1904 to Srinivasa Iyengar and Lakshmamma in Gorur he was a freedom fighter, a Gandhian, a novelist who was well-known for his humour. He suffered imprisonment by the British regime in the years in 1942 and 1947 and his son Ramachandra was shot in a police firing in 1947.
He later took over the responsibility of the All India Charaka Association of Khadi in Bangalore to promote Khadi and handloom textiles. He also worked to uplift the underprivileged communities. In 1980, his satirical travelogue “Amerikadalli Gorur” (Gorur in America) fetched him the Kendra Sahitya Academy award. The book talks about an orthodox Iyengar in America! His novel “Bhoothayyana Maga Ayyu” was made into a Kannada movie of the same name by noted director Siddhalingaiah in 1975. My new years resolution will be definitely to explore his works as much as I can.
A typical street in Gorur: Nandini and her father have built a beautiful house in the Therai Veedi (the chariot street road), which is close to the Para Vasudeva temple. She says that she no longer misses the bustle of city life as all the comforts are there in the hamlet, that includes high-speed internet as well as delivery by Amazon. But the old world charm remains and life has a easy pace.
Konapura Island and Backwaters of River Hemavati: A must visit is the Konapura Island just two kilometres from Gorur Dam on the Hassan Arakalgud Main Road, Hassan district. This island is surrounded by the Hemavati backwaters and is pristine and idyllic. However, what you cannot see in the pictures is the trash that is left behind by visitors. I so wish that we get our act together fast, as far as our civic sense is concerned.
Kittane: Going to Kittane was totally unplanned. As I saw the GPS, I noticed that it was a mere 20 minutes from Konapura, and on a whim we decided to drive towards Kittane, the original settlement of my fore-fathers. The village is located in Hassan and is 8km away from Hassan. I enquired with some of the villagers if there were any Iyengar families still left in the village, and they directed me to go to ‘Jayanna’s Angadi’ (or Jayanna’s shop). At the shop which is an extension of the residence, we were met by Mrs. Ananthalakshmi. The beauty of rural India is it’s warmth and hospitality. Mrs. Ananthalakshmi insisted that we eat lunch with her, to which I politely declined. It was indeed so sweet of her to offer. However, according to custom she offered me haldi-kumkum, thamboolam of betel leaf, jaggery and areca nut along with a blouse-piece. My heart was indeed brimming with joy to have visited this land of my ancestors.
If you liked this travel piece, hit on the star button and do subscribe if you have not already. Until next time. Stay safe, be a responsible traveller. Thank you for joining me on this sojourn! Wishing you all a healthy and peaceful New Year ahead!
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