It was the lunch hour and we were the only ones around . We heard stories and folk lore about how Coorg got its name. The river Cauvery originates here at Talacauvery and is worshipped by the locals and hence the name “Kodava “ which means blessed by mother Cauvery. Kod means give and avva refers to mother Cauvery ,my guide explains to us , so the Kodavas call themselves children of Cauvery. In the Kaveri Purana, it is called the Matsyadesa .The story goes that Chandravarma , the youngest son of king Siddhartha of Matsya Dynasty came on pilgrimage to Talacauvery . He settled down here and the coronation of his eldest son took place in Balamuri with the blessings of the river. It is also called Krodadesa, perhaps referring to the warrior clan who settled down here
There are several myths surrounding the origin of the Kodavas themselves, the most popular being that they are descendants of Greeks who settled down here after the conquest of India by Alexander ,the great .However the Kodavas have retained their original customs even though they have merged with the larger milieu . They worship Karana (ancestors) as family deity, Cauvery as mother and Iguthappa as presiding deity.While they pray in Hindu temples, they revere Ainmane or the ancestors house as the place of worship.
I asked Kailash if he believed that he was a Greek descendant and he laughed it off saying that some Kodavas believe that they are descendants of “Kurgs” and hence called so..Our luncheon session was filled with little snippets of Coorg lifestyle as we planned our itinerary . Kailash gave us insights into some hidden temples in the forests and estates , which are worshipped by the Kodavas and Hindus alike.
As the drizzle continued, we walked up to 18th century Nalknad Aramane (palace) built by the haleri king Dodda Veera Rajendra in the 18th century . Its in a small hamlet called Yavakapindi where a givernment school stood adjacent to it. A beautiful two storey structure painted in red with a tiled roof, beautiful wall paintings and pillars gazed at us as we opened the portals of the palace. A small mandapa in white was located close by.
A drizzle started as we heard a sound behind us. A caretaker had silently moved in and was opening the main door for us. We were the only visitors. As we soaked in the moment, we were given a capsule of history .
During one of the wars with Tipu Sultan, Dodda Veerarajendra had to retreat and he came to this dense forest. He converted it as an operation base and built a palace and even got married here . This palace was the last refuge of the last king of Chikkaveerarajendra before he was deposed by the British .
The caretaker showed us around as we climbed a small ladder , saw the hidden chamber in the roof , the torture room, the royal bedrooms and the main durbar . Some of the paintings here are original, while some have been renovated . This is the base camp for trekkers who wish to hike up to the highest peak Thadiyandamole .
A few homestays are located close by and they offer brilliant views of the mountains. We walked up to Palace Estate where the owners had converted the granaries into rooms. The century old bungalow looked so comfortable that we wished that we could stay here .We are more of the home stay types as they give an insight into local culture and as the touristy crowds normally prefer resorts, we would like to stay in simple and quiet homestays.
We met Prasad who was kind enough to show us around and also give us some more insights into the Kodavas. He said that about a 100000 Kodavas today live in the district and they revere their ancestors at Ainmane or their ancestral home. Each Kodava family has its Ainmane and we even went to their ancestral home later in the evening , but it was closed. The rituals of the Kodavas are very different from the Hindus , for instance agni or fire god is not so significant, while water is worshipped . Similarly priests and slokas have little significance as most marriages are conducted in the presence of the elders .
It was quite dark as we left the palace and we returned to the resort and heard Kailash describing some of their marriage traditions. The bride and the bridegrooms are apparently subjected to a lot of “tests “..for instance he claims that the bride has to carry a pot over her head while she is distracted by family and friends..sometimes she has to hold the pot for hours and she cannot keep it down till the relatives agree to do so for they are testing her patience. As for the groom, his test of strength is to chop down branches of trees in just one stroke.Almost all Kodavas are into agriculture and even if they are employed , they have a few acres of plantations .
We sat for a few minutes outside under the clear sky, enjoying the last few moments of the dying blaze that was warming us up..Day two would see us discovering more of the heritage and spiritual essence of Coorg.