Sri Siddarameshwara Temple, Neeralgi, Haveri


‘Neeralgi’ or ’Niralagi’ is situated about 20 km from the town of Hubballi and is located off the Bengaluru – Pune National Highway. During my recent visit to Hubballi for a wedding, I managed to take a sneak peek of this temple along with a few of my friends. This beautiful temple is located outside the village of Neeralgi and from the outset seems to have been built during the later Kalyana Chalukya period apart from some elements added by the Hoysalas. An inscription found here states that this place was initially known as ‘Nerulage’ and also goes on to record the construction of the Mallinath Jinalaya along with the land grant made by Malla Gavunda (Nadaprabhu of Belahuge, present day’s Belavige). However, no basadi remains here now except for a few ruins spread across the village with the locals also confirming that there are no Jains living there as of today. The inscription was found in the premises of the old fort area and sadly nothing much of the fort survives today.  Thus one can easily assume that it was destroyed during the times of war or by the invaders. But the whereabouts of the Jain temple and its inhabitants still remains a mystery.
Sri Siddarameshwara Temple, Neeralgi
Sri Siddarameshwara Temple, Niralagi
 Also surprisingly, no inscription related to the construction of the Sri Siddarameshwara temple has been found till date. But on the basis of its style of construction, it can be assigned to the 12th century Kalyana Chalukya period. The inscription belonging to a much later period on a pillar of the Navaranga of the temple speaks about the restoration work of this temple carried out by Yakshadeva of Huligere. The temple comprises of a garbhagriha, an antarala and a navaranga with two mukhamantapas, of which the eastern mukhamantapa has collapsed. The garbhagriha houses a Shiva Linga along with the guardian Lord Nandi in the antarala. There are 2 devakosthas/niches on either side of the antarala, one housing a murti of the Saptamatrikas (the seven mother-goddesses) and the other a murti of Lord Vishnu (which doesn’t seem like the original). There is a beautiful makara torana in front of the antarala built in classical Chalukyan style; sadly which has been covered by a modern day photo. Although we were unable to witness the carvings on the Kapota portion, the locals informed us about the presence of images of Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Inscription on the Pillar regarding Restoration of the Temple
Lord Shiva and The Makara Torana
Rati, Manmatha and  Nandi along with Attendants(both sides) as Dwarapalas
 A heavily decked Dravidian Shikara crowns the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) which is attached to a beautiful vestibule. The keertimukha carved on the vestibule/sukanasi is vibrant and elaborately carved. What’s more interesting is the presence of Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara on it.  This may have been a later addition when the temple was under the Hoysala rule. The Shikara has a unique pattern for karna kutas which are circular shape with grooves on its circumference, similar to a mechanical gear system unlike the commonly seen square/rectangular ones. Why it was carved so and what it really represents would be interesting to decipher or was it merely an architectural element added to enhance the beauty of the temple?
Shikara
Mechanical Gear System Arrangement
Karna Kutas on the Shikara
Keertimukha of Vestibule with Dasavatara Carved on it
The external walls have beautiful carvings of miniature shikaras and decorative pillars. There are three murtis inside the temple complex, of which one is quite interesting and rare to find. Though at the first look, the murti resembles that of Lord Dhanvantari and Vyasa Muni, a closer observation and further examination reveals more. However, the Dharwad Gazetteer mentions about the presence of a beautiful murti of Lord Bhairava in a seated posture in this temple, which helped us in identifying  the real identity of this murti. It can be confirmed that he murti is of Lord ‘Hariharapitamaha’ or Lord ‘Dattatreya’ who is a composite form of the Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Overall, it is a beautiful temple with many hidden mysteries waiting to be unravelled!
Lord Hariharapitamaha
Dravidian Shikara
Sekhari Shikara
Lord Varuna and his consort Carved on Makara Pranala
Hero stone

 References:
1.     Dharwad District Gazetteer – Karnataka State Government
2.    South Indian Inscriptions Vol. 18 – ASI

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Achchaludurga – Sri Kempegowda’s Military Outpost


‘Achchalu Betta’ or ‘Achchaludurga’ is a lesser known fort near Ramanagara, located off the Ramanagara – Kanakapura highway. This hill is believed to have been fortified by Sri Kempegowda II with the purpose of serving as a military outpost for stationing of soldiers and tying of horses. On a holiday during a week day, we decided to visit here and check out this place. Reaching this place was quite easy and upon inquiry about the fort, most people advised us not to venture here with kids. Not many people visit here as it falls under the limits of the forest department. However, later a local gave us directions to the hill.  And hereon we began to explore the hill.
Achchaludurga Fortress
Rock Cut Steps
Achchaludurga Entrance
 On the basis of the received information, we went ahead and reached the forest area from where we had to make a right turn to continue on the trek route.  But we lost our way and failed to track the correct route to the top. There were farms close by and the locals whom we met in the farms for inquiry also advised us not to venture here as they saw we were accompanied by kids. But since we insisted that we were geared up to complete the trek, they finally gave up and directed us to the trek route. We proceeded further with a lot of enthusiasm only to realize that we were not on the right track again! All our efforts in tracking the right route turned futile. Many a times we missed the route and tried different ones but in vain.  Finally a shepherd came to our rescue and showed us the right direction. Here on, there was no looking back! We reached the fort gateway in no time. We spent some time near the gateway looking for the presence of any carving of the guardian of the fort, Lord Anjaneya but found none. However, we were not ready to accept that the fort premises were devoid of any image or carving of Lord Anjaneya.  We decided to move on and explore further. 
Enter The Dragon
Fort-walls
Shri Bommalingeshwara Temple
Achchalu Forest
A little further from the gateway is a water pond and a small cave shrine believed to be dedicated to Sri Bommalingaeshwara. Most of the fortification here remains destroyed. We were able to see the lovely rock cut steps leading to the hill- top. There are footprints of horses belonging to Sri Kempegowda on these rocks cut steps. On the top, there is a big water tank which sadly today is in a state of despair and some recent structures, probably built by the Forest Department. One can get a bird’s eye view of Ramanagara and the famous Sholay hills / Ramagiri hills. We could spot a few Egyptian vultures flying around this place. 
Kite in the Flight
The Climb
At the Peak
 Horseshoe Imprint
While descending, Amrutha spotted an arrow painted on a rock near the gateway directing us to the other side of the gateway. We decided to go ahead and explore it. We reached a small cave and found a beautiful carving of Lord Kote Anjaneya. We were very pleased to see our beloved friend / trek partner! By experience, we have learned that wherever a fort exists, its protector also exists!  Quite satisfied after seeing the Lord, we descended quickly and realized that most of whom we had inquired for directions initially had only misled us, except for the first person and the good shepherd. Thus, another fort exploration concluded with destiny being on our side. The entire setting of the area is magnificent  though it seemed risky to venture alone during the early morning and late evening hours as spotting of leopards, bears, wild boars, porcupines, and monitor lizards is  common here.  
Anjaneya Swamy Cave
Lord Kote Anjaneya
Achalu Betta/ Achchalu Betta

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Rayakottai Fort


Rayakottai’ or the ‘King’s Fort’ is one amongst the popular fort treks near Bengaluru at a distance of around 100 km. One Sunday we decided to check out this fort and our journey to this place was quite uneventful. We reached the base of the hill fort and after enquiring about the route, we proceeded further. Steps are laid until the top and it’s a pretty straight forward climb. In no time we reached the first gateway of the fort. This arched gateway seems to have been renovated during the reign of Tippu Sultan as we can find a similar pattern for the gateway at Nandi hills. The fort was initially built by Jagadeva Raya, a Palegara of Channapatna town in Ramanagara district, thus the name Raya Kottai. A common misconception however is that this fort was built by Tippu Sultan. 
Bird's eye View of Rayakottai Town
Monsoon Clouds
Way Up to the Rayakottai Fort
Enter The Dragon (Rayakottai Fort Entrance)
  Jagadeva Raya had control over the entire regions of Hosur, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu. He served as a vassal king under the Vijayanagaras and also won the battle of Penukonda for them. Rayakottai was a strategic fortress connecting Mysore to the Baramahal. Post Jagadeva Raya, none of the Kings were strong enough to hold the entire territory and hence started to lose their territories to Hyder Ali. Later, Major Gowdie under Lord Cornwallis captured the Fort from Tippu Sultan in the year 1791-92. Hereon, they marched towards Srirangapatna and killed Tippu in 1799. Rayakottai then was held by the East India Company until independence. The East India Company made a few additions to the fort, which remained popular among Military Pensioners.  Ruins of buildings constructed by the British can still be seen here. There are many water tanks built here for providing water for the people. At one such big water pond, we found a carving of Lord Shiva in the form of a Linga along with Lords Nandi and Ganesha. The carvings are very much similar to the ones present at Krishnagiri fort; probably indicating that this fort existed even before the reign of Jagadeva Raya and may have been originally built during Lord Krishnadeva Raya’s rule. 
Rayakottai Fort Entrance
Fort Wall
Ruins Spread Across
Young Trekker
One of Many Water Sources Here
Hidden Treasure
House With A View
British Bungalow
Ruined Beauty
 Interestingly, on our way back to Bengaluru we also found a carving of King Krishnadeva Raya accompanied by his two queens offering prayers to Lord Shiva. There is no evidence for the presence of any temple in the fort premises.  However, there are chances that the same was destroyed during Hyder/ Tippu’s period. There exists a big cave Ashram used during 19th century saint, maintained in good condition. This gives us an indication of things that have occurred here. Overall, Rayakottai is a lovely fort to explore and preferably best when visited during early hours of the day to avoid sun’s heat. It is also better to carry along some snacks and lots of water to stay hydrated. Today, Rayakottai is a small sleepy village fairly well connected with Bengaluru by roads and rail.  
Lords Shiva, Ganesha And Nandi
Fresh Sweet Water Pond
Ashram
Lord Anjaneya
Trichodes alvearius (bee hive Beetle)
Monkey Puzzle Butterfly (Rathinda amor)
Delicate
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