The Call of the Cauvery
Following the course of the kaveri river
The descent of the Cauvery from the plump confines of Coorg to
the Coromandal coast is a journey rich in river graces. Though
short, compared to the other sacred rivers of India, the Cauvery
is undoubtedly the most queenly in her cultural journey from Karnataka
to Tamil Nadu.
The Ganga of the north seems tired in comparison
to the flow of her southern understudy and here the brilliant
culture of the South continues to flourish while in the Cow Belt,
a golden past has to be dredged up to compensate for the death
of any current civic graces.
Like the other rivers of the peninsula, the Cauvery flows weakly
after the winter rains. Heavy irrigation commitments mean that
in the lean season you can pass down much of the river in the
delta and hardly see any water in its bed. Upstream, Coorg is
a pleasure in all seasons and the people are probably the most
friendly constructive and prosperous in the whole of India.
The source at Tala Cauvery has always seemed slightly geographically
suspicious to me especially when the range in which its rises -- Brahmgiri -- is
also applied to the source of the Godaveri. The latter source
at Trimbakeshwar is pure priestly fraud for the river does indeed
rise in the Brahmagiri hills above.
The Cauvery also has some suspicious
priestly activity at the annual birth ceremony of the river and
this is why strict geographical attribution of the source may
not coincide with the wiles of the self-appointed custodians.
But the hills of Coorg are bracing and if you climb above Tala Cauvery
you might even see the Arabian Sea. Everybody says you can but
I've never met anyone who has!. The drive back to Mercara, now
Madikeri, is one of the most leafy delights imaginable with the
river gaining size from the cluster of hills that lead down to
the Mysore plateau.
Now broad and brilliantly blue the dammed river
at Krishnarajasagar bypasses the elegant town of Mysore, easily
India's best kept city, and narrows again to pass through the
rocky course of the Ranganatithu bird sanctuary which lies before
Tippu's extensive lair, the island fortress of Srirangapatnam.
It is fashionable to resurrect Tippu's virtues these days and
certainly he was a warrior who might have altered Indian history.
But whether for the better is a moot point! His acceptance of
atrocities like adult circumcision for forced converts to his
faith make his name in Kerala and Mysore a continuing target of
The river rejoins and that characteristic craft of the Cauvery
the bamboo coracle can now be seen plied by fisherman. So portable
is this round basket boat that the locals heft it on top of the
bus to continue their sport along other channels.
At T Narsipur
the main effluent of the Cauvery joins. This is the lovely Kabini
which if explored upstream -- where the borders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu
meet Karnataka -- will yield the largest gathering of elephants
to be found in India. Sabu the Hollywood elephant boy incidentally
hailed from the Maharaja's of Mysore stable hereabouts.
Near the confluence is the much-touted temple of Somnathpur.
Undoubtedly it is of great architectural and artistic interest
but for spiritual uplift it is a very disappointing site. Also
its tourist facilities must make this the lousiest place in India
to spend a night. Nobody does of course since Mysore -- with the
best hotel bargains in the world -- is so close at hand.
The river heads now to the Shivasamudram Falls, a lovely fanned
out display and probably one of the most aesthetic sights on any
Indian river. No doubt the Jog Falls give the Sharavati river
magic unsurpassed, but the falls are so deep in their reach that
you never see the river below.
To show her class the Cauvery leaving
Karnataka through a wild and narrow gorge south of Bangalore does
a sharp turn into Tamil Nadu to produce more scenic cataracts at
Hogganakal. These "smoking stories" announce the end
of the untamed river. On the trackless Karnataka shore is the
run of forest and hills that harbour the ivory and sandal wood
The Mettur dam like the Shivasamdram Falls represents early breakthroughs
in river harnessing. At Karu the Cauvery turns west to its delta
destiny, receiving water from the Palani Hills which hosts the
highest peak in South India -- Anai Mudai -- in Kerala's range of tea
estates. Here roams the Nilgiri tahr. How did this mountain goat
cross the Palghat gap from the Nilgiris?
Up the tributaries of
the Cauvery are India's most flourishing textile towns, Tirupur
and Coimbatore in the Kongunad uplands. The delta starts in earnest
at Tiruchi overlooking the island temple complex of Srirangam.
Surprisingly for all its ceremonial gory and architectural style
the seven gated "glimpse of heaven" lacks spiritual
Priests and guides, touts and money changes pester
the visitor and for once the orderly instructs of the south is
a disadvantages, because you are trapped into the demands of commerce
in a place of religion. Similarly at Trichy to climb the Rock
Temple you have to buy tickets, extra for camera, though it is
true the view of Srirangam from this angle -- minus the priests
and cadgers -- is marvellous.
The river looks great but look your
last upon it because now downstream in the delta it will be channelled
for the rich rice crops which are either being sown, irrigated
or lying in sheaves upon the road awaiting your vehicle to harvest
their round-the-year cycle.
Undoubtedly the chief glory of the Cauvery's splendid living culture
is Thanjavur. What art and craft is still demonstrated in its
vicinity. This is the early medieval state that gave its name
to the Coromandal coast and "Coro" refers to the great
southern dynasty of the Tamils, the Cholan. The "Big Temple"
of Brihadeshwara may again lack any spiritual sparks but architecturally
it is a major landmark in world temple skills.
To cover all the
temple complexes in the delta region is to invite indigestion,
each seeming to outdo the last. Kumbakonam is massive, Gangakondancholam
inevitably more so; it was built by a son to outdo his father bid
to glory with the Thanjavur Big Temple.
The Call of the Cauvery - Page 2