The Barachukki and Gaganachukki falls are ranked among the world’s best
Waterfalls, sand and a woman’s curse
AFTER we had our fill of the royal city of Mysore, we decided to explore nearby destinations within driving distance. Mysore district is a trendy tourist destination, offering a fabulous mix of Karnataka’s major tourist attractions and getaways. We chose to embark on a day’s outing to the mesmerizing falls of Shivanasamudram and Talakadu, one of the oldest towns of Karnataka.
Situated on the banks of the Cauvery, the quaint town of Talakadu offers a heady combination of a sacred river, ancient settlements and shifting sands, steeped in intriguing myths, legends and history. We found Talakadu to be a town of stark contrasts, with a barren expanse of sand all around—akin to a desert. It was once the capital of the Western Gangas, and during various points of history, it was a flourishing centre under the Cholas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagara Empire and the Wadiyars of Mysore. It was a glorious township stifled by the rush of sands that have shrouded its splendour.
After a boat ride on the placid river, we took a stroll along the stretch of sand and listened to the intriguing tales that still swirl on the sands, of a woman and her curse that resonates through the centuries. According to popular belief, Raja Wadiyar, the ruler of erstwhile Mysore state, defeated Rangaraya, the Vijayanagara viceroy, in Srirangapatna. The victorious king alleged that Rangaraya’s wife, Alamelamma, still had with her priceless jewels that rightfully belonged to the temple at Srirangapatna.
Following Rangaraya’s death, Alamelamma fled to Talakadu when Wadiyar sent his soldiers to recover the jewels. Furious at the insults suffered at the hands of the Mysore king, cursing the Wadiyars and the town of the splendid spires, an enraged Alamelamma plunged with her priceless jewels into the lap of the swirling Cauvery near Malangi, a town on the opposite bank of the river.
Her curse was: ‘May Malangi become a whirlpool, Talakadu town turn into a desert and the rulers of Mysore not have children’.
Alamelamma is believed to have committed suicide by drowning in the river after pronouncing a curse on the king that his dynasty should never have a continuous line of succession and every descendant should die without a son to succeed him. Incredible as it may sound, the curse seems to have come true. From the 1600s, Talakadu did indeed begin to be deluged with sand. While geologists and ecologists have come up with alternative theories, the presence of sand still remains shrouded in mystery.
Most of the temples in Talakadu are dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is worshipped here as the panchalinga — Pathaleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arkeshwara, Vaidyanatheswara and Mallikarjuna. Built over several centuries, with a distinct style of architecture, the exquisite shrine of Lord Vaidyanatheswara is probably the most imposing structure in Talakadu. Pathaleshwara, perhaps the oldest shrine, was built by the Ganga kings. Nearby is the Kirtinarayana temple, with a 10-foot idol of Vishnu. Built in commemoration of the victory of the Hoysala ruler, Vishnuvardhana, over the Cholas, it is the only temple here built in the Hoysala style.
Another interesting panchalinga temple is the Mallikarjuna temple atop a hill in nearby Mudukuthore village. It offers panoramic views of the meandering Cauvery and the surrounding countryside. The Kritti Narayana (Vaidyeshwara temple) comes to life once every 12 years during the Panchalinga Darshan, when the temple on the sandy bank of the Cauvery is the focus of a colourful festival.
After temple hopping in Talakadu, we proceeded to the small island-town of Shivanasamudram (Sea of Shiva), 65 km east of Mysore. We could hear the resounding roar of the Cauvery as it plunged 75 m into a deep, rocky gorge to form the twin falls, Barachukki and Gaganachukki. The falls area is also called Shimsha by locals but the British labelled it Bluff. They present a splendid sight with the lush forested hills and green expanses which form a startlingly serene backdrop to the Cauvery, the life line of Karnataka. These falls have been ranked among the world’s 100 best!
More than the vertical drop, the two waterfalls are famed for their horizontal sprawl. At the top of the falls, the river divides around the island of Shivanasamudram, the Barachukki stream to the east and Gaganachukki to the west. The falls are at their impressive best during the monsoon and it was wondrous to hear the roar of gushing water leaping down the rocky gorge, shattering the silence of the sylvan surroundings.
Downstream is Asia’s first hydroelectric project, started by Dewan Sheshadri Iyer in 1902 with the intention of feeding power to the Kolar gold fields. After driving just a few km past the hydroelectric station, we stopped by the fall-side dargah dedicated to the Sufi saint, Hazrat Syed Mardhani Gayeb. We saw several pilgrims who had come to pay respects to the Sufi saint. Barachukki is beyond the dargah, a few km away. The water falls from a height of 100 feet and forms a deep pool. Compared to Gaganachukki, Barachukki wears a more serene look probably because there are no boulders hindering its course downwards.
We stopped by the temples of Madhyarangana and Someshwara and also two churches. The Madhyaranganathaswamy temple, an ancient Dravidian temple on the island dedicated to Lord Ranganatha, is a pilgrimage site. There are two more Ranganatha temples on the banks of the Cauvery which are Adi Ranga at Srirangapatna and Anthya Ranga at Srirangam in Tamil Nadu.
The Ranganathaswamy temple dates back to the Chola period with modifications by later rulers like the Hoysalas. Many interesting legends are associated with this temple. The main deity, Ranganathaswamy, is believed to be carved in fossil stone (saligramashila). The deafening roar of the water of the mighty Cauvery as it plunged into the gorge lingered on in our ears even after we had left the place.