As darkness falls upon the earth, a few feeble little sun rays struggle to stay alive. But they too slowly fade away, following the sun to the other side of the world. It is dusk, a no -man’s land between day and night when anything can happen. Somewhere in time and space, a pillar splits into two and crashes to the ground. As it crumbles, a figure steps out. It has the body of a man and the head of a lion. Hiranyakshipu knows his time has come. He runs, but an arm reaches out and picks him up as lightly as one would a feather. The lion-man sits on the threshold – neither inside, nor outside the palace. He lets out a roar and places him on his thighs. The demon king has time for one last thought before sharp claws rip him to shreds in front of his pious young son, Prahlad. He recognises that his clever demands of Brahma have been thwarted by none other than Vishnu in the form of this man-beast, Narasimha.
But the story does not end there. Despite having done its duty, the primeval energy that was brought to life in Narasimha would not leave. It raged on, unable to contain itself, spinning away into a vortex of uncontrollable energy that thirsted for more. The Gods were afraid. They could not control what they had summoned up themselves.
Watching this, Shiva ( whose duty it also is to keep the world in balance ) assumed the form of Sharabha, a half bird, half animal and approached Narasimha to restrain him. As the Gods watched, the uncontrollable energy burst forth out of Narasimha as a two headed bird of fierce proportions, the Ganda Berunda. Legend has it that being equally matched, they fought intensely for 18 days till Vishnu was exhausted. The volatile energy inside him subsided and he could control his fearsome form again. At this point, Sharabha tore apart the two headed bird, whereupon Vishnu returned to his original form and Shiva to his. Equilibrium was re-established.
This Gandaberunda story has been debated repeatedly for religious authenticity but no alternative has been proposed as to the origin of this mythological bird and how it came to be found in so many temples across the Deccan ( Rameshwara Temple in Keladi, Brihadeeshwara temple in Tanjavur, Tripuratakeshvara Temple in Balligavi) with many South Indian dynasties also adopting it as a royal motif on coins ( the Hoysalas and Vijayanagar empires, Nayakas ) crests and seals. ( Kadambas, Chalukyas).
In the hands of the Mysore Wodeyars, it underwent a few design changes and they adopted it officially as the royal insignia. Today, this mythical two headed bird is the official state emblem of Karnataka and a symbol of strength, wisdom and magical powers.
According to some, Devarayanadurga was first called Annebiddasari ( interesting story here ) during the Hoysala period and was renamed during Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar’s rule (around 1696 or so). It was also apparently called Karigiri and Kusumadri previously for various reasons. What draws people here are the three rock cut temples built at different elevations on the hill in this area which was officially declared a protected forest reserve as far back as 1853 and a state forest in 1907.
At the foot is the Bhoganarasimha Swamy temple, where the residing deity is said to be the Kula Devatha of the Mysore Maharajahs. Near by is the `Namada Chilume ” where Lord Rama ( according to local legend) shot an arrow into dry ground to retrieve water for pasting his `nama‘ onto his forehead. There is a small waterfilled hole here to mark the spot and also, according to the locals, his footprint.
In between is the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple and at the top is the Yoga Narasimha Swamy temple ( Kumbhi) with three sacred ponds, the Narasimha-teertha, Parasara-teertha and Pada-teertha and a small temple dedicated to Garuda. The last temple will have to be accessed on foot and is a fair climb uphill. The Devarayanadurga area also has ancient historical value with remnants of bygone eras and dynasties being found here fairly regularly.
The Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple is said to have been built by Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar I and the enclosure and tower were apparently repaired in 1858 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. The temples are cut deep into the hillside, becoming almost cave like as you walk through. Ironically, they now share space here with a few modern structures like a Power Station, a Government Guest house and its forlorn little cottage which was once a getaway for the famous orinthologist, Dr. Salim Ali around 1938 -1940.
Teeming with local wildlife, the heavily forested area is a haven for ecologists with rare medicinal plants, birds like the Yellow Throated Bulbul and the occasional Porcupine, Jackal, Sloth Bear or leopard being spotted here, as is a controversial tiger or two.
In fact, South India’s answer to Jim Corbett, Bangalore’s very own Kenneth Anderson (1910 -1974) , mentions killing one in his book ‘Nine Man-eaters and one Rogue‘ ( 1954) where he calls the tiger ‘The Hermit of Devarayanadurga‘ ! But the most unique species out here emerges only on weekends – the chips and aerated drinks selling -consuming -littering Homo Sapiens that set up stalls or arrive noisily in Tempo Travellers.
The hillside has also given birth to the Jaya -Mangali ( a tributary of the Uttara Pinakini), which rises in a gorge called “Jaladhagundhi”, the “Garudachala”, a little stream which originates in the south east and joins the Jayamangali near Holavanahalli and the Shimsha, a tributary of the Cauvery. It is also a popular trekking route with many Adventure Clubs sweating their way up the steep, rocky hillside at dawn and dusk regularly.
On my first visit eight years ago, these temples were still a well kept secret, nestled deep into the protective hillside, shrouded in mist and heavy foliage. Not many in Bangalore had heard of them. The monsoons were a good time to visit because the Kalyani would be full of clean rainwater and the hillside, damp, green and newly washed by nature.
What I love best about the journey is driving through Dobbespet ( named after the British Collector, William Dobbes ), past peaceful villages with farmers working the fields in the rain, past the pond at the foothills which is great for camping, and then the lovely view as you start climbing. In summer, the Gulmohurs line the roads, creating splashes of brilliant blood red along the way. It is impossible to believe that you get all the benefits of a hill station just 1.5 hours away from Bangalore.
At 3940 ft, the view of the cultivated valley below is pretty spectacular with other grey-blue hill ranges far across the horizon and Bangalore fading away into an equally distant memory. Standing here, it is easy to imagine that the city doesn’t exist at all and that it is quite possible to come face to face with a mythical two-headed bird or lion-man at dusk.
Getting there : About 65 kms from Bangalore. Can be a half day trip.Take the Tumkur Road out of Bangalore, past Yeshwanthpur and Nelamangala. Under the big Flyover after the Toll Gate, take a right U-turn and then an immediate left at the Dobbespet Police Station. From here, its a straight road all the way up to the hill.
Tips : Pack food and water. Watch out for the monkeys.