Bellave Venkatanaranappa and the Mallikarjuna Temple

Self-help

We were to start working for the Kannaḍa Sāhitya Sammeḻana (Kannada Literary Conference), which was to take place in Davanagere. The Chair of the Conference was to enter in a grand procession. Before the event, Venkannayya and I were having a casual chat along with a few others. Venkatanaranappa came to us and exclaimed, “Why are you all like this even now? The procession has to start! Come on! Get dressed quickly!"

I replied, “You haven’t got ready yet!”

He said, “How long am I going to take after all? By the time you all get dressed up, I will be fully ready!”

With these words, he sat by his trunk. He picked up a needle, a thread and buttons from his trunk and started stitching them on to his coat. I asked him why he was doing so.

He replied, “Yeah! I need to do this. If I were to give my coat to the washerman, with the buttons attached, he'll destroy the buttons while washing it. I therefore cut off the buttons before I give them for laundry and I stitch them back before wearing them again.”

I asked, "Doesn’t this process consume a lot of time?"

"Look at the clock and tell me how long I am going to take."

The job didn’t take him more than two to three minutes,

He was like this in all matters. He carried black ink and red ink in his trunk at all times and also had a jar of glue, a few pens, tags, knife, scissors, needle and thread. He carried his stationery items wherever he went.

He not only paid attention to every detail in matters related to clothes and cooking, but in all other aspects too. He was self-sufficient at all times. He prepared the ink he used to write with – by frying ragi and using the residual black soot.

Things Carried on a Trip

Once Venkatanaranappa went on a nationwide tour, which lasted about three to four months. He was all alone on the trip and there was no one to assist him. His luggage consisted of a large vessel, a stove, a cane-suitcase, a trunk, and a rolled up bed.

Every morning, he lit the stove, filled the large vessel with water and used the warm water for bathing. After having his bath, he refilled the vessel with water up to about a quarter, placed a small wooden plank at its bottom and a few vessels containing rice, lentils and vegetables in them. He closed the vessels with a lid and sat down to perform his āhnika (a morning ritual that includes sandhyāvandanam, typically performed every morning by brāhmaṇas). The food got cooked in about forty-five to fifty minutes.

The wooden suitcase consisted of rice, lentils, brinjal (eggplant, aubergine), potatoes, chilly powder, salt, ghee, pickle and curd. He prepared the pickle himself and was proud of his preparation. He appreciated brinjal because it stayed fresh and would not go rotten for two to three days.

Preparation of Peppermints

Venkatanaranappa once figured out that children loved peppermints and he tried his hand at preparing a few. As he was an expert chemist and a good cook, it was not difficult for him to prepare slices of the sweetmeat and give colour to them. However, the peppermints he prepared were not as colourful or as tasty as the foreign ones. He wondered what went wrong in the procedure he had followed in preparing them and looked up books authored by foreigners for the sake. He understood that egg-white was smeared on peppermints in the foreign countries.

He immediately dropped the idea. Whenever he saw people relishing peppermints, he turned his eye away from them!

Mallikarjuna Temple

Bellave Venkatanaranappa was one of the first people to build houses in the southwestern part of Basavanagudi in Bangalore. After he shifted his residence to his newly built house, he thought, “There is no Śiva temple in this locality. It is not nice to live in an area that is devoid of temples.” With this in mind, he began walking around the place. Back then, Basavanagudi was largely a forest area.

One day, as he was roaming around, he spotted an old, small maṇṭapa (a sort of pavilion). He went inside, and to his pleasant surprise, it was a Śiva-liṅga! He was thrilled but didn’t know who had consecrated it there. He went to the corporation office and enquired who had established the deity at the spot. He figured out that, in the past there was a temple dedicated to Mallikarjuna-swamy (a form of Śiva) in that location. Nevertheless, he wanted to ensure that the place was free of all ‘pollutants’ and got people to dig up the soil around the maṇṭapa. He surveyed the area, dug up soil, and convinced himself that there were no bones or other ‘pollutants’ found at the pace. He then took up the task of building a new temple.

In those days, the Electricity Department had procured new machinery. The machinery and its parts came packed in large sealed boxes (which were made out of nutmeg wood). Sheshadri, K M Cariappa, and N N Iyengar were the heads of the Electricity Department back then and were all students of Venkatanaranappa. He met them and purchased a few such empty boxes, which were used for packaging. He disassembled the boxes and took out planks from them. He reassembled the nutmeg planks to prepare a larger box and placed it over the Śiva-liṅga to protect it. The construction of the new maṇṭapa started only once the liṅga was secured thus.

It seemed like Venkatanaranappa was adept at building walls. Examining the flatness of the ground, and seeing if the wall was perpendicular to the ground – these were sub-branches of Physics. In a couple of months new walls came up and they were to house the new temple. The roofing was also done. Samprokṣaṇa and other rituals were carried out in a traditional manner as prescribed by the śāstras and regular pūjā started at the place. This probably took place in about 1903–04.

Governmental Grants for the Temple

Venkatanaranappa was of the firm intention that the Mallikarjuna temple should obtain financial grants from the government. It would probably fetch about three to four rupees per year.

I once asked him, “Is it worth putting so much of effort to procure such a meagre amount?”

He replied, “It is very important for the temple to get recognised by the government. Once recognised, there will be nothing to worry about its welfare."

He wasn’t successful in obtaining financial assistance for a long time. Everyone associated with the temple was tired of trying for it. In 1905, when V P Madhava Rao was the Diwan, there was a grand dīpotsava in the Mallikarjuna temple. Wooden stands were erected on either side of the street running from the main road to the temple and lamps were lit on them. Diwan V P Madhava Rao was escorted to the temple amidst this grand arrangement. Senior and important officials were also present on the occasion. Bellave Narasimha Shastri and Shivarama Shastri chanted mantras in an elevated voice.

Diwan Madhava Rao asked with a face lit up with joy, “Venkatanaranappa! What is the reason behind all this grandeur today?”

Venkatanaranappa replied, “This abode of Śiva will bring welfare to the entire state. You have just heard the rājāśīrvāda. Many people have put in tremendous effort in establishing this Divine Abode here. We have been blessed by the Divine. However, we haven’t yet had the benevolence of the government. It has been about three to four years since we submitted an application for a governmental grant (and patronage). After waiting for long, we have given up hope. We feel that a change of government might benefit us and we had pleaded for the same with the Divine too. We had taken a vow that if the government changed, we would perform dīpārcana to the deity and distribute loads of sweets to the public. This is the reason for today’s celebration."

The sweet that was distributed was very tasty. Whenever Venkatanaranappa distributed sweetmeats, dry coconut, fried gasagase (poppy seeds), elaichi (cardamom), pieces of cashewnut, and pieces of kallu-sakkare (solid pieces of sugar) filled our mouths. Soon after Venkatanaranappa’s short speech got over, Diwan V P Madhava Rao turned towards the Deputy Commissioner of Bangalore and said, “Krishna Rao! It is Monday today. Let us figure out the whereabouts of the grant application before Thursday and get it sanctioned for the temple. The governmental order should reach Venkatanaranappa’s hands at the earliest.”

The Deputy Commissioner replied, “As you please!”

The Diwan turned towards Venkatanaranappa and said, “In case the order does not reach you by Thursday, please drop me a reminder.”

There arose no need to trouble or intimate the Diwan again. The task got completed within the timeframe mentioned by him. The Mallikarjuna temple finally came under the purview of the Muzrai department.

To be continued...

This is the seventeenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough review.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.