LAKSHMI SHARATH recounts the tale of how an idol meant for Belur landed in Kondajji

It had been a long day, and the Sun showed no signs of relenting. We were in Malenadu, or the hilly regions of Karnataka, looking at some of the monuments that are reminders of the Hoysala dynasty. The day began with some bastis and kalyanis, and ended with the ruins of some temples not on the tourist circuit.

We had planned to call it a day at Adagur, where another derelict Hoysala temple greeted us. The shrine was almost hidden by overgrown parthenium shrubs, while the entrance had become a temporary shelter for a coconut vendor.

As we were chatting with the vendors, one of the hitherto silent workers asked if I had been to Kondajji. “Don't miss it,” he said, giving us directions to reach this place named after a grandmother. “Is there a temple there?” I asked, to which he just wanted us to go see the place.

The roads beckoned again, and we finally found a board that read Kondajji. We asked for the temple, and several hands pointed past a lake to a vast swathe of land. A single vimanam in granite faced us, and there was a narrow entrance to the sanctum.

It was pitch dark inside as we bent our heads and walked in. As the priest lit the lamp, and held out a kerosene lamp, a 15-foot-tall Chennakesava, called Alakanatha, made of black saligrama, smiled at us.

Holding a conch, a chakra, a mace and a lotus, the deity, also referred to as Varadarajaswamy, is believed to have come here from Tamil Nadu.

The priest told us that the original temple, built during the Hoysala period, had collapsed, and a makeshift vimanawas built to restore the shrine.

The idol was apparently meant for Belur, but it was too tall to fit there. “We believe it was brought from Srirangam,” the priest said, and added: “an old lady kept it here; so, we call it Kondajji.”

It is believed that the old lady's contribution to this village brought it immense prosperity.

“We have never been at a loss for food grains or had any calamities …we believe Alakanatha is taking care of us,” the villagers said.

We sat there for a while chatting with the locals, who are convinced that Kondajji's gain is definitely Belur's loss.