Wednesday 27 March 2013

Tunnels of Gajendra Moksha

History is generally linked with myths and legends and it is difficult to sift one from the other. It becomes an impossible task in India as our country has a rather poor record of writing history .
Much of India’s ancient history and here I am talking about the Vedic Age, Epic Age and even phases in ancient Indian history, where the spoken word was given importance and Kings and Emperors deemed it haughty, unbecoming and egoistic to write down their achievements. Things did change for the better when the Muslims invaded India and since then writers were employed in the court to pen down the life history of the Emperors.
Thus, we have Abu Fazl, the courtier of  the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, writing Ai-i-Albari.  Another book is Jahangir Nama, an autobiography by Akbar’s successor, Jahangir.
In the south too, the Muslim Kingdoms commissioned historians and writers to write about their court and achievements. Thus, we have fairly accurate accounts of the reigns of the Adil Shahi Kings of Bijapur, the Nizam Shahis of Golconda, the Bahamanis of Gulbarga and Bidar  and even the Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar in Hampi.
However, even in the south, historical accounts have got themselves mixed up with myths and legends and it rather becomes a painstaking task to get to the truth.
Several such myths exist even today about Hyder Ali and his valorous son and heir Tipu Sultan who ruled the Mysore Kingdom with Srirangapatna as their capital.
Though Tipu died on May 4, 1799 and the Mysore Kingdom reverted to the Wodeyars who then shifted the capital from Srirangapatna to Mysore, myths and legends still abound about Tipu and even about Srirangapatna.
New discoveries in Srirangapatna seem to give a fresh impetus to the mystery of Tipu and he has now become a larger than life personality.
Almost a hundred years after his death, a new underground dungeon was accidentally discovered in Srirangapatna. A few months ago, two tunnels were discovered adjacent to the sprawling Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangapatna.
Archaeologists are still studying the “whys” and “hows” of the tunnels. They were discovered when the Gajendra Moksha Kalyani or pond adjacent to the Ranganatha temple was being cleaned.
The discovery gives credence to stories of Tipu that he had an underground tunnel running from his palace to the Ranganatha temple which he used often. Another story tells us that he could see the idol from the balcony of his palace which was situated opposite the temple.
Officials of the Indian Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have dubbed it the most sensational archaeological discoveries in the history of Srirangapatna.
There are several stories that tell us how these tunnels were used by members of the royal family-Wodeyars and even Hyder and Tipu-and their military generals.
The first tunnel, which measured three feet in diameter, was found by workers while digging up the Gajendra Moksha pond. The workers discovered another tunnel shortly after stumbling on the first.
The ASI officials found that the tunnels are interlinked and diversify in various directions. Work is still on to find out more about the tunnels, their usage and when they were constructed.
However, some locals that I met, including temple officials, said the first tunnel may have been used to draw water from the river to fill the pond. However, the reasons for constructing the other tunnel, one of which was found near Tipu's Palace, are yet to be established.
Apart from the tunnel,  an ancient cellar was also discovered at the Gajendra Moksha Kalyani. The cellar and the tunnels were discovered during the desilting of the pond, as per the instructions of District in-charge secretary Amar Narayan.
When the renovation, a Banni tree which had taken root in the pond and existed since the past 30 years, was uprooted and it was replanted elsewhere.

The desilting was taken up as the famous Rathasapthami festival was scheduled to commence on February 17. It is on this occasion that the temple elephant Gajendra takes a holy dip in the Kalyani. This has been the age-old practice.
As the desilting work commenced, two smaller tunnels going in opposite directions within the main larger tunnel were discovered.
As I mentioned earlier, Tipu Sultan shared a close bond with  Ranganatha Swamy and he had constructed a big tunnel connecting his palace to the temple. He had also constructed other small tunnels to be used during emergencies in war.
What the discovery shows is that there may still be other artifacts of the period of the Wodeyars and Hyder-Tipu period that need more detailed study and monuments that need to be excavated and studied.
No wonder, historians and archaeologists always maintain that buildings tell tales. Want to as to the tale. Please check pout the tunnels and the Kalyani and for that you have to visit Srirangapatna. What better way to spend the searing Summer than drive early in the morning to the island on the Cauvery, check out the local history of Srirangapatna, watch the birds of Ranganathittu and laze around the Cauvery.  
Where else but in India could you visit a huge temple, swim in a nearby river, walk on the ramparts of a magnificent fort and go bird seeing.    


  1. Hi Samyuktha,

    My Grandfather was a steam driver with the MSR and later SR ..he told me about a place called "Nelamane"...which at the end of the small station had the entrance or exit of a tunnel said to have been used by tipu's men and hence the name of the place "Nela" Ground , "Mane" House...i visited the village of Nelamane a couple of years ago..there is no trace of anything any more..only a level crossing of the new broad guage line to bangalore...

    1. Nelamane was during the times of Wodeyars and Hyder-Tipu, a small military station. It had barracks,stables. quarters and tunnels to escape. With almost all buildings razed to the ground. the tunnels too have vanished. However, old timers can still show you places associated with history and the place where the tunnels were dug. Thanks for the information.