The mysteries of Bengaluru’s famed Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple

#1 Jan 19th, 2018, 22:28
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Dec 2008
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Photo courtesy Vyasa Shastry.

There are many stories about the origin of Bengaluru’s name. One popular apocryphal version recounts the tale of a king from the Hoysala dynasty coming to the city in the 12th century on a hunting spree and losing his way. The hungry king, the story goes, was given a traditional welcome by an old woman, who offered him water and boiled beans—benda kaalu in Kannada. The grateful king was supposed to have named the settlement “Bendakaaluru”: The town of boiled beans. This evidently metamorphosed to Bengaluru in due course of time.

However, the discovery of a ninth century temple inscription—referring to the name of Bengaluru—has put paid to the story and, literally, relegated it to an urban legend.

There is no such doubt regarding the role played by the Kempe Gowda bloodline—the feudatory rulers under the Vijayanagara empire—who founded the city of Bengaluru. Named after their family deity’s consort, Kempamma, Kempe Gowda I founded the city in 1537. He soon constructed a mud fort with a protective moat, and established markets in its premises.

Kempe Gowde I is also credited with the construction of several lakes or keres in and around this original mud fort, for the purposes of drinking water and irrigation: the Dharmambudhi lake, the dried bed of which today houses Kempegowda Bus Station, and the now decrepit Kempambudhi lake are some of the most noteworthy ones. His grandson, Kempe Gowda II, also built many lakes and watchtowers around the city.

Many of these medieval lakes that once slaked the city’s thirst and watered its crops have today been ravaged by urbanization and the ensuing encroachment. Kempe Gowde I also championed the construction of several temples around the town; one of the earliest such temples that was renovated and constructed outside the fort’s perimeter was the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple.

And it was to this temple that I boarded the No. 35 bus on 14 January. The time was 3.10pm and the bus was uncommonly crowded. On most days, buses starting from the Kempegowda Bus Station tend to be crowded. Bengaluru is a city in the throes of agonizing urbanization. Everything is crowded.

But this was a Saturday. And yet, the bus thronged with people. All of them, like me, were on their way to the bus stop near the swimming pool in Gavipuram. We were going to witness a breathtaking celestial phenomenon.

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