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History , Myths & Legends of Kabini.

Hero Stones.

Memorial stones erected during the ancient days in memory of a hero who martyred his
life for noble cause are called, Hero stones (called virakal in Tamil and viragal Kannada).These hero stones are popularly found in many areas of South India. However it has since been found that this practice of erecting Hero Stones is not restricted to South India but is pan Indian in character, Hero Stones are usually found on the outskirts of small towns and villages and the people of these areas, usually the family members of the deceased hero, worship these memorial stones with flowers and kumkum. The men thus consecrated are those who sacrificed their lives protecting their town, village or families from attacks by enemy soldiers or vandals, or from aggressors who tried to steal their cattle, from attacks by wild animals or some such unselfish and courageous act.

On the banks of the Kabini there is a cattle path that leads down to the river near the village of Beeramballi and one of these Hero Stones are to be found by the side of the road.

The sculptures on these hero stones usually depict the brave man and the event in which he lost his life. A few even graphically portray the event such as a fierce fight which led to the death of the hero. The men are seen wielding various kinds of weapons like spears and swords and also as carrying shields, sometimes seated on horseback. Some of these stones bear inscriptions explaining the event and also the name of the hero. Based on the alphabet of the inscription, archaeologists are able to date the period of the hero stone was installed. They are in fact very important records for understanding the social and cultural milieu of the ancient period in South India.

Literary works of ancient Tamil Nadu describe the hero stones which were planted in
honour of men who performed some daring acts to protect their community or village. A
very interesting slab of this type from Mulbagal taluka (Karnataka) of 950 A.D., has an
inscription which gives a brief account of two brave dogs, Loga and Thalaga. The two
canines accompanied their master in many hunting expeditions in which 75 boars were
killed by Loga and 25 by Thalaga. A figure of these `hero` dogs chasing and mauling
boars are beautifully sculpted in this panel. Large numbers of hero-stones are preserved in museums in various parts of South India.

The Hero Stones found in Karnataka are usually approximately five feet tall granite
stones and are inscribed with the glorious deeds of the kings and knights of bygone times, some of them being over a 1000 years old. The landscape of Karnataka is liberally dotted with these stones that are a unique combination of art, poetry and historical fact and give us valuable insights into the fascinating times that our forebears lived in. There are normally three panels that tell a story — lower most a fighting scene (probably to protect animal wealth), the middle one the martyr being carried to heaven and the top veera at Kailasa (Abode of Lord Shiva). One leaves wondering why people don’t pay sufficient attention to whatever is left of a glorious heritage. The hero stone normally found has sculptures in three panels - a man fighting with a tiger, the man being taken to heaven by a few ladies after death and the man appearing in the abode of God. The Hero Stone in Kabini conforms to the above description.

Some of the hero stones with inscriptions were exactly in the form of Dolmens with three upright slabs and capping stone. The figure of the hero is generally carved on the back slab facing the entrance as if it is a temple shrine and the figure of the hero, an image of a god. Plain dolmens were also found without any figures or writings by the side of such hero stones, indicating that they were contemporary with the nearby hero stone. Such inscribed hero stones have been found from almost 3rd c. CE to the 16th c. CE attested by inscriptions. Obviously the tradition continued till very late. On the opposite bank near the old Karapura village I found ruins that closely correspond to this description. These ruins are now submerged under the waters of the dam but periodically remerge when the water level recede abnormally , this however does not happen every year.

Tolkappiyam, the earliest Tamil grammar describes the complete stages of erecting
memorial stones to the dead heroes in the PuÉattiºai section. The PuÉapporul Veºpamalai 4, another early work, also gives the rules for erecting such memorials to the hero. The stages mentioned are generally, “Katci, Kal kl, Nirppatai, Natutal, Perumpatai, Varttal”.
The first stage in the erection of a memorial is the selection of a suitable stone for the
memorial by the village community, which goes by the name Katci i.e. to select.
(kaºutal). The villagers go to a nearby site to obtain a stone and after selection usually
from a rock, sprinkle water over the stone with a prayer that all the spirits that have been inhabiting the place all long may depart so that the stone may be acquired for the
memorial. The second stage (Kal kl) is offering flowers and incense and praising the
stone, for it is “the stone” that is going to carry the name and fame of this great hero.
Then the stone is quarried and placed on a cart and is brought to the village to the
accompaniment of music and dance.
The third stage is keeping the stone soaked in clean water for a number of days or
specified time. It is held that since the stone remained all along exposed to vagaries of
weather, like hot sun and rain, the stone is kept immersed in water, called Nirppatai.
The hero’s figure is carved and his exploits inscribed on the stone, after which it is
ceremoniously planted (Natutal) in an appropriate place. This is also called Il-koºtupukutal.
A careful study of the texts shows that it is virtually equated to a temple
consecration. “Il” is “k-il” in this context. A great food offering is made to the hero,
which is a rite called Perumpa•ai. Finally the hero is praised and prayers are offered for
the bestowal of prosperity on the village community.
Constructions of temples are dealt with in a body of literature called agamas and almost
all temples in Tamilnad follow the procedures laid out in these of texts. The Agamas deal with the carving of images, construction of temples for them, consecration, daily and periodical rites, festivals, repairs etc. A careful study of the text reveals that the process of selection of a stone for carving the image of a god, the process of carving the image, the consecration and other rites are the same as found for the memorial stones.
It is this worship of the hero-stone that led to some of the cults of village gods When the
heroic death was famous, the hero came to be celebrated in ballads and his fame spread to nearby regions. Also wherever the people of that region migrated they took the worship of that hero with them. From a small village to a wider region, his cult spread and now he becomes the savior of that region or even the country. It is how the cult of some celebrated heroes in the Tamil country spread as for example the cult of Maturaiviran, Karuppaººacami, AººaÊmar, Matacami and Nallata³kal etc., around whom there are fine ballads.

The erection of Hero Stones and the adoration of the dead hero as the savior spirit of the community may be considered as an extension of the prehistoric cult of erecting
megalithic tombs. The Hero-Stones are in the form of a dolmen with three upright slabs
erected in the form of a small chamber on the back slab, facing the front. The
representation of the hero on the slab takes various forms. The simplest shows him in the act of fighting with a spear, or bow and arrow. There is another Hero Stone located near a village temple close to Beeramballi Village that has a very simple carving of a warrior in the act of shooting an arrow from a bow. There are not panels or any other inscriptions on it.

It is necessary to know something about Hero Stones in order to understand the social
background of the village temples. Often the Stones stand beneath shady trees in simple surroundings. Long swords, spears, or tridents are placed in front of them, as well as terra-cotta horses painted in folk style. It was believed that the spirit of a hero resided forever in each monument, bestowing benefactions on the community. The spirit was dreaded, loved, adored and worshipped and was considered the savior of the community.


There is another temple on the banks of the Kabini, called Bhimanakolli.At first glance there seems to be nothing much to write home about. It is a modern looking temple which was built when the original structure was submerged by the Kabini dam. The deity is Shiva and there are a few paintings of Mahadesvara, who is considered a re-incarnation of Shiva. An annual cattle fair is held, which attracts a lot of devotees and as many of them have to cross the river by boat, usually one or two fatalities occur during this time. Not much attention is paid to this temple by the multitude of tourists that visit Kabini. In fact it does not even feature in any of the guide books.
However the temple is of historic and local significance . Most of us are familiar with or are aware of the epic of Male Madheshwara. Mahadeshwara is the family god of the
Soligas and other hill tribals including Jenu Kurubas, Kadukurubas etc who live in the
Male Mahadesvara Hills of Karnataka where there is a temple dedicated to him, which is an important place of pilgrimage .Historical evidences suggest that the saint
Mahadeshwara must have lived during the 15th century. Further, he was the third head of the Haradanahalli Math. About 600 years ago, Sri Mahadeshwara Swamy came to
perform penance and it is believed that he is still performing penance in the temple's
Garbha Gudi in the form of Linga. The Linga, worshipped now in the Garbha Gudi, is a
self developed (Swayambhu) one. Sri Male Mahadeshwara Swamy was moving on a
tiger known as Huli Vahana (Tiger as a vehicle) and performed a number of miracles
around the hills to save the people and saints living there. The area of the temple
surroundings is 155.57 acres. In addition, the temple has lands at Talabetta, Haleyuru &
Indiganatha Villages.

Very few people know that the saint was actually born on the banks of the Kabini in a village that still exists. Actually the original village was submerged when the Kabini Dam was built. The residents were relocated and the village bears the same name.

The professional singers of this epic are called 'Devara Guddaru'(God’s children) and
'Kamsaleyavaru' (those singers who keep time with 'Kamsale" --bronze cymbals). They
are initiated into this profession very early in their lives; and after initiation, they are
required to lead a very disciplined life as prescribed by tradition. Normally, there are
three to five in a group of whom one is a lead singer and the others join him in chorus. In this context, 'sing' perhaps is not a very appropriate term; 'performance' could be more suitable. What happens is that after each line, the secondary singers fill in with such words of reinforcement as 'yes,' 'yes, sir' 'what?' etc.; and, at the end of each unit (of about 10 to 15 lines) the secondary singers sing in chorus the particular refrain of the particular part of the epic. (Each part has a different refrain.)

The outer structure of the epic resembles the pan-Indian Ramayana: Shiva incarnates
himself on earth as Madeshwara to destroy an evil king called Shravanasura ('The Hero
as Savior' motif). The epic has seven parts; and, normally, only certain parts are sung as dictated by the taste of the audience or patron. However, the entire epic is sung by
pilgrims on their way to the annual fair on the Madheshwara -hill; and it may last for
seven consecutive nights.

The first scholar to collect Male Madheshwara was Dr. P.K.Rajashekhara in 1972. He,
having the first Kalevala as his model, gathered different versions from multiple
narrators, chose the 'best' parts from each, and arranged them in a particular chronological order. His published version in two volumes (Mysore University, 1972) ran to more than 30,000 lines. Recently, Dr. Keshavan Prasad, Dept. of Tribal Studies, Kannada University, collected a single-narrator version, sung by the great artist Sri Hebbani Madayya. This version, published by Kannada University, Hampi (1997) contains, approximately, 20,000 lines, besides a good introduction and an extended interview with the singer. The English translation with a critical introduction and glossary is published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

The epic (single-narrator version) has seven parts. After traditional invocation, the first
part narrates the immaculate birth, childhood, and instruction of Madeshwara. The second part narrates the ways through which Madeshwara gets a wealthy farmer, Junje Gowda, as his devotee to build him a temple on the Seven Hills. The next part is devoted to the destruction of the evil king, Shravanasura. Next we have the longest and most moving episode called Sankamma. This episode dramatizes the suffering of a proud woman called 'Sankamma,' and the ordeals that she successfully undergoes in order to retain her dignity as a virtuous wife. The fifth episode, slightly comic in tone, depicts the rise and fall of a vainglorious and miserly woman, called 'Bevinatti Kalamma.' The last but one episode narrates how Madeshwara gets two simple and god-fearing people, Moogayya and his wife, as his devotees. The concluding part, besides traditional ending with benediction, gives a brief summary of the entire epic.

The first part which narrates his birth throws light on the significance of Bhimankolli. (Documented by K.Keshavan Prasad – translated by C.N.Ramachandran and L.N.Bhat)

And sat in the hollow of a neem tree-
Of Halagappa, a Shepard by caste,
living in the village of Bhimanakolli,
Of Magga Maralli Heggadedevanakotte.( the villages Magga and Marali still exist they are nondescript and all visitors pass through them on their way to Kabini, Heggadedevanakotte is now a town about three kilometers from the main highway. )

The Charmer of the ninth incarnation,
Who was in the hollow of the neem tree,
Thought: if I sit here, I can’t save the world.
Then he entered the house of Halagappa,
The house that has twelve pillars,
And he went inside the house the Charmer,
And manifested himself there as a golden anthill.
When the golden anthill arose in the inner yard,
Halagappa and Muddamma, his wife, grew worried.
(They took it to be a bad omen and tried to consult astrologers but could find no one to
help them)
The Charmer then appeared before them in guise of a Brahmin and told them that there
was no bad omen, that the Charmer had come to them as a family deity and that they
should worship him and give up their home.
They then carried all their household things to the back of their hose and built a small hut
for themselves and in the morning took their bath and milked their cow and poured the
milk over the anthill.
(The story now takes a strange twist)
Then the Charmer of charmers,
Who was inside in the form of a small linga,
Thought thus: for the first time since I left Kailash,
I have had milk ablutions. From now on,
I should ameliorate the world.
But first I should get a festival
From this Halagappa and then begin my onward journey _
With these thoughts, to Magga, Maralli and Bhimananakolli,
In all these three villages
He caused a great famine – the Charmer
It was a terrible famine and the people of the three villages had to survive by eating all
the grain they had stored as seed for sowing. When the rains came they had no seed s for
sowing, except for Halagappa who had one granary of ragi.He promises the villagers
seeds after sowing his field. He proceeds to sow his field along with his son. However as
he sowed there arose small lingas on his footprints.
All the people are hungry in the village
Whatever I sowed
You have turned into a linga - he said.
Then the Charmer got a new name.
What was that name?
Linga in the temple, and
Linga around the temple.
O Mahadeva of the northern region.
You are born as linga.
Laying down the basket of seeds on the eastern balk,
And having prostrated himself to the mother earth,
He said – my son, go on with your ploughing,
I will return to the field.
After I measure out ragi
To the villagers to sow – so saying,
Halagappa then came to the village,
And gave away ragi for all for sowing.
Then he returned to his field and finished his own sowing.
Then the Charmer of all charmers
Entered the dream of Halagappa,
And said: Look here, Gowda,
You are honest people, both husband and wife.
All of you of the three villages,
Magga, Maralli and Bhimanakolli,
Come together once a year during Shivrathri,
And in the name of Bhimanakolli Madappa,
Organize a fair in his name,
He departed from Bhimanakolli – Mahadeva.

Sure enough the fair is organized by all three villages to this day. They have now been
relocated and are separated by the reservoir. There is a further modern day addition to the story. It seemed that there was a Muslim gentleman who used to do the lighting
arrangements for the fair and suffered from stomach ulcers .He made a vow that if he got cured he would not charge the temple for his services. He did get cured and to this day his son continues to do the lighting arrangements for free!

The Luv Kush Legend of Karapura.

All of us have been brought up on stories from Indian Mythology especially the Ramayana and so we will all be familiar with of Sita’s banishment from Ayodhya .However what we do not know is the connection between this episode of the Ramayana and Kabini .
There is an interesting local legend in Karapura village about Sita and her children Luv and Kush. The legend goes like this. After being banished by Ram , Sita was forced to wander the forests with her children Luv and Kush. During her wanderings, one night tired and hungry they took refuge under a tree. The children were tired and hungry after a long days walk and asked their mother for food. Sita was hard pressed to provide food at that time as she too had no time to either cook or procure material to do so. In the distance, Sita saw a light flickering and decided to investigate with the hope of getting some food for the children .He told the children to wait until she came back with some food. She forbade them to move from the place.
She went towards the light which happened to be a flickering lamp from a temple. The priest in the temple was surprised to see a lone woman out in the wilderness so late in the night and engaged her in conversation .After hearing her story and realizing that she was tired he asked her to rest and assured her that he would take some food to the children.
When he eventually found them, they started to complain about the delay and demanded to be taken to their mother before they ate. He promised them that if they were good children and ate their food he would do that.
The people of Karapura celebrate this legend every year when on a particular date two children from the village dress up as Luv and Kush and are taken in procession from the tree where the priest found them to the temple where they are reunited with their mother. The Kabini dam now submerges the original temple but the deity was relocated to Karapura Village. A small makeshift simple temple exists at the base of the tree where they were found. This simple temple , no more than a simple stone at the base of a tree , very much like a Hero stone but without any carving or inscription. It is quite popular among the residents of Karapura who frequently visit it to offer prayers. There is no presiding priest and devotes are left to their own devises.

Now we all know that Sita took refuge in Valmikis ashram and never came so far south. This is an excellent example of how Aryan influence spread into the south. The transplanting of legends or the adoption of the legends of the dominant culture by the other is a way of currying favor and being accepted by the dominant culture much like us aping the US.
The banks of the Kabini were also the staging grounds of the famous Mysore Khedda. Before I elaborate on it we must have an understanding of what Khedda is all about. It is a method of capturing wild elephants.
The capturing of elephants from the wild for domestication and subsequent use by man was in all probability pioneered in the Indian sub continent. The earliest evidence can be found in the writings of Megasthenes the Greek ambassador in the Gupta Empire. References to elephant capture can also be found in the Ramayana. Elephant capturing scenes have been carved on the walls of the famous Konark temple.

Various methods were used to capture elephants and over a period of time certain methods became associated with certain areas of the country. Sanskrit literature is a rich source of information on the methods employed. Five methods are well described.

The Khedda method was perfected and used successfully in the eastern parts of the country. In this method an entire wild herd was driven and beaten into a wooden stockade. With this method a large number of elephants could be captured but it was extremely time consuming and needed large resources to carry out successfully. Different methods of Khedda evolved in different parts of the sub- continent and the writings of Megasthenes describe the method used in Northern India.

One of the most common methods and also one requiring great skill was Mela shikar or the lassoing of wild elephants from the back of a trained elephant or Kumki. This method has been in practice in the north east of the country. The mahout or elephant rider would be accompanied by a man who did the actual lassoing also called a Phandi. A Phandi was a mahout of the highest caliber and enjoyed iconic status in the folklore of the north east. This method was used to capture single animals by first isolating it from the herd. The Phandis were men of great courage and well steeped in elephant lore.

Byle shikar is an adaptation of Mela shikar where teams of phandis work together to capture a large number of individual elephants. This is definitely the most dangerous and risky of all.

Snaring was also used. Nooses would be set on elephant paths and generally young animals would be caught this way.

The Pit method was peculiar to the southern part of the country. Concealed pits would be dug on elephant paths and the animals would fall into them. This method was critised as the trapped elephant would sustain a lot of injuries. This is the cheapest method of capturing wild elephants.

Decoying by using a female kumki to lure a male elephant was the most dangerous. The male would be lassoed by a Phandi.
Among all the methods employed the Khedda was the most spectacular and widely practiced usually under royal patronage as it was also the most expensive. It was used extensively in the north before becoming synonymous with the east especially in Bengal, Assam. And what is now Bangladesh.

The Roping Operation was carried out once the elephants were captured in the stockade. The animals found suitable for use had to be roped, secured and separated from the rest. Kumkis would enter the stockade and the mahouts with their helpers would secure the desired animals with ropes. Paradoxically the sight of Kumkis moving among the captured wild elephants had a calming effect on them. Taking advantage of this several Kumkis working as a team would isolate individual wild elephants and would gradually sandwich them between two Kumkies. On doing this the helper seated behind the mahout would slip off and prod the wild elephant with a rod. The wild elephant would raise its leg and the helper would deftly slip a rope around it, the other end of which would be tied to a Kumki. In this manner all four legs would be secured. The last rope to be fastened would be the one around the wild elephant’s neck. Once secured the wild elephant would be removed from the stockade and tied up outside to a tree in an area demarcated for this purpose.
As can be imagined this was an extremely dangerous mission and usually involved a great degree of cruelty. A British forest officer named A.J.T.Milroy laid down strict rules for roping and eliminated all forms of cruelty. His name is legendary in the state of Assam and his manual for the capture and treatment of elephants became the standard in British India. He was given the title of Gaon Burra or wise man in Assam. The Raja of Gauripur , the famous Lalji Barua made the capture of elephants into a family enterprise and his daughter Parviti Barua still practices the art. Her services are much valued by the Forest Departments of Bengal and Assam to capture problem elephants. She employs the Mela shikar method as it is the most suitable for capturing individual animals.

The Kakankote or Mysore Khedda.

The Khedda became symnonomys with the Mysore State during the reign of the Wodeyars when they regained the throne after the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British.Hyder Ali, the father of Tipu Sultan, organized kheddas to try and capture elephants for his army in the seventeenth century. His attempts to do so were unsuccessful. After the Wodeyars regained the throne, the first attempt by a Col. Pearson, a British Army officer also resulted in failure. The first successful khedda was carried out in the Mysore state by another British forest officer G.P.Sanderson at Kardihalli in the year 1873-74. After that khedda became a regular feature in the Mysore State. A total of 36 kheddas were conducted till the last one in 1970 – 71.

The Kakankote forest , now the D.B.Kuppe Wildlife Range of Nagarhole , became a favored staging ground for the khedda and as many as twenty four kheddas were staged there. The Kakankote forest comprised of tropical moist deciduous forest with a good amount of bamboo. They extended over large tracts and, along with the Begur forest, now part of the Bandipur National Park , on the opposite bank of the Kabini River were home to vast herds of wild elephants. The last khedda was conducted in 1970-71 and thereafter with the completion of the Kabini dam the site of the khedda was submerged.

The unique feature of a Kakankote khedda was the river drive which was first designed and carried out by G.P.Sanderson in honour of The Grand Duke of Russia during his visit to Mysore in 1891. In the river drive the elephants were driven across the Kabini river into the stockade and this proved to be a popular spectacle with special visitors gallery being set up to allow people to witness the grand finale of a Kakankote khedda.

The actual operation was an elaborate affair and preparations would start months in advance. Elephant herds would be identified and a count of the animals in the herd would be taken. Those herds with the most desirable animals would be chosen and encircled by human beaters. The surround could be kilometers away from the actual stockade and the herds would be gently forced to move towards the stockade site in carefully planned stages. Efforts were made to ensure that the herds were unaware of what was happening until the surround got narrowed down for the final push.
Special poojas would be offered at the Mastigudi temple before the start. The temple and the site are now submerged by the Kabini dam and are only exposed when the waters recede during the summer.

The Mysore Khedda also threw up the first Indian star in Hollywood. In 1935 Robert Flaherty arrived in Mysore to make a film called “ Elephant Boy “ based on a story by Rudyard Kipling called “ Toomai of the Elephants “ from his “ Jungle Book “. The film was produced by the legendary producer Alexander Korda .The part of Toomai was played by a boy called Saboo . He was born in Karapura village on the banks of the Kabini. He was the son of a mahout and was raised among domestic elephants. His mother died early and legend has it that a female elephant rocked his cradle. His father died soon after and he was raised by the Mysore State. The movie was shot in the forests along the banks of the Kabini and included a Khedda , which was specially staged for the movie shoot. After location shooting, Saboo accompanied the unit to London to complete the film at the Korda,s studio . After a while Saboo moved to Hollywood where he stared in various movies such as The Jungle Book , The Drum and The Thief of Bagdad. He returned to Mysore , driving a Cadillac ,in 1952 .


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Gajaravi Sankar
May. 28th, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
a very informative post on history
Vikram , thanks for such an eloborate and informative post on the "Hero stones" Good to know the history. Have been to Kabini a couple of times and im interested in the wildlife and the people there.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Vikram Nanjappa

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