Karnataka’s Well-Kept Secret: Melukote

Karnataka’s Well-Kept Secret: Melukote
The stunning Narasimha temple in Melkote Photo Credit: Shutterstock

From jewels adorning the deity of Cheluvanarayan Swamy to Hoysala architecture to tasty puliyogare, this little town near Mysuru has many secrets waiting to be discovered

Uttara Gangopadhyay
February 20 , 2020
06 Min Read

Melukote (Melkot) is not a name most travellers to Karnataka are familiar with. Yet, located a mere 50km by road from Mysore, this town and its surroundings are home to some finely crafted ancient temples, mostly belonging to the Hoysala period. The Hoysala dynasty ruled between 10th and 14th centuries. Melukote village is located on top of a hill called Narayangiri and is a popular pilgrimage centre in Karnataka.

Usually, pilgrims begin their trip with a visit to the Yoga Narasimha Temple perched on a hillock, known as Yadugiri. A towering Gopuram marks the temple. Intrepid pilgrims ascend the nearly 500 steps to reach the top of the hill. But you may drive to the parking lot higher up and climb the final 170 steps. This uphill road is narrow and best undertaken by a local auto rickshaw, according to visitors. However, the steps can be very crowded with pilgrims at times, and you have to walk cautiously. In the sanctum sanctorum, Vishnu is worshipped as Yoga Narasimha. From the top, catch a panoramic view of the surrounding plains and hills. The carved top of the Cheluvanarayan Swamy temple can also be seen from here. On the way back, you may stop at the Kalyani lake at the foothill for some rest.

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In the heart of Melkote town is the 12th century Cheluvanarayan Swamy temple. The way to the temple lies through a carved gateway. There are many legends associated with the idol. According to records, it was the Hindu spiritual leader Ramanujacharya who found this idol and built the temple with patronage from the Hoysala rulers. Melkote has been inhabited by the Mandyam Iyenger community since the time of Ramanujacharya. Subsequently, the temple was patronised by the Vijaynagara kingdom and the Wodeyar rulers of Mysuru. There are many smaller shrines devoted gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon too.

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Although one may visit Melukote any time of the year, the best time is during the 10-day Vairamudi festival (March/April). Various rites and rituals mark each day. But it is the grand procession of the ‘utsav murthy’ of Cheluvanarayan, adorned with a diamond studded crown (the Vairamudi) and other ornaments, accompanied by other deities, which draws the biggest crowd. On a later date, the idol of Cheluvanarayan is adorned with a gold crown (Rajamudi) donated by a Wodeyar king of Mysuru. The crowns and the ornaments are kept in government custody round the year and is brought to the temple during the festival. Huge security arrangements are made during this time.

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Break for lunch at any of the several ‘mess’ or small restaurants run by the local people. Try the puliyogare (tamarind rice) and the sweet pongal. One of the popular eateries is the Subbana Mess near the temple.

Although the routes are not very well charted, there are many carved temples in the vicinity of Melkote. There are ruins of temples around the Tirumalasagar. This lake is about 6km from Melkote. There is another 12th century temple in Nagamangala to the north of the town.

Information: Melukote (Melkote) is about 50km from Mysuru and 150 km from Bengaluru. Start early to avoid the city traffic. Carry drinking water and some kind of sunshade while climbing to reach the Yoga Narasimha temple. KSTDC runs a day-long special trip to Melukote from time to time. Since the date of the Vairamudi festival is determined by the temple calendar, contact the nearest Karnataka Tourism office for the exact date. This year it is likely to start on March 30.

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