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29.03.2017

Last week, we read a tiny news snippet that the Karnataka Archeology department was suddenly interested in a Mandya district village, where Hero stones from the Hoysala Empire (a Kannadiga empire that ruled modern day Karnataka between 10th and 14th centuries) have stood the test of time. This sent us on a weekend road trip through sugarcane fields, past lakes overflowing with legends and railway stations that try to keep track of time.

Agrahara Bachahalli in KR Pete taluk is 36 kilometers from Mandya town, and this small village is the ideal picture of rural Karnataka. Earlier this year, with the help of locals, the Karnataka Archeology department discovered Hero pillars that were erected in honour of families that served kings in the Hoysala Era.

If you plan to drive out the way we did, you should know that this is a region rich with historical sites: Shravanabelagola is 22 kilometers away, while the beautiful Lakshminarayana temple in Hosaholalu is a ten minute drive from the village. The famous Belur and Halebid temples, shining beacons from the Hoysala Era, are a two hour drive along NH 75. It is this site that the Department of Tourism intends to add to the Mysore Heritage route and create a triangle of Hoysala heritage temples in the coming year. Hey guys, nice digs!

One Tight Slab

But before we discover all this, there are deviations, shortcuts, Google Map cursing and many, many enquiries. Et finalement, we drive through a colourful arch that announces the name of the village - Agrahara Bachahalli. The drive to the centre of the hamlet leads us to a tiny store, where a rather suspicious gentleman unclenches his fists the minute we mention the Hero stones.

By now we’re joined by others, our self-appointed guides - KB Boregowda, a KSRTC driver who is at the village to partake in Ugadi celebrations and the erudite postmaster Gundappa. Both hop on a bike and we follow.

The first site they lead us to is a Shiva temple, a staggeringly beautiful memorial structure, with Hero pillars measuring approximately 15 feet in height. Over the years, detailed depictions on the three pillars have eroded, but their tops have stood the test of time. Here we see men mounted on elephants, leading an army, and alongside are twelve life-size tablets dating back to 800 years, intricately carved, retelling the story of coronation, worship and battlefield lore. M Doreraju, conservation engineer with Karnataka Archeology tells us that these tablets were perhaps commissioned by the heads of the village to chronicle the King’s achievements during his reign.

Dore-raju Ban Gaya Gentleman

With much enthusiasm our guides ask us to follow them to the next historical location. This is the Kala Byraveshvara Temple, a tiny structure on the back of the lake that gets submerged every monsoon, but during summer, you can duck your way into the little gopura to see a Shiva idol placed opposite a beheaded Nandi. The ceiling of this temple, designed as an inverted lotus, is immediately reminiscent of the Belur shrine, and not too far away from here lies the chief deity of the Hoysala Empire, Channakeshvara. The glistening dark image is now encased within a new structure built by the villagers. Master

Seeking refuge from the heat we head to the village katte or congregation point where we sip on majjige (buttermilk), while being gently prodded about our lives back in Bangalore. Gundappa tells us about the villagers’ struggles to protect the heritage of the sites and the lack of interest shown by authorities.

As we say our goodbyes we’re invited back to the annual village temple festival on April 15, with the promise of a memorable meal including the famous ragi mudde and basssaru. If there were ever a time to use that hashtag we detest most, this would be it. #Blessed.

Getting there: Three hour drive from Bangalore, 36 kms from Mandya town off SH 17 or 50 kms from Belur Cross off NH 75. The annual village festival is on the 15th and 16th of April.\

Image Credit: Swaminathan Natarajan

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