Myths and legends involving God, a merchant and a king abound in Sibi

Driving down the Tumkur highway, it is very easy to miss the small board that announces the existence of this nondescript Narasimha temple. You take a detour, and the area around looks far more interesting — like the remnants of a forgotten settlement. An ancient tank filled with more monkeys than water greets me. I am in Sibi, near Sira, a little beyond Tumkur.

The origin

I walk past the old stone chariot and down a small pathway to enter the dwelling of the priest Nallappa. “The temple was built by Nallappa, son of diwan Kacheri Krishnappa, in the 18th Century,” says Nallappa, referring to his ancestor. He belongs to the eighth generation, and the temple has been maintained by the family since the beginning.

This shrine, like many others, owes its origin to dreams and legends. It is believed that Lord Narasimha appeared in the dream of Nallappa, a courtier and biographer of Hyder Ali, and asked him to build a temple. “But, there was already an old temple there, built by a merchant,” narrates Nallappa. “During those days, this was a jungle. A hungry merchant carrying grain set a pot of boiling rice on a small rock. The water suddenly turned into blood, and the merchant fainted. God appeared in his dream and asked him to build a temple.”

However, historians say that a copper plate of the 15th Century mentions this village as Sibur, refers to a Chandramouleshwara temple here and says that the village was renamed as Harihara, after the Vijaynagar king, who had given the plate. While I wait to listen to more legends, Nallappa asks me to follow him inside the temple. And, that is when I realise that this is a veritable art gallery.

The temple walls are decorated with rich murals, most of them fading, depicting scenes from the epics — the Ramayana and Mahabharata. While the identity of the artists is not known, the paintings speak of the patronage of art in the 18th Century.

The panels also depict the court scenes of the Wodeyars and the Sultans, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, throwing a bit of confusion regarding the era. But, inscriptions reveal that the temple was built in 1795, and that it took over 16 years to complete.

Stucco sculptures

The temple by itself has features of the Vijaynagar style with Kalyana mantapas and Vaikunta mandapas. The arresting stucco sculptures on the parapet wall catch your attention — there are more than 100 images of various Gods.

Lost in the simple workmanship, I walk around the temple, surrounded by wilderness even now. “You know, Tipu Sultan used to hunt here for tigers; it was his favourite ground,” says Nallappa. For a moment, I am lost in the past, but not for long. The sound of car horns from the highway draws you back to the present.